What are the best bets at Cheltenham on Saturday?
Our racing guru has run the rule over what is a terrific-looking Cheltenham card, with one eye on the markets for the festival in March.
12:40 JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial (Juvenile Hurdle) (Registered As The Finesse Juvenile Hurdle) (Grade 2), 2m179yds
The market should prove the best guide to the pair of Nicky Henderson-trained French imports, Consul De Thaix and Protek Des Flos, but they will have to be very good to land this with the Paul Nicholls and Alan King representatives already showing a high level of juvenile hurdle form. The Nicholls inmate Clan Des Obeaux impressed when winning on his British debut at Newbury but narrow preference is for King’s WHO DARES WINS, who is unbeaten in two hurdle starts. A decent stayer on the flat for Richard Hannon, he has taken to this game like a duck to water and this has been his target since scoring by 20 lengths at Doncaster in December. His trainer has been very pleased with him since, saying: “I’ve been delighted with his progress – physically he’s strengthening up all the time – and he worked really well on Saturday.”
Looking further ahead to the festival and the selection is as big as 16/1 with Coral for the Triumph Hurdle and if he wins this in style those odds are sure to contract, but I’m happy to just take the 15/8 on him to land this with the same firm.
13:15 Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase, 2m4f166yds
It will be fascinating to see how Jonjo O’Neill’s Rezorbi performs on his British / stable debut after winning his last two chase starts in France. However, the stable is going through a quiet spell and I’m drawn to the Rebecca Curtis-trained IMAGINE THE CHAT further down the weights, with 5/1 up for grabs at Hills. He absolutely bolted up at Newbury last time, putting behind him a disappointing chase debut in November when the stable was badly out of form, and the runner-up up Sandy Beach gave the form a timely boost when finishing sound second over an inadequate trip at Taunton last weekend. The handicapper has of course stepped in, raising him 12lb, but this lightly-raced sort should be progressive enough to cope over what looks to be his best trip.
Interestingly, he’s being quoted at 20/1 (Sky Bet) for the novice handicap chase on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival and it’s worth snapping up some of that too in anticipation of a big run this afternoon.
13:50 BetBright Trial Chase (Grade 2), 3m1f56yds
For a long time this Cheltenham Gold Cup trial has struggled to attract horses with a genuine chance of winning the big one in March, so the participation of the current Gold Cup favourite Djakadam is a huge shot in the arm for a race that provides what appears to provide the perfect preparation. Even better, the Willie Mullins-trained chaser has not scared away the opposition with Hennessy winner Smad Place and last year’s Grand National hero Many Clouds, who triumphed 12 months ago, lining up against him. With O’Faolains Boy, Sam Winner and recent Ascot winner Wakanda also in opposition, this is a cracking renewal, and it would be wrong not to mention The Giant Bolster, who has been out-of-sorts but can boast a record on Trials Day which reads 1114.
As for a winner, it’s hard to see past the top-rated Djakadam and that’s reflected in his price of just 4/7 (1.57), though he’s unlikely to be at his very peak until March and even the mighty Dawn Run fluffed her lines in this race when unseating her rider before going on to glory. He’s no bet at the price then and the suggestion for each-way / forecast backers is Rebecca Curtis’ O’FAOLAINS BOY, whose career highlight to date came in the 2014 RSA Chase here and who bounced back to form at Newbury last time and could improve again.
14:25 freebets.com Trophy Chase (Grade 3 Handicap), 2m4f166yds
Previous Cheltenham form is golden and CHAMPAGNE WEST has that in spades with his form figures here reading 41122, so he is the most obvious winner of this Grade 3. Philip Hobbs’ charge made a big splash when winning a couple of novice chases last term but was denied a run at the festival after injuring a hock when falling at Sandown in January. Normally a safe jumper, he came back looking stronger than ever when chasing home stablemate Village Vic in the Gold Cup run here in December. The winner has since followed up so a 4lb rise is fair and, given his Cheltenham record, he wouldn’t look out of place in the Ryanair, for which he gets a 20/1 quote from bet365. But this is a decent prize in its own right and he looks a rock-solid 9/4 favourite to win it with the same firm.
15:00 Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2) (Registered As The Classic Novices’ Hurdle), 2m4f56yds
This is a cracking renewal featuring several horses with serious Cheltenham Festival aspirations. Yanworth is going for his fourth win in a row and looked a potentially top-notch novice hurdler when comfortably holding off Charbel in a Grade 2 at Ascot last time. That’s all reflected in his price of just 7/4, though, and he is opposable now stepping up to this trip for the first time. Connections believe he has the necessary stamina but he’s got plenty of pace too and he might well prove better suited to a fast-run 2m – the Supreme Novices being the natural target – as opposed to what might be a tactical affair over this longer trip.
Besides he’s up against a formidable opponent in the shape of the Neil Mulholland-trained SHANTOU VILLAGE, who is defending an unbeaten record (a point, a bumper and two hurdles) and can be backed at 7/2 with Coral. The latest of those wins came in a Grade 2 over 2m5f at the Paddy Power meeting, the form of which looks very strong as the 15-length runner-up Champers On Ice (who reopposes) has come out and win twice since, while the third Penglai Pavilion had won his three previous starts. He stayed on stoutly that day and should have no problem getting 3m, but he’s no grinder either and there should be more to come after just four starts. With stamina doubts over the favourite, I’d expect Ruby Walsh to make plenty use of him and the partnership may not get headed.
He’s a 12/1 shot for the Neptune Novices in March and he’s fair each-way value at that price, though he will have a battalion of Willie Mullins-trained raiders to beat.
15:35 galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle (Grade 2), 2m7f213yds
The Colin Tizzard-trained THISTLECRACK warms up for the World Hurdle, for which he’s a general 5/2 favourite, and he’s a best-priced 5/6 with Sky Bet to land a hat-trick over hurdles after wins at Newbury and Ascot. Held up by injuries earlier in his career, he is now the rising force on the staying hurdle scene and any worries about him not being fully wound up for this were dispelled by his trainer earlier this week. He said: “There won’t be any excuses afterwards saying he needed the run or it will outbound him right for the big one, this is a proper prize and he will be fit and ready to do his very best.” Enough said.
Of his rivals, the chief threat would appear to be Camping Ground, who was an emphatic winner over an extended 2m4f here on New Year’s Day. However, the very heavy ground seemed to suit him far better than any of his rivals and he will need to raise his game again, which seems unlikely as this pacey sort, who has his stamina to prove, may prove more effective over shorter.
16:10 Steel Plate And Sections Handicap Hurdle, 2m179yds
Several top stables are represented here with runners who are making their handicap debuts after showing plenty of promise in novice company. Perhaps the most interesting of these is the Nicky Henderson-trained Clean Sheet, who won twice over hurdles last season and is potentially well treated on a mark of of 135. However, the bookmakers are taking no chances, offering him at just 7/2, and the value lies in backing SOLSTICE STAR at 9/1 with Hills.
The six-year-old has won his last four, the latest of which came here in December, and is now on a career-high mark as a result. However, his trainer – writing in a Stable Tour earlier this month – said he had further improvement in him and earmarked this race as his main target, in the hope he will get the testing ground he needs – tick! He’s 5lb ‘wrong’ at today’s weights due to the presence of top weight Cheltenian, but the 3lb claim of Killian Moore, with whom he has struck up a real rapport, mostly takes care of that.