*Odds quoted on the widget are Non Runner Money Back prices which means that if your selection does not run in the race for whatever reason – you’ll get your stake back
We’re officially two weeks to the Cheltenham Festival and if there’s one thing that punters frequently overlook around this time of year, it’s the fact they’ll eventually want to have a stake in far more races than they’ve either studied or played in already.
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Well fear not, good soldiers – I’m here to celebrate the two-week milestone by offering you two favs to back each day outside of the feature. And as always, Paddy Power are non-runner, money back about all races before the Festival, so you can afford to be speculative.
March 15: Edwardstone (Arkle Chase)
It’s at this stage of the year where I do a sanity check and make sure I’m allowing myself to see the obvious as well as reciting the form book I’ve been piecing together now for months.
Atop the market for the Arkle is an Alan King-trained horse. Absolutely no disrespect to Alan whatsoever, he can clearly be a top-class handler – but his last Cheltenham winner came in 2015 in the Ryanair and he hasn’t won the Arkle in 15 years since My Way de Solzen landed the prize.
But the point I’ll make here is that’s clearly gone against him in the betting because Edwardstone is a touch bigger than he should be for this renewal. Riviere d’Etel benefitted from weight allowance early in her career, while Blue Lord clearly benefitted from her last fence blunder at Leopardstown. And while Haut En Couleurs is clearly talented, we don’t know how his fall affected him and he’s definitely Willie Mullins’ second string after Blue Lord.
You’d just wonder if Edwarstone was trained by Gordon Elliott or Willie Mullins, what price he’d be on the form shown so far.
March 15: Stattler (NH Chase)
From a race where I’m trying to ensure I’m not overlooking based on who the handler is, I’ll now tell you that any price is a good price about Stattler in the amateurs race.
And the primary reason for that is because there’s absolutely reason to doubt that the form actually stacked up, with question marks clearly hanging over the majority of the field besides him.
To confirm – his win in the three-mile contest showed me plenty. It showed me he had still had plenty in hand when at the line, staying on really well under pressure. It showed me he can guess at a fence and navigate safely, which ultimately he’ll do in a race of this distance. It showed me he’s considerably better than a lot of his rivals in behind – Farouk D’alene, Vanillier and En Beton.
And the only outlier is Run Wild Fred. And while I certainly accept that Gordon loves getting one ready for this race, he’s been a NR the last twice and coming into Cheltenham without a run since Christmas doesn’t quite sit well with me given he’s clearly tried but pulled him out due to stone bruises and the ground.
March 16: Sir Gerhard (Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle)
This is a one and done job. For the entire year, people were waiting for something to emerge in this race like a Bob Olinger, but it never came. Well, hilariously enough, it now seems like Wille is favouring sending Sir Gerhard here – who was most people’s idea of a shoo-in for the Supreme.
His display in his novice hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival had people on the edge of their seat and it’s the speed in which he showed that had people chomping at the bit, if you will. He wasn’t always fluent at his hurdles which could be a reason in and of itself to step him up in trip, but also the fact that he’d likely go off odds-on on the day because everything else has disappointed.
It’s not unheard of whatsoever to step up in trip from winning this race, as Samcro did it in some style back in 2018. And given the closest in the market behind him that will definitely go here is 7/1 in the shape of Journey With Me, you might as well take the NRMB concession now.
It’s built for these kind of bets.
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March 16: Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase – Bravemansgame
This race set up to be a tussle between Galopin Des Champs and Bravemansgame before Mullins seemingly decided they’d go down the Turners’ route with their star novice.
Now everyone is focusing on the match-up between the latter and Ahoy Senor, as if their initial matchup didn’t put that to sleep fairly quickly. Ahoy Senor might well love an undulating track and Cheltenham should play to his strengths somewhat, but I do not understand why anyone would consider a change in the order here.
And the pack? L’homme Presse has never run over three miles and would only have a sniff if a Minella Indo/Allaho type burnout ensued.
I’d back Nicholls to land his fourth renewal of this, moving just one behind leading trainer Willie Mullins.
March 17: Turners’ Novices Chase – Galopin Des Champs
This is a funny race because the field might genuinely be tiny in behind.
Right now, we’ve got the clash of the meeting in my book – forget your Shishkin and Enurgumene nonsense – these two novices are right out of the top drawer.
And at time of speaking, Willie’s is slightly more favoured in the market and for good reason. The primary reason being that Wille and Paul have chosen to send him here in spite of there being a special sort to take on because they believe it’s where he has his best chance of winning.
Mullins has won this race four times – twice as many as any other trainer. And the race has been won by the favourite on three of the last four occasions on which he’s jumped around.
The only real reason people are skeptical about this is because they had him nailed down as a three-miler in their books. But Bob Olinger was chased along on his last start, I’d like to remind you.
He’s not as of yet translated his hurdle form into the same level over fences and I’m sure the prices are still factoring in that strong visual performance in last year’s Ballymore.
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March 17: Ryanair Chase – Allaho
I’ve probably put him up at every feasible opportunity since he won this race last year, but it’s not too often that you can pencil in a horse at the beginning of a season, know exactly where he’s going and just prep him solely for that race.
Allaho is absolutely bombproof in this and the only reason anyone wants to enter in-behind is to pick up prize money. A lot of people expecting him, as usual, to lose first time out and then go on to win at the Festival – but this year, he even won fresh, suggesting he’s still learning and becoming more professional. What a frightening thought.
I won’t patronise you by listing reasons why he’ll win this, but I will tell you that if Festival multiples are your thing, he’s the only horse at the entire meeting I’d be completely confident in punting.
Coincidentally, he’d be the first eight-year-old to win this race since Dynaste in 2014, if you buy into those sorts of things.
March 18: Triumph Hurdle – Vauban
We hadn’t really been wowed by a Rich Ricci horse in a while, but when he spoke glowingly about one he had coming, we all set up and took notice.
He duly delivered, and the fact it was run on yielding last time out suggests to me that the better the ground, the better he is. And the fact the Triumph comes on the Friday is all the better. If it stays dry it’s usually the best ground they’ll run on all week as the course management will water heavily ahead of Tuesday’s opening day, to keep it safe.
A lot is made of Pied Piper chinning him earlier in the season but I’d like to state something very clearly – that was Vauban’s first start under rules. Pied Piper was a flat graduate who had 10 starts under his belt.
The level of expected growth in the former far outweighs the latter and his rather easy turning of Fil Dor in his last run should be the yard stick for this. The only issue? None of the last four favourites have won this contest.
March 18: Mount Ida (Mrs. Paddy Power Mares’ Chase)
Someone please explain to me why Mount Ida isn’t the outright fav for this race when the only mare as short as her in the betting was beaten by her last time out? I can take a point that the winning distance was minimal but Mount Ida went to the front slightly sooner than she’d have liked, Elimay didn’t travel well for the majority of the race and horses in behind her, ran no sort of race whatsoever.
She kept her best for Cheltenham last year when he runs brought prior had her off a lukewarm mark of 142 and then she put in the performance of the Festival.
The fact she’s improved in this regard already should mean she’s good for at least another few lengths over Elimay who has shown at Cheltenham that she just can’t quite get her head in front even when it’s on a plate for her like it was last year.
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