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The Wager Zone

by Card Player News Team |  Published: Mar 02, 2009


Sports Desk
by Aodhán Elder

Cheltenham - The Importance of Being Experienced

Cheltenham RacecourseA place for dreams. A venue for the making of legends. A chance to go on the booze, with a side order of horse racing. Whatever your particular view on it, there can be little doubt that there are few events on the sporting calendar that enjoy the reverence of the Cheltenham Festival. The names of heroes seem to swamp the mind at the mere mention of the name. It is a place so steeped in nostalgia that the very mention of the word seems to be drenched in sepia tone. Over the next few weeks, you'll hear copious mentions of just how special the Cheltenham Festival is. Some opinions will be sprinkled with sentimentality to the point of saturation, but the central thesis that Cheltenham is unlike any other race meeting is true, albeit for reasons other than chuckling about the time you drank the bar dry and woke up in the bath.

The uniqueness of Prestbury Park is key to your chances of making some good money at the Festival in March. If you haven't visited the racecourse, what is often difficult to truly appreciate is the gradient of the hill that the horses face in the closing stages. Horses that look entirely dominant on flatter racecourses can wilt under its demands and horses that look like they belong on the beach letting kids ride around on their backs suddenly come to life on the climb. The difficult terrain often exposes the limitations of otherwise highly rated horses, and a lack of course experience is a big negative when picking your selections over the four days.

Evaluating the importance of course form is an inexact science, but generally it's prudent to oppose short price favourites who are running at Cheltenham for the first time, in favour of horses with a history of coming up that hill. Of the 25 races run at the 2008 Festival, 14 of them where won by horses who had run well at Cheltenham in the past, with eight of those having claimed at least one victory at the track. Those statistics may not seem particularly awe-inspiring, but in the vast majority of cases, the horses returned some juicy starting prices.

In the Champion Hurdle, Katchit had four Cheltenham wins to his name, yet still went off rated as a 10/1 outsider, and Amicelli claimed the Hunters' Chase at 33/1 after a good performance at the track. The Festival tends to be littered with horses like this who have taken a liking to the course, and although they may not have the same obvious form as some of their more fancied rivals, these outsiders often run big races at nice prices. They may not win all the time, but it only takes a couple of Katchit's to make the Cheltenham week a very profitable one.

Champions League

It was wonderfully predictable and beautiful in its constancy. Not for the first time in its relatively brief existence, the Champions League group stage has been criticised for providing little in the way of shocks.

After 96 games, the tournament has been whittled down to 16 teams and with the possible exception of Panathinaikos, those teams would have almost certainly been the ones picked by most football fans with even a basic understanding of the major European leagues. In terms of entertainment, the group stages weren't all that abject - they returned a total of 245 goals at an average of 2.55 a game, which is a reasonable, if unspectacular, ratio - while at times Barcelona and Arsenal, belying their domestic woes, played some truly breath-taking football.

In the rigmarole of groups does require patience, it has surely been rewarded with a tremendously intriguing draw for the round of 16. The match-ups mean that some of the big names will be exiting at the first knockout stage, and if you fancy a team to win what looks like a fiercely competitive Champions League, it's worth backing them now because if they beat their high profile opponents, the price will become artificially low. It's difficult to know who'll be holding "Old Big Ears" aloft in Rome next May, but the best of the value is to be had before the quarter finals.

Antepost: Rounding Up the Best Betting Markets
By Roy Brindley

Bet-to-Lay is the Play

Horse raceI am in an absolute kink sitting here watching the film 21 whilst scratching my head as to what words of wisdom to bestow on you this month. In the film the lead character has so far only visited two blackjack tables and at both the count was 16 and 17 to the player's advantage.

Surely I am not alone in playing this game a little and therefore knowing that these kind of counts happen rarely but I should not let my mind wander. It is after all, too small to be left out on its own!

Antepost betting - the pro-gamblers love it, and is it surprising? The better known faces on the punting circuit have dug themselves out of many a hole down the years, most notably Harry Findlay who waded into his horse Denman in 2007's Royal & Sun Alliance Chase at Cheltenham, and France to win the World Cup back in 1998.

Any event that features an antepost betting market in horse racing and football comes with a guarantee that you can place a sizeable bet in a market which is sure to fluctuate and offer you opportunities to trade off and trade out.

As a punter without the benefit of inside knowledge but in possession of a brain cell or two, and thanks to all the betting mediums we have at our disposal, this game is easy.

Plan A (and Plan B and Plan C come to that) is the "bet to lay" concept. Trying to find the winner of the Grand National is not easy, everyone knows that, and punting in a 40-runner field with the betting percentages so far in favour of the layers is suicidal.

However, this is still a race you can win on and win handsomely. The key is antepost punting on horses who you definitely know will line-up on the day.

Quite literally the price does not matter. If a horse wins an egg-and-spoon contest at one of the gaff tracks and the trainer is quoted post-race as saying, "He now goes straight to the Grand National,", back him at the best price available.

That may be 100/1 and he is probably a true 150/1 shot, but come the day, with all that public money pouring on lucky numbers, favourite jockeys, sons' and daughters' names, and a whole lot more folly systems, that horse is likely to go off a lot nearer 33/1.

There is your edge, trading out at 33/1 and leaving yourself a guaranteed return if the horse wins or falls at the first.