AS a general rule, horse racing results are more consistent in the higher quality events and top-class races should be the first port of call when trying to find a winner.
Put simply, the form of a better horse has a far greater chance of standing up.
Take, for example, horses going off at even money. In theory, those animals have a 50pc chance of winning the race, but since 2003, 40 horses have gone off at that price in all-weather sellers and just 13 have won – less than 33pc.
Compare that to Grade One and Two races over jumps where, quite remarkably, exactly half of the 62 even money runners won their races during the same period. It's a small sample, but you can begin to see why betting in poor contests should be avoided.
Unfortunately, punters have been starved of good quality racing recently due to the weather and it's tempting to bet on whatever meeting goes ahead, just to get some action.
They say "the devil finds work for idle hands" – I let my guard down this week and had a few bets purely out of boredom with some disastrous consequences. On Tuesday, I backed Wicked Wench at 4/7 in a seller at Lingfield, but the filly lived up to her name and managed only third. Undeterred, I later backed Babie Dottie in a Class 6 handicap also at 4/7 and she also let me down finishing second.
On Thursday, I decided to get my money back by sticking a couple of ton on Dark Lane in a seller at Lingfield and yet again, the price was 4/7. When Homeboy came up to beat him by three lengths, I was half expecting the ghost of Jeremy Beadle to walk through the doors of my local boozer to tell me it was all a cruel joke.
While my wallet is lighter going into Cheltenham today, at least the racing is top notch and includes the rearranged Victor Chandler Chase (1.50).
With Sprinter Sacre priced around 2/9, it's not a race for betting, although he looks fairly bombproof considering how easily he won the Tingle Creek at Sandown last month.
Soon afterwards, a chance is taken on Imperial Commander in the Argento Chase (2.25) with bookmakers chalking him up at 5/1. I was all set to back Tidal Bay in this race, but some pus was found in his foot this week and his participation was thrown into doubt.
Paul Nicholls said yesterday that his chances of running were 50-50 and, while he'd definitely be the best horse in the race, I can't be having 2/1 about the 12-year-old considering his niggling problems, no matter how minor.
Whether Tidal Bay runs or not, Imperial Commander still has serious claims considering his record around Cheltenham (six wins from 11 races) and while it was disappointing to see him pulled up in the Gold Cup, he had excuses as he returned lame and with a burst blood vessel having clouted the fourth last. He's no spring chicken, but he always goes well fresh, so dismiss him at your peril.
THE Tim Vaughan-trained Tartak has been a bit below par this season, but the handicapper has dropped him a stone-and-a-half in the space of a year and at double net (20/1), he's overpriced in the Murphy Group Chase at Cheltenham (1.15). He wasn't disgraced when fourth in a decent handicap over three miles earlier this month at Sandown and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the 10-year-old finish in the money today.
1.15 Cheltenham: Tartak (e/w)
2.25 Cheltenham: Imperial Commander
3.0 Cheltenham: The New One
3.35 Cheltenham: Oscar Whisky