If Cheltenham passes it’s precautionary inspection at 8:45am on Saturday morning, the final meeting before the Festival seems aptly named, as it really does look a trial for the big meeting itself.
The Gold Cup trial, the Argento Chase, can go the way of Punchestowns (2:30) who remains unexposed over fences and was formerly a high-class staying hurdler.
The eight-year-old chased home Big Buck’s in the 2009 World Hurdle, having been sent off odds-on to beat that rival on this card two years ago.
He took well to fences last term and clearly wasn’t right when only fifth in the RSA Chase here in March.
His reappearance was most encouraging, when going down by just a neck to another lightly-raced staying chaser Pride Of Dulcote, with 40 lengths back to last Saturday’s winner, Tatenen.
On a going day Tidal Bay would be a massive threat in receipt of 5lbs, but this could be the day Punchestowns comes of age over fences and puts himself right in to the Gold Cup picture.
The Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle looks a fitting trial for the Festival contest of the same name and Backspin (3:05) is fancied to maintain his unbeaten record.
The winner of a strong Punchestown Festival bumper on debut last April, he was subsequently bought by JP McManus and made a winning debut for current connections at Bangor in mid-December.
The son of Flemensfirth took a massive step forward only a fortnight later, when winning the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle by 8 lengths, though visibility was poor to say the least due to fog (as it was for Punchestowns’ race just an hour earlier).
Runner-up, Court In Motion, bolted up at Warwick a couple of weeks ago, while third home, Al Ferof, won an egg and spoon race by 20 lengths last week. His form looks solid and the six-year-old has already attained an official rating of 150.
Wichita Lineman justified favouritism in this race in 2007 for the same connections and Backspin is fancied to follow suit.
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Last year’s selections included:
Hurricane Fly: 3/1 winner of the G1 Rabobank Champion Hurdle
Copper Bleu: 12/1 winner of the Jewson at Cheltenham
Great Endeavour: 18/1 winner of the Festival Plate
Tranguil Sea: 11/2 winner of the Paddy Power Gold Cup
Sizing Europe: 6/1 winner of the Arkle
Weapon’s Amnesty: 10/1 winner of the RSA Chase