It’s day one of Cheltenham’s International meeting on Friday, one in which we now have an extended eight-race card following the rightful decision of the BHA to add the Peterborough Chase to the line-up following Huntingdon’s unfortunate cancellation last Sunday.
11.30 (Novices’ Hurdle – Class 3) – ANY NEWS
Neil Mulholland’s Any News may end up going off favourite for the opening race after his two winning runs this season, one in a bumper and one in a maiden hurdle, but he is backable at anything above even-money given the relative strength of his form.
That forms beats what we’ve seen from his rivals in this race so far, though they are of course all open to significant improvement, while conditions underfoot look to be ideal for him.
Those rivals include Paul Nicholls’ recent winner Lucky One, second on our list, while Lord Baddesley and Make Me A Believer have a little more to do on the book but anything remains possible with such a young and inexperienced bunch.
12.05 (Novices’ Chase – Class 2) – HAPPYGOLUCKY
An interesting race, one that will take some winning over this three-mile, one-and-a-half-furlong trip considering these lot are still novices.
Among them is the keenly priced Happygolucky of Kim Bailey’s yard. The six-year-old gelding, a winner on his chase debut in October, was beaten at odds-on last time but we feel that he is not best judged on that effort.
Given that general improvement is expected now that he is back in favourable conditions, he can just about land this ahead of the returning Fabulous Saga, Exeter winner L’Air Du Vent and The Mighty Don.
12.40 (Handicap Hurdle – Class 3) – SARASOTA STAR
There are plenty in with chances here in this competitive handicap hurdle, despite the lowly prize money on offer for a race at this track.
Possible favourite Tegerek looks pretty solid, as does the inimitable Fergal O’Brien’s runner Benny’s Bridge who will know his way around here without being steered.
The two to have caught the eye most however at the weights are Dan Skelton’s Crook’s Peak and Carlisle winner Sarasota Star, the lightly-weighted four-year-old getting the nod given his liking for a testing track such as this.
1.15 (Mares’ Handicap Chase – Class 3) – AGENT VALDEZ
This has been a difficult mares’ handicap chase to assess, at least on the whole, which if anything adds strength to our selection Agent Valdez who seems to be the only one progressing in large amounts.
Fergal O’Brien knows exactly what is needed at these Cheltenham meetings, and it is germane to note that this mare won by miles on a galloping track last time out and will love it here.
True, that was over a little further, but Agent Valdez made all there and clearly has the pace to lay up over this two-and-a-half miles, with any more improvement from her surely seeing her being too good at these weights.
Arian, Black Tulip and Bit On The Side look to be the best of the rest to us.
1.50 (Peterborough Chase – Grade 2) – DOLOS
A rather unexpected ‘feature’ race and one that is gratefully received. There is plenty of competition here despite the smallish eight-runner field, with no shortage of class albeit one or two are tasked with rediscovering their best form somewhat.
Top Notch could yet be just that, Fanion D’Estruval will be very popular and many people’s favourite chaser Kalashnikov could come right back to form now in these conditions after a spin over hurdles.
It would be great to see Amy Murphy’s boy win, but the true class in the race may yet be Dolos and it’s the Paul Nicholls-trained gelding who gets the vote.
Twice a winner of the same two-mile race at Sandown to prove his liking for rain-softened ground and a galloping track, he has also put up a very bold show over this 2½-mile trip and is a winner over 2¼.
He ran OK when fourth in a handicap chase on his reappearance and should be much sharper and better now, with the quality of this field also potentially bringing the very best out of him under Harry Cobden.
2.25 (Unibet Handicap Chase – Grade 3) – COURT MAID
There should be plenty of money floating around for Commodore, Potters Legend, Black Corton and Storm Control, but at best they are very close at the weights and at worst can be described as much of a muchness.
That’s not to be unkind as this is a high-quality race, but the one that potentially has a fair bit of weight in hand and thus has been sent over from Ireland by Thomas Mullins is Court Maid, therefore making the seven-year-old mare is favoured by us.
Her chasing form figures are 1141, the defeat being on bottomless ground which she will not encounter here, and there is no telling where the bottom of her is making appear still well-in in the handicap. David Mullins rides.
3.00 (Cross Country Handicap Chase – Class 2) – STEP BACK
Without Easysland this race has been opened right up, but even had the French horse been in the line-up at these weights he would have had his work cut out.
Course and distance winner Kingswell Theatre should once again show up well, as should runner-up behind him Beau Du Brizais.
Neverushacon has attracted money and may well be favourite, but goes better in heavy ground and was well beaten in the Cross Country at the Festival.
On a hat-trick now though is former bet365 Gold Cup winner Step Back, who should handle conditions, likes this trip and has all the class needed to carry top weight to victory under Nico de Boinville.
3.35 (Handicap Hurdle – Class 2) – COME ON TEDDY
We close with another competitive and close-looking handicap event, this time a decent hurdle over three miles. We can’t be overly confident about anything in this line-up, but a tentative selection is Tom George’s Come On Teddy who was improving no end in between races last season and has now had a pipe-opener.