Classic Chase & Kempton Preview

There’s some excellent races for National Hunt purists today, and none better than the Classic Chase (3:00) at Warwick. Much like Sandown, the Midlands track demands quick and accurate jumping, with four fences exceptionally close together, and this extended test really tends to bring out the best of certain

The standout bet here is THE CONDITIONAL, because I’m surprised he is even here at all. After winning a very deep handicap at Cheltenham with ease, beating subsequent winners West Approach and Cogry in the process, he ran with huge credit to finish second in the Ladbrokes Trophy. That is by far the best form in the race, and if he is still on top form after those two efforts, a repeat performance should see him win against this weaker field.

There are two obvious dangers. Kimberlite Candy consistently runs well in competitive handicaps and should put in another bold display, but his only recent win came in a poor Class 3 handicap off a mark of just 133, yet he runs off 140 here versus The Conditional’s 142, and I believe the latter is a better horse. Le Breuil is rated 148 by the handicapper and runs off top weight here, and his victory in the gruelling National Hunt Chase proves he will stay. But his other form doesn’t really entitle him to such a lofty mark, and his jumping can sometimes be pedestrian, which will put him on the back foot at Warwick. I wouldn’t put you off an each-way play – with some firms giving generous terms – but again, The Conditional looks better treated.

Over at Kempton, a specialist seems to have gone somewhat under the radar, with good prices still available as I type. MERCIAN PRINCE is seeking a hat-trick in the Unibet Handicap Chase (1:30) and has clearly been prepared for the task by Amy Murphy with a spin over hurdles just before Christmas. The nine-year-old ran well at Catterick that day, showing he’s in good health, and he comes alive over course and distance: he won by 17 lengths off a mark of 139 last year, and won handily off a mark of 134 in 2018. He’s back down to a mark of 141, and the last time he ran from this sort of mark (143) in a race of this sort of class, he beat Romain De Senam at Plumpton.

Favourite Sammy Bill is the only other horse bringing good form to this contest, but he is up 11lb for his Aintree win, and the form of that race has not been franked since. As such, he could now be in the handicapper’s grip. Sao has long been talked about as a proper horse by Paul Nicholls, but has yet to show it on the track in the UK, so let’s hope this isn’t the day he puts it all together.

Later on the card at Kempton, ON THE BLIND SIDE is sure to go close in the 3:15 Handicap Chase, but his price is too short to put him up as a ‘tip’ given he’s far from a certainty. Walt, for example, came alive on his last visit to Kempton, and could be a major danger if he does so again.

 

Recommended Bets:

Kempton 1:30 – Mercian Prince 1pt e/w at 13/2 (BOG, general)

Warwick 3:00 – The Conditional 2pts win at 4/1 (BOG, general)

Sandown Handicaps Preview

While it’s true to say that the cards this weekend have an ‘After The Lord Mayor’s Show’ feel to them – with so many stables’ best and brightest seen over Christmas and the New Year – there are four horses who look good value at Sandown. Never miss an opportunity in this game!

In the 1:20 Handicap Chase, CAP DU NORD is available at double-figure odds, which underestimates his chances. The seven-year-old ran with credit in fourth in a strong Class 2 at Ascot last time out in deep ground, which doesn’t suit him. That run bodes well, and down in class here on better ground, Cap Du Nord looks to have been found a good opportunity by trainer Christian Williams. Williams obviously has his string in decent fettle given Potters Corner’s win in the Welsh National, and it’s notable that Jack Tudor is aboard with his extremely handy seven pound claim. Tudor is great value for that claim, meaning the seven-year-old gelding runs off (effectively) a mark of 115, and given he won in March at this grade off a mark of 118, this race could be within his grasp. Dashing Perk, who won well over course and distance in December, is an obvious danger, but he jumped to the right that day and given Cap Du Nord is available at four times the price, the value choice is obvious.

The highlight of the day for the vast majority of racing fans won’t be the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle, but the Veterans Chase Final (3:00), where old foes do battle in memory of Houblon Des Obeaux. There are two horses who I’m keen on here, especially given the drying ground won’t suit well-fancied favourite Jepeck.

The first is DARK FLAME, who has obvious claims given his second in the voided London National last month. The “winner” that day, Doing Fine, achieved a genuine win on his next start, boosting the form, and while many of these older horses are racking up their form only in veterans’ races, Dark Flame achieved that second place in open company. He’s only had 12 career starts, so might not even have reached his peak, and if so a mark of 125 is eminently workable.

The second choice is the legendary VIEUX LION ROUGE, still only eleven years old. He simply may have the class edge in this field if on song, having already proved his wellbeing this season by winning a Veterans Chase at Chepstow. Extraordinarily it’s his Sandown debut, but given this lovable chaser is famous for his impeccable jumping, he should find the track to his advantage. His odds look wrong at the current prices, and he’s worth an investment.

Finally, the closing 3:35 Handicap Hurdle has been chosen by Colin Tizzard as the comeback race for ELDORADO ALLEN, the stable’s number one novice hurdler last term until his desperately unfortunate injury at Aintree. The handicapper hasn’t been overly kind by allocating him a mark of 145, but if he is fully tuned up that mark vastly understates his ability, and he could hose up in this company. This is a bet with obvious risks attached – Eldorado Allen may not retain all his ability and/or may desperately need the run – but the market reflects that, and odds of 11/2 could look ridiculous if he is truly back on song.

 

Recommended Bets 04/01/20 (all Sandown):

1:20 Cap Du Nord 1pt e/w at 12/1 (Various)

3:00 Vieux Lion Rouge 0.5pts e/w at 16/1 (4 places, Various) & Dark Flame 0.5pts e/w at 13/2 (4 places, Various)

3:35 Eldorado Allen 1.5pts win at 11/2 (Hills, Coral)

Caspian Caviar Gold Cup 2019 Preview

As ever, the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup has a competitive field – as it should do with £73k to the winner – but the admin mix-up over the ante-post favourite Riders On The Storm has leant it an open feel, and with some generous bookie terms available, there is some value in the field.

In my mind, that value exists because there are question marks over the three market principals (as I type, anyway):

  • Cepage went up a mighty 8lbs for his second at Aintree, and though the form of that rate looks rock-solid, horses shouldering top weight have a poor record in this race, the exception being last year’s winner Frodon, who went on to win the Ryanair. I can’t see Cepage winning the Ryanair.
  • Brelan d’As has also been raised by the handicapper after a heroic second-place, but his second was behind Happy Diva at Cheltenham last month. Kerry Lee’s mare is an ultra-consistent sort, so this Caspian Caviar line-up would have to be a lot weaker than the BetVictor Gold Cup field for Paul Nicholl’s game eight-year-old to win this race, and I’m not convinced that’s the case.
  • Good Man Pat has every chance off this low mark of 136, which undersells his quality, but a horse who has shown such a propensity to jump badly in the past simply cannot be backed in a big Cheltenham handicap at 9/2 or shorter in my eyes.

The next two in the market are the ones that do interest me.

CLONDAW CASTLE lines up today off a mark of just 144, the same mark from which he finished second at Ascot in the extraordinary race won by Diego Du Charmil, who took out his stablemate Capeland at the last Wacky-Races-style. The handicapper has taken the view that with Diego Du Charmil getting up despite the last fence shenanigans, the bare form flatters Clondaw Castle. However, this race was probably the strongest big-handicap run so far this season given that Capeland won handsomely next time out with Diego Du Charmil in second despite now being rated 156; perhaps more importantly, Clondaw Castle was staying-on strongly over that 2m1f trip, and and extra three furlongs over the New Course at Cheltenham could be exactly what he needs. His fourth in the Arkle when sent off at 33/1 proves he handles the track, and Tom George’s horses are in fine form, so there are no clear negatives and he should be backed accordingly.

At the very bottom of the weights is NOT THAT FUISSE, the mount of Harry Skelton (who could have ridden Spiritofthegames, so that’s a positive in itself). On the face of it, his form isn’t up to much, but he was very deliberately steered round Warwick last time out over an insufficient trip, and given the trainer and the big prize on offer here, this absolutely screams “plot job”. Not That Fuisse’s jumping has been sound on all his three runs over fences, and he looks like a horse who will be rated far higher than 131 in future. With some nice each-way terms on offer, he should be covered, as he could be thrown in here.

Others with strong chances are Secret Investor for Paul Nicholls – who absolutely loves targeting this race, but his mark of 150 looks a little high – and Robin Des Foret for Willie Mullins, whose second behind Le Richebourg last October hinted at a proper graded horse in the making. But I can’t back four in the race!

 

Elsewhere on the card, while Mister Fisher has real class and shaped well behind Torpillo at Warwick, the odds available on the likeable GOOD BOY BOBBY look generous. He hasn’t put a foot wrong over fences, and has always looked like a step up in trip would suit. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ promising six-year-old really enjoyed the undulations of Carlisle, so Cheltenham may prove to his liking. The five-pound penalty he carries won’t make life easy, but that’s also why decent prices are available.

 

At Doncaster, the two handicap chases have attracted appalling numbers of entries, so aren’t of interest, but I have backed WINDSOR AVENUE to beat Sam Spinner, even if the near three-mile trip is an unknown. Windsor Avenue has looked sensational in his two outings over fences so far, while Sam Spinner has looked far from a natural over the bigger obstacles, and that should tip the contest in Brian Ellison’s favour. But at odds-on, he’s not exactly a tip, is he?

Good luck!

 

Recommended Bets (Cheltenham):

12:45 Good Boy Bobby 2pts win at 5/2 (general) 

1:55 Clondaw Castle 1pt e/w at 15/2 (4 places) & Not That Fuisse 0.5pts e/w at 10/1 (4 places)

Steeplechase Saturday Preview

Tingle Creek Day is just about my favourite day’s racing of the year: competitive handicaps galore all over the country, the National fences in use at Aintree, and graded two-mile chasing at Sandown, where only those who can cope with the furious pace through the railway fences will come to the fore.

As ever, the action at Sandown will be a terrific viewing spectacle, but both the Tingle Creek and the Henry VIII look as tough to negotiate for punters as those railway fences are for horses.

The eight runners in the Tingle Creek Chase do provide a cheeky each-way betting angle to the race, but strong place claims can be made for Politilogue, Sceau Royal, Janika and even Waiting Patiently based on his outstanding record right-handed, so there are no obvious bets there. In the win market, Defi Du Seuil is deservedly favourite, but only narrowly beat Politilogue at Cheltenham when in receipt of 3lbs that he won’t get here, and Un De Sceaux is 10/15 in 2-mile chases in his illustrious career and should be written off at punters’ peril. As I’m on course I’ll have an each-way punt, probably on Politilogue if 5s is available, but it’s impossible to have a strong view.

The Henry VIII Novices Chase is even more challenging from a betting perspective, especially with Maire Banrigh – who I would have backed due to her flawless jumping – being taken out at declarations making it a seven runner race. I can’t back a novice at Sandown on chasing debut, which takes out Grand Sancy, and I also can’t back a horse whose jumping is suspect at the Esher track, which removes Summerville Boy from the shortlist. That leaves Nube Negra and Torpillo, both of whom have impressed in their short chasing careers so far, but with the form of Nube Negra’s two wins totally disintegrating, I’ll be backing the favourite Torpillo, who helpfully gets a 6lb allowance from his elders and is 2/2 over hurdles at Sandown. Again, though, this is a tentative vote.

I’d much rather pick out some of the other races around the country where I do have strong views. Here’s my reasoning:

 

SANDOWN

The marathon London National Handicap Chase (3:55), run over 3m5f around Sandown’s unique jumping test, seldom offers up surprise winners. The four I’d shortlisted for this year’s renewal – Classic Ben, Step Beck, Royal Vacation and Sharp Response – are indeed the first four in the market, but given that of the last nine victors the longest price has been 14/1 and five have gone off single figures, that shouldn’t put us off, especially with some generous bookie terms on offer.

The one who appeals most of the quartet is STEP BACK. The nine-year-old won the Bet365 Gold Cup in 2018 over course and distance in sensational style, but disappointed in his three starts after that, most notably when jumping markedly right in the Grand National. He then returned to form in April – in exactly the same conditions he will be encountering in this race: 29 furlongs around Sandown on good ground. Another plus is that he’ll be piloted by Jamie Moore, who not only has an unmatched record around the unusual Esher track in chases, but also was on board Step Back for his big win. Mark Bradstock hasn’t given his stable star a prep run, but he went well fresh earlier in his career, so hopefully he’s fit and firing.

The problem with Step Back is that he is a mercurial talent, and sometimes he just doesn’t run anywhere near his best, for reasons Bradstock has struggled to pinpoint. That unreliability means stakes shouldn’t be too large, but if he is on song, he will surely go very close indeed down in class at his favourite venue.

 

AINTREE

It’s a real thrill to watch two races on the same day over the Grand National fences, and it’s those National fences that should be the key consideration when looking for value. Winners of both the Becher and Sefton will either have a proven track record over the big obstacles, or should stand out as super natural jumpers if they are yet to take the test. Those with any kinks in their jumping technique will quickly get found out, however good their form appears.

In the 3m2f Becher Handicap Chase Nigel Twiston-Davies has an outstanding record, with three wins in the last ten renewals, meaning his only entry Ballyoptic catches the eye. However the nine-year old has already had two very tough races this term from three starts, including his run just two weeks ago in the Betfair Chase at Haydock. That means looking elsewhere, and three experienced course specialists stand out.

2017 Grand National hero One For Arthur hasn’t won since – which is far from unusual – but looked back to form when finishing sixth in last year’s renewal. He then shaped nicely at Kelso in October before tailing off as if needing the run. Lucinda Russell’s ten-year-old was dropped to a mark of just 149 for that encouraging effort, only one pound higher than when winning the big one in 2017, so he definitely can’t be dismissed.

Vieux Lion Rouge seems to come alive over the big fences at Aintree, and his record of never falling in his many runs around the Grand National course is truly extraordinary. Second in last year’s Becher off 146, he runs off 145 this time and showed he retained his enthusiasm for the game by battling to a narrow victory in a good veterans’ race at Chepstow in October. This race will have always been David Pipe’s target ever since, and he seems almost certain to be there or thereabouts yet again.

But perhaps the best handicapped of the three course specialists is last year’s winner WALK IN THE MILL, also the youngest at nine. He won the 2018 race fairly handily from a mark of 137, and despite a good fourth in the Grand National runs off just 141 this time, which seems bizarrely lenient from the handicapper. The concern is his lifeless run in the Badger Ales in November – he was third in a decent handicap before winning last year’s renewal – but he was sent off 20/1 at Wincanton so was potentially simply not ready.

Having picked out three notable course specialists in the Becher, it’s suprirsing to see so few entered in the 2m5f Sefton Handicap Chase later in the afternoon. The clear exception to that is Ultragold, who boasts a terrific record over these tough fences. But Colin Tizzard’s charge is now eleven years old, and has been running over longer trips that this for the past 18 months; as such there’s a worry he could find himself outpaced at key moments here.

With Ultragold reluctantly – and perhaps foolishly! – passed over, the next best ‘specialist’ to consider is Flying Angel, but the best performance he can boast in this race from two starts is 6th off a mark of 142, and so he can also be dismissed, especially at short prices.

That means we are looking for a stand-out natural jumper in the field whose jumping will prove an asset, and that horse might be DIDERO VALLIS. He was foot-perfect as a novice round Carlisle, then Haydock in an open handicap, and coped well with Cheltenham’s challenges when 5th in the competitive Brown Advisory in March. His run first-time out at Ascot two weeks ago was too bad to be true, and given he raised his RPR from 53 to 136 between his first and second runs last season, it can be overlooked. Clearly this is a speculative bet, and so small stakes are advised, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Didero Vallis is a better horse than his mark of 134, and there’s a good chance he will enjoy this severe test of jumping.

Finally, MASON JAR merits a small wager in the 1:00 Handicap Hurdle, simply due to his form. The five-year old hammered House Island at Kempton, who has since won and then narrowly finished second today in a terrific graded race at Sandown. He then handed Dorking Boy a seven-length beating at Ascot, and Tom Lacey’s hurdler is now rated 123 via a win at Taunton. With Cillin Leonard on board claming seven pounds, and trainer Dr Newland in a rich vein of form (33/126 this season and +8.19 in hurdles; 2 winners this week), Mason Jar can’t go unbacked, despite this looking a hot renewal.

 

Recommended Bets:

Sandown 3:35 – Step Back 1pt e/w @ 6/1 (4 places)

Aintree 1:00 – Mason Jar 1pt e/w @ 8/1 (3 places)

Aintree 1:30 – Walk In The Mill 1pt e/w @ 9/1 (5 places)

Aintree 3:15 – Didero Vallis 0.5pts e/w @ 10/1 (4 places)

Newbury Saturday Handicaps Preview

The Newbury card is obviously headlined by the Ladbrokes Trophy, and I’ve already put up Mister Malarky as my main fancy for the big race earlier in the week. My other recommended bet in that preview was Yala Enki, but little of the forecast midweek rain actually arrived, and with the ground likely to be Good To Soft, his chances have perhaps receded – although let’s hope he pleasantly surprises us. But where one door closes, another opens, and the better ground does present a big opportunity for Alan King’s DINGO DOLLAR. Third last year off a higher mark on unfavoured soft ground, and still just seven years old, this race has always been the target, something that can’t be said for all the other runners towards the top of the weights. King has his horses bang in form, and I have to recommend a saver.

But in my view there is some value in another two races at Newbury:


1:15 Sir Peter O’Sullevan Memorial Handicap Chase 2m6f

Four potentially excellent up-and-coming horses have managed to get into this 0-145 contest, and given how much better than the rest some of these may turn out to be, that’s where my attention will lie.

JERRYSBACK showed some impressive form as a novice over this sort of trip before being (slightly oddly) entered in the Cheltenham four-miler. If that pretty horrendous experience didn’t bottom him out he would have real claims here off a mark of 145, but he was mediocre first time out last season and may be seen to better effect later in the season, especially given his owner’s penchance for managing his horses’ marks.

ROCKY’S TREASURE’s novice form wasn’t quite as high-class, but his best run did come around Newbury in December when he got within four lengths of Santini, the eventual RSA runner-up. A run of that quality would bring him into considerations, but at eight years old and with 18 rules starts under his belt, he might not be as progressive as some of the others.

LARRY races here off a mark of just 142, and it would be surprising if that proved to be the peak of his progress as a chaser. Gary Moore has always rated him highly, and he was sent off at just 10/1 for the graded Sodexo Gold Cup just a month ago. That was a curious outing, with Jamie Moore never getting the six-year-old involved in the thick of the action, meaning this race may have been the plan all along; his shrewd trainer will have noted that Larry’s best RPR last season came at Newbury.

Having said that, this race also looks the perfect opportunity for HIGHWAY ONE O ONE. Regular readers of this blog – if indeed there are any – will know that I love this horse, but you can’t get too sentimental in this game and I passed over backing him at Cheltenham in his last run. That was for two reasons: firstly, he isn’t at his best on soft ground; secondly, that was an immensely hot race. Neither of those factors come into play here. In my mind, Newbury will suit this bold jumper, and this may be the race where Chris Gordon’s pride and joy finally fulfils his huge potential. Gordon is enjoying a good season, with his chasers +10.88 so far, so Highway One O One rates a strong selection.

 

2:25 Ladbrokes “Where The Nation Plays” Intermediate Hurdle

Put simply, if EPATANTE actually was suffering the ill-effects of her ‘flu jab in the Mares Novices’ at Cheltenham – a Grade 2 race for which she was sent off 15/8 favourite, let’s not forget – then she wins this race off a mark of just 137. If she’s simply not quite as good as Nicky Henderson thinks she is, then there are more than enough decent horses in this race to beat her. At the price I will happily pay to find out.

 

Recommended Bets (Newbury):

1:15 Highway One O One 1.5pts e/w 10/1 (5 places)

2:25 Epatante 2pts win 4/1

3:00 Dingo Dollar 0.5pts win 14/1
(Already Advised Mister Malarky win & Yala Enki e/w)

Ladbrokes Trophy 2019 Preview

For me, the Ladbrokes Trophy (ex Hennessey Gold Cup) is about as good as it gets in National Hunt racing. Newbury is a terrific track for this staying test: fair fences allowing quick jumping, the long run-in emphasising stamina, and the tight-ish bends requiring tactical speed. For that reason, it’s very unusual for the best handicapped horse not to win, or for there to be any hard luck stories. This decade the winners have been sent off at 12/1, 9/2, 7/2, 7/1, 8/1, 20/1 (trained by Nicky Henderson, so hardly a pin-sticking job), 4/1, 10/1 and 6/1. It is very much not a lottery and it pays to look closest at those towards the head of the market, particularly before extra place terms are being offered by the bookies on the day.

Nicky Henderson has two of the most fancied runners, which is unsurprising given his great record in this race. The current favourite is OK CORRAL, a very unexposed nine-year-old with just three chase starts to his name. Owner by JP McManus, it’s entirely possible he has been laid out for this and will hose up on Saturday, but there’s little real evidence to point us mere mortals out of the loop to that conclusion, and as such I can’t back him at the prices. Henderson’s other obvious chance is ON THE BLIND SIDE, and he makes more appeal having proven his rating of 149 is workable with a decent fourth place in a hot handicap chase at Ascot four weeks ago. The seven-year-old’s defeat of Talkischeap at Kempton in January reads particularly well, and his peak hurdles rating of 153 suggests he can progress from this mark. But all his good chase form is right-handed, and at short enough prices a leap of faith is required to back him to win this top class race.

Another trainer with an outstanding record here is Colin Tizzard, and his runners merit major respect given his two wins and two places in the last four renewals. In fact, of those at the head of the market, my pick is MISTER MALARKY, who looks to have been trained with this race in mind since his second place to Kildisart at Aintree in April. That is good form, and while he races off a 3lb higher mark here, Tizzard’s chaser can be progressive enough to defy the extra weight: he is just six-years-old and finished a good fourth in the RSA in March. Despite a poor at Ascot – “the handicapper can’t put him up for that,” joked Tizzard – the plan was always this race due to his superb run round the track in January and he wasn’t highly tried. Even with his price having shortened to single figures, he’s worth backing, especially with Jonjo O’Neill Jnr on board.

Tizzard also has the in-form WEST APPROACH entered, and he has claims, but it’s ELEGANT ESCAPE who is also of interest. Such a consistent warhorse, he was runner-up last year and then won the Welsh National in fine style before finishing a respectable 6th in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. His attitude no doubt means he will be involved again at the end, but with his lofty mark of 160 it would be an astonishing performance to actually win, having failed to land the prize last year off 155. There’s no each-way juice in the price, so he has to be passed over reluctantly.

Analysis of Elegant Escape’s excellent form means that a bet on YALA ENKI looks excellent value: their form tallies almost exactly, but Yala Enki can race off a mark of 155, just 1lb higher than last year when he finished third. The experienced nine-year-old was moved from Venetia Williams to Paul Nicholls over the summer, and while Venetia is an outstanding trainer in her own right, Nicholls has a mercurial ability to get an extra few pounds out of chasers in his charge. If he has managed to work his magic, that small improvement could make all the difference, and at 25/1 compared to 10/1 for Elegant Escape, the value is clear. Bryony Frost on board in a big staying chase is another plus.

Two others for the shortlist are DINGO DOLLAR, third last year and now off 2lbs lower, and THE CONDITIONAL, who beat West Approach at Cheltenham with plenty in hand and races off just a 6lb higher mark. But both horses’ chances will be affected by the ground on the day, and with no major reason for their prices to shorter dramatically, it is worth waiting. Besides, as much as I’d like to, I can’t back four horses!

 

Recommended Bets:

YALA ENKI – 1pt e/w at 25/1 (Various, 4 x ¼)

MISTER MALARKY – 1.5pt win at 9/1

Cheltenham Saturday Preview: BetVictor Gold Cup & Smartcard Handicap Chase

With relentless wet weather causing the Friday card at Cheltenham to be abandoned, conditions for Saturday’s races will be immensely testing – if indeed the rain relents for long enough for the meeting to go ahead.

Extreme ground conditions can lead to unexpected results, and so to my mind it’s worth looking through Saturday’s big handicap entries with an open mind to try to find some value.

 

13:50 Betvictor Smartcards Handicap Chase 27.5f (Old)

This extended trip really will turn into a slog, and while normally you’d want your horse to have a bit of speed to win on the Old Course, it may be about who is left standing turning for home.

On that basis, Ramses De Teillee merits maximum respect. He’s a dour stayer of high-class, as proven by his 2nd in the Welsh National, and arrives match-fit following an impressive spin over hurdles at Cheltenham three weeks ago – also on pretty bottomless ground. But he’ll have to lump top weight round off a hefty mark of 153, and when you consider that his Welsh National 2nd was off a mark of just 144, quotes of 5/1 don’t look appealing.

The other with obvious claims is West Approach, who also would have won in that bottomless Cheltenham ground three weeks ago had he not run into the almost comically well-handicapped The Conditional. But that was over a trip 2.5 furlongs shorter, and given that Colin Tizzard’s gelding didn’t quite get home, he may struggle to get the extra distance in potentially even deeper ground.

There are plenty of other classy horses entered, but most of them look sure to struggle in the mud, and that leaves a couple right down the bottom of the weights to consider.

Venetia Williams has entered the intriguing ACHILLE, who came into his own last season after previously racing only five times in three seasons. Finally fully fit and strong, the grey won three of his five starts last term, two of them on soft ground, with the trainer confirming after his win at Ffos Las that “he needs some cut in the ground” to be seen at his best. Williams has a terrific record running her chasers fresh at this time of year, so a lack of prep run wouldn’t be a concern; more of a worry is a lack of proven form at Cheltenham, or indeed over this extended trip, so stakes should be kept small.

At the bottom of the weights is POTTERS LEGEND for Lucy Wadham, already jocked up with Jack Quinlan on board as I type this on Thursday afternoon. This race would seem to have been the plan for a while given that Wadham gave her 9-year-old an easy spin round Cheltenham’s hurdle course three weeks ago, and no wonder given he has an excellent record at the track. Potters Legend really proved his stamina with a super staying-on victory over nearly 26 furlongs at Haycock in March 2018, but didn’t run last season, and of course that is a major factor in assessing his chances in this race. But at only 9 years old, he’s worth taking a small chance on.


Recommended Bets:
 

Achille – 0.5 pts e/w at 16/1 (365)
Potters Legend – 0.5 pts e/w at 14/1

 

2:25 BetVictor Gold Cup Handicap Chase 20f (Old)

Normally it pays to look at the head of the market in this brutally competitive – and valuable – handicap, with single-figure priced winners the norm.

The two with the most respected claims are Slate House and Siruh Du Lac. Slate House sluiced through the mud over course and distance just three weeks ago, so has little to prove – but his mark of 147 is as yet untested in open company, which can sometimes be a harsh awakening. Siruh Du Lac has won four times on the spin, twice at Cheltenham, could still be progressive at just 6 years old, and had his form franked yet again by last season’s rival Janika winning the Haldon Gold Cup, but isn’t remotely proven on deep ground. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise were either to take home the £90k prize, but both horses are too short to back in the circumstances. Well done to those of you on at bigger prices.

However, it’s my view that the mud may prove to be a leveller, especially in light of so many of the more fancied runners stepping up in trip from two miles. That applies to Saint Calvados, Brelan d’As and Magic Saint, and as much as I rate all three horses – and absolutely adore the mighty Saint Calvados, who paid for my day at Prestbury Park three weeks ago – they have to be ruled out on the basis of non-proven stamina.

But there are two stepping down in trip whose chances look excellent.

SPRINGTOWN LAKE finished 5th in the Close Brothers at the Cheltenham Festival off a mark of 141, but runs off just 137 in this race. He ran three times over three miles as a novice last season, suggesting that trainer Philip Hobbs feels stamina isn’t an issue, and Hobbs likes to target this meeting with second-season chasers he feels are under-marked by the handicapper. Richard Johnson will ensure the 7-year-old is prominent, and that’s something I view as a major positive on Cheltenham’s old course, where front-runners can accelerate away down the hill. Indeed, that’s how Baron Alco won last year’s renewal. Quotes of 14/1 are more than fair.

The other I like is COUNT MERIBEL, also only 7-years-old and a second-season chaser, and who also has proven form at Cheltenham, having won in fine style at this meeting last season. He runs off a mark of just 146, and that looks attractive given that Count Meribel managed to track Gold Cup favourite Lostintranslation until the final furlong in his most recent run at Carlisle. Nigel Twiston-Davies loves to target this meeting, and this race in particular, and heavy ground shouldn’t be a problem. Although Count Meribel hasn’t been missed in the market, he’s still worth backing with attractive each way terms on offer.

 

Recommended Bets

Springtown Lake 1pt e/w at 14/1 (5 places, Skybet)
Count Meribel 1pt e/w at 9/1 (5 places, various)