JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial (Juvenile Hurdle) (Grade 2) (CLASS 1) (4yo)
Good To Soft 2m1f
The interesting horse here is Indian Daudaie, who is having his first start in Britain for Paul Nicholls. He had very smart form in his native France, finishing second in a Grade-one at Autueil on his final start, and has been the subject of bullish reports from his trainer. Mao Chinn Tire, the shock 200/1 winner on his first start over hurdles has not been since that historic success, and the form of that race has worked out well, with the current Triumph Hurdle favourite Grandouet finishing fifth. Local Hero should run a big race after two easy successes at Wetherby and Doncaster. His trainer Steve Gollings believes he could be very good, while his usual partner AP McCoy was adamant this race should be his next target after his easy victory at Doncaster. He will also be getting 3lbs from Indian Daudaie and Mao Chinn Tire, which can also be said for the Tizzard’s runner Third Intention. He made a fantastic start over hurdles up at Newbury where he readily dispatched of Titan De Sarti and Empire Levant, who went into the race with big reputations; despite this both horses have franked the form, with several of the other runners also running well next time out. Although this looks a very good renewal, I think at the prices it may be worth taking a chance with Third Intention, who represents a stable that no the time of day.
Tip: Third Intention @ 3/1
Timeform Novices´ Handicap Chase (CLASS 2) (5yo+)
Good To Soft 2m5f
Another interesting renewal of this race, which has been won by some classy types in the pass including Lacdoudal, and more recently Hey Big Spender. Shakalakaboomboom is likely to go off favourite for the all-conquering partnership of Nicky Henderson, and Barry Geraghty, after two comfortable victories at Kempton and Taunton. Ikorodu Road, looked set for a well-earned success at Newbury last time when travelling the best of all, but unfortunately he unseated Johnny Farrelly at the last. That was a very competitive handicap that day and if he can reproduce that effort and still be there after the last, he must go close. Ravethebrave has made a nice start to his chasing career, with one victory in a novice chase at Folkestone, before two cracking efforts in handicaps at Cheltenham and Newbury, finishing fourth and second respectably. His final outing at Newbury was in the same race as Ikorodu Road and despite that rival falling, and reopposing, both horses have risen in the handicap, and I think that might just favour Ikorodu Road who is on 1lb better terms this time round. The winner of that Newbury handicap was Misstree Dancer, who was given an 8lb rise in the handicap, and although this is a competitive race, she has had only two starts over fences and will surely improve further. However another horse with only two starts over fences is The Giant Bolster, who was by far the best of these over hurdles, finishing fifth and sixth at the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals. Although he came down here on his most recent start, he won easily on his debut at Worcester, and should be bang there, if he can produce his best form.
Tip: The Giant Bolster @ 8/1
Murphy Group Chase (Handicap) (Grade 3) (CLASS 1) (5yo+)
Good To Soft 2m5f
Wishfull Thinking is likely to go off favourite for this after a mixed start to his chasing career. He was well fancied to open his account at the first time of asking, but unfortunately he fell at the first in a four-runner race at Aintree; however Philip Hobbs did not lose faith, and threw him in the deep-end on his next start, where he lined up in a Grade-two at Wincanton; fortunately he delivered, jumping well and coming home 12 lengths clear. The undoubted class-horse in the race is the former triple Grade-one winner Noland, who had his first start for other two-year’s in a ‘Jumpers Bumper’ at Kempton in December. That should of put him spot on for this, and he has everything going for him; he stays the trip, has good course form, and the ground should be no issue. The Paddy Power Gold Cup winner Little Josh also lines up, and is running off the same mark which saw him finishing a tiring fifth in the Vote AP Gold Cup. That day he looked in the grip of the handicapper after going up 9lbs as a result of his Paddy Power win, and he looks like he has it all to do here. Buffalo Bob may improve on his effort here last time, now he’s dropped back in trip, and may be the one to fill a place, while Chapoturgeon has looked very ordinary since his Jewson win at the Festival in 2009.
Tip: Noland @ 11/2
Argento Chase (Registered As The Cotswold Chase) (Grade 2) (CLASS 1) (5yo+)
Good To Soft 3m1f110y
This race has been clouded somewhat after the defection of leading RSA Chase hope Time For Rupert, who was bidding to triumph against the older generation for the first time. However the race should still be one to savour, with one of best-hurdlers to go chasing in recent history bidding to finally cement his position amongst a competitive Gold Cup field. That horse is of course Punchestowns, who has been somewhat of a disappointment since he has been sent chasing despite lifting a Grade-one at Sandown last season. After that success he was sent off favourite for the RSA Chase where he failed to give his backers a run for their money, fading and finishing fifth. However despite being run down late on his reappearance, he should be much fitter now and is the one they all have to beat. Tidal Bay is an interesting runner, as he has so much ability, yet a terrible temperament, and this was evident last season where he had achieved nothing, before scooting clear on this card last year in the Cleeve Hurdle. If he can reproduce that he will give Punchestowns something to think about, but at the age of ten, he is looking a tricky ride. The Tother One is a consistent old stick, and may run on late in the day to fill the second place; while Neptune Collonges, and Madison Du Berlais look well past their best.
Tip: Punchestown @ 6/5
Neptune Investment Management Novices´ Hurdle (Registered as Classic Novices´ Hurdle Race) (Grade 2) (CLASS 1) (4yo+)
Good To Soft 2m4f110y
Backspin is the favourite for this and rightly so, after his romp in the Grade-one Challow Hurdle at Newbury. Champion jockey AP McCoy takes the ride, and if he repeats that form he should go close. Bob’s Worth looked most impressive when winning here over the course and distance on New Year’s Day, and must enter calculations despite being on 10lbs worst terms with Backspin on official ratings. Rock On Ruby is unbeaten over hurdles, and had two classy types behind him on debut, when easily dispatching of Megastar, and Kid Cassidy over two-miles. Although today is half a mile further he stayed on with some purpose, and should give Backspin something to think about. Champion Court has quickly established himself as a leading candidate for either the Neptune or Albert Bartlett come the Festival, after an easy win in a Grade-two here over the course and distance in November. Although that was his first start, he jumped fluently, and there should be a lot more to come. The one at a price who may go well is Drive Time. The Howard Johnson-trained gelding is three-from-three in all starts, including two on the flat where he claimed the scalps of Blackstairmountain and Red Rock Canyon. Although his hurdle debut at Doncaster looked a weak race, he should have improved for the experience, and there is a lot to like about this 96-flat-rated recruit.
Tips: Champion Court @ 7/1 and Drive Time @ 20/1
Rewards4Racing Cleeve Hurdle (Grade 2) (CLASS 1) (5yo+)
Good To Soft 3m
The unexposed Grands Crus has impressed both starts this term, with two easy handicap successes. The first of those was at Cheltenham at the Paddy Power meeting, before he bolted up over three-miles in the ‘Fixed Brush’ Hurdle won last year by Diamond Harry at Haydock. Although he is now stepping up into Graded company, he looked as if he was ready for it last time out. Bensalem is making his seasonal reappearance, after recovering from a life threatening bout of pneumonia, which left as all fearing for his life. Before that scare he ran a blinding race when switched back to hurdles at the Punchestown Festival, finishing third behind Quevega in the World Series Hurdle. If he can reproduce that form after an absence he is the one they have to beat, and Alan King has been very upbeat about his chances. Last year’s Coral Cup winner Spirit River is being switched back to hurdles after an unsuccessful spell chasing, in which he failed to complete on both starts. Nicky Henderson has always thought a lot of him, and if he can see out this trip, then he would have a sporting chance. Despite Organisateur plying his trade in handicaps, the son of Highest Honor is officially the highest-rated in the field with a mark of 159. Last time he was a cracking second under a big weight in the Lanzarote Hurdle, and providing this does not come too soon, he could give Paul Nicholls his second win in the race. Restless Harry loves it here around Cheltenham, and won the 2m 5f Novice Hurdle on this card last year, under an enterprising ride from regular partner Henry Oliver. Although he has been campaigned over two and a half miles this term, on his last start he was upped to three-miles in the Long Walk Hurdle behind Big Bucks, finishing a staying-on third. However the one I like at a bigger price is the French-import Cristal Bonus, representing Evan Williams and AP McCoy. On his first start in Britain, he ran in the International Hurdle which was a very hot renewal; yet he still ran with credit and finishing strongly, suggesting that a step up in trip is required. In France he was placed in a Grade-one over 2m 4f on heavy-ground, but looking through that French form, all his in running comments tell you that he is ‘staying on’ so maybe three miles is what he needs.
Tips: Bensalem @ 9/2 and Cristal Bonus @ 16/1
Stellar Football “End of Transfer Window” Handicap Hurdle (CLASS 2) (4yo+)
Good To Soft 2m1f
A typical Cheltenham handicap, with any number of horses having a winning chance. However the one that catches my eye at a big price is Art Professor, who had good form before injury kept him off the track for two-year’s. His first effort back was what you would expect from him after such a long absence, but last time out I feel the trip of 2m 3f may have tested his stamina. His main danger is the improving Cunning Clarets, but I think the 20/1 about Art Professor is too good to be missed.
Tip: Art Professor @ 20/1
Guest post by Jordan McBride