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.