It’s fair to say that everybody is on the countdown to Tuesday when the Cheltenham festival gets underway. I’ll be writing daily previews to give you the best coverage as I can.
Today’s racing revolves around the Sandown card with the Imperial Cup the feature of the day. It’s a wide-open race but there could be a bit of value available to hopefully boost the Cheltenham chest.
Last week Boite hit the frame at 9/1 giving the each-way backers a return and he could have more to offer in time.
The first race of the day at Chepstow is a Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Chase and to be frank there could be value in this race.
Nail’M looks the place to start based on his form over further where he has placed over 3m7f at Exeter. He has been pulled up and fell on his last two starts but the return to a shorter trip could help him get his head back in front. The visor is back on as it was two starts ago. His mark does is now 1lb lower than his last win, so is on the shortlist.
Smart Exit gets the tentative vote in this contest. Stuart Edmunds’ runner may not have won since coming out on top over track and trip in November 2014 but likes it around this Welsh track. His form here at Chepstow reads 0122, so could be worth a small play to hit the frame in a race of this nature. Lizzie Kelly is one from five around this track too.
One of the more interesting runners is Wood Yer. The ten-year-old returns on the back of a 510-day absence when he was last seen winning at Kempton. The handicapper only put him up 1lb for that, so could be well treated if fit and ready to go. However he could be better suited in coming weeks when the ground dries out.
Umberto D’Olivate has fallen down the weights but has never won over a trip further than 2m3f but trainer Robert Walford persists with running him over 3m. John Spearing’s Barton Gift looks to be the main danger having been victorious at Wincanton three-weeks ago. Despite being only one of two that finished that day he showed a good attitude when under pressure and is full of stamina.
Advice: Smart Exit (9/1 Each-Way)
An 18-runner Novices’ Handicap Hurdle, what more could you ask for on a Saturday? Trying to narrow the field has been difficult but here are a few to consider. One thing to note is you’re best backing a horse that will be ridden prominently looking at previous renewals of this race.
Two Taffs heads the market for the Skeltons. A bumper winner on debut but yet to score in three starts when running over 2m over hurdles. This is the first time he’s been upped in trip and that could see him in a better light. Off his current mark you can see him getting involved. One big concern looks to be the ground. He is yet to encounter heavy ground and when his brother Hannah Jacques ran in similar conditions he was pulled up, so that has to be a worry.
Ballypoint is one of significant interest for myself. This five-year-old gelding has four runs under his belt and seemed to relish the step up in trip to this distance when a close second to Will O’The West. He stayed on well to the line that day and you can see a strongly run affair suiting him and he could get this set up for him today. He is one to take forward with in time, as he is a likely chaser when you see him. Sam Twiston-Davies takes over from Jamie Bargary to ride for his father Nigel. His opening mark of 124 looks fair and he can make his presence felt.
Will O’The West did beat Ballypoint last time but the pull in the weights here can see that form reversed but this son of Westerner is also open to improvement; he comes here searching for the hat-trick after wins at Warwick and Uttoxeter. He is one that should handle the ground.
Nicky Henderson’s Divine Spear is likely to be ridden prominently by Nico de Boinville but he flattened out quickly when running over this distance at Doncaster on his hurdling debut. He won at Ludlow two starts ago in a weak race but on the back of his latest form can be taken on when he was turned over as an odds-on shot.
Wade Harper searches for the three-timer but has to prove himself on heavy ground. He has shown promise and could be more than capable of winning off this mark. Alcala has won over a similar sort of trip at Worcester and handled this sort of ground at Fontwell last time out. Harry Cobden has been put up and his 7lb claim could enhance his chances.
The other I’m putting up is Robin Of Locksley, who seems to be Dan Skelton’s second choice on paper. He was beaten by 5l last time when dropped in trip to 2m, which does look inadequate for him. This son of Robin Des Pres looks suited by this trip and ground. Off a relatively low weight there are plenty of boxes ticked, so this former point-to-point winner gets the vote in an open contest.
Advice: Ballypoint (14/1 Each-Way)
Robin Of Locksley (11/1 Each-Way)
The Imperial Cup, another competitive Handicap Hurdle ran over 2m. There are 15-runners are set to go to face the starter, so another good each-way shape to the race. In the past ten renewals only three favourites have returned to the winners enclosure, so it may be worth trying to find something lurking at a price.
I’ll start with the favourite Affaire D’Honneur, who was fourth when last seen in the Betfair Hurdle. He blew the start that day and struggled to get on terms but flew home late on to finish in that fourth spot. His mark of 133 looks reasonable on what he’s achieved on his two starts in the UK. If there is a normal start and able to get off on terms he is a major player for Harry Whittington.
There is plenty of early pace on here, so that could suit Flying Angel. He was third in the Betfair Hurdle four weeks ago and this five-year-old, who has won over further could get a gallop that would suit his stamina. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ charge may be better in time when the ground dries out but he has strong each-way claims at a double figure price in an open race.
Rayvin Black made all to win the Grade 2 Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton last time. That day he was able to dictate under Thomas Garner but this won’t be so easy with the likes of Solstice Star, Ebony Express and Allee Bleue all vying to get to the front early on. Ebony Express is 1lb lower than last year when he claimed this prize but he hasn’t shown much this season having been well beaten on all starts. Solstice Star has improved hand over fist this winter for Martin Keighley. He has won his last five races including two over further than this trip, so if able to cope with another rise in the weights could take some passing if getting to the front. Allee Bleue represents a top yard and ran in some quality races as a novice earlier in the season when bumping into the likes of Barters Hill, Modus, Charmix and Wait For Me. As said he is likely to try and go from the front or sit close to the pace, which could see him hit the frame. He’ll handle the ground, so is worth a play considering he has ran against top novices already this season.
Sirop De Menthe still looks high in the weights but has ran some good races in defeat to the hands of Rayvin Black and Never Says Never. I’m willing to pass him over. Phillip Hobbs saddles a brother to Balthazar King in For Good Measure. He’s won his last two and is 10lb higher for his latest win at Exeter 86-days ago. This race has more depth than those he’s ran in but has to be considered for a top yard representing top connections.
Advice: Flying Angel (14/1 Each-Way)
Allee Bleue (10/1 Each-Way)