The long wait for a return to jumping action at Cheltenham comes to an end this week as the Showcase Meeting gets underway.
Saturday features a little more quality of course and we’ll have information on all seven races on that card soon, but Friday’s meeting is a great way to kick off for the year and there could be a few juicy bets to be had too.
2.00 (2m5f Novices’ Hurdle) – CHAMPAGNE WELL
The ever-popular Fergal O’Brien could be on for a very good day here, and we are sweet on his 6yo gelding Champagne Well in the first.
Progressing nicely in five hurdle runs, Paddy Brennan’s mount hasn’t yet won over obstacles but there’s no doubt his time is coming and despite having run in behind thus far, his form here looks good enough to see him heavily involved.
Irish raiders Doctor Duffy and Braid Blue will no doubt prove to be popular in the ring, but both may have some way to go to catch the selection in these conditions.
2.35 (2m Novices’ Chase) – GETAWAY TRUMP
All things considered this is a virtual match race between Al Dancer and Getaway Trump, the latter being favoured now that they go chasing.
With just 4lbs between them on official ratings there’s not much to separate these two from their hurdling careers, Al Dancer’s position of being favoured in the market probably emanating from the fact he has run less and is seen as having more to come, allied with the fact that he comfortably beat the selection home in the Betfair Hurdle having carried 1lb more.
In fact, Getaway Trump has gone on to improve plenty since that event, takes his racing really well and will probably relish the challenge of this course a little more than Al Dancer and so at a likely better price, he gets the call.
3.10 (2m5f Handicap Hurdle) – LIOSDUIN BHEARNA
A very tricky handicap to start our season off for sure, one in which the likes of The Big Galloper and Smarty Wild are bound to be popular, however that man Fergal O’Brien has an interesting runner once again in the shape of this Liosduin Bhearna.
With a record of 2211 in his four hurdle races to date, this 6yo has proven to be consistent but more importantly, he’s going the right way.
After holding on gamely at Ayr in February on his handicap debut he took his form to a new level when following up at Chepstow, an easy nine-length win that saw him go up significantly in the handicap. He can defy that rise now he’s had a break though and carry on his ascent of the rankings.
3.45 (3m½f Novices’ Chase) – MULCAHYS HILL
Once again these early novice chasers are difficult to assess, but we could be on for a right good bit of value in this race to smallish stakes with Warren Greatrex’s Mulcahys Hill.
The principles, especially Dinons and Boyhood, are priced-up all wrong in our opinion although likely favourite Wholestone is liable to be the big danger.
Mulcahys Hill, it mustn’t be forgotten, was second in the Challow Novices’ Hurdle in 2017 and went off favourite for a Grade 2 here on trials day in 2018, form which if he can get back to a similar level over fences and after a break marks him out as a cut above.
4.20 (2m½f Maiden Hurdle) – GETARIVER
A fairly interesting maiden hurdle, one in which a couple of French recruits will command a lot of attention and a fair bit of the money changing hands in the ring.
Those two though, namely Fred for Nicky Henderson and Cap Du Mathan for Paul Nicholls, are likely to have to step up significantly from what they achieved over the Channel and that leaves the door open for something else.
Master Debonair, after five good bumper runs and a wind operation, should make a successful transition to hurdling but one with experience, a good level of form, the benefit of a wind op and receiving weight is Dan Skelton’s mare Getariver.
Her experience comes from age of course, not in terms of mileage on the track, but what she did in a bumper at Newbury alone gives her an outstanding chance here and she’s priced generously.
4.55 (3m1f Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase) – GARRANE
Another competitive handicap, one in which we may be going 5/1 the field, and while it is a tough one to call for obvious reasons it seems this 7yo Garrane has as good a chance as any for trainer Jeremy Scott and jockey Martin McIntyre at a fair price.
While many will prefer to back one of the seven or so runners here who have had a recent turn, coming off a break is no bad thing for the selection and in fact it would appear he really needed it after six chase starts last season.
It can be expected now fresh that’s he’s improved a fair bit since making his fourth chase start in January, though he remains on the same handicap mark and he appears to stay this distance and beyond very well.
5.30 (2m½f Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle) – BENNY’S BRIDGE
There’s one last chance for Fergal O’Brien to land us another win here in the shape of the underestimated and potentially overpriced Benny’s Bridge.
This horse is another who, having had seven hurdle races between October and April, probably just finished last season a little flat and so he’s best judged on the middle part of his campaign.
After winning a handicap hurdle over near enough this course and distance in January he was rated 134 and considered a leading light for the Imperial Cup where he went off at 8/1. Not only has he not risen further, but in fact he races here off a mark of 127 and so is of obvious appeal at the weights.