Contrarian Picks for Day 3 of the 2016 Cheltenham Festival....

Last Updated: 17.03.2016

Thursday, 17th March 2016

Good morning, contrarians,

On the menu today….

  • Day 3 at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival….
  • The Pertemps Network Final (2.10)….
  • The Ryanair Chase (2.50)….
  • The World Hurdle (3.30)….
  • The Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate (4.10)….

Day 3 at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival….

We’ll save the inquests for nest week, when we know where we are. But Day 2 was better for this particular contrarian.

I went into Day 2 a few points in arrears. I came out of it a few points to the good. I’ve taken some blows this week so far, but I am still very much in the fight and still throwing shots as we head into Day 3…. That’s how it is when you play against the crowd. A couple of results go a long way….

Today I go to work on the prices in the Pertemps Network Final, the Ryanair Chase, the World Hurdle and the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate….

Here’s how I see it.…

Box Office in the Pertemps Final….

‘Impossible’ is the word most frequently used to describe the Festival handicaps on this week’s Racing UK coverage.

The handicaps races are competitive – as tough a series of punting puzzles as you’re likely to come across. But if we’re up against it in these red-hot events, so are the horses being backed into short prices. And market money for them means value elsewhere for us. The prices are there to be attacked. Win, lose or draw, I enjoy the challenge.

Jonjo O’Neill’s BOX OFFICE is the one I’ll be going with for the Pertemps Final (2.10) this afternoon – at general quotes of 22s.

He was the favourite for last season’s Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle – sent off at 13/2. He disappointed fav-backers on the day – finishing 7th and never really threatening. The bottom line is that he was outpaced at the 2-mile trip.

During the early part of this season he improved for each run, qualifying for this final at Sandown where he finished 4th. He was short of room twice in that race and would have been closer but for that.

Last time out he was stepped up to 23f at Haydock and was pulled-up – running no kind of race. Not ideal – but I’m pretty sure the heavy ground was at the root of that performance. On good ground he will be a different proposition.

His best efforts have come on spring ground – last year at the Festival and at Aintree where he again looked in need of further. He’ll get his ground tomorrow and over the longer Pertemps trip I expect him to put all past performances behind him.

Playing for places in the Ryanair Chase….

Our race Indicator – available on the Against the Crowd website – serves to justify the markets very strong support for Vautour in the Ryanair Chase (2.50)

It suggests that punters like me who oppose favourites are playing for place money. Given how the larger part of the Mullins string has performed so far this week, it’s hard to argue with the view.

Road To Riches is next best in the betting. I’ll be interested to see how he goes. Noel Meade said last week that he wanted the horse to go for the Gold Cup – in which he finished 3rd last season. He thinks today’s trip will prove too short. The owners pay the bills and went the other way. Meade’s comments are hardly a vote of confidence though.

VILLAGE VIC has never run in a G1 race. Nor has he been to a previous Festival like so many of the horses that have figured prominently in this event since it was added to the Festival programme.

But he has been a huge form horse this term – going up the ratings to the tune of 32lbs. Connections didn’t have much choice but to head for this race because the handicaps were out of the question for him on a mark of 157.

That figure says he will need to improve again. But he’s got plenty going for him. He’s very quick and accurate jumper and he loves the Cheltenham track. At prices as big as 33s overnight, he makes appeal.

Saphir De Rheu in the World Hurdle….

Thistlecrack is the good thing based on what he’s produced this term from November onwards. And if you want to back the Colin-Tizzard-trained hotpot, then I won’t put you off. You just need to make it pay. Open a new account with Coral this morning and you can get an enhanced price of 12s. That’s got to be value.

I already have a Coral account and can’t take advantage of that price. Instead, I’ll be backing SAPHIR DE RHEU at the general overnight 11s.

The 7-year-old was runner-up in last season’s renewal – staying on well behind a winner who’d got first run. In the meantime he’s disappointed over fences but he’s had his palate cauterized. That will help him and he will very much appreciate the spring ground.

Two against the field in the Plate….

John’s Spirit is a pretty obvious contender – a bit like stable-mate Holywell in the Ultima on Tuesday. He’s dropped a full stone down the weights in the last 12 months and, on his favoured ground and favourite track, he has to go well.

But we don’t put up favourites at Against the Crowd. We like to live the hard way. Our job is prices – and trying to hit big ones….

In the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate SALUBRIOUS looks like the Paul Nicholls second-string or even third-string – ridden by Sean Bowen and twice the price of Stilletto and Art Mauresque – but he can outrun quotes of 25s and represents a decent each-way bet.

I’m prepared to ignore the three runs put in during December and January because the Nicholls yard was well out of form at that time. The upside of those efforts is that the horse has dropped to a mark of 140. He simply has to be better than that.

He won the Martin Pipe at the 2013 Festival. That was over hurdles. He did it off a mark of 141. If he’s up to his hurdle from over fences then that has to be seen as a plus. He’s on a track he likes, on spring ground that he’s excelled on before.

The other one I like as a potential plot horse is NICEONEFRANKIE at 25s. Venetia Williams has won this 3 times in the last decade (twice with big-priced ‘surprise’ winners) and she’s firing a few more bullets in this year’s edition. The 10-year-old is my idea of the pick of them.

We’ve only seen him twice this term. He was pulled-up at Newbury in November and we didn’t see him again until January at Warwick where he ran 2nd behind Taquin De Seuil. That perfectly acceptable comeback outing will have brought him forward and the better ground at Cheltenham will very much suit.

A mark of 145 is generous enough on the best of his form. He won a big G3 handicap chase at Cheltenham in 2014 off a mark of 142. And claimer Charlie Deutsch takes off 3lbs this afternoon – so the horse is effectively running off a mark below that of his last win.

Claimers don’t ordinarily make good bets in Festival handicaps but I’m prepared to give Williams the benefit of the doubt – she put a 5lb claimer on Something Wells when he won at 33s back in 2009. And Deutsch was aboard Niceonefrankie for the first-time on a race track at Warwick – giving the pair a chance to bond ahead of today’s assignment.

The Contrarian Bet Box….

To recap where the value is today….

In the Pertemps Network Final (2.10)....

  • Nick’s Contrarian Picks – BOX OFFICE each-way (22s generally)

In the Ryanair Chase (2.50)….

  • Nick’s Contrarian Picks – VILLAGE VIC each-way (33s generally)

In the World Hurdle (3.30)….

  • Nick’s Contrarian Picks – SAPHIR DE RHEU each-way (11s generally)

In the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate (4.10)….

  • Nick’s Contrarian Picks – SALUBRIOUS each-way (25s generally) & NICEONEFRANKIE each-way (25s generally)

That is my take on the value in this afternoon’s races at Cheltenham. You will no doubt have your own ideas – and that’s exactly as it should be. You can watch the action unfold live on C4 & RUK.


That’s all from me for today. Whatever you do, make sure you enjoy the racing because it doesn’t get any better. I’ll be back tomorrow morning with my contrarian take on tomorrow’s Festival action….

Nick Pullen

Against the Crowd