Cheltenham: Stick to chosen strategy and, most of all, cross your fingers that you are 'in the zone', says Julian Muscat
Make a plan and stick to it. That's the best strategy for turning a profit over four days of bedlam at Cheltenham next week.
Needless to say, strategy is determined by the extent of your participation. If it's just one day, have your biggest two bets by the fourth race. That leaves you with three further races to repair any damage. And if you're ahead by the fourth, scale down your stakes to ensure that you close with a profit.
If you're in for the long haul there's only one golden rule: don't run out of money before the last of the 27 races -- Star Rage and Thumbs Up, both winners of the County Hurdle when it brought down the festival curtain, transformed shocking Cheltenhams into winning ones for yours truly.
The spate of abandonments has played havoc with this season's build-up. Several fancied horses have been lightly raced and I'm making this the cornerstone of my strategy. In siding with experience, I'm throwing out every novice that has made two starts or less over fences or hurdles.
It's a brutal cut that culls Oscar Whisky and Blackstairmountain from the Supreme; Rite Of Passage and Peddlers Cross from the Neptune; Punchestowns, Diamond Harry and Long Run (only two runs over English fences) from the RSA Chase; and Somersby, Riverside Theatre and Sports Line from the Irish Independent Arkle -- although on decent ground, I might just entertain Sports Line if Ruby Walsh rides.
These novice races are pivotal this year because so many championship events have short-priced favourites. There's Kauto Star in the Gold Cup, Master Minded in the Champion Chase, Big Buck's in the World Hurdle, Quevega in the Mares' Hurdle, and of course, Dunguib in the Supreme that kicks off the festival.
Where Dunguib is concerned, ask yourself this question: could victory be in any way enhanced by your having backed him at odds-on? Defeat will sicken you without losing the house into the bargain, so let him ride.
As for the handicaps, I'll be looking closely at runners from big stables that have had a relatively quiet season -- Mouse Morris, whose China Rock takes the eye in the Jewsons on Thursday -- is a prime example here.
Previous form at the festival is always an asset, since many horses don't care for Cheltenham's undulations and/or the claustrophobia of big fields. It's equally important to be wary of horses that excel on flat tracks.
Most of all, however, you've just got to hope that you're "in the zone". Don't overcomplicate, don't under any circumstances try to force it. Just let it flow.