Former Talksport man Charlie McCann marks your card with seven to follow on Saturday at Cheltenham and Doncaster. View selections below
Another sparkling weekend of racing and Cheltenham Trials’ Day is today’s feature meeting with any number of horses putting their Festival credentials on the line notably the return of Big Buck’s (3.35) in the Cleeve Hurdle.
Now 11 years of age Big Buck’s has not met with defeat since unseating Sam Thomas in the 2008 Hennessy Gold Cup a run of eighteen successive victories back over timber although the last of them was back in December 2012 when thrashing one of today’s field Reve De Sivola by 9 lengths. Sam Twiston-Davies takes over in the saddle for the first time today and the hope is that the 11-year old is not too rusty coming back from a 420-day lay-off.
At Fishers Cross has been a big disappointment in both starts so far this season and I’m not convinced the Rebecca Curtis yard are in the best of form and I think Irish raider Boston Bob can follow the selection home. Big Buck’s is currently 2/1 (Non Runner No Bet) with BetVictor for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle and that price will contract if the four-time winner of the Cheltenham Stayers’ crown wins this afternoon.
Harry Topper has been given plenty of time to get over a dreadful run at Sandown on ground far too quick last month and he is a fascinating contender for the Argento Chase but Rocky Creek (2.25) ran a cracker on his seasonal reappearance when runner up in the Hennessy and can go one better. The selection didn’t run particularly well on his sole previous start at Cheltenham but he has always threatened to make a decent chaser and soft ground is ideal.
Double Ross has been in excellent form of late winning two valuable handicaps but he has little in hand at the revised terms with Cedre Bleu (1.50) who can be yet another winner, I hope, on the card for the yard of Paul Nicholls. The selection was outstayed at Ascot over 3m on his penultimate outing before going down to Double Ross over C&D but he is weighted to reverse the form on 6lbs better terms.
An excellent card at Doncaster and the mare Centasia would be of interest if the market spoke in her favour in the opener but Elmore Back (12.25) looks fairly treated for his handicap debut and ran an excellent race over C&D when runner up to a decent sort of Nicky Henderson’s last time.
The Grade 2 Novices’ Chase is a genuine Arkle Trial and the winner is likely to head straight to the Festival with a major chance although the Irish have a strong hand in the 2m Novice Chase division. I just feel Valdez might be better going right-handed and Fox Appeal’s concession of 3lbs to Rock On Ruby (12.55) tips the balance in favour of the Harry Fry trained runner who landed the Champion Hurdle back in 2012. The selection had little more than a school around Plumpton on his chase debut and wouldn’t want the ground to deteriorate too much, but is given the nod in an outstanding race.
The Dan Skelton yard have gone quiet in recent weeks but there is sure to be support for Ascot winner Bellenos (12lbs higher) although the runner up did little for the form returning to the Berkshire track last month. I’m going to take a chance on Upsilon Bleu (1.30) despite reservations about the yard dropping back in trip. The selection pulled too hard at Musselburgh last time over 2m 4f when well supported and the handicapper has dropped him a couple of pounds.
The big betting race of the weekend is the Sky Bet Chase and I expect a much improved show from Time For Rupert (3.15) who returned to the track from a lengthy absence over hurdles last month and is entitled to leave that form behind now that he has blown away the cobwebs.
Fifth in the Gold Cup of 2012 he has certainly been given a chance by the handicapper and at 14/1 at BetVictor he can reward each way support in a race that lacks the depth of previous renewals. Unioniste is the obvious danger with leading conditional Harry Derham taking off a valuable 5lbs but he is plenty short enough at 9/2 and I hope trainer Paul Webber has got Time for Rupert back to something like his best.