FINGERS crossed for the 7.30am inspection at Cheltenham today, when we will probably know if they will race or not.
It was looking good at the time of writing. John Pullin said that the racing line was free of frost after yesterday’s inspection. And with temperatures forecast to get down to no lower than -2C, and the frost covers in place, it all looked fairly positive.
There was even a few quid waiting to back racing to go ahead at 1.1 on Betfair, and you know that the market is the ultimate indicator.
It is a veritable feast, if it goes ahead. Which will be greatly appreciated, after the frosty famine. Nine races, and bursting with quality.
It’s not quite up there with the High Winds Festival, the 2008 Festival, when the winds howled on Wednesday and racing was cancelled, with the Wednesday races shoe-horned into the Thursday and Friday cards.
The net result then was that we had the Champion Chase on Thursday, 35 minutes before the Ryanair Chase, and the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle on Friday, 35 minutes before the Coral Cup and run in a time that was almost three seconds faster, and the Triumph Hurdle as the fourth race on the day and, by the end of it all, you weren’t sure if the new Mares’ Hurdle had been run today or yesterday.
The Albert Bartlett Clarence House Chase has been shoehorned in today, and it’s great that it has been.
It should be some tussle between Edwardstone and Energumene, perhaps not that dissimilar to the tussle in this race last year – at its home at Ascot – between Shishkin and the same Energumene.
It may be that the market has not fully taken into account the switch in venue and in ground conditions for today’s race.
On soft ground at Ascot, going right-handed, you can see how they could bet 1/2 Energumene and 2/1 Edwardstone. But at Cheltenham on good to soft ground, it may be that they should both be closer to even money than they are.
The Cleeve Hurdle and the Cotswold Chase are both really interesting races for myriad reasons but, from a betting perspective, it is the most competitive race, the Paddy Power Cheltenham Countdown Podcast Handicap Chase, that piques interest.
You can make cases for many. Il Ridoto keeps on running well at Cheltenham even though it may be that he is better suited by a flatter track. Fugitif was impressive in winning at Chepstow last time and, if Simply The Betts or Coole Cody or Spiritofthegames could bounce back, any one of them could go well.
It is interesting too that Stuart Crawford is sending over Now Where Or When, set to have his first run since he ran out a game winner of a competitive handicap chase at Down Royal’s big meeting in early November, and Brave Seasca would be a big player if you knew that he could be as good at Cheltenham, where he under-performed last time, as he is at Aintree or Warwick.
That said, the most over-priced horse in the race could be Precious Eleanor. Henry Daly’s mare ran well for a long way in a two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase at Sandown three weeks ago.
The ground should have been softer than ideal for her that day, and she jumped continually to her left, but she was still right there at the Pond Fence before weakening from the second last.
She should be happier going left-handed today and on ground that will probably be better than the ground that she encountered at Sandown. And she goes well at Cheltenham, where she has run twice.
In the former race, she finished second in a mares’ handicap chase in December last year behind Vienna Court, who won a Grade 3 handicap chase back at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day last year, and is now rated 17lb higher than she was then. In the latter, she won the mares’ novices’ handicap chase final at the April meeting last year.
She is 2lb lower now than she was at Sandown, two and a half miles is her trip, and she is re-united with Tom O’Brien, who has won on her twice and finished second on her five times.
Sky Bet Chase
Later in the day, Ga Law is a worthy favourite for the Sky Bet Handicap Chase at Doncaster. He stayed on well to win the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham in November, he races like he could improve for the step up in trip and an 8lb hike may not halt his progression.
But he is short, as is Tea For Free, who is on a serious upward trajectory, having completed a four-timer under Lilly Pinchin at Newbury on New Year’s Eve, and, at a much bigger price, Shanty Alley could go well.
Ben Case’s horse ran a big race in the Mandarin Chase at Newbury last time. He and Laskalin got racing early enough on the front end, they went fully five lengths clear of their field on the run to the fourth last fence and, while Shanty Alley saw off his fellow prominent racer, he couldn’t withstand the late challenge of Grumpy Charley.
It was still a fine run, he finished nicely ahead of Laskalin in third, and a 4lb hike was not overly harsh. It takes him up to a handicap rating of 129, which is still 3lb lower than his peak.
He is nine now and he has had plenty of racing, but his two runs this season, since a wind operation, have been up there with his best.
And he proved that he can operate at Doncaster, on good to soft ground at Doncaster, when he won a novices’ handicap chase there in January two years ago on his last run there.
Precious Eleanor, 1.50 Cheltenham, 20/1 (generally), 1pt each-way
Shanty Alley, 3.15 Doncaster, 20/1 (generally), 1pt each-way