Shop around to make the most of bookies Festival 'specials'
From a betting point of view, one of the best things about next week's Cheltenham Festival is the competition between bookmakers, all of which will be vying for our business in the biggest racing week of the year.
All sorts of specials will be available including some deals which are certain to cost them money.
Bookmakers are not known for their generosity, so it might seem strange for the old enemy to give the punters a break, but these 'loss leader' offers are no different than the supermarket selling below-cost booze – they simply want to get you in the door (or on to their website) to bet.
Once you start betting with a certain firm, you are likely to stick with them for the day (or even the week).
And the sad truth is that most punters will give back any winnings they earned on the offer, plus a whole lot more, before the curtains close on Friday.
Bookies can afford to offer great deals on certain races because they'll get their money back on others. That may seem cynical, but that's just how it works.
However, if you are willing to put in a bit of effort, you can play the bookies off against each other and take advantage.
Look out for money-back specials, generous each-way terms, free bets and opportunities for arbitrage (known as 'arbing' in the business) all through the week.
Last year, for example, Corals offered even-money on Sprinter Sacre to win the Champion Chase. While the maximum stake was only 20 quid, they were basically handing out money for nothing as the horse was available to lay on Betfair at 1/4.
I backed it at evens with Corals and laid it at 1.25 on Betfair which basically meant that I had a free bet.
Overall, I earned 15 quid when he won (€20 profit from Corals minus the €5 liability for the lay on Betfair) and had the comfort of knowing that I'd get my 20 quid back via Betfair had Sprinter Sacre been beaten.
Fair enough, 15 quid is not a lot of money, but the price of three pints is better in my pocket than theirs and it all adds up over time.
Ladbrokes, for instance, offered Quevega at even-money for a max stake of 50 quid when it was available to lay at 5/6 on the machine.
When I include savings from money-back specials on what should have been losing bets, I'd estimate that I earned/saved over a ton last year, purely from shopping around.
Loyalty to a single bookie is always madness, but it's absolutely crazy during Cheltenham.
As for today, I'm going to try to boost those Festival coffers by taking a chance on Vibrato Valtat in the Imperial Cup at Sandown (3.15).
Around a century ago, this race was one of the most important hurdles of the season, but its proximity to Cheltenham means that it doesn't get that much attention these days.
Paul Nicholls' five-year-old had been knocking on the door for some time, but finally came good at Exeter last time in a novice hurdle. Admittedly, it was a weak race, but he won as he pleased and should have more to come.
At 7/2, he looks good value to get the better of likely favourite Regal Encore (9/4).
Ceasar Milan was well-in under a penalty when winning at Taunton last time, having impressed just over a week earlier when taking a novice handicap at the same venue.
He's gone up in the weights, but I've a feeling that the handicapper hasn't caught up just yet and he should prove useful at 8/1 in the European Breeders' Fund William Hill 'National Hunt' Novices' Handicap Hurdle Final at Sandown (2.05).
1.55 Ayr: Moonshine Lad
2.05 Sandown: Ceasar Milan (e/w)
2.20 Wolverhampton: Bertiewhittle
3.15 Sandown: Vibrato Valtat
3.30 Wolverhampton: Anipa
4.10 Gowran: Jacksonslady (e/w)