A beautiful but at the same time competitive card at Cheltenham and Doncaster. Here are my views and analysis on the main races:
1:15 Cheltenham - Sizing Tennessee 3/1 William Hill I’m a very big fan of Sizing Tennessee that has really improved his jumping lately after a couple of costly mistakes: he was challenging Black Corton (a subsequent Grade 1 winner at Kempton) at this venue last October travelling much better than his rival before hitting the fence hard. Made amends when beating Duel At Dawn by six lengths in December and ran a mighty race in January when finishing only a neck second to classy Yanworth in Grade 2 event over this course and distance. Back at handicap level, Tizzard’s charge loves it at Cheltenham and with a clear round of jumping he must have every chance to be heavily involved.
1:50 Cheltenham - Shantou Flyer 12/1 Ladbrokes (5 places) Bet Victor and Frodon 8/1 Paddy Power WH both each way (Coral Betfred Bolesports paying 5 places too) Here we will get a very strong pace with many front runners and keen types; they could set it up from an experienced good jumper travelling behind the pace. Shantou Flyer was entered in hot Ascot’s handicap last Saturday but declared non runner: trainer Richard Hobson has targeted instead this race after the very positive performance 26 days ago over this course and distance when second to today’s favourite Ballyhill but re-opposing him on better terms. Already a Grade 3 course and distance winner in 2017 at the same handicap mark, the 8 year-old gelding will get the very useful help of James Bowen claiming 3lbs.
Another course and distance winner last season in the Caviar Gold Cup Handicap Chase is Frodon, a model of consistency for Nicholls’ yard that ran some very nice races in defeat. Second to Gold Cup favourite Might Bite at Sandown, third to Top Notch and a close second to Gold Present last time out at both times at Ascot. The form is really good and this looks an easier task; he’ll carry top weight which is never positive in competitive handicaps but he’ll be helped by Bryony Frost’s claim.
2:25 Cheltenham - The Last Samuri 5/1 each way Paddy Power **** This race has been won twice by legendary Many Clouds: last year heading Thistlecrack on the line and in 2015 when went on winning the Grand National. When I think about that race The Last Samuri suits the profile: he was already second at the Aintree festival and he’s always campaigned with that final target. On the other hand, he has never run before at Cheltenham but he is a sound jumper and stays forever. Bailey’s consistent veteran is getting weight from the whole field and that does not happen too often when your handicap mark is 159. The new Cheltenham course has an emphasis on stamina and will clearly suit him.
3:00 Cheltenham – Santini 9/2 Betfair Sportbook I was really impressed by former point-to-point winner Santini when winning at his debut under rules at Newbury. A drifter that day but he pulled 4 ½ lengths clear of the subsequent double winner Chef Des Obeaux, a convincing Kempton scorer last week-end. This 150k purchase knew his job already and could be something special if improving on that performance. Nicky Henderson took him off last Saturday at Ascot when ground deteriorated into very testing and he’s taking his chance here: it’s clearly a good test for the future as this race looks competitive.
3:15 Doncaster – Wakanda 8/1 each way SkyBet Betfred Coral **** all paying 5 places A beautiful finish last time out at Wetherby in Grade 3 event between 3 horses in top form: improving Get On The Yager put his head in front beating Wakanda and Delusionofgrandeur. Selection was giving plenty of weight to his rivals but rallied to lead again towards finish and was headed close home. A clear sign that Smith’s stayer is back in top form and looks well handicapped at current mark of 145 considering that he won at 151 and was placed at 149.
3.35 Cheltenham - Beer Goggles landed a huge surprise when scoring at Newbury last time out with a majestic front ride by champion jockey Richard Johnson being able to dictate his own pace. Today it’ll be tougher carrying a penalty and at a totally different track: in fact the 7-year-old gelding won only at quick galloping tracks but has an improving profile. Finian's Oscar returns to hurdles after not showing enough improvement over fences, he has strong form over smaller obstacles and he has a clear chance if can revert. Agrapart has never won over 3miles, Wholestone beat Colin's Sister last time out over 2m4f (carries a 3lbs penalty) but was well beaten by the latter over this distance at Wetherby: the mare is very interesting at current 12/1 odds back up in distance but I’ve noticed that her trainer, Fergal O’Brien, is still looking for his first win in 2018. Thomas Campbell was consistent in handicaps but disappointing in Graded contests, The Worlds End is another interesting runner with his Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle run: he was cruising behind the leaders when fell *2 out sure be involved in the finish. Tom George’s charge has a couple of runs with a much more improved effort last time out at Ascot and should be fitter today. At huge 33/1 odds I wouldn’t discount the Irish challenger Ex Patriot, former 85 rated on the flat for trainer Ger Lyons that performed really well in last year Triumph Hurdle when 4th of 15. Ellmarie Holden’s charge is only 5 and has shown improvement stepping up in trip winning at Limerick and running a mighty race when second behind Killultagh Vic at Punchestown last time out. He’ll go up again in distance today and I’m really curious to see if he can improve again, decent outsider.
3:50 Doncaster - Bigmartre 3/1 general Bigmartre was already useful over hurdles that was seen as a bonus as he always looked a chaser in the making. Won a couple of competitive Novices events at Ludlow and Newbury that worked out really well considering runner up Cyrname won a Grade 2 subsequently at Kempton. Trainer Whittington thinks a lot about his lightly raced 7-year-old as he gave him festival entries for Arkle and JLT: he is only runner on today’s card for trainer/jockey and must win this to confirm his fancied entries.
4:10 Cheltenham – Dino’s Velvet 14/1 each way Bet365 and WH
As you know I’ve been following Dino Velvet lately because I think that there is a good handicap to be won with him and although travelling extremely well he looked as if he did not stay the distance over 2m4f trips at Newbury and Kempton. It’s fair to say those two races were some competitive handicaps and much more difficult than today’s contest. Alan King gives plenty of time to his horses but he’s running Dino after only two weeks and the drop in trip seems logic. The handicapper put him down 2lbs in the ratings; hopefully they‘ll go a good clip up front as the 5-year-old does not possess speed but should stay well over 2 miles on a testing track as Cheltenham.
Come onnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn SuperSaturday bring it onnnnnn