Friday, 29 January 2021

Cheltenham Trials Day Abandoned Due to Waterlogging

Cheltenham’s much-anticipated Trials Day has been abandoned due to waterlogging on the track, though it is hoped some of the key events from the meeting can yet be salvaged.

Officials at the course had done a great job of making everyone aware in the build-up to Saturday that the meeting was in danger, much higher than anticipated rainfall having occurred in the area this week.

An inspection, previously labelled as “precautionary” was called for 2pm on Friday, however the meeting could not be saved.

Officials Looking to Reschedule Big Two Events

By Friday morning the meeting was still in the balance, clerk of the course Simon Claisse confirming that some fences would be omitted. But, with standing water appearing on the course in several places the meeting is off and now it is all about Cheltenham and the BHA trying to rearrange some of the more important races.

For its part, the British Racing Authority has confirmed now that there is the potential for the Cotswold Chase and the Cleeve Hurdle to be rescheduled, although a final decision on the matter won’t be made until later in the weekend.

While the BHA is desperately keen to rearrange races that included runners such as Gold Cup hope Santini and Stayers’ Hurdle favourite Paisley Park, the weather outlook is fluctuating so much for the next few days that no concrete plans are in place for any single track to be able to take on the events.

We hope all of this will be cleared up by Sunday at the latest however.

Trials Day Cancellation a Problem for Trainers

As well as the Cotswold Chase being a major trial for the Gold Cup and the Cleeve Hurdle being an important prep for the Stayers’ Hurdle, several other races on Saturday were due to feature potential Festival candidates.

Time it has to be said is not yet running out for yards to get the requisite fitness into their Festival contenders, however some desperately needed some course experience before tackling Prestbury Park in the competitive environment of the Festival.

Santini was given an entry in the Grand National Trial at Haydock by trainer Nicky Henderson and could now head there, while Paisley Park’s connections were looking to avoid another brutal dual with Thyme Hill before March which now could be somewhat unavoidable.

All is not lost from a punting point of view in all this of course. Those who would have gone on to perform well on heavy ground on Saturday may well have been quoted false prices for the Festival, the ground being unlikely to be as deep come March 16th.

At the very least, the form book will not be skewed as much by mud-lovers taking honours this week only to be outpaced on the big day at the Cheltenham Festival.

Cheltenham Not the Only Racing Casualty

Having suffered due to the effects of COVID-19 last year and Arctic storms this, the racing schedule has now fallen foul of the heavy rain washing over the entire country and beyond in the past week or so.

Uttoxeter’s Sunday fixture has also been called off due to waterlogging, while Fairyhouse’s important card on Saturday in Ireland had to survive a Friday afternoon inspection in order to be given the go-ahead (for now).

There’s another precautionary inspection at 8am on Saturday at Catterick, a meeting that was hastily added to the calendar, while Hereford can no longer stage their Monday meeting due to the weather.

The loss of the Cheltenham card has once again had a big impact on the TV schedule, though ITV Racing will thankfully be showing four races from Doncaster where Shiskin runs, as well as three from Lingfield on the flat.

Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Cheltenham New Year’s Day Fixture Cancelled Due to Waterlogging

Cheltenham’s popular New Year’s Day fixture has been abandoned after a huge 145mm of rain fell on the track over the last month, causing waterlogging in places.

The card was due to feature the Relkeel Hurdle, a Grade 2 affair, as well as the Dipper Novices’ Chase at the same level and up to now there appear to be no plans to reschedule the meeting.

Whether the two big races can be rerouted to another track also remains a mystery at this point, but racing at Cheltenham was finally abandoned after a course inspection on Wednesday when clerk of the course Simon Claisse realised the track was in an unraceable state.

Trials Day Next for Cheltenham

Up to Tuesday night there was still hope of the New Year’s Day meeting going ahead, however with no improvement in the weather overnight and freezing conditions forecast it left two specific parts of the track waterlogged and in no shape to host racing.

Cheltenham are next due to put on a meeting on January 30, the Festival Trials Day fixture, which track officials are still hopeful for.

Trials Day is an important next step for many horses en-route to the Festival in March, the day being due to feature a Triumph Hurdle Trial, the Cleeve Hurdle and the Costwold Chase which could help to shape the Gold Cup market.

TV Changes as COVID Fears Also Loom Large

Cheltenham was due to be the centrepiece of terrestrial TV coverage as we see 2021 in. The loss of the fixture at Prestbury Park means ITV Racing have had to move quickly to switch things around, with Exeter and Musselburgh now thrown more into focus while dual Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo’s return to the track will also feature at Tramore in Ireland.

Recently the whole Gloucestershire area has seen a record rise in coronavirus cases too. Not unexpectedly but disappointingly all the same the county, specifically Gloucester, Forest of Dean, the Cotswolds, Tewksbury, Stroud and of course Cheltenham itself have been thrown into Tier 4 by the government.

A full national lockdown is now feared which could put the Cheltenham Festival into doubt, at least as far as crowds being there are concerned, and the memory of many members of the public blaming the 2020 extravaganza going ahead for the first outbreak is still fresh.

It is very much hoped that the Tier 4 restrictions now imposed alongside the rollout of the new vaccine will lead to things improving before the next meeting at the end of January, as time ticks down to March 16 and the beginning of the next Festival.

Friday, 11 December 2020

International Meeting Day Two: Saturday 12th December 2020 - Goshen to Make Big Statement About Champion Credentials

Day two of the International meeting should be a cracker, here’s our take on all seven races.

12.05 (Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle – Class 2) – ELHAM VALLEY

There is so little to choose between the three main entrants here; Adagio, Son Of Red and Elham Valley.

The first two finished within a neck of each other on good ground at Newcastle, and while Adagio now gets a 3lb pull and has progressed further with a second place around here in a Grade 2 since, it could be that Son Of Red just needed more cut in the ground and so turning the placings around can’t be ruled out.

The value shout theough is the third-favourite at the time of writing, Fergal O’Brien’s Elham Valley. A good winner on his National Hunt debut at Sandown only a week ago, his trainer clearly feels he is fresh and well and he could really strike while the iron’s hot under Connor Brace.

12.40 (Novices’ Chase – Class 2) – FUSIL RAFFLES

A small race which in itself makes it a difficult one to assess, given the potential lack of pace and the need for tactics.

Chantry House is the odds-on favourite here after an easy chase debut win, but even giving 3lbs away to him his stablemate Fusil Raffles may be the smart bet.

He himself made an impressive chase debut, and while he’s had more of a chance to strut his stuff than Chantry House, he has not been allowed to stride out over this sort of distance before (2m4f) and so it could be that there is plenty more improvement to come from him.

Quel Destin is best of the rest, but he’ll need to improve markedly on his debut over fences to win.

1.15 (Handicap Chase – Class 2) – CAPELAND

There are number of questions to be answered by a few of the leading contenders here, but assuming he is once again reaching his peak then Paul Nicholls’ Capeland looks best in at the weights.

His top form from just a year ago would potentially have him winning this, and considering he’s been edging back towards that and would have got closer had he not hit the last fence at the Berkshire track last time out it looks like his time is coming.

The likes of Born Survivor for Dan Skelton, the overpriced Forest Bihan for Brian Ellison and likely favourite Ibleo for Venetia Williams also made the shortlist and must be considered.

1.50 (Caspian Caviar Gold Cup – Grade 3) – GOOD BOY BOBBY

This is a fascinating, tight, tough and competitive renewal of a wonderful £105,000 race and in it we feel that at double-figure odds Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Good Boy Bobby could be the one.

Only outside of the first two over fences when taking part in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase, Good Boy Bobby has outstanding credentials and at the very least looks to be way better than his official handicap mark of 146.

The trip and ground both look ideal for Daryl Jacob’s mount, he has strong form in the bag and has the sort of weight turnaround needed with Master Tommytucker who beat him at Haydock last time out.

Master Tommytucker indeed is another who could go strongly, albeit off top weight and in a race far different from the ones he has taken part in recently, while Al Dancer is another class act who should reach a place all being well.

Coole Cody comes into the race as the winner of the Paddy Power Gold Cup in November and just needs to defy a 6lb rise to be right up there again, while Annie Mc is clearly underestimated and Windsor Avenue should appreciate the track and can put in a career high performance.

2.25 (Bristol Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – MAKE GOOD

The likes of Wynn House and Danny Kirwan are solid enough contenders here, while Ask A Honey Bee could conceivably improve enough to take a hand in the finish too.

The two horses who stick out though based in their sharp upward trajectory are Dan Skelton’s Ashtown Lad and John McConnell’s Make Good.

The latter, trained in Ireland, won ever so easily last time out and shapes like a horse who will not only get better still, but will also appreciate this race distance as well as the terrain. Make Good is also a great value price which makes him attractive and so he is ultimately given the nod.

3.00 (International Hurdle – Grade 2) – GOSHEN

There are too many horses to mention in this feature race of the meeting who are in with some degree of a winning chance, giving the event a proper look which means in turn the form will be worth noting for the rest of the season.

Ch’tibello was a beaten favourite last time but steps down in trip for this race, and while he could yet get back to his County Hurdle winning best, he is on a long losing run and a top Grade 2 doesn’t seem the place to break that duck at least on first viewing.

Silver Streak is admirably consistent and chased Epatante home last season at the highest level, though his standout performance you could argue was at a flat Kempton Park on good ground and so this will be plenty different.

Song For Someone is a young improver and a Grade 2 winner, but we cannot ignore how good Goshen looked in March’s Triumph Hurdle before famously and spectacularly unseating at the last and he may be the class act still.

Gary Moore has said his horse essentially needs to win this if he’s to go for the Champion Hurdle, and while he is very young, he is the one to beat.

3.35 (Mares’ Handicap Hurdle – Class 2) – MIAH GRACE

Jedd O’Keeffe is not one to send a mare down from Yorkshire just for the day out, and there’s no doubt that his Miah Grace has the best credentials in this race at the weights.

The White Mouse is worth considering for the places too, while popular Festival winner Indefatigable comes back to her favourite track but may need a weight-for-age race now to be shown at her best.

Thursday, 10 December 2020

International Meeting Day One: Friday 11th December 2020 - Dolos to Advertise Festival Claims

It’s day one of Cheltenham’s International meeting on Friday, one in which we now have an extended eight-race card following the rightful decision of the BHA to add the Peterborough Chase to the line-up following Huntingdon’s unfortunate cancellation last Sunday.

11.30 (Novices’ Hurdle – Class 3) – ANY NEWS

Neil Mulholland’s Any News may end up going off favourite for the opening race after his two winning runs this season, one in a bumper and one in a maiden hurdle, but he is backable at anything above even-money given the relative strength of his form.

That forms beats what we’ve seen from his rivals in this race so far, though they are of course all open to significant improvement, while conditions underfoot look to be ideal for him.

Those rivals include Paul Nicholls’ recent winner Lucky One, second on our list, while Lord Baddesley and Make Me A Believer have a little more to do on the book but anything remains possible with such a young and inexperienced bunch.

12.05 (Novices’ Chase – Class 2) – HAPPYGOLUCKY

An interesting race, one that will take some winning over this three-mile, one-and-a-half-furlong trip considering these lot are still novices.

Among them is the keenly priced Happygolucky of Kim Bailey’s yard. The six-year-old gelding, a winner on his chase debut in October, was beaten at odds-on last time but we feel that he is not best judged on that effort.

Given that general improvement is expected now that he is back in favourable conditions, he can just about land this ahead of the returning Fabulous Saga, Exeter winner L’Air Du Vent and The Mighty Don.

12.40 (Handicap Hurdle – Class 3) – SARASOTA STAR

There are plenty in with chances here in this competitive handicap hurdle, despite the lowly prize money on offer for a race at this track.

Possible favourite Tegerek looks pretty solid, as does the inimitable Fergal O’Brien’s runner Benny’s Bridge who will know his way around here without being steered.

The two to have caught the eye most however at the weights are Dan Skelton’s Crook’s Peak and Carlisle winner Sarasota Star, the lightly-weighted four-year-old getting the nod given his liking for a testing track such as this.

1.15 (Mares’ Handicap Chase – Class 3) – AGENT VALDEZ

This has been a difficult mares’ handicap chase to assess, at least on the whole, which if anything adds strength to our selection Agent Valdez who seems to be the only one progressing in large amounts.

Fergal O’Brien knows exactly what is needed at these Cheltenham meetings, and it is germane to note that this mare won by miles on a galloping track last time out and will love it here.

True, that was over a little further, but Agent Valdez made all there and clearly has the pace to lay up over this two-and-a-half miles, with any more improvement from her surely seeing her being too good at these weights.

Arian, Black Tulip and Bit On The Side look to be the best of the rest to us.

1.50 (Peterborough Chase – Grade 2) – DOLOS

A rather unexpected ‘feature’ race and one that is gratefully received. There is plenty of competition here despite the smallish eight-runner field, with no shortage of class albeit one or two are tasked with rediscovering their best form somewhat.

Top Notch could yet be just that, Fanion D’Estruval will be very popular and many people’s favourite chaser Kalashnikov could come right back to form now in these conditions after a spin over hurdles.

It would be great to see Amy Murphy’s boy win, but the true class in the race may yet be Dolos and it’s the Paul Nicholls-trained gelding who gets the vote.

Twice a winner of the same two-mile race at Sandown to prove his liking for rain-softened ground and a galloping track, he has also put up a very bold show over this 2½-mile trip and is a winner over 2¼.

He ran OK when fourth in a handicap chase on his reappearance and should be much sharper and better now, with the quality of this field also potentially bringing the very best out of him under Harry Cobden.

2.25 (Unibet Handicap Chase – Grade 3) – COURT MAID

There should be plenty of money floating around for Commodore, Potters Legend, Black Corton and Storm Control, but at best they are very close at the weights and at worst can be described as much of a muchness.

That’s not to be unkind as this is a high-quality race, but the one that potentially has a fair bit of weight in hand and thus has been sent over from Ireland by Thomas Mullins is Court Maid, therefore making the seven-year-old mare is favoured by us.

Her chasing form figures are 1141, the defeat being on bottomless ground which she will not encounter here, and there is no telling where the bottom of her is making appear still well-in in the handicap. David Mullins rides.

3.00 (Cross Country Handicap Chase – Class 2) – STEP BACK

Without Easysland this race has been opened right up, but even had the French horse been in the line-up at these weights he would have had his work cut out.

Course and distance winner Kingswell Theatre should once again show up well, as should runner-up behind him Beau Du Brizais.

Neverushacon has attracted money and may well be favourite, but goes better in heavy ground and was well beaten in the Cross Country at the Festival.

On a hat-trick now though is former bet365 Gold Cup winner Step Back, who should handle conditions, likes this trip and has all the class needed to carry top weight to victory under Nico de Boinville.

3.35 (Handicap Hurdle – Class 2) – COME ON TEDDY

We close with another competitive and close-looking handicap event, this time a decent hurdle over three miles. We can’t be overly confident about anything in this line-up, but a tentative selection is Tom George’s Come On Teddy who was improving no end in between races last season and has now had a pipe-opener.

Saturday, 14 November 2020

November Meeting Day Three: Sunday 15th November 2020 - West to Double-Up in Big Handicap

We have more quality action on the last of three fantastic days during the November meeting, with potential Cheltenham Festival clues on offer too.

The Greatwood Hurdle may yet prove to be a genuine Champion Hurdle Trial, while at 3.35 some of those being pointed at the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle are taking their first serious steps towards the Festival.

1.15 (Novices’ Chase – Class 2) – SOLDIER OF LOVE

Not that this is in any way considered a match race, but in Soldier Of Love and The Big Breakaway we have two contenders here who look to be a little way clear of the rest on the form book.

The latter, a five-year-old trained by Colin Tizzard, is set to be favourite but he is making his chasing debut and has been off the track for a little while now.

He may well be a talented type, but he may also need this run and so in being rated the same as his main rival he doesn’t look like an even-money shot to us.

Paul Nicholls’ Soldier Of Love, although beaten last time, is on a terrific run and there is no way we’ve got to the bottom of him yet. Another step forward here if it is forthcoming makes him pretty tough to beat and so at the odds, he is the call.

1.50 (Handicap Chase – Grade 3) – WEST APPROACH

We spend so much time looking for the next big thing, the horse we believe is improving and will reach a new level.

Sometimes though, in a near three-and-a-half-mile handicap chase around this track, it pays to go back to basics and so in ten-year-old West Approach we have the ideal candidate.

While it’s true Colin Tizzard’s runner is not getting any younger, he won this race last year in great fashion, albeit off 6lbs lower, and returned last month with another solid run to sharpen him up. He is no certainty of course, but West Approach may take some pegging back up the hill and is the one to be on.

In terms of his nearest rivals; Captain Drake, Discorama and Yala Enki are all of interest for each-way money and should be watched in the betting.

2.25 (Cheltenham Chase – Grade 2) – PUT THE KETTLE ON

The form of Al Dancer is appealing to us, hence we fancied him for Saturday’s feature event, and another horse who has ties with him is Henry De Bromhead’s Put The Kettle On.

Set to go off second-favourite for this event with Tingle Creek winner Defi Du Seuil in the line-up, he arguably possesses as much speed as anything else in the line-up bet crucially is given weight by Philip Hobbs’ runner and Rouge Vif.

Defi was beaten at the festival when a 2/5 shot and while that wasn’t his true running, Put The Kettle On’s win in the Arkle showed not only his class but his liking for Cheltenham which has never fully been proved by the jolly.

The aforementioned Rouge Vif, a comfortable winner at the meeting here last month, makes the list but he needs to take another big step forward to tackle the two genuine Grade 1 types in the field.

3.00 (Greatwood Handicap Hurdle – Grade 3) – PROSCHEMA

Alan King has a terrific record in this contest and so his Edwardstone will obviously attract plenty of support. Paul Nicholls’ young hurdler Thyme White has to be considered as does the overpriced Ballyandy, however the one to be on could well be Dan Skelton’s Proschema.

A very smart flat performer for Tom Dascombe who was briefly under consideration for The Derby at one point in his career, Proschema demolished his field last November at Wetherby but suffered a setback and spent the best part of a year off the track.

Needing a run to blow away the cobwebs, Proschema returned to Wetherby and ran a very sound race in second place and he is set to now reach his hurdling peak.

One thing is for certain and that is that he has the look of a horse who can be much better than his official mark of 131, so could easily be well-handicapped for this event under Harry Skelton.

3.35 (Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – COURTANDBOULD

Given the nature of this race, we have to watch it with an eye on the future. Over the course of time it seems certain that likely favourite Third Time Lucki will be the best of this particular bunch and could indeed head to the Supreme, but at prices around the 11/8 mark he is too short for us.

In at around 3/1 is Fergal O’Brien’s Courtandbould who has been on the go during the summer. He has reached a decent level, now rated 141, and still has at least a little more to give which all in all gives Third Time Lucki a rather steep level to aim at.

Paul Nicholls has Fidelio Vallis in this race and he is not without a chance either, but we know how well O’Brien’s horses go around Cheltenham at all meetings bar the Festival and so we can’t ignore that.

4.05 (Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race – Listed Race) – WESEEKHIMHERE

Gordon Elliott had a major disappointment with Tiger Roll on Friday but he is bound to land some success over the weekend.

While it is by no means a fool proof plan for backing winners, the fact that his hangs around until the very last race of the meeting to run one of his is a fact that can’t be totally ignored and so his Weseekhimhere is of most interest.

Already boasting the best form, albeit from little evidence given the type of race, the four-year-old seems like a reasonably solid wager to finish off the meeting.

Friday, 13 November 2020

November Meeting Day Two: Saturday 14th November 2020 - Al to Dance to Paddy Power Win

On day 2 of the November meeting we really ramp up the quality. The Paddy Power Gold Cup is the feature race in which we should see an epic battle up the hill, while we also have a couple of Grade 2’s to look forward to.

12.30 (Triumph Hurdle Trial – Grade 2) – DUFFLE COAT

Short-priced favourite Hell Red, Gordon Elliott’s Duffle Coat and Adagio look to be the three horses to concentrate on in this race, but despite giving away weight it could be the Irish raider who comes out on top.

Already rated 133, Duffle Coat is unbeaten in three runs and has very definitely shown the speed needed around the Old Course between hurdles.

Paul Nicholls’ Hell Red made a good impression on his British debut at Chepstow recently, but he’ll need to improve plenty to get to Robbie Power’s mount who looks overpriced to us.

1.05 (Handicap Chase for Conditional Jockeys and Amateur Riders – Class 3) – KILFILUM CROSS

A tough race to call, both in terms of horse form and in attempting to second guess the varying ability of the jockeys involved, but the most solid on the list probably Kilfilum Cross.

Others, including Lamanver Pippin, Bermeo and What A Moment all rate highly too, but Henry Oliver’s nine-year-old is solid in the conditions, is race fit and is proven around Cheltenham after finishing second in last season’s Kim Muir.

1.40 (November Novices’ Chase – Grade 2) – QUEL DESTIN

Most of the money pre-race is bound to go the way of impressive two-time chase winner Fusil Raffles, while Eldorado Allen appears to have it all to do despite being second-favourite.

Simply going for the best value though, it could pay to side with Paul Nicholls’ chasing debutant Quel Destin. Given his hurdle form, he’s the highest rated horse in this contest and even gets 3lbs from Fusil Raffles, and while you’d usually want to see him have a run first it is perhaps pertinent that his esteemed trainer throws him straight in at this level.

Furthermore, while most punters would rightfully expect improvement from first to second outing over the larger obstacles, many horses of his type are better over fences than they are over hurdles making that rating look all the more intriguing.

2.15 (Paddy Power Gold Cup – Grade 3) – AL DANCER

This is a good quality renewal, one in which past Cheltenham and big-race form should very much come to the fore.

Simply The Betts was excellent in winning two big handicaps around here in January and at the Festival in March and will attract plenty of money, while Paul Nicholls’ Saint Sonnet is a most interesting former French runner who may prove to be well treated in the weights.

The one attracting overnight support is Nicky Henderson’s Mister Fisher, however having had close form with him, being open to plenty of improvement and being nearly twice the price, the smart play is definitely Al Dancer.

The Nigel Twiston-Davies yard is going really well right now and that counts for plenty, while there appear to be no negatives in the trip, the grade or the course for the graded hurdle winner.

For what it’s worth, Mister Fisher is next on our list and it could be that their first and second from Doncaster last January in a Grade 2 novices’ race is the key piece of form in this event.

2.50 (Paddy Power Games Handicap Hurdle – Listed Race) – DANDY DAN

Despite the Listed grade of the race, there are many holes in the form and in the profiles of some of the principal runners.

On The Blind Side may prove to be too big a price here, though he has been off the track for quite some time, while likely favourite Tea Clipper has form figures of 111121 and cannot be discounted.

The jolly won at Grade 3 level last time out at Chepstow and clearly has the ability, but winning over 2m3f on good ground then belting round the Old Course for three miles are two very different things. With that in mind, it would be a brave punter who would take a short price about a horse who has gone up 7lbs in the weights.

Enter Kim Bailey’s Dandy Dan, a seven-year-old of Kim Bailey’s having his first hurdle run since April 2018. On the face of it the handicapper hasn’t taken many chances with his hurdle mark, but it is still 5lbs lower than his chase rating and he put in a career high last time over fences. He could be well-in.

3.25 (Handicap Hurdle – Class 3) – WHATSUPWITHYOU

The obvious one here is Dr Richard Newland’s Captain Tom Cat, a winner three times since July including last time out at Cheltenham.

While he did win comfortably that day, he has gone up another 6lbs in the handicap for a winning what was a tight race in the end.

Only 4¾ lengths behind in seventh that day was Whatsupwithyou who has been kept at the same mark. That 6lb pull could be handy enough, but when you also consider that the race was little more than a pipe-opener for Ben Pauling’s six-year-old who now looks quite well positioned to reverse those placings.

Son Of Camas and Topofthecotswolds are both on the list too, though they aren’t of as much interest as the well-priced selection.

3.55 (Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race – Listed Race) – ELLE EST BELLE

Clear of the others in the market are Ishkhara Lady, Ucanaver and Elle Est Belle with the last named being the one to focus on.

While the other two mares are also last time out winners, Dan Skelton’s runner scored on her only outing to date in little more than a hack canter and yet put in a performance that would entitle her to favouritism here anyway.

The level of improvement she can reach makes her a rock-solid favourite in this contest and so she should be able to finish off the day in the right way for backers of the market leader.

Thursday, 12 November 2020

November Meeting Day One: Friday 13th November 2020 - Easysland to Tame the Tiger Again

We kick off Cheltenham’s three-day November meeting on Friday with six competitive races on the Old Course, all of them giving us betting opportunities if not clues towards the Festival in March.

1.15 (Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle – Class 3) – INDUNO

We have a but of a conundrum to begin with on day one. The biggest field of the day at 18 runners is set for this race, which also happens to be a handicap and for conditional jockeys only!

That said, the form of the principal runners has a solid and reliable look about it and with that we put our money on David Pipe’s Induno. The six-year-old, last seen out nearly a year ago but who has won when fresh before, has plenty of improvement in him being so lightly raced and is anticipated to love it around here.

Induno’s handicap mark of 115 looks as though it significantly underestimates him and so he is taken to get us off to the best possible start under jockey Fergus Gillard. The Queen’s horse Steal A March and easy recent winner Castle Robin are next on the list for place bet purposes.

1.50 (Handicap Chase – Class 2) – FANION D’ESTRUVAL

A good two-mile handicap with a decent prize, this Class 2 contest should again be competitive despite a slightly smaller than ideal field of nine potential runners.

There isn’t too much to choose in our books between solid types Born Survivor of Dan Skelton’s yard, Gary’s Moore’s Beat The Judge who is likely to come on nicely from his run here last month, and Dicky Johnson’s mount On The Slopes who will be very well supported in the market.

The smart money however may well be going the way of the horse representing Venetia Williams and Charlie Deutsch, Fanion D’Estruval.

The former French runner, who had two very encouraging runs for this yard before a setback, has almost certainly improved well past his handicap mark now and has the speed dexterity to cope with this track. He also goes well fresh.

2.25 (Novices’ Chase – Class 2) – PROTEKTORAT

We have just the four runners for this novices’ event unfortunately, and so often such events throw up strange results. That seems fairly unlikely this time with Dan Skelton’s Protektorat being more than sufficiently ahead of his main rivals Southfield Stone and Mossy Fen at the weights and so ultimately, he is the call.

There is another betting angle though should you wish to take note. The 2m4f trip here represents a fair step up in distance for the favourite over fences, and his hurdle form over this kind of trip doesn’t necessarily give the world of encouragement.

With that in mind you could do worse than have a very small punt on outsider Paint The Dream, one trained by Fergal O’Brien who always does well here and who has been underestimated for certain.

3.00 (Cross Country Handicap Chase – Class 2) – EASYSLAND

The race featuring double Grand National hero Tiger Roll and as such, the one many will be stopping what they’re doing to watch.

The Tiger’s colours were lowered on the cross-country course at the Festival by French raider Easysland for this column and he was denied the opportunity to show it was a blip in the National at Aintree.

With the French odds-on favourite carrying 4lbs less but also rated 4lbs lower and the Tiger being a much more attractive price, you’d perhaps believe Gordon Elliott’s runner would be the smart bet.

Overall though Tiger Roll is likely to be going just a little backwards now and there is some evidence of that; his run behind Easysland in March and his very low grade showing in a flat turf race recently despite the trainer being happy and it only being a warm-up.

A better alternative to the selection at the odds is likely to be Christian Williams’ Welsh Grand National winner Potter’s Corner, though it remains to be seen truly how fit he is for his first race back.

3.35 (Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – DOES HE KNOW

The “big” event of the day, at least in terms of status given that this is a Grade 2, the race registered as the Hyde Novices’ Hurdle should go the way of Kim Bailey and David Bass who team up together with the hat-trick seeking Does He Know.

The youngest of the main contenders at five and the one with the most potential for improvement, Does He Know won easily over the course and distance on good ground at the meeting here last month and there is nothing in his profile to make us believe he will suddenly take a backward step.

Deserving his rating, the jolly is the percentage call for sure and in fact could be further clear of Grand Mogul and Polish than we think although in the case of Grand Mogul in particular money could come based on the horse’s trainer.

4.05 (Novices’ Handicap Hurdle – Class 3) – ONE TRUE KING

Hopefully by this point we’ve had another profitable day at Cheltenham, and this novices’ handicap hurdle is a good way to round off day one with 17 runners potentially going to post and allowing us some pretty big prices to take aim at.

Short enough in the betting overnight but with likely improvement to come is Fergal O’Brien’s The Bees Knees, but while we love Fergal and rate him highly at the track his easy last time winner may in fact have looked more impressive than was actually the case at Musselburgh.

Chasamax and Takeit Easy are tempting enough at the prices, but the one who could just skip clear of them at a crucial point in the contest is the top weight One True King for the Twiston-Davies team.

While he does have that big weight, One True King looks the type to be better when attempting to outclass his field rather than get weight from them and he took a big step forward last time out.