Friday, 4 January 2019

Owners Boycott Cheltenham Festival Over Safety Fears

Prominent National Hunt owners Paul and Clare Rooney are set to withhold their horses from future Cheltenham Racecourse events, including the Festival in March, and are encouraging other owners to do the same.

The Rooneys, owners of If The Cap Fits, Go Conquer and The Last Samuri among others, are known to be concerned that jumping’s HQ may be posing a health risk to runners after their Starchitect broke a leg at the December meeting and had to be destroyed.

Fellow leading owner Jared Sullivan has made his point publicly that the Rooneys can do as they wish with their string and that people should simply respect their decision and stay out of the debate, which essentially is between them and the owners of the track who incidentally are due to speak directly to the couple soon.

Racing fans on social media are divided over this issue, some claiming like Sullivan that as their horses belong to them and they pay the bills they can do as they wish, some support them outright while others think they are being hasty and have launched vehement defences of Cheltenham and its safety record.

For those who think the couple will be no great miss however think again; the Rooney’s sit second in the British jump owners’ championship behind JP McManus and not having their string attend in March would be a blow to the sport.

The argument began to rage after last year’s Festival during which a total of seven horses died, prompting a review by the governing body and leading to many recommendations coming forward regarding field sizes, veterinary visits and alterations to the conditions of some races.

It seems fair enough that owners who genuinely believe any factor, in this case the layout or running of a particular track, may pose a health risk to their animals have the right to withdraw their horses from future events at such a venue.

We cannot ignore though the points made by some knowledgeable fans that see some hypocrisy in all this.  Musselburgh for example faced a BHA inspection after four deaths occurred in one meeting and it seems the Rooneys are still happy to send horses there.

A point that must be posed, no doubt to the chagrin of many fans, is that National Hunt supporters have often been more vociferous and in the recent political climate also more defensive about their sport than Flat racing fans.

True, horses can break down even galloping but the fact is they mostly die during NH racing because of the fact they jump at pace and so anything that can be done to make this practice safer should be encouraged.

Case in point the Grand National which always had the most notorious fences in all of jumps racing; following similar reviews into horse welfare over the years the big one at Aintree has been made safer (softer in the eyes of some diehards), resulting in not a single death in the National for coming up to seven years.

Has that race been downgraded in the eyes of the public since the safety changes?  Absolutely not and it seems possible we may look back at the Rooneys’ decision in a few years and see them as flag bearers for positive change.

Monday, 31 December 2018

Blind Side The Bookies On New Year’s Day

Cheltenham’s New Year’s Day fixture looks a real competitive affair with seven races kicking off at 12.15 including the Dipper Novices’ Chase and the Relkeel Hurdle, both Grade 2 affairs.

Yet more Festival clues could present themselves over the course of the afternoon and it’s a festival favourite trainer who may be responsible for getting us off to a great start:

12.15 – Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Listed Race) – I CAN’T EXPLAIN

In winning his only race under rules, I Can’t Explain created quite an impression on very soft ground three weeks ago and there’s no reason why he can’t go on from that run and set himself right up for a crack at the Festival in March.

He’ll need to prove he can stay the extra four furlongs of course but on slightly better ground it shouldn’t be a problem and all being well Nicky Henderson’s six-year-old should comfortably have too much for the likes of Darlac (Colin Tizzard) and Anemoi (Harry Whittingdon).

12.50 – Class 2 Handicap Chase – SOME CHAOS

There are some solid chances at the top of the weights, especially Rolling Dylan who has a chance of further improvement and who can outclass most players in this race.  He may not though have enough at the weights to quite beat one of the bottom horses in the shape of Some Chaos.

Michael Scudamore’s 7yo gelding has done well from a lowish base in his three chase races to date though you feel his value price is based on his last run when beaten at Wincanton.

Having won very easily off marks of 102 and 109 he was runner-up off a much higher rating of 122 leading many to think he’s handicapped up to his best, but the fact is he probably wanted the ground a little softer that day and he can improve further now to perhaps see off this field.

1.25 – Dipper Novices’ Chase (Grade 2) – ON THE BLIND SIDE

This race should still be run at Newcastle in all honesty, but away from that slight moan we do have a high quality novices’ chase to enjoy and it’s one in which we are backing pure potential as our selection hasn’t yet gone over fences.

Nicky Henderson’s On The Blind Side reached a good level over hurdles in no time at all and it’s thought he’ll be better over the bigger obstacles.  Having been off the track over eight months and had a wind operation we are relying on a master trainer having him here in good form and I don’t think that should be a problem.

If he is at his best, Nico de Boinville’s mount should be capable of reaching a level approaching the 160-mark and that would make him just too good for Crucial Role at a very nice price and, at these weights, for Defi Du Seuil too.

2.00 – Handicap Chase (Grade 3) – BORN SURVIVOR

This is a very close, very tight and very competitive handicap chase and so it was virtually impossible narrowing down this field.  Every runner has been rated independently and while it’s obviously a close call, Born Survivor comes out just on top.

Dan Skelton’s 7yo gelding came back for the season with an improved display when scoring easily on good ground at Wetherby back in November though a look back at his hurdle form suggests he may be better as the season goes on with more cut in the ground.

Harry Fry’s Acting Lass and bottom weight Dustin Des Mottes come out best of the rest though absolutely nothing in this field can be discounted with any confidence.

2.35 – Class 2 Handicap Hurdle – NAUTCAL NITWIT

We thought the last race was tight and competitive but even that has nothing on this race!  Even seasoned racegoers will just stick a pin in the paper at this one but for what it’s worth our private ratings make Nautical Nitwit the most likely scorer, though not by very much.

His win at Wetherby in November was good enough but he may improve more for a proper test and so I can see Cheltenham suiting him just fine.  We could name half the field as his competition for places but Aux Ptits Soins and Vive Le Roi are probably just about the best of them.

3.10 – Relkeel Hurdle (Grade 2) – OLD GUARD

Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Wholestone will be hugely popular and fair play; he’s very consistent at this sort of level and knows this place well.

Paul Nicholls’ runner Old Guard however has tons of experience and has been kept busy this year but the thing that sticks out is his improved performance at this track in November.  The course suits him and despite having already run in 30 hurdle races he seems capable of a personal best and that would be good enough to win this.

Evan Williams’ Clyne, in receipt of 6lbs from the main protagonists, has every chance of getting in on the act under jockey Adam Wedge.

3.50 – Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race (Listed Race) – FEARLESS

Naturally there isn’t much to go on here in terms of form, though this Fearless rates just about the best of them and so piecing that together with the fact he was sold for £120,000 after his debut win at Wincanton makes him statistically the most likely winner.

Having made all to dominate his field last time it would appear the demands of Cheltenham can coax out the appropriate level of improvement and so he can stake a claim for a return to Prestbury Park for the Festival in March.

Martyn Meade’s Cascova looks best of the rest having won at Huntingdon, though he got the job done without too much to spare and could be challenged for place money by Doncaster runner-up Fuseau.

Saturday, 15 December 2018

International Meeting Day Two: Welcome To Hell’s Kitchen

There is over £400,000 in prize money on offer on day two of the International meeting at Cheltenham for what promises to be a cracking day of jump racing.

We have selections in all seven races on Saturday, the highlights undoubtedly being the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup (December Gold Cup) at 1.55 along with the Grade 2 Unibet International Hurdle at 3.05 and the race formerly known as the Bristol Novices’ Hurdle at 2.30.

It’s looking like an explosive day of action with plenty of value bets to get stuck into, starting with the Triumph Hurdle trial at 12.10:

12.10 (Triumph Hurdle Trial – 2m+ Juvenile Hurdle – Class 2) – PROTEKTORAT

Plenty of attention (and money) will be thrown the way of both Fanfan Du Seuil and Fret D’Estruval but they may each be found wanting against French recruit Protektorat of the Tony Carroll hard.

Harry Bannister’s mount may well be underestimated given that he was runner-up over the Channel while the other two have been winning, though in truth his level of form more than matches up with the main two in the market and with plenty of improvement expected he could be the one to be on.

12.45 (2m4f+ Novices’ Chase – Class 2) – DROVERS LANE

Other than perhaps reappearing too early at Aintree following a successful seasonal debut at Hereford, this Drovers Lane has shown little but improvement in five hurdles and three chases so far and rates a fine bet to score once more for Rebecca Curtis.

His win over Soupy Soups last time out at Market Rasen was achieved with the minimum of fuss and he more then deserves a crack round here.

Le Breuil may be the one to chase him home under Daryl Jacob for the Ben Pauling yard.

1.20 (2m+ Handicap Chase – Class 2) – HELL’S KITCHEN

This Hell’s Kitchen didn’t exactly raise the roof on his seasonal reappearance at Aintree but remains a horse of potential for races such as this and gets the vote to score on this occasion.

Barry Geraghty knows how way around here and will understand fine well he’s on a horse who is improving overall and has plenty up his sleeve; no doubt he’ll be brought into race gradually before being produced when it matters.

Theinval of the ever powerful Nicky Henderson operation may prove to have plenty of potential and can fight on for place money at the very least.

1.55 (Caspian Caviar Gold Cup – 2m4f+ Handicap Chase – Class 1) (Grade 3) – FRODON

Nicky Henderson’s Rather Be was beaten narrowly at the Festival before being brought down on his seasonal return and is sure to command plenty of attention in the betting for this contest.

As good as he is though, he may well find one too good in the shape of the nicely priced Frodon who returned with a career best second in the BetVictor Gold Cup behind our selection Baron Alco and who can step up now.

With an improving profile and hailing from a quality yard, it’ll be no surprise to see Frodon score this time under Bryony Frost at the midnight expense potentially of Guitar Pete, the winner of this race last year.

2.30 (3m Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle – Class 1) (Grade 2) – AYE AYE CHARLIE

I want to make it clear as it seems we are always going against the champ; but as good a chance as Doux Pretender obviously has, the definite value seems to be with this Aye Aye Charlie.

Fergal O’Brien’s charge won in bloodless fashion last time at Kelso and has plenty more to give. He has regressed in all honesty but it ready rock ‘n roll again and should take care of the aforementioned Doux Pretender.

3.05 (2m+ Unibet International Hurdle – Class 1) (Grade 2) – SUMMERVILLE BOY

This Summerville Boy should be well ahead given his fourth in the Fighting Fifth and his previous improving form over hurdles. Kalashnikov’s form and his win over him in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival makes him the best of this bunch all things considered.

Silver Streak and We Have A Dream are solid options for places and I couldn’t put you off backing them for a place, though all things being equal they shouldn’t be entitled to beat our boy.

3.40 (2m4f+ Mares’ Handicap Hurdle – Class 2) – OSCAR ROSE

Oscar Rose is cracking value in this race to reach a place at the very least. Fergal O’Brien’s 6yo mare has shown herself to be the type mare to improve race on race as the season goes on and she could well prove to be the best of these at a nice price.

Warren Greatrex’s Petticoat Tails looks like being the chief opposition following her improved second at Ascot last time out with jockey Richard Johnson always likely to attract support.

Friday, 14 December 2018

International Meeting Day One: Rockerfeller Too Rich For His Opposition

The international meeting kicks off on Friday at Cheltenham Racecourse featuring two excellent days of racing offering around £600,000 in prize money in total.

Day one’s highlights are the £60,000 December Handicap Chase over three-and-a-quarter miles and the £35,000 Glenfarclas Cross-Country Chase, both of which promise to be big tests of stamina.

We as always have selections for all 14 races this weekend, starting with Friday and a very good opening novices’ hurdle race:

12.10 (2m+ NH Novices’ Hurdle – Class 3) – ELIXIR DE NUTZ

Nicky Henderson’s Angel’s Breath will no doubt be popular in the market and you can see why given his easy win in Ireland before moving to Lambourn. It’s unclear just how good the 4yo is though and he remains vulnerable.

The value could be with Colin Tizzard’s Elixir De Nutz, the gelding having proven his ability with a win at Cheltenham in November.

Harry Cobden’s ride ran on well last time and looks the business in this grade, enough to get the better of Henderson’s runner and perhaps Jarveys Plate who can grab a place for Fergal O’Brien.

12.45 (3m1f+ Novices’ Chase – Class 2) – LIL ROCKERFELLER 

Long regarded as an exciting chaser, for me Lil Rockerfeller has done very little wrong so far over fences and he may in fact have been slightly underestimated here.

The 7yo of Neil King’s is plenty experienced given his hurdle form and is just a whisker away from reaching the top level over the larger obstacles.

Well fancied The Worlds End and Ibis Du Rheu look like being best of the rest thought ultimately should fall short.

1.20 (2m+ Handicap Hurdle – Class 3) – MAGIC DANCER

This is a very competitive handicap hurdle and thus one in which picking the winner is difficult, but on balance this Magic Dancer looks the best value for the Kerry Lee yard with Richard Johnson on board.

Looking for peaks in form, this horse has comfortably put his best work in around Prestbury Park including over course and distance back in April.

The 6yo gets the verdict then ahead of Ben Pauling’s A Hare Breath who provides a decent alternative at a good price.

1.55 (2m4f+ Mares’ Handicap Chase – Class 3) – MIDNIGHT TARGET

John Groucott’s mare warmed up for the season with a good second at Kempton last month and it’s felt we’ll see a much better horse now she’s blown the cobwebs away.

She was a good winner here in April and is just 5lbs higher in the weights now, her handicap mark not looking like being enough to stop her alone.

The Bay Birch and Synopsis probably have enough form in the book to be considered the main dangers today.

2.30 (December Handicap Chase – 3m2f – Class 1) (Grade 3) – THEATRE TERRITORY

Warren Greatrex’s mare is 1-6 over hurdles and so far 0-7 over fences but she’s never run out of the first three over the larger obstacles and importantly is improving gradually race by race.

The 8yo was only headed after the last on her seasonal bow behind Ibis Du Rheu, well fancied in the 12.45, off 7lbs lower and that form reads well.

Rock The Kasbah and Singlefarmpayment also rate highly in the context of this race and must both be considered for place money.

3.05 (3m6f+ Cross-Country Handicap Chase – Class 2) – JOSIES ORDERS

The 10yo Milan gelding has been around the block a few times and in fact won this very race three years ago, by no means has his time gone at the game and in fact he seems the most likely winner once again this time around.

A simple win in a similar race at the last meeting here should have set him up for a big run with My Hometown for the same team probably the biggest danger.

3.40 (3m Handicap Hurdle – Class 2) - SIZING GRANITE

I’m pleased to see this horse going up in trip and reverting to hurdles as his recent chase efforts don’t really show him in the best light.

Having crept down to a low base this horse is slowly getting better over the last year or so with each run and can take advantage of that now, running in this off a mark 8lbs lower than his hurdling peak.

Dr Richard Newland’s Aaron Lad did well to score at Market Rasen last time and looks on balance to be the main danger to the selection.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

November Meeting Day Three: Royal To Be Crowned In Grade 2 Chase

The last of three wonderful days of racing at Prestbury Park takes place on Sunday with the potential for us to see future contenders for the Champion Hurdle in the Greatwood, as well as potential entrants in the Arkle and the Supreme Novices’.

We get going at 1.15 with the first of six races, all of which we have good value selections for starting with the conditional jockeys’ race where a big priced horse may well defy his odds:

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1.15 (2m5f Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle) – FOLLOW THE BEAR

Ned Curtis takes the ride on Nicky Henderson’s charge, a six-year-old gelding who needs to take a step forward from him seasonal bow at Aintree when beaten 15 lengths.

He hasn’t won in fact since May 2017 at Kempton Park but remains capable and showed a good level of form this time last year when third at Worcester and it’s thought today could be the day he rediscovers his best before perhaps starting to make his way up the hurdling ladder somewhat.

One at a big price who could also go well is David Pipe’s Three Star General who, like the selection, is only a young horse and not one to give up on just yet.  Ballyhome will be much more popular in the betting than the aforementioned pair and looks good for place money representing Fergal O’Brien.

1.50 (2m Arkle Trophy Trial Novices’ Chase – Grade 2) – CLAIMANTAKINFORGAN

Nicky Henderson is the man the watch and his 6yo may yet for the Arkle itself in March at the Festival, though that becomes a more realistic prospect if he does manage to take this race.

He reached a mark of 151 over hurdles, albeit in a short five-race career over the smaller obstacles and it seems the yard think he’ll be much better over fences making him potentially quite a formidable opponent for his rivals in this race.

Although he didn’t have much to beat he performed perfectly well on his chasing debut at Uttoxeter at the start of this month which should have set him up nicely to tackle Grade 2 company for the first time and he is taken to score ahead of Philip Hobbs’ seasonal debutant Defi Du Seuil.

2.25 (Schloer Chase – Grade 2 – 2m) – SCEAU ROYAL

Sceau Royal’s debut season over fences saw him win four and finish a close runner-up here at Cheltenham and so it’ll be no surprise if he’s a short priced favourite on Sunday for Alan King and Daryl Jacob.

That confidence could prove to be well founded however as this French-bred just gets better and better and seems certain to be aimed at the Queen Mother Champion Chase back here at the Festival in four months time.

This impressive type jumps well, goes well fresh and is already a Grade 1 winner as a novice meaning there are few chinks in his armour.  Any flaws he does show on his first run of the season need to be seized upon and if that is to happen then it is likely to be by Brain Power of the Nicky Henderson yard, a horse who is having his first run since a wind op in July and who was second to Footpad in last season’s Arkle.

3.00 (Greatwood Hurdle – Grade 3 – 2m ½f) – STORM RISING

The most talked about horse in the race is bound to be last weekend’s Elite Hurdle winner Verdana Blue and sure enough, Nicky Henderson’s representative is high on the list.

There is a train of thought with Jeremiah McGrath’s mount though that he may not be at his very best around Cheltenham and we have to consider that, no matter how simple he made it look last week, that the Elite will have taken some winning and so the race must have taken something out of him meaning this quick turnaround is not quite ideal.

Storm Rising is a much more attractive price and has all the credentials needed.  He loves Cheltenham, stays well and is improving hand over fist for his new yard and may well just strip much fitter than most in this line-up for Dr Richard Newland and as such rates a very fair bet.

Silver Streak and Western Ryder are others to consider in what is a cracking early season race over the Champion Hurdle distance.

3.30 (2m ½f Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – SEDDON

What we’re looking for in these trials is not so much the best horse according to where they all stand going into the race, but rather which one has the combination of ability and potential and with that in mind we could see somewhat of a coming of age of Tom George’s Seddon.

Having only run three times under rules, once over hurdles, we’ve no idea yet how good he could become but what we do know is that he’s already got to roughly the level shown by chief rival Itchy Feet and done so with less miles on the clock than Olly Murphy’s runner.

A good step forward is expected then and with that victory in Grade 2 company with Adrian Heskin once again in the saddle.

4.00 (2m ½f Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race – Listed Race) – THYME HILL

As impressive as McFabulous was on debut at Chepstow in October the race was nothing out of the ordinary and so until he does it again we should just curb our enthusiasm somewhat.

With that in mind, let’s consider the way Philip Hobbs’ 4yo won his own bumper at Worcester where on the book he achieved less than the Paul Nicholls horse but did it so easily we have no real idea how much he had in hand that day.

Like his main rival he’s been treated carefully, waiting 5½ weeks to come here rather than getting straight back out on the track and the tactic may pay dividends here today with a win under Richard Johnson.

Friday, 16 November 2018

November Meeting Day Two: Rock The Kasbah To Take Handicap Clash

Day two at Cheltenham in the November meeting and more great action is on the cards.  A good Grade 2 Juvenile race and a Listed Bumper bookend what is sure to be a terrific day featuring the BetVictor Gold Cup for which we have a cracking value bet!

Here are our selection for all seven races on the card, starting with a fine bunch of youngsters aiming for the Triumph Hurdle back at this track in March.

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12.40 (Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle – Grade 2 – 2m ½f) – NEVER ADAPT

We’re hoping this one isn’t particularly well named given that we’re in hope that he can adjust from France, where he won so easily on heavy ground, to Cheltenham on a better surface but if he does he could be a level above these rivals in all truth.

It goes without saying that owner JP McManus and top trainer Nicky Henderson have the Triumph Hurdle itself at the front of their minds for this horse and while he doesn’t need to win this, it would certainly help his cause.  Look out for Montestrel for place money.

1.15 (3m ½f Novices’ Chase) – THE WORLDS END

An unoriginal selection perhaps and things are probably closer between this one and Minella Awards than many believe, but the level our boy reached over hurdles and the way he won on his chase debut suggest he may just have too much on this occasion for the opposition assembled.

Minella Awards did win well also at Aintree but only had one rival to beat that day while best of the rest, though some way back in fact, could be Ibis Du Rheu for the Paul Nicholls yard with Harry Cobden on board.

1.50 (3m 3½f Handicap Chase) – ROCK THE KASBAH

Philip Hobbs’ runner didn’t really hit the expected heights on his seasonal reappearance at Chepstow when a well beaten favourite, though his career doesn’t exactly stop there and a much better performance is on the cards this time now that he has that run under his belt.

His best run was his sign-off effort last season when running second to the well-handicapped Step Back in the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown and he looks ready now to take a step forward and furthermore would be doing so off a 2lb lower mark.

The likes of Vicente and Singlefarmpayment are likely to be vying for places and are expected to be prominent in what will be a lively betting market.

2.25 (BetVictor Gold Cup – 2m4f Handicap Chase) – BARON ALCO

Gary Moore may take the feature race with his French bred Baron Alco who ran extremely well when coming back from a long break at Chepstow only to run out of steam in the closing stages to be a close second to Charbel.

He’s expected to be much fitter today and as such he can carry on his climb up the chasing ranks having previously run into Top Notch and Road To Respect in good races at Cheltenham and Sandown including at Grade 1 level.  His form figures over the larger obstacles in fact are 3121222.

Nicky Henderson’s Rather Be and Kalondra of Neil Mulholland’s yard are next on the list for places, the latter named especially looking likely to fight all the way against our selection.


3.00 (3m Listed Handicap Hurdle) – BOYHOOD

All eyes will be on First Assignment of the Ian Williams here and at first glance he’s the rightful favourite however there’s a lot to like about the second-top weight Boyhood of Tom George’s and he may be the value choice in this line-up.

The seven-year-old hasn’t run since New Year’s Day when taking a three-mile hurdle here at Cheltenham on heavy ground but if anything he may appreciate the better surface this time and may simply make his staying power count under jockey Paddy Brennan when the going gets tough up the hill at the finish.

Olly Murphy and Richard Johnson team up with Weebill who may be challenging for places when the race gets going in earnest but unless something happens to the leading two he looks a little way off for win purposes.

3.30 (2m5f Handicap Hurdle) – SPEEDO BOY

Ian Williams’ 4yo may have been underestimated off a mark of just 118 as he is sure to improve over hurdles this season.  He has been in cracking form on the Flat this year too having run fifth in the Mallard Handicap at Doncaster before going sixth in the Cesarewitch at Newmarket marking him out as a potentially decent hurdler for this term.

The key to this one could be the step up in trip from two miles to 2m5f and he is taken to score this time under Tom O’Brien at the probable expense of the likes of Lygon Rock and Westend Story.

4.00 (Listed Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race) – ROYAL ILLUSION

Willie Mullins is not really in the habit of sending mugs to Cheltenham and he could be set to land another good prize in the form of this Listed event with his Royal Illusion, ridden by Danny Mullins.

A winner two weeks ago at Cork, he had any amount in hand that day and if anything can improve further quite quickly making him a fair bet to score in the lucky last.  Mrs Hyde and Paul Nicholls’ Danse Idol are sure to go well and will make plenty of appeal in the ring though you feel Royal Illusion will have to under-perform for either of them to grab the win.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

November Meeting Day One: Dig Up Some Double Treasure In The Lucky Last

We have three fantastic days of racing at Prestbury Park to come across this weekend, day one bringing us potentially a big betting opportunity at a nice price as this year’s Grand National winner reappears in the Cross-Country Chase.

12.40 (3m1f Amateur Rider’s Handicap Chase) – SKY PIRATE

In these amateur rider’s events we can perhaps be afforded the chance to place more emphasis on the jockey than normal as some are considerably better than others at this stage of their careers.

With that in mind, the booking of Patrick Mullins for Sky Pirate can be taken as a big positive and goes hand-in-hand with the improvement shown by Jonjo O’Neill’s horse to create what looks like a good value bet.

Having run second the last twice but got better each time, the 5yo seems capable of another step forward in this race and with that could have too much for last-time-out winner The Young Master who isn’t quite as good as he was though does have the assistance of Sam Waley-Cohen, along with For Good Measure of Philip Hobbs’ yard.

1.15 (2m ½f Novices’ Handicap Hurdle) – DOSTAL PHIL

This one has to go close to being called our bet of the day.  Philip Hobbs’ 5yo is having what is only his fourth run under rules and his second after a wind operation and it seems clear we can expect plenty of improvement on what we’ve seen thus far.

A winner on debut at Deauville two years ago, he was a beaten favourite under Barry Geraghty this time last year on his stable debut before another setback meant a break of yet another year.  He took a step forward four weeks ago for Hobbs and Geraghty when running second at Uttoxeter and it seems the stable expect much better now.

Normal rate of improvement may see him win this with Nicky Henderson’s fellow French recruit Dream Du Grand Val perhaps next best while the booking of Richard Johnson on Snapdragon Fire may create a betting buzz for a horse capable of the places.

1.50 (2m Handicap Chase) – BUN DORAN

When rating this race we couldn’t help noticing that plenty of them were close together in terms of ability versus weight – Shanahan’s Turn, Movie Legend and Peppay Le Pugh for example all having precious little between them on the numbers.

The two that stood out however were Ben Pauling’s A Hare Breath and Tom George’s Bun Doran and the latter is the selection.  A Hare Breath is well fancied for this and it would be no surprise to see him win it, though with a few more years in the bank we can expect more improvement from Bun Doran and he has been equally well backed this week.

Having not raced for 218 days there is a bit of guesswork involved in the selection, but after only 9 chases there is clearly more to come from this one and today could be his day under jockey Paddy Brennan.

2.25 (2m4f Novices’ Chase) – MR WHIPPED

This is the race we’re least confident about so do bear that in mind, though the choice of Mr Whipped appears to have been backed up by the money coming for the Nicky Henderson horse this week.

Four wins and a second preceded his pulling-up here in the Albert Bartlett at the Festival in March and his top trainer has always thought he’d make a chaser.  The fact we should see a better chaser than hurdler is taken into account, but how good he is bound to be is an unknown.

After winning 12 days ago on chase debut we have a little more to go on with Count Meribel and Nigel Twiston-Davies’ runner rates second best, while Jerrysback is the intriguing one for Philip Hobbs after winning both his hurdle races hard held.  If there is very strong money for him on Saturday morning and/or just before the race – take note.

3.00 (3m6f Cross Country Handicap Chase) – MIDNIGHT SHOT

If the likely short-priced favourite and Grand National 2018 winner Tiger Roll does indeed come back here and win on the bridle it’ll be great to see after his Aintree heroics, however at these prices it’s very easy to take a chance on Charlie Longsdon’s Midnight Shot.

The 8yo has plenty more to give at this stage and despite previously having been thought of as a 2½ mile horse he improved markedly last time for a step up to three miles when scoring at Fakenham.  He can be better again over this unique course and distance and in receipt of 21lbs from Tiger Roll his price is simply too big.

Bless The Wings of Gordon Elliott’s probably rates as best of the rest but at 13 years old even in a cross country race it’s conjecture as to what level of form we can expect, especially after more than 200 days off the track.

3.35 (2m5f Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – DOUBLE TREASURE

We finish the day with this Grade 2 hurdle and there is of course a distinct lack of experience on show here, though no little potential.

We can’t help thinking favourite Pym is overrated in the context of this race so at these prices we cannot have him, though Coolanly looks a little more likely among those at the head of the betting market for trainer Fergal O’Brien and a place therefore would be no surprise.

Colin Tizzard’s Darlac is an intriguing runner having won ever so easily on his hurdling debut under Richard Johnson, though that was on good-to-firm over at Fontwell and it remains to be seen whether he’s as good with cut in the ground.

The one to be on though could be Jamie Snowden’s Double Treasure after a successful summer and autumn over timber.  He may not be the best of these in 3-6 months time but right now he is overpriced, arguably because he is not from one of the very top yards.