With uncertainty surrounding Saturday's racing, Oli Bell switches his attention to the Cheltenham handicaps for an ante-post Yankee.
Oli Bell's Cheltenham Festival Handicaps Yankee
(All Sky Bet prices non-runner/no bet and Best Odds Guaranteed)
Tuesday 13th March, Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase, 2m 4f 78y
Gordon Elliott’s De Plotting Shed will be one of the big handicap players that people will side with because it’s right to assume that come Cheltenham he will be ready to show his mettle.
I know that owners the Ives Ashley Vasey Partnership are confident of a good run and he’s likely to be at the top of the market for very good reason. He will be tipped up by a lot of people, but he has got credentials to justify that support.
Wednesday 14th, Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle, 2m 5f 26y/Thursday 15th, Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle, 2m 7f 213y
I’ve been bullish about Le Breuil’s chances in the Coral Cup, but I spoke to his trainer Ben Pauling the other day and he was talking about the Pertemps as an option.
The six-year-old is very well treated by the handicapper and ran a good second behind Black Ivory at Aintree in December. Although we last month tragically lost Black Ivory, in January he went on to frank that winning form by triumphing at Warwick.
Le Breuil ran this season when Ben’s horses weren’t firing on all cylinders. Despite the disappointing news of Willoughby Court’s set-back, the yard’s form is now much improved and it goes without saying that you need a well-handicapped horse to win these races.
Ben has never hidden his love of this animal and he always speaks highly of him. I think we will see the real Le Breuil at Cheltenham.
Wednesday 14th, Boodles Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, 2m 87y
The horse that has caught my eye in this one is Malaya. He has good experience, which, on the evidence of previous Fred Winters, is exactly what you need.
Trainer Paul Nicholls also has an excellent record in this race and jockey Nick Scholfield gave the horse a noteworthy mention when I was on a preview panel with him earlier in the week.
There will be some decent young horses in this race, but this one has nous and I can see him running well at a good price.
Friday 16th, Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase, 2m 62y
Diego Du Charmil ran a good race last time out at Warwick, although soundly beaten by the mightily impressive Saint Calvados.
Although he’s not quite in the same class as that winner, he has rock solid Festival form, which always counts for plenty.
The six-year-old knows precisely how to win in this biggest of weeks for Jump racing, beating stablemate Romain De Senam by a head in the 2016 Fred Winter.
He’s been first past the post on three occasions since and boasts that all-important Cheltenham experience that you just cannot buy.
Handicap company is more Diego Du Charmil’s grade and I think that the run at Warwick will have been a good sighter for him ahead of the Festival. My second pick from Paul Nicholls and owner Mrs Johnny de la Hey’s string has got a very good chance.
• The Opening Show will be on ITV4 at 9.30am on Saturday, with four live races at Lingfield and Cheltenham chat from 1.30pm on the main channel.
• ITV Racing will broadcast live coverage from every day of the Festival, with The Opening Show on each morning.