Festival Trials day at Cheltenham this afternoon is due to be run on ground described as soft on Friday morning with no significant rain forecast between now and the time they go to post for the opening juvenile hurdle.
The two-and-a-half-mile novices’ handicap chase is an absolute belter and Simply The Betts will appreciate the return to a left-hand track having jumped out to his left at Kempton when runner up in a hot race last time. He can run from the same mark this afternoon and must go close, but I am a big admirer of Imperial Aura (1.15) and would be disappointed if he didn’t run a big race.
I have only had two antepost bets for the Cheltenham Festival so far and they are both in the Close Brothers Chase. Mick Channon’s Hold The Note is currently 12/1 joint favourite with BetVictor, and Imperial Aura is 16s and I hope the latter enhances his Festival credentials this afternoon. He is 3/1 at BetVictor for today’s contest and he jumped very well when runner up over an extended three miles here last time. I hope today’s drop back in trip sees him in an even better light. BetVictor are paying 4 places on a contest which promises to be most informative.
My Way (1.50) jumped well and was doing all his best work close home when runner up in a hot race at Ascot last time and he has only 10st to carry in the valuable handicap over the same 2m 4f trip as the novices’ event. The selection is 1lb out of the handicap and lacks the experience of his nine rivals but at 15/2 with BetVictor and hope he can reward each way support in another terrific race.
Six go to post for the Cheltenham Gold Cup trial and it is a fascinating renewal of this Grade 2 contest. De Rasher Counter did us a favour when landing the Ladbrokes Trophy, but this represents a big step up in grade and Santini (2.25) gets the vote despite a workmanlike success in his sole run so far this term when winning a modest Intermediate Chase at Sandown.
Santini – 6/4 with BetVictor – did end last season finishing runner up in the RSA Chase here back in March and has had his wind operated on since his seasonal debut. Bristol de Mai was the best of the British when third in the Gold Cup back in March, but he must give a couple of pounds to the selection and if there is a Gold Cup winner in the field then I feel it is likely to be the Nicky Henderson-trained eight-year-old.
The Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle is a top-class renewal and I am loath to desert Harry Senior who improved for the step up in trip when scoring at Chepstow last time out for Colin Tizzard. At 6/1 with BetVictor I would be disappointed if he didn’t finish in the first three but King Roland (3.00) could be anything and came home 19L clear at a foggy Exeter last time. Harry Fry holds his six-year-old – 13/8 at BetVictor – in some regard although he does have to improve if he is to get past Harry Senior up the famous Cheltenham hill.
Last year’s Stayers’ Hurdle winner Paisley Park (3.35) is difficult to oppose despite being taken out of the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot over Christmas. Emma Lavelle’s stable star is 8/13 at BetVictor to land today’s Grade 2 prize and 5/4 to retain his Stayers’ crown in March.
Over at Doncaster and in the 3m handicap chase do keep an eye on a market move for Tanarpino who is dropping down the weights and will appreciate today’s better ground. The vote, however, goes to Mahlermade (1.30) who could be well handicapped despite carrying top weight and the talented conditional Alexander Thorne takes off a valuable 7lbs.
The wonderful 10-year-old Lady Buttons may struggle to give 4lbs to Floressa (2.40) in the listed mares’ hurdle. The selection is half the age of Phil Kirby’s mare, but I do think on decent ground the Henderson mare may have too much pace in another cracking race.
I hope it is a good day for Alan King as Good Man Pat (3.15) gets the opportunity to run on some decent ground and with his jockey’s 7lbs claim I feel he can run a big race in the SkyBet Chase. The selection is 12/1 with BetVictor who are betting four places on this 14-runner handicap.
At Uttoxeter Financial Outcome (1.55) has been raised 8lbs for scoring at Doncaster on soft ground earlier in the month and that may not prevent him following up. Mister Tickle is a horse who I feel will be winning races over fences, but he may need better ground to be seen at his best.
Just A Thought (3.05) finished runner up in her sole point and I hope she makes a winning start over fences in the mares’ handicap chase. Ben Jones is excellent value for his 5lbs, and I hope it is a good day for Rebecca Curtis in Staffordshire.
At Naas on Sunday Carefully Selected (1.40) makes a quick reappearance in the feature Grade 2 novice chase having made all to score at Punchestown a fortnight ago. The selection must run over three miles to be eligible for the NH Chase at the Festival in March for which he looks like being a leading candidate.