It was confirmed yesterday that champion jockey Richard Johnson will ride top-weight The New One in Sunday’s Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham. The gelding has been a wonderful servant to connections but will need to be as good as ever to defy 11st 12lbs and he is 20/1 at BetVictor to land Sunday’s Cheltenham feature.
Ian Williams has his string in terrific form and his Ballyalton (10/1 at BetVictor from 14s) has been well supported for the BetVictor Gold Cup in recent days. The horse runs in the colours of golfer Lee Westwood and this former Cheltenham Festival winner Ballyalton needs good ground to be seen at his best, Conditions are currently described as being just on the soft side of good with little rain forecast between now and post time.
Good ground forecast at Taunton this afternoon and I’m looking forward to the hurdles debut of the Worcester Bumper winner Shoal Bay (1.35) who justified 5/4 favouritism on debut for Colin Tizzard. That success was gained on fast ground so underfoot conditions should hold no terrors this afternoon. Tom Scudamore takes the mount with Richard Johnson, who was in the plate on debut, claimed to ride Contented for Philip Hobbs.
Dual Bumper winner Peggies Venture (3.10) makes her handicap debut for Alan King in the Mares’ Handicap Hurdle and can go one better than when just touched off at Worcester last time. Both wins came on Lingfield’s polytrack surface but she handles good ground well and is taken to break her duck over timber.
At Ludlow Oscar Rose, drops back in trip and that might suit for Fergal O’Brien but marginal preference goes to Cockney Wren (1.25) who ran an excellent race on her hurdles debut when third at Kempton in a listed contest. As long as there is no significant rain Harry Fry’s mare must go close given she is entitled to come on for that initial experience.
In the 3m 2f Handicap Chase By The Boardwalk (3.30) is 3lbs lower than when second over C&D 12 months ago and gets an each way vote for the inform Kim Bailey. The selection is best going right-handed on decent ground and should have his optimum conditions today.
The race of the day is the Grade 2 Clonmel Oil Chase where Galway Plate winner Balko Des Flos is one of four Gigginstown owned runners in this six-runner field. He must go close but preference is for Champagne West (2.20) from the stable of Henry de Bromhead. The selection had a good record fresh when trained by Philip Hobbs and todays extended 2m 4f trip on soft ground looks his optimum conditions.