1:40 From The Horse’s Mouth Podcast Novices’ Chase (Grade 2) 1m 7f 199yds
An interesting race, particularly from a tactical viewpoint, and given several of the runners have a history of losing races after travelling best, it will be an advantage to be at the head of affairs.
Harry Skelton was happy to take a lead initially here at the Showcase meeting, but he allowed Third Time Lucki to stride on when Fidelio Vallis kept going out to the right, and he would be well advise to press on early here, as his main rival on paper, Mick Pastor probably needs to dominate to win, and looked reluctant in the finish at Wincanton last week against Captain Tom Cat.
The winner made every yard there, and may also try to repeat such tactics, but he has a stiff task under a penalty for winning a weak Grade 2.
Sebastopol was beaten 20 lengths on his chase debut by Mick Pastor, but should improve, and if reacting positively to blinkers could be the one to get closest to the favourite, as he tends to travel strongly, and might pick up the pieces, for all that suggests a forecast bet rather than expecting him to beat Third Time Lucki.
2:15 Paddy Power Gold Cup Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 2m 4f 44yds
The race of the weekend looks an absolute cracker, and very few can be ruled out. I’ve already backed Al Dancer here, with one firm’s ante-post offering of 25/1 too good to ignore, and he’s certainly the most interesting runner in the race.
He was a good third last year for Nigel Twiston-Davies, and has dropped in the weights after some lesser efforts. A number of horses from that yard lost their way after last Christmas, but have bounced back recently, with Rocco winning a big race at 40/1 last weekend.
Sam Thomas now trains Al Dancer and he’s already turned Stolen Silver around, with that horse winning on his stable debut at Market Rasen, and going desperately close here on Friday. Thomas seems confident that he has Al Dancer at his best, and if true, he looks well treated off a mark 7lb lower for last year’s placed effort.
Looking for a back-up at this stage, I’ve decided to take a chance on Deyrann De Carjac, who was beaten only two lengths by Midnight Shadow in the Grade 2 Dipper Novices’ Chase here in January last year, with Paint The Dream splitting the pair.
Alan King’s eight-year-old is now 15lb and 10lb better off respectively with that pair, and while he’s disappointed on two of his last three starts, he looked likely to win until making a late error at Warwick on his penultimate start.
He’s slipped further in the weights since then, and while a leap of faith is required, he’s reported to be over his issues by King, and is another who looks on a lenient mark if bouncing back to his best.
2:50 Paddy Power Games Handicap Hurdle (Listed) 2m 7f 208yds
Proschema appeared to stay three miles when second in the Grade 2 West Yorkshire Hurdle last month, but that could be misleading, with a modest pace not suiting the true stayers, and the front two were essentially the fastest pair in the contest.
I think Dan Skelton’s charge still has his stamina to prove, and the hill is likely to test him.
Sporting John has stamina and well-being to prove, while his efforts at this track in the past have been woeful. People are still banging on about the good form of the Philip Hobbs yard, but the Minehead handler has had just two winners from 36 runners in the past two weeks, and one of those was a 1/7 shot in a match. Not for me, thanks.
Onagatheringstorm comes from a yard in proper form, with Art Approval providing an 11th winner in the past fortnight for Fergal O’Brien, and it’s notable that Art Approval was stepping up markedly on his running at the October meeting when winning the opener here on Friday. Like him, Onagatheringstorm shaped as if better for the run after finishing third to Bardenstown Storm here last month, and he’s now 9lb better off with runner-up Dragon Bones from that contest.
I’d say they have much the same chance here, but the selection is double the price, and that is an error from the compilers.
3:25 Paddy Power Feel Like A Favourite Intermediate Handicap Hurdle 2m 5f
I was very taken by Gowel Road last season when he looked a bit of a baby, but won twice on contrasting ground at Newbury before finding he lacked the street smarts to cope with the County Hurdle.
That will have aided his development, and with the Twiston-Davies stable back in good heart, I’d expect him to progress again this season, and this step up to two miles and five furlongs looks sure to suit him on pedigree.
I’m not convinced how well Cheltenham will suit him as a venue, but that concern is ameliorated by the odds on offer, and I’m sure he’s one to follow in the long term, with chasing sure to be his game in time.
1:45 Jewson Click And Collect Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 3m 3f 71yds
Go Another One was far from disgraced here last month, and he appeals as capable of taking advantage of his fitness against some slightly dubious rivals here. Yala Enki has never been a Cheltenham horse and The Mighty Don does not jump well enough.
Empire De Maulde is improving, but he’s had multiple breathing operations, and that alone begs questions about how he will cope with the punishing climb to the line at this unique course.
John McConnell has an excellent record with his runners here, particular when the ground isn’t testing, and Go Another One is just 1lb higher than when winning at Perth on his penultimate start.
2:20 Shloer Chase (Grade 2) 1m 7f 199yds
A deep contest despite the small field, and Put The Kettle On is defending her 100% course record, having won over the course and distance at this meeting in 2019 and 2020.
She is sure to go well again, and I would fancy her to confirm Champion Chase form with Nube Negra, who is slightly flattered by that run and his defeat of a fading Altior in the Desert Orchid at Kempton last term.
He’s a very slick jumper, but was firmly put in his place by Chacun Pour Soi at Punchestown.
Politologue was unable to defend his Champion Chase crown due to a late withdrawal when he was noted bleeding from the nose in the saddling box. He’s had wind surgery since disappointing at Aintree, and I’m afraid his history of bleeding/wind issues must count against him now he’s in the veteran stage.
If there’s a horse to beat Henry de Bromhead’s mare, it may be Rouge Vif, who runs his best races fresh, and has his first start for Paul Nicholls having left Harry Whittington.
The concern is that he, too, has had his issues, and a couple of well-backed Nicholls runners on Friday were disappointing, which urges a degree of caution with the yard.
2:55 Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) 2m 87yds
On a day of small fields, the Greatwood again comes up trumps, and there are two I’d like to take against the field, especially as the ante-post favourite looks very wobbly.
No Ordinary Joe has been well touted for this, but his form leaves him with plenty to find, accepting that he’s totally unexposed, and I couldn’t back with counterfeit, to coin a phrase.
The Welsh Champion Hurdle is often a good guide to this, and this year’s winner, Glory And Fortune is respected, but I’m happy to take a chance on Ffos Las fourth Cormier, who travelled as well as the winner until finding himself unable to quicken from the last.
A 9lb swing in the weights gives him every chance of turning the tables, and being owned by Cheltenham resident and shrewd punter Dan Gilbert (owner of 2018 winner Nietzsche), he’s sure to have been primed for this contest.
The other over-priced runner here is bottom-weight Mick Maestro, and while I doubt the 66/1 with SkyBet – who are paying seven places – will last, it is the daftest offer I’ve seen all season so far.
He would have won three on the spin last autumn but for an unfortunate fall, and his effort to finish third to Ajero at Market Rasen in February reads really well here.
He split the pair who were first and second in the Imperial Cup that day, and he was unsuited by the heavy ground at Sandown, with that race looking to leave a mark.
He’s now 5lb lower than for the Market Rasen race, will appreciate the good ground, and can go well fresh, so should never be 50/1 or bigger for a race like this. I’d be happy to back him at 25/1, and must put him up given that.
Deyrann De Carjac 2:15 Cheltenham – 1pt e/w @ 33/1
Onagatheringstorm 2:50 Cheltenham – 1pt win @ 8/1 (Bet365, Hills, BetVictor)
Cormier 2:55 Cheltenham – 1pt e/w @ 14/1 (Paddy Power, BetVictor, Bet365)
Mick Maestro 2:55 Cheltenham – 1pt e/w @ 50/1 (general)