In this second of a four part series examining the ante post markets for the Cheltenham Festival championship races, my focus turns to the supreme test of jumping at speed. A glance over the roll call of honour down the years reveal names that send tingles down the spines of the racing faithful: Badsworth Boy, Viking Flagship, One Man, Moscow Flyer, Master Minded and of course Sprinter Sacre.
This year’s renewal has of course lost some of its key players to injury which has left us with a rather lopsided betting market. Douvan is a best priced 4/11 favourite, and it’s easy to see why. Since he went chasing in 2015 nobody has got within six lengths of him, and the longest starting price for any of those nine smooth victories was 4/7. So the question is: Is 4/11 value? I shall come back to that after examining the other contenders.
Next in some lists (those that are non runner no bet, anyway) is Altior. The impressive winner of last year’s Supreme Novice Hurdle has made a flawless start to his chasing career, but is almost certainly heading for the Arkle instead (indeed some think he should now be going for the Champion Hurdle). In addition, you could argue that he hasn’t beaten much in his three bloodless victories, whereas we know that Douvan is miles better than many he will re-oppose next month.
Un De Sceaux was found wanting last year, and Ruby Walsh was pretty negative afterwards, and if you don’t fancy him you don’t fancy God’s Own or Sire De Grugy either on several available form lines. And it’s those form lines that hold the key to the Queen Mother Champion Chase as a betting heat. Some contests throw up situations where the principals have been kept apart, but here we have a fairly good idea about most of them.
On all known form Douvan is well ahead and, crucially, he has already won twice at the Festival. He has always been held in the highest regard by connections and at the age of seven could still be improving. He is not a certainty, because no horse is, but I now return to my earlier question and conclude that we are in the strange realms of believing that 4/11 might just represent value.
Some pundits (including the mighty Pricewise no less) and many punters will never bet at odds on but, as I explained in my book, if I was offered 1/2 on rolling a fair dice and getting 1 to 5 I would happily take that bet all day long. To do otherwise would be nothing less than mathematical lunacy.
There are, of course, three problems to this extraordinary idea:- 1) there are still five weeks to the race, and we have already seen how fragile some of our superstars are, 2) we have witnessed many hot favourites get beaten at the Festival over the years, even at odds on, and 3) Douvan could be longer odds on the day. I shall address each concern in turn.
Firstly, sponsors Betway offer 4/11 with the NRNB concession, so if Douvan doesn’t line up for any reason you would get your money back. Secondly, over the last four Festivals there have been ten horses sent off at odds on – only one has lost (Un De Sceaux last year). Thirdly, this is the big imponderable, but in all honesty I can’t see him starting much longer (if there were any doubts about his fitness or the ground I doubt he would be risked) and if a few Irish favourites have already gone in, or some of his chief rivals don’t turn up, he could be a lot shorter.
In conclusion, whatever they say, betting at odds on can be successful. If (unlike me!) you have yet to hoover up all the free cash from bookies offers that floats around come the Festival, I would wait and somebody will probably offer silly odds if you open an account with them. If (unlike me!) you get nose bleeds betting less than Evens then don’t touch it. But if you truly believe in value, and can afford to lose a sizeable chunk, then put that chunk on Douvan. At four o’clock on Wednesday 15 March 2017 it could seem like printing money*.
(* The author is not a professional punter, and if you saw some of his recent bets you would doubt if he could hit a barn door at ten paces. The value of your investments can go down as well as disappear altogether. Think about doing other more productive things with your time than betting on the horses, like building matchstick models of the Cutty Sark. And please, above all, remember that horses have a habit of not reading the script and that punting at the Cheltenham Festival is very similar to standing in a field ripping up ten pound notes.)