The Cheltenham Festival begins in just over a week’s time and I was interested to read Dan Skelton’s thoughts in the Racing Post on Monday when he questioned the rationale of the BHA to award the Paul Nicholls’ trained Adonis Hurdle winner Solo a lofty rating of 157 for his facile Kempton success. Solo is 3/1 favourite with William Hill to lift the Grade 1 Triumph Hurdle on Friday week with Skelton’s Allmankind – rated 9lbs inferior to the market leader – 9/2 with bet365.
I am convinced the second – Fujimoto Flyer – never gave her running at Kempton although Nicholls’ post-race comment comparing Solo favourably with the great Master Minded is a concern for those of us who have long thought Allmankind was the Triumph Hurdle winner.
Soft ground is the order of the day for Tuesday’s Exeter card and three of the six runners in a fascinating Novices’ Handicap Chase were last time out winners. Quick Wave won a poor race at Leicester when he tried to refuse at the open ditch on the far side, scrambled to the other side but still had enough ability to pick up his two rivals. A 5lbs rise is fair given his superiority at the line and a step up to 3m is considered a positive. The form of Fortescue’s Uttoxeter win has taken a couple of knocks, Samburu Shujaa is well handicapped but jumped out to his left here over hurdles and is, arguably, best going left-handed.
Trio For Rio has a huge pull in the weights with Hugo ‘N Taz (2.30) for their run in the Lincolnshire National at Market Rasen on Boxing Day, but I hope to see the David Pipe runner build on that success and follow up despite this significant drop back in trip. The selection was a leading fancy for the near 4m 2f Eider Chase at Newcastle before the meeting fell foul to the elements last month, but he travelled well at Market Rasen and this stiff track should suit. Although he is the oldest in the field at nine, I do feel there is more improvement to come and the form of the Pipe stable is a positive.
Ballybreen has won his last three including over today’s C&D from a 13lbs lower mark back in January – this progressive chaser could still be ahead of the handicapper and was value for more than the winning margin would suggest at Carlisle last time.
Kiwi Myth won this corresponding race 12 months ago by a length from Big Time Frank (3.00) but the latter is 22lbs better off this afternoon, and today might just be the day when Frank finally hits the Big Time. Yes, he is still a maiden after 24 starts but he ran his best race for a long time when second – yes again – at Fontwell last time although he showed more fight on that occasion than has often been the case. James Best was in the saddle when just touched off here last year and he returns to the plate today. He can only be an each way selection given his profile – 7 times runner up – but today could be the day it all comes together.
On The Road (4.00) has been nudged up the weights by a couple of pounds for finishing runner up to Indian Brave at Chepstow on his last start, but that form was given a boost when the latter did us a favour at Newbury last week. The selection is unbeaten in two starts at the track – albeit both over hurdles – and Adam Wedge gets on well with the 10-year-old who has not won for nearly three years but has won seven times in the past. Dual course winner Tudors Treasure would have been the selection on better ground, while Celma Des Bois should be noted for a market move on his return to the track following a 476 day lay-off for Richard Rowe.
Demopolis (4.30) has done us a good turn by winning his last couple of starts at Ludlow including over timber from a 5lbs lower mark last week. This stiffer track should suit, and Richard Johnson takes over in the saddle.
Over at Newcastle and Skyhill has won his last four starts for Alison and Jamie Hamilton and has been given a short break – 35 days – since scoring at Kelso from an 8lbs lower mark last time. He is still only seven and remains open to more improvement, but the vote goes to Oscar Ceremony (3.20) who was a fluent winner at Musselburgh last month and is taken to defy a 5lbs rise in the weights.