Saturday was a cracking day for me at Cheltenham.
Due to time constraints I was unable to post a blog on Saturday morning and, with plenty of overnight rain, it wasn't possible to make an assessment of the form before the day as I expected a fair few non-runners and the ground could have varied from good-to-Soft to Heavy. In the end, the ground was declared soft for the 1st race and heavy for the remainder of the card, but it looked more soft (heavy patches) to me.
In Friday's blog, I made an early selection for the Skybet Handicap Chase run over 3-mile run at Doncaster. That selection was WARRIORS TALE trained by Paul Nicholls who I thought was under-rated by the handicapper following his tremendous run LTO at Newbury when just pipped by Gold Present - who then went on to win over 3-mile at Ascot on 23rd December beating Frodon (also trained by Paul Nicholls). I'd advised taking the 14/1 generally available, but there was 16/1 available (for a short time) from Paddy Power.
Back to Cheltenham, and there I met my old mate Alan and we conspired our assault on the bookies over a pint of Guinness in the Cottage Rake bar.
Having already assessed the form for the Skybet Chase and noted that Frodon had been entered for that race but then aimed at the 2m5f Grade 3 handicap chase at Cheltenham, the horse was at the forefront of my mind. I remembered the way Frodon had powered up the Cheltenham hill on soft ground just 13 months ago to win a Grade 3 handicap chase over C&D off a rating of OR149 - and here he was again over the same C&D and on similar ground with a rating only 5lb higher (OR154) and yet with the benefit of talented 5lb claimer Bryony Frost. If that hadn't made up my mind, a glance at the formbook showed me that the ONLY horses that had beaten him in his previous 3 races since 12th November were Might Bite, Top Notch, Double Shuffle and Gold Present and he'd been awarded a 160-162 rating by the Racing Post for those last 3 races. So long as he could repeat that form he had an excellent chance and didn't he do just that!
Full marks to Bryony Frost, she sits very easily on a horse and Frodon must have barely noticed she was in the saddle. When she asked for an effort, Frodon responded immediately and put the race to bed. The top of the 2m4f-2m5f division is very tough now and while this performance was well above 160, talk of having a chance in the Ryanair is way off in my opinion unless 1 or 2 of the markets leaders go for alternative targets.
With that win under my belt, I was very confident about the chance of Warriors Tale at Doncaster as the formline via Gold Present now looks very strong. However before that there was the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham to be run. Most of the 8 runners could be discounted (outclassed) and I thought the race was between the fav Bristol De Mai, and Definitly Red who was the early 2nd-fav but had been replaced in that position by American for whom there had been a significant gamble. I did not consider that the form of American was strong enough, as the form hung on just how good was his win at Uttoxeter last March in a 3-mile Class 2 handicap chase. He was raised 9lb for that win to OR157 but I thought even that was too rich as the race fell apart in the last half-mile as Rock The Kasbah (2nd) is possibly best at 2m6f, as is Crosspark (3rd). Bristol De Mai was comprehensively beaten in the Gold Cup last March which made me doubt whether Cheltenham suited the horse, but also the Twiston-Davies stable does not seem to be firing at 100%. The stable has only had one winner (The New One) from 25 runners in the past 14-days. That left me with Definitly Red and despite a few poor jumps on the 2nd-circuit, he stayed on well and won with authority. Is he a Gold Cup horse? Well (on my ratings) if he had run to that level in the race last March he would have been 2nd - so he is a worthy eachway wager at current odds of 20/1, but the worry is that his best form is on soft-heavy ground, and it will (likely) be good-to-soft in March for the Gold Cup.
My confidence was up and I was bouncing when I went to watch the Skybet Chase on the tv at the course bookmakers room. My selection Warriors Tale was given a cracking ride, no complaints on that score, and when he looked to have beaten off Wakanda before jumping the final fence, I thought he'd have enough in the tank to stay-on and take the race. However, that old battler Wakanda came back on the run-in and managed to get his head in front on the line. I was oh so close to tipping a 14/1 winner! Afterwards, I thought that had the jockeys been switched and had Bryony Frost with her 5lb claim been on Warriors Tale, and Sean Bowen been on Frodon (who won by 17-lengths and had no need of the 5lb jockeys claim) it would have resulted in a tremendous across-the-card double for the Nicholls stable.
The heavy ground continues today at both meetings at Plumpton and Hereford, so be careful with selections and stakes. Of the days racing, I will be taking a small interest in a couple of "old-boys" at Hereford in Regal Flow (3:40pm) and Opening Batsmen (4:40pm) who both look reasonable value at this mornings odds.