This weekend’s races take place on the new course, generally regarded as the slower of the two. A notable feature is that there are just two flights in the last 6 furlongs on the hurdles course. The ground is reported as good, but apparently not soft enough for Willie Mullins to bring over his star mare Laurina who was favourite for the International Hurdle on Saturday. According to the BHA website Doncaster has been watering for Saturday and don’t be surprised if the same happens here (yes, I know, in December) because there was a big report published this week into fatalities at the Festival which included in its recommendations that the ground must as a minimum be on the soft side of good for future Festivals and there is no rain forecast. Latest readings are 7.3 chase and hurdle and 7.5 cross country (good ground with no soft). A high of 3 degrees celsius is going to make it suitably bracing for those at the course.
So, on to Friday’s card, which is decent rather than being anything special. My main interest focuses on the opening novices’ hurdle and chase and, unusually for me, the cross country where, in this distinctly European week, I think that there might be a bit of value from a travers la Manche.
12:10 Novices’ Hurdle (Class 3) 2m 1f
The one who immediately appealed to me in this race is exciting prospect Elixir de Nuts** (9/4), not least because he won here last month (on the old course). I think that he could be a good recruit for Colin Tizzard but has to concede a good deal of weight to his opponents. Angels Breath, currently 11/10 (was 100/30), is an 85000 euros recruit for Nicky Henderson but how many times have decent Irish pointers flopped when making the transition to novice hurdles? Of the others I K Brunel (Carlisle) and Jarveys Plate (Perth) have modest form and, whether it should be the case or not, Northern course form very rarely translates to Cheltenham success, particularly in novice company.
12:45 Novices’ Chase (Class 2) 3m 1 1/2f
This is my favourite race of the day. You need to take a view because the top three, The Worlds End (15/8), Lil Rockerfeller (9/4) and Ibis du Rheu (9/2) all have a realistic chance. Of them, the doughty hurdler Lil Rockerfeller*** is my selection. I’ve watched both his chase races. The first outing over fences (here) was far from convincing but he did much better at Exeter next time out with cheekpieces and is on a four timer. As such he represents excellent value and I expect his price to shorten, so get on.
The Worlds End is a very nice horse but I’m always wary about Tom George trained horses who are often hyped but don’t deliver. He was beaten (third) behind Ibis du Rheu but has an 8lb turn on him for this one.
For me, the rock solid hardiness of Lil Rockerfeller will be decisive in the long run up the hill. My nap.
Previous winners of this include Sizing Tennessee, Singlefarmpayment (see below), Blaklion and Sam Winner, so it’s generally one to take the winner from.
13:20 Handicap Hurdle (Class 3) 2m 1f
Two things. We have to bear in mind that this is a fairly moderate Class 3 so there could be a turn up, and I think that there is one absolutely primed for this.
This is a bog standard 0-140 moderate hurdle. It was won last year by Smaoineamh Alainn** (13/2) who was far from disgraced in a Grade 2 last time out. If you were the owner you’d have targeted this for a next exciting day out at Cheltenham. Two stars is my realistic assessment but I don’t like either of the runners ahead of him in the market (Highest Sun and Al Dancer).
The other one of note is Not That Fuisse, last out in the Greatwood Hurdle (6th) and one of Paul Ferguson’s horses to follow.
13:55 Mares’ Handicap Chase (Class 3) 2m 4 1/2f
So what do we say about a mares’ handicap chase without a star? Not much to be honest. Beware of Silent Steps (failed to win for Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls and now with Neil King). I’m swerving this one by a mile.
14:30 Handicap Chase(Grade 3) 3m 2f
Technically the race of the day because it’s a Grade 3. I hope not to offend anyone but Singlefarmpayment is a squiggly dog. Rock The Kasbah, a Grade 3 winner here, could easily win this but I’m not absolutely convinced. I think that Festival winner Coo Star Sivola** (13/2) (Festival winner, just to make that point again) is a proper contender and represents very good value.
Theatre Territory (7/2) is a relatively poor value each way option.
15:05 Cross Country Handicap Chase (Class 2) 3m 6f
Now, I’ve got a proper view about this one. I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if Josies Orders wins this at a current 3/1 (from 9/4). But, this is transparently not the target. On the other hand, this looks like the absolute objective for Amazing Comedy**** (4/1), trained by David Cottin (former jockey and son of Francois) who ran well in the Festival cross country in 2017 and beat Vol Noir de Kerser by over 18 lengths in an impressive win at Compiegne (3m 3f very soft) five weeks ago. Perfectly primed for this and my next best (after Lil Rockerfeller).
15:40 Handicap Hurdle (Class 2) 2m 7f 213y
The only thing that interests me about this race is that a couple are, on the face of it, ahead of the market so there should be a betting angle in a field of 13.
Great Trango is a horse who could develop well on his form at Galway and Listowel and could be much better than the bare form suggests. However, he is not my idea of the winner.
This evening Aaron Lad is attracting marginal support at 6/1. Jumping is dodgy and not one for me.
Both Clondaws (Cian and Native) are, for me, average horses who are best avoided.
Buywise is, again with respect to the owners, the second absolute dog of the day. Every chance of a place (as is his way at 28/1) but no desire to win. If you are an each way player this could be a very good bet but not one for me.
So, the first of the two. I really like Worthy Farm***, a horse who I think is thrown in here. A really good pointer who won well with loads in hand for Paul Nicholls when last out at Taunton (typical first outing for Nicholls). I expect that we will be talking about this horse next March.
The other is Sizing Granite. He was a Newbury hurdles winner and was sixth in the Punchestown Gold Cup. His current form is 0665 but he might just spark here. Just to be clear, that is not a betting proposition.
So, in summary:
12:10 Elixir de Nuts
12:45 Lil Rockerfeller
13:20 Smaoineamh Alainn
13:55 No bet
14:30 Coo Star Sivola
15:05 Amazing Comedy
15:40 Worthy Farm
Good luck, and for those of you that are there, have a great day!!