Clichés about multiple ways to skin a cat might not be the best way to begin previewing an event where animals are centre-stage but the point holds; there are more places to back a winner at the Festival than the outright markets. With betting for many of next week's races available for nigh-on 12 months, one would expect that the correct favourite has been found in most cases and an inordinate amount of time has been spent on analysing whether they will prove bankers or blowouts.
There are ways to take the favourite out of the equation by playing in the extra place and without the favourite markets. Having initially been sceptical about the Exchange offering extra place betting - I wondered if they would just take away from the basic place markets - I now believe there can be some decent value here, albeit not to major stakes though the volume is likely to be there next week.
One of the keys to these extra markets can be to find a second- or third-favourite you don't like and oppose it; I mentioned being against some of those chasing up Getabird and Apple's Jade in their respective races yesterday and I am similarly negative about On The Blind Side in the Ballymore. There is nothing more frustrating than finding a decent-priced horse to come second to the favourite when you were against the next few in the market and only getting paid a miserable each-way dividend. By looking at the alternative markets you can spread your stake to more effectively reflect your opinion.
Another thing to consider in the without and place markets are the horses that have already been beaten by the favourite. Because these runners appear held on form they can be overpriced as their outright price is reflected back into the supplementary markets. This can offer a cheaper way into backing the favourite.
Ballymore Novices Hurdle
There could be a decent example of this in Wednesday's opener, opposing On The Blind Side in the without Samcro markets. His time-figures lag behind a number of the field and Nicky Henderson, who has a poor historical record in the race, says 'sore shins' give him issues going downhill and it looked that way when he was a little outpaced running here in November.
I respect Next Destination. He seemed to be in front too soon at Naas and might to better held onto for longer but the value in the extra markets currently looks to be Duc De Genievres and Vinndication. The former is no sure participant but past evidence suggests a change of plan could happen and he looks overpriced on the Samcro form line. The story with Vinndication is simple, he has thrived in what has only been a four-month-long career, and Huntingdon suggested there was more in the tank. I'll wait until the day due to doubts around running plans.
RSA Novice Chase
The prize for weirdest Cheltenham preparation 2018 goes to Presenting Percy and it's not even close; he still seems the right favourite as it is hard to forget how easily he won at the meeting last year. Monalee is one that looks shorter than he should be, especially relative to those that chased him home in the Flogas, and Dounikos is interesting with Gordon Elliott saying he is an intended runner earlier in the week.
Every season, a seemingly ordinary Gigginstown novice hurdler improves markedly for fences and tends to be overpriced for all their runs; Dounikos is that horse this season. He was better than the bare form at Leopardstown, squeezed out briefly after the last and finishing with running to give, but the big angle for him to improve past Monalee and Al Boum Photo is the ground. He was pretty poor on slow ground as a novice hurdler but is yet to run on faster than soft-heavy over fences and the likely sounder surface here could get more out of him.
I just fancy Min here. He put up a career-best last time at Leopardstown and seemed to relish getting a lead; Special Tiara is again in the field and he should again get a good tow into the race. After only five chase starts, there is still untapped potential here and the ground may not be the issue some have made out; he produced peak efforts at the time when racing on a decent surface in the Supreme and Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown.
Opposing Altior is all about the preparation and they went slow last time at Newbury so his wind wasn't tested. In any case, Min has the better form this season. As for for backing a big-priced horse to hit the frame, I don't really see the case as should Min and Altior run near their best then there will only be one place on offer.
This isn't an opinion race for me as I am fancying everything and nothing at the same time. Blackbow showed gears last time but could have been flattered by Minella Encore going too hard while that applies even more so to Rhinestone who was held up further off the pace. Hollowgraphic looked really good at Punchestown but was aided by the second and third racing too keenly on deep ground. Between them, Didtheyleaveuoutto and Acey Milan look to have the rest of the UK horses covered but they are priced accordingly. Pass.