In the competitive crucible of the Cheltenham Festival laying can be your saviour says Jack Houghton, who is opposing a a trio of horses on Champions Hurdle day...
"Laurina is bottom of the pile based on what she's achieved on the clock, and whilst her handicap rating is more positive, I wouldn't want to be taking [1.80] in the place market based on current known form..."
The Festival is always ultra-competitive, defining the seasons of all those involved with jump racing. It leads to breath-taking racing but can often strip the wallet bare: strong betting picks can be undone by the misfortune and calamity that the competitiveness inevitably brings.
Sometimes, then, a more conservative approach - finding those horses who are overvalued by the market and laying them - is the way to ensure a profit come Friday night. If you're new to laying, you can find a guide here, with three recommendations below who might not run as well as the betting suggests...
Take a Hardline in the Arkle place market
This must be the first Festival in years where I haven't gotten stuck into some ridiculously short-priced favourite in the Supreme Novice's opener; those at the top of the market there look about right and so I'll have to wait until the second race to target a weak market leader.
In the Arkle, that horse is Hardline, who should be laid in the place market at [2.70]. Hitting the top three in this competitive, 12-runner affair will be difficult. And Hardline, whose form has all come in slowly-run, small-field affairs, will likely struggle. According to my ratings, he has at least six of these ahead of him, and should it be run at a fast pace (which it should be), I expect to see him out of contention before the final stages.
Laurina steps into a different class in Champion Hurdle and is a place lay
It's very hard to separate the first two in the betting for the Champion Hurdle. Apple's Jade and Buveur D'Air are rightful joint-favourites and, whilst my preference would be for the latter (he has better Cheltenham form and is marginally quicker of the clock), it would be no surprise to see either of them win.
More surprising would be a prominent showing from Laurina. Yes, she has lots going for her: she's unbeaten; she had an easy Festival win in the Dawn Run last year; and the trainer-jockey combination is always to be feared here. However, I have her bottom of the pile based on what she's achieved on the clock, and whilst her handicap rating is more positive (she's fifth best), I wouldn't want to be taking [1.80] in the place market based on current known form.
Willie Mullins can overturn his own favourite in the Mare's Hurdle
Market leader Benie Des Dieux ([2.16]) has lots in her favour in a race where connections have a fine record, and it would be no surprise to see her repeating her win of last year. However, there are no mulligans at the Festival and, whilst she tops the ratings for the race, she only does so jointly, with stablemate Limini having equally impressive form in the book, albeit a while back. If Limini can recapture the form of her Festival win here in 2016, and Benie Des Dieux feels the effects of her long lay-off, Ruby Walsh may be on the wrong horse.
A slightly speculative lay, perhaps, but one to have a dabble with before readying ourselves for an assault on Wednesday.
Lay Hardline at [2.70] in Arkle Place Market
Lay Laurina at [1.80] in Champion Hurdle Place Market
Lay Benie Des Dieux at [2.16] in Mares Hurdle