Well a very good morning and fantastic news that Cheltenham have managed to bypass most of the bad weather overnight and that we have a green light for festival trials day today. I must tip my hat to Simon Claisse and the team they have done a superb job in the snow shifting department over the last week to ensure we had every chance of racing today and what a feast it promises to be!
It will be a delight again to see the superstar that is SPRINTER SACRE in the rescheduled Victor Chandler Chase. He’s a very short price favourite but certainly deserves to be on what he has achieved to date and this is surely just a stepping stone on to the Champion Chase. That will just be a race to watch and possibly trade.
For me the real betting action gets underway on the second half of the card and that kicks off with The Argento Chase (2.25) where Grand Crus is a pretty warm favourite. The defection of Tidal Bay perhaps takes something away from the race but I am quietly pleased he won’t be running as I think if we have a soft ground festival (which looks like a real possibility) he could be a real player in the Gold Cup. We will save that story for another day. Grand Crus returned to form last time out in the King George on Boxing day finishing a fair third in behind Long Run and Captain Chris. Ultimately though he was well beaten (14.5L) and he needs to show more before I would be ready to back him again. So surely that means there are bits and pieces of value elsewhere? I know he has a massive break to overcome but I cannot get away from IMPERIAL COMMANDER at the weights. Even if he returns 7lbs below his best he will win so he becomes of obvious interest to me and STANJAMES are going a standout 11/2 so that will do very nicely for starters. In forms of dangers I think Hunt Ball is of interest down the bottom of the weights too as is WEIRD AL. He’s a fragile horse, but on his day a very smart one and the 8/1 with BetVictor is too big. I’ve backed IC and had a saver on Hut Ball and Weird AL.
The Neptune Novices Hurdle (3.00) is an absolute cracker. Everyone is raving about The New One and he looks a very good horse indeed but today for the first time he is likely to be seriously tested. I put up Coneygree on all three of his wins this year and he has looked the real deal on all three occasions. I have a feeling conditions will really suit him today as he’s an out-and-out stayer for the future. The two and a half will take some getting and I really am expecting a real battle up the hill between these two. At Fishers Cross is certainly no back number and this is a race that could well grace the festival itself. At the prices I have to favour CONEYGREE and Mattie but I massively respect the favourite.
The Cleeve Hurdle (3.35) is another cracker and I feel the race largely revolves around Oscar Whiskey’s stamina over what is going to be a gruelling three miles! There is nothing in his racing to me that suggests he won’t and I think he represents some real value at around 2.9 on Betfair. He is different class to these in terms of ability and I will play in the hope that it shines through and he sees it out.
On the rest of the card MR WATSON is likely to be very hard to beat in the last as he looks a seriously well handicapped horse. In the Novice Handicap Chase at 12.40 I think VINO GRIEGO looks overpriced at around 18/1 so will throw a few darts there too.
Have a great day today and back some winners!