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We’ve been Non Runner No Bet on all Cheltenham races since January 6 and here’s the four best-backed horses punters have hit on safe that their stakes will be refunded if their fancy fails to line up in the race.
One of the best things about racing is that sometimes the underdog has their day and Cambridgeshire conjuror Pam Sly certainly did when her Speciosa defied the big battalions to win the 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket in 2006. That heroine’s granddaughter Eileendover has been popular for the Champion Bumper, particularly since her Market Rasen win at the weekend to remain unbeaten after three starts in bumpers this season.
Shrewd Sly, who rarely talks one up but when she does it pays to take notice, got her off to a winning debut at her local course Huntingdon in November by 29 lengths at the astronomical odds of 28-1. Punters sure took note and her price was far less generous at 1-3 favourite at Wetherby in December when prevailing by 16 lengths. A six and a half lengths win at the weekend for an average winning distance of 17 lengths means she’s now among the market leaders for Cheltenham’s ‘Flat’ race.
A leading Irish raider is Henry De Bromhead’s Bob Olinger in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. A decent first effort over timber when finding only last year’s Champion Bumper winner Ferny Hollow too powerful in a maiden event at Gowran Park in November has been followed by two hugely impressive victories.
The first of these came in a similar event at Navan the following month, when he cruised to success by 14 lengths from Dunboyne, before he joined the top table with an easy six-and-a-half-length win over the well-touted Blue Lord in the Grade 1 Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle earlier this month. De Bromhead has handled some fine hurdlers, including Sizing Europe, Petit Mouchoir and Honeysuckle, and this fellow could be up with the best of them.
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Former Stayers Hurdle Champ Paisley Park is also popular and he’s been well supported since we offered the non runner money back concession for the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle on day three of the Festival. Wiltshire wizard Emma Lavelle’s stable star is looking to take this championship event for a second time, despite being beaten by closest market challenger Thyme Hill in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury in November.
He then got his own back in no uncertain terms when coming with a marvellous late rattle to turn the tables with Thyme Hill by a neck in the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot the following month. The two main contenders in the staying hurdle division have created an intriguing rivalry between the former champ and the young pretender, but backers are favouring the older animal at this stage.
And the pair are set to clash again at Cheltenham on Trials day at the end of January.
By far the best-backed horse is the hugely-exciting Envoi Allen. Meath magician Gordon Elliott’s charge looks an Irish banker at an odds-on favourite for the Marsh Novices’ Chase, remaining unbeaten in 11 races. His latest victory last weekend at Punchestown looked like it might be the hardest task that he would encounter this season, giving 11lb to some decent rivals, but the unfortunate tumble of main market rival Asterion Forlonge at the first fence meant that we found out very little as he ran out a facile three and a half length scorer.
He was an easy winner of a beginners chase at Down Royal in October and last season’s Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle hero then made all to readily land the top-class Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse the following month by eight and a half lengths before keeping that impeccable record intact on Sunday.
The seven-year-old is one of the shortest-priced favourites at the Cheltenham Festival, but if the cash is correct, he’s already home and hosed.
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