WHAT a treat for jump racing aficionados this weekend, with several Cheltenham festival big guns laying their reputations on the line. The disappointing absence of Grands Crus in the extended 3m 1f Argento Chase has opened the door to half-a-dozen leading aspirants, including DIAMOND HARRY (2.35).
The 2010 Hennessy hero has been sighted fewer times than the Loch Ness Monster in recent times. Indeed, he was having his first run in 12 months when a creditable fourth to Kauto Star in the Betfair Chase at Haydock, understandably weakening in the closing stages. Diamond Harry, like several of his opponents, has a good record at Cheltenham, scoring twice and recording an excellent third behind Mikael D’Haguenet and Karabak in the 2009 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. He hasn’t many miles on the clock and has a big engine under the bonnet.
Favourite Captain Chris is a classy individual, scooping last season’s Arkle Trophy from Finian’s Rainbow in a terrific novice campaign. His only attempt at three miles came in the King George on Boxing Day, finishing third, and this demanding stamina test will stretch his powers of endurance. Time For Rupert beat The Giant Bolster at Newbury in mid-December but he came up short when favourite for the RSA Chase. Midnight Chase has won four times at Prestbury Park and is another to consider.
Paul Nicholls has chosen to swerve a re-match with Baby Mix in the opening JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial, instead opting to run HINTERLAND (4.15) in the concluding handicap hurdle. Ruby Walsh gets the leg-up and the hint is worth noting.
Feature event at Doncaster is the Sky Bet Chase, formerly The Great Yorkshire Chase, and the race has a very open look following the defection of warm ante-post favourite Hold On Julio. Nicholls can take another big Saturday scalp with AITEEN THIRTYTHREE (2.35), who will find this less onerous than his previous examination in the Hennessy Gold Cup behind Carruthers. He jumped well in the main that day and only faded out of contention from the third-last fence. Aiteen Thirtythree was a smart novice chaser, winning two events at Newbury by a combined distance of 67 lengths, and his three-length second to Somersby at Kempton at the end of October wasn’t a shoddy effort. Calgary Bay has finished first and second on his two visits to Town Moor and should be in the shake-up.
Supporting Mark Johnston’s three-year-olds at Lingfield in January/February is a tried and tested method of boosting the old bank balance and the Middleham trainer has good prospects of saddling a double courtesy of BAILEYS STRIDER (1.25) and SOUTHERN STATE (4.05).
Baileys Strider was sent off favourite for a Wolverhampton maiden eight days ago but could finish only fourth, not beaten far, by the more street-wise Roedean. He will be more clued-up after that run.
A similar remark applies to Southern State who, despite running green, was beaten only narrowly by the promising Alfred Hutchinson at Wolverhampton five days ago. The first two pulled five lengths clear of the pack and the step up in trip should see him in an even better light.
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