Sunday 19 August 2018

Betting ring: Fantastic Footpad has yet to show his full talent

Footpad, with Syed Raza up, on the gallops at Cheltenham. Photo: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Footpad, with Syed Raza up, on the gallops at Cheltenham. Photo: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Wayne Bailey

Well, the earth has travelled 584 million miles around the sun over the past 365 and-quarter-days, and, once again, we find ourselves in that glorious position just before the Cheltenham Festival kicks off.

In some ways, this is the best bit. There are so many possibilities ahead, and the optimism among punters is infectious.

There will, of course, be small fortunes won and lost this week and there will be plenty of people left battered and bruised form their battles with the bookmakers come Friday evening.

Weather

But for now, we can be sanguine and look forward to a fantastic week of sport. The big thing to keep an eye on this week is the weather.

A few years ago, I mentioned in this paper that professional gambler and Timeform founder Phil Bull once told racing commentator Jim McGrath that you can analyse all the factors you want in this sport - such as jockey, trainer and trip - but, if the ground is wrong, none of it really matters.

It's unusual to get heavy ground at the Cheltenham Festival and I heard one bookmaker say he's hoping for plenty of upsets today.

With that in mind, I decided to check how well or otherwise the national hunt favourite performs based on the ground, fully expecting the jolly to be worst on heavy.

To my surprise, the ground description 'heavy' actually tops the table for best performing favourites, with a strike rate of over 39pc.

And once again to my big surprise, favourites on good ground have the worst record with a strike-rate of 35pc.

That might not sound like a big difference but on average, you'd lose €5.91 per €100 bet backing favourites on heavy, while the losses on good ground are €8.48 per €100 bet (UK and Irish racing since 2008).

In some ways, that goes to show how clued in punters are, and they are clearly doing the right thing by backing horses that handle the heavy ground.

In fact, it can make certain races easier to study, as not all horses act on heavy, so you can cross a few off the list immediately.

That's the approach I'm taking on day one of Cheltenham where, at the time of writing, the ground is described as heavy, soft in places.

One horse that won't mind some cut in the ground is Footpad (NAP), which trades around 5/4 for the Arkle (2.10).

Willie Mullins' exciting six-year-old kicked off his chasing career with a win on heavy ground at Navan, in which he jumped beautifully and finished with plenty in hand to beat Gordon Elliott's Brelade, despite the conditions.

He was absolutely brilliant when beating a strong field in the Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown over the Christmas and later put Petit Mouchoir, which had beaten Footpad a number of times over hurdles, to the sword in the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novices' Chase at Leopardstown last time.

That horse will make a race of it, but I suspect Footpad has even more improving to do, and this will be my biggest bet of the week.

In the Champion Hurdle (3.30), it's impossible to oppose Buveur D'air but at 4/7, a lot of punters will sit this one out.

Eye-catching

The manner in which he's been winning Grade One races is really eye-catching and, although he hasn't faced much of a test and was long odds-on in each of his last three races, he's barely had to come off the bridle and appears to have boundless talent.

I'll be very interested to see what Patrick Mullins has to say about Faugheen in today's paper and, while we'd all love to see him come back to his brilliant best, his latest two losses have shown there's something not quite right.

Connections hope cheek-pieces will give him a spark, but it's a big ask to take on an in-form Buveur D'air.

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