Chris Day takes an early look at the markets for Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham and his fancies include a 20/1 chance in the Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase.
The going for Cheltenham Trials Day on Saturday is currently soft but a dry week is forecast to offer hope we may swerve the ultra-testing conditions that have been a feature of meetings there this season.
Gordon Elliott has ten entries but it’s anybody’s guess which are intended runners and his handicappers in particular may have been entered to see what the UK assessor allots them with March in mind.
The 12.40 is a JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial that looks murky to say the least so our first selection will be in the 1.15, the Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase, a warm heat that could have a bearing on the Close Brothers on day one of the Festival.
Nicky Henderson’s Burbank has already shown improved form since switched to fences but is now rated 145 so will presumably be Marsh Chase-bound if he can carry a big weight to success here after an impressive victory at Newbury last time. Should he successfully concede weight to a field of very unexposed rivals then he’ll be worth his chance in a Grade One, but I feel that’s unlikely.
Venetia Williams has put Cloudy Glen in a race she always targets for a big owner but I’ve not seen enough so far to make me think he’s ready for this.
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls has two interesting entries in My Way, who looks thrown in on his old French form but has still not shown that in this country, and Mercy Mercy Me. He finally put it all together at Sandown last time from a progressive rival. However, he’s received an 8lbs rise in the ratings for that and this looks tougher race.
Kim Bailey’s Imperial Aura should also go well from a mark of 136 after travelling well for a long way behind Pym here at the December meeting but has been well found in the market and we can pass him over for now on the grounds of value.
The one I like is SULLY D'OC AA from the yard of Anthony Honeyball, one of the in-form trainers of the moment. Last time out he ran below expectations at right-handed Ascot but his earlier staying-on second at Newbury to the thrown in Fanion D’Estruval was a solid effort which promised plenty.
He'll be stepping up in trip by half a mile here and that looks certain to suit on breeding. I expect him to be held up off what could be a strong pace and his mark of 127 should be left behind moving forward. He's worth a small play at the current 20/1.
The Paddy Power 45 Sleeps To Cheltenham Trophy Handicap Chase at 1.50 is just the sort of race I love to have a bet in, a two-and-a-half mile handicap chase full of high-class horses.
Cepage ran a gallant race at Christmas behind Warthog but, while he should run well, you get the feeling others have more potential from their marks.
I expected Count Meribel to run well in the BetVictor Gold Cup after his pleasing Carlisle reappearance behind Lostintranslation but he could only plug on for sixth and he may not want the ground too soft. I think the Festival or the April meeting will be more his cup of tea.
Clondaw Castle was fourth in a poor Arkle and needs to improve on his run here in December, Lalor, who really interests me, and Ex Patriot ran well here on New Year’s Day, while Warthog still looks feasibly treated after his Caspian Caviar Gold Cup victory over the reopposing Spiritofthegames.
However, in a race which could see a battle for the lead, I can see JERRYSBACK, third to the same owner’s Regal Encore in a Listed chase at Ascot five weeks ago, being hunted round and produced between the last two fences by Barry Geraghty.
He failed to stay when finishing third in a punishing renewal of the National Hunt Chase here in March and his bang in-form trainer Philip Hobbs has indicated this sort of test would be much more his cup of tea. His length-and-a-half second to the now 159-rated Vinndication at Ascot last season makes him look leniently treated.
There’s 10/1 around at the moment but it might be worth waiting for final declarations to see if any extra place offers materialise.
Bristol De Mai looks a very solid 3/1 shot for the Grade Two Paddy Power Cotswold Chase at 2.25. Nigel Twiston-Davies' charge has a penalty here but the most weight he has to concede is three pounds ot the novice Slate House.
He has a great record after breaks of 50 days or more from the track and his third in last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup sets the standard here.
He lost little in defeat behind Lostintranslation at Haydock in November and, while this course may not be his absolute favourite, he's very capable of producing high-quality performances when on song and something will need to run a clear personal best at the weekend to topple him.
Santini’s Festival run in the RSA Chase is top-class form but I wasn’t bowled over by him at Sandown although I do expect an improved showing here. The trouble is he’s priced as though he won that race on the bridle and the second did nothing for the form in the Coral Welsh National.
Delta Work would be interesting if given the go-ahead to travel over but surely he’ll wait for Leopardstown next weekend.
Top Ville Ben looks like he’s better suited to flat tracks and fell at the sixth in the RSA on his only previous visit to Prestbury Park and as much as I loved De Rasher Counter’s Ladbrokes Trophy win, this is a very different test. The Newbury form has taken plenty of knocks and I think he’s more of a Randox Health Grand National horse who may also be better on a less undulating course.
On balance, I feel BRISTOL DE MAIL represents a bet here.
The Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at 3.00 is impossible to assess before declarations are known but the horse many will venture along the M5 to see is Paisley Park, who attempts a repeat win of 12 months ago in the Grade Two galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle.
Having returned to the course to win the Stayers’ Hurdle in March, he didn’t impress everybody with his reappearance victory in Newbury’s Long Distance Hurdle in November and was taken out of Ascot’s Long Walk Hurdle due the the ground. He has to be the one to beat although his form suggests he prefers better ground.
Apple’s Jade returned to form at Leopardstown over Christmas but I’m not sure what to make of that race and If The Cap Fits already has a verdict over her from Aintree in April. It’s fair to say his return to the track at Ascot in November, where he gave 6lbs and a beating to the horse who went on to win the International Hurdle in Call My Lord, looks very strong.
He’s shown a marked improvement since stepping up in trip, having been considered a Champion Hurdle type at one stage of his career, and galloped on to the line at Ascot having come under pressure a long way out. That effort suggests this step up in trip will bring about even more improvement.
If it does he’s got very little to find on ratings with the favourite and IF THE CAP FITS has to be the bet at 7/2 as you know he’s going to turn up at the weekend.
At the time of writing there are no prices for the closing Steel Plate And Sections Handicap Hurdle at 4.10, but I’d advise keeping an eye on Paul Nicholls’ mare Miranda if she turns up here.
You won’t see a horse travel more easily than she did when a comfortable winner at a Kempton last time and Harry Cobden will presumably hold on to her on the long run between the last two hurdles before giving her the office to go and win this one.
Chris Day's Cheltenham fancies
1.15 - Sully D'Oc Aa at 20/1
1.50 - Jerrysback at 10/1
2.25 - Bristol De Mai at 3/1
3.35 - If The Cap Fits at 7/2