Festival fancies: horses to back with the non-runner no bet concession
With Paddy Power joining Sky Bet and bet365 in going non-runner, no bet on all 28 races at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival and several other firms offering the concession for the championship contests, our experts pick out the horse they are most interested in backing.
Jury Duty National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders' Novices' Chase
10-1 with bet365 and Paddy Power
Monalee's early fall probably robbed the Neville Hotels Novice Chase of any significant bearing on the RSA – those that finished can be backed at 16s for the RSA even with the NRNB concession. Runner-up Jury Duty shapes like a real stayer and the four-miler appeals as by far the better option for him given he appears to have a bit more stamina and just a bit less class than the very best staying novice chasers. He also looks a fairly straightforward ride for an amateur.
Movewiththetimes Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase
12-1 with bet365
Movewiththetimes has a highly attractive mark for this off 142 and given the new ceiling of 145 the only worry is that he does not get into what is usually a very narrow handicap spread. He is rated 146 over hurdles, jumps well enough, has got plenty of course experience this season and looked threatening against some of the best in the novice division. He was well fancied by the yard for the Supreme last year before injury ruled him out, so they clearly see him as a Grade 1 sort who would be running in handicap company, and he ran his best race to date in just such a race when narrowly failing to give weight to Ballyandy in last year's Betfair Hurdle. He ticks a lot of boxes.
Min Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase
9-2 with Betfred
It was disappointing he couldn't see off Simply Ned at Leopardstown over Christmas, but I've not given up on him. He still finished ahead of Simply Ned, only to lose the race in the stewards' room, and there might have been more left in the tank. I always felt Min was doing enough to hold on and I'm not convinced Simply Ned would have passed him, even without the interference. The only horse to have beaten Min to the finishing post is Altior and, while I expect that rival will do the same if he turns up, we still haven't seen him this season. That is always a concern and, if he doesn't get there, I reckon Min will be favourite ahead of Politologue.
Rhinestone Weatherbys Champion Bumper
14-1 with Sky Bet
It's hard enough to find the winner of the Champion Bumper on the day of the race, never mind over two months in advance, but Joseph O'Brien's Rhinestone marked himself down as a proper contender in winning his bumper at Thurles. Conditions were less than ideal for the Montjeu gelding on that occasion and he should come into his own on better ground. Sky Bet go 14-1 NRNB about him for the race and that looks fair.
Voix Du Reve Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle
16-1 with bet365
The last two winners of the race have come over from Ireland (Mall Dini in 2016 and Presenting Percy last year) and Voix Du Reve can complete the hat-trick. This talented six-year-old has been lightly raced since moving to Willie Mullins at the start of 2016 and was going to go very close on only his second run for the yard when coming down at the last in the Fred Winter two years ago. He's obviously had his problems, but showed he retained most of his ability when eighth on his reappearance – and first start over 3m – and is undoubtedly well handicapped.
Top Notch Ryanair Chase
5-1 with Sky Bet
This pint-sized Nicky Henderson-trained runner has thrived since switching to fences and has looked to improve further this term with two impressive wins in Grade 2 company. He handles Cheltenham well having finished second in both the 2015 Triumph Hurdle and JLT Novices' Chase last year, and can handle any type of ground.
Benie Des Dieux Ryanair Chase
14-1 with bet365
She has hardly broken sweat in winning both starts since arriving from France. One of the unknown quantities in the field and will improve for going left-handed. Worth backing each-way.
Yanworth Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle
10-1 with Paddy Power, bet365
It may not happen but if it doesn't you've not lost anything – and if it does you're on a horse with a bigger chance than his odds would suggest. Yanworth is completely unexposed as a long-distance hurdler having won his only start at 3m in Grade 1 company at Aintree last April. He has long given the impression he has untapped reserves of stamina and looks just the sort to give Sam Spinner and co plenty to think about in the Stayers' Hurdle if the huge switched prize lures him back from fences.
Theinval Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate
20-1 with Paddy Power
There is 25-1 available without the non-runner concession. A good third in the Grand Annual last year this eight-year-old may well go back to try and win the race run in memory of his trainer Nicky Henderson's father, but his career record suggests the 2m5f of the Plate could suit him better, particularly on good ground. The heavy ground was all against him last month over the trip yet he caught the eye travelling and jumping before tiring.
Native River Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup
8-1 with bet365 and Sky Bet
The concern is his long absence from the track, but if the Native River, who finished an honourable third in the race last year, returns in top form he must go close. As an eight-year-old it's fair to assume the best days may still be in front of him, and a soft-ground Cheltenham would make his claims even more persuasive.
Vaniteux Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup
14-1 with Sky Bet
Vaniteux's new owners paid £125,000 to buy him out of Nicky Henderson's yard in May. They have so far had little return on their investment but five defeats in rapid succession have brought the horse's mark down 7lb to a rating 2lb below what he won off at Ayr in April. It would be a big surprise if David Pipe has not been eyeing a festival handicap and, back on good ground or something close to it, Vaniteux could be a proper Pond House plot.
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