Former Talksport man Charlie McCann marks your card with seven to follow on Saturday at Doncaster and Cheltenham. View selections below
Wonderful racing from Doncaster and Cheltenham this afternoon and we start in south Yorkshire and the Grade 2 Lightning Novices’ Chase. There is plenty of pace in the race with both Arzal and Fox Norton confirmed front-runners but the two to concentrate on are Vaniteux and Shaneshill (1.00) with marginal preference for the latter despite giving 4lbs to the former.
Shaneshill trained in Ireland by Willie Mullins, finished runner up to Douvan in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last season and has won both starts over fences this term although his jumping didn’t impress everyone at Naas last time. The gelding is 5/1 at BetVictor for the JLT over 2m 4f at the Cheltenham Festival with stablemate Douvan the market leader for the Arkle over the minimum trip.
Lambourn raider Vaniteux went down narrowly to Ar Mad at Kempton over Xmas but that is top class British form and both he and Shaneshill should have the race run to suit. This is, arguably, as good a novice chase seen in Britain so far this season despite the paucity of runners (five).
Gardefort has been stuck up 9lbs by the handicapper for his recent Wetherby success and that might be enough to prevent him following up in the 2m Handicap Chase. The vote goes to the Evan Williams’ trained On Tour (1.30) who is also two out of two over fences having won small field events at Exeter and Carlisle. This is his sternest test to date moving into handicap company for the first time, but he must go close with Brian Harding taking over in the saddle.
The 3m Novices’ Hurdle is another fabulous race with the first two in the betting for the Albert Bartlett Barters Hill and Up For Review (2.40) at Cheltenham in March going toe-to-toe and marginal preference again is for the Irish raider.
Barters Hill is one of the main British hopes for Cheltenham but is he a real stayer and will this trip tax his stamina? Unbeaten in six starts in Bumpers and over timber Barters Hill has a fantastic engine and is one of the most exciting horses this side of the Irish Sea but Up For Review looked to improve considerably for the step up to 3m at Punchestown last time and he might have more reserves of stamina than the Ben Pauling horse.
The big betting race of the day is the Skybet Chase; top-weight Holywell is one to consider in the spring and it will be fascinating to see if he gets an entry in the Grand National when the entries and weights are announced next month.
One of these days everything will go according to plan for Buywise (3.15) who deserves to win a big one and let’s hope today is the day. The selection finished runner up in the Paddy Power back in November and should appreciate the step back up in trip having got going too late back at Cheltenham last time. The selection is 7/1 at BetVictor and is taken to reward each way support; jockey Brian Harding is unlikely to be in a hurry on the 9-year-old but the long home straight should suit.
At Cheltenham the feature of Trials Day is the Gold Cup Trial which sees eight go to post including the Gold Cup favourite Djakadam who finished runner up to Coneygree in the big one back in March. He is the most likely winner but at ½ I would prefer to look for an each way alternative and I was very impressed with the win of former RSA Chase winner O’Faolains Boy at Newbury last time and hope at 8/1 he can reward each way support.
The last two winners of the race Many Clouds (2015) and The Giant Bolster (2014) are in opposition and this is a very good field. Djakadam is only seven and looked to have improved again when scoring at Punchestown on his reappearance but he is too short in the market. I am firmly in the Don Poli camp when it comes to the Gold Cup and it will require a convincing victory from the grey for me to jump ship at this late stage.
I was disappointed with Salubrious last weekend despite running a decent race in fourth and he is readily overlooked despite wearing blinkers for the first time. Having had a nibble on Champagne West (2.25) for the Ryanair I am hoping for a big run from the Philip Hobbs’ trained 8-y-old despite being 4lbs higher than when runner up to his progressive stablemate Village Vic last time. The latter has subsequently franked the form and at 9/4 with BetVictor Champagne West gets the vote.
Thistlecrack (3.35) is impossible to oppose in the Cleeve Hurdle for Colin Tizzard such was the manner of his Long Walk Hurdle success at Ascot last month although Camping Ground was a revelation on his switch back to the smaller obstacles and this French-bred is a fascinating contender if he stays this 3m trip.