Cheltenham Tips: Tony Calvin's verdict on every race with five to back at big prices
The Festival is finally here and, strapped in and ready for tipping action across all four days is Tony Calvin, who kicks off with five to back on Tuesday...
"His Cheltenham form figures read 2316432417, and they include that win here last season, a narrow third in the 2016 Fred Winter and a fourth in the Martin Pipe in 2017. That is an impressive Festival record in anyone's language and, while he doesn't come here in prime nick, at least he has been dropped 5lb for his three starts this season and the current good form of the yard (and at this meeting, too) allays many of the concerns on that front, anyway."
Stick with Sancy in the Supreme
Well, it's finally upon us and the first result of the Festival is that we are here to see it - this piece gets more upbeat, I promise - so let's crack on without further ado.
I plan to tackle every day in chronological order - that is how I am approaching Tuesday anyway - and as I can hear the rumblings of the famous roar (mythical or otherwise these days) in the distance that means it must be the Supreme kicking things off again at 13:30.
Let's get the weather chat out of the way first and, if you haven't heard, around 10-15mm of rain is expected at the course from Tuesday morning onwards. So factor that into your reasoning.
The big Supreme mover in the past 36 hours has been Willie Mullins' Klassical Dream and, from seemingly being likely to line up for the Ballymore for the past few weeks - he had been matched as low as [8.2] on that market - he looks now likely to go off favourite for this two-miler.
There was a late exchange move for him before the ante-post market closed at 10am on Sunday morning, his price tumbling into 10-1 there, but there is surely no juice left in the Leopardstown Grade 1 winner's price now he his odds have halved to around the 5/1 mark.
It is a bold move by connections to leave the hood off Betfair Hurdle winner Al Dancer, whether by accident or design, but the stable confidence regarding the other contender for favouritism, Angels Breath, is infectious.
I spoke to his jockey Nico de Boinville at Sandown on Saturday and he was adamant that we will see a "different horse" to the one beaten in the Dovecote last time.
If that is true then he is probably the one to beat, as that Kempton second in a good time already puts him on the coat-tails of the form horses like Klassical Dream and Aramon (only a head separated them at Leopardstown, so their discrepancy in price seems wrong), Al Dancer and Grand Sancy. And softer ground and a more strongly-run race here will suit him.
I put up Grand Sancy ante-post at 14/1 and am very happy with that bet as he has strong form and clock credentials, but the race does have a far more competitive look to it than I was expecting three weeks ago, and I can leave the race alone here and now.
If you want an interest then I would say he fits the bill, possibly each-way with the Betfair Sportsbook who are offering five places, but no fresh tip from me.
Arkle too tough to call
Like most others, I was hugely impressed by Glen Forsa's dismissal of Kalashnikov (who will be better suited to going left-handed here) in the rescheduled Kingmaker at Sandown last time, and he was immediately available at 10/1 with the Sportsbook after that victory.
That didn't last long and his price has only gone one way since, not surprising given he apparently posted some deeply impressive sectionals there (I don't own a stopwatch, no, or even a watch for that matter) and his jumping was out of the top drawer.
His problem is that he clearly faces a much different test of his talent here, not least because there are five others in here that like to go forward in the Arkle at 14:10 and he has no course experience.
Hardline has been supported from 10/1 in the last week and this hold-up performer could be the beneficiary if there is a pace burn-up early doors.
But it really is an exceptionally tricky contest to call, with just 9lb covering 11 of the 12 runners (the exception being the lowly-rated Slate House) on official figures, and if this was a normal Saturday then I wouldn't dream of betting on this novices' chase.
And I do think you have to be consistent to your usual betting MO, even if this is the Festival and the temptation is to punt on every race. That is probably not "on message" but regular readers know the score; if I don't back them myself, then I don't tip them to others.
Two to play in the Ultima
Fear not though, as I am putting up two in the Ultima at 14:50.
First up is Coo Star Sivola (pictured below) who did us a favour by winning the race last year under regular pilot Lizzie Kelly. Mind you, those last 100 yards did not make for comfortable viewing, as he clung on for a neck win, though it was six lengths back to the third.
Back him each-way, five places, at 11/1 with the Sportsbook.
He returns to the scene of that sublime victory off a 3lb higher mark here, having run a bit of a stinker the last time we saw him, here in December on good ground, but I imagine this has been his been the plan for a while.
And connections have got lucky with the testing ground again. It was heavy last year and all his other previous best efforts have come on soft.
His Cheltenham form figures read 2316432417, and they include that win here last season, a narrow third in the 2016 Fred Winter and a fourth in the Martin Pipe in 2017.
That is an impressive Festival record in anyone's language and, while he doesn't come here in prime nick, at least he has been dropped 5lb for his three starts this season and the current good form of the yard (and at this meeting, too) allays many of the concerns on that front, anyway.
I will be a fair bit poorer if he is out of the first five.
In spite of two Festival blow-outs in the past, I was all set to make Thyestes third Up For Review my second bet in the race, but all the 20s, 16s, and 14s disappeared on Sunday afternoon as his price ebbed away on the exchange.
I can see him running a big race - he will love the ground and shaped really well behind Invitation Only at Gowran on that reappearance run - but betting at the tail-end of gambles is not for me, thanks. I am probably a bit too price-sensitive on occasions, but I find that is a profitable mind-set to have.
I was tempted to put up Flying Angel again at 33/1 as he is handicapped to win a big one, but 3m1f on soft ground here is surely beyond him - I may have a tenner on him win-only on the exchange just in case - but I tossed up between Beware The Bear and Royal Vacation as my saver.
The former, a winner here last time in first-time blinkers and fourth in this race last year, was discarded on the grounds that he seems to reserve his best for small fields (last season's run notwithstanding), so I am giving Royal Vacation a whirl at 25/1 each way.
He has run two excellent races at this course, including a win on soft ground (he has also scored on heavy at Lingfield), and he returned to winning form under today's jockey Aidan Coleman over an extended 3m4f at Taunton in January.
I thought he looked like following up for a moment at Haydock last time, travelling kindly and trading at less than 3/1 in running before dropping away, and I like the idea of him stepping back to 3m1f here on softer ground, though connections apparently think he is more at home on a better surface.
History tells you he has struggled off this type of mark in the past - he went up 6lb for Taunton and was only dropped 1lb for being beaten 30 lengths at Haydock - but he is worth a nibble at the price, all things considered. His assured stamina over further could be crucial in the conditions.
Laurina a potential place lay but Champion is one to savour
The Champion Hurdle at 15:30 looks an absolute belter but it is hard to see much of a betting angle into the race with the top two in the market so solid, though the third-favourite Laurina (pictured) is definitely not for me at her price, even if the ground will play to her staying strengths.
In fact, I am inclined to place-lay her at around the even money mark personally, though I would never tip at those kind of prices in this column.
I have an inkling that last year's neck runner-up Melon could bounce back to form, and the likes of the admirable Silver Streak could out-run his odds, but I will probably sit this one out and hopefully watch a classic unfold.
I don't really care who wins now, to be honest, since Supasundae's disappointing switch to the Stayers' Hurdle (yes, that would be my mouth you can hear from my pocket).
Back Mullins second string in the Mares' Hurdle
All the talk suggests that Benie Des Dieux is a good thing in the Mares' Hurdle at 16:10.
However, a horse who has just 1lb in hand of two rivals, and 3lb in hand of another pair, and who hasn't raced since Punchestown last April, even if she is trained by Willie Mullins and won at the Festival last year, is not my idea of an even-money poke.
I really like the claims of her stablemate Stormy Ireland at 8/1 each way with the Sportsbook.
She is one of the aforementioned horses who has only 3lb to find with the favourite on official ratings, and I love her profile coming into the race.
In her last five starts, she has beaten the solid yardstick Good Thyne Tara twice and in her three defeats she has come up against two Champion Hurdle horses in Laurina and Espoir D'Allen, and her other start saw her finish third to the hugely-talented Master Dino in Auteuil.
She wasn't given at all a hard time behind owner-mate Laurina over this trip at Punchestown last month, but still shaped with ominous promise, and I expect a bold showing here on ground she will handle.
One to back in the Close Brothers
I have a lot of time for the market leaders Riders On the Storm and A Plus Tard in the Close Brothers at 16:50 - and the same goes for Tower Bridge, too, though his trainer is only one from 36 when trying first-time cheek pieces - but they have not been missed in the market now and I prefer Highway One O One at [15.0] or bigger.
The case for him is pretty straightforward. He had some good 2m form in the soft earlier in the season, beating Dolos at Carlisle and finishing fourth in the Henry VIII, and he put up a career-best when chasing home the JLT-bound Kildisart over an extended 2m4f on the New Course here last time.
That looks very strong handicap form to me, so I am not bothered by a 2lb rise, and I really liked the way he stuck on and didn't fold when headed there on his first start over the trip.
Hopefully, he will get to the head of affairs, or close to it, and out of trouble and I can see him going one better here, though I do fear the Irish trio I mentioned earlier.
A huge price selection for the closer
I backed Ok Corral at 8/1 non-runner no-bet for the RSA as to me he is a pacey three-miler not a four-miler slogger, so I am more than happy to look elsewhere in the National Hunt Chase at 17:30.
The obvious alternative is Ballyward win-only or Discorama each-way, but I can't resist a speculative few quid of Just Your Type at [50.0] or bigger in win market, and [11.0] in the place.
He has a stone and more to find with the principals and was a little tame when well-fancied for the Eider last time off a mark of just 134, but things didn't go to plan there and I am willing to forgive him that run at his current price.
He had earlier looked set to steamroller a fair field over 3m at Exeter before falling two out, and soft ground holds no fears for him.
He wears first-time cheek-pieces and hopefully they will help, too, as his trainer is a fair three from 19 with this angle since 2016, netting a big prize when Bentelimar sported them initially when winning the Red Rum at Aintree last year. And he has an even better strike-rate in general when putting the sheepskin on.
Good luck on Day One.
Tony Calvin P&L (April 14 2017 to March 11)
+160.6 (all recommended exchange bets are settled at Betfair SP)
Coo Star Sivola at 11/1 each way in 14:50
Royal Vacation at 25/1 each way in 14:50
Stormy Ireland at 8/1 each way in 16:10
Highway One O One at [15.0] or bigger in 16:50
Just Your Type at [50.0] win and [11.0] place, or bigger, in 17:30
Grand Sancy, each-way, three places, at 14-1
Supasundae at [21.0] or bigger in Champion Hurdle