L'Ami Serge thrown in for his assault on the Sky Bet Chase
He can run off a mark 7lb lower than his hurdles rating
Some bookmakers have been very accommodating with their markets for the Cheltenham Festival, with a few big firms already going non-runner no bet on all races for the four-day jamboree in March. With so many horses likely to have more than one target at Cheltenham, you could say this is a call for punters to tuck into the ante-post feast.
Yet it would never be as easy as that and a look at some of the markets with those NRNB firms suggests any juicy prices on offer are in short supply.
Those bookies already offering the incentive are generally taking no chances, with some horses half their odds compared to other firms. There are one or two, though, who barely differ, including one horse who I'm always keen to side with in the staying novice division, ELEGANT ESCAPE.
A novice hurdler last season who showed promise, chasing was always going to be his game and he has certainly progressed in that sphere this term, winning a Grade 2 at Newbury before finishing second to Black Corton in the Grade 1 Kauto Star at Kempton on Boxing Day, acquiring a mark of 150.
Elegant Escape's two main assets this term have been his jumping, which looks pretty sound, and his stamina. He's not pacey by any means, just a proper old-fashioned chaser who keeps galloping and I think he's made for the festival's oldest race, the National Hunt Chase.
It's surprising, therefore, that with some firms going as short as 10-1 generally for the four-miler, those going NRNB are barely shorter. The standout is Sky Bet, who are currently 9-1.
At the beginning of December Tom Park put Elegant Escape up for the NH Chase at 20-1 in his Ante-Post Focus column and that was before his fine second in the Kauto Star. So there should be mileage now if you're taking a price that is virtually double figures where you get your money back if he doesn't take part.
Perhaps the reason there is little change in odds is the fact that after the Kauto Star, Colin Tizzard said his festival aim would be the RSA. Personally I'd have to see that to believe it. It's an open year in the staying novice division, but almost always the 3m Grade 1 is a classier contest and, granted usual spring-like conditions, that race would surely be too hot for him, whereas in the four-miler he'd have every chance of finishing in the three, at least.
Talking of staying races, we've got a cracker coming up this Saturday in the shape of the Sky Bet Chase, commonly known as the Great Yorkshire, and the favourite L'AMI SERGE looks chucked in. It'll be his first chase start for over 12 months, but he's off a mark 7lb lower than his hurdle rating in an event some three notches down from the Grade 1s he's been taking part in recently.
And it's not just over hurdles where he's got form at the top level as he was placed in his last two attempts in Grade 1s over fences.
He's generally a decent jumper, too, his one quirk being he goes out to his left. However that's no massive disadvantage at a place like Doncaster, where you're on the turn most of the time out in the country.
You can question his resolution as he's finished second in eight of his last 14 starts, but that shows he's consistent too, and the eyecatching thing about him for this Listed contest is his price – he's still 9-2 with some firms.
Surely he only has to get round to make the frame. In which case, each-way a quarter of the odds at that price, you can pretty much have a free crack at the win and he's got to have every chance in a field which doesn't contain much quality.
You can read James Hill every week in the Racing & Football Outlook