The Duke – Cheltenham Preview

It’s a lovely time of year to be in Cheltenham. There is a certain crispness to the air and if you head over to any of the nearby racing yards you can see your own breath rise in the morning as the familiar rattle of hooves trample the turf. For me, it is magical. The buzz grows towards the start of racing and on Friday we have some good races to kick off three days of fun.

One of the highlights on the card is the two-mile Betvictor Handicap Chase.

Bright New Dawn heads the weights but it might be a little tough for the Venetia Williams-trained gelding, as he would probably prefer slightly softer conditions.

Kapstadt is unexposed over fences, having only taken to the bigger fences a couple of times this autumn. Having said this, Ian Williams has picked up big races at Wincanton and Doncaster recently and Kapstadt has a degree of ability over hurdles and on the Flat.

Exitas likes good ground so may want it to dry up a touch, but there is no doubt he is in good form, winning three of his last four starts including a Listed race at Ascot most recently. He undoubtedly took advantage of an imbalance in the weights that day and having shot up 10lbs I’m not sure he’s quite as well treated for this contest.

The one I think could be really good each-way value is Shanahan’s Turn. He runs in the colours of the late Alan Potts who died suddenly this week. The family have been great investors in National Hunt racing and I think it would be fitting if his excellent string were among the winners this week.

Putting that aside, Shanahan’s Turn was a Galway Plate winner in 2015 and is now a pound below that mark having failed to fire since then for Henry de Bromhead and having been switched to Colin Tizzard’s yard.

In the very next race, I can’t wait to see this four-runner affair.

Sure, it would be lovely to have a few more runners but Finian’s Oscar is a firm favourite of mine and he’s an exciting prospect over fences this season. Similarly I think both William Henry and Movewiththetimes will be better over the bigger obstacles than they were over hurdles so it could be an intriguing battle.

Purely on prices Aubusson may be a little overpriced in the Cross Country race but the three JP McManus entries and Emmanuel Clayeux’s Urgent De Gregaine are all likely to be in the mix.

The last race on the card is not to be missed. Sometimes racing fans like to get out to the car park and watch the race from their car seats, but perhaps just stick around and have a drink for this one, you might just see a couple of stars.

Poetic Rhythm has to concede weight after winning the Grade 2 Persian War Novices’ Hurdle at Chepstow. I know the yard are hopeful there may be even more in the locker. Calett Mad has done the backwards route of chasing and then hurdling, but he’s looked good at Perth and Cheltenham the last twice and is a contender.

On The Blind Side goes for Nicky Henderson and it’s hard to measure how good he could be after a win at Aintree last month. Momella is a mare who won in point-to-points and has made a winning start to life with Dan Skelton with a couple of novice hurdle wins. Vision Des Flos was an eye-catcher when third behind Poetic Rhythm at Chepstow. As such, he may start favourite and with perhaps the most potential of any of these in the line-up, I wouldn’t bet against him reversing the form.

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