I make no apologies for the fact that over the next month I will spend a lot of time looking forward to what I regard as Britain’s finest annual sporting event: the Cheltenham Festival. Yes, there will be groans from racegoers that Guinness is a rip-off at £7.50 a pint; yes, it can get overcrowded even if you pay more than £100 for a club enclosure ticket; yes, the Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott-trained horses will win more than their ‘fair share’ of the big races.
But the sheer quality of the racing, the exhilarating atmosphere and the beautiful setting of the course nestled beneath Cleeve Hill are all a joy to behold. Yet, as a punter, the enjoyment of the racing is always greatly enhanced by… a big-priced winner or two.
I have already put up a couple of horses for the first day of the Festival (14 March) and tipped a couple more outsiders for the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup. Today I am going to suggest bets on two more horses in Festival handicaps, even though the entries for these races have not yet been announced. Hence, both antepost bets must be placed on the Non Runner No Bet (NRNB) markets.
My first tip is a really strong fancy that I have for the so-called ‘boys’ race’, the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle. The horse I like is MIGHT I, who has plenty of ability but who is not an easy ride as he is sometimes too keen in his races.
This race is for horses rated up to 145 and so provided Harry Fry’s seven-year-old gelding stays on that mark (and he is very unlikely to run again before the Festival), he will be top weight in the race. With the Martin Pipe in mind, his handler put conditional rider Lorcan Murtagh in the saddle for Might I’s last race and that worked well: the duo were a close second at Cheltenham to Hacker Des Places over just further than two miles, a trip short of the horse’s best.
The two and a half miles plus of the Martin Pipe on 17 March will suit Might I even better. He is best on very soft ground but his top run when second at Aintree in April last year to the ill-fated Three Stripe Life showed deep ground is not essential. That Grade 1 contest was run on ‘good to soft’ and in a respectable time too.
Back Might I each way at 10-1 NRNB five places with bet365, Sky Bet, William Hill or BetVictor. There will, of course, be lots of ‘plot horses’ for this race, notably from Ireland but, provided Might I settles well in the pack, I would be surprised to see the horse out of the first five home. With luck in running, I can see him coming with a late charge to land the race.
My other long-term Festival handicap fancy, although this comes with something of a ‘health warning’, is CAMPROND, who has been in woeful form to date this season. Initially, connections tried him novice chasing but his two runs over the larger obstacles left much to be desired: first an unseated rider and then a distant last of four after more jumping errors.
His jumping has been less than fluent in his three runs back over hurdles but as a result he is he is now down to a mark of just 138. That is very interesting if – a big if – he can return to his best.
Camprond was fourth in the Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle at last year’s Festival off a mark of 140. Although he was beaten more than ten lengths, he might well have won that day if the ground had been ‘good’, as it usually is for day two of the Festival. Instead, the heavens opened and the going was officially ‘soft’, while the race time was slower than standard by nearly 20 seconds.
The gelding then went to the Punchestown Festival, where the ground was riding faster, and won a quality 24-runner handicap over nearly two and a half miles by a comfortable three lengths off a mark of 137. That was no mean achievement.
Camprond is trained by Philip Hobbs and owned by J.P. McManus, and the latter always keeps his cards close to his chest. But if Camprond does tackle the Coral Cup over two miles five furlongs and if his handler can get him back to his best, then he has every chance of winning the race this year provided the rain stays away. Back him each way at a stand-out 20-1 NRNB five places with bet365.
This weekend’s Betfair Hurdle at Newbury is too hard for me and, unusually for a busy Saturday, I don’t have any other strong fancies for tomorrow. Having said that, I hope Mister Coffey runs a big race at Uttoxeter tomorrow (2.45 p.m.) and then goes on to do even better in the National Hunt Challenge Cup for amateur riders at the Festival (I have already tipped him for this race).
For my third and final bet of the week, I am going to look ahead eight days to the Betfred Grand National Trial Handicap Chase at Haydock. I am pretty sure that many of the horses at the top of the market will not run while others are soft-ground horses who will not get their favoured conditions if the weather forecast is right.
On balance, I much prefer an outsider in the field who, if he runs, will be at the bottom of the weights and is able to handle both the course and the faster ground.
Sue Smith’s SMALL PRESENT has won twice over hurdles at Haydock. He ran well on Boxing Day too, when third at Market Rasen. This is his only future entry so hopefully this race is his target. Take the 25-1 each way four places with either Sky Bet or Unibet in the hope that this he turns up at one of his trainer’s favourite tracks.
At the moment, Small Present is just out of the handicap proper but the topweight is very unlikely to run so he should compete off a mark of not much more than 10 stone on the day, provided he takes up the engagement. Here’s hoping he does just that because he ticks plenty of the right boxes for this contest.
1 point each Small Present at 25-1 for the Grand National Trial, paying 1/4 odds, four places.
1 point each way Nassalam at 20-1 NRNB for the Ultima Handicap Chases, paying 1/5 odds, five places.
1 point each way Mister Coffey at 25-1 for the National Hunt Chase, paying 1/5 odds, three places.
1 point each way Camprond at 20-1 NRNB for the Coral Cup, paying 1/5 odds, five places.
1 point each way Hewick at 20-1 NRNB for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, paying 1/5 odds, three places.
1 point each way Royal Pagaille at 50-1 NRNB for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, paying 1/5 odds, three places.
1 point each way Might I at 10-1 for the Martin Pipe Hurdle, paying 1/5 odds, five places.
1 point each way Corach Rambler at 20-1 in the Aintree Grand National, paying 1/4 odds, four places.
1 point each way Lifetime Ambition at 33-1in the Aintree Grand National, paying 1/5 odds, five places.
1 point each way Any Second Now at 20-1in the Aintree Grand National, paying 1/5 odds, five places.
1 point each way Hill Sixteen in the Becher Chase at 11-1, paying 1/5 odds, six places. Unplaced (7th). – 2 points.
2 points win Annsam at 8-1 for the Howden Silver Cup. Cancelled meeting. Stake returned.
1 point each way Eldorado Allen at 20-1 in the King George VI Chase, paying 1/5 odds, 3 places. Unplaced (4th). – 2 points.
1 point each way The Big Breakaway in 20-1 for the Welsh Grand National at 20-1, paying 1/5 odds, five places. 2nd. + 3 points.
1 point each way The Big Dog at 12-1 in the Welsh Grand National, paying 1/4 odds, four places. 3rd. + 2 points.
1 point each way Grumpy Charley at 12-1 in the Newbury 2.25 p.m. paying 1/5 odds, five places. 1st + 16.4 points.
2 points win Midnight River at 5-1 for the Cheltenham 1.55 p.m., with Skybet. 1st. + 10 points.
1 point each way Coconut Splash at 12-1 in the Cheltenham 1.55 p.m., with William Hill, paying 1/5 odds, six places. Unplaced (P). – 2 points.
1 point each way Sir Ivan at 20-1 in the Sandown 3 p.m., paying 1/5 odds, five places. Unplaced. – 2 points.
1 point each way Lord du Mesnil at 8-1 in the Warwick 3 p.m. race, paying 1/5 odds, five places. Unplaced. – 2 points.
1 point each way Dubrovnik Harry at 8-1 in the Kempton 2.40 p.m. race, paying 1/5 odds, seven places. Unplaced. – 2 points.
1 point each way Mister Coffey at 15/2 for the Doncaster 3.15 p.m., 1/5 odds, five places. Non Runner. Stake returned.
1 point each way Back On The Lash at 7/1 for the Cheltenham 12.40 p.m., 1/5 odds, five places. 1st. + 8.4 points
1 point each way Empire Steel at 12-1 in the Sandown 3.30 p.m., paying 1/5 odds, 5 places. Unplaced. – 2 points.
2022-3 jumps season, running total + 25.8 points.
My gambling record for the seven years: I have made a profit in 13 of the past 14 seasons to recommended bets. To a one-point level stake over this period, the profit of has been just over 469 points. All bets are either one-point each way or two-points win (a ‘point’ is your chosen regular stake).
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