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Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Cheltenham 2022: Making a Case Against the Ante-Post Favourites

Ask any experienced punter about ante-post betting and they’ll tell you it’s something of an art form. But it’s not an easy skill to master. What’s true in November is not necessarily true in March. And if you don’t have NRNB (non-runner no bet), there’s a fair chance you’ve kissed your cash goodbye regardless of the result of the race.

But there are market movers across the winter months for the big races in spring, particularly Cheltenham. Indeed, much to the chagrin of some racing fans, the entire jumps season seems geared towards Cheltenham. Yet, a steady trickle of money comes in on the Cheltenham ante-post markets, and we wonder whether anyone is getting sucked into backing short-priced favourites?

Let’s start by talking about the most important factor – precedence. In terms of statistics, we rarely see horses who have led the ante-post markets at the beginning of the season carry that through to Cheltenham.

Early ante-post favourites statistically unlikely to win

Consider the four winners of the feature races last March: Honeysuckle (Champion Hurdle), Put the Kettle On (Champion Chase), Flooring Porter (Stayers’ Hurdle), and Minella Indo (Gold Cup). Not one of those horses led the ante-post markets for their respective races in 2020. Yes, Honeysuckle went off as 11/10 favourite, but the momentum only started gathering for the mare after the Irish Champion Hurdle in February.

On the other hand, Put the Kettle On was still available at 40/1 with some firms for the Champion Chase as we reached the new year. The Champion Chase can be particularly gruesome for backers of favourites as a general rule. 2017 saw Douvan flop at micro-odds of 2/9, Defi De Seuil finished second last when going off at 2/5 in 2020, and Chacun Pour Soi failed to deliver at 8/13 in 2021.

So, how do you make the case right now for Shishkin, who is currently priced at 5/4 for the 2022 Champion Chase? Nobody is doubting that Nicky Henderson’s horse isn’t a class act. Shishkin is on an eight-race winning streak, a run that includes the 2020 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Arkle last March.

Yet we haven’t seen Shishkin this season (the Tingle Creek Chase on 4th December is likely), and we can’t quite shake the feeling that anyone backing the 7yo is playing with fire. Nube Negra, a fine winner at the Shloer Chase last weekend, looks a craftier pick at 10/1, and you can’t rule out Chacun Pour Soi bouncing back at 6/1.

The Gold Cup can be difficult to work out

What then about the big one – the Cheltenham Gold Cup? It’s always a puzzle. And while it’s not exactly a lottery, you might want to look at the tips for last year’s Gold Cup. Minella Indo, the 2021 winner, is the current favourite at 5/1, but that feels more like a case of someone having to be favourite. If you watched Minella Indo’s season debut at Down Royal, you’d be left scratching your head as to how this horse leads the Gold Cup markets.

While it’s a bit early in the season to be backing Gold Cup horses with any conviction, we would be much more comfortable having our money on Chantry House (14/1) or even two-time winner Al Boum Photo at 20/1. The latter is just 9yo and certainly not done. Willie Mullins used to keep Al Boum Photo lightly raced in the lead up to those victories in 2019 and 2020, but he recently said we would be seeing a bit more of him as he wanted the horse “battle-hardened”.

Perhaps the overarching theme here is to have patience. For all of us, it should be a big no-no to back any horse that has not yet run this season. Moreover, it’s almost certainly a better option to back a few longshots rather than pile in on a short-priced favorite. If a horse is sitting at evens now, there’s only so much the bookmakers can shave off that price. And as we saw with Put the Kettle On last season, you can still get value in the new year.

Monday, 22 November 2021

Beech Road

Owned by Tony Geake and trained by Toby Balding, Beech Road was a highly successful hurdler and steeplechaser, probably best remembered for winning the Champion Hurdle at the 1989 Cheltenham Festival at odds of 50/1. At the start of the 1988/89 National Hunt season, the intention was to send Beech Road over fences and, after two unsuccessful starts over hurdles, he duly made his steeplechasing debut at Newton Abbot on Boxing Day. He was in second place when unseating his rider, Rae Guest, behind odds-on winner Sabin Du Loir, which led to Guest being replaced by Graham McCourt on his next start at Cheltenham. Sent off even money favourite in a three-runner novices' chase, Beech Road was upsides eventual winner Waterloo Boy when falling at the final fence, but lay motionless on the Prestbury Park turf for 15 minutes before rising to his feet.

That spelt the end of an abortive chasing career, at least for the time being. Two starts later, returned to hurdles and re-united with Guest, Beech Road won the National Spirit Challenge Trophy at Fontwell and, in so doing, beat Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner Vagador, who was conceding 12lb by 20 lengths, unchallenged. Nevertheless, despite arriving at Cheltenham 'in the form of his life', according to Guest, he was still sent off 50/1 twelfth choice of the 15 runners, behind 11/8 favourite Kribensis. Settled off a fast pace, Beech Road was among the back-markers at the top of the hill, but made good headway on the outside from the second last flight, led at the last and ran on strongly up the hill to beat Celtic Chief by 2 lengths.

Wednesday, 27 October 2021

Historical Upsets You Wish You Had Bet on

There is an English phrase that goes ‘hindsight is 20/20’

Things and events are always more apparent when we look back at them. Sadly, short of turning back the hands of time, we are often left with regrets. Well, for the optimists, it is a case of lessons learned.

That is particularly true when it comes to horse races and gamers’ decisions. History is fraught with incredible moments when racing outcomes left punters wishing they could have been there and aggressively played the stakes differently.

Here are some of the historical upsets in horse races that undoubtedly left punters biting their knuckles in pining lamentations and, in some cases, regret.

  1. Grand National, 1928

William Dutton was an amateur jockey participating in a global horse racing sensation, the Grand National horse race in Liverpool, England.

Just before the race began, one of William's buddies called out in jest, saying, “Billy boy, you'll only win if all the others fall!”

And fall they did! All 41 of them, leaving Dutton's Tipperary Tim as the first horse to cross the finish line.

Due to the misty and muddy conditions in the arena, all the 41 other competitors slipped and fell.

Although some competitors nonetheless got back up and attempted to finish the race, they proved to be a little too late, leaving amateur Dutton and his trusty Tim to take the 1928 Grand National title.

  1. Kentucky Derby, 1953

Native Dancer (a.k.a the White Ghost) was an American thoroughbred who dominated the news and television broadcasts due to his impressive wins and performance.

According to the Blood-Horse Magazine, the stud is ranked 7th in the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century.

However, one fine morning in February 1953, Native Dancer, who was 3-years old, faced off against an unexpected rival- the 2-year old Dark Star.

Although Native Dancer appeared to have the odds stacked in his favor at the beginning of the race, Dark Star soon set a blistering pace leaving the seasoned 3-year old struggling to keep up.

While he put up a good fight, Native Dancer still finished a head short of Dark Star’s unexpected lead.

  1. Kentucky Derby, 2019

Fast forward to more recent times, the 2019 Kentucky Derby once again witnessed another shocking upset when Country Horse won the race following the disqualification of Maximum Security, who was a popular favorite.

Even more shocking is that the disqualification came right after Maximum Security had crossed the finish line in the first position ahead of Country Horse.

However, following a complaint lodged by Flavien Pratt, a jockey, the leading horse was dispossessed of that win. That was due to its interference with other horses during the race, which had resulted in a near spill.

It was an unexpected result since it was the first winner disqualification in Kentucky Derby's 144-year history.

To sum up:

Like most competitions, horse racing is as thrilling as it is nerve-wracking. For punters looking for an adrenaline rush, they are worth playing.

Most of the upsets in sports are often unforeseeable and form part of the excitement.

Nonetheless, those looking for mild enjoyment or are unwilling to enjoy the self-induced high octane adrenaline rush that comes with race bets can still opt for 3D slot Games.

These are available in brick-and-mortar casinos and online gaming sites. Compared to the racing bets, slot games require little background knowledge and can be played by gaming newbies and veterans alike.