Layers out to silence the Festival's talking horses
This ante-post market on Betfair has seen no fewer than four different favourites. Hurricane Fly, Solwhit, Zaynar and Binocular (which was backed at 999/1 when a doubtful runner) have all been matched at 5.0 (4/1) or shorter.
The torch is now carried by Noel Meade's Go Native. Paul Carberry's mount is a solid 4.5 (7/2) favourite, and as a course and distance winner, comparisons with the enigmatic Harchibald seem unfair.
Recent money for Starluck has seen his price contract to 13.0 (12/1) while Medermit and Khyber Kim have both come in for support and are now both trading at 9.0 (8/1).
The 2008 Supreme Novice Hurdle winner Captain Cee Bee has always been considered a candidate for this race and currently heads the market at 4.3. A faller when challenging Sizing Europe (7.0) in a Grade One Novice Chase at Leopardstown, he was subsequently given a confidence booster when winning at Naas in February.
As with any horse that has had injury problems, the layers will be out to get him and Somersby, currently 5.8, has been well supported, while the Willie Mullins-trained Sports Line, is a market positive at 10.5.
Queen Mother Champion Chase
Master Minded put his rib injury behind him with an emphatic, if somewhat fortunate, win in the Game Spirit but has drifted slightly in recent days and currently trades at a three-week high of 2.0.
The Ferdy Murphy-trained Kalahari King has come in for sustained support and is clear second favourite at 6.2. Irish interest is headed by Forpadydeplasterer, which has recovered from a season-threatening injury, and Big Zeb, which will have to improve his jumping, both trading at 11.0.
Master Minded will be hard to beat, but the market suggests there will be no shortage of layers looking to take him on.
RSA Novice Chase
In a very competitive event, the Nicky Henderson pair of Long Run and Punchestowns head the betting at 3.6 and 4.9 respectively.
In his two chase victories since arriving in England, Long Run has been very impressive and his amateur jockey, Sam Waley-Cohen, is a capable rider, but market opposition is strong.
Ian Williams thinks his charge, Weird Al, is the best he has ever trained and the market has him at 8.4. Concerns about the well-being of some Charles Byrnes-trained horses has seen Weapons Amnesty drift slightly in recent days, from 10.5 out to 12.5.
Market leaders Tranquil Sea and Poquelin are virtually inseparable in the market at 5.3, and on previous form there should be very little between them.
Barber Shop, fancied by many for the Gold Cup last year, currently trades at 7.0, but has been matched as high as 48. Irish hopes lie with last year's third place finisher Schindlers Hunt. He has attracted good support following his third in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown and is available at 13.0.
At 1.74, the Paul Nicholls-trained Big Buck's is a warm order to retain his staying crown. Last year's winner has dominated in this division throughout the season, and the win market indicates that dangers are few and far between.
Tidal Bay has been backed in the place market at 2.64 and Karabak has been supported at 2.26. 2008 Bumper winner Cousin Vinny is a surprise inclusion in this event and is currently trading at 34 having been matched at a high of 250.
When Denman unseated Tony McCoy last time out at Newbury, much of the excitement in the clash with Kauto Star drained away. Denman, which was trading at 3.2 before his Newbury disappointment, has now drifted out to 5.7 for Blue Riband glory.
The layers are out to get the favourite at 1.79 and the value hunters are backing Imperial Commander at 12.0. Interestingly Imperial Commander was only a nose behind Kauto Star when they clashed in the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November.
Cooldine, currently trading at 11.5, will be carrying the hopes of a nation and connections are expecting the Willie Mullins-trained runner to improve considerably on his last run when he finished second in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown in February.
Grand Annual Chase
Named in honour of his late father Johnny, this is a race Nicky Henderson always targets.
In a weak market, French Opera has come in for sustained support and is currently trading at 9.6. Salut Flo has had just one run in the UK since arriving in David Pipe's yard from France and has been backed from 65.0 to his current price of 11.5. Paul Nicholls supplies the 7.6 favourite in the form of Tataniano, which has the invaluable credentials of being a course and distance winner.
Barry Orr is Betfair's Horse
Racing Manager, Ireland