WE’VE teamed up with BetVictor and Charlie McCann to preview this weekend’s big races.
Cheltenham are becoming increasingly confident that their Festival Trials’ card will go ahead this weekend if not on Saturday then Sunday as rain from the west threatens to end the recent cold snap.
Whatever day it goes ahead it should be well worth the wait and we begin with a Juvenile Hurdle which sees Rolling Star (12.10) of Nicky Henderson’s bid to make a winning British debut having scored at Auteuil back in October. The noises coming out of the yard suggest the four-year-old has thrived since coming to Lambourn and he is 12/1 (Non Runner Free Bet) at BetVictor ahead of his first start for his new trainer.
I am convinced that Gullinbursti (12.40) is not an out-and-out stayer and he is taken to go well in the Novices’ Handicap Chase which sees a host of progressive first season chasers.
I remember backing the selection at Doncaster over timber last year when, for much of the journey, he appeared to be going much the best before getting run out of it by Rocky Creek of Paul Nicholls. He may have been let in kindly off a mark 3lb below his hurdle rating in a fascinating race. Ballygarvey only won an egg and spoon race at Lingfield but he was very impressive on that occasion and a 15lb rise might not prevent the Hobbs’ runner following up.
Katenko bypasses the Great Yorkshire Chase, now the SkyBet Chase, at Doncaster for which he was antepost favourite and would be the selection if making the line-up for the Murphy Group Chase. But, at the time of writing, connections are not sure they want to drop their French import back in trip with Haydock’s Grand National Trial next month also under consideration.
Sprinter Sacre really ought to win the Grade 1 Victor Chandler Chase but at 1/5 he makes no appeal as a betting medium. If the ground came up very testing I’m not sure it would suit Sanctuaire and last year’s winner Somersby (1.50), having his first start for Mick Channon, at 13/8 with BetVictor is the call in the market without the favourite.
The Argento Chase should go to Bobs Worth, despite the fact that he is 2lbs worse off with Tidal Bay on Hennessy running, but there are unconfirmed reports that the horse is not a certain runner and it might be prudent to look elsewhere for a selection.
Former Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander (2.25 ew) returns from a 680-day absence, having been last seen in the 2011 Gold Cup, and who knows how much ability the 12-year-old retains?
That said, he does have a very good record fresh and it is just wonderful to see him back on the track. I hope it is not my heart ruling my head but he receives weight from inferior rivals and if Bobs Worth is a non-runner I am sure he will give a good account of himself.
If the main protagonists all stand their ground one could argue that the race of the day is the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle over 2m 5f with Coneygree, Puffin Billy and The New One (3.00) in opposition with marginal preference for the latter.
The former may need 3m against this class of opposition and Puffin Billy shows so much speed I am worried about the step up in trip on soft ground whilst the selection looked the next Twiston-Davies superstar at Warwick and cannot be opposed.
I would love to see Coneygree stay at 3m against Oscar Whisky and co in the Cleeve Hurdle in another cracker but in his likely absence Reve De Sivola (3.35) can build on his facile win in the Long Walk at Ascot last month under similar conditions.
Oscar Whisky would be a fascinating contender and connections need to know if they should target the World Hurdle or perhaps wait for another Aintree Hurdle which is now going to be run on the opening day of the Grand National meeting.
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