Hurricane Fly and Long Run can justify the punters' faith
Festival value on offer as bookies battle for business, writes Greg Wood
As Conor Murphy, formerly a stable lad with Nicky Henderson and now a trainer in the United States, proved 12 months ago, it is perfectly possible to emerge from the four days of the Cheltenham Festival with a life-changing amount of money.
Murphy's accumulator earned him £1m but, though there is a path to riches, or a profit at any rate, hidden somewhere within the tangled undergrowth of 27 betting markets, there are so many diversions and dead ends too.
It does not help that many of the markets are very mature. The cash and close attention of thousands of punters has been directed towards races like the Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle for the last 12 months, squeezing out the value bit by bit. The horses are now the price they should be, given they are due to take part in the most competitive series of races staged anywhere in the world.
But while the racing is supremely competitive, so too is modern bookmaking. The major firms are all trying to outdo each other with loss-leading promotions and special offers, in the hope that customers will stick with them beyond the end of the week. There is no week like this one when it comes to bookies bearing gifts.
As a general rule, punters should take advantage wherever possible.
There may be limits – Coral, for instance, would allow backers to stake only £20 (and in some cases just £10) on Sprinter Sacre at evens for the Champion Chase earlier this week, but since the true price is about 1/4 and this was one step removed from handing out cash in the street, it is difficult to complain.
This is a meeting, too, where each-way betting is a very attractive proposition, with bookies regularly paying out on five places, and even six in the most competitive races. One extra place may not sound like much in a 24-runner handicap hurdle, but at the best prices available, the place book is probably overbroke, which means it is skewed slightly in favour of the backer rather than the other way around. The place return from a series of near-misses may keep you in the game long enough to hit the bullseye later on in the week.
Such are a few of the generalities of betting on the Festival. As for the specifics, several bookmakers already seem keen to take on Hurricane Fly (3.20), the 2011 Champion Hurdle winner, in this year's renewal, and he could well drift to an attractive price on Tuesday.
Willie Mullins, Hurricane Fly's trainer, is convinced his gelding was not at his best last season, and though he has never established a precise reason why, he seems equally convinced that this year's Hurricane Fly is back to his best. If so, and with a likely small field with no obvious pace playing to his strengths, he should reverse last year's form with Rock On Ruby, and that should be good enough to win.
Bobs Worth has just one run outside novice company to his name, and while he might prove good enough to win at the meeting for the third year running, 3/1 is a poor price for the Gold Cup. Long Run was close to his best in the King George and is value at around 7/1.
Sprinter Sacre will surely not be beaten in the Champion Chase, while the stamina of Peddlers Cross is worth chancing in the World Hurdle at around 10/1. Jezki is out to a fair price in the Supreme Novice Hurdle as My Tent Or Yours now dominates the market, but is value at around 11/2.
Arvika Ligeonniere may also have been overlooked in an Arkle market dominated by Simonsig and Overturn.
Sgt Reckless is an interesting contender for the Bumper, while in the handicaps, Close House (Pertemps Final, Thursday), Inish Island (Coral Cup, Wednesday), Megalypos (Fred Winter, Wednesday) and Pendra (County Hurdle, Friday) all have strong each-way chances.