The races on day one of Cheltenham were littered with strong favourites, making it easy to have a dogmatic view of the chances of the runners, one way or another. The betting landscape and make-up of day two is contrasting in nature, with several ultra-competitive contests, many of which look devilishly difficult from a punting perspective. There are however a few potential value opportunities on Wednesday, with bookmakers offering extremely competitive prices on the morning of the races in order to attract business.
1.30 Neptune Novices’ Hurdle
A good stamina test for the novices, and a race where the Irish do very well. A fairly open betting market, with 7/2 the field. Parlour Games was very impressive in the way he travelled last time out at Newbury, winning the grade one Challow Hurdle at Newbury. Cruised up on the bridle and although he didn’t immediately put the race to bed, was comfortably on top at the finish, winning by a cosy neck. In his favour, he won last time out and has run over at least 2miles4f (9 of last 10 winners ticked this box), but the main negative is that the horse is a 7 year old – 5 or 6 year olds have won 21 of the last 22 races. That damning statistic also rules out Outlander, an Irish raider at the fore of the betting market.
The selection is Nichols Canyon, trained by maestro Willie Mullins, and ridden by Ruby Walsh. By Authorized, he has been suited by the soft conditions in Ireland when winning 3 from 4 over hurdles. Unseated rider the other time when an odds on favourite, but can be forgiven that. Hasn’t raced over 2miles4f+ but was strong at the finish last time out over 18f in Ireland and has won over 15.5f on the flat. Has also run with credit on quicker ground, so the drying conditions should not be a problem. Went from the front last time out and likely to sit handy again. A 5 year old who should appreciate the step up in trip and available at +400 with Coral, he looks a solid each way bet.
Bet – 0.5 points – E/W – Nichols Canyon – +400 – Coral
3.20 Queen Mother Champion Chase
An absolutely intriguing contest, with question marks surrounding a few of these runners, not least Sprinter Sacre. Nicky Henderson’s 9 year old was the best steeplechaser in the world a couple of years ago, producing one of the most exhilarating performances seen in this race in 2013. However, he returned in winter 2013 and was pulled up, and was subsequently found to have a heart issue. The comeback run at Ascot can be viewed from different perspectives. He travelled like the best horse in the race, but wasn’t given a hard time when coming off the bridle, eventually finished second. A small bleed post-race is a little disconcerting, but those who viewed the horse has half fit have come out with a positive interpretation of events, while others think that even half-cooked the Sprinter should have won. If he returns to within 5lbs of his best, he wins, it is really that simple. Available at +275 with BetVictor.
The beneficiary of Sprinter Sacre’s season out was Sire De Grugy, who won an average renewal of the Champion Chase in facile fashion. Has himself had a blip this season when unseating rider on penultimate run, but bounced back to form, giving weight and a beating to some fair competition at Chepstow. Reported to be back to form at home and with concessions on the morning of the race likely to result in a temporarily inflated price, Wednesday AM could be the time to ‘get on’. Currently available at +300 with WilliamHill, Ladbrokes and Coral, but potential of +350 on the day. With a clear round of jumping and his well being assured, really should not be out of the frame, and likely to capitalise on any chinks in Sprinter Sacre’s armour.
Furthermore, an each way double on both Nichols Canyon and Sire De Grugy should give punters a run for their money.