A bumper eight-race card at Cheltenham with Market Rasen’s listed Mares’ Bumper – abandoned due to frost last week – added to the entertainment. The ground was described as good on Friday morning.
Chantry House and Champ are difficult to oppose in their respective trials for the Festival but they make no appeal from a betting perspective at their cramped odds. Having recommended Champ for the Stayers’ Hurdle last month I was pleased to see Klassical Dream disappoint in the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park on Thursday although that was surely not his running.
I don’t take a great deal of interest in juvenile hurdles until the second half of the campaign, but I thought Pied Piper (12.45) looked a bright prospect when scoring at Punchestown at New Year. The selection – 11/8 with William Hill – who was formerly owned by the Queen on the level – has only won on heavy ground, both successes on the level were on deep ground, but he did run well for the Gosdens’ on decent ground on the flat and there is likely to be enough moisture in the ground for Gordon Elliot’s Irish raider.
Iceo looks the best of the home challenge, but he must give the selection 3lbs.
The 2m 4f novices’ handicap chase on the card is invariably a competitive heat and this year’s renewal is no exception with all eight who face the starter holding realistic claims.
Today’s better ground will suit Your Darling, but his finishing effort was very weak at Kempton last time and he is a horse best caught fresh. I wonder if a 34-day break is enough although he remains at the right end of the handicap.
Imperial Alcazar drops back in distance and looks sure to run his race but my two against the field are Beakstown and Oscar Elite (1.20) and it is the latter who gets the each way vote for Colin Tizzard.
The selection finished in the frame in the 3m novice hurdles at the spring Festivals at Cheltenham and Aintree last season but remains a maiden in three starts over fences. He was still going well when coming down three out here on debut and was reported to have bled when going out like a light behind the exciting L’Homme Presse here over C&D at New Year.
He was later found to have also had an irregular heartbeat, but he jumped and travelled like a class act and looks well treated from his current mark. There was 6s available on Thursday after the 48-hour declarations but he is 5/1 with William Hill at the time of posting.
Devon-based trainer Nigel Hawke landed a nice touch at Wetherby on Thursday courtesy of Bring The Action who was given a fine ride from the front by Kieren Buckley who is excellent value for his 5lbs claim. The hope is that they make another winning trip to Yorkshire with Le Musee (12.25) in the Doncaster opener.
The selection has opened up at 18/1 with William Hill – 5 places – and that might be too big for a horse who I feel has run well in two starts over three miles since returning from a long absence. He has been dropped 7lbs for those two starts and is now rated 19lbs lower over hurdles than he is over fences. It is possible that the top-weight is just not the force of old, but he has only just turned nine, represents an inform stable and should not be inconvenienced by the drop back in distance.
The handicapper has given What’s Occurring every chance in the 3m handicap chase, but the form of the Oliver Sherwood stable is a concern and preference is for Tide Times (1.00) who has been let down by his jumping so far over fences but has only had three starts over the larger obstacles and will appreciate today’s better ground.
The selection – 3s with William Hill – is a winner between the flags, and I remember him winning a 3m handicap hurdle at Ascot – albeit on soft ground – from a 1lb higher mark a couple of seasons ago and thinking he might make us into a useful staying handicap chaser. His point win came on good ground so today’s underfoot conditions hold no terrors.
The big betting race of the day is the SkyBet Chase and 17 go to post for this valuable prize. Demachine only got as far as the first at Ludlow last time, but I like the booking of Kevin Brogan for Kerry Lee’s second season chaser who is excellent value for his 3lbs claim.
My two against the field, however, are Hurricane Harvey and Debece (3.20) with preference for the latter who has always threatened to win a big prize and first time out might be the time to catch him for Dan and Harry Skelton.
The each way selection has just turned eleven but is lightly raced for one his age and he bounced back to something like his best when runner up at Sandown back in the spring when well backed in first-time cheekpieces. He has been raised 5lbs for that effort but has had a wind operation since his last start and I would imagine his jockey will have him on or near the head of affairs. The each way selection is 8s with Boylesports 5 places.
At Uttoxeter I must give Poldark Cross (1.48) another chance in the 2m 4f handicap chase as I did not think he was given the best of rides when runner up at Sedgefield on Boxing Day. He has been dropped a pound for that effort and I hope he is ridden aggressively this afternoon. Jack Quinlan takes over in the saddle on the point winner who would not want conditions to dry out too much.
Trainer Harry Whittington has been very quiet in recent weeks but he has three runners on Friday and Saturday. I will be watching Raffles Gitane closely at Huntingdon on Friday to try and gauge the form of the yard.
Please note Raffles Gitane won at 7/1 – Poldark Cross is thus a bet.