Saturday’s nine-race Cheltenham Trials meeting begins with a mouth-watering clash between two of JP McManus’s army of talented juveniles Charli Parcs and Defi Du Seuil (12.00) going head-to-head and it is the latter who gets the vote despite retained jockey Barry Geraghty siding with the Nicky Henderson trained four-year-old.
The selection clouted every hurdle in the home straight in the Grade 1 Finale Hurdle at Chepstow over the Festive period last time but still came home 13 lengths clear of his field. Charli Parcs was relatively weak in the market when making a winning British debut under Noel Fehily on Boxing Day and one would imagine Geraghty has been over from his Irish base in recent weeks to school the pair. Defi Du Seuil is 5/1 at BetVictor for the Triumph Hurdle with Charli Parc 7s and there is bound to be a shake-up in the betting after what looks sure to be a most informative contest.
My two against the field in the Novices’ Handicap Chase are Burtons Well and Singlefarmpayment (12.35) with the latter getting the vote despite dropping back in trip having won a decent Novices’ event over the best part of three-and-a-quarter miles last month. The selection is 33/1 at BetVictor for the RSA Chase in March but could enter the lists for the JLT if landing this competitive heat.
Un De Sceaux is ½ at BetVictor for the Grade 1 Clarence House but I am keen to take him on and the each way vote goes to Top Gamble (12/1 at BetVictor) who I just think is worth his place at the top table with further rain forecast. Uxizandre is, arguably, the most interesting runner in the race but is entitled to come on for the run - his first since landing the 2015 Ryanair Chase.
The brilliant Thistlecrack (2.15) cannot be opposed in the Cotswold Chase with connections getting further chasing experience into the novice who destroyed his field in the King George VI Chase at Kempton last time.
With trainer Colin Tizzard reporting the much-vaunted Alary scoped badly after his Peter Marsh flop at Haydock last weekend I certainly wouldn’t be in a rush to back Thistlecrack at 4/9 with BetVictor but he is obviously the most likely winner.
The Cleeve Hurdle can go to Unowhatimenharry (4.00) who has won all seven starts since joining Harry Fry.
Peering through the Ascot frog it looked as if the selection had just taken the measure of Ballyoptic when that one came down at the last in the Long Walk Hurdle last month and the nine-year-old can confirm the form. The selection is Evens at BetVictor for today’s contest and 9/4 for the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.
The ground is currently good at Doncaster but rain is forecast and I am looking forward to the Grade 2 River Don Novices’ Hurdle and the unbeaten Give Me A Copper (1.25) representing Paul Nicholls. The selection has only won an egg and spoon race under rules at Exeter but did so with the minimum of fuss and he receives 3lbs from Constantine Bay who is suggested as the main danger for Nicky Henderson.
Cyrius Moriviere was an unlucky loser when the saddle slipped last time but I am convinced we didn’t see the real Double W’s (2.00) at Newbury last time and he has been given a two-month break to get over his early season exertions.
The big betting race is the Skybet Chase and the each way recommendation is Ballyboker Breeze (3.40) who will not be inconvenienced if the ground deteriorates although he is 10lbs higher than when scoring at Bangor last time – the selection is 12/1 at BetVictor and trainer Nicky Richards will be praying for significant rain.
At Uttoxeter Harrison Beswick takes 10lbs off the back of The Fresh Prince (3.55) for Oliver Sherwood and that can help the Trevor Hemmings owned seven-year-old who was still travelling well when coming down at the cross fence at Aintree last time.
I hope to see an improved show from Minella Fiveo (4.30) in the finale for Sue Smith. The selection was returning from a long absence when blowing the cobwebs away at Bangor back in October but the booking of Danny Cook suggests a bold show is expected dropping back in trip.
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