It’s trials day at Cheltenham with up to 62 runners looking to put their names forward for a place in their desired race at the festival in March.
Paisley Park and Bristol De Mai are probably the ones many people are turning up to see, but we have some fine value bets against them to get stuck into.
12.40 (Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle – Grade 2) – MONTE CRISTO
This isn’t the strongest Triumph Hurdle trial we could have wished for, but in fact given that that’s the case it’s perhaps surprising that Nicky Henderson’s French recruit Monte Cristo isn’t odds-on overnight given that his Gallic form already looks too good for this opposition and his trainer tends to improve them from there quite a lot.
Henderson has won four of the last 7 renewals of this race and there’s no reason, on all known evidence, to think he won’t win it again at the possible main expense of Rowland Ward and Gerolamo Cardano who may make up the places.
1.15 (Class 2 Novices’ Handicap Chase) – IMPERIAL AURA
While Champagne Court will be popular after two wins, especially being tongue-tied for the first time, he’s never put his best foot forward around here before and so the track may well hamper him again.
Harry Whittingdon’s Simply The Betts handled the hill brilliantly at Newcastle and so should see things out right to the line today, though at the weights that doesn’t make him a better proposition than Imperial Aura for us and so it’s Kim Bailey’s gelding who gets the nod.
Having also won at Newcastle this time over hurdles, this horse began his chasing career with a virtual gimme before chasing home the talented Pym here in December. That last run was over three miles and it really stretched him, so over this 2m4½f distance he should continue his improvement and be good enough to score.
1.50 (Cheltenham Trophy Handicap Chase – Grade 3) – LALOR
This is a frightfully tight race to call with a number holding chances, but it’s former Arkle favourite Lalor who catches the eye the most for us.
Kayley Woollacott’s gelding was a real rising star this time last season but fell in the Arkle when apparently holding a fair chance on form. After some under-par runs the 8-year-old was upped to this 2m4½f trip on New Year’s Day and almost came home best of all in the Paddy Power, finishing third in a blanket finish.
That’s the best form on offer we feel and given that he can improve at the distance, he should have an advantage over some familiar faces over this track and trip such as Warthog, Highway One O One and Spiritofthegames who all have strong place claims.
2.25 (Cotswold Chase – Grade 2) – SANTINI
A nice race in its own right of course as a Grade 2 with £56,000 going to the winner, but the point about this event is that it is a genuine Gold Cup trial with several trainers entering horses they believe could be the real deal.
One of those trainers is Emma Lavelle who is adamant that her Ladbrokes Trophy winner De Rasher Counter can be a Gold Cup horse but to be honest as good as he undoubtedly is, he’ll need to take a couple of huge strides forward to enter calculations there.
Some improvement may put him near enough on a par with what can reasonably expected of Bristol De Mai, the Haydock specialist who is never quite the same around here. His best Cheltenham effort was of course last season’s Gold Cup third but that was still below his very best and he now has to give a couple of pounds away to Santini.
Back from a wind op, Santini comes here fresh having won easily back in November, his only appearance since a very strong second in the RSA Chase at last year’s Festival with feeling being that if the Cotswold is indeed to produce one horse to put it up to the current Gold Cup favourites, it’s likely to be this one.
3.00 (Classic Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – HOUSE ISLAND
Far be it from us to simply put forward the horse with the highest rating or even the best past form, but it does rather seem as though Paul Webber’s horse has been way underestimated by the bookmakers and he is simply too big a price overnight to ignore.
Likely favourite King Roland is rated 133 after two very easy hurdle wins but he’s had no real opposition up against him and we don’t know how good he truly is. Protektorat (139) gives weight away all round and is more exposed, while our horse has achieved his mark of 143 from only three starts, improving in bundles each time.
Should he improve again, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t, he could make anything over 5/1 look a little silly.
3.35 (Cleeve Hurdle – Grade 2) – IF THE CAP FITS
This is a proper trial for the Stayers’ Hurdle and it’s a race that revolves around last year’s winner of both events, Paisley Park.
There’s no doubt that, on current evidence at least, Paisley Park is the best in his division but he’s missed a race and has had a very different preparation to last year so you’d be brave if you said you were taking odds-on about him today.
In the case of If The Cap Fits we have a horse who has won a Grade 1 over three miles at Aintree and the 2½-mile Coral Hurdle (Grade 2) on soft ground, now he simply has to put it all together by winning a three-mile race around Cheltenham and we’re backing him to do so and shake-up the Stayers’ Hurdle market.
Our old pal Summerville Boy also runs here but should be no better than third if the big two are on their game.
4.10 (Class 2 Handicap Hurdle) – EN MEME TEMPS
A chance is taken in the last race on Philip Kirby’s runner En Meme Temps, whose form from Carlisle may have been underestimated and who at around 10/1 would be far too big a price. He may get the better of benchmark Sofia’s Rock.
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