The leading novice Grand Crus misses the feature on Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham to wait for Newbury next month, but we still have a fascinating race for the Argento Chase and the winner will go into the Cheltenham Gold Cup with solid each way claims.
Both Diamond Harry and Time For Rupert have yet to scale the heights expected of them so far this term, despite the win for the latter at Newbury last time out. Harry was beaten almost 20 lengths at Haydock behind Kauto Star on his reappearance and that had to go down as a modest effort given his terrific record when fresh.
He missed the King George at Kempton over Xmas because of a minor problem and, despite having only just turned nine, there is a nagging doubt that this fragile, lightly-raced sort will not be back to his very best on Saturday.
Time For Rupert was beaten just over 3l by Big Buck’s in the 2010 World Hurdle and went off a short-price for the RSA Chase at last year’s Festival where he disappointed but was found to have bled. At the start of the season I thought he was the biggest danger to Long Run’s Gold Cup crown, but he was beaten out of sight in the Betfair Chase and didn’t have to be at his best to win a four-runner event last time.
It would be no surprise to see either bounce back, but I give one last chance to Captain Chris (2.35) who had an interrupted preparation ahead of the King George and in the circumstances ran well enough to finish third.
The selection is not guaranteed to stay the 3m 1f trip but trainer Philip Hobbs insists we will see a different animal at Cheltenham than the one who laboured at Kempton and last year’s Arkle winner is given the nod in what is a fascinating renewal.
The big betting race of the day is at Doncaster with the Sky Bet Chase; Nicky Henderson’s Shakalakaboomboom is considered a serious Grand National contender by connections and the second season novices Wayward Prince and Cape Tribulation must go close, but Hennessy flop Aiteenthirtythree (2.50) jumped and travelled very well at Newbury before falling in a bit of a hole. Given plenty of time to get over those exertions his bold jumping will always be an asset and, whilst the 2013 Grand National is considered his long term objective, he can reward each way support.
Baby Mix was hugely impressive on his British debut and the antepost favourite for the Triumph Hurdle runs in Cheltenham’s opener but I just favour Grumeti (12.55) who was going clear when coming down two out at Newbury last time. He receives 3lbs from the likely favourite and can give trainer Alan King his fourth win in the race in the last six years.
Paul Nicholls runs Pearl Swan in the Juvenile and Hinterland in the closing handicap hurdle. The Champion trainer obviously thinks that the latter is well-treated with his 4-y-o allowance but preference is for Dare Me (4.15) making a belated seasonal reappearance for Philip Hobbs. The selection was unbeaten in both starts over hurdles last season before injury brought a premature end and he has always been highly regarded by the yard.
Back at Doncaster Tara Royal (3.55) ran his best race of the season at Warwick last time and he remains potentially well-handicapped in the 2m handicap for Donald McCain.
Champion Hurdler Hurricane Fly (2.30) makes his eagerly-awaited reappearance at Leopardstown on Sunday and, having followed Oscars Well over cliffs so far this term, the Fly should have too many gears for the opposition.
We at BetVictor are betting ¼ odds all races at Doncaster and Cheltenham tomorrow.