Our racing expert delivers his verdict on the four Cheltenham races being shown live on ITV this New Year's Day.
1:25 2m5f (2m4f166y) (New) BetBright Dipper Novices’ Chase (Grade 2) (Class 1) (5yo+)
WILLOUGHBY COURT and Yanworth renew rivalries having clashed in a Grade 2 at Newbury earlier this month when the former horse proved three lengths too good. The winner is 5lb worse off here under his penalty but I’d still rather have him at bet365’s 2/1 over Yanworth as he looks a more natural jumper and this slightly longer trip promises to suit last season’s Neptune winner even better. His trainer Ben Pauling is leaning towards the JLT at this stage, rather than the RSA, and he may well end up there with his unbeaten record over fences intact. Ballyandy made a winning chase debut at Perth in September and he could emerge as the main threat to the selection.
2:00 2m5f (2m4f166y) (New) BetBright Best For Festival Betting Handicap Chase (Grade 3) (Class 1) (5yo+)
Likely favourite Sametegal has been beaten off today’s mark the last twice and would prefer better ground than he’s going to get here, so he’s worth taking on. Venetia Williams’ Burton’s Well is tempting with his stable running into form but he’s not particularly well treated and narrow preference is for TOP GAMBLE. Kerry Lee’s charge was firmly put in his place Un De Sceaux in a Grade 2 last time and the return to handicap company off a reduced rating is very much in his favour, as is the forecast heavy ground as he’s a real mudlark. His trainer enjoyed a double at Uttoxeter on Sunday and her booking of James Bowen, who is excellent value for his 5lb claim, could prove to be a decisive move. Take bet365’s 11/2.
2:35 3m (2m7f213y) (New) BetBright Casino Handicap Hurdle (Class 2) (4yo+)
Red Rising could not have won any easier at Southwell last time but this is tougher and he also has a 10lb rise to overcome. A chaser in the making, he should still go well but it’s hard to resist the charms of ARTHUR’S GIFT, who fairly stormed up the hill when landing a hat-trick over course and distance last time. That didn’t look likely at one stage as he was struggling to hold his place and he would have been a huge price in-running. However, the further he went the better he looked and having picked up strongly after two out, it was likeable how he came between his rivals to win going away. A subsequent 6lb rise seems fair then and now reunited with useful 7lb claimer Tom Humphries, he can land the four-timer and reward backers at Betfair’s 7/2.
3:10 2m4½f (2m4f56y) (New) Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle (Grade 2) (Class 1) (5yo+)
Last year’s winner Agrapart is hard to fancy in this season’s efforts, while Wholestone needs to bounce back from a below-par run at Newbury last time. That can’t be ruled out as the seven-year-old likes it here, but he’ll need to be at his very best to see off Colin’s Sister, who gets the mares allowance and will love the heavy ground, and OLD GUARD, who is a three-time course winner and earns a narrow vote at Paddy Power’s 7/2. Paul Nicholls’ charge has done the majority of his racing over shorter and was last seen finishing a creditable fifth in the International Hurdle run over 2m1f. However, he didn’t look short on stamina when winning over 2m41/2f at Newbury previously under today’s rider Bryony Frost and it could be that he now needs this sort of distance to be seen to best effect. Indeed, he’s open to further improvement over it and should the race turn into a tactical affair, it would play into his hands as he is likely to have too much speed at the finish for main danger Colin’s Sister, who looks an out-and-out stayer.
All odds were correct at time of posting.