Theatre can claim headlines
Man On The Spot previews the action from Cheltenham on the first day of the International meeting.
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We weren't overly impressed with Oscar Whisky's jumping on his chase debut here last month but he was only beaten a neck by the smart Taquin Du Seuil and will know more today. However, a line through third The Romford Pele suggests Nicky Henderson's charge will struggle to get the better of WONDERFUL CHARM, despite receiving 8lb. The latter looks a natural chaser and is working his way steadily through the ranks. He has hardly put a foot wrong in three starts over fences and can extend his unbeaten record here. Close House should make a chaser but this is a baptism of fire and he didn't manage a win here in five tries over timber.
This looks wide-open and a market check is advised. King Massini just failed to score off his new mark at Ludlow nine days ago while Ballymoat is improving and unexposed. At the other end of the handicap, Doncaster third Marley Roca has claims while Richmond was only beaten a length at Wincanton after winning at Lingfield. Gordon Elliott's Hit The Headlines and Al Alfa are others to note but Atlanta Falcon needs some help from the handicapper. FRIENDLY SOCIETY was a fair third at Plumpton on his first start for Noel Williams. He could be well treated in this on his form in Ireland and Thomas Garner is a good jockey booking. The eight-year-old gets a tentative vote as the normally consistent Have You Seen Me ran a shocker here last month.
Dan Breen could go well in this, despite top weight, as Mikey Ennis takes off 7lb but Fourth Estate must also go on the short-list after an encouraging comeback at Kempton, though Barry Geraghty keeps faith with Ascot fourth Lyvius. Canadian Diamond has been knocking on the door in this grade of late and is a couple of pounds better off than when beaten half-a-length by Zafranagar at Leicester. UHLAN BUTE got to within a length of the well-treated Lord Protector at Sandown last week on his first start since May. That was also his first start in a handicap and he could be nicely handicapped at present so gets the nod. The Skyfarmer has done little wrong over hurdles so far and only had to be pushed out to defy a penalty last time. This is a step up in grade but he shouldn't be ignored and neither should recent course and distance fourth Maxi Chop.
Theatre Guide ran a cracker when third in the Hennessy and has only been raised a couple of pounds. He'll probably start favourite but a bit of rain would aid his cause and would also help Emperor's Choice. This may be too tough for Pigeon Island while Knockara Beau has been raised a further 3lb since finishing second to Alvarado over a longer trip here last month. There's just a chance that fourth Monbeg Dude could reverse the form now, though he's an out-and-out stayer and another who enjoys a soft surface. QUENTIN COLLONGES unseated his rider at the last in the same race but had run well for a long way on his first start since winning the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown in April. Henry Daly's grey made giant strides last season and can open his account in the current campaign here. Ascot runner-up Duke Of Lucca is also worth a second look, as is the returning Prince Of Pirates, but Burton Port is looking a shadow of his former self.
Enda Bolger used to farm the cross-country races here but his influence has diminished in recent years and neither of his runners today, Zest For Life and Keep On Track, make much appeal. Chicago Grey is hard to predict nowadays but did finish ahead of Sire Collonges and Zest For Life here four weeks ago, though has it all to do to reverse that running with third ANY CURRENCY. Martin Keighley's charge finished almost five lengths ahead of Gordon Elliott's grey and is now 11lb better off. A similar effort should make him tough to beat. Shalimar Fromentro has run well in cross-country races before while Pasquini Rouge finished well ahead of stablemate Taiga Des Chambres at Saumur in October and looks the best of the French challengers. Imperial Circus won at Ludlow two runs ago but is tackling this unique course for the first time today.
Philip Hobbs usually has a fancied runner in this and Return Spring will be popular having short-headed Salubrious over 3m2f here on his reappearance. But SOUTHFIELD THEATRE was only a nose away in third and there's every chance that Paul Nicholls' five-year-old could reverse the form over the shorter trip. He gets the vote as stable companion Edgardo Sol has plenty to prove over 3m and this will be a first try over the trip for Thomas Crapper, who only beat Angles Hill by three-quarters-of-a-length over 2m5f here last time and is slightly worse off at the weights. Sunnyhillboy has tumbled down the weights but has yet to show much improvement for it and Mister Dillon also has questions to answer on his return. Newbury third Red Not Blue looks held by a few of these on earlier form.
Ballyalton looked a smart novice when getting the better of the well-touted Oscar Rock at Newcastle but that race was over 2m6f and, though he has won over this trip, he could find himself getting outpaced here. GARDE LA VICTOIRE is still to taste defeat after one bumper run and a couple of starts over hurdles. He is still a bit keen but there should be a decent pace in this and he could hardly have been more impressive at Warwick last time when beating an odds-on shot that had won its previous start. The four-year-old can beat older rivals here which include Doctor Harper, already successful twice at Exeter. Cocktails At Dawn ran well in what has turned out to be a highly informative contest at Newbury almost a year ago and is worth monitoring for future reference with Hawaii Five Nil probably the pick of the remainder.