Our racing expert gives his verdict on the four Cheltenham races being shown live on ITV4, including the feature Caspian Caviar Gold Cup.
1:55 2m5f (2m4f166y) (New) Caspian Caviar Gold Cup Handicap Chase (Grade 3) (Class 1) (4yo+)
Course form should never be underestimated and the BetVictor Gold Cup, which is run over the same trip at the November meeting here, is often influential with four of the last ten winners of this race having contested it. That said, only Exotic Dancer has managed to do the double since 1997, which is a black mark against Splash Of Ginge who is attempting the double off a 5lb higher mark, and I’d be more interested in the four horses who finished immediately behind him last month: Starchitect, Le Prezien, Ballyalton and Romain De Senam, in that order.
However, the horse to take out of the BetVictor Gold Cup, for me anyhow, is GUITAR PETE, whose chance was effectively over after he was badly hampered by a faller at the first, causing him to become detached in last place. That he still completed in ninth was good match practice for this race and he’s reported to be in good health for this assignment. A good winner at Wetherby on his previous start, when he had Splash Of Ginge in behind, he still looks well treated on a mark of 134 and has just 10st 2lb to carry thanks to Ryan Day’s claim. He’s twice run well at this track, albeit over hurdles, including when third in the 2014 Triumph Hurdle, and he seems to have rediscovered his mojo since joining Nicky Richards back in April. He is crying out to be backed each-way at Hills’ 14/1.
But be sure to have a bigger win bet on Paul Nicholls’ CLAN DES OBEAUX. I thought he was a bit soft last season but his two efforts this term suggest he’s come of age and there was a lot to like about his demolition job at Haydock last time. His mark of 155 means he has to concede weight all round, but given that Whisper, who beat him by half a length off level weights at Kempton two starts back is now rated 169, he doesn’t look too badly treated by any means. It would be no surprise if he was competing at the highest level before too long and Nicholls knows exactly what’s required for this race having saddled four winners and three places from just 19 representatives.
Granted, he’s favourite at around 7/2 currently and that price hardly jumps off the page as value, but I turned my nose up at Blaklion who was a similar price to win last Saturday’s Becher Chase and that ended badly for my bank balance. UPDATE – Betfred are dangling a carrot of 4/1. Both of my selections relish soft ground and will be fully effective in the conditions.
If you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned King’s Odyssey, who is as short as 6/1 with some firms, it’s because I don’t think he jumps well enough and he was a casualty (albeit going well at the time) in last year’s renewal.
2:30 3m (2m7f213y) (New) Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (Registered As The Bristol Novices’ Hurdle) (Grade 2) (Class 1) (4yo+)
EQUUS SECRETUS appeared to make hard work of landing his hat-trick at Southwell last time as he was all out at the finish, having jumped left at times and then hung right when joined by the eventual six lengths runner-up Another Stowaway before the last. However, that horse is no mug as he had finished less than a length behind On The Blind Side (a winner of a Grade 2 since and a serious Cheltenham Festival prospect) at Aintree on his previous start.
As for the winner, it was greenness that made him wander a bit and it wasn’t ideal either that he had to make his own running. His trainer Ben Pauling indicated afterwards that he would be allowed to take a lead on his next outing and be campaigned like the “nice horse” he has always been considered. So, while he’s favourite here – Ladbrokes go a top price of 15/8 at the time of writing – and is taking on some equally promising sorts in Count Meribel, who is chasing a four-timer, Kilbricken Storm and Global Stage, I wouldn’t want to be on anything else.
3:05 2m1f (2m179y) (New) Unibet International Hurdle (Grade 2) (Class 1) (4yo+)
The New One has won three of the last four editions and he looks sure to make a bold bid for a four-timer after showing the fire still burns in his belly in a couple of handicap starts this season, including when fourth under a big weight in the Greatwood last time. He’s a backable 2/1 too largely thanks to the presence of Willie Mullins’ Melon, who was one of last season’s hype horses and has gone some way to justifying it with a couple of seconds at Cheltenham and Punchestown in the spring, before a convincing success at Down Royal on his reappearance last month. However, he still has plenty to find on the ratings with today’s principals and that he is disputing favouritism here is surely more to do with his reputation and that of his connections.
I’m loathe to take on The New One at one of his favourite tracks, but he is giving 6lb to MY TENT OR YOURS whose course form is arguably even more impressive, with a couple of Champion Hurdle seconds amongst the highlights on his CV. He had The New One behind in fifth when chasing home stablemate Buveur D’Air here in March and then having filled the same spot at Aintree he was just a length and a half away from landing the Punchestown Champion Hurdle on his final outing of last season. Now settling much better than in his younger days, he’s still at the peak of his powers at the age of ten and a recent racecourse gallop at Newbury will have have put him spot on for a race that has been a long-term target. At 5/1 with Paddy Power, he’s certainly a shade of value against the front pair and will be carrying my cash.
3:40 2m4½f (2m4f56y) (New) OLBG mares’ Handicap Hurdle (Class 2) (4yo+)
I’ve already made a case for backing Equus Secretus in the 3m novices’ hurdle run earlier on the card partly based on collateral form with On The Blind Side and MOMELLA, who came out second best behind that horse on the Old Course here last month, gets the vote for the same reason. The winner has since followed up in a Grade 2 at Sandown and looks a top-class prospect, while the selection is dropping into handicap company and is back amongst her own sex, albeit this is a hot contest and an opening mark of 134 looks tough enough. However, that mark could have been worse when you consider that On The Blind Side is now rated 153 and there may well be more improvement in Dan Skelton’s charge after just three starts under Rules.
As a winning pointer, she will make a nice chaser in time but there are more hurdles to be won with her first and this looks a decent opportunity, with no worries over the prevailing soft ground. Take bet365’s 11/2.
Cheltenham 1.55, Clan Des Obeaux @ 4/1 Betfred / Guitar Pete each-way @ 14/1 Hills
Cheltenham 2.30, Equus Secretus @ 2/1 Ladbrokes
Cheltenham 3.05, My Tent Or Yours @ 5/1 Paddy Power
Cheltenham 3.40, Momella @ 11/2 bet365
All odds were correct at time of posting.