Ben Linfoot is back with his Value Bet column for Cheltenham Trials Day and the Sky Bet Chase card at Doncaster this Saturday.
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Cheltenham Trials Day has offered several clues to the big week in March in recent years and there is the potential for some significant pointers once again on a stellar card on Saturday.
With Paisley Park, If The Cap Fits, Bristol De Mai, Santini, Slate House and King Roland in action this looks all set to be one of the most enjoyable cards of the season so far and there’s an excellent programme up at Doncaster, too, for Sky Bet Chase day.
There are bets to be had everywhere and I’m happy to bypass both the Cleeve Hurdle and the Cotswold Chase from a punting point of view with the Cheltenham handicaps offering better opportunities.
First up is the Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase at 1.15, a race that Venetia Williams has a fine record in over the years, winning it on three occasions in the noughties and having several run well in defeat subsequently.
This year she runs CLOUDY GLEN and at the generally available 15/2 he looks worth getting on side.
Several of these look to have shown their hand already, to an extent, with Champagne Court, Encore Champs, Simply The Betts and Mercy Mercy Me coming into this in good form but off higher handicap marks than earlier in the campaign.
Kim Bailey’s Imperial Aura, on his chasing handicap debut, is interesting dropping back in trip after his second to Pym at this track back in December, but he’s been well found in the market, while I just wonder if Gowiththeflow ideally wants better ground.
There are no such question marks about Cloudy Glen, who loves it soft, and he got a nice confidence boost last time out when prevailing in a match race with Secret Reprieve at Haydock.
The substance of that form is clearly questionable, but I loved the way he jumped and with four runs under his belt now he’s beginning to fulfil his promise as a novice chaser.
Untouched by the assessor following his Haydock success, he’s got plenty more to give in this sphere and a mark of 132 looks on the lenient side.
He’ll likely be prominent under Charlie Deutsch and the added yardage due to the bends being dolled out won’t bother him a bit.
Just over half an hour later it’s the Paddy Power 45 Sleeps To Cheltenham Trophy Handicap Chase and there are several likeable types in this race.
Highway One O One is one of them and he was a good second on this card last year, while Warthog bids to confirm the Caspian Caviar form with Spiritofthegames and Cepage off a 4lb higher mark.
However, the one I think it’s worth taking a chance on is Philip Hobbs’ GARDE LA VICTOIRE at 14/1 (Bet365, 888Sport, 12/1 General).
He’s a veteran of the game now at 11-years-old, but he more than hinted that he retains his ability last time at Ascot when shaping with promise on his first run for 433 days and the handicapper dropped him a further 3lb for that run.
That means he races off 141 on Saturday and he’s very well treated off such a rating considering he won off 154 just two years ago, a victory that took his career form figures in the month of January to 4-4-1-1-1.
Tom O’Brien will likely hold him up on Saturday, tactics that are difficult to pull off on the New Course at Cheltenham over fences, but with several front-runners in the field (Highway One O One, Warthog, Cepage and Lalor) I’m hoping the race falls into the lap of those that race a bit more economically.
Hobbs won this race with an 11-year-old for the Whateley family back in 2014 thanks to Wishfull Thinking and off a low weight with that reappearance under his belt he’s worth taking a chance on.
Over at Doncaster it’s the Sky Bet Chase (3.15) and this looks a great race to have a bet in as it is wide open with doubts surrounding those at the top of the market.
Dingo Dollar is favourite but he was a 24-length sixth in this race last year off a similar mark, while Ravenhill Road has plenty more on his plate up 6lb following on from his win at Haydock on December 30.
Cobra De Mai is interesting enough for Dan Skelton after he returned to something like his best form at Kempton last time, but he’s been well found in the market and I much prefer the claims of his stablemate SOLOMON GREY at a bigger price (16/1 bet365, 14s General).
A close-up second off 136 in a handicap hurdle at Ayr in the spring, he had a couple of runs over fences after that at Uttoxeter in May and won them both, immediately suggesting he had more to offer as a chaser.
Wind surgery followed and he’s been set two daunting tasks in two races this season, being beaten by Cyrname and Altior last time out (by 65 lengths) following on from a defeat to Reserve Tank at Wincanton prior to that.
The handicapper was largely unmoved, dropping him 2lb after Wincanton but leaving him on 138 after Ascot, but still, he remains really interesting off that number on his chasing handicap debut now he steps up in trip to three miles for the first time in his career.
On pedigree he has a good chance of staying as his half-brother, Amore Alato, won over three miles, while another half-brother, Eva’s Oskar, has also won over the best part of three miles on three occasions this season.
The way he ran in the Lanzarote as a hurdler suggests to me that he’ll have no problem with the trip, especially on good to soft conditions at Doncaster, and his prominent style of racing could be well suited to this contest.
Skelton reaches for the first-time cheekpieces, too, a clear sign that we should expect an improved performance from Solomon Grey and the trainer’s stats with this headgear are solid (10 wins from 53 runners at 18.87% when used for the first time).
I want to split stakes on him and MONBEG RIVER as Martin Todhunter’s horse looks to have been underestimated by the market in this race yet again at 20/1 (General).
This horse is a bold-jumping front-runner and he loves Doncaster, as he won on Town Moor by 16 lengths off 128 in the December of 2017 before finishing second to Go Conquer in last year’s Sky Bet Chase at 25/1.
He just bumped into a horse in the groove that day but he beat everything else comfortably and he did so off a 5lb higher mark than that he races off this Saturday.
That’s because he hasn’t been at his best in three subsequent starts, but the better ground and return to Doncaster is massively in his favour this weekend and he will have been trained for this ever since he crossed the line in second last year.
Finally, Harry Fry looks to have spotted a good opportunity for LITTERALE CI (10/1 Ladbrokes, Coral) in the Napoleons Casino & Restaurant Owlerton Sheffield Yorkshire Rose Mares’ Hurdle earlier on the card.
The Grade 2 market is dominated by Floressa and fans’ favourite Lady Buttons, but, while the latter has a fine record at Doncaster, she might have a job on conceding 6lb to Fry’s mare this weekend as I’m not convinced she’s as good over hurdles as she is over fences.
That’s the same amount of weight she’d have to concede to JP McManus’ charge in a handicap and it gives the seven-year-old a good chance of upsetting the odds.
Litterale Ci goes well after a two-month break, winning off that sort of absence on three occasions in the past, so her 77-day lay-off looks very much a positive.
So is the drying ground and the two-mile trip, while Fry has a fine record at Doncaster, as his 33 per cent strike-rate underlines, and the talented Jonjo O’Neill Jr takes the ride as well.
She has plenty in her favour.
Posted at 1700 GMT on 24/01/20
Ben Linfoot's Value Bet aim: The Value Bet is designed to generate long-term profit by searching for overpriced horses in the feature weekend races and at the big Festivals in the UK and Ireland. Running total: +365.39pts to advised stakes/prices (from inception of Value Bet column in January 2010 to current).
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