AUTHOR: davidstewart

Festival Favourites – Back or Lay?

I’m about to embark on the annual, yes I think it was a one-off last year, pre-Cheltenham festival tour, which takes me and my faithful driver/sidekick from Sussex to Scotland with plenty of time in the industrial north. Yes you’ve guessed it, I am going everywhere our intrepid head of PR, Luke Tarr, doesn’t fancy.

To be fair to Luke he did the mid-Wales to North Yorkshire the next day trip last year, and probably muttered never again. So, every preview will be stacked with news and views and it’s about time I assessed those horses that divide opinion the most, the short favourites.

Tuesday – It is becoming increasingly common that day 1 will decide our fate; most of the big hitters will see this as the day to get so far in front that breaking even will be the worst scenario come Friday.

My Tent Or Yours-Supreme Novices – The meeting kicks off with the rock solid My Tent Or Yours , who propelled himself to short price favouritism, now 6/4 generally, with his stunning victory in the valuable Betfair Hurdle. Taking that race easily off 149 led to speculation that he might take his chance in the Champion Hurdle itself, but connections appear to favour the novice route.

A rating of 162 is exceptionally high for a novice and he sets a very high standard indeed. It would be pure folly to really go after him as a layer with great optimism but as a bookmaker we have to get him in and, at 6/4, I think on balance we have got to play. There is some hope that the demands of Cheltenham will not play to his strengths and it could be that this will never be his course. Furthermore he looked certain to win his big bumper test at Aintree but rather curled up when the going got tough.

I think he may be a bit of a bridle horse but can the others get him off it? If they can then laying the 6/4 will look a smart strategy. The problem is that many firms will play silly games and fall over themselves to do their money, so don’t be surprised if 5/2 or bigger, for about £50, is up for grabs. As usual it is all about the price and at around 6/4, I will be a layer but will be happy to back him at any silly price on the morning of the race.

Simonsig-Arkle – Simonsig is an exceptional prospect but is priced up on reputation rather than chasing achievements. The merits of his two chase victories are hard to assess as in the first all his main rivals fell and in the second he demolished the increasingly disappointing Hinterland. Yes I can see that he looks awesome and I remember how good he was over hurdles but can I take 4/6 about a horse who hasn’t beaten a meaningful rival for a championship race at the festival? No way.

His brilliant stable mate Sprinter Sacre wasn’t this short at this stage last year and he had smashed the clock on more than one occasion. Betting and laying is all about the price and whilst I fear Simonsig will prove to be very high class and that the opposition might run scared, I really do think you have to lay 4/6 in the Arkle.

Hurricane Fly-Champion Hurdle – current quotes range from 5/4-7/4 for the 2011 champion and I think at the bottom end of those prices it is a no brainer: lay, lay and lay again. I do think however people will find the form book in time and his price will be much bigger on the day of the race. He is by miles the best hurdler in Ireland and keeps hacking up in poor graded events, meaning that assessing him on form is very difficult.

I am prepared to accept that he wasn’t right last year and respect the view from his all-conquering connections that he is a different horse this year. So I can only judge him on his 2011 victory when he beat Peddlers Cross 1 1/4 lengths with Oscar Whiskey a further 5 lengths back in third. A repeat of that should see him hit the frame but I’m not convinced that it would be good enough to win this year. It is my view that he will need a career best to justify favouritism and whilst he may well produce it, I would want at least 3/1 to find out. I really do think it should be 3/1 the field and at his current odds Hurricane Fly represents a decent lay.

Quevega-Mares Hurdle – She will get beat one year, I think, but when who knows? I can’t say I am a great fan of this race and Quevega is a long way clear of her rivals. She is priced up at around 4/6 and there is little mileage in that price for backers or layers. You cannot be a bookmaker and not look to lay an odds-on chance at Cheltenham but she will have to really underperform to get turned over.

I am not sure even the firms determined to do their money will come up with enhanced special prices about Quevega, but we will not be joining in again; at the right price we will stand against her.

Wednesday- Sprinter Sacre-Queen Mother – At around 1/4 Sprinter Sacre is a jump round job and a good chance for us as well as the punters to marvel in his ability. This is likely to be a quiet heat, although the real big hitters might come out to play. At around 1/4 I am sure we will feel compelled to accommodate them but again somebody will want to go 2/5 and again you can’t play at the wrong odds.

The other two relatively short ones are Pont Alexandre in the Neptune who looks a bit special and is very highly rated by his connections. He is however a big strapping Chaser in the making and although the race may cut up he looks pretty short at 5/2 and is worth laying at those odds.

Dynaste for me should go for the Jewson but will probably run in the RSA instead. He is a quick, slick and smooth travelling horse and although I think he does stay the attributes for the RSA are very different. The race tends to be a war of attrition and I can’t have these classy types at short odds in the race. If he goes for the Jewson he is worth backing but at around 9/4 is a lay for the longer race.

Well there you go I appear to have a whole portfolio of horses to lay and I think this is an indication of how there is very little value, presently, at the top end of the markets. The problem for the bookmakers is that the Cheltenham festival is one of the most competitive events of the betting year and the desire to get acceptable turnover will force these prices out.