1.30 NEPTUNE INVESTMENT MANAGEMENT NOVICES’ HURDLE
Alan King’s Yanworth is a potential banker for many. Once again, though, with Sky Bet offering money back as a free bet in the opening race, it could be worth taking him on. He’s a class act and will take some beating. He was fourth in the Champion Bumper last season to Moon Racer and has taken very well to hurdling, with four wins from four. Initially, the Supreme was the plan, but he was stepped up in trip at Cheltenham last time and beat some smart horses. You may recall he was AP McCoy’s horse to follow on skysports.com at the beginning of the season, and he could win with this and follow up in next year’s Champion Hurdle.
Willie Mullins’ A Toi Phil is growing up all the time and won his last two after a blip on his Irish hurdles debut in December. Yorkhill had entries in all three novice hurdles but I hoped he’d be running here, as I think this is the race for him. Mullins has so many good horses it’s impossible to keep them apart.
2.10 RSA CHASE
I’ve always been a fan of No More Heroes. Gordon Elliott’s charge is three-from-three over fences, including in Grade Ones the last two times, which makes him a restrictive price for this. He looks the best staying novice on paper at the moment with proven form at the highest level. AP has named More Of That as his top tip for the meeting and he has Grade One-winning form at the Festival in the World Hurdle. He hasn’t done anything wrong since going chasing and beat Sametegal in a Novices’ Chase latest – and that horse has since won a decent handicap chase, the Greatwood Gold Cup. More Of That is four-from-four at Cheltenham and I think it’s between those two.
Of the others, Blaklion is a cracking little horse for Nigel Twiston-Davies. He won the Towton at Wetherby, but was beaten by Seeyouatmidnight in the Dipper. Seeyouatmidnight could run into a place on a good day for Sandy Thomson. He won again at Newcastle and will appreciate the fast pace the races are run at here.
2.50 CORAL CUP
A leading handicap hope for Elliott during the week is Diamond King, who has been the subject of much chatter and won last time out. He was raised 13lb for that. The Martin Pipe was his original aim since joining Elliott from Donald McCain but they have switched to this race, as he’s too highly rated for the former, which has a ceiling of 145 (he’s now rated 149). Politologue is rated 142 for Paul Nicholls for this, his handicap debut. He is unexposed and the stable won the race last year.
3.30 BETWAY QUEEN MOTHER CHAMPION CHASE
I’d have said a few weeks ago that this year’s Champion Chase wasn’t really floating my boat, but take the favourite out and it’s very competitive, with three former winners. Un De Sceaux will have to be up to speed with his jumping as there will be no margin for error. His fall at Leopardstown over Christmas doesn’t fill you with confidence, but he jumped proficiently to beat Sire de Grugy in the Clarence House at Ascot since. If last year’s Arkle winner is in the same form and given luck, then the finishing order should be the same. The 2014 Champion Chase winner Sire De Grugy is apparently moving with the same fluency that saw him at his best but I think he’ll struggle to beat the favourite.
So, what about 2013 winner Sprinter Sacre? He showed he was up for a fight when beating Sire De Grugy at Kempton over Christmas and it was a close run thing between the pair. Last year’s winner Dodging Bullets needs to put that disappointing reappearance in the Game Spirit at Newbury behind him when second to Top Gamble. He will have improved loads for that, but needs to. The return to a sounder surface will suit too. Henry de Bromhead’s Special Tiara was possibly unlucky to be broadsided by Sire De Grugy in the Tingle Creek but didn’t get the verdict after a stewards’ enquiry. I think he is just below very top class. You will need nerves of steel if you are an Un De Sceaux backer – he is a hot head and Ruby will need to keep a lid on him. Despite that, I really fancy him and am struggling to find an alternative.
4.10 GLENFARCLAS CROSS-COUNTRY CHASE
Balthazar King would be the fairytale winner of this on his return from horrible injuries suffered when falling in the Grand National last year. He’s a demon around here and loves these cross-country races. There is a strong Irish challenge, though.
4.50 FRED WINTER JUVENILE HANDICAP HURDLE
This is the sort of race in which it’s best to try and look for something that has been flying under the radar. Diego Du Charmil has certainly done that, with three placed runs in France. He is now with Nicholls and a mark of 133 doesn’t look bad, but he’s no double-figure price sadly. Nicholls won the race last year.
King’s Messire Des Obeaux is a fellow French import, but he had a spin at Haydock (Victor Ludorum) in a small field and should be better than the bare form. He’s a full-brother to Bouvreuil, who was second in the Fred Winter last season for Nicholls. This horse is rated 132, which looks pretty attractive. One horse that got plenty of positive mentions at the Sky Bet preview evening was Campeador, another from the Elliott powerhouse. Connections thought this horse might be one for the Triumph Hurdle at the start of the season, but he runs in this juvenile handicap instead and is likely to wear a hood for the first time here. The bookies haven’t missed him sadly.
5.30 WEATHERBYS CHAMPION BUMPER
Augusta Kate initially wasn’t running at Cheltenham and was going to Sandown instead, but it seems there has been a change of plan by Mullins. This mare is owned by Graham Wylie, Alan Shearer, Lee Westwood and Ant & Dec. Mullins has won this eight times over the years and Irish runners have a phenomenal record in the race, although Brits dominated last year. She is bred in the purple, by leading flat stayer Yeats out of an exceptional race mare, Feathard Lady. This mare has won both her starts and, as mares and juveniles get weight from the rest, she has a weight pull with many of these too. She doesn’t show much at home, but is two from two on the track.
Ballyandy has won three out of four in bumpers for Twiston-Davies. He’s a winner at Cheltenham already and looked impressive giving weight to his rivals at Newbury last time out. One to watch that offers a bit more value than the principles is the Jessie Harrington trained New To This Town. There’s no doubt that this horse would be a single figure price if he was trained by Mullins and Harrington has a good record with her runners in this race. His price is shortening all the time.
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