Clerk of the Course Simon Claisse described Cheltenham’s prospects of passing Friday’s inspection as 50/50 ahead of today’s feature card and it makes sense to concentrate on Doncaster where conditions were described as soft but likely to be heavy by the time of the opener.
The star on show in south Yorkshire is last year’s Supreme Novice Hurdle winner the brilliant Shishkin who has not put a foot wrong in two chases so far and is already odds-on favourite for the Arkle at Cheltenham in March.
Of more interest from a betting perspective is the Grade 2 Mares’ Hurdle and I am keen to take on the market leader Floressa who would have been a confident choice on good ground but is unproven on deep ground. Her stablemate Marie’s Rock lost her unbeaten record when behind Floressa at Newbury back in November and looks sure to come on for the run given she was too keen and hurdled poorly on her reappearance.
Marginal preference, however, is for Miranda (2.05) who ran well in a competitive handicap at Musselburgh last time and did well to overcome trouble in running to score on her penultimate start at Ludlow. Like many in the field she would prefer better ground, but she has winning form on soft ground although she did disappoint on her sole start on heavy. The Paul Nicholls-trained mare is 3s with BetVictor.
The feature contest is the Grade 3 Skybet Chase a handicap over three miles and Cap Du Nord is a worthy favourite having chased home the progressive Royal Pagaille at Kempton last time when he had the third almost 20 lengths away. That form has been franked by the winner’s fluent success in the Peter Marsh at Haydock last weekend, but the Christian Williams horse is 9lbs higher in the weights, is 0-3 over three miles and is short enough in the betting at just 5/2.
My two against the field are Musical Slave and One For The Team (3.15) with the each way vote going to the latter. Musical Slave finished runner up in a good novice handicap chase at Uttoxeter on heavy ground back in March and stayed on all the way to the line on his reappearance over an inadequate trip at Newbury back in November. His jumping can be a bit hit and miss although I am convinced there are good races to be won with the JP McManus owned horse if his fencing improves. There was 10/1 freely available on Friday morning but he is 4s with Boylesports – 4 places – at the time of posting.
One For The Team jumped out to his left – followed Kalooki – in the early stages at Kempton in the G1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase on Boxing Day and I think you can put a line through the race. His earlier second to the unbeaten novice Next Destination at Newbury is top class form and, despite being a maiden, he gets the each way vote at 6/1.
Do note if Cheltenham falls to the elements, I hope to see Tom Scudamore take the mount. Scudamore has been carrying all before him in these top-class handicap chases this winter and came in for the ride on Royal Pagaille at Haydock last weekend.
Who’s In The Box did us a big favour when landing the Lincolnshire National last time and the form has been franked by the subsequent efforts of runner up Cyclop – a 6lbs rise is fair and he is an improving young stayer.
The each way vote, however, goes to Agamemmon (3.50) who is just 1lb higher than when running away with a Sedgefield handicap a couple of years ago. Henry Oliver’s charge has struggled in recent times but looked to be coming to the boil when finishing fifth at Market Rase last time when a bad mistake two out halted his progress. Oliver has been quiet of late, but 12/1 with William Hill looks a fair price for the 9-y-old who still has time to fulfil the promise he showed earlier in his career.
In the opener at Kempton, I hope to see Amtiyaz (2.00) return to winning ways having just been touched off over C&D in a slowly run race last time from a 2lbs lower mark. Hollie Doyle has an excellent draw in stall three and I hope to see her sit near to the gallop. There does not appear to be too much pace in the race, which is a slight concern, but I hope Joe Fanning goes forward on Rochester House to make it a decent test. The recommendation is 5/2 with 10bet.