Good ground at Cheltenham for day two of their November meeting and the amateur riders handicap chase is a cracker. My two against the field are Milanford and Minella Encore (1.05) with preference for the latter even though he is 5lbs higher in the weights for scoring at Fakenham last month.
Each selection may have been a fortunate winner last time given Larry was cannoned into by a loose horse on the run to the last, but the latter franked the form when coming from last to first to win at Ascot a couple of weeks ago.
Minella Encore has a history of going well fresh and has never been the most consistent of sorts, but he is a sound jumper who will enjoy underfoot conditions and jockey Luke Scott was last seen winning a 6f handicap at Newcastle earlier in the week. The ew recommendation is 7s with William Hill 5 places.
The Paddy Power Gold Cup is one of the premier handicap chases of the season and the race has long been the target of market leaders Protektorat and Lalor and the latter makes plenty of appeal having his first start for Paul Nicholls. The 9-y-old has an excellent course record and has had a wind operation since joining the champion trainer. He looks the one to beat but I have also thrown a couple of darts at a couple at bigger prices namely Up The Straight (2.15) and Belargus with marginal preference for the former.
Up The Straight -was ridden by Niall Houlihan when scoring at Plumpton on his reappearance, but Tabitha Worsley takes over this afternoon. Richard Rowe’s stable star races off the same mark this afternoon and he is a horse I have always thought could win a big prize one day. He ran poorly over fences here back in the spring but has good hurdle form here and the 33/1 with MansionBet looks a bit too big.
Belargus was ridden by Houlihan when scoring at Sandown in the spring from a 7lbs lower mark and the leading conditional keeps the ride for Nick Gifford. The 6-y-old has never won left-handed and has not got a great record fresh, but he, too, might be a shade too big at 28s with William Hill 6 places.
I’m not convinced Proschema will get up the hill over three miles in the following handicap hurdle, but he is likely to travel best of all. Onagatheringstorm is likely to come on for his reappearance and is likely to finish closer to Dragon Bones (2.50) than was the case in a novice hurdle at the last meeting, but the mare is taken to confirm the form for Ian Williams.
The ew selection – 7/2 with William Hill 4 places – has won three of her last four starts and lost little in defeat when beaten by Irish raider Bardenstown Lad last month. The mare was a bit short of room at a crucial stage, but it made no difference to the result, and she clearly relishes good ground. She has been raised a couple of pounds for the run, but Charlie Todd takes off a valuable 3lbs.
Unexpected Party has been raised 11lbs for dotting up at Wetherby in a modest novices’ handicap last time stepped up in trip. Dan Skelton has always thought a fair amount of his 6-y-old who remains open to significant improvement after just three career starts. The ew vote, however, goes to another lightly raced improver Mackelduff (3.25) who has been raised 7lbs for a fluent win at Aintree last month.
Olly Murphy’s grey – 7/2 with Boylesports 4 places – has only had four starts and is unbeaten in two starts at 2m 4f. I would be surprised if he does not remain competitive off a mark of 122.
On Sunday I hope to see Oscar Elite (1.10) placed at both the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals back in the spring make a winning chase debut in receipt of 8lbs from Threeunderthrufive and Does He Know. The selection – 10/3 with William Hill – was pulled out of a race here at the last meeting due to the fast ground, but I hope he stands his ground. His point win came on good ground and he is highly regarded by all at the Tizzard yard.
The 3m 3f handicap chase is a weak contest and Empire De Maulde (1.45) can take the step up in trip and class in his stride for James Ewart. The 9/4 with Boylesports looks fair.
West Cork (2.55) has not run for over 600 days, but he was a novice hurdler I liked for Dan Skelton and the Greatwood has long been his target. The soft ground scuppered the chance of Proschema for the yard in the corresponding race 12 months ago – although we now know he wanted an additional half a mile – and West Cork would, arguably, prefer softer conditions but he is unlikely to want for fitness representing such an inform stable. The 6s with William Hill 6 places looks about right,
Natural History (3.43) missed the cut for the Greatwood, but compensation awaits in the Salmon Spray at Fontwell. The selection – 5/2 with Boylesports – won on heavy ground on the flat but was all at sea on desperate ground at Sandown back in the spring. The forecast good ground is ideal, and he is potentially well treated from his current mark.