All the hubbub of the Festival has gone now, but the always popular two-day April meeting is upon us and we have a tip for all seven races on day one:
1.30 (Novices’ Hurdle – Class 2) – FAVOIR
Of the three main contenders by our reckoning, Favoir, Torn And Frayed and Witness Protection, the first named is already at the highest level and as the youngest, also has more potential for improvement.
Dan Skelton has frankly done a brilliant job of attempting to propel his brother to the jump jockey’s championship title ahead of Brian Hughes, and their Favoir may well take that a step further.
The 6yo wasn’t impressive visually last time when winning at 1/7 in a three-runner race, but he’s way better than that and can add one more win to what has been a productive season.
2.05 (Ballymore Silver Trophy Handicap Chase – Grade 2) – THE BIG BITE
The Skelton’s are in with a strong chance again in this Grade 2 handicap chase over 2½ miles, their Romain De Senam having had a busy but productive season.
He still doesn’t look too badly handicapped following his easy win at Musselburgh two outings ago, though he hasn’t had a change in his mark since finishing fourth next time out.
Evan Williams’ Coole Cody won the Paddy Power Gold Cup around here back in November and that is of course rock-solid form. He has been very consistent since then, but is higher in the handicap and so without more improvement he looks a tad vulnerable.
The most interesting one in the field is Henry Oliver’s The Big Bite. A lightly-raced eight-year-old, The Big Bite keeps improving race on race and even when finishing second or third, has been doing so behind some really good yardsticks.
Remaining on a workable handicap mark, Jonathan Burke’s mount looks good enough to land a decent pot here before perhaps being put away for the season.
2.40 (Handicap Hurdle – Class 2) – PROSCHEMA
Very smart on the flat, Proschema has always promised plenty in the National Hunt sphere and it seems that a few factors point to him now getting the job done on a big stage.
First is the form of his trainer and jockey, the Skeltons, then there is how he performed in the ‘bumpers for jumpers’ at Newcastle where he won twice. Most importantly of all, the 6yo has now gone up in trip by a full mile-and-a-half which should be the making of him over hurdles considering how well he stayed on the flat.
Against him in a close affair on the numbers is Beauport, Global Society, Java Point and Captain Tom Cat with plenty of top yards being represented.
3.15 (Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase – Class 3) – BENEVOLENTDICTATOR
Rather wisely it seems, Gary Moore has given his Benevolentdictator some time off the track which should now work to his favour.
Back in December he made light of his lowly handicap mark when smashing his opposition over this 3m1f trip at Plumpton and, despite going up 11lbs, still looked to be a fair bit ahead of the handicapper.
He was sent up in trip next time at the same venue however and didn’t respond quite as well, although he finished a decent third, and now he’s had some time to recover from it all he should resume his improvement and can prove to be too good for this opposition at the weights.
After a cracking few weeks, owner JP McManus is still on the attack and has a chance here with his Eaglehill, while Oski and Accordingtogino also make the shortlist.
3.50 (Handicap Hurdle – Class 2) – ASK DILLON
Local trainer and perennially popular social media figure Fergal O’Brien is often underestimated, and while he has not had the success at the Festival that he’d have liked, at the other meetings he has been great and this very column has often done well on the back of that.
He may win yet again at Cheltenham with this Ask Dillon in the three-mile handicap hurdle, the eight-year-old being burdened with top weight but looking well capable of doing it.
He ran solidly at the Festival last month when finishing 6th in the Pertemps Final, so considering that the pace of this race will be far less demanding it’s easy to envisage Ask Dillon having much more in the tank after the final flight off the same handicap mark.
Encore Champs, Welsh Saint and Trincomalee all appear to be capable of landing a blow off their current ratings too.
4.25 (Handicap Chase – Class 2) – DOMAINE DE L’ISLE
The Kelvin-Hughes’s had a fantastic result with their My Drogo at Aintree, while Dan and Harry Skelton are all the rage right now so just about all eyes in this race will be on favourite and last-time-out winner Born Survivor.
Available at around twice the price however is Sean Curran’s Domaine De L’Isle and he could be the smart bet. In winning at Kempton by five lengths over 2½ miles he reached a new level and frankly, the further he went the better he looked.
Jumping right up to the Gold Cup trip could well be in his favour, while his yard has also booked current champ and Harry Skelton’s closest rival Brian Hughes for the ride – this being one of only two mounts for Hughes on the card.
Beware The Bear and good old Singlefarmpayment also rate a strong mention, but not too many in the field look very well handicapped in truth.
5.00 (Conditional and Amateur Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle – Class 2) – ELHAM VALLEY
Our pal Fergal O’Brien could land us a winning double in the lucky last, courtesy of his four-year-old hurdler Elham Valley.
True, any horse of this age against older horses lacks a little something in the way of experience, but at these weights with general progression taking into consideration Elham Valley appears a little way clear of his main rivals Hooper and French Crusader. Liam Harrison takes the ride.