Channel 4 Racing: Pay The King and Court Minstrel the royal picks of the Cheltenham bunch

Tony's picked two horses to back at Cheltenham on Sunday
Tony's picked two horses to back at Cheltenham on Sunday
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After tipping [19.4] BSP winner Zaplamation at Wetherby on Saturday, Tony Calvin is back with his big prices tipping column and has picked out two horses worth a look at Cheltenham on Sunday...

Back Pay The King at odds of [12.0] or bigger in the 13:00 at Cheltenham
Back Court Minstrel at odds of [13.0] or bigger in the 15:15 at Cheltenham

We will probably say this far too many times in the weeks and months ahead, but I would love someone to explain to me how can three, valuable Channel 4 races on Sunday's card only attract a combined total of 16 entries?

It really is mystifying. 

And if Cheltenham want Festival sponsors to also support the 'trial' races en route to March - as they are trying to get with the Gold Cup now, it seems, with Betfred set to step aside - then they need to get the thumbscrews out.

Because I wouldn't have thought Skybet were chuffed to see their Supreme Trial race only get four runners - the fourth home will pick up £1,599 just for turning up - or the Racing Post attract only five entries for their £32,000 Arkle equivalent.

It is especially galling for a bookmaking sponsor to not even attract enough entries in their race to bet each way the first two places, and neither of the three, small-field Graded/Listed races in question generate much punting enthusiasm from this quarter either.

Owners and trainers are often the first to moan if a small operation enter lowly-rated horses in these situations trying to nick decent free place money - there is £857 for finishing last of 5 in the Arkle trial and £938 for finishing 6th of 7 in the Schloer - but I am afraid that collectively they only have themselves to blame.

No such worries for Stan James, whose Greatwood Hurdle at 15:15, has attracted 18 entries and is devilishly difficult once again.

But I am going to stay loyal to Court Minstrel and back him to small stakes at odds of [13.0] or bigger in the win market, and for a place too.

I backed him at Ascot on his reappearance but, as I feared, the ground proved too soft for him there and he ran disappointingly. The key to this horse is good ground or faster, and hopefully he will get just that at Cheltenham on Sunday.

He is a course winner, and a real traveller - he beat Sametegal with ease at Ayr last season - so expect him to cruise through the race and be delivered late. He is not straightforward but I suspect that he is much better than an 149-rated horse.

Hopefully, he will have enough in hand to see off a hugely competitive field. And for those who like to take out an in-running insurance lay at short prices, I will not put you off.

I am cheating a little bit here - as the race is on RUK and not Channel 4 - but I can't let Pay The King go untipped in the opener at 13:00.

I think it is fair to say that connections would have been slightly disappointed by the fact that he was beaten at odds-on on his two hurdling starts last season.

Some horses take time to bed in after coming over from Ireland though, and I can't help feeling that this horse is a potential blot on the handicap off 116 judged on his Gowran Park bumper win last year. Granted, there are probably three or four other similar candidates in this 24-runner conditional jockeys' handicap hurdle.

But if you go back and look at the race, that bumper victory has worked out ridiculously well. The next four home have all won races - and the fifth Cailin Annamh won a Grade 3 at Punchestown last month - which suggests he has far more ability than his current hurdle mark suggests.
Of course, he has it to prove over hurdles, but I am sure that his trainer will be keen to show that this 150,000 guineas purchase at the Cheltenham Sales last December is much better than his two hurdles runs indicate.

Back him at odds of [12.0] or better.

Recommended Bets

Back Pay The King at odds of [12.0] or bigger in the 13:00 at Cheltenham
Back Court Minstrel at odds of [13.0] or bigger in the 15:15 at Cheltenham

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