Facile Vega beaten at odds-on latest
Dysart Dynamo needs to be at his best
Nassalam not sure to stay
Bad's French form not up to much
A good point to start when deciding what to lay is to look at last year's Festival favourites.
Two interesting facts emerged from the 28 races, that underpin my lays over the next four days.
Of the 12 winning favourites, 10 had won their previous race; the other two, Energumene and A Plus Tard, had finished second in Grade 1 races to Shishkin and Galvin respectively.
The longest-priced winning favourite over the four days was 3/1. All 11 market leaders to start at longer odds were beaten. Four came second, one was fourth and the other six were unplaced.
So 12 months ago, you would have had a 100 per cent record had you laid all favourites, joint-favourites and co-favourites 100/30 or longer.
The longest odds for a favourite was Floueur, unplaced at 15/2 in the Ultima Handicap Chase on the opening day.
Facile Vega needs to put last race behind him
Most market leaders over the next four days will have won or come second when last seen, not many will have finished last, beaten 20 lengths.
Facile Vega in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle at 13:30 might even be the only one.
He had the look of a banker for the Festival opener before his run in the Tattersalls Ireland Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown last time out, for which he was long odds-on but was the last of the five finishers.
That defeat was put down to Paul Townend setting too fast a pace on the six-year-old who had nothing more left in the tank when passed by Il Etait Temps, Inthepocket and Dark Raven between the last two hurdles.
All three take Facile Vega on again, so there is a chance that the star novice may not even be placed.
Also on our side, we have Marine Nationale, unbeaten in four starts including a Grade 1 at Fairyhouse in December. Tahmuras is three from three over hurdles. He, too, won a Grade 1 last time, winning the Tolworth at Sandown in January.
In fact, of the 14 starters, barring High Definition who unseated JJ Slevin at Leopardstown, Facile Vega was the only one to finish out of the first three when last seen.
That makes him a good lay at 3.8514/5 for a win. He is out to 1.84/5 for a place.
Dynamo could miss out on a place
Dysart Dynamo has a strong fan base but I will put him up as a place lay in the Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices' Chase at 14:10.
The form book says he is not the equal of his stablemate El Fabiolo and Nicky Henderson's Jonbon, and he was beaten 10 lengths by the former at Leopardstown where Banbridge went past him on the run-in to take second close home.
Saint Roi, third in the Champion Hurdle last March, won a Gr1 chase at Leopardstown on Boxing Day. The improving handicapper Final Orders has won his last five chases. He's highly unlikely to trouble the market leaders but could keep Dysart Dynamo out of the first three.
At 2.01/1 Dysart Dynamo is the best place lay option in the 14:10.
Nassalam makes scant appeal
Who to lay for a place in the Ultima Handicap Chase at 14:50?
Three miles, one on softish going takes some getting at Cheltenham and I'd sooner not lay Corach Rambler, Oscar Elite or Tea Clipper, the first, third and fourth 12 months ago.
Last year's seventh Fantastikas started shorter than the trio last year at 8-1, but failed to stay and has never won beyond three miles. He is double those odds this time, though, so not in everyone's comfort zone at 5.59/2 as a place lay.
Nassalam strikes me as worth laying for a place at 3.55/2.
Aged six, Gary Moore's runner is younger than nine of the last 10 winners and has yet to race beyond two miles, five. He is presumably in the line-up because he was doing his best work in the latter part of his races here in November and again at the New Year's fixture.
The thinking is that since he has shown he can't win a handicap chase off this mark over a middle distance, chuck him into a stayers' chase. Well, layers make money in the long run from would-be stayers running out of puff, so I suggest we take him on for a place. I certainly will.
Bad needs to improve to add to Bordeaux win
I'm certainly not going to suggest you lay Constitution Hill in the Champion Hurdle at 15:30. Nor is it easy to make a case against any of the four market leaders in the Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle at 16:10.
Epatante, Honeysuckle, Marie's Rock and Brandy Love are all Grade 1 winners at a similar trip. Epatante has finished behind Honeysuckle in the last two Champion Hurdles but the mares' hurdle is over half a mile further. The extra distance is enough to make me wary of laying Epatante for a win.
My final place lay is Bad in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at 16:50.
Ben Pauling's recent import has run three times at Bordeaux Le Bouscat and has improved with each race. He likes soft/heavy but has not run since November and the form doesn't amount to much. His French rating of 63 arguably flatters him.
The Irish, who have won the last five runnings, have the other four market leaders: Tekao, Risk Belle and Sir Allen who beat Byker at Naas.
With Bad possibly needing the race, there's a good chance he will be kept out of the frame by that quartet and by the Sussex duo Perseus Way 16.015/1 and Mr Freedom 70.069/1, who may yet prove ahead of the handicapper.
Bad is 3.39/4 to lay for a place, but may well drift. I would be happy to lay him at up to 4.03/1. The more I look at those French races, the more I think he is up against it.
Racing... Only Bettor. Day 1 at Cheltenham. Watch below.