Cheltenham tips: Brendan Duke’s 5 NRNB fancies for the Festival include this 33/1 shot

I've even put them in ascending order of value. Service for you, my dear friends.


With just four weeks to the Cheltenham Festival, Paddy have gone NRNB on every race. Generally, when trying to find any value at this stage, I steer clear of the market leaders. Ferocious competition on the day means those horses are likely to be better prices. That’s not always the case of course. Horses will almost certainly get injured in the run-up to the meeting. If one of them is among the favourites then NRNB punters should be in good shape.

Paddy is taking a bit of a chance going 3/1 Benie Des Dieux for the Stayers. She probably won’t run but if turning up I’d struggle to see her that big a price on the day. Regular readers will know of my fondness for Paisley Park. I’m not such a slave to value that I can put away all sentiment.

Read: Matt Chapman’s Lucky 15 NRNB for the Cheltenham Festival

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Triumph Hurdle – Aspire Tower @ 13/2

There is one horse near the head of the market that looks overpriced. Paddy has decided to take on Aspire Tower. As well as being NRNB, they’re virtually best price about him at 13/2. I think they have this wrong and am relatively confident he will go off favourite. Currently Goshen and Allmankind head the betting. Allmankind looks very solid and is sure to run well. His one-dimensional run style will leave him vulnerable to closers though.

Goshen looks a woeful price. He has looked impressive on deep ground. His exaggerated knee action would suggest those conditions are important to him, and he’s long odds against getting testing ground on the Friday of Cheltenham. More worrying is his tendency to jump and hang dramatically to the right. His only hurdles run on a left-handed track came at Fontwell. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Granted that was his debut over obstacles, and the new course at Cheltenham is more forgiving of a wide trip than the old course.

It’s still a huge worry and I’d imagine the punters will desert him.

Aspire Tower fell last time out. That’s not ideal either and is probably what has emboldened Paddy. He might well have won though. His 18 length demolition of solid yardstick Wolf Price over Christmas is clearly the best form on offer in the Triumph. He was sent off 1/3 for his latest assignment. While he ran below his best I don’t see the punters abandoning him just yet. He looked ground versatile on the flat. In terms of runners, this race will probably cut up. I expect him to go off half his current odds.

Boodles Handicap – Cerberus @ 10/1

Another four-year-old who may be worth chancing is Cerberus in the Boodles Handicap. It’s a bit of a guess what mark this horse will get. The weights come out later this month. He ran off 141 when second behind Allmankind in Chepstow. He was well beaten though and has since been beaten in Leopardstown. I’d be hopeful of a mark around 138. If he gets that connections might swerve a big ask in the Triumph and target this race.

The bare facts are he was beaten in Leopardstown. That only tells half the story though. He was pretty keen in the race but still looked all set to put it up to Aspire Tower when that rival came down at the last. He then appeared to get distracted by something and pull himself up. My reliable friend Wolf Prince gives that form a solid look.

Hopefully, the handicapper takes an alternative view of the closing stages. The prospect of a big field and strong gallop in the Boodles should see Cerberus settle better. He will almost certainly be delivered late and could easily enjoy a class edge in this handicap. Again it’s not a stretch to see Cerberus going off favourite so the current price of 10/1 appeals.

The Arkle Novices Chase – Maire Banrigh @ 16/1

Notebook looks a worthy favourite in the Arkle but doesn’t set an impossible standard. Dan Skelton’s Maire Banrigh, in receipt of the mares allowance, looks the play at current prices. She was in danger of proving an expensive bust after being bought out of a point to point. A wind operation transformed her. She has won her last six races. Those wins have come in lower grade. There’s substance to the form though, albeit her most notable scalp Thomas Darby has jumping issues.

The handicapper rates her 148. Even with her allowance, that means she will need to find about five pounds to win an average Arkle. That’s surely feasible and this is probably a below-par renewal. She’s a very accurate jumper and should be comfortable taking a lead in a race that will be run at a strong pace.

She’s also entered in the Marsh Chase. Connections suggested after her last win over two and a half miles that they felt that trip was far enough for her. My hunch is she will run here. The 14/1 looks a tasty price.

With the NRNB concession backing her for both races is perfectly reasonable. She’s 16/1 for the Marsh.

Pertemps Network Final – Doc Penfro @ 20/1

Emma Lavelle’s Doc Penfro is a well-handicapped horse. He’s possibly too well handicapped to get a run at the Festival. He may get an entry in the Pertemps, Coral Cup and Martin Pipe. His mark of 134 would have seen him get a run in all three races last year. In previous years he would have have been balloted out. It’s also possible he might go up a pound or two standing in his box.

The third in the Warwick race where the Doc placed second bolted up last weekend. Silver Sheen, the winner that day, may give the form a further boost in Clonmel on Thursday. The Doc was the moral winner of that race. His inexperienced jockey didn’t get him any cover. The horse basically ran with the choke out for the whole race. He tanked into the lead turning for home and then proceeded to stargaze his way up the straight.

He was nabbed on the line. With a more efficient ride he’d have won comfortably.

The Doc has only had seven career starts. He’s a very accurate jumper who will enjoy chasing a strong pace in a big field handicap. Paddy are 20/1 for the Pertemps. That’s worth taking. Check back in when the handicap weights are revealed. This horse appeals as the bet of the meeting if he can sneak into one of those races.

Grand Annual – The Last Day @ 33/1

Finally to Evan Williams’ The Last Day in the Grand Annual. Once upon a time, he would have been The Last Day in the last race of the Festival. Sadly, for the symmetry of this piece, it’s now the penultimate race on Friday. This horse hasn’t run since November and I’ve no clue what the plan is for him.

If it’s the Grand Annual he will go off a fraction of the current price of 33/1.

This looks a horse going places. He bolted up from a mark of 131 in Aintree last November. The form of the placed horses is mixed but it’s possible to take a positive view of the race. The handicapper reacted with an 11-pound rise.

He was well beaten on his next start in Ascot. I’m not convinced it was the handicap rise that beat him though. He made a bad mistake at the second fence and his fencing never seemed to recover. That’s obviously a worry for a race like the Grand Annual. His jumping in Aintree was very accurate. He has a good record fresh and this unexposed sort could well be ahead of his mark.

Brendan Duke’s NRNB Ante-Post Selections:

Pertemps Network Final – Doc Penfro @ 20/1
Grand Annual – The Last Day @ 33/1
The Arkle Novices Chase – Maire Banrigh @ 14/1
Boodles Handicap – Cerberus @ 10/1
Triumph Hurdle – Aspire Tower @ 13/2

*Prices around these entries correct at time of publishing.

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What do you think?