Antepost betting for the Cheltenham Festival can be a bit of a minefield. I understand the enjoyment of circling the betting ring come raceday, but the shrewdies amongst us, and indeed, those of you brave enough in your convictions, will already be on a horse or two.
Well, here’s some good news. Paddy Power are now Non-Runner No Bet with a month to go. Yes, that’s right: if your antepost selection doesn’t run in the race you’ve backed him in, then you get your money back to go and have a punt the day of instead.
Sounds good, yes?
But all of this is irrelevant if you can’t find a winner. Your first heartbreaking second-place might be the one you remember the most, but your first winner is what lined your pocket to give you the night you remember least.
Finding a winner at Cheltenham is tough, though – as you’d well know if you ever stepped foot inside a bookies in the second week of March.
Luckily for you, I’ve got a list. If you’re to back only 5 horses at Cheltenham, it has to be these.
One. Month. To. Go.
You know as well as I do that Gordon Elliott’s has already pictured what Envoi Allen will look like when he crosses the winning line in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in two years’ time.
While that might seem far-fetched, there’s reason for it. He’s probably the most talented novice we’ve seen in a while, and that’s even factoring in context beyond his formline that reads 1111111.
A defeat for Envoi Allen would be a massive result for the bookmakers, but it’s, at least in my mind, the least likely win they’ll have all Festival.
He still has entries in the Supreme and Champion – he’d likely win the former and be a huge player in the latter – so he may go there, but he’s pretty much un-opposable wherever he goes.
This isn’t a clever play to take advantage of price or NRNB – it’s just a reminder of the title of this piece. If you’re backing 5 horses at Cheltenham and Paisley Park isn’t one of them, then you need to go and reassess.
Never before has a horse avoided letting anyone down. In fact, that’s a disservice. Never before do you feel a combination of such honesty and flamboyance from a top performer as you do when you back Emma Lavelle’s horse of a lifetime.
He’s everything you’d want and even having him ‘in-running’ at the Festival is an experience worth paying for.
What’s perhaps even more exciting about backing Tiger Roll now than a few weeks ago, is that, while Gordon had contemplated just bringing him to Navan this Sunday and going straight to Liverpool for a go at the big one again, he’s now admitted that the runabout in Kildare is little more than that – a cobweb-remover.
The Cross Country will be full-pelt and that’s as good a cue as you could want to go in on this wonderhorse.
His presence elevates the Festival card on Wednesday and he’ll surely land this contest again.
I’d feel remiss if I didn’t include this dual-King George winner in my team.
While last season’s winning distance might suggest Willie Mullins’ victor Al Boum Photo had him well held in fifth, the Clan’s preparation for this season’s Blue Riband could be the key that unlocks more improvement.
Al Boum Photo joins a long list of runners who have attempted to win consecutive Gold Cups. However the last Gold Cup winner that actually achieved this historic feat was Best Mate in 2003 as part of his 2002 – 2004 trifecta.
Unlike last year, the Clan will bypass a heavy-duty Ascot run this weekend, that seemed to hamper him in the Blue Riband, so he’ll come into this year’s contest a fresher horse.
Watch this space.
If you excuse a Nicky Henderson brain fart, Altior is untouchable.
Nobody’s quite sure why Altior was deemed a project to step up to 2m 5f at Ascot, but he’s got 20 wins over obstacles and zero defeats over his evidently preferred two-mile trip.
If he hadn’t run and won at Newbury last weekend, I would be slightly more concerned, but he did. And in some fashion.
It looked the ideal spruce-up before his return to the Cotswolds.
Cheltenham Ante-Post Picks Summary
- Ballymore Novices Hurdle – Envoi Allen (7/4)
- Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle – Paisley Park (8/11)
- Cross Country Chase – Tiger Roll (10/11)
- Cheltenham Gold Cup – Clan Des Obeaux (7/1)
- Champion Chase – Altior (7/4)