Contrarian Picks for day 4 of the 2016 Cheltenham Festival....

Last Updated: 18.03.2016

Friday, 18th March 2016

Good morning, contrarians,

On the menu today…

  • Day 4 of the 2016 Cheltenham Festival…
  • No bet in the Gold Cup
  • The Triumph Hurdle (1.30)…
  • The County Hurdle (2.10)…
  • The Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle (4.50)…
  • The Grand Annual (5.30)…

Day 4 of the 2016 Cheltenham Festival….

Nothing went in for this particular contrarian punter on Day 3 of the Festival. In fact, nothing got close to going right….

Village Vic ran an honourable race in defeat. Niceonefrankie went well for a long way before crashing out. But defeat – however it shapes up – doesn’t pay the bills….

The rest of mine didn’t even show up. Or they might as well not have done. I wonder if Box Office, Salubrious and Saphir Du Rheu disappointed connections as much as they disappointed me.

But, at the final reckoning, I have to look at myself. The winners and placers were there to be found on the day – but, as it turned out, I was looking in all the wrong places. End of.

So I go into Day 4 a few points in the red. Nothing that can’t be put right with a decent result or two – but it will have to be today.

No bet in the Gold Cup….

I won’t be betting in the Gold Cup. The market says it’s between the front 4 in the betting – and I think the market is right. I don’t think there’s any great value to be had with that group trading at 3s to 5s. And I can’t see one outside the quartet….

If you twisted my arm I’d side with Cue Card. He scores well on our Indicator stats – available on the Against the Crowd website. You could make a case for him being favourite. As it is he’s third in the betting. He might be a fraction bigger than he should be. But not enough to tempt me in.

If you fancy Willie Mullins to break his Gold Cup duck – he’s got two of the front 4 in the betting plus On His Ownyou can get 10s about him doing it with Coral.

You’ll need to open a new account with them this morning to qualify. But that might look like a hell of a price come 3.45 given how Mullins is rolling this week….

Sticking with Nicholls in the Triumph….

I outlined on Wednesday just how successful Paul Nicholls is with his 4-year-old representatives at the Festival – and he thinks this season’s team is his strongest. Earlier in the week he got a 1-2 in the Fred Winter – which adds weight to his claim. I’m going to stick with him for the Triumph….

Zubayr is very much compared with previous Nicholls inmate and winner of this race, Zarkandar. Like that one Zubayr won the Adonis on his first and only appearance over hurdles (it is worth noting that 16 of the last 18 Triumph Hurdles have been won by horses that have run at least twice). Like his predecessor, he’s expected to find a lot of improvement on Friday.

The market is very much onto Zubayr though. On Thursday night he’d usurped Aidan O’Brien’s Ivanovich Gorbatov as favourite. The 9/2 is short enough for me.

Nicholls isn’t playing with just one card though. He’s got 4 more running for him. Principal jockey Sam Twiston-Davies has opted for Connetable – but I wonder if the ground has gone against him.

With outside rider Johnny Burke booked for the ride, TOMMY SILVER has the look of a ‘spare’. But it was only last week that Nicholls was saying this horse was the least exposed of his Triumph representatives and I’d expect him to improve significantly tomorrow – mainly on account of the ground.

His two runs over timber to date have been on soft. But this flat-bred speedy type will surely appreciate the better ground he’ll find at Cheltenham tomorrow and that could be the key to the progression Nicholls is hinting at.  

The highly-regarded Burke is a very interesting booking for Nicholls. He was booked early-doors. The whole thing gets my antenna twitching. But that’s for later. For now, I like the look of the overnight 20s and I’ll be on each-way.

Mad Jack to shine in the County….

In the County Hurdle (2.10) I’ll be siding with Jonjo O’Neill’s MAD JACK MYTTON at the overnight 25s and I’ll be backing him each-way.

He’s been a little in-and-out this term and last time he was beaten 100 lengths in the Betfair Hurdle. But that race was run in desperate ground and you can draw a line through it. This 6-year-old simply got stuck in the mud.

When given better ground, he’s proved to be a decent horse with a bit of toe. And he’s got some decent-looking form in the book. He was giving Solstice Star 22lbs when finishing 2nd to him at Cheltenham – beaten just over 2 lengths. That one’s produced a sequence of wins since, was 2nd in last week’s Imperial Cup at Sandown and is now rated 140.

That all serves as a compliment to Jonjo O’Neill’s horse and I just think he will prove better than his current mark of 140 on better ground. In my book that makes his overnight price very attractive and I want to be with him. 

The Elliott second-string in the Martin Pipe….

Gordon Elliott makes no secret of his closeness to and his affection for Martin Pipe. And, with the exception of the Gold Cup, the Martin Pipe Handicap (4.50) is the race he would most like to win. He almost did it last year when Noble Endeavour finished second.

He turns up double-handed this time round. The market is onto Squouateur – he’s been backed into favouritism. But I don’t think JETSTREAM JACK is here for a blow. He’ll be primed to go too – in first time hood.

The Pipe yard has no runner of its own in the race this year and Elliott will very much want to win it for them. He won’t waste an opportunity to hit the target. All the bullets will be polished. I’ll be taking the general 16s each-way about his apparent second-string.

The Henderson horse in the Grand Annual….

It is a long time since Nicky Henderson entered just one in the Grand Annual (5.30) – a race which is dedicated to the memory of his father.

He generally fires quite a few bullets – for obvious reasons. He’s done well with them too. His last 36 runners in the race have produced 14 top-6 finishes. He’s won the race twice but I don’t suppose his appetite to win it again is diminished. 

This year he fires just one round – LOUGH KENT – and I take the view that the professional assassin fires no more shots than is necessary. I take it as a plus that the horse shows up unopposed by any other inmates of Seven Barrows. Given the Henderson record in the race, I’m taking the overnight 16s and backing him each-way.

The 7-year-old hasn’t run for 111 days but I’m not concerned about that. He’s reported to be working strongly at home. Henderson advertised how well he can prepare his horses for a first-time-up effort earlier this week with My Tent Or Yours and Sprinter Sacre. Lough Kent will be primed.

The Contrarian Bet Box….

To recap where the value is today….

In the Triumph Hurdle (1.30)....

  • Nick’s Contrarian Picks – TOMMY SILVER each-way (20s generally)

In the County Hurdle (2.10)...

  • Nick’s Contrarian Picks – MAD JACK MYTTON each-way (25s generally)

In the Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle (4.50)...

  • Nick’s Contrarian Picks – JETSTREAM JACK each-way (16s generally)

In the Grand Annual Chase (5.30)...

  • Nick’s Contrarian Picks – LOUGH KENT each-way (16s 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. I’ll be back with the inquest next week. Enjoy the racing.

Nick Pullen

Against the Crowd