12.15 Cheltenham – JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial
I though HARGAM was a good thing when running at the Paddy Power meeting last month but he ran into a good one of Philip Hobbs’ that day and lost nothing in defeat. He will have come- on a great deal from that run and he has to be fancied to get his head in front here. The slightly better ground should pay to his strengths and he should be ridden slightly differently as well – he is a confident choice to get us started with a winner despite having the talented Stars Over The Sea in the line-up.
12.50 Cheltenham – Ryman Stationery Novices’ Chase
There have been some fine winners of this race in recent years with the likes of Oscar Whisky, My Way De Solzen and The Listener all coming home in front so it might well be worth keeping an eye on the winner throughout their career. It looks a hugely competitive renewal despite just having the four runners. CHAMPAGNE WEST has looked a class act throughout his fledgling career that included a fine fourth in the Albert Bartlett at last year’s Festival and he didn’t put a foot wrong when having the likes of Colour Squadron behind him when winning here at the last meeting – he is highest rated and with Hobbs’ runners still in fine form he can’t be ignored.
13.25 Cheltenham – Jenny Mould Memorial Handicap Chase
Bold Henry and Sew On Target re-oppose having finished first and second when they took each other on at here back in November – the latter bounced back to form having run below his best on recent outings. This time last year Sew on Target lined up in the December Gold Cup and a cracker to finish fourth but that was off a mark of 130, today he runs off 135 so I am happy to leave him out of things here. Despite the victory of Bold Henry last time out I’m inclined to leave him out of the equation here, he has only run twice since November 2012, the run last month and the 10lb rise as a result of that success may well have left their mark. Preference goes for KARINGA BAY who also lined up against Bold Henry and Sew on Target last month – he was staying on well when unseating, he runs off the same mark here and with a clear round he has to finish close. Of the remainder Solar Impulse is an intriguing runner as the Paul Nicholls four-year-old clearly has talent having already put together a string of fine performances but my reservation is that this will be his fourth run in the last eight weeks which may make him vulnerable close home.
14.00 Cheltenham – Caspian Caviar Gold Cup
With no less than eight of the last ten winners of the December Gold Cup having been aged six or seven, it seems that this is the best age group to follow when searching for the winner. When we apply that to this year’s field we can see that they have only five representatives so the continuation of this fine record relies on the chances of Edgardo Sol, Splash Of Ginge, No Buts, Barrakilla and Workbench. At the other end of the age spectrum, Tatenen will be bidding to become the first ten-year-old to win the race since Garnishee back in 1974, so I am happy to rule him out at this stage.
When we consider the competitive nature of this race, it will come as little surprise that it is best to side with horses arriving here in good form. In fact, eight of the last ten winners had achieved a top-three finish last time out. This just about cuts this year’s field in half with some of those to miss the cut including Easter Meteor, Attaglance and Workbench.
Race fitness is also something that has served previous winners well in recent years with only two of the last ten winners having had less than two runs during the season. There are six of this year’s line-up who fail to make the mark here, the most notable being Kim Bailey’s Darna. The eight-year-old defied a lay-off of over two years when winning at Sedgefield last month and it will be interesting to see whether he can continue his progression here.
Given the undulating nature of the racecourse at Cheltenham, it seems sensible to think that some horses may not be suited by it. Therefore previous Cheltenham form can prove useful here as shown by the pattern that all but two of the last ten winners had achieved a top-three finish on their previous visits to Prestbury Park. The sextet of Darna, Niceonefrankie, Carrigmorna King, No Buts, Barrakilla and Workbench will all be attempting to defy this trend in this line-up.
In terms of weight, 11st 2lb appears to be the ceiling here as six of the last ten winners had carried no more than that weight to victory. In this year’s contest the bottom four as they appear on the racecard (Tatenen, Ericht, Barrakilla and Workbench) all come out on the right side of this stat.
When it comes to trainers worth following, supporters of the stables of Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson won’t go far wrong. These two powerhouses have between them saddled half of the last ten winners including four of the last five horses to be successful. They are both represented by Caid Du Berlais and Ericht respectively this time around.
The final trend worth a mention is that surrounding the betting and it is fair to say that this is not a race that served favourite backers well down the years. Only Poquelin in 2009 managed to win having been sent off favourite in the last decade, a stat which does not bode well for the current market leader Caid Du Berlais.
ERICHT – 5/7
No Buts – 4/7
Barrakilla – 4/7
ERICHT tops our shortlist having only missed a couple of the trends we have discussed as he is an eight-year-old. He also finished outside the places last time in the Paddy Power Gold Cup but he was very much in contention before making a mistake at the second last. Crucially he sits at the right end of the weights and represents the Seven Barrows stable of Nicky Henderson. He gets an extra 5lb from Caid Du Berlais than he got in the Paddy Power and he looks to have a big chance of going close.
The progressive No Buts also makes the cut having won impressively at Newbury a couple of weeks ago. David Bridgwater’s six-year-old has yet to run at Cheltenham but he jumps and stays well and more importantly could still be ahead of his mark. He is set to carry 11st 3lb on Saturday which means he sits just on the wrong side of the stat but nevertheless he looks well worth his place on the shortlist.
The final member of the shortlist is Barrakilla who will be having just his fifth start over the bigger obstacles here. He improved with each of his three runs last year culminating in a Warwick success in which he beat Philip Hobbs’ Persian Snow. His reappearance saw him finish third at Sandown just ahead of No Buts and he is entitled to come on for that run. He will need to improve to go close but he is unexposed and could leave his form to date well behind him.
2.35 Cheltenham – Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
In the colours of The New One Nigel Twiston-Davies will be hoping Blaklion possess something similar in terms of ability as the five year old looks to return to winning ways having been nicely beaten by Parlour Games last time out. He is considerably the highest rated of any of these and must be respected but slight preference goes for PORT MELON who finished third behind Parlour Games last time out. The Paul Nicholls charge will have come on enormously for his seasonal reappearance – it won’t take too much of a step forward to reverse placings and he certainly looks the value selection at the time of writing.
15.10 Cheltenham – StanJames.com International Hurdle
Al eyes will be on the big two as The New One and Vaniteux lock horns but there is plenty of talent away from the market principles as well. The New One is a class act and has superb course form and is a proven Grade 1 performer but Vaniteux should be able to give him something to think about w- he is Nicky Hendersons flag ship hurdler this season running a nice opener in the Greatwood back in November. It is a clear case of potential versus proven ability but rather than focussing on which of these two will come home in front with eight declared it looks a stand out each way betting heat. Zamdy Man gave The New One something to think about at Haydock so can’t be discounted but I was impressed by BERTIMONT when finishing second in the Elite at Wincanton when he had Rock On Ruby amongst others trailing behind. The Dan Skelton trained runner will be having only his third start in Britain after having spells in France and Ireland – at 14/1 at the time of writing he looks over priced as an each-way bet as it is not beyond the realms of possibility the big two get preoccupied with each other and allow an opportunity for something to spring a surprise.
15.45 Cheltenham – Osborne House Relkeel Hurdle
Rock on Ruby looks set to be sent off favourite for a fascinating Grade 2 as Harry Fry’s nine year old continues over hurdles after a brief flirtation over fences last term – he is clearly a classy performer, you can’t win a Champion Hurdle and not be but he hasn’t quite been able to recapture that form and I’m not convinced that this trip is his best so will be looking elsewhere. It wouldn’t surprise if LAC FONTANA turns into one of the stars of the hurdling division given a bit of time – his performance in the County Hurdle was very taking but unlike Rock On Ruby I think the further he goes the better he will get and today’s trip at a venue he loves makes him a stand out selection – despite having to carry a penalty. Volnay De Thaix was sent off a short price in the fixed brush at Haydock – a race that has produced some high class performers, he wasn’t disgraced in fourth and he might give Lac Fontana the most to think about.