Our columnist looks ahead to the big weekend action and has a 25/1 fancy in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
Top Notch was impressive at Kempton last Saturday – is he, or anything that won at Warwick over the weekend, on your Cheltenham radar at this stage?
Well, Top Notch or “Notchie” as those that are close to him know him, is a super little horse. Whether he’s my idea of the Ryanair winner is another matter. He’s 8/1 with Sky Bet for the race and I’ve no doubt he’ll give his supporters a run for their money if he lines up in March. He’s finished second in a Triumph, fifth in a Champion Hurdle and second in the JLT Novices’ Chase last season and will have to produce something special to ‘notch’ up his first Festival success.
There were a couple of other horses in action at Warwick on Saturday that look capable of making their mark at Cheltenham either this season or in the future. The obvious one is OK Corral who won the three-mile Listed novice chase for Nicky Henderson and owner JP McManus. There was the suggestion of a plan when we realised that leading Irish amateur Derek O’Connor was coming over for the ride and stage one of it appears to have been perfectly executed with a smooth win.
The National Hunt Chase looks tailor-made for him and with that just being his second run over fences there is certain to be more improvement to come. He was only beaten three lengths into second in the Albert Bartlett at the last Festival where the step up to three miles brought about some improvement and his way of going suggests that the step up to four miles won’t be beyond him either. That is reflected in his price now though as he is Sky Bet’s 3/1 joint favourite (with stablemate Santini) for the race - non-runner/no bet.
Beakstown is potentially very smart for Dan Skelton, but looking at his size and frame at the moment I’d be hanging fire until he jumps a fence and he may make up into an RSA Chase type in 2020. That’s a long way off at the moment though, particularly when you are dealing with horses!
How do you rate Felix Desjy – Sunday’s winner of the Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novices’ Hurdle at Punchestown? And where are all the good Willie Mullins novices?!
I bet Willie is about to unleash an abundance of top class novices and has just been waiting to surprise us! I find it unlikely that he hasn’t got something capable of shaking up the division and there is still time for that to happen. Felix Desjy has taken a while to warm to his task and he isn’t leaping out at me as a potential Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner. Having said that, to underestimate a Gordon Elliott runner at Cheltenham would be folly and his price of 16/1 with the Festival opening race sponsors may be tempting to some.
There’s another Sky Bet Supreme trial this weekend at Haydock. Is Angels Breath a good thing, and can anything stop him in the big one in March?
Well, it has since transpired that he may not run now at Haydock, which is a shame. Nicky Henderson also has Mister Fisher in the race and he is waiting results (at the time of writing) of pre-race veterinary tests before deciding who runs where. The plan a week ago was for Angels Breath to go to Haydock, so let’s hope there are other options for this classy Irish point to point winner before the Festival if he doesn’t go on Saturday as originally planned.
I wouldn’t say he was a good thing for the Sky Bet Supreme, but it’s hard to knock him at the moment. He’s 5/1 with the sponsors, so I’d be more inclined to have an each-way bet on Thomas Darby, who is currently 25/1. Olly Murphy has made a great impression since going it alone having spent four years as assistant to Elliott in Ireland. Thomas Darby is one of his smarter horses and is expected to excel on the better ground he is likely to get in March.
He finished behind Mister Fisher at Kempton on Boxing Day, but I suspect the ground was still a touch too soft for him there. He’s a big baby and the more he learns the better he will get, so a spin round Haydock might just help his education if he is risked again on the forecast ground.
Three time winner Un De Sceaux is a surprise absentee from the Clarence House Chase at Ascot on Saturday, with the mighty Altior now facing just two rivals. Is this even a contest in your eyes?
Un De Sceaux has a great record in this race having won it for the previous three seasons and it’s really disappointing that he doesn’t come over to have another crack at Altior. The old adage that you can’t be afraid of one horse rings true here as anything can happen in racing and if things don’t go to plan for Altior for any reason they will be gutted they weren’t at Ascot.
The probability of that happening seems slim though as he looked flawless in the Tingle Creek (with Un De Sceaux in second) and the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton over Christmas. The Nicky Henderson-trained nine-year-old is unbeaten since he started jumping obstacles, is a joy to watch and in reality the rest are racing for the places. You won’t be surprised to see that he’s 1/8 favourite to continue his winning run.
Where should we be looking for a juicy-priced winner this weekend?
Well, not in the Clarence House Chase! I like the look of Culture De Sivola in the OLBG.com Mares’ Hurdle at Ascot, albeit she won’t be a juicy price. She’s Sky Bet’s 3/1 second favourite for the race and I can’t see many flaws in her. Trainer Nick Williams is in good form and this mare still looks to be improving.
At a bigger price I’m going to flag up New Quay again. Dan Skelton had the horse in the Lanzarote Hurdle last weekend, but didn’t declare him for the race. He’s 9/1 for the Holloway’s Handicap Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday and if he runs I fancy him to go well. Irish trainer Charles Byrnes is responsible for the hot favourite, Thosedaysaregone, who is 3/1 market leader, which seems short enough in a race this competitive.
To reiterate my previous thoughts on New Quay, he flopped when asked to try and follow up his Ascot win in early November just five days later at Newbury and has been given plenty of time now to get over those exertions. He’s held in high regard by his trainer and is a chaser in the making, but there should be some decent prizes to win with him over hurdles first.
I’ve been in the Sky Sports Racing studios a few times this week and Benatar has been flagged up as a well backed horse in the two mile five furlong handicap chase at Ascot on Saturday. He’s now a 7/2 shot with Sky Bet, but there seems to be plenty of support for Gary Moore’s runner.