Oli Bell: Be my Valentine
ITV Racing presenter Oli Bell puts in a Valentine's Day plea as his week ends in company with Luke Harvey, fashion model.
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It was great to have Joe Tizzard, assistant to trainer father Colin, on The Opening Show. He didn't commit to who was their best chance in March's Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup, but he was really looking forward to seeing Native River in the Denman Chase at Newbury - and he didn't disappoint.
We learned something different about the seven-year-old owned by Brocade Racing. People have become accustomed to him being a bit of a slogger with his wins in the Coral Welsh Grand National and Hennessey Gold Cup. But he had to show pace in the Denman Chase and demonstrated he's got another string to his bow.
I'd still back Thistlecrack for the Gold Cup as Native River has a bit to find in the ratings - 171 to 168 respectively - and has to improve slightly to match what Thistlecrack has done over fences. Thistlecrack on better ground in March will be the one to beat, but Native River deserves to be considered a major player.
Altior has to be one of the best horses I've seen in a long long time. I know I'm probably one to go a bit over the top with my praise for horses at times but Altior is something special. With Altior I get that same feeling you get with just a handful of horses - the likes of Frankel on the Flat, Kauto Star, Sprinter Sacre and even Douvan. Those horses are just mind-blowing and you can put Altior on that list.
It's only a matter of time until Altior wins over fences at the Festival - he's got everything. We saw in the Game Spirit that he's got an unbelievable cruising speed and he's quite languid in how he goes about it. When you give him a bit of rein, Altior extends so casually through the gears and he loves it. It's a joy to watch and there was a shot of him jumping a fence with hang time that Michael Jordan would have been proud of. He is sheer class and if there is a Cheltenham banker - it's him.
Tobefair is one of the best stories of the National Hunt season. Interviewing the owners Down The Quay and trainer Debra Hamer after the seven-year-old won the handicap hurdle was one of the highlights of ITV Racing's journey so far. From the horse's humble beginnings to now becoming a lively contender at Cheltenham is magic and what racing is all about.
Moon Racer is now 5/1 with Sky Bet for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, where he's likely to go up against Ballyandy and Movewiththetimes, first and second in Newbury's Betfair Hurdle. He's been sitting in his box for a few months but has enhanced his claims due to the form of the horses he's beaten. He shouldn't be overlooked in the opener at the Festival.
In terms of other sports at the weekend, my eyes were drawn to the Six Nations and it was pleasing to see England grind out another win. They are now evens with Sky Bet to win the Six Nations grand slam, and it's easy to see why. They've won their first two games against France and Wales in pretty ugly fashion, but are finding ways to get over the line and that's the sign of a good team. The evens to win the grand slam is a good bet in my opinion.
My team Yeovil could only draw with Leyton Orient which is a sign, if one was needed, that we are rubbish.
"Valentine's Day - arguably the most romantic day of the year. What did I do? I spent the evening studying handicap marks for the Randox Health Grand National. I am open to offers to ensure that this never happens again."
Although Sizing John was impressive in Irish Gold Cup victory, I don't think Colin Tizzard will be overly concerned with what he saw ahead of March.
Disko has certainly entered the JLT Novices' Chase picture after winning the Grade One Flogas Novices' Chase on the same Leopardstown card, especially with it still being unclear where Yorkhill will go.
Bacardys looks, to me, like the other potential Festival winner to emerge from that meeting. Sky Bet has cut the Willie Mullins-trained Deloitte winner to 7/1 from 9/1 for the Albert Bartlett.
Now many of the Festival trials have been run, a lot of people will be looking at ante-post bets. For me, Neon Wolf is of real interest. Harry Fry's horse is currently 8/1 with Sky Bet for the Supreme and 4/1 for the Neptune Novices' Hurdle. These are both non-runner, no bet markets and in my view he's definitely one to follow.
An evening in the pub watching the football was on the cards. Manchester City are getting their act together and look as though they will finish second in the Premier League behind Chelsea - it's a real shame Gabriel Jesus got injured because I've enjoyed watching him play recently. He looks like a real talent and I'm sure City fans are pretty excited about the future.
Joe Root was announced as England cricket captain and I was surprised there was even a debate about it as in my eyes he seemed the natural successor to Alastair Cook. People have said that the captaincy will affect his batting, but if you look at the likes of Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson and Steve Smith, they've still come up with the goods.
Top snooker continues this week and I'll be watching the Welsh Open from Cardiff with interest. Judd Trump has a decent draw and could be worth a small investment and I'm reliably informed by a good snooker judge that Zhou Yuelong is one to follow at big prices.
Valentine's Day - arguably the most romantic day of the year. What did I do? I spent the evening studying the handicap marks of the horses entered in the Randox Health Grand National. Now, as enthralling as that is, I am open to offers to ensure that this never happens again.
Two horses that interest me would be The Last Samuri trained by my good friend Kimbo Bailey (he really enjoys it if you call him that by the way) and One For Arthur.
The Last Samuri was runner-up last year and on decent ground he will be there or thereabouts.
Also, as mentioned in this column previously, I thought One For Arthur looked really good when winning the Betfred Classic Chase at Warwick last month and is one to also keep an eye on.
Despite being a Yeovil fan, I must admit to having a real soft spot for Arsenal. Highbury was the first ground I went to and before I moved to Yeovil and started supporting my local club, it was Arsenal who held my affections.
Tonight, they travel to Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League and although I would love to see them win, I just can't see it considering how they're playing at the moment. Bayern -1 in the handicap market is a decent bet.
"At Wincanton, Yanworth is the one to beat in the Kingwell Hurdle and he will be looking to enhance his Champion Hurdle credentials. However, Brain Power is still the one for me in that race and now may be the time to back him."
The week ahead…
Cue Card runs at Ascot on Saturday and he ought to win, barring accident. It will be a fascinating race and although owner Jean Bishop and trainer Colin Tizzard have said he'll definitely go to the Gold Cup, bolting up following a drop in trip at the weekend will create a debate about whether the shorter Ryanair Chase at the Festival should be the race for the original Spurles Farm stable star.
Our Kaempfer really impressed when he won convincingly at Kempton last month and he might run again in the Sodexo Reynoldstown Novices' Chase at Ascot. Talking to trainer Charlie Longsdon a few weeks ago, he was saying the eight-year-old could go for the JT McNamara Novices' Chase at Cheltenham, or even the RSA. The fact they are talking so highly of him shows Our Kaempfer deserves his place in the Reynoldstown and he could take a bit of catching.
But there will have to be a breathtaking performance in that race to become a worthy challenger to Might Bite in the RSA after his imperious jumping at Doncaster last week. With Bellshill also falling in the race won by Disko on Sunday, there's only one clear favourite for me. Might Bite is another one to add to the Cheltenham ante-post portfolio.
At Wincanton, Yanworth is the one to beat in the Kingwell Hurdle and he will be looking to enhance his Champion Hurdle credentials. However, Brain Power is still the one for me in that race and now may be the time to back him. There are some good horses in the Kingwell and after his setback Yanworth will need to show he's nearing his best although all the reports from Alan King are very positive. It will be exciting to see him in action this weekend.
On The Opening Show this week we've got Bruce Millington and a fascinating point-to-point feature with Victoria Pendleton, going to the real grass roots of the sport. Point-to-point jockey and countryside fashion expert Rosie Turner will also be in the studio, giving tips on what to wear at this year's big events with Luke Harvey even modelling some of the outfits.
Yeovil travel to Cheltenham Town and given we couldn't beat Leyton Orient at home last weekend and drew with Cambridge on Tuesday, I struggle to see how we are going to beat anyone at the moment. As much as I hate saying this - Cheltenham are probably a good bet!
Bet of the week
Last week I was looking forward to watching Consul De Thaix in the Betfair Hurdle only for him to be taken out the race.
Goodtoknow runs for Kerry Lee in Saturday's Grand National Trial at Haydock. Sky Bet have him priced at 7/1 in a non-runner, money-back market. I was impressed with him when he finished second to One For Arthur at Warwick, then winning in an absolute bog at Hereford at the start of the month in a competitive field.