For details on how to contact our editorial and commercial departments, click here
Top of the tips for Cheltenham
WITH four days of hugely competitive racing, next week's Cheltenham Festival can be a minefield for punters. Chief Sports Writer Scott Wilson provides some advice.
As regular readers of my column will know, I was tipping up My Tent Or Yours for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle (1.30) at the turn of the year at odds of 10-1. I'm not about to change my mind now, although the fact the Betfair Hurdle winner has been backed in to 6-4 favourite obviously makes it a completely different betting proposition.
If you're going to back it, wait until just before the off because the bookies will look to take it on once they start getting money for other horses. Come the time the tapes go up on Tuesday, I'd be surprised if it wasn't bigger than 2-1.
The biggest threat could well come from Paul Nicholls' Dodging Bullets (9-1), who has been hidden away since finishing third behind Darlan and Raya Star on Boxing Day. I fancy he's an improver, and his profile is similar to that of Al Ferof, who won the Supreme for Nicholls in 2011.
The Arkle Chase (2.05) looks like a two-horse race with Overturn (11-4) taking on Simonsig (4-6) at the head of the market.
Overturn chased home Rock On Ruby to finish a hugely impressive second in last year's Champion Hurdle and has claimed three facile victories to kick off his chasing career.
However, Simonsig was a hugely impressive winner of last year's Neptune and has also taken to chasing like a fish to water. Barry Geraghty regards the seven-year-old as one of his bankers of the meeting, and while it often pays to take on odds-on shots at Cheltenham, Nicky Henderson's grey is worth supporting.
The JLT Speciality Chase (2.40) is the first big handicap of the Festival, and as ever, it looks a hugely-competitive affair.
With plans still to be finalised, it's hard to be too definitive at this stage, but it generally pays to side with horses that either won last time out, or which boast a strong record at Cheltenham. With that in mind, Cantlow (8-1) and Fruity O'Rooney (10-1) both make the shortlist.
The Champion Hurdle (3.20) is the feature race of the opening day, and having lost my money when it flopped last year, I simply can't have Hurricane Fly at odds of 2-1.
The former champion was outpaced from the start 12 months ago, and while Ruby Walsh is adamant he's back to his best, his form this season revolves around beating the same group of second-rate rivals in small-field Irish races on soft ground. Conditions on Tuesday could hardly be more different.
I'm a big fan of former Triumph Hurdle winner Zarkander (9-2), but I don't really see what last year's winner, Rock On Ruby, has done to merit odds of 5-1. He was matching Darlan when Nicky Henderson's runner suffered a crushing fatal fall at Doncaster, and his season has been steadily building to a defence of his crown. Provided he gets himself into a decent rhythm, I think he'll succeed.
If you're looking for an each-way shot, Cinders And Ashes (11-1) could be interesting at double-figure odds. Last year's Supreme winner has been badly off-key this season, but he's a good ground horse and this should be the first time the surface has been in his favour. I'd be quietly confident he'll run a big race.
The Glenfarclas Cross-Country Race (4.00) is often best avoided from a punting perspective, although Jessica Harrington is particularly sweet on the chances of Bostons Angel (10-1), while Quevega (1-2) is the banker of the meeting in the Mares' Race (4.40).
Willie Mullins' nine-year-old is bidding for her fifth successive Festival victory, and there's nothing in the field that can touch her. If you're a big-stakes player, make this your one bet of the week.
Tread carefully in the Pulteney Novices' Chase (5.15), although Malcolm Jefferson's Attaglance (12-1) could prove the northern horse to support on the opening day.
Day two begins with the National Hunt Chase (1.30) over four miles and ground conditions could play a major role in determining the chances of some of the major players.
The Graham Wylie-owned Back In Focus (4-1) is the class horse in the race, and any rain between now and Wednesday afternoon will only enhance his chances. I prefer the profile of Godsmejudge (12-1), who's been quietly winning some gruelling races at lesser tracks like Folkestone and Warwick and could prove well placed.
The Neptune Novices' Hurdle (2.05) could be one of the races of the Festival with Pont Alexandre (2-1) and The New One (4-1) dominating the market.
If the Irish vibes are right, Pont Alexandre could be a superstar in the making, but while his wins on the other side of the Irish Sea have been visually impressive, it's hard to know exactly what he's been beating.
Nigel Twiston-Davies reckons The New One could be one of the best horses he's trained, and while he was edged out by At Fishers Cross last time out, his form prior to that was rock solid. Provided he's not running in a mudbath, I think he'll edge it.
The ante-post market for the RSA Chase (2.40) has revolved around David Pipe's Dynaste (5-2) all winter, but he's more likely to go for Thursday's Jewson so Boston Bob (9-2) is likely to start as favourite. However, favourites do not have a good record in this race and he's worth opposing.
Unioniste (11-2) impressed when he won a December handicap at Cheltenham off an extremely low weight, but there could be each-way value in Hadrian's Approach (12-1) who appears to have tidied up his jumping after two falls in the early stage of his career.
The Queen Mother Champion Chase (3.20) is all about sitting back and marvelling at Sprinter Sacre (2-9), who is set to go off as the shortest-priced Cheltenham favourite since Arkle.
If he stands up, he wins, it's as simple as that, and it remains to be seen whether Sizing Europe (4-1) and Finian's Rainbow (12-1) line up against him or opt for the Ryanair. If the latter plumps for the two-mile race, he's the each-way shout.
The Coral Cup (4.00) is always a minefield from a punter's point of view, and like a number of the big handicaps, it's hard to make a decision until the final field is confirmed on the eve of racing.
If Cotton Mill (9-1) lines up, his fast-finishing second to My Tent Or Yours last time out looks like the best form in the race. At an even bigger price, Meister Eckhart (20-1) would be interesting if he makes the cut.
The Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle (4.40) is ripe for a handicap plot, and Paul Nicholls boasts the top two in the market in the shape of Saphir Du Rheu (7-1) and Ptit Zig (8-1). If their odds remain broadly the same, you could probably do worse than backing them both to smallish stakes.
The Champion Bumper (5.15) rounds off the second day and it can often pay to blindly back whatever Willie Mullins has in the race. I was at a preview night at Catterick the other week though and Ferdy Murphy was sweet on the chances of another Irish raider, Le Vent D'Antan (8-1). He's undoubtedly a much better judge than me.
The Jewson Novices' Chase (1.30) kicks off day three and Dynaste (2-1) will start as a warm favourite if, as expected, he lines up in this rather than the RSA. David Pipe's seven-year-old has caught the eye in all three of his chasing victories, but his odds are surely too short given his lack of experience.
Captain Conan (4-1) is sure to be a warm order for Nicky Henderson, but I'm not sure two-and-a-half miles is his trip, and if another Henderson horse, Simonsig, wasn't lining up in the Arkle, I don't think he'd be tackling the extra four furlongs.
Aupcharlie (5-1) will stay, and he's been running in some decent races in Ireland this season so he just gets the nod ahead of Module (8-1). Lucinda Russell's Tap Night (16-1) could also run a big race at huge odds.
The Pertemps Final (2.05) features one of the best-backed horses of the week in the shape of Sam Winner (4-1), but his price is now way too short for one of the most competitive fields at the Festival.
Alan King's Medinas (14-1) has been well backed in the last week or so, but at decent odds, Cockney Trucker (16-1) makes each-way appeal for the Philip Hobbs yard.
The Ryanair (2.40) often produces one of the most exciting finishes of the four days, and this week's renewal looks like being a cracker.
Cue Card will have his supporters, and I wouldn't put anyone off backing him at around 3-1. His jumping is his Achilles' heel though, and at the pace they'll be going on Thursday, one mistake could prove terminal to his chances.
First Lieutenant (4-1) is sure to run a good race provided he gets good ground, but Sizing Europe (6-1) is set to go elsewhere, last year's winner Riverside Theatre (11-2) looks badly out of form and Menorah's (8-1) jumping can often be desperate.
As a result, this looks ripe for an upset, and with a record of two wins and a second from the last three Festivals, Albertas Run should not be as long as 14-1 to get in the frame again.
Jonjo O'Neill's chaser is 12 now and hasn't run since finishing third at Aintree last April, but he's been laid out for this and looks certain to run a big race provided his ability remains.
With no Big Buck's, the World Hurdle (3.20) has a completely different feel to previous years with question marks over a number of the leading protagonists.
If Quevega (4-1) runs, she'll take some beating, but I doubt Willie Mullins will subject the apple of his eye to two tough races in three days. Oscar Whiskey (7-2) struggles to see out three miles, while Reve De Sivola (4-1) would romp home if the ground was soft, but doesn't look anything like as effective on a sounder surface.
With Irish raider Monskland a late withdrawal, this is arguably the weakest Group One race of the week, and I fancy Get Me Out Of Here (12-1) to be staying on strongly at the death.
Hunt Ball (7-1) has been aimed at the Byrne Group Plate (4.00) since hopes of a tilt at the Gold Cup were shelved, but after proving one of the stars of last year's Festival, Kieran Burke's rags-to-riches champion has lost his way.
Ballynagour (5-1) is a strong favourite, but I like the chances of Toner D'Oudairies (12-1) if Gordon Elliott opts for this race ahead of his other options. For the north, Ferdy Murphy's Divers (20-1) is a proven Cheltenham specialist and screams out to be supported each-way.
The Kim Muir Chase (4-40) has been a surprisingly effective environment for favourites in the past, and if the market vibes are correct, Donald McCain's Super Duty (6-1) will take some beating.
Friday's Triumph Hurdle (1.30) is shaping up to be one of the best events of the week, with three big players vying for favouritism at the head of the market.
The Irish make Our Conor (4-1) one of their bankers of the week, and if Irish winners have been flying in on the opening three days, Dessie Hughes' novice will start at a short price.
Paul Nicholls is sweet on the chances of Far West (4-1), but preference is for Nicky Henderson's Rolling Star (5-1) who has won on both of his two starts over timber.
His cosy defeat of Irish Saint looks even better after the runner-up sluiced up on his next start, and Henderson is confident the four-year-old will have improved considerably.
The make up of the Vincent O'Brien County Handicap Hurdle (2.05) could change considerably between now and Friday if some of the leading fancies go elsewhere, but Forgotten Voice (14-1) could ensure the Henderson bandwagon continues to roll on the Festival's final day. After a strong showing in last year's Supreme, Prospect Wells (20-1) would be interesting if the ground was to really dry out.
The Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle (2.40) looks ready-made for At Fishers Cross (9-2), whose beating of The New One last time out will read extremely well if the runner-up on that occasion obliges in the Neptune. After racking up a hat-trick in his last three races, Utopie Des Bordes (10-1) makes strong each-way appeal.
All of which brings us to the Cheltenham Gold Cup (3.20) and a renewal that might lack former favourites Kauto Star and Denman, and last year's winner Synchronized, but which is no less appealing as a result.
Bobs Worth (3-1) is a worthy favourite, and his Hennessy win was probably the best chasing performance of the season, but his lack of experience at the very highest level could count against him in a race as competitive and unforgiving as this.
Silviniaco Conti (9-2) has improved with every run this season, although perhaps hasn't beaten the very best, while Long Run (6-1) displayed commendable battling qualities to claim the King George on Boxing Day and cannot be written off.
The Giant Bolster (16-1) finished second 12 months ago and could provide each-way value provided the ground isn't too soft, but preference is for Sir Des Champs (4-1), the hugely impressive winner of last year's Jewson.
Willie Mullins' chaser looked like a Gold Cup winner-in-waiting that day, and his recent battles with Flemenstar in Ireland should have brought him perfectly to the boil.
He's tactically versatile, jumps for fun and boasts bags of stamina so it will take an exceptionally good one to beat him.
Last year's Foxhunter Chase (4.00) went to Salsify (11-4), and the Irish eight-year-old has been well backed to defend his crown. Irish raiders tend to do well in the amateur riders' race, but preference is for Backstage (10-1) from the Gordon Elliott yard.
The Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Hurdle (4.40) is generally a wide open affair, but Gevrey Chambertin (5-1) has swerved a number of alternative entries to wait for the penultimate race of the Festival and looks to be on an appealing mark.
Last up is the Grand Annual (5.15), a race run in honour of Nicky Henderson's father, Johnny. Given the familial connections, Henderson will be desperate to train the winner, and he boasts six entries as a result. With plans still fluid, the best suggestion is to back whichever one Tony McCoy ends up riding.