Balco Coastal is a leading member of Nicky Henderson's team of young hurdlers and he can join the likes of Constitution Hill, Jonbon and Walking On Air by booking his Festival ticket in the Grade 2 Ballymore Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham on Saturday. The runaway winner of a bumper at Kempton last winter, he has won both his novice hurdles this season in great style and looks ready for this step up in class. His work since his victory at Ludlow last month has been of a very high order, and this more demanding trip and course should suit better that the sharp two miles of the Shropshire track.
Simply The Betts could prove a value bet in the Grade 2 Paddy Power Cotswold Chase. Paul Nicholls is clearly convinced the winner of the two and a half mile Brown Advisory Handicap at the 2020 Festival is now able to handle a step up in trip and underfoot conditions and the weather will be a world away from the first time he tried his luck over three miles at Aintree early last month. Heavy rain and a mire greeted that attempt, and his usual sound jumping was nowhere to be seen. However, he put his season back on track with a very solid run under 11-10 here on New Year's Day, and if he is ever to win a race at this level, this could be his opportunity with his main rival Chantry House also now having to rebuild after a very disappointing effort in the King George on Boxing Day.
Nicholls should also go close with Solo in the Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase. Although he has yet to win over fences and was put firmly in his place by Edwardstone in a Grade 2 at Kempton over Christmas, Solo had, prior to that performance, produced two promising efforts over fences in good class handicaps at Newbury and Ascot. He has pleased his trainer since his yuletide venture, and this return to two and a half miles on decent ground looks an ideal fit.
Torn And Frayed has yet to win over fences, but has some solid novice form behind him and could be worth an each-way interest in the Paddy Power Cheltenham Podcast Handicap Chase. Nigel Twiston-Davies nabbed a similar race to this with another unexposed chaser at the last meeting, and this lightly raced eight-year-old looks capable of a much-improved performance on the faster ground, after a dismal effort on a testing surface at Haydock last time.
Fusil Raffles can see off the challenge of old rival Midnight Shadow and win the Sky Bet Handicap Chase at Doncaster. Henderson may have some leading contenders at the Festival enjoying their warm-ups at Cheltenham, but hopes have risen with the unseasonably drying ground that this smart performer can also bag a valuable prize. A leading novice last season, Fusil Raffles was let down a little by his jumping when tackling handicap company for the first time at Cheltenham last month. However, he still managed to secure a close fourth behind the winner Coole Cody, and that experience should stand him in good stead for what looks another open and competitive race.
Bold Reaction, a stablemate of Fusil Raffles and a winner of an Irish point-to-point, has shown enough at home to suggest a bold show on his first racecourse appearance in what looks a very interesting Watch Off The Fence On Attheraces.com National Hunt Flat Race.
Unanswered Prayers can give in-form Chris Gordon a Grade 2 success in the Albert Bartlett River Don Novices' Hurdle over three miles. A promising bumper horse and a winner on his hurdling bow at Uttoxeter, he deserves a try at this lofty level after seeing off the odds on favourite Flemenstide in a bit in hand at Wincanton on his latest start. The second was strongly fancied by the Paul Nicholls' camp that day, and there seems no reason why he should not stay the extra two and a half furlongs on this faster surface.
It may pay to take a chance with French Crusader in the Virgin Bet Handicap Hurdle at Uttoxeter. His three outings last season were of a very low order and precipitated a change of scenery from Nicky Henderson to his former assistant Toby Lawes. He has also undergone surgery on his breathing, and if he could recapture anything like his best form, he will be a big threat to the market leaders here.
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