Significant rain is expected for Cheltenham over the weekend although the beginning of next week is due to be largely dry and I expect the going for the opening day of the Festival on Tuesday to be a mix of good to soft and soft and there should be no excuses.
In betting news, Benie Des Dieux has been cut from 6/1 to 7/2 with BetVictor for the Mares’ Hurdle on the opening day following Wednesday’s news that stablemate and 2016 winner of the corresponding race Vroum Vroum Mag will miss the race and has been retired to the paddocks.
Ms Parfois was no match for Black Corton over three miles at Ascot last time but the prospect of soft ground has seen money for the mare in the 4m NH Chase and Anthony Honeyball’s charge was cut to 10s from 12s on Thursday for the amateur riders contest.
Sandown describe their ground as soft ahead of today’s card and Lady Karina was going well when coming down at halfway at Cheltenham when last seen back in December. The mare is a daughter of the wonderful Lady Rebecca and she looks sure to run well although preference is for Westend Story (3.05) despite being 10lbs higher than when scoring at Wetherby back in January.
I felt the selection would be a leading contender for the Coral Cup but Philip Hobbs has not been able to get another run into the gelding who did finish fifth in the Champion Bumper two years ago.
The Grand Military Gold Cup is the feature race and this could easily go to last year’s winner Rathlin Rose under amputee Capt Guy Disney. The combination warmed up for today by winning the Artillery Gold Cup over C&D three weeks ago and he looks a worthy favourite. Disney lost his right leg below the knee while serving in Helmond Province Afghanistan in 2009 and he is an inspiration to many.
Marginal preference, however, goes to Knockanrawley (3.40) who is well suited by the conditions of today’s race although I am not familiar with jockey Captain Will Ramsay.
In the 2m 4f Handicap Chase at Leicester, I like the look of the top-weights O Maonlai and Icing On The Cake (2.40) with preference for the latter dropping back in trip having looked a non-stayer at Ascot (3m) last time.
I am going to give Acdc (2.50) another chance in the 2m 5f Handicap Chase at Ayr. The selection was never travelling under Richard Johnson over a slightly shorter trip here almost two weeks ago but two of his three career wins have been with Brian Hughes in the saddle and he is given a last chance with conditions ideal.
A market move for Imada would be worth noting in the 2m Handicap Hurdle given he ran well for a long way following a long absence at Kelso in January The suggestion is the Nicky Richards-trained gelding might need better ground and he has a bit to find with Charmant (3.25) on running at the Borders track.
The selection looks a progressive sort and he lost nothing in defeat trying to give 10lbs to Nendrum, who is in the form of his life at present, at Musselburgh last time.
It wasn’t the greatest race that Massini’s Lady won at Wetherby last month, but the mare is open to further improvement and the handicapper has only raised her 8lbs for that fluent 11-length win. She must go close but Smuggler’s Stash (4.30) finally got his head in front in the snow over C&D last month and can follow up for Rose Dobbin and Ryan Day.
Western Rules will be fit enough having finished second in a Jumpers Bumper, beaten a short head at Newcastle on Saturday, but Dedigout (5.05) returned to form when beaten a head over today’s C&D last time when he travelled like much the best horse. A 5lbs rise is hardly lenient but his jockey claims 5lbs in this amateur riders’ event and remains very well treated on his best form.