It's a day to take on the favourites, writes Jack Houghton, who is putting up four lays on St Patrick's Day at the Festival...
"This column might make it seem that I have a personal vendetta against Willie Mullins. I don't, but it can often be the case that his excellent record at Cheltenham can see the market overvaluing their horses..."
Wins for Samcro and Altior hit the betting bank on Day Two, but we're still running at two successful lays out of five, and hopefully a few of you were on the right side of Presenting Percy in the RSA Chase, who was put up yesterday as a rightful favourite.
Thursday's card sees a number of favourites who are worth taking on...
Decline Invitation in JLT Novices' Chase
If looking only at trainer form, it would be hard to do better than Invitation Only in this. Willie Mullins has a fine record in this race and at the Festival, and he presumably wouldn't send the horse without some confidence in his ability. As [4.70] favourite, though, it seems that the market is putting far too much faith in connections, and ignoring the form, and of course, as we now know Walsh is out of the Festival with injury.
Invitation Only's third-place in a Grade One at Leopardstown last time out is his best piece of form, but the time of that race was very slow, and on the balance of his performances to date, I'd question whether he even deserves to be prominent in the market for this, let alone the favourite. At least four or five of these - especially Terrefort - have better credentials, and so I'm going to be punchy and lay Invitation Only for a place at around [1.90].
Un De Sceaux might have turbulent flight in Ryanair
Assuming Douvan doesn't run, Un De Sceaux will likely start at odds of around [1.70]. On the surface, that looks fair enough. Willie Mullins' charge has won twice at the Festival before, and was a close second to Sprinter Sacre in 2016, which is no mean feat. What's more, Un De Sceaux comes to Cheltenham off the back of two imperious wins this season so far and is reportedly in fine shape.
This is no straightforward task, though. I fancy Cue Card and Sub Lieutenant to make things difficult for the favourite, especially in the likely tacky ground. Interestingly, connections are of the view that soft ground will see Un De Sceaux at his best, but his performances against the clock suggest that he's better on faster ground. He's a favourite to oppose at those odds.
Sam Spinner needs to improve in Stayers' Hurdle attempt
Progressive horses are always attractive betting propositions at the Festival: it feels like you are buying into a dream and that if the horse turns out to be a great, you can always say you were there from the start. Often, though, unsurprisingly, we find that when the level of competition increases, the limitations of these horses get discovered. Sam Spinner may be a great in the making, and there was a lot to like about his Long Walk Hurdle win at Ascot, but he's more likely to turn out to be no better than competitive at this level.
On what we've seen so far, he will need to improve by a few pounds to win this, and with a field which has strength-in-depth, I'm happy to lay him for a place at around [2.20]. For those looking for a bigger-priced selection, The New One is interesting at around [20.0] on his first try at three miles.
Laurina a dubious favourite in Mares' Novices' Hurdle
Without wanting this column to look like I have a personal vendetta against Willie Mullins, it can often be the case that his excellent record at Cheltenham can see the market overvaluing his horses. Laurina is a case in point at the very short odds of [1.72] with Walsh still listed as the jockey on the Exchange. We know he won't ride.
She has won well in two smaller races in Ireland, but that form is a fair bit below what the likes of Maria's Benefit and Cap Soleil already have in the book, so anyone backing Laurina is taking it on trust that she can improve further in a competitive race.
Lay Invitation Only for a place @ [1.90] in JLT Novices' Chase
Lay Un De Sceaux @ [1.70] in Ryanair Chase*
Lay Sam Spinner for a place @ [2.20] in Stayers' Hurdle
Lay Laurina @ [1.72] in Mares' Novices' Hurdle
*Recommended odds if Douvan is non-runner