Today really is Super Saturday with two fantastic cards from Cheltenham (if it survives the inspection), where it is Trials Day, and from Doncaster.
It’s a tricky preview this one with the amount of quality on action, so I’ll try to keep it brief on each race. On top of that Cheltenham is expecting heavy rain overnight, which could mean a going change, so bare that in mind.
Yesterday I put a couple up unfortunately Kerisper wasn’t good enough at Huntingdon but Big Chief Benny did the business over at Doncaster.
This Grade 2 is a Trial for the Triumph Hurdle and the bookies have it as a two horse race between Who Dares Wins and Clan Des Obeaux. The latter is for Paul Nicholls was very impressive on debut at Newbury. He’s a big strapping type, so if the overnight rain does hit then he might struggle in deep ground. Who Dares Win has won two races over obstacles for Alan King and last time claimed a Grade 2 race at Doncaster in emphatic fashion.
Wolf Of Windlesham won here at the Paddy Power meeting in November and may need to find a bit more to trouble the aforementioned pair. Duke Of Medina was second to Gilbralfaro last time and that horse has since won again. He’s the likely pace angle in this race but still needs to improve his jumping, which could be costly for him in this contest with some nice types being present.
It’s always hard to gauge the strength of form in behind some of the classier juveniles but I slightly prefer Clan Des Obeaux after he saw off a well-fancied John Ferguson horse in Jaleo last time.
The first to touch upon at Doncaster is a Grade 2 Novices’ Chase where the market is shaping this up as a match between Shaneshill and Vaniteux.
The former is two from two over fences and was second in the Supreme to Douvan last year. He comes here in excellent shape having won with the minimum of fuss so far. This Willie Mullins runner has the class to win this but may want more of a test.
Vaniteux bumped into one last time in Ar Mad, who found a great rhythm at Kempton in December and set strong fractions. This doesn’t look likely to have the same early speed in the race, which could benefit this Nicky Henderson horse. Arzal stayed on that day for third but has to find some more to match these pair.
Fox Norton has made the running in the past at Market Rasen but that is a front-runners haven and they didn’t set an exceptionally fast speed figure. He can be ridden in a number of ways, which makes it more difficult to assess whether he’ll go forward he. It was a very good run behind Garde La Victoire last time.
It is another tough call to make but with the lack of an obvious pace to make this a test, which Shaneshill would want my vote goes to Vaniteux.
A Handicap Chase which looks a puzzle in honesty. Just some brief thoughts on this.
Viva Steve has run well recently for Mick Channon winning over three-miles two starts ago. He wasn’t beaten far over this trip three starts ago, so you can see why connections are willing to give him another go. His latest effort was a good second around Kempton, so he is on the shortlist.
Astigos has yet to win over fences from nine starts but has placed on six occasions. He’ll handle the ground for sure and is on the same mark as last time when finishing second over a marathon trip of 3m1f. He’s gone close in the past over this distance and with little weight and in the first time blinkers does make some appeal.
Rebecca Curtis’ Imagine The Chat won a Novice Chase last time and has gone up 12lb for that success. However he is still unexposed over the large obstacles and could have more to offer. He’s done in trip here but the sharpness of the undulating track might make up for that. Smooth Stepper is the other to mention. He fell in a Grade 2 contest at Doncaster when last seen and comes back into a grade where he can feature. There doesn’t tend to be a confidence issue with horses after a fall as many have won next time out.
Un Temps Pour Tout went close here on his chasing debut when beaten over 3m. He should be able to carry top weight and the drop in trip would be a positive for this son of Robin Des Champs. The only worry is that he does make an error or two.
Advice: Astigos (16/1 Each-Way)
The Betbright Trial Chase sees two previous winners return in Many Clouds and The Giant Bolster. On top of that there is the small matter of a Rich Ricci horse and Gold Cup second Djakadam.
The Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh train steams into Cheltenham for some prep ahead of probably cleaning the bookies out in March. He’s odds-on for this race and has form over this trip and if the rain comes heavy ground.
With eight-runners going to post there are three places up for grabs, so it may be worth looking at trying to pinch the value with Djakadam taking up a large proportion of the market.
Many Clouds beat Smad Place last year giving the Alan King horse 8lb. This time around it is only 4lb, so the Grand National winner, who has now had a prep run, should be able to hold that form. They are closely matched in the betting and with a race where a few could go forward it could suit Many Clouds the best and he looks the value at around 8/1.
Wakanda is a really nice horse and could sneak into a place. However he’ll find this step up in grade difficult and he may be taken on for the lead. O’Faolains Boy put in an impressive performance at Newbury last time out and this RSA Chase winner is another to look at but he wouldn’t want the ground on the heavy side.
Advice: Many Clouds (8/1 Each-Way)
A Grade 3 Handicap Chase where I expect recent Cheltenham form from New Years Day to come to the fore.
Champagne West heads the market on early prices after finishing second to Village Vic here in a Grade 3 in December. He made one bad error that cost him his chance against a smart stablemate, who has won again since over course and distance.
Tenor Nivernais was behind Village Vic in both races here. He was only 1l behind Champagne West in December and I think he can reverse that form considering he seemed to be staying on in the closing stages. He handles any sort of ground and looks a solid bet.
Annacotty won the Paddy Power but struggled when sixth last time behind those mentioned above in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup. He could be a horse best fresh. Jonjo O’Neill has reopened his stable and Johns Spirit comes to a track he likes. His last three wins have been here at Cheltenham however they’ve been on the old course and this is on the new course.
Paul Nicholls has struggled for chase winners. He’s only had one this month compared to 13 winners over fences in January 2015. Salubrious looks quite well handicapped here and has won over further meaning if they go a good gallop he should outstay them. The first time blinkers could help to focus on the job in hand. Irish Cavalier found nothing for pressure in the Paddy Power Gold Cup but looked to travel strongly into that race. At that time the Rebecca Curtis yard was out of form, so now they have turned the corner he is worth considering.
Advice: Tenor Nivernais (6/1 Each-Way)
This Albert Bartlett Trial has one question in honesty. Does Barters Hill stay 3m? For me the answer is yes. That’s based on both his visual efforts and his pedigree, which is full of stamina. He is unbeaten from seven starts and that can be extended here. He is the one that is likely to make the running and if challenged for the lead should have too much class for them.
He faces a proven rival in Up For Review who won at Punchestown in emphatic fashion. This pair looks to have too much class than the rest of their competition but Minella Charmer could win a decent race in time.
Short and sweet!
This is a prep race to give an indication to the Neptune where we have eight runners because Barters Hill heads to Doncaster for an Albert Bartlett trial.
Yanworth looks the one to beat on all form. This son of Norse Dancer is unbeaten in three starts over hurdles and was fourth in the Champion Bumper at the Festival. He’s beat some good horses in the likes of Welsh Shadow and Le Prezien and in many of the races he has cruised around without being asked a question. This looks his toughest test to date.
Neil Mulholland’s Shantou Village is unbeaten and beat Champers On Ice here in November in a Grade 2. He’ll be ridden to track the leaders and with Ruby Walsh in the saddle you’ll suspect he’ll be well backed. One concern would be the ground. All four of his wins have been on good ground meaning he is yet to encounter anything with soft or heavy in the description. However he’s a son of Shantou from a King’s Theatre dam, so should handle any cut.
Charmix beat Big Chief Benny at Newbury when building on his second to Modus. We saw Benny winning yesterday at Doncaster franking that form. He has to be considered with the way he went clear last time and could dictate the fractions here.
The one that looks overpriced is Champers On Ice. He won here on heavy ground on New Years Day by a neck, which was a brilliant effort considering he was carrying a double penalty. He should a likeable attitude to knuckle down that day and so far some of his rivals haven’t been involved in an attritional battle, which could put him in good shape for this. He has been improving since his second to Shantou Village and is of interest at an each-way price.
Advice: Champers On Ice (10/1 Each-Way)
One of the feature races of the day is the SkyBet Chase, which saw If In Doubt ridden by Sir AP McCoy win last year.
Le Mercurey heads the market and does have the strongest form coming into the race on the back of his third in the Grade 2 Dipper Chase at Cheltenham last time. Previously he beat Harry Fry’s Thomas Brown, who won yesterday franking that piece of form. Plenty of boxes are ticked but as mentioned in the 14:25 Cheltenham race trainer form over the larger obstacles is a concern.
Jonjo O’Neill has another horse reappearing in Holywell. This horse will have welcomed in the New Year and is one to probably start keeping onside considering his record at this time of year. He has been in stronger contests than this of late and if ready to go after a slight break could be interesting.
This is where I usually put up Buywise but not today. Brian Harding is a good horseman, which should help his jumping but he is prone to make errors and that will be costly here. The fences at Doncaster are quite stiff and if he clouts one then he could be out of contention. If for once he can put in an error free round and find a rhythm it could finally be his day but that is a ‘big if.’
Dolatulo ran over the Grand National fences in the Becher last time finishing a close third. He stays well and looks well weighted in this sort of race. However the concern would be is that he doesn’t necessarily improve for his first run like most.
He is a regular that I put up but he can out run his early price. Lucy Wadham’s Le Reve has been dropped 1lb for a creditable second last time and looks to be back to somewhere near his best. He has a fair record in the month of January; from four career starts in the month he has a win and a second. This is the first time Nico De Boinville has ridden him but he’s an excellent pilot.
The other to mention is Coologue and this seven-year-old ran well in defeat over course and distance 49-days ago. The proven Southfield Royale beat him that day but his jumping looked really good. If putting in a similar level then he could go well. Charlie Longsdon had his first winner yesterday at Huntingdon since December 18 – that was welcomed.
Advice: Le Reve (14/1 Each-Way)
Thistlecrack won the Long Walk Hurdle very well last time after winning the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury. Colin Tizzard’s eight-year-old has been improving this season and can take another Grade 2 race here in this World Hurdle trial. If he’s come out of his race at Ascot well then you’d fully expect him to win here again.
The main threat is obviously Camping Ground, who won the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle on New Years Day. If the forecasted rain does fall then you’d say it would favour him. He’ll chase the early pace and good get first run on Thistlecrack, which could give him the advantage from a tactical standpoint. Robert Walford’s charge is stepping up to this trip for the first time but he stayed on strongly to forge clear of Lil Rockerfeller last time to suggest it was in range. Connections regard him highly.
It would be some story if the grand old Knockara Beau could win the race two years on after his upset of At Fishers Cross and Big Buck’s. Despite being 13-years-old he looks the obvious pace angle into the race. Ptit Zig returns from a blighted chasing career and that looks the right decision he has to prove himself at this trip.
Advice: Thistlecrack (4/5 Win)
The card finishes with a Handicap Hurdle over two-miles where Clean Sheet is the favourite. However he hasn’t been seen for 351-days so he may need the run and for that reason I’m willing to take him on.
It’s a tricky race in all honesty. Champagne At Tara doesn’t look the most straightforward. This grey gelding got the strong enough gallop he craves at Catterick when getting off the mark. He stayed on well to taste success for the first time but there may not be sufficient pace for him here.
Solstice Star has won four on the bounce for Martin Keighley and the local trainers charge is the likely front-runner in this line-up. He’s up in grade and the handicap but has been well placed by his trainer. If able to dictate again here he could be of value.
Paul Nicholls’ new French recruit Frodon has his first start on a British racecourse and he has some reasonable form in his native country. If bringing that here that he could be in contention. Cheltenian won the Scottish Champion Hurdle in April and gets the vote. He has to shoulder top weight and probably doesn’t win as often as he should. His recent efforts in graded races have been all right and he may have required his latest run for fitness purposes after an absence. He has got a win on heavy ground, so should handle it if conditions turn testing,
Advice: Cheltenian (9/1 Each-Way)