It’s BetVictor Gold Cup day at Cheltenham, something that gives us tangible pointers towards both the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Betfair Chase in March.
After waterlogging on Thursday, the ground is no better than heavy and so this is a slog today, and while Friday’s abandonment was such a disappointment two of the races have been saved and added onto the weekend card so all is not lost.
One of those races is our first event today:
12.05 (Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle – 2m5f – Grade 2) – THYME HILL
After tipping him up for the original running of this race on Friday and having no reason to believe he won’t handle the heavy ground, we stick with our original choice in the shape of Philip Hobbs’ Thyme Hill who can be backed at around 7/4 or bigger.
Third in the Champion Bumper at the festival and a Grade 2 winner straight up at Chepstow over hurdles, he has obvious class and we retain the thought that there is little evidence to suggest his form should suddenly regress. Both Dancing On My Own and Some Day Soon can improve and therefore challenge for places.
12.40 (Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle – 2m½f – Grade 2) – MICK PASTOR
While it goes without saying that he has a host of runners each possessing a ton of potential to contend with, allied with his extra weight, Mick Pastor is definitely the solid option on all known evidence and gets the nod for the Triumph Hurdle Trial.
His easy hurdle win in France was achieved on heavy ground so in theory there are no worries on that score, so in the hope (and no little expectation) that Paul Nicholls can draw plenty more out of him he is the logical choice to score in this for top owner JP McManus.
Allmankind, a winner just 8 days ago at Warwick but uncertain on the ground, and Botox Has who won first time up for Gary Moore, also have potential.
1.15 (3m½f Novices’ Chase) – WHOLESTONE
While it was achieved over 2½ miles and against only one rival, Wholestone’s win on heavy ground at Perth was a pointer to the fact that he a) goes on this ground, and b) has plenty of potential over fences.
In fact, it has helped us think that if anything the ground wasn’t soft enough for him when he was beaten during the Showcase meeting here by Mulcahys Hill, who we tipped up, but he did go off favourite that day giving away weight and was only just denied.
David Pipe’s Poker Play won last time at Ffos Las and has more to come on this going, while Minella Warrior is in receipt of weight but was beaten fair and square behind the selection last month on this track.
1.50 (3m3½f Handicap Chase – Grade 3) – BIG RIVER
Ramses De Teillee is favoured here after a better than previous comeback run over hurdles, but whether he’s truly improved that much over fences remains to be seen.
Similarly, Potters Legend had a spin over hurdles recently after a long layoff and could go well here if proving fit enough now, while West Approach is a solid alternative to the selection following his second at the Showcase meeting last month.
Big River however loved the heavy going at Kelso last year, has since run fourth at the Festival and fifth in the Scottish Grand National and has been sent here by Lucinda Russell after wind surgery very much in the hope of a huge run, which we think is on.
2.25 (BetVictor Gold Cup Handicap Chase – 2m4f – Grade 3) – SPRINGTOWN LAKE
It should go without saying that the feature race on the card is a competitive one, but we can take a chance on the well-priced Springtown Lake who should be much more comfortable over this heavy ground 2½ miles than he was when fancied to go well in the Sodexho Gold Cup at Ascot, where he was 7th.
Exciting young chaser Slate House as yet could be anything over fenced while Brelan D’As has been rerouted to this race having been expected go run a big one over two miles on Friday before the card was abandoned. The selection is a good percentage call in the circumstances though and should be available at double-figure odds.
3.00 (Big Bucks Handicap Hurdle – 3m – Listed Race) – THE BUTCHER SAID
While Tobefair is rock solid having won over this very course and distance on heavy ground last month, he has gone up in the weights and in class and could be vulnerable to one who has not shown all of his potential yet.
In that category is The Butcher Said; out of the first two only once in 8 hurdle races, not many miles on the clock and a clear liking for heavy ground and this track based on his second to Ramses De Teillee last time out.
We should see much more from him now in handicap company and he can score ahead of Tobefair and Smackwater Jack.
3.30 (2m5f Handicap Hurdle) – REMASTERED
Both Jatiluwih and Legends Gold are high up in the market for this race and both are two from two this season, but there is plenty of potential in Remastered yet as long as he can be controlled on the day by Tom Scudamore.
Having recorded a debut hurdles win on heavy ground this time last year it appears that’s what brings the best out of him, and while he was poor last time he was simply far too free so with the tongue tie now added and the freshness taken out of him we should see a much better performance.
4.00 (2m½f Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race – Listed Race) – MIDNIGHT CALLISTO
The closer is a hard race to read of course, but in the shape of Midnight Callisto there is at least one horse who is rife with potential and who has shown a liking for soft ground. He gets a tentative vote ahead of Pink Sheets and Legends Ryde.