What are the best bets at Cheltenham on Sunday afternoon?
Our resident tipster has run the rule over the four Channel-4-televised races at Cheltenham on Sunday.
1.00: Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2) (Registered As The Sharp Novices’ Hurdle), 2m87yds
Five of the six runners won last time out and the other, Drumlee Sunset, ran second, so there is plenty of recent form to go on. But none have impressed as much as MAPUTO, who was completing a four-timer over hurdles when landing a Listed contest at Kempton last month. His trainer John Ferguson has some very useful novices to go to war with this season and the selection, who was a Group performer on the flat, could be the best of the lot. He’s likely to go off favourite but deserves to.
Mister Miyagi beat the aforementioned Drumlee Sunset just over two lengths in a maiden hurdle at the October meeting here and the runner-up could reverse the form on 7lb better terms, without being good enough to trouble the selection. The presence of Aitor and Simon Squirrel, who represent Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls respectively and are both unbeaten over hurdles, highlights what a high-class renewal this is.
1.35: Racing Post Arkle Trophy Trial Novices’ Chase (Grade 2) (Registered As The November Novices’ Chase), 1m7f199yds
A cracking trial for the big one in March and it will take some winning. Calipto looks the pick of the Paul Nicholls-trained pair after his bloodless win at Fontwell on his chase debut over 2m3f. He has plenty of pace so the drop back in trip is no real worry, and the stable has won this five times in the last seven years.
However, GARDE LA VICTOIRE was the best over hurdles, with his victory in last season’s Greatwood Hurdle the highlight, and he promises to be an even better chaser. He was a little sticky early on when making his debut at Uttoxeter, but he soon warmed to the task and came clear of useful yardstick Bristol De Mai to win by seven lengths. His trainer Philip Hobbs has won this contest twice since 2006 and he rates this fellow very highly, so he gets my vote.
Of the rest, Neil Mulholland’s Fox Norton is very much respected in his hat-trick bid, though he shapes as if he wants further and might be an ideal type for the JLT (2m5f). Northern raider The Grey Taylor could also outrun his odds.
2.10: Shloer Chase (Grade 2) (Registered As The Cheltenham Chase), 1m7f199yds
The Paul Nicholls-trained Mr Mole is best fresh – he has won all three starts after an absence of 200 days or more as well as his debut – but he faces no easy task here attempting to give weight to high-class two-milers Somersby and SPRINTER SACRE. The former finished runner-up in last season’s Champion Chase, but that was not a strong renewal and Sprinter Sacre’s seconds at Ascot and Sandown look stronger pieces of form. His trainer Nicky Henderson feels he has him in even better nick this term and, while he might not scale the same heights he achieved in the 2012-13 season again, he can certainly make the most of the 7lb he receives from the Nicholls runner here.
2.40: StanJames.com Greatwood Hurdle (Grade 3 Handicap), 2m87yds
A hugely competitive renewal and a case can be made for plenty. I’ve had my eye on Harry Fry’s Mick Jazz all week as he looks dangerous near the foot of the handicap and has clearly been laid out for this by his shrewd handler. However, his lack of a run is off-putting as, while five of the last ten winners were making their reappearance, that still makes it just eight in 25 years overall. For that reason the four-year-old, who has not raced since last December, is swerved at his single-figure price. And it’s not like we’re short on alternatives.
Dan Skelton’s Superb Story is disputing favouritism at around the 8/1 mark, but the horse he beat last time, MAD JACK MYTTON, is better off at the weights and is much the better value of the pair at twice those odds; 16/1 with Coral. Jonjo O’Neill’s charge looked hugely progressive when landing his last two starts last term and should strip a lot fitter for his reappearance run at Wetherby, which is a track that would have played more to the strengths of the winner. A 5lb pull for a two-and-a-quarter length beating should be enough to allow him to reverse the form and there is almost certainly better to come from the five-year-old, who is a half-brother to the same stable’s Johns Spirit; a standing dish on the Old Course here.