If you must get involved in Cheltenham, bank on Quevega and Big Buck’s

HERE’S a tip for Cheltenham — don’t bet. But, of course, such words of wisdom will be completely lost in the festival air — though there is the possibility they might be fleetingly recalled after the last race has been run next Friday.

By then it will be all too late. Cheltenham is almost impossible from a betting point of view and the grim determination of mug punters to think they can solve puzzle after puzzle never ceases to amaze.

Listen carefully at the airport on your way home and you will hear some interesting sounds. “I broke even”, for instance, is code for “I lost”.

“I didn’t do too badly,” is also code for “I lost”. If you meet someone who backed three winners every day then pencil him in as probably the biggest liar on God’s earth.

Then there will be the guy who only went over for the four days to back one horse and it won in a walk. He will almost certainly be tucking into chips and beans by way of celebration.

But, I suppose, you cannot blame punters for telling a variety of white lies. Most, whether they travel or stay at home, will begin the week with a sense of expectation and hope, but the vast majority will lose and, in such circumstances, where’s the fun in muttering the truth?

Many punters are obsessed with wagering at Cheltenham and seem to think that a 6-4 shot there pays more than 6-4 anywhere else.

If you cannot resist the urge to punt then stick to your normal pattern. We know that the €100 man tends to bump up to €200 and so on. That’s madness, because you are dealing here with the most competitive environment in the racing world.

At Limerick over the next two days, and at Navan tomorrow, there will be a share of non-triers. The non-trier, however, is virtually alien to Cheltenham.

I use the word virtually, not completely, because of the Irish hot-pot a number of years ago who was stopped for reasons best known to connections.

Anyway, for those of us who are going to approach the meeting with fear and trepidation, as usual, let’s see if we can find a handful on which to hang our hat.

Willie Mullins says Quevega is his best bet and who are we to argue with a trainer who has had 17 winners at the meeting.

Quevega has a lot going for her, not least that she is contesting one of the weakest races, the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle.

She has won it for the last two years, goes really well fresh, loves Cheltenham and the likes of Sparky May shouldn’t trouble her.

The other possible banker, a word I use advisedly, is Big Buck’s in the Ladbrokes’ World Hurdle. Because very few horses truly stay three miles this is a race which throws up repeat winners, the likes of Baracouda and Inglis Drever.

Big Buck’s has won for the last two years, is now unbeaten in ten races and has scored four times in all round Cheltenham.

The value bet of the week? It has to be Hurricane Fly in the Champion Hurdle. Ladbrokes have been hawking him this week at 11-2 and each-way a quarter of the odds was mighty tempting.

What won’t win? Well, I have to be against Kauto Star in the Gold Cup. To my way of thinking he hasn’t run anywhere near his best since running away with the King George at Kempton in December of 2009.

And I can’t be with Binocular in the Champion Hurdle either. I know he left his previous form well behind when winning a year ago, but the way he struggled at Sandown last time just left you feeling uncomfortable.

I have two wishes for next week and the first is that Ruby Walsh rides at least one winner.

He has suffered some horrific injuries of late and a success, or two, would not be begrudged by anyone, you suspect.

Also, I would just love to see Dermot Weld get on the score sheet. We know training National Hunt horses is a sideshow for him, but sadly Rare Holiday (1990) remains his only festival success.

Those of us in the press who thoroughly enjoy his utterings in the winner’s enclosure would get a fair old kick out of the great man being afforded the opportunity of holding court, before returning to the day job.

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Saturday, November 27, 2021

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