After February’s widespread floods the latest Met Office update suggests there is little rain due to hit Cheltenham over the next 10 days. One would imagine the ground will be given as soft – good to soft in places – on the opening day of the Festival but that going description could well be reversed later in the week.
At the start of the season I thought Lostintranslation would win the King George VI Chase at Kempton and Santini the Gold Cup. The first part went horribly wrong on Boxing Day with the Colin Tizzard-trained runner not jumping with the same fluency that had been the key element of his battles with Defi Du Seuil as a novice last term and his Betfair Chase success at Haydock back in November.
The forecast drying ground is considered a plus for Lostintranslation who has had a wind operation since Kempton and is the subject of upbeat, rather than bullish, noises from the stable. Robbie Power will be in the plate next week and his mount has been nibbled at in the market for the Blue Riband event of the Festival – now a best priced 13/2 with Paddy Power. William Hill are a standout 4/1 about last year’s winner Al Boum Photo following up with Santini his market rival at 7/2 with bet365.
Soft ground forecast for today’s Wincanton card and in the Maiden Hurdle I will be disappointed if the drop back to two-and-a-half miles does not see Sending Love (2.25) in a better light than when third at Uttoxeter on his Rules debut over a trip just shy of three miles. The Paul Nicholls’ trained seven-year-old had been off the track for over 1000 days prior to his Staffordshire run, having cost connections £130,000 at Cheltenham horses-in-training sales in February 2017. The selection travelled like the best horse in the race on his belated reappearance and the hope is that a 26-day break is enough to avoid any “bounce” factor.
Barbrook Star won the valuable 3m 1f Handicap Chase on the card 12 months ago and must go close from a 6lbs higher mark for Philip Hobbs. Le Boizelo is a good yardstick in this grade and was a good winner at Sandown back in December from just a 5lbs lower mark.
I am keen to see if the market speaks in favour of Spider’s Bite (4.45) who has not beaten a single horse home in two starts so far this term, but represents the inform yard of Henry Daly and has had his wind operated on since disappointing at Doncaster back in January. His second at Ascot on his chase debut last season from a 2lbs higher mark is very good form. It is possible that he is just not the same horse, but he certainly has the scope to make his mark over fences and both career wins have come on a flat right-hand track. As long as all eight stand their ground he gets the each way vote at what I would suggest will be a double-figure price.
At Carlisle Portstorm improved for the step up to 3m when runner up to a Gordon Elliot hotpot and looks sure to have his supporters on his handicap debut. Marginal preference, however, is for First Account (3.25) even though the selection gives 6lbs to Portstorm in this novice hurdle and would only be giving 2lbs if this were a handicap. The selection has won both starts since joining Keith Dalgleish and he readily disposed of a back-to-form Dadsintrouble at Musselburgh last week. He will be hard to beat if in the same mood.
Dark Heart (4.55) ran an extraordinary race on his last start when he hung badly right-handed at the first bend at Lingfield and looked sure to have thrown his race away. In the circumstances he did remarkably well to finish third just over 2 lengths behind Agreed who reopposes today at Newcastle. The hope is that it was just greenness – likely he was looking for a return to the racecourse stables – at Lingfield and Gosforth Park should suit this son of Nathaniel.
Hong Kong Dragon was claimed by Tim Fitzgerald out of George Scott’s yard, having finished runner up at Lingfield last time, but didn’t look the most resolute on that occasion and is best watched. Inductive (8.00) was forced wide for much of his journey when winning at Wolverhampton last time and he might be able to defy a 3lbs rise. That was the three-year-old’s first start since a gelding operation, and he might just be able to follow up.