We finally waved goodbye to the flat season last Saturday at Ascot. While it was an enjoyable season in the main, the flat season quite simply doesn’t compare to the thrills and spills of the jumps season. Today is what I see as the first proper jumps meeting of the year and quite fittingly it is at the home of jump racing; Cheltenham. Where better than to kick off our quest for winners and here’s hoping, over the coming months, we begin to build our army of winners for the Festival, next March.
NEPTUNE INVESTMENT MANAGEMENT NOVICES´ HURDLE
A tricky little novice hurdle to start us off here with only 5 runners going to post. The current champion trainer, Paul Nicholls, saddles EL BANDIT and to me, he stands out amongst this bunch. He had good form over hurdles last season and showed his well-being when winning at Chepstow two weeks ago. That was over a couple of furlongs shorter than today’s trip but he has won over this trip before and is likely to improve for it. The horse to give him most to do is the Irish raider, Black Warrior. This horse is trained by Charles Byrnes, so I’ll just say be wary of any market moves. If the money pours in for this fellow he will probably flick his jockey into the air while cartwheeling over the line in first. However, based on his run in Galway two starts ago I don’t see him troubling the selection, who at 7/4 looks a great starting bet.
|El Bandit (win)||2.10 Cheltenham||7/4||Betfred|
SQUAREINTHEAIR.COM NOVICES´ CHASE
A novice chase this time with the dead 8 going to post, assuming no non-runners, and this makes it an excellent race for an each-way bet. There are three Irish horses here and all three ran in the same race last time out. Ridestan beat Neverushacon by a nose that day off level weights but with a 3 pound swing in Neverushacon’s favour you can expect him to overturn that. Gambling Girl was tailed off that day so we will leave her to gamble on her herself, should it take her fancy. To my mind the form of that race isn’t good enough for this, so on that basis, I will put a line through all three of the Irish runners. For me, the likely winner of this is the 2/1 favourite, Marracudja, trained by Paul Nicholls. That is a short price though and in a novice chase I would need to be really sweet on them to tip them at prohibitive odds. As I said previously, the dead 8 runners give the three each-way places, so I am going take a chance with BARON ALCO, who makes his chase debut. This horse was very good over hurdles and might just turn out to be the one here at a fair looking 6/1.
|Baron Alco (ew)||2.45 Cheltenham||6/1||Bet365|
JOIN THE JOCKEY CLUB OWNERSHIP SYNDICATE HANDICAP HURDLE
The first handicap of the day here and we open up with the hurdles. This is another each-way race, this time with 4 places, as 17 runners go to post. The one I give preference to is FLORRIE BOY. He was in great form last year, albeit rounding the season off with a sub-par run. However, he gets in here off a nice weight, with a more than capable pilot taking a further 5 pounds off and can go well here after a well-earned rest. The Irish challenger Winter Lion is also better than he showed last time and also appeals each-way, under Grand National winning rider, David Mullins.
|Florrie Boy (ew)||3.20 Cheltenham||11/1||Bet365|
RYMAN STATIONERY CHELTENHAM BUSINESS CLUB NOVICES´ CHASE
Six runners go to post here with the Irish runners dominating our historic friends by a 4-2 margin. I’d fully expect this Irish battalion, led by TIGER ROLL, to come out the victors in this particular battle. Tiger Roll, an ex-triumph hurdle winner, has been a frustrating horse to follow over fences but has come up against a few solid rivals. He was stepped up in trip the last day though and that seemed to be the key to him. 3 miles around Cheltenham with the hill to finish looks tailor-made for him and I can’t see any of the others troubling him. He looks banker material here at 6/4. Heron Heights is the best of the rest but he wouldn’t be in the same class as the selection.
|Tiger Roll (win)||3.55 Cheltenham||6/4||Bet365|
HARRISON JAMES & HARDIE MAIDEN HURDLE
This is a horrible race littered with unknowns. Khezarabad is the favourite but the last time we saw him he was being pulled up. Garo De Juilley is the next best and of the two he looks the better option, as he would appear to have the best form, albeit that was in France. Purely down to the fact that his connections are on fire this year I would side with CKALCO DES LOGES at each-way odds of 9/1, for a small interest.
|Ckalco Des Loges (ew)||4.30 Cheltenham||9/1||Betfair|
RYMAN STATIONERY AMATEUR RIDERS´ HANDICAP CHASE
A tough wide open handicap chase here for the amateur riders which is typical of a race found at Cheltenham. Eighteen runners go to post to further complicate matters but at least there will be four each-way places. The first thing I would look at when assessing a race of this nature are the jockeys – there is no use picking out Istabraq and seeing ‘Mr I Fall’ is listed as the jockey. You need a jockey that you know can at least sit there without hailing a taxi with a destination of ‘the deck’. Mr J J Codd is immediately the name that stands out in this race and he rides a horse in form, Cecil Corbett. This horse is likely to go off favourite in my eyes and I backed him last time out when he won as he liked, however that was over 2 miles 6 furlongs and although he didn’t look like stopping it’s his previous run that is putting me off here. The race in question was run over 3 miles 1 furlong and, to me, he didn’t appear to stay. This race is again over the 3m 1f, but Cheltenham is a lot stiffer than Kilbeggan so I can’t have him on that basis. The horse I will look to is CONAS TAOI. He was a revelation last year over much further trips and makes his season debut here. He has won before after time off and on that basis I will take a chance that he is fit and confidently tip him up each-way at 13/2 with Bet365 or Betfair. Another one I like is Azure Fly - he’s another that is consistent and stays well, so Cheltenham will have no issues for him, and he ran well in a race here last April, where Conas Taoi finished in second. Of the rest, Garrahalish is another who can figure if showing his best form.
|Conas Taoi (ew)||5.05 Cheltenham||13/2||Bet365, Betfair|
RACING UK CONDITIONAL JOCKEYS´ HANDICAP HURDLE
Thirteen runners go to post here for a conditional riders handicap hurdle. As per the previous race, we will be looking at the riders of our selections before we put the hard earned down. The favourite here is Wishfull Dreaming, who I watched winning easily last time out. He will be bang there but I smell a gamble here in the form of CRYSTAL PEARL. This horse is trained by Charles Byrnes, who is like Robin Hood, only he steals from both the rich and the poor depending on the day. For all of our sakes let us hope today is a day where he is out to steal from the rich. This horse will be lacking nothing from the saddle as Jonathan Moore comes over from Ireland to take the mount. He was backed as if defeat was out of the question last time out, and as is normally the case, it was – he sluiced in. You can be sure he was winning that day with today in mind and that there is plenty left in the tank – he looks a massive each-way bet at 6/1 which can only shorten. If you want two bullets in your chamber I would side with the three-year-old, Cliffs of Dover. It is a strange move for Paul Nicholls to throw such a young horse into a race like this but he gets all the allowances and can be dangerous as a result.
|Crystal Pearl (ew)||5.40 Cheltenham||6/1||Bet365, BetVictor|