Simon Holt has three Saturday selections at Cheltenham and he's backing Clan Des Obeaux to defy the burden of top weight in the big race.
A WEEK ago, the trainer-jockey combination of Paul Nicholls and Harry Cobden took the Tingle Creek Chase with Politologue at Sandown, and big-race honours can come their way again with CLAN DES OBEAUX in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday.
Only a five-year-old, this highly promising chaser needs to defy top weight of 11-12 but his two runs this season suggest he could well be up to the task, and a rating of 155 may still underestimate him.
Clan Des Obeaux's defeat by subsequent Ladbrokes Trophy runner-up Whisper at Kempton last month has been a much talked about race given that the winner's 4lb penalty may well have cost him victory at Newbury.
But Whisper, now up to a rating of 169, gave Clan Des Obeaux (beaten only half a length at level weights) a big boost and the French-bred has since scored impressively at Haydock, giving 7lb and a decisive beating to such useful types as Vintage Clouds and Born Survivor who had both won their previous starts this season.
A 7lb rise for that win certainly asks another question of the selection, but he could easily be a 160-plus horse in the making and I believe he will have the class to see off his rivals.
As usual in this race, several of the principals in last month's Open meeting highlight, the BetVictor Gold Cup, return to Cheltenham (though this time racing on the New Course) and the first five home Splash Of Ginge, Starchitect, Le Prezien (another for Nicholls), Ballyalton and Romain De Senam (Nicholls) have all been re-assessed accordingly with the marks of the last two unchanged.
If conditions are slightly less testing this time, Ballyalton could get a lot closer. Ian Williams' gelding has been lightly raced but retains plenty of ability judged on that effort and is a past winner at Cheltenham over both hurdles and fences (in the 2016 novice handicap chase at the Festival). Moreover, his excellent trainer continues to punch above his weight in high-profile races this season.
Conditions may have suited the sometimes inconsistent Splash Of Ginge last time though he is still not badly handicapped while Starchitect and Le Prezien remain 'nearly' horses and seemingly pay a price for their more reliable performances.
The state of the ground will also be important in the Unibet International Hurdle in which The New One is probably the pick in his attempt to gain a remarkable fourth win in this Champion Hurdle trial.
While just below the very best, Nigel Twiston Davies' nine-year-old has enjoyed a tremendous career and, after a victory at Ffos Las and gallant fourth under 11-12 in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham's November meeting (a rare foray into handicap company) this season, he may confirm last year's placings with My Tent Or Yours and Old Guard.
In later clashes, 'My Tent' turned the tables on The New One when the pair met on better ground in the spring at Cheltenham and Aintree but, while advantaged by the weights as he was last year, the going has to be a major concern. If it dries up a bit, this undoubtedly classy but frustrating horse could just have his day.
Melon, trained by Willie Mullins, aims to advertise his Champion Hurdle claims albeit under a penalty for his Grade Two win at Dromore early last month. Second in the top novice hurdles here and at Punchestown in the spring, this promising five-year-old could well develop into a high class hurdler, though has it all to prove here on official ratings.
Ch'Tibello and John Constable both have arguably better chances at the weights but the former has been off since last February and this is a step up for the latter.
Earlier, BUN DORAN is fancied to make a winning reappearance in the Junior Jumpers Handicap Chase.
This promising six-year-old ran several good races last season, notably when rounding off the campaign with a third placing behind Double W's over two miles on good ground at Aintree in April. Hitherto, Tom George's gelding had raced over longer distances winning at Newcastle over two-and-a-half miles on soft ground but, on other occasions, was a bit weak at the finish.
My strong suspicion is that two miles with cut in the ground could be Bun Doran's ideal scenario - and he's got it here.
At Doncaster, quicker going should suit the consistent WHAT HAPPENS NOW, who takes a break from carrying big weights, in the bet365 Handicap Chase.
Donald McCain's gelding was still in second place jumping the last at Cheltenham on a slower surface last time having preciously won on the same course, and has been in excellent form in the drier months.
In a field short of either guaranteed stayers or horses in good enough form to win, What Happens Now could take some pegging back under Will Kennedy for an in-form stable.
Recommended bets: Cheltenham Saturday
Posted at 1130 GMT on 15/12/17.