With the Cheltenham Festival only a matter of hours away now, punters will be studying the form relentlessly as they try to find guides that will lead them to the promise land.
There may be one or two so-called bankers over the course of the week at Prestbury Park, with the likes of Sprinter Sacre in the Champion Chase and Quevega in the mares Hurdle odds-on favourites to retain her crown.
Other than that, here are a few that may just earn you a schilling or two:
Un Atout (Supreme Novices’) – Tuesday
The first race of the week has so often been a graveyard for favourites, and this year bookies’ will be hoping that trend continues with Nicky Henderson’s My Tent Or Yours (7/4) head of the market. Only 3 of the last 16 horses to start at under 3/1 have won, with 7 of the last 8 winners coming out of the top three. That said, the Willie Mullins-trained Un Atout looks good value at 7/1. He has been impressive all year, and was untouchable on his most recent run at Naas when winning 19 lengths. While many come here in good form, backing a last-time-out winner has been the way to go as 14 of the last 16 winners had won on the previous start. He shouldn’t be out of the top 3.
Pont Alexandre (Neptune Novices’ Hurdle) – Wednesday
He is, for me, the Irish NAP of the week. He hasn’t put a hoof wrong all season and connections have been pretty sweet on him in the build-up to the Festival. Though lightly raced this term, his two wins from the same amount of starts have been so impressive that he has been installed at 13/8 favourite for this year’s renewal. The Grade 1 Navan Novices’ Hurdle won this season by Pont Alexandre has seen recent winners and runner-ups going on to win the Neptune in the last seven years. Combined with the fact that trainer Willie Mullins has won this race twice in recent years (Fiveforthree in 2008 and Mikael D’Haguenet in 2009), Pont Alexandre looks a good thing.
Dynaste (Jewson Chase) – Thursday
Trainer David Pipe has chosen this race over the RSA due to the prospect of testing ground. Dynaste has won all his three races over fences between two and a half and three miles and had been ante-post favourite for both races since he put on quite a display in the Feltham at Kempton over Christmas. The 3/1 that was on offer by some firms earlier this week has well and truly been snapped up by punters, and the grey is now a general 7/4 for a race that is only in it’s third year. Barring any major jumping problems, I cannot envisage anything getting past the seven year-old. He should get you off to a good start on the Thursday.
Solwhit (World Hurdle) – Thursday
Only one of five horses that has beaten Champion Hurdle winner Hurricane Fly over timber, Solwhit has looked something of his best this season following a lay-off of nearly two years due to persistent injuries. The obvious concern is the trip; this will be the first time he has gone over three miles. With the weather as it currently is and the going unlikely to improve, I do believe that the ground will be to his advantage. As well as that, this race is as open as ever given that Big Bucks, a horse who has owned this race for the past four years, the 8/1 on offer may prove to be a solid each-way bet.
Salsify (Foxhunters Chase) – Friday
Last year’s winner is back to defend his crown after dramatically taking this race from Chapoturgeon. These two are again the two best horses in the field, and I won’t be surprised to see them slog it out to all the way to the line again this year. Remembering that this is a race for the amateur jockeys, Salsify is a horse that enjoys a unique relationship with driver Colman Sweeney. Indeed, his win last year was arguably the Irish success story of the Festival, trainer by father Rodger Sweeney whose wife owns the horse. Prep for the race have gone according to plan, he got up by a neck to at Leopardstown in early February. Those with strong pointing backgrounds hold an excellent record in this race. Aided by the fact that 14 of the last 15 win or placed horses over the last five years were all last-time-out winners, anything in and around3/1 for Salsify to regain his crown may be a worthwhile investment.