Professional gambler Scott Armstrong of The Sportsman Racing service has run the rule over each day of the Cheltenham festival for the Secret Betting Club and has put forward his two best value bets for you to follow.
Scott has a proven track record betting at Cheltenham, having made a 46% ROI (or profit on turnover) from his bets here since 2010. You can get further advice from him for Cheltenham and at other meetings as a member of BetAdvisor and The Sportsman Racing.
Cheltenham Festival Analysis
This month I am taking an early view of the Cheltenham festival and seeking the best bets currently on offer for the blockbuster jumps meeting.
The Supreme Novices accompanied by the Cheltenham roar gets us under way and the opening race like so many to come is an intriguing conundrum to solve. Galileo’s Choice does look the pick of a strong Irish contingent with Ireland itself having been responsible for just over half of the last 21 winners of the race. A prerequisite for the horse is decent ground. Simonsig looks likely to go for the Neptune Novice Hurdle and is passed over with preference for Jessica Harrington’s Steps To Freedom at a point better odds. Harrington’s record with two-milers over hurdles is exemplary and the horse has a smart burst of acceleration. At 6-1 however, I would be inclined to opt for Darlan as the best chance. In the Betfair Handicap Hurdle on the 18th of February, Darlan was travelling strongest of all under Tony McCoy, having powered his way to the head of affairs when getting it wrong two from home. Jockey Andrew Tinkler was of the opinion Darlan was the best bumper horse he rode in 2011 and he has the speed for the Supreme. Open to progression, Nicky Henderson will be schooling him intensely at home over the jumps and Darlan looks sure to give a good account of himself.
Next up is the Arkle and possibly the best race of the entire meeting. I can’t see past current favourite Sprinter Sacre and it pains me to say so as I have a great affection for the most genuine Peddlers Cross who has won members a bundle at the last two festivals. Sprinter Sacre simply put is a machine; fearless over the fences and with pace to burn. There are two concerns: he is free-going, though with the intense pace of the Arkle that may be countenanced and secondly he finished tamely up the hill at Cheltenham in last season’s Supreme Novices. For Peddlers Cross fans that’s two small hopes to cling to, but it’s hard to see Donald McCain’s horse turning the tables with Sprinter Sacre having routed Peddlers Cross by 16 lengths at Kempton over Christmas. The stopwatch times for Sprinter Sacre have been fantastic and Nicky Henderson got it spot on when he said after last year’s supreme “I’ll be bitterly disappointed if he’s not back in 365 days time for the Arkle”. Al Ferof from the Paul Nicholls yard can battle it out with Peddlers Cross for the minors.
In the Champion Hurdle it’s nigh on impossible to see any horse defeating Hurricane Fly. Last year’s performance in this race was simply scintillating, earning him Timeform’s horse of the year award. Genuine challengers in the speed hurdle division are thin on the ground. Hurricane Fly has won 12 from 14 hurdle races – ten at Grade 1 level. He has an engine, jumps well, possesses a serious change of gears and has upwards of 7lb in hand over his main rivals. The likes of Zarkandar and Binocular are playing for second place.
Best Bet Of The Day: Hurricane Fly 10-11 Paddy Power
Best Value Bet Of The Day: None, although Scott’s original Value Bet of the day was Darlan when 12/1 (as first published in the SBC members newsletter on the 22nd Feb). Darlan is now as short as 6/1 and the value has now gone
Day two opens with the stamina sapping National Hunt Challenge Cup for amateur riders, followed by the Neptune Novices Hurdle and RSA Chase. The shape of the RSA is very much dependent on Grand Crus participation. Should team Pipe opt to bypass the Gold Cup for Grand Crus this year then he will be hard to beat in the RSA, being an exceptional young chaser with a few pounds in hand of his rivals. Bob’s Worth looks the suitable alternative at 7-2. Second in the Reynoldstown Novices Chase this month, he made too many jumping errors, being beaten by the promising Invictus. Prior to that race the powerfully built seven-year-old had taken well to his new discipline over fences having defeated the useful Cue Card at Newbury and then placed a respectable third to Grands Crus in the Feltham at Kempton. In the Feltham he was caught short for pace but plugged on gamely up the home straight and the Cheltenham track and hill shall play to his strengths.
The Champion Chase is the key race of day three and evens favourite Sizing Europe looks to hold all the cards. Now ten-years-old Sizing Europe excels at Cheltenham and proved he is still at the top of his game when landing the Tingle Creek in December and subsequently hammering Big Zeb in the Irish Champion Chase by 15 lengths. Biz Zeb would appear to be on the downgrade after a highly successful career. Finians Rainbow is 5-1 second favourite but on official ratings has 9lb to find with Sizing Europe. Sizing Europe needs pace in a race to show his best and trainer Henry De Bromhead has recently been letting him bowl along from the front. It’s hard to see him not still being in front come the winning post to enliven the spirits of those partaking of the Guinness.
The Champion bumper closes ceremonies on day two and New Year’s Eve at 12-1 is the one I like against the field. Trainer John Ferguson has proved himself a dab hand in a short space of time and although the Suffolk based trainer also has Population entered he looks unlikely to run owing to Cheltenham’s undulating ground. The son of Motivator, New Year’s Eve is unbeaten after two starts and left strong company in his wake in a Market Rasen bumper last month. Although he is only four-years-old this exciting juvenile is capable of emulating Cue Card who landed the race when aged four two years ago.
Best Bet Of The Day: Sizing Europe, evens William Hill, Boylesports
Value Bet: New Year’s Eve, 12-1 William Hill
Day three kicks off with the competitive Grade 2 Jewson Novices Chase. This year’s contest is in a state of flux with Peddlers Cross the market favourite far from certain to run with the Arkle, his long term target. Should Donald McCains Champion Hurdle second turn up he would be a deserving jolly. However, Cristal Bonus from champion trainer Paul Nicholls’ would be my selection at odds of 5-1. The six-year old has taken on a new life over fences winning by 25 lengths on his chase debut and popping over the larger obstacles with aplomb. Cristal Bonus had a breathing operation after the Chepstow race and subsequently stormed home in the Pendil Chase last month. There is a slight worry he may prefer cut in the ground as his best form in France was all on soft going, however Cristal Bonus remains open to further progression and when you consider his current rating is 152 he could prove the one to beat.
The Ryanair Chase follows and I favour Noble Prince. Currently third favourite at 6-1 he has been running over the minimum trip of late, which has done him no favours and predominantly on slower ground than he would like. Noble Prince has recently had a wind operation and that is capable of making a big difference. We know the eight-year-old has an affinity for Cheltenham having landed the Jewson last term and he should go close.
The World Hurdle is at the mercy of Big Bucks. I recommended my members back him last November at odds of 4-5 with Ladbokes, non-runner, no bet. That’s a very healthy looking price now with Big Bucks current best odds 4-7, though there are worse 4-7 shots out there. Ruby Walsh himself has said Big Bucks is “safer than a pension”. There has been a paucity of top-class opposition during Big Bucks World Hurdle reign with only Mighty Man and Grands Crus truly being top grade. With little mileage in taking him on, you may want to consider backing him in running as he usually gives connections a tense fifteen seconds or so when he perennially hits a flat spot. Invariably though he pulls out a little extra.
Best Bet Of The Day: Cristal Bonus, 5-1 Boylesports, Coral
Value Bet: Noble Prince, 6-1 William Hill
The Gold Cup dominates proceedings on the final day and as mentioned in Issue 68 of the Secret Betting Club, if Grands Crus does take up his entry then he is worthy of an each-way bet at odds of 7-1 given the way he has taken to his fences. If David Pipe’s grey fails to appear then Long Run can exact his revenge on Kauto Star at 7-4. Few horses polarise opinion quite as much as the current Gold Cup holder, but with the extra two and a half furlongs and the Cheltenham hill in favour of Long Run, he can be champion elect again.
Boston Bob is 4-1 for the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle although he is also 3-1 co-favourite for the Neptune Novices Hurdle and trying to second guess trainer Willie Mullins is a futile exercise. Should Boston Bob take up his entry in the Albert Bartlett he should be followed. A beast of a horse he was outstanding when landing the Grade 2 Synergy Novice Hurdle on testing ground that would not have been to his liking. The 3m trip looks right up his cul-de-sac as he has powered away from the opposition in his last two runs over 2m4f. Boston Bob would take a lot of beating in the Neptune, but with the longer trip sure to suit and the slightly longer odds just as appealing it’s to be hoped the Irish raider ends up in the Albert Bartlett.
Best Bet Of The Day: Boston Bob 9-2 William Hill
Value Bet: Grands Crus 7-1 William Hill