One of my favourite days of the year, and I will be getting up before 6am to meet a good friend for breakfast before we both head-off for Cheltenham. It should be a cracker, though I am disappointed that DELTA WORK is not making the trip over.
I've not written a blog recently (due to the pressure of my day job) and this is being written mainly as a guide for myself tomorrow. I should also be able to look at the Skybet Chase at Doncaster as that is also a cracking meeting.
The ground is SOFT and it is likely to be on the testing side, especially at the end of the afternoon.
If anyone wants to say hello at the races, please do as I'm always up for a chat.
The opening race of the meeting is the 2m1f Triumph Hurdle Trial at 12:40pm. Unfortunately, only 6 horses go to post, and there is no way I could support a debut hurdler - even one trained by Nicky Henderson - to go off at "evens" for this. Rowland Ward looks a plodder to me, and may not enjoy a slog in the mud. Galahad Quest had a tough race 18-days ago and is Nick Williams only runner here but his form does not inspire. The one I like the look of is GEROLAMO CARDANO who won very easily on heavy ground at Hereford and looks a lot better than the OR115 rated runner-up. If he's OR130+ then he could take a lot of beating and the 6/1 available looks juicy.
The 2nd race on the card is one for the notebook - these are the best novice handicappers in training this season. A decent field of 12 are headed by the 5/2 fav Imperial Aura who was easily swept aside by PYM here in December, and he will need to improve on that to win this. When I looked at the form for this race earlier in the week, I was impressed with Champagne Court who is unbeaten in 2-chase races and he looks a lot better than his OR143 rating. The ground and trip will not be a problem and he was 4th in a handicap hurdle here at the Festival last March. Cloudy Glen needs to hold his jumping together and if he can he is on a decent rating. Ben Pauling provided last years winner, and he send Gowiththeflow who was unlucky to meet a well-handicapped one at Sandown LTO. He beat Paisley Park when they were both novice hurdlers, so he has a lot of potential and must be ahead of the handicapper. Mercy Mercy Me is enjoying chasing more than hurdles and this Paul Nicholls trained 8yo will win races but this race could be too high-class for him and his stamina will be stressed. The handicapper may have Simply The Betts on OR140, and On The Slopes does not look good enough. With 7 of the last 10 winners starting at odds of 8/1 or less, it pays to focus on the head of the market, and I'm drawn to Champagne Court and GOWITHTHEFLOW, however the latter was the better hurdler and carries 10lb less than his rival in this. Odds of 7/1 look good value.
The handicap chase over 2m4f at 1:50pm looks very competitive, even with only 10 runners. I'm not surprised that Highway One O One is the early fav at 5/1 as he was 2nd in the novice handicap over C&D on this day last year. If he repeats last years form, and there's no reason he wont unless the ground is a bit too soft for him, then he will go close. I think the 6yo My Way will find this race a bit tough and I've not been impressed with him in his recent races. My money was on Spiritofthegames in the novice handicap last year, and he was just beaten into 3rd by Highway 101. He is on 1lb worse terms than last year, but I think he's the better horse this season and so long as he's not coming from too far off the pace he could snatch it on the run-in. Warthog is now in the handicappers grip unless he can find another 5lb of improvement. Lalor could be the one, as his excellent performance LTO on his first attempt at a trip beyond 2m1f and I can see him being pushed harder this time, as his jumping looked very slick. All the others look out of it. For me, LALOR looks the one with the most potential to beat his handicap mark and he will be prominent throughout the race (alongside Warthog). Odds of 6/1 are not great though in this very competitive race.
The Cotswold Chase looks interesting, but would be a much better race if Delta Work had turned up.
Honest, I cannot have a penny on Santini at 7/4. For me he is yet to prove he is a 160+ chaser. Black Op has never looked like being a 3-mile chaser, so beating him at level weights is no recommendation for the novice Slate House. I do like Top Ville Ben and his win in the Rowland Meyrick on Boxing Day looked decent, but most of the opposition have seen better days and Wetherby is his home track. Can he not just repeat, but better that performance here? De Rasher Counter is not up to this, and Mr Whitaker has to prove his stamina. That leaves BRISTOL DE MAI and come 2:40pm tomorrow we could all be wondering why this proven chaser was allowed to go off at 9/4 with the opposition having so many holes in it. Even if he just repeats his performance when 3rd in this race in 2018 he would go close, but remember he was 3rd in the Gold Cup here last March! Anything close to that level of form will see him win fairly easily.
I'm taking a look at the Doncaster card now, and in the Skybet Chase it could be worth considering Nicky Henderson's runners. Not OK Corral - unless Derek O'Connor can work a miracle on him - but BURBANK. Yes, he is a novice chaser and yes he went up 11lb after winning LTO to OR145, but he was 5th in the 2018 Coral Cup handicap hurdle at the Festival off OR143 and he is clearly a better chaser than a hurdler. Also Henderson does not come to Doncaster unless he means business: 21 wins from 76 runners in 5 seasons, and 30 of those that didn't win came either 2nd or 3rd. Odds of 9/1 look generous about this prominent racer who we know is in top form.
All the best and look out for me on TV - I will be wearing my flat cap!
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Friday, 24 January 2020
Cheltenham Trials Day 25th January
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