TRICKY handicaps, a good novice chase and competitive hurdles.
Saturday at Cheltenham isn’t easy, but lets hope we can follow up the Friday form.
Race 1 – 2.00 ‘Matchbook Betting Exchange’ Handicap Chase
A typical staying handicap chase to get Saturday on the road and a few old faces make their return to the track.
Cheltenham regular COGRY makes his annual trip to Prestbury Park for his seasonal reappearance in this race.
He won it two years back and was an agonising second in it last season. If he stays on his feet he will not be far away and looks more than a fair price with plenty of questions surrounding a few of his market rivals.
Nigel Twiston-Davies has his team in full flight and the only worry is the ground. Holding fire on your bets may be the way forward with this one as if it gets really testing that could hinder his chances.
If the heavens do open, one that won’t mind the mud is Captain Chaos and he looks on a tempting mark here.
He was too fresh to do himself justice last time at Chepstow, but was backed beforehand and is only 3lbs higher than his respectable second at Newcastle last December.
There’s a good few that prefer better racing ground. Rock The Kasbah, Cobra De Mai and The Young Master will all be hoping the worst of the rain stays away.
The market could be shaken up quite significantly if the ground changes markedly.
Na Trachtalai Abu demands respect coming over from Ireland and he could be on a lenient mark if stepping forwards again.
He has race fitness on his side and his latest third in the Kerry National is very strong form. He also won’t mind the rain.
WEATHER WATCH SELECTION: Cogry
DANGER: Na Trachtalai Abu
Race 2 – 2.35 Masterson Holdings Hurdle
TORPILLO bounced back in ridiculous fashion at Chepstow two weeks ago and looks one of the bets of the card here.
Conditions look like they will be spot on and he gets weight from his closest rival Quel Destin who is now rated inferior after his romp in Wales.
He looked an absolute picture before his run at Chepstow and blew all his rivals away after being smashed late in the betting.
The worry is all his best runs have come when fresh, but if he can prove that that was down to other factors here I’d be shocked if he gets beat. He could be very smart if they keep him over hurdles this season.
As mentioned Quel Destin is probably the biggest threat on paper, but he looked out of sorts at Bath last time and while he’ll strip fitter for that he looked nowhere near as sharp as when flying through the ranks last season.
The Irish have a good record in this and Torpillo’s biggest ask may be seeing off the likes of Peter Fahey’s Soviet Pimpernel.
However, I think he has to step up massively on his Gowran win and he looks short enough in the betting.
Henry De Bromhead took this hurdle in 2017 and sends over Havingagoodtime with Richard Johnson booked this year.
She’s been beat the last twice but returns to softer ground (hopefully) and is a Grade 3 winner. She looks an each-way option if Torpillo comes up too short in the betting for your liking.
SATURDAY NAP: Torpillo
Race 3 – 3.10 Randox Health Handicap Chase
You’re probably tired of hearing that Paul Nicholls string are needing a run by now. But Brelan D’As must have a huge chance here and must be ready for this given how Nicholls loves to farm these big pots.
He runs in the famous JP McManus colours and connections won this handicap last season with Modus.
The more rain the better and it’s only his price that puts me off him from a punting point of view. He’s already been well found in the market.
The class factor in the race comes from SAINT CALVADOS and the time to catch this horse may be now. He always runs well fresh and despite having to lug around top weight here could just be too good.
It’s very hard to judge where he sits in terms of his mark. He’s run in hot races on the whole – albeit beaten out of sight by the likes of Altior.
But weighing up what level he has run to in those races is hard and 155 may be slightly generous on some of his back form when rising the ranks as a novice. He’s only six and you’d think his Grade 2 win at Warwick and his Grade 3 win over in Ireland would measure up to above that figure.
He’s been overlooked in the market after a quiet end to last season. But that was at the end of a busy campaign and a long break and wind-op should see him bounce back here in his favoured conditions.
Doitforthevillage loves it at Cheltenham but is tricky to win with and tends to come into his own later in the season.
The ground may go against Master Work and it’s a big ask for Mcgroaty to win this off 152.
EACH-WAY CRACKER: Saint Calvados
Race 4 – 3.45 Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle
These kind of races can be the devil, especially at this early stage of the season, and any punter worth their weight will be treading around the edges of this. The market reflects that and is wide open as a result.
Knowing what is fit and ready is half the battle here and the majority of the field are having their first run of the season.
Neverbeen To Paris has had the benefit of a run and was a solid second behind a decent Emma Lavelle yardstick at Stratford.
That form should be reliable enough and he won’t be far away on his second start for Harry Whittington with Bryony Frost booked.
It’s another low weight that takes the eye though with THECLOCKISTICKING returning to hurdles after a wind-op.
He had a pipe opener at Warwick last month when well fancied and a mark of 132 looks generous.
Last season he was fifth to Aux Ptits Soins at Aintree and sixth in the Pertemps final at the Festival. He’s a few pounds lower this time around.
If the wind-op and Warwick run have brought him forwards enough, he should be bang there and looks a big price.
Sunset Showdown is another that looks on a fair enough mark. He’s won three of his last four novices and makes his handicap bow off 132.
The ground could be the worry though if the forecast rain does arrive by the bucket load.
The rain will be welcomed by Burrows Park who could have more to offer this season and his second to Ballyandy on soft ground looks rock solid in this context.
DANGER: Neverbeen To Paris
Saturday Cheltenham Fancies
NAP – 2.35 Torpillo (Bet here)
EW Stab – 3.10 Saint Calvados (Bet here)
Race 5 – 4.20 Randox Health Novices’ Hurdle
Only five go to post here and you’d have to think staying chasers Some Chaos and Ramses De Teillee are using this as a prep for targets elsewhere.
It would be a huge upset if Noble Glance took home the spoils and that leaves us with only two you can consider from a punting angle with any confidence.
MACGILONEY and The Butcher Said are rated very similarly and hard to split on what they’ve achieved so far.
But slight preference is for the Irish raider Macgiloney purely on the fact he should be more at home on the ground.
Olly Murphy’s The Butcher Said hasn’t been tried on soft ground since being beat 20L at Bangor and has been busy over the summer on a better surface.
In all honesty it’s not much of a betting heat and I’ll be spending my pennies elsewhere.
TENTATIVE NOD: Macgiloney
Race 6 – 4.55 Matchbook Best Value Betting Exchange Novices’ Chase
Secret Investor is the correct favourite but isn’t the most convincing on paper and can be a bit quirky out on the track.
He was a Grade 2 winner as a novice hurdler and has already picked up a Grade 2 at fences when winning at the Scottish National meeting last spring.
He’s not a novice for much longer and connections are probably using this as a launchpad to something down the line in open company.
The way the majority of the stables horses are shaping also puts me off and at the odds it’s hard to be drawn in.
However, there’s not tonnes to take him on with and the likeliest threats on paper are making their first starts over fences.
But FIRST ASSIGNMENT is top of the billing when looking to take the jolly on. This trip could be on the short side for him but he’s a smooth traveller and Cheltenham will suit him nicely as advertised by his hurdles form.
Trainer Ian Williams has always liked this horse and he has been in the winners’ enclosure a few times of late.
His best runs came early last season and if the fences can bring out a bit of improvement he can serve it up to the favourite in receipt of 8lbs.
Nicky Henderson has always spoken highly of Pym and why he hasn’t quite lived up to the billing he is worth a look.
Go Another One looks vulnerable racing off 11’11 and even though you can take his Uttoxeter defeat at 1-5 with a pinch of salt, others are more convincing.
Again it’s probably a race to watch for the time of the year and have the notebook out for.
TENTATIVE NOD: First Assignment
Race 7 – 5.30 Royal Gloucestershire Hussars Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race
The first bumper of the year at Cheltenham and good luck sorting this one out.
There’s a few angles into it, and at the top may be that Fergal O’Brien has won the last two runnings and his team are in good nick since moving yards.
He runs Butte Montana here. However, we know absolutely nothing about him as he’s yet to have a go on the track.
All we know is he was a non-runner at Chepstow two weeks ago on the account of the ground. So why he will be ready, it’s not like he’s been lined up for this months out.
The big yards run a few. Barbados Buck’s makes his debut for Paul Nicholls, Time Flies By goes for Nicky Henderson and The Newest One starts out for Nigel Twiston-Davies.
But unless the market screams out for one of those, the one that makes most appeal in the formbook is JAC BROWN from the Debra Hamer yard.
He ran nicely at Chepstow in February before winning very well at Ffos Las. That was a big step forward and he did that well when backed.
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A repeat of that and he’ll be in the mix even with the small penalty.
Carys’ Commodity has been well-backed on both his starts and was set to win at Worcester before lugging right late on and throwing off his jockey.
He is clearly well thought of and has travelled well on both starts but looks very quirky. If he can knuckle down he’s got a sniff but will likely be short enough anyway.
SELECTION: Jac Brown
Saturday Cheltenham Fancies
NAP – 2.35 Torpillo (Bet here)
EW Stab – 3.10 Saint Calvados (Bet here)