Matt Brocklebank highlights the early value with tips for the BetVictor Gold Cup and Unibet Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham's November Meeting.
Recommended bets: Cheltenham's November Meeting
BetVictor Gold Cup
BARON ALCO showed no ill-effects of missing the whole of last year when second on his recent return at Chepstow and can make up for lost time by taking the valuable BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham on November 17.
Gary Moore's tough little son of Dom Alco has some fine form to his name from his novice season over fences and it's fantastic to see he appears to retain much of that ability.
He was a smart over hurdles in his youth, winning four times from 11 outings in that sphere, but really blossomed when faced with fences in the 2016/17 campaign, when he won twice and finished second on three other occasions.
The horses he bumped into that season were Whisper (at Cheltenham's December Meeting), Top Notch (in the Grade One Scilly Isles at Sandown) and Road To Respect, when a clear second from a mark of 146 in the Brown Advisory Plate at the Festival.
That edition of the Plate threw up all kinds of winners, 12 in total, with Road To Respect now rated 165 having won last year's Leopardstown Christmas Chase and finished fourth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
So after 577 days off the track due to injury, Baron Alco was entitled to need his comeback run and while he ultimately put up a brilliant display in going down by just a head to another classy rival in Charbel, it was a performance that suggested he'd be sharper for it.
A little keen early and jumping to his right at times, he showed all his old battling qualities after being joined on the run-in and looks right back to where he was.
The handicapper had dropped him to 142 following his layoff so a 4lb rise puts him back on 146 - a rating from which we already know he can be seriously competitive around Cheltenham in red-hot company.
You know what you're going to get from a prominent runner like Baron Alco, who should be able to pop away to the fore and stay out of trouble, and at 12/1 (Sky Bet, Paddy Power, Betfair) I'm keen to have him fighting our corner.
Moore has another string to his bow in Benatar and his JLT third in March came on the back of three straight wins.
However, he blotted his copybook to some extent when extremely keen and only fourth of five on his seasonal return at Newton Abbot last month. You could argue a strong tempo and a bigger field will help him settle but he's never won a race under Rules in a field with more than eight runners, and it could be that he'll be better off in level-weights races going forward.
Close Brothers one-two Mister Whitaker and Rather Be are others toward the top of the betting but they have respective 8lb and 6lb rises to contend with in this stronger race, and neither strikes as being as well treated as the selection, who still has plenty of room for improvement as a fresh seven-year-old.
Unibet Greatwood Hurdle
HUNTERS CALL is hard to ignore at 16/1 (General) after appearing among the entries for the Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle, which takes place on the Sunday of the November meeting.
Trainer Olly Murphy, who saddled him to victory on his debut for the yard in the Racing Welfare Handicap Hurdle at Ascot last December (formerly The Ladbroke), admitted recently that he could be facing another race against time to get the horse ready for the Greatwood.
It’s something we’ve heard before and Hunters Call obviously missed possible engagements at the Cheltenham Festival, as well as Aintree and Punchestown later in the spring, after suffering a few setbacks in his preparation.
It seems like Murphy is treading on eggshells once more with the fragile hurdler but the Greatwood is a confirmed early-season target and, all being well, he should take all the beating from a mark of 137.
His form was bubbling away nicely for previous trainer John Neilan last summer but he took a major leap forward when winning at Ascot, and the horses he beat there could hardly have done more to frank the form.
Eight horses have won a total of 12 subsequent races between them including second and third, Silver Streak and Verdana Blue, who are also engaged for the Greatwood.
The sixth home, Elgin, went on to land the Grade Two Kingwell Hurdle and has recorded a couple of summer Flat victories for good measure, so the whole body of form suggests Hunters Call will be able to shrug off a 9lb rise from when he was last seen.
Given the obvious physically frailties, however, I’m happy to split the stakes at this stage and also side with an apparently more robust character in OFF YOU GO (12/1, Sky Bet, Coral).
He won the most competitive two-mile handicap hurdle in Ireland – Leopardstown’s Coral Hurdle – with some comfort in February and defied a drastic walk in the betting to make a successful reappearance at Galway.
You’ve got to go back to Sizing Europe in 2007 for the last Irish-trained winner of the Greatwood but J P McManus loves to be mob-handed in it and it clearly makes sense as a good stepping-stone for the five-year-old.
He looks Graded-class on the evidence of that Galway victory and while the British handicapper is bound to take a dim view, it could be the last chance we get to back Off You Go in a race of this nature, especially at double-figures.
Posted at 1410 GMT on 01/11/18
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