Mike Cattermole fancies Magic Saint to land the Grand Annual and cap an excellent week for Paul Nicholls.
CLAN DES OBEAUX can confirm himself a chaser of the highest order by beating off Presenting Percy to take the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday.
His trainer Paul Nicholls has enjoyed a fabulous week with two of his other chasing stars Frodon and Topofthegame duly landing their big prizes.
Yet Clan Des Obeaux is considered “numero uno” at Ditcheat - in the staying chase department at least - and comes into this having won the King George VI Chase comfortably and then prepping with a faultless performance at Ascot.
He is on a sharp upward curve and the only thing that would have been off-putting was if the ground were to go really testing as there may be a little doubt about Clan’s stamina. Indeed, there is some rain forecast overnight. Either way, Harry Cobden will be in no hurry.
Much has been made of his track form but there is nothing wrong with a second in a December Gold Cup under a massive weight. And he is double the horse he was 15 months ago.
On the other hand, there are big ticks in the course form box for Presenting Percy, facile winner of the RSA Chase the last time he ran over fences when he gained his second successive Festival success.
The feeling is that he is outstanding, but will his unorthodox preparation, ie the lack of match practice, stand against him?
Having written yesterday about Colin Tizzard’s indifferent form, Lostintranslation goes and runs a blinder in the JLT!
However, that was a rare bright spark for the stable this week and although Native River, the defending champion and third in 2017, can usually be relied upon to do his best, history tells you that winning this race two years in succession is so very difficult.
Elegant Escape, like Native River, is also a winner of the Welsh National and if he is on song, he could pick up some prize money with a late surge.
Might Bite failed for stamina last year and has had his issues since so is hard to fancy.
And so to Willie Mullins who has trained the runner-up six times and sends out a quartet who are of interest. Ruby Walsh has gone for Bellshill, third to Might Bite in the RSA Chase of 2017. Can he eke out some more improvement? He will need to. Kemsboy comes here on the crest of a wave but stole the Savills Chase at Leopardstown in December under an excellent ride. Still, his profile looks right.
Al Boum Photo is harder to weigh up and has scope to improve. He won well at Tramore over 2m5f but has yet to win over three miles. The Tramore form has a very solid look to it as Invitation Only was well held but went on to land the Thyestes at Gowran Park next time. I am not sure about Willie winning it but maybe a seventh runner-up could be on the cards?"
JP McManus has enjoyed a fabulous week and his “banker”, Sir Erec, is justifiably a red-hot favourite for the JCB Triumph Hurdle.
It is rare that a horse with his class on the Flat is given a chance over timber and the way he finished off when winning the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown suggests that only poor luck can stop him completing the hat-trick in the final day’s opening race.
His stablemate Band Of Outlaws was never going to lose the Fred Winter on Wednesday and he had been put in there to avoid the bold Sir Erec. Indeed, the same reasoning was behind the decision to drop Fakir d’oudairies in the deep end against his elders when fourth in Tuesday’s Supreme Novices.
The Nicholls pair Quel Destin and British debutante Pic D’Orhy seemed best qualified to pick up the pieces should Sir Erec misfire for some reason.
McManus could welcome in yet another winner with Birchdale in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.
Nicky Henderson has gone on record as saying he prefers the chances of Birchdale to stablemate Dickie Diver. So too does Barry Geraghty who was on board when Birchdale won at Cheltenham in January.
To these eyes, it looked as though he was going to come through and take Brewin’upastorm when that rival fell at the last and it was good to see Olly Murphy’s novice uphold the form in the Ballymore on Wednesday (fourth).
Birchdale may be good enough but the race is not one that has grabbed my imagination.
Unlike the Randox Health County Hurdle! No horse has won this two years running in modern times, so the stats are against top-weight Mohaayed who has it all to do anyway off a stone higher mark.
Last year, he beat Whiskey Sour three and a half lengths into third but is now 11lb worse off with Ruby Walsh’s mount who ran a reasonable trial on his return to hurdles at Naas in November. He is trading short enough, however.
Given that Whiskey Sour was seventh in the Galway Hurdle and is only 3lb better with Leoncavallo who was over nine lengths ahead of him in third in that notoriously hard race, the 20-1 on offer about Dr Richard Newland’s runner looks generous.
Leoncavallo has since been beaten at odds on over fences at Worcester in September but has been kept fresh for this. Three years ago he was fifth in that vintage Triumph Hurdle won by Ivanovich Gorbatov and looks poised for a big run in this tightest of races.
It seems a bit of a cop out to tip the favourite, Magic Saint, in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase but after talking to Daryl Jacob, who rode him to an impressive win at Wincanton last time, he cannot be opposed.
Jacob was more than impressed and said that Magic Saint gave him the feel of a Grade One performer, so a mark of 149 may underestimate his ability at the moment.
Gino Trail chased him home at Wincanton and is 7lb better off for four and a half lengths. Kerry Lee’s admirable front-runner tended to jump left there too and is not dismissed lightly as he bids to improve on his second in this last year off exactly the same mark.
Le Prezien beat him four and a half lengths then and is only 1lb higher, but his trial run at Sandown last month was marred by some terrible jumping before he finished tailed off.
The Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle is one heck of a puzzle to finish the meeting with. My pin has fallen on Henry De Bromhead’s Daybreak Boy, a decent Flat performer, who looked in good shape when winning well at Clonmel in January.
1.30 SIR EREC, 2.10 LEONCAVALLO, 2.50 BIRCHDALE, 3.30 CLAN DES OBEAUX, 4.10 UCELLO CONTI, 4.50 MAGIC SAINT, 5.30 DAYBREAK BOY