A wonderful card to start the New Year at Cheltenham this afternoon and I hope the ground has enough cut for Rolling Dylan (12.50) who has been raised 2lbs for finishing a close third here last month. That run was gained on good ground and the hope is that Clerk of the Course Simon Claisse’s New Year’s Eve description of the ground as good to soft is correct.
The Grade 2 Dipper Chase is one of the best Novice Chases of the season to date – certainly this year – and this looks a mini JLT Novice chase such is the quality of the five-runner field. I have been waiting patiently for the chase debut of On The Blind Side, but this is a very hot race and marginal preference is for Lostintranslation (1.25) who has lost little in defeat behind subsequent Grade 1 winner La Bague Au Roi in two starts at Newbury this term. The selection is 7/2 with BetVictor with On The Blind Side and Defi Du Seuil vying for favouritism at 11/4.
A market moves for Give Me A Copper would be worth noting in the following 2m 4f handicap Chase, but I hope Happy Diva (2.00) can give Kerry Lee a welcome winner. The mare has not been seen since brought down four out in the BetVictor Gold Cup when travelling as well as anything as this slightly softer ground is a plus. The yard could do with a high-profile winner after what has been a modest first half of the season. The selection is 5/1 with BetVictor and is an each way recommendation.
Despite finishing third in a Stayers’ Hurdle I feel Wholestone (3.10) is at his best over today’s intermediate 2m 4f trip of the Relkeel Hurdle. The selection won the corresponding race 12 months ago and can follow up although he must carry 3lbs more this afternoon. The selection is 6/4 at BetVictor and may have to make his own running with no confirmed front-runner in the field although Thomas Campbell did make all over fences earlier in the season.
Venetia Williams has her string in good form and Achille (2.25) looks sure to go close from the foot of the weights in the 3m Handicap Chase at Exeter. The selection jumped out to the right at Bangor on occasions last time and this track should suit although the drying ground is a concern. Le Boizelo has yet to prove he stays this 3m trip but he is well treated at present and he is one to keep on the right side of going forward.
The ITV cameras are at Musselburgh and I thought Forth Bridge (1.40) was unlucky at Fakenham when not getting the clearest of passages around the home turn last time. The winner (Militarian) ran a good race from a 5lbs higher mark at Doncaster at the weekend. A 3lbs rise is fair and the horse – who is owned by Her Majesty – has a course record of 112.
Last year’s 1-2 Knockgraffon and Upsilon Bleu are in the field again this afternoon, but the younger Charlie Longsdon-trained chaser (4/1 at BetVictor) will love the forecast good ground and gets the narrow vote in another cracking contest.
Always Lion (3.25) has not seen the track for 590 days and has his first start for Iain Jardine, but he was a horse who I had a lot of time for when trained by Ben Pauling. The selection is one of two of the four-runner field owned by the Rooney’s as was the case when he made a winning start over fences at Market Rasen when last seen. Brian Hughes rides Born For War who has been raised 10lbs for scoring here over 2m 4f last time and is clearly going the right way, but Always Lion has won from a 550-day break in the past and he clearly goes well fresh.