What are the best bets at Cheltenham on Saturday?
It’s day two of The International meeting at Cheltenham and our resident tipster has run the rule over all seven races, with a big-priced runner fancied in the feature Caspian Caviar Gold Cup.
12.05: JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial (Juvenile Hurdle), 2m179yds
Leoncavallo is unbeaten in five starts over hurdles and his willing attitude was very much in evidence when getting the better of SCEAU ROYAL by a nose on the last of those at Wetherby. The latter horse reopposes on identical terms and there shouldn’t be much between them again, though I’m just favouring Alan King’s charge. He has since won well at Warwick and has a nice blend of speed and stamina, while his hurdling technique – honed in a couple of runs in France – is hard to fault. I half expected him to head to Doncaster for this afternoon’s Summit Hurdle, a race won by his owner’s Peace And Co last year, so the fact he bowls up here instead is perhaps a tip in itself.
He had just a short head to spare over Adrien Du Pont, who reopposes, when winning at Chepstow on his British debut, only to lose the race in the Stewards’ Room. However, I see the latter horse more as a long-term chasing prospect who would be better off in a bigger field with more pace on, and the selection can confirm the form with a little more to spare this time.
12.40: Raymond Mould Memorial Novices’ Chase, 2m4f166yds
I have the greatest respect for Padge after the way he jumped round Ascot to beat ten rivals on his chase debut. But his trainer Evan Williams was adamant (Stable Tour) he needed a “mad gallop” to be seen to best effect and I doubt he’ll get that in what is likely to be a tactically run affair with just three runners declared. Besides, he’s up against potentially this season’s best staying novice in MORE OF THAT, who was a comfortable winner over As De Mee at the Paddy Power meeting here. The second has since franked the form when hacking up at Sandown and with more improvement a given, it’s hard to see past Jonjo O’Neill’s World Hurdle winner.
Sametegal, the other member of the trio, is respected as he had nowhere to go when hampered at Newbury last time, causing him to unseat his rider, and he beat some decent sorts when winning on his chase debut at Huntingdon, but I’m not sure the 3lb he gets from the selection is going to be anywhere near enough.
1.15: Unicoin Group Handicap Chase, 2m62yds
KEEL HAUL produced a career-best effort when winning on the Old Course here last month and more is needed after a 5lb rise. However, the seven-year-old is lightly-raced over fences and is clearly in great heart. His target is the Grand Annual at the Cheltenham Festival – which can be said for most of these – and he’ll likely need to win again to get into that race. He’s a horse who loves deep winter ground and it was only just soft enough for him last time, so the forecast rain is very much in his favour.
I fancy he can again take care of Pearl’s Legend, who was beaten just over three lengths into third and wouldn’t want the ground to deteriorate, and a bigger danger looks to be Cold March, who has been in good form this season but is on a career-high mark as a result.
1.50: Caspian Caviar Gold Cup (Grade 3 Handicap Chase), 2m4f166yds
Bookmakers are going 7/1 the field for the day’s feature and that tells you it’s going to be tough to solve. But we all love a crack at these big handicaps and I might just have unearthed one at a price in the shape of the Willie Mullins trained MOZOLTOV. Apart from the fancied Champagne West, he’s the only runner not to have had a run this season – not been seen since April 2014 in fact – but that’s not been a problem for several of his stablemates of late, with the likes of Pont Alexandre, Arctic Fire, Vautour and Don Poli all winning on their first run back and the first-named after a similar absence.
The stable can certainly get one ready and the fact Mullins travels over from Ireland with him suggests he’s been showing plenty at home. He wasn’t far off top class over hurdles and he’s looked just as good, if not better, over fences on several occasions. His defeat of Don Cossack in a Grade 2 at Punchestown stands out and he wasn’t beaten far into third behind Trifolium and Felix Younger in the Grade 1 Arkle trial run at the Leopardstown January meeting. He’s at his best when the mud is flying and Friday’s “soft” could well deteriorate further should the forecast rain fall at the track, so he has to be worth an each-way punt at bet365’s 20/1 with a certain Ruby Walsh booked.
I’ll be having a saver on Buywise who was an unlucky loser in the Paddy Power Gold Cup. Not for the first time he compromised his chance with some sloppy jumps and he almost slipped up at one point. That’s him all over, though, and he’s undoubtedly well handicapped enough to land a big one, goes well here and his stable is flying. Expect him to come late on the scene.
2.25: Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2) (Registered As The Bristol Novices’ Hurdle), 2m7f213yds
Harry Fry’s UNOWHATIMEANHARRY is going to be a short price for his hat-trick bid after bolting up on his last two starts, including in a well contested handicap hurdle at the Paddy Power meeting here. This is tougher mind and he’s taking on a couple of fellow hat-trick seekers in Final Nudge and Net Work Rouge – with the former preferred of that pair – but I still think he’s progressive enough to cope. He’s just not a bet for me at the 5/4 on offer.
3.00: StanJames.com International Hurdle (Grade 2), 2m179yds
Last season’s Triumph winner Peace And Co goes on trial for the Champion Hurdle, for which he’s as short as 7/1. Nicky Henderson’s charge is unbeaten in four hurdle starts, which makes him all the more exciting, and he may well be destined for the very top. But we’re being asked to take odds-on here and he’ll have to be pretty straight first time out against some race-fit rivals. The best of these looks to be Paul Nicholls’ OLD GUARD, who has looked a different horse this season in winning both his starts, including the Greatwood Hurdle. The four-year-old is clearly progressing at a rate of knots and, while this is tougher, he looks set to give the favourite plenty to think about.
3.35: OLBG Mares’ Handicap Hurdle, 2m4f56yds
This is a real head-scratcher and Harry Fry’s BLUE BUTTONS is a tentative choice. She could only find third in a similar contest here in April behind The Govaness and Broxbourne, but is better off at the weights with that pair and will appreciate the return to hurdles having not take to fences at Wincanton last time. Her long term target is the Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival so she ought to be up to winning a handicap off her current mark and her stable can do little wrong right now.
12.05 Sceau Royal @ 5/2 Coral
12.40 More Of That (unbackable)
1.15 Keel Haul @ 13/2 Boylesports
1.50 Mozoltov @ 20/1 bet365
2.25 Unowhatimeanharry @ 13/8 BetVictor
3.00 Old Guard @ 6/1 bet365
3.35 Blue Buttons @ 6/1 bet365
All odds were correct at time of posting.