Tony Calvin: Antepost thoughts on the Tolworth, Welsh National and Festival NRNB races

Betfair are NRNB on all four championship races at Cheltenham including the Gold Cup
Betfair are NRNB on all four championship races at Cheltenham including the Gold Cup
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Our top tipster drops in with his thoughts on the weekend action at Sandown and Chepstow as well as a note on the four championship races at the Cheltenham Festival which are now non-runner, no-bet on the Betfair Sportsbook...

"I must admit that I am a massive fan of Kalashnikov, and it is interesting that he is one of only two horses jocked up at this stage on the BHA's Racing Admin site."

It's fair to say that it was an eventful Christmas period when it came to the Cheltenham Festival markets, both in England and Ireland - a fair few big bubbles were pricked, if not burst - but we can leave the long-range prospects to another time.

Mind you, plenty will want to get involved now as the Betfair Sportsbook are now non-runner no-bet on the four Championship races (Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase, Stayers' Hurdle and Gold Cup) as well as on the Ryanair.

That may not be the earliest someone has offered this concession - one firm, kamikaze-like, went NRNB on these races in November a few years ago - but it is clearly a tremendous offer and one that will probably still be around two months too early for the accountants!

The one that interested me most in the Stayers' Hurdle isn't actually quoted at the moment, so I better keep my powder dry until it appears in the market!

Get set for an extremely wet Welsh National

It makes sense to concentrate on the weekend races though, as what is normally a low-key Saturday in the calendar has been boosted the rescheduling of the Welsh National. Or that is the plan, anyway.

The course had "high hopes" for the meeting going ahead on December 27, only for overnight rain to leave a few lakes on the track, and they are similarly positive for Saturday, stating it is currently heavy but raceable.

However, they had another 14mm on Tuesday and the forecast I am looking at suggests more rain is to follow in the next few days, so the card could bite the dust again. Probably not a good description in the circumstances, but you know what I mean.

The other potential problem with the betting is that bookmakers pricing up the race have had their cards "marked" to a fair degree as every tipster, and no doubt a fair few punters, made their selections and bets for the race before it was called off in the morning of the 27th.

My two against the field were Chase The Spud and Milansbar so I will wait and see what the betting, weather and declarations bring later on in the week before deciding to stick or twist with that pair.

Wincanton is already heavy after copping 8mm on Tuesday and the forecast in the South West today and tomorrow looks as enticing as a night out with Toby Young - Jeez, I thought I was bad on Twitter, then I read his stuff - so hopefully that meeting will survive, too, as there are three races scheduled to be on ITV.

The exchange has a market on the 2m5f handicap hurdle but the two that caught my eye at this stage aren't jocked up and I have no idea of their running plans. I'll name them, and maybe even tip them too, if they are entered on Friday morning.

Kalashnikov taking aim at the Tolworth

The main meeting of the day is at Sandown, where the Grade 1 Tolworth takes centre stage, again on a card where we will be getting bottomless ground.

That is nothing new for this meeting and the field for the big novices' hurdle looks well up to scratch, as recent winners include the likes of Yorkhill and Finian's Oscar. In fact, this time last year one firm originally offered the latter at 8/1, and he duly obliged on the day at 11/10.

Unfortunately, no such ricks this time around, with the big three of current Supreme favourite Claimantakinforgan, Kalashnikov and Western Ryder dominating the early betting.

I must admit that I am a massive fan of Kalashnikov, and it is interesting that he is one of only two horses jocked up at this stage on the BHA's Racing Admin site. The other is Sussex Ranger, but that one is also in the Grade 1 Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow on Saturday.

The big race of the day at Sandown from a financial point of view is the 100k veteran's handicap chase final and what's not to like about horses ranging from 11-14yo battling it out for the £61,900 first prize.

It will be heartening to see if the old man of the party, Pete The Feat, can follow up his win in the race last year, when thankfully carrying my cash, but let's see the final field before committing to a bet.

Market moves suggest Samcro no-show

There could also be a mouth-watering clash in Ireland on Sunday, as we could have two Festival favourites locking horns in the Grade 1 2m4f novices' hurdle at Naas,, if Samcro (2-1 favourite for the Ballymore) takes on the 6/1 Albert Bartlett market-leader Next Destination.

But the betting this morning suggests that could be a fair 'if'.

The Betfair Sportsbook originally opened up 4/9 Samcro and 9/4 Next Destination, but are now 11/8 and 8/11 respectively - mirroring the recent exchange moves - so it will be interesting to see if they both rock up.

Samcro has been hailed as the Second Coming by many, if not his owner who has tried to downplay the expectation (without much success), and he certainly looked the part at Navan in November.

However, Next Destination's December win at the same track was no less impressive, and they both bring a high level of form to the party.

Given the apparent market uncertainty, it is probably best to wait if you do have a fancy though as Gigginstown have eight of the 15 entries and Willie Mullins, who has won five of the last eight runnings of the race, also has three in the contest.

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