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