Native River – Gold Cup Winner

Guts, determination and a will to win that may even surpass the great AP McCoy. These are, of course, attributes synonymous with 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Native River, who has dispelled any notion of being a mere ‘handicapper’ with a sparkling success in jump racing’s blue riband contest.

Today marks the four year anniversary of Native River’s solitary start between the flags at Dromahane. After which, Tom Malone visited the yard of respected handler Denis Ahern and moved swiftly to snap up the son of Indian River on behalf of current owners Brocade Racing.

Four years on and the scopey eight-year-old can boast a brace of Grade 3 victories; a hat-trick of Grade 2 successes; and two triumphs at the highest level. A CV that would render him a leading candidate on the hit-tv show the apprentice!

The bromance between Native River and champion jockey Richard Johnson has undoubtedly played a big role in the geldings success. With their never-say-die attitude and unrivalled will to win rendering the pair kindred spirits.

It goes without saying that Colin Tizzard and his Venn Farm team also require a sizeable pat on the back after nursing the bold-jumping bruiser back from a ligament injury sustained last spring. With the man in charge plotting the perfect route back to Prestbury Park and preparing his stayer to run the biggest race of his life when it mattered most.

Both the fluent round of fencing and concluding showdown with favourite Might Bite up the famous Cheltenham hill made for a truly enthralling spectacle that will live long in the memory.

Tizzard has already stated that he is unlikely to run again this season with a view to bringing him back to defend his crown next year. Given his exploits yesterday, that sounds like a very sensible plan.

Beaten 54 lengths in the 2015 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, the champion chestnut has come a long way since having his attentions switched to fences. And now, with his name etched on the most prestigious piece of silverware that National Hunt Racing has to offer, the Hennessy Gold Cup winning – Welsh Grand National hero is the master of all he surveys from the steepest slopes of the picturesque Cleeve Hills.


Gold Cup Day: Lucky 15

Gold Cup day gets underway with the Grade 1 JCB Triumph Hurdle, a race that has been very kind to favourites in recent years.

JP McManus has won the last two renewals with Ivanovich Gorbatov (2016) and Defi Du Seuil (2017). This year he fields Apple’s Shakira, who has already tasted success three times at Prestbury Park this season (1 win on the Old Course, 2 wins on the New Course).

While this looks to be a smart race on paper, the rain that has fallen over the last few weeks has undoubtedly turned the tables firmly in her favour. Especially when you factor in her 7lb mares allowance and pinpoint hurdling, which could make this full sister to Apple’s Jade very hard to peg back.

Nicky Henderson has a fantastic record in the day 4 opener, and Apple’s Shakira can further enhance that impressive record tomorrow.

Onto the main event, and I am very keen on the Irish raider Our Duke, whose form received a sizeable boost when Presenting Percy made a mockery of the RSA Chase on Wednesday.

Jessica Harrington’s Irish Grand National winner travelled menacingly prior to making a mistake in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown in February, before getting back to winning ways when outpointing Presenting Percy, who received 7lb, in the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park.

I have long been of the opinion that Our Duke is tailor-made for the blue riband contest. And, with conditions to suit, I remain convinced that he is the one to beat if putting in a clear round of jumping.

The Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle is always a tricky puzzle to solve. However, Seven Barrows inmate Diese Des Bieffes appears to hold leading claims with the extremely talented James Bowen in the saddle.

Nicky Henderson’s five-year-old placed fifth in a red-hot renewal of the Lanzarote Hurdle in January, with the winner and third home, William Henry and Red Indian, placing fourth and sixth respectively in the Coral Cup on Tuesday, the runner-up and sixth placed horses, namely Spiritofthegames and Coeur Blimey, placing third and fourth in the ultra-competitive Betfair Hurdle at Newbury next time out, and the fourth and seventh home, Topofthegame – who also finished second in the Coral Cup on Tuesday – and Le Patriote, landing competitive handicap contests at Sandown and Ascot subsequently.

Well supported in the betting that day, I am sure that that valuable experience will not be lost on the promising youngster who could have plenty more to offfer from a mark of 137.

Finally, Dan Skelton’s decision to bypass the Arkle Novices’ Chase with North Hill Harvey can be rewarded with success in the Grand Annual.

The 2016 Greatwood Hurdle winner kicked off his chasing career with a brace of smart victories at Prestbury Park in the autumn, inflicting defeat on the talented Sceau Royal in October before posting an impressive 18 lengths victory (Grade 2) on soft ground in November.

The scopey seven-year-old is becoming somewhat of a Cheltenham specialist, boasting form figures of 191011. He will encounter his preferred conditions in the Cotswolds tomorrow and his fluent-fencing and determined attitude should see him run a very big race.

Good luck.


1.30 Apple’s Shakira 7/4 (Generally)

3.30 Our Duke 5/1 (Generally)

4.50 Diese Des Bieffes 8/1 (Generally)

5.30 North Hill Harvey 9/1 (Generally)

2018 Cheltenham Festival: Ladies Day

1.30 BALLYMORE NOVICES’ HURDLE ▫️2m 5f 26y ▫️ (Grade 1)

The Champion Chase will be the main attraction for many on the second day of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival. However, it is by no means the only pull, with Gordon Elliott’s potential superstar Samcro carrying a weight of expectation as this year’s Irish Banker.

The hugely exciting six-year-old, who cost Gigginstown House Stud a cool £335,000 at the Goffs UK Aintree Sale in April 2016, has only enhanced his already lofty reputation with each of his 3 visits to the racetrack this winter, culminating in a smooth success in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle (2m) at the inaugural Dublin Racing Festival in February.

The manner in which the imposing youngster cruises through his races before quickening away approaching the final flight of hurdles marks him out as a very high-class operator. And, ominously for his opposition, Gordon Elliott believes that his scopey chesnut gelding will be even better over this intermediate trip.

Samcro undoubtedly warrants his position in the market.

Next Destination looks the biggest threat.

Winner of the Grade 1 Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle in January, the Malcolm Denmark owned six-year-old boasts previous winners Cracking Smart, Jetz, Paloma Blue and Speak Easy amongst his victims this season.

Strongest at the finish, Mullins, who nominated this race as his likely target following his Naas success, will be hoping for a truly run race in order to bring promising youngsters stamina to the fore.

Black Op will be the mount of Noel Fehily.

Tom George’s seven-year-old has always been held in the highest regard and posted a superb effort in defeat in Grade 2 company on Cheltenham’s Trials Day card in January.

Beaten only by the hugely promising Santini, it is possible that Tom Scudamore pressed the button too soon and left himself vulnerable to the fast-finishing Seven Barrows inmate.

Tom George won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle with Summerville Boy yesterday, who is also sired by Sandmason. A more patient ride tomorrow could see the talented youngster run a very big race.

Duc Des Genievres is of interest following a brace of smart efforts behind Next Destination (third) and Samcro (second) over two-and-a-half-miles and two miles respectively.

Connections have elected to switch the promising French-bred from the Albert Bartlett, presumably because of the heavy ground. He will relish the stiff uphill finish.

Vision Des Flos clearly benefited from a wind operation when cruising to an effortless 31 lengths victory at Exeter in February.

Winner of a Punchestown Festival Bumper last spring – where he beat Closutton inmate Hollowgraphic, who was contesting favouritism for the Champion Bumper prior to suffering a setback last week – Vision Des Flos had been greatly disappointing prior to Exeter, posting performances that were simply far too bad to be true.

It goes without saying that you have to treat wide-margin heavy-ground winners with a degree of caution. However, with his wind no longer an issue, connections will be hopeful that he can begin to show his true potential.

Ahead Of The Curve, Aye Aye Charlie, Brahma Bull, Coolanly, DiabloDe Rouhet, Gowiththeflow, Knight In Dubai, Mind’s Eye and Scarpeta complete the field.


SUMMARY: Next Destination warrants the utmost respect for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh, who enjoyed a fine opening day yesterday. While Duc Des Genievres, who has some solid form in the book, has scope for further improvement. However, SAMCRO has looked something special this season and can win this en route to a hugely promising chasing career in the Autumn. BLACK OP possesses plenty of ability and could be the one to support in the ‘without the favourite’ market.


2.10 THE RSA CHASE ▫️ 3m 80y ▫️ (Grade 1)

Both Bobs Worth (2012) and Lord Windermere (2013) landed this stamina-sapping prize en route to Gold Cup success 12 months later. Last year’s victor Might Bite will be hoping to emulate their achievements in the blue riband contest on Friday. And this time next year we could be talking about the winner of this year’s renewal as a potential Gold Cup contender themselves.

Last year’s super-impressive Pertemps Final winner Presenting Percy currently heads the market, arriving here on the back of a hugely creditable second-placed finish in the Grade 2 Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park last month, where he found only Cheltenham Gold Cup contender Our Duke too good.

It is fair to say that the seven-year-old has taken a somewhat unconventional route to this novice Grade 1 prize, making a mockery of an opening handicap mark of 145 at Fairyhouse in December, before landing the Grade 2 Galmoy Hurdle on Thyestes Day at Gowran Park.

His impressive Cheltenham Festival form and smooth transition to fences make Presenting Percy a very big player here. And it should not go unnoticed that Davy Russell has elected to maintain this partnership over the one struck up with main market rival Monalee earlier this season.

That was undoubtedly a tough call for Russell make, and Henry De Bromhead wasted little time in securing the services of last year’s Champion Hurdle and Champion Chase winning jockey Noel Fehily to ride Monalee.

Thankfully the pair clicked instantly as Fehily guided the Milan gelding to Grade 1 success in the Flogas Novice Chase at the Dublin Racing Festival in February, with the jockey earning praise from all angles following an industrious front-running ride.

Successful on his solitary start between the flags at Templenacarriga in January 2016, the scopey seven-year-old looked a complete natural on chasing debut before making an uncharacteristic mistake at Leopardstown over Christmas. However, clearly that festive faux pas has not effected his confidence and he put a good field to the sword over a trip perhaps shy of his optimum on his only subsequent start.

Like Presenting Percy, Monalee boasts a smart piece of Cheltenham Festival form having chased home Penhill in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle 12 months ago. Connections will he hopeful that he can go one place better this year.

Black Corton looks to be the main British hope.

Paul Nicholls ever-improving seven-year-old has won eight of his 10 starts this season, including tasting Grade 1 success in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton and Grade 2 success in the Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Ascot.

The Ditcheat inmate, who also boasts a brace of course and distance victories on his CV, has struck up a potent-partnership with Bryony Frost, who has ridden a whole host of big Saturday winners this winter. A second Cheltenham Festival success would top her season off perfectly.

Elegant Escape got the better of Black Corton at Newbury in December.

Colin Tizzard’s stamina-laden six-year-old has performed with great credit this winter, landing his Grade 2 at Newbury before finishing second in the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton.

Many expected the scopey youngster to line up in the four-mile National Hunt Chase given his fleet-footed jumping and apparent limitless stamina. Therefore, connections will be hoping that this race becomes attritional.

Dounikos was also expected to take in the four-mile contest before being re-routed here.

The Gigginstown House Stud owned seven-year-old has improved markedly for fences, winning his first two starts at Gowran Park and Limerick before placing fifth in a quality renewal of the Flogas Novices’ Chase at the inaugural Dublin Racing Festival in February.

Dounikos stayed-on resolutely that day, suggesting that this three-mile trip should be right up his street.

Al Boum Photo will re-oppose.

Willie Mullins’ smart son of Buck’s Boum has also improved for the switch to fences, comfortably landing a beginners Chase at Navan before falling at Limerick with the race at his mercy.

His second-placed finish behind Monalee looks a solid piece of form. Therefore, he should not be underestimated.

Grade 2 Towton Novices’ Chase scorer Ballyoptic will look to reverse the form with November conquerer Black Corton. While Bonbon Au Meil, who looked promising when winning a beginners Chase at Navan in January, could run well for Willie Mullins and Paul Townend.

Allysson Monterg, who was well supported when making a successful chasing debut at Exeter, and Full Irish, who looks up against it in this grade, complete the field.


SUMMARY: Presenting Percy is a big player here based on his easy win in the Pertemps Final last year. However, he has had a funny campaign and endured a hard race at Gowran Park last month, which has to be a concern. Black Corton is rock solid and will undoubtedly run his race. While Dounikos and Elegant Escape both looked set to contest the National Hunt Chase before being re-routed here. They won’t mind the conditions. However, MONALEE ran a big race in the Albert Bartlett last year and has taken to chasing like a duck to water. Henry De Bromhead’s exciting seven-year-old ran jumped supremely well when taking Grade 1 honours at the Dublin Racing Festival last month. He is the one to beat here.


2.50 CORAL CUP HURDLE (A HANDICAP HURDLE) ▫️2m 5f 26y ▫️ (Grade 3)

Summary only.


SUMMARY: The form of WILLIAM HENRY’S success in the Lanzarote Hurdle couldn’t read much better, with the second and sixth, namely Spiritofthegames and Coeur Blimey, placing third and fourth in the ultra-competitive Betfair Hurdle at Newbury and the fourth and seventh home, Topofthegame and Le Patriote, winning competitive handicaps at Sandown and Ascot respectively. James Bowen, who retains the ride, takes off a valuable 3lb and the eight-year-old has stacks of quality course-form. MOUNT MEWS is also of interest retuned to hurdles in a handicap. Runner-up in Grade 1 novice hurdle company at Aintree last April, this trip should be ideal for the talented seven-year-old, who looks fairly treated off a mark of 142. Finally, BARRA, who beat some smart Mares home when placing second in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle 12 months ago, could also run well. The Gigginstown Stud owned seven-year-old is nicely weighted and could be dangerous off her mark.


3.30 THE BETWAY QUEEN MOTHER CHAMPION CHASE ▫️ 1m 7f 199y ▫️ (Grade 1)

Altior is all rage for this year’s renewal of the championship 2 mile event and understandably so given his unbeaten record over obstacles which includes the Supreme Novices Hurdle and Arkle Novices Chase amongst a brace of victories in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury. However, as Douvan proved last year, odds-on favouritism in no guarantee of success, and Tingle Creek winner Politologue and reigning champion Special Tiara will be looking to push Nicky Henderson’s potential superstar all the way tomorrow.

The Seven Barrows inmate made a sparkling reappearance in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury last month, where he lowered the colours of the aforementioned Politologue after allowing the Ditcheat inmate to cut out the running for much of the contest.

That was Altior’s first outing since undergoing a breathing operation earlier this season. Therefore, he could easily have more to come with race-fitness on his side.

Willie Mullins and Rich Ricci are set to launch a twin assault this year with both Min and Douvan serious contenders to take home the crown.

The score between Altior and Min is currently 1-0 to the former following their clash in the 2016 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. However, connections will be hoping that both fences and a clear run this winter will be enough to turn the tables on Nicky Henderson’s pride and joy.

Putting his disappointing Christmas showing to one side – when it’s fair to say that Willie Mullins’ string were not firing on all cylinders – Min has put up two very impressive performances in Ireland this winter, scoring by 36 lengths on his seasonal debut before landing the Dublin Chase at the aforementioned Dublin Racing Festival with consummate ease.

If there are any chinks to be found in the armour of Altior, Min may be the one to expose them.

Given that we haven’t seen Douvan on the racetrack since his disappointing 2/9 defeat in this contest last year, it is very hard to know quite what to expect from the previously untouchable eight-year-old, who was ruled out of the Festival completely in January before making a miraculous recovery and boarding the boat.

Like Altior, Douvan is a winner of both the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Arkle Novices’ Chase and would undoubtedly be a huge danger to all if returning to action at the peak of his powers. Sadly, that is far from guaranteed. However, he does warrant the utmost respect given his hugely impressive resume.

Tingle Creek hero Politologue will represent Paul Nicholls, Sam Twiston-Davies and owner John Hales, who is looking to bring up a Champion Chase hat-trick following the victories of the ever popular pair One Man (1998) and Azertyuiop (2004).

The fleet-footed grey, who only narrowly failed to concede 3lbs to the extremely smart Waiting Patiently at Haydock as a novice, also boasts a brace of Grade 2 victories this winter, firstly in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter and latterly in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton. In any other year, he could easily be the one they all have to beat. However, he will have to find improvement if he is to reverse the Newbury form with Altior.

Special Tiara will undoubtedly make a bold-bid to defend his crown. However, this year he may need a handful of his opponents to underperform, which, it goes without saying, is very unlikely.

God’s Own, who looked set to launch a serious attack before making a bad mistake at the penultimate fence 12 months ago, is also capable of running well. While Charbel, who was putting it up to Altior before coming to grief in the Arkle Novices’ Chase last year, could also outrun his price.

Ar Mad and last year’s Arkle second Ordinary World complete the field.


SUMMARY: Min and Douvan warrant the utmost respect. However, ALTIOR, who has overcome a late injury scare, is undoubtedly the one to beat after making a stylish return to action at Newbury last month. Nicky Henderson’s dual Cheltenham Festival winner swept aside Tingle Creek winner Politologue with the minimum of fuss that day, and will be very hard to peg-back if in the same form.



For years Enda Bolger was the go-to man when it came to this discipline. However, Gordon Elliott, who could train roses to blossom in the depths of winter, has taken over the mantle in recent times, as demonstrated by Cause Of Causes’ 9 length romp in the corresponding contest 12 months ago.

This year the Irish juggernaut will launch a powerful looking three-pronged attack in the form of December course and distance winner Bless The Wings, dual Cheltenham Festival scorer Tiger Roll and, of course, the defending champion, and three-time Cheltenham Festival winner, Cause Of Causes.

The latter named pair have been brought along slowly with a spring campaign in mind. And both have enjoyed recent schooling sessions around the unique twists, turns and cheese-wedges that Prestbury Park has to offer.

Their chances are obvious.

The aforementioned Enda Bolger will rely upon 2016 winner Josies Orders, who was awarded the race following the disqualification of Any Currency, Auvergnat, who has been prone the odd mistake in the Cotswolds, and Cantlow, who chased home Cause Of Causes last year.

All three possess a wealth of experience and will give their jockeys a tremendous spin.

French raiders have Belamix Dor, Urumqi, Urgent De Gregaine and Vicomte Du Seuil should not be underestimated.

The first two named are somewhat of an unknown quantity. However, the latter pair have already displayed an ability to act at the course. With Urgent De Gregaine landing the re-scheduled Cross Country event on Trials Day last year, and Vicomte Du Seuil finishing second at Prestbury Park in November.

They could easily outrun their lofty prices.

The Last Samurai would be a fascinating contender. However, this race tends to favour those with experience.

Beeves, Chic Name, Federici, Hurricane Darwin and Saint Are complete the field.


SUMMARY: Although they may be big prices, the French-trained runners should not be overlooked given their vast experience both in this discipline and on this surface. However, it may pay to focus on Gordon Elliott’s Cheltenham Festival specialists CAUSE OF CAUSES and Tiger Roll. While the latter is respected in his bid to land a hat-trick of Festival race’s, preference would be for the former, who has displayed an ability to handle bad ground in the past and can rely upon the services of Jamie Codd, who gets on exceptionally well with the fan-favourite.



Summary only.

SUMMARY: NUBE NEGRA and THE KING OF MAY are two tentative selections in what is always a titanically puzzling heat. The former chased home ante-post Triumph Hurdle favourite Apple’s Shakira at Cheltenham in November before easing to victory at Doncaster in January. He could easily have more to come. While the latter, who made a respectable stable debut at Musselburgh last month, represents the in-form yard of Brian Ellison. Ellison sent out Nietzsche to finish third in the corresponding contest 12 months ago. The canny trainer will be hoping that The King Of May can go two places better.



Willie Mullins hasn’t won this race since 2013, when Briar Hill scored at the double-digit price of 25/1 in the hands of stable jockey Ruby Walsh. This year the Irish Champion trainer will rely upon Blackbow, Carefully Selected, Colreevy, Relegate and Tornado Flyer.

Blackbow is unbeaten in two starts under rules and will be the mount of Patrick Mullins, who would have had first choice.

Hugely impressive thus far, he could easily be the subject of a big Irish gamble should earlier results go in favour of the punters.

Carefully Selected earned his place in this field with smart performance at Naas last month, responding to his Jockeys urgings and putting clear daylight between himself and his rivals. The form of his debut success has been franked and he looks just the type who could go well.

Colreevy blotted her copybook when turned over at Leopardstown in February. Odds-on that day, she will need to improve in order to feature.

Relegate is 2-2 this season and can rely upon the assistance of Katie Walsh.

While Tornado Flyer beat a subsequent winner when making a successful debut at Fairyhouse. He could easily go well.

Acey Milan and Didtheyleaveuoutto are leading British-trained contenders.

The former arrives here following a hat-trick of victories in smart looking bumpers and has the advantage of both course form and experience. While the latter won a very warm heat at Ascot and could easily be something special. However, it should be noted that the youngsters trainer has expressed concerns about his effectiveness on soft ground.

Felix Desjy, who is 2-2 under rules and will represent last year’s winning trainer Gordon Elliott, and Rhinestone, who chased home the aforementioned Blackbow at Leopardstown last month, are further Irish trained contenders who could go very well.

Dual winners Crooks Peak, Thebannerkingrebel and The Big Bite also warrant respect. The first two named have won on soft ground, which is obviously a positive here.

Course and distance winner Herecomestheboom could easily outrun his huge double-digit price. While expensive purchase Know The Score, who will represent 2015 winning trainer David Pipe, and Musselburgh scorer Seddon, who handled soft ground well in Scotland, could also go well at fancy prices.

Dashel Drasher, Mercy Mercy Me and Jaytrack Parkhomes all arrive here on the back of debut wins.

While Doc Penfro, Nestor Park, Stoney Mountain, The Flying Sofa, Arch My Boy and Volcano complete the field.


SUMMARY: Blackbow has done nothing wrong in Ireland and holds leading claims under Patrick Mullins, who will be riding with supreme confidence following the success of Rathvinden yesterday. Acey Milan may be the pick of British trained runners. While Rhinestone, who chased home Blackbow at Leopardstown, should go well. However, CAREFULLY SELECTED booked his place on the boat with an impressive victory at Naas last month, where he put four-and-three-quarter-lengths lengths between himself and his rivals when asked for an effort. A winner over two-and-a-half-miles on debut, his extra stamina will be a strong asset here.



1.30 – (Win) Samcro 8/11 (Generally)

(w/o favourite) Black Op 9/2 (Bet 365)

2.10 – Monalee 7/2 (Generally)

2.50 – William Henry 8/1 (Generally)

Mount Mews 14/1 (Betfred)

Barra 25/1 (Boylesports)

3.30 – Altior 11/10 (Generally)

4.10 – Cause Of Causes 11/4 (Generally)

4.50 – Nube Negra 9/1 (Generally)

The King Of May 12/1 (Generally)

5.30 – Carefully Selected 10/1 (Generally)


2018 Cheltenham Festival: Champion’s Day

1.30 SKY BET SUPREME NOVICES HURDLE ▫️ 2m 87y ▫️ (Grade 1)

The most eagerly anticipated flag-fall in Racing, the roar that signals the start of the Cheltenham Festival would rival that of any sporting event on the planet. Indeed, Prestbury Park truly is an amphitheatre like no other.

In somewhat traditional fashion, Rich Ricci and Willie Mullins are responsible for the short priced favourite Getabird, who ran out a hugely impressive winner of the Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown in January, the very same race that both Vautour and Douvan, who also carried the familiar pink and green silks of the aforementioned Ricci, landed en route to Supreme success in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Long time ante-post favourite for the Champion Bumper last season, the exciting six-year-old accounted for Grade 1 Royal Bond winner Mengli Khan at Punchestown, displaying a smart turn of foot and fluent hurdling technique that will serve him well in this two-mile speed test. He undoubtedly holds leading claims.

Betfair Hurdle winner Kalashnikov looks the pick of the British trained contenders, and burgeoning Newmarket based handler Amy Murphy will be hoping that the talented gelding can gun down his rivals in the Cotswolds.

The winner of his solitary bumper start last term, Kalashnikov’s only defeat to date came when losing a shoe and suffering an overreach in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown, where the heavy ground also looked to go against the strapping youngster.

That said, the five-year-old bounced back to land the most valuable handicap hurdle in the calendar on soft ground at Newbury, defying a mark of 142 to score by an impressive four-and-a-half-lengths from a field jam-packed with promising types. Both the return to better ground and invaluable experience gained in the Betfair Hurdle make Kalashnikov a very big player back in novice company.

Summerville Boy will look to uphold the Tolworth Hurdle form.

Tom George’s talented six-year-old hasn’t been seen since that impressive 4 lengths success at Sandown, when appearing to appreciate the testing conditions.

The son of Sandmason finished second over this course and distance in Grade 2 company in November. The softer the ground, the better his chance.

Slate House got the better of Summerville Boy in November.

A dual course and distance winner, Colin Tizzard’s scopey gelding has been somewhat overlooked following back-to-back defeats at Ascot and Cheltenham respectively. However, both of those efforts came when the stable were enduring a lean spell.

That said, Slate House travelled into the Cheltenham contest powerfully before being caught out by the two-and-a-half-mile trip. He is undoubtedly a danger back in distance.

The aforementioned Mengli Khan will represent last years winning partnership of Gordon Elliott and Jack Kennedy.

Given what the scopey five-year-old has achieved on the racetrack this winter, it is somewhat surprising that he couldn’t land a blow in juvenile company 12 months ago. However, it does go to show what a good summer at grass can do for a young horse.

Having got off the mark at Navan in September, the imposing Cullentra inmate returned to the track to notch at Grade 3 victory in November before tasting Grade 1 success in the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse one month later. A whirlwind hat-trick that saw him head the market for this race prior to running out at the penultimate flight of hurdles in Grade 1 company over Christmas.

Reversing the Punchestown form with Getabird will be no easy task. But, given what he achieved earlier in the season, he should not be completely discounted.

Champion Trainer Nicky Henderson has won just one of the last 7 renewals of the Cheltenham Festival curtain-raiser. However, that stat far from tells the entire story, with 8 further places – including fielding the second and third home in both 2011 and 2014 – also on his resume.

This year Claimantakinforgan is the yards main hope, and he would be much shorter in the betting had he not blotted his copybook when sent off an odds-on favourite at Musselburgh in February.

Whilst an odds-on defeat may knock the gloss off for many, the form of his previous two victories offer much greater promise, with the runner-up from each of his previous two starts franking the form subsequently.

The six-year-old’s third place finish in the Champion Bumper last season provides further reason for optimism. Indeed, Cheltenham Festival form should never be underestimated.

Paloma Blue could easily outrun his double-figure price.

Henry De Bromhead’s six-year-old has improved with every outing this season, culminating in a fine third placed effort behind Samcro in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown.

Davy Russell has been booked for the ride and there is plenty of scope for further improvement.

First Flow is worthy of his place here.

Kim Bailey’s promising youngster has improved with every run this winter and should not be underestimated on ground that he will love.

Sharjah, who looked set to claim Grade 1 honours before crashing out at the final flight of hurdles at Leopardstown over Christmas, disappointed in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle last month but could easily feature if bouncing back to form.

Western Ryder won a novice hurdle at Cheltenham in December and also boasts a fine piece of Cheltenham Festival form having finished fifth in the Champion Bumper 12 months ago.

Fourth in the Tolworth Hurdle in January, the talented six-year-old chased home Kim Bailey’s exciting prospect Vinndication over two-and-a-half miles at Huntington when last sighted in February. His course form commands respect.

Lostintranslation and Shoal Bay complete Colin Tizzard’s three-pronged attack. While smart mare Dame Rose, Musselburgh runner-up Simply The Betts, dual novice hurdle winner Golden Jeffrey and 200/1 outsider Saxo Jack complete the British contingent.

Last year’s Champion Bumper runner-up Debuchet, Grade 3 novice hurdle second Us And Them, Gigginstown House Stud contender Trainwreck and former flat-performer Khudha complete the Irish raiders.


SUMMARY: Getabird holds obvious claims but looks painfully short on what he has achieved thus far. Tolworth Hurdle winner Summerville Boy could easily go well with the soft ground in his favour. While Paloma Blue has a progressive profile and could easily build upon his third placed finish in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle. However, KALASHNIKOV’S victory in the Betfair Hurdle in undoubtedly the best piece of form on offer. Amy Murphy’s exciting youngster beat a smart field that day, whilst also confirming his ability to act on soft ground. He looks a solid proposition. At a bigger price, SLATE HOUSE, who is a two-time course and distance winner, looks grossly overpriced at 25/1. A Grade 2 winner from Summerville Boy in November, Colin Tizzard has his string in fine form once again. The talented son of Presenting could easily outrun his double-figure price.


2.10 THE RACING POST ARKLE CHALLENGE TROPHY ▫️1m 7f 199y ▫️ (Grade 1)

The Arkle has been somewhat of a favourites benefit in recent years, with Sprinter Sacre (8/11), Simonsig (8/15), Un De Sceaux (4/6), Douvan (1/4) and Altior (1/4) all returning victorious since 2012. This year Willie Mullins will be hoping that Footpad can keep the good run going.

Some horses simply find another level of form when switched to the larger obstacles, and the Simon Munir and Isaac Souede owned six-year-old certainly fits into that bracket, winning his three starts over fences by a combined distance of 27 lengths.

Pinpoint accurate jumping and a high cruising speed are desirable assets in any two-mile chaser, and the scopey son of Creachadoir has displayed both to devastating effect on the racecourse this winter. He will undoubtedly be the first leg of many Day 1 trebles.

Footpad’s closest market rival is Petit Mouchoir, who chased home the Closutton inmate at Leopardstown last month and should come on massively for both the experience and blowout after suffering an untimely setback following a hugely promising debut victory at Punchestown in October.

Interestingly, the pair clashed 3 times over hurdles, with the Gigginstown House Stud owned runner coming out on top on each occasion, including when beating Footpad in the 2017 Irish Champion Hurdle and again in the English equivalent, when finishing third and fourth respectively.

Davy Russell gave the talented grey a very easy time last month, undoubtedly with a view to contesting this race. Therefore, I expect a much more competitive finish tomorrow.

Saint Calvados is unquestionably the leading British contender following a bloodless victory in the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick last month.

Harry Whittington’s hugely exciting five-year-old burst on to the scene with a brace of eye-catching performances at Newbury. Before confirming his distinct promise when dispatching a smart field, containing previous winners Diego Du Charmil (second), North Hill Harvey (third) and Drumcliff (fourth), by upwards of 22 lengths.

While Cheltenham is a completely different proposition, the youngsters fleet-footed fencing has been a trademark of his performances to date, an asset that will stand him in good stead in this two-mile speed test. He certainly won’t give Footpad an easy time of things in-front.

Brain Power has more letters next to his name than numbers since embarking on a career over fences.

Hopes were high for the Seven Barrows inmate following a smooth debut success at Kempton in November. However, an unseat at Sandown preceded a last fence fall at Ascot, which, it goes without saying, is a far from ideal preparation.

While the Michael Buckley owned seven-year-old is undoubtedly a very classy operator on his day, his Cheltenham form (0-2) would also be a significant concern. This looks a big ask.

Robinshill, who notched up a quick-fire double at Ludlow in November, will need to improve markedly to play role here.


SUMMARY: Footpad is a worthy favourite based on what he has achieved this winter. While Saint Calvados has looked equally as impressive on British soil and will relish the soft ground he will encounter on Tuesday. However, PETIT MOUCHOIR was the best of these over hurdles and made a good impression at Punchestown in October. Henry De Bromhead’s seven-year-old should come on leaps and bounds both mentally and physically for his spin around Leopardstown last month, which could see him turn the tables on the Willie Mullins trained favourite.


2.50 THE ULTIMA HANDICAP CHASE ▫️ 3m 1f ▫️ (Grade 3)

Un Temps Pour Tour defied a mark of 155 to claim back-to-back victories in this race 12 months ago. However, his hat-trick bid was scuppered by a small set-back that will keep him off the track this season, meaning that a new name will be etched on to the trophy this year.

Gold Present finished second in the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase last year and has looks to have found further improvement over three miles.

Nicky Henderson’s talented eight-year-old got the better of Ditcheat inmate Frodon when last seen in the track, who won his next start at Cheltenham by 17 lengths.

Many horses have taken in this contest en route to the Grand National in recent years, including 2015 winner The Druids Nephew. Conceding weight to all of his rivals will be no easy task. However, Un Temps Pour Tout is proof that it can be done.

Singlefarmpayment came within a nose of victory 12 months ago.

Tom George’s eight-year-old traveled supremely well before being outgunned up the hill by his vastly more experienced rival.

He will return this year off a 3lb higher mark.

Last year’s Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle fourth Coo Star Sivola will be the mount of Lizzie Kelly.

Novices’ often run well in this race and Coo Star Sivola has undoubtedly displayed his best from around the undulations of Prestbury Park. Two factors that bode well for the six-year-old’s chances.

A rise of 7lb for a facile display over this trip at Exeter looks lenient to say the least. Therefore, a big run can be expected.

David Pipe and Tom Scudamore team up with dual Chepstow scorer Ramses De Teillee.

The talented grey, who will relish the soft ground on Tuesday, chased home RSA Chase hope Elegant Escape at Exeter last month. Already a much better chaser that he ever was hurdler, a mark of 145 does not look beyond him.

Vintage Clouds looked set to play a role in the finish 12 months ago before coming to grief at the penultimate fence.

Sue Smith’s Welsh Grand National fourth finished second in the Grade 2 Towton Novices’ Chase in February. Ultra-consistent, he will compete from a 7lb higher mark this year.

Nicky Henderson will rely upon Beware The Bear and O O Seven.

The former won the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle before pulling-up in the Welsh Grand National. While the latter continues to perform consistently but is still high enough in the handicap.

Paul Nicholls’ fields dual Scottish Grand National winner Vicente.

Trevor Hemmings’ experienced nine-year-old finished second over this course and distance from a 1lb lower mark in November, and will relish a proper test of stamina. However, this is likely to be a stepping-stone to Ayr.

Cogry, who scored over this course and distance from a 5lb lower mark in October, and Wakanda, who landed the the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster in January, also possess the about to go well.

While Yala Enki, who bolted up on heavy ground at Haydock last time out, and Shantou Flyer, who often runs well in staying handicaps at Prestbury Park, are well capable of carrying weight on soft ground.

Knight Of Noir and Minella Daddy could also run well. While Casse Tete, Eamon An Cnoic, Vic De Touzaine and Sizing Codelco, who has undergone a wind operation since pulling-up at Aintree, complete the field.


SUMMARY: Gold Present appeared to improve for the three-mile trip at Ascot last time out. However, the fact that connections have steered clear of soft ground in the past has to be of concern. Last year’s second Singlefarmpayment is handicapped to go well once again, but has something to prove after a somewhat disappointing campaign. David Pipe has won this race 3 times in the last 10 years, and looks to have a live contender in the form of Ramses De Teillee, who will relish the underfoot conditions. However, COO STAR SIVOLA and VINTAGE CLOUDS may be the two to focus on. The former has placed at the last two Cheltenham Festivals and appeared to improve for the three-mile trip when hacking up at Exeter. His stable are in fine form and a 7lb rise looks lenient. The latter was part of a select group who broke away upon turning for home in the corresponding contest 12 months ago. Although he will compete from a 7lb higher mark this year, he will have his preferred surface this time around, which could see him run a big race in the hands of Danny Cook.


3.30 THE UNIBET CHAMPION HURDLE ▫️ 2m 87y ▫️ (Grade 1)

This year’s Champion Hurdle is one horse race according to the market, with Buveur D’Air a strong odds-on favourite to land consecutive renewals following his smooth victory 12 months ago.

Nicky Henderson’s seven-year-old cantered to success in both the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle and Christmas Hurdle at Kempton before enjoying a virtual schooling session around Sandown last month, which should have put him spot on for tomorrow.

Whilst his price is prohibitive, opposition looks thin on the ground and the champion trainer, who has a knack for training champion hurdlers, will be hopeful of adding another championship success to his ever growing CV.

Earlier this winter a springtime showdown between Buveur D’Air and Faugheen had everyone talking following a sparkling reappearance from the 2015 champion. However, subsequent efforts have seen Rich Ricci’s star pulled-up over Christmas and playing second fiddle to leading Stayers Hurdle hope Supersundae in the Irish Champion Hurdle, which has understandably dampened enthusiasm.

With nothing coming to light about his no-show at Christmas and his inability to match the finishing kick of a three-mile horse last month, the horse dubbed ‘Faugheen the machine’ has it all prove.

That said, we all know that you can never say never in this game, especially where messer Mullins in concerned. However, he will have to be firing on all cylinders if he is to beat an on-song Buveur D’Air.

Stablemate Yorkhill is the unknown quantity.

While Graham Wylie’s dual Cheltenham Festival winner has star potential, he has far from sparkled on the racetrack this winter, finishing eighth in the Leopardstown Christmas Chase on his reappearance before beating a solitary rival home in the Dublin Chase last month.

Frustratingly, the Closutton inmate has significant quirks to rival his undoubted talent. But, if a return to hurdling can relight his fire, he could easily be the biggest threat to the reigning champ.

Four time Cheltenham Festival runner-up My Tent Or Yours provides both Nicky Henderson and JP McManus with an able deputy for their short priced favourite.

Incredibly, three of those second placed efforts have come in this race, chasing home Jezki in 2014, Annie Power in 2016 and Buveur D’Air last season. Therefore, it was pleasing for all concerned when the experienced campaigner landed the International Hurdle at Cheltenham in December, a much deserved and long overdue Prestbury Park success.

While he may need others to underperform in order to scoop the main prize, he is undoubtedly a rock solid place contender.

2015 County Hurdle winner Wicklow Brave could be a lively outsider for Willie Mullins.

The talented nine-year-old, who has been campaigned almost exclusively on the flat since his Cheltenham Festival success, won the Punchestown Champion Hurdle when last seen in this sphere, beating the aforementioned My Tent Or Yours by one-and-a-half-lengths.

Naturally, this will be harder. But he could go well if ridden to hit the frame.

Melon, who finished second in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 12 months ago, will be looking to reverse the International Hurdle form with My Tent Or Yours.

Beaten two-and-a-quarter lengths by his vastly more experienced rival, Melon had to concede 6lb that day and therefore has every chance of gaining revenge off level-weights. However, getting the better of Buveur D’Air won’t be easy.

Ch’Tibello finished one place and three-quarters-of-length behind Melon in the International Hurdle and will undoubtedly travel strongly granted a truly run race.

Seen to best effect on decent ground, his finishing effort has often let him down. That would have to be a concern once again.

Greatwood Hurdle winner Elgin rates a lively outsider.

Thoroughly progressive this winter, Alan King’s second season hurdler also landed a competitive handicap hurdle at Ascot in the autumn and warmed up for the two-mile showpiece with success in the Grade 2 Elite Hurdle at Wincanton last month.

The six-year-old will need to find further improvement if he is to land the main prize here. He does, however, hold place claims.

Connections of Verdana Blue have elected to run their talented mare here over both the Mares’ Hurdle and County Hurdle.

The Seven Barrows inmate travelled through the Betfair Hurdle with consummate ease before having her finishing kick blunted by the hock-deep ground.

Good ground in undoubtedly the key to Verdana Blue. Again, she could easily run into a place if things go her way.

Mick Jazz arrives here as a Grade 1 winner after benefitting from Faugheen’s miss-fire at Leopardstown over Christmas.

Whilst Gordon Elliott’s battle-hardened seven-year-old warrants respect, he will have to significantly up his game in order to play a role here.

Good ground lover John Constable will also take his chance.

As will Identify Thief, who was sent off an 8/1 shot for this race two years ago but now has plenty to prove.

Charli Parcs, who is yet to repay the faith shown in him by his adoring Trainer Nicky Henderson, will also take his place in the field.


SUMMARY: A banker of the week for many – it is very hard to see past BUVEUR D’AIR here given the lack of serious opposition. Faugheen and YORKHILL are undoubtedly two of the most talented horses in training. However, they have both looked a mere shadow of their former selves this season. That said, the latter could be rejuvenated by the switch back to hurdles, which could see him run a much better race than many expect.


4.10 THE OLBG MARES’ HURDLE ▫️2m 3f 200y ▫️ (Grade 1)

This race has gone from strength to strength in recent years, helpled in no small part by the sublime six-timer Willie Mullins magical mare Quevaga recorded between the years of 2009 and 2014.

The master of Closutton also won the next two renewals of the race, courtesy of Glen’s Melody (2015) and Vroum Vroum Mag (2016). However, Gordon Elliott sent out Apple’s Jade to end the Mullins stranglehold this time last year and, given her dominance in Ireland this winter, a repeat performance looks highly likely.

The talented Gigginstown House Stud owned mare saw off the Rich Ricci owned duo Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini in a barnstorming battle up the Cheltenham hill, displaying her customary guts and unquestionable class to go once place better than her Triumph Hurdle effort 12 months previously.

Twice a Grade 1 winner this winter – track, trip and ground clearly hold no fears. Therefore, finding a chink in her armour will be no easy task.

Rich Ricci and Willie Mullins sent out Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini to finish second and third respectively 12 months ago. This time the powerful-pair will rely upon the well touted Benie Des Dieux.

Held in the highest regard at Closutton, the daughter of Great Pretender would be a danger too all if translating her fencing form to hurdles. However, it should be noted that she won just 2 of her 6 starts over timber in France.

3-3 since crossing the channel, the talented seven-year-old will have the assistance of Ruby Walsh.

La Bague Au Roi should not be underestimated.

Warren Greatrex’s star mare has progressed once again this winter, notching three victories from as many starts by a combined total of eighteen-and-a-half-lengths.

Needless to say, beating Apple’s Jade will be no easy task. But La Bague Au Roi undoubtedly possesses the ability to put it up to the Irish raider.

Kayf Grace was sent off co-favourite for the ultra-competitive Betfair Hurdle at Newbury last month, but could only finish a disappointing twelfth.

A ready winner at Kempton on her penultimate smart, Nicky Henderson’s lightly-raced eight-year-old could run a big race if rediscovering that form.

Jer’s Girl was travelling well last year before coming to grief three from home.

Gavin Cromwell’s talented mare finished second behind the aforementioned La Bague Au Roi at Kempton in November, form that makes her of interest here.

A return to two-and-a-half-miles should be ideal. And the soft ground will be no issue. She could be a smart each-way bet in the ‘without the favourite’ markets.

Both Midnight Jazz and Midnight Tour will need to improve in order to feature here.

While Indian Stream ran a huge ran to finish fourth last year and could easily outrun her massive double digit price once again.

Pravalaguna completes the field.


SUMMARY: It is extremely hard to see past last year’s winner APPLE’S JADE, who has arguably improved once again this season when landing Grade 1 contests at both Fairyhouse and Leopardstown. Barring mistakes, she looks to be a banker. JER’S GIRL, who followed Apple’s Jade home at Navan in November, could be fair value in the ‘without the favourite’ market.



Gordon Elliott has won this race three times in the last four years, with Chicago Grey in 2011, Cause Of Causes in 2015 and Tiger Roll in 2017. This year the chief of Cullentra Stables will rely upon Jury Duty and Mossback.

Jamie Codd will partner the first named, who looks set to be sent off as favourite following a string of creditable performances in graded company this winter.

Last year’s Pertemps Final third got the better of subsequent Grade 1 scorer Shattered Love and RSA Chase favourite Presenting Percy in Grade 3 company at Punchestown in November, and will undoubtedly attract plenty of support given his potent trainer and jockey combination.

Mossback will be the mount of last year’s winning rider Lisa O’Neill.

The Gigginstown House Stud owned gelding beat subsequent winners Snow Falcon, Jett and Avenir D’Une Vie on chasing debut at Naas, before chasing home smart prospects Invitation Only and Monbeg Notorious.

The six-year-old is no third string here and undoubtedly warrants the utmost respect.

Derek O’Connor will don the green and gold bands of leading owner JP McManus on the Phillip Hobbs trained No Comment.

Not many horses arrive here with just a solitary start to their name over fences. However, the formerly smart handicap-hurdler, who will undoubtedly have been well schooled at home, may be able to overcome his lack of experience with the assistance of his canny partner O’Connor, who last won the race on Minella Rocco in 2016.

The seven-year-old looked set run a big race at Sandown prior to stumbling at the penultimate fence. A ‘typical’ Derek O’Connor ‘patient ride’ could see last year’s Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle seventh go well.

Rathvinden provides owner Ronnie Bartlett with a second string to his bow.

Third behind Faugheen in the 2014 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, Willie Mullins ten-year-old ticks a lot of boxes for this contest, with a win over three-miles-one-furlong, ten runs to his name over fences and a proven ability to act on varying types of ground.

Runner-up in the Grade 1 Drinmore Novices’ Chase at Fairyhouse in December, Rathvinden has failed to complete the course on his last two visits to the racetrack. However, he could easily run well if his jumping holds up.

Ms Parfois beat solid yardstick Theatre Territory at Prestbury Park in December.

Anthony Honeyball’s talented mare went on to record a hat-trick of victories before finding only Black Corton too good in the Grade 2 Reynoldstown Novices Chase at Ascot in February. Minella Rocco filled the same position before winning this race two years ago.

A sound jumper. She should not be underestimated.

Keeper Hill won nicely over three miles at Doncaster in December. However, he will need to bounce back from a fall at Musselburgh last time out.

The Westerner gelding was travelling well in the lead prior to his unfortunate demise. If that hasn’t left a mark, he has the ability to get involved.

Colin Tizzard fields Prestbury Park regular Sizing Tennessee, who won over three-miles-one-and-a-half-furlongs at the course in December.

The enigmatic ten-year-old looked set to beat the rapidly improving Black Corton prior to falling in October, and it is fair to say that he doesn’t always jump with the greatest of fluency. However, you can’t argue with his course form that also includes a narrow defeat in the Grade 2 Dipper Novices’ Chase on New Years Day. He will be partnered top amateur jockey Barry O’Neill.

Impulsive Star, who is yet to get off the mark over fences, and Duel At Dawn, who finished second behind the aforementioned Ms Parfois on his latest start, should both enjoy this marathon trip.

Katie Walsh will ride last time out scorer Pylonthepressure, who could go well despite his lack of experience. While the lightly-raced Reigning Supreme, who will represent Nicky Henderson and James King, could run well.

All Kings, Clondaw Cian, Lofgren, Robin Of Locksley and Shades Of Midnight complete the field.


SUMMARY: Jockeys are all-important in this race, therefore Jury Duty and No Comment, who will be partnered by Jamie Codd and Derek O’Connor respectively, will undoubtedly prove very popular. However, the former appeared to empty quickly when last seen at Naas which would have to be a concern over four-miles on soft ground. While the latter arrives here with just one previous outing over fences, which, it goes without saying, is far from ideal. Given those concerns, I would much rather side with SIZING TENNESSEE, who has stacks of solid course form and will be assisted by top amateur jockey Barry O’Neill. Colin Tizzard has his string in fine form at present and the experienced ten-year-old, who looked to have the measure of RSA Chase contender Black Corton at Prestbury Park in October, will not be inconvenienced by the ground. MS PARFOIS, who has flourished over fences this winter, is also worthy of support. The bold jumping mare already has a Prestbury Park victory to her name this season and could be very dangerous in receipt of 7lb on ground that she will relish. William Biddick is a safe pair of hands.



Tully East ran out a good winner of this race 12 months ago, and Ireland look to hold a strong hand once again, with De Plotting Shed and Any Second Now attracting plenty of support in recent weeks.

Both have profiles that would suggest that this has been the plan for some time.

De Plotting Shed, who chased home Presenting Percy on chasing debut, has been been tapped for toe over the minimum distance on his last two visits to the racetrack. While Any Second now, who began his career over the lager obstacles with second-placed efforts behind Monalee and Invitation Only, could easily thrive now returned to this intermediate trip.

All four of De Plotting Shed’s victories over hurdles came over trips in excess of two-miles-three-furlongs, and he will compete from a mark that is 7lb below his rating over timber. While Any Second Now was a Grade 2 winning novice hurdler last winter who could easily be a graded horse competing in a handicap.

Both should go well.

Last year’s Pertemps Final third Barney Dwan has also attracted plenty of support.

The Paul and Clare Rooney owned eight-year-old was, remarkably, dropped 2lb following a smooth victory at Musselburgh last month. He will line up off the same mark from which he competed 12 months ago and therefore must go well for his locally based handler.

Nicky Henderson has two live candidates in the form of Divine Spear and Rather Be.

The former was a solid handicap hurdler last winter and was always going to develop into a much better chaser. While the latter won a hugely competitive handicap hurdle at Aintree last spring and warmed up for this race with a facile success at Fakenham last month.

Both are yet to win a race at Prestbury Park. However, they certainly warrant the utmost respect for a trainer who can do no wrong this season.

Ballyhill brings solid course form to the table.

The Nigel Twiston-Davies trained seven-year-old proved his ability in open handicap company on New Years Day, making the most of the significant lumps of weight that he received from his vastly more-experienced rivals to get off the mark in fine style.

Testify could represent value.

Donald McCain’s seven-year-old is already a Grade 2 winner over fences and will put his unbeaten status (3-3 over fences) on the line in this hugely competitive heat. He will relish the soft underfoot conditions and could easily outrun his double-figure price.

Mister Whitaker ran out a smart winner on soft ground at Prestbury Park in December.

This is undoubtedly much tougher, but course form should never be underestimated.

Barry Geraghty has elected to ride Demi Sang over the aforementioned Any Second Now.

The JP McManus owned French-bred made a successful Irish debut before finishing a long way behind Footpad in the Grade 1 Arkle Novice Chase at Leopardstown last month. He is well worth trying over this increased distance.

Tycoon Prince, who could have plenty more to come over fences, and Livelovelaugh, who will represent Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh, are further Irish raiders who could run well.

While Rocklander, who is 2-3 over fences, and Report To Base, who will relish the testing conditions, are further British trained contenders who could easily outrun their double-digit prices.

Markov won his first two starts over fences before falling when last seen at Haydock. This has been his target all season long.

While 2016 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle winner Ibis Du Rheu, who returned to action with a below-par effort at Newbury last month, will represent the in-form yard of Paul Nicholls.

Kayf Adventure and Le Rocher are also noteworthy candidates.

Jameson, Cobra De Mai, Conrad Hastings, Western Miller and Deauville Dancer complete the field.


SUMMARY: De Plotting Shed has scope for improvement but may need better ground in order to show his true potential. Divine Spear May prove to be the pick of the Henderson trained pair. While Barney Dwan looks to be on a fair mark and warrants the utmost respect given his Cheltenham Festival form. However ANY SECOND NOW and TESTIFY may be the two to focus on. The former has been competing against the best novice chasers in Ireland this winter and will not be inconvenienced by the ground. While the latter is already a Grade 2 winner over fences and could have a lot more to come. Donald McCain has enjoyed at fine winter campaign, and Testify will relish the testing conditions.



1.30 – Kalashnikov 9/2 (Generally)

Slate House 25/1 (Generally)

2.10 – Petit Mouchoir 3/1 (Unibet)

2.50 – Coo Star Sivola 6/1 (Betfair)

Vintage Clouds 12/1 (Generally)

3.30 – (Win) Buveur D’Air 4/7 (Bet 365)

w/o favourite – Yorkhill 5/1 (William Hill)

4.10 – (Win) Apple’s Jade 8/13 (Generally)

w/o favourite – Jer’s Girl 10/1 (Bet 365, William Hill)

4.50 – Sizing Tennessee 10/1 (Generally)

Ms Parfois 8/1 (Generally)

5.30 – Any Second Now 7/1 (Bet 365)

Testify 14/1 (Bet 365)


Festival Plotting


It was around this time last year that I advised Tully East at 20/1 for the closing contest on day 1 of the 2017 Cheltenham Festival. And I hopeful of doubling up in the race courtesy of another Irish raider.

This year the ratings band has been increased from 0-140 to 0-145, which means that those who have previously been forced to chance their arm in Grade 1 company now have a much more realistic Cheltenham Festival target.

As with Tully East 12 months ago, you have to look for a horse who has the potential to improve for the conditions of this race. And, having scanned through the list of potential candidates, I believe that De Plotting Shed could be capable of much better things over this trip and on the likely decent ground.

Gordon Elliott’s grey has performed consistently since being sent over fences in the autumn, finding only Saturnas, who won a Grade 1 novice hurdle over 2 miles, and Montalbano, who won over the minimum distance at the Punchestown Festival last spring, too good on his last two outings (both over 2 miles).

However, the eight-year-old’s best performance arguably came on chasing debut, when beaten just 3 lengths by RSA Chase favourite Presenting Percy over two-miles-six-furlongs at Galway. A trip that is much more to De Plotting Shed’s liking.

In fact, all four of the De Plotting Shed’s victories over hurdles were achieved over intermediate trips (2m3f – 2m6f), and it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if Gordon Elliott had adopted the Willie Mullins approach of running a novice over a trip shorter than ideal in order to sharpen up their jumping. With the added bonus that their mark should remain favourable.

It is also worth noting that his form on ground officially described as yielding to soft or better reads 291112624, further reason for optimism.

Davy Russell, who is undoubtedly one of the finest riders in handicap company, has partnered the Cullentra inmate on his last three outings and would look odds-on to retain the ride should De Plotting Shed line up here.

The only potential snag is his Irish rating of 143 (7lbs below his rating over timber), which will obviously be looked at by the British handicappers if, or indeed when, he is entered. However, if they price him up on form rather than potential, I would be hopeful that his British mark would not exceed the ceiling figure of 145.

Bet 365 are the only bookmaker who currently have De Plotting Shed priced up, which is a bonus given that they are both NRNB and Best Odds Guaranteed on all Festival races. So our money is safe should Phil Smith spoil the party!

Good luck.

SELECTION: De Plotting Shed – 14/1 NRNB (Bet 365)



Everyone loves a good old fashioned handicap plot when the Cheltenham Festival rolls around, and who better to carry it off than David Pipe, especially in a race that the Nicholashayne based handler regularly targets.

Great Endeavour (2010), Salut Flo (2012) and Ballynagour (2014) have all took this Grade 3 prize back to Pond house in recent years. While Monetaire (second in 2015) and Kings Palace (third in 2016) both went close.

Salut Flo, Ballynagour and Monetaire were all French imports, and this year perennial plotter Pipe could call upon former French performer King’s Socks, who it yet to be sighted since crossing the channel but has been declared to run in a Graduation Chase at Kempton tomorrow.

Purchased in the summer of 2016, King’s Socks was the subject of strong ante-post support for the BetVictor Gold Cup that autumn, only to have his debut season on these shores delayed by injury. Unfortunately, we have no British form to go on as a result. However, clearly connections felt that a mark of 143 underestimated their new charge. Something that should not go unnoticed.

An entry in the Grade 1 Ascot Chase further demonstrates the regard in which the six-year-old is held. And should he make a sparkling stable debut at Kempton tomorrow, his current price of 20/1 for the Brown Advisory Plate will undoubtedly be a thing of the past.

Good luck.

SELECTION: King’s Socks – 20/1 (Betfair) 16/1 Any Race (William Hill)


Farclas can Triumph

TRIUMPH HURDLE – 16/03/2018

The murky waters of the Triumph Hurdle are not where I usually like to swim. However, there does appear to be an interesting contender whose double figure price could easily tumble should he reign supreme at Leopardstown on Sunday.

Farclas made an eye-catching hurdling debut behind Espoir D’Allen at Leopardstown last month, where he ran on gamely following a less than fluent leap at the last to claim second place from his vastly more experienced stablemate Mitchouka, who has franked the form subsequently.

Although Gavin Cromwell’s unbeaten juvenile conceded 3lb and won well that day, he did hold both an experience and fitness edge over the Gigginstown owned runner who, granted natural progression both mentally and physically, could give the Triumph Hurdle second favourite much more to think about this weekend.

It was the manner in which the grey stuck his head down and ran all the way to the line that impressed me most, suggesting that a stamina searching two-mile test would bring out the best in Gordon Elliott’s charge.

Should Farclas reverse the form with Espoir D’Allen, or at least go very close, the 20/1 currently available will be a thing of the past come 1.20 on Sunday afternoon.


SELECTION: FARCLAS – 20/1 (William Hill, 188 BET)


Cheltenham Trials Day 2018


This race revolves around the Nicky Henderson trained Apple’s Shakira, who is unbeaten in three career starts, including two deeply impressive victories at Prestbury Park this season.

A full sister to top class racemare Apple’s Jade, the JP McManus owned four-year-old looked well above average when scoring with consummate ease at both the November and December meetings, on each occasion putting the race to bed between two-out and the last.

The Seven Barrows inmate, who receives weight from all of her rivals, is undoubtedly the one to beat. And another victory will only solidify her position at the head of the betting for the Triumph Hurdle in March.

Philip Hobbs took on Apple’s Shakira with the previously unbeaten Gumball in November. This time the Minehead based handler will rely upon French recruit Elixir De Nutz.

Winner of his sole start at Enghein in October, the grey son of Al Namix got his head in front in the final furlong of the contest, displaying a pleasing attitude and seeing off a rival who had previous racecourse experience. This will be a stern test on his British debut.

Last time out winner Look My Way will represent John Quinn, who often does well with his juvenile hurdlers.

Sent off a well supported 11/10 favourite on hurdling debut at Newcastle, Look My Way found only the Paul Nicholls trained Act Of Valour too good, before getting off the mark at the second time of asking when sent off at prohibitive odds earlier this month. This will be much tougher.

Broughtons Admiral, Erick Le Rouge and Ulysses also boast previous hurdling experience. However, they will all need to up their game if those at the head of the market run their races.

CONCLUSION: The fact that Philip Hobbs’ has elected to run Elixir De Nutz in Grade 2 company on his stable debut should not be overlooked. However, it is impossible to get away APPLE’S SHAKIRA on all know form, especially with her yard churning out winners right, left and centre. With conditions to suit, the exciting four-year-old can solidify her position at the head of the betting for the Triumph Hurdle.

SELECTION: Apple’s Shakira



Winner of the Champion Bumper in 2016, and fourth in last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Ballyandy would undoubtedly be a popular winner for local trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies.

The gutsy seven-year-old accounted for the more experienced Fagan on chasing debut at Perth in September, before returning from a three month absence to finish fourth behind multiple Grade 1 winning hurdler Yanworth in the Grade 2 Dipper Novices Chase at Prestbury Park on New Years Day.

It took Ballyandy a few runs to really warm to his task over hurdles. And that may also prove to be the case over fences. However, if he has progressed both mentally and physically from his last run, he could easily go very close here.

Sizing Tennessee will represent Colin Tizzard.

Like Ballyandy, the imposing ten-year-old is no stranger in the Cotswolds, recording form figures of 0023PF12, with his latest effort a strong piece of Grade 2 form when beaten just a neck by the aforementioned Yanworth, who received 3lb.

The experienced performer looked to have subsequent Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase winner Black Corton held when crashing out at the penultimate fence at Prestbury Park in October. And, although his jumping is often erratic, he looks a major player here.

Theatre Territory is a fascinating contender based on her smart piece of course and distance form from December.

The Robert Waley-Cohen owned mare ran a huge race to finish just 1 length behind subsequent dual-scorer Ms Parfois, with the pair pulling a full 21 lengths clear of the third. And I would be inclined to put a line through her only subsequent effort when finishing third at Wincanton on Boxing Day, as the sharp nature of the course would not have played to her strengths.

Warren Greatrex has his string in red-hot form at present, operating at a 33% strike-rate with 7 winners from last 21 runners. A big run can be expected.

Mister Whitaker is already developing into a much better chaser than he ever was hurdler, following up a perfectly respectable debut third with success at Carlisle and a runner-up effort Kempton.

The Mick Channon trained six-year-old could never get on terms with the front-running Hell’s Kitchen on his latest start, but did finish 19 lengths in advance of previous winner Touch Kick (third). He could easily have more to offer from a mark of 129.

Full Irish, who is yet to try this trip over fences, will represent Emma Lavelle.

Winner of a 3 mile handicap chase at Lingfield in November, the stamina-leaden six-year-could only finish fourth in the competitive Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase at Haydock prior to Christmas, when sent off a well supported 2/1 favourite.

The son of Flemensfirth did notch a victory over this trip as a novice hurdler, as well as chasing home the talented Cleeve Hurdle contender, and Aintree Grade 1 scorer, The Worlds End at Chepstow. Testing ground will suit.

Solstice Star and War Sound complete the field.

Both arrive with consistent profiles, but struggle to get their nose in front. Therefore, both can be expected to run yet another solid race.

CONCLUSION: Sizing Tennessee rates a leading contender but comes with obvious risks attached. While Theatre Territory could easily go well given her smart piece of course and distance form. However, BALLYANDY is entitled to come on for his New Years Day effort and could be ready to take his form to a new level here. It is interesting that Nigel Twiston-Davies has elected to run the seven-year- in a handicap, and he can land this prize before stepping back into graded company this spring.

SELECTION: Ballyandy 3/1


1.50 FESTIVAL TRIALS HANDICAP CHASE (Grade 3) 2m 4f 166y

Nigel Twiston-Davies sent out the novice Foxtail Hill to this this valuable Grade 3 prize 12 months ago, and will attempt to repaeat the feat with last time our winner Ballyhill tomorrow.

Having accumulated some fair form in novice chase company during the autumn, the canny Cotswolds based trainer prepared the seven-year-old to land a Grade 3 handicap chase over this course and distance on New Years Day, where he had the re-opposing Shantou Flyer one-and-three-quarter-lengths behind (second).

A 5lb rise doesn’t appear overly harsh and Ballyhill could have plenty more to come after just 5 career starts over fences.

Shantou Flyer, who will have the assistance of in-demand conditional jockey James Bowen, is also a course and distance winner having landed the New Years Day handicap 12 months ago.

Richard Hobson’s son of Shantou went up a 1lb following his second placed effort earlier this month. However, he is used to carrying big weights and a bold bid can be expected once again.

Nick Williams and Lizzie Kelly team up with Coo Star Sivola, who steps into handicap chase company off a potentially lenient mark of 135.

A Listed novice hurdle winner at Prestbury Park last season – with subsequent Grade 1 winners Pingshou and Poetic Rhythm in behind – Coo Star Sivola has kept good company over fences, finishing a close-up third behind Finian’s Oscar and Movewiththetimes in November, and second to smart performer Kalondra over this course and distance in December.

Those 3 rivals are rated 153, 142 and 147 respectively, which makes Coo Star Sivola a very tempting proposition off 135, especially when you factor in his course form, versatility in terms of ground and the form of his yard, who are currently operating at a 40% strike-rate with 4 winners from their last 10 runners.

King’s Odyssey had his backers when placing third in the Grade 3 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup over this course and distance in December. And, with ground to suit and the notable jockey booking of Barry Geraghty, it would be no surprise to see him attract support once again.

Evan Williams’ nine-year-old will line up off a 1lb lower mark here, and has very low mileage for a horse of his age. He should go well once again.

2016 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup winner Frodon will represent ten-time champion trainer Paul Nicholls.

The classy French bred has already achieved a great deal, winning 6 of his 14 starts over fences and running some very big races in defeat. Factors reflected in his official rating of 154.

Ground and trip look ideal for the six-year-old. And Bryony Frost, who can’t stop landing these big Saturday races at present, will lighten the youngsters burden.

O O Seven will undertake his latest mission for champion trainer Nicky Henderson.

A winner over this trip at Prestbury Park last season (Old Course), the imposing eight-year-old, who also claimed fourth place in the Topham Chase at Aintree last spring, finished two places and 8 lengths behind the re-opposing Frodon when last sighted at Ascot, but will meet that rival on better terms today.

While it won’t be easy from a mark of 152, he should not be discounted given his consistent profile in competitive handicaps.

Arctic Gold will provide Nigel Twiston-Davies with a second string to his bow. However, this looks a stern test on just his seventh start over fences despite posting a number of creditable efforts.

The same can be said about Colin Tizzard, who will field last season’s Topham Handicap Chase winner Ultragold and the consistent Bally Longford, who’s long losing run stretches back to Galway in 2015.

Both remain high enough in the weights.

David Rees has secured the services of in-demand conditional jockey James Bowen for the lowly weighted Dream Bolt, who scored at Taunton on his penultimate start but will undoubtedly face his sternest test to date here.

While David Noonan will partner Potters Legend, who would be a danger to all off his current mark if rediscovering the form of his fourth placed finish in the Kim Muir Challenge Cup at the Cheltenham Festival last March.

Interestingly, Potters Legendfinished second in the corresponding course and distance novice handicap chase off a 6lb higher mark on this day last year. And this is the first time that he has competed over this trip subsequently.

Casse Tete and Pressurize are further interesting contenders.

The former scored with consummate ease (27 lengths) on his penultimate start at Sandown, before never threatening in a competitive handicap at Ascot prior to Christmas. While the latter is a fragile but talented twelve-year-old who has only made it to the track on 10 occasions, winning 4 times, including last time out at Chepstow by 15 lengths.

Both could feature if on a going day.

Drumlee Sunset completes the field, but will need to find improvement following a string of second placed efforts.

CONCLUSION: this looks a very competitive contest, with seasoned performers such as Frodonand King’s Odyssey holding strong claims on the formbook. However, it may pay to side with those less experienced who may have more mileage in their mark at this stage. Ballyhill holds solid claims based on his course and distance victory on New Years Day, when seeing off the re-opposing Shantou Flyer in fine style. But it may pay to side with the other novice in the field, COO STAR SIVOLA. Nick Williams has his string in fine form at present and it could be significant that connections have elected to enter open company rather than contest the novice chase earlier on the card. A mark of 135 looks lenient based on what the six-year-old has achieved this season. He should go close.

SELECTION: Coo Star Sivola 7/2



Given the sheer amount of rain we have endured recently it is no surprise to see Bristol De Mai a strong favourite for this three-mile feature contest, won last year by the late, great Many Clouds.

The Nigel Twiston-Davies trained seven-year-old silenced his doubters with a monstrous performance in the Betfair Chase at Haydock. However, the Merseyside venue is undoubtedly the imposing grey’s happy hunting ground and he is yet to taste success around the undulations of Prestbury Park.

That said, the Simon Munir and Isaac Souede owned stayer finished seventh in the 2017 Gold Cup on unsuitably quick ground, which followed a fine second placed finish in the JLT Novices’ Chase 12 months previously. Therefore, it would be no surprise to see him break his Prestbury Park duck with conditions in his favour tomorrow.

On ratings Tea For Two would only have 3lb to find with Bristol De Mai and arrives here following a hugely respectable third placed finish in the King George VI Chase at Kempton.

Another yet to score a victory in the Cotswolds, Nick Williams’ nine-year-old dispelled the notion that he isn’t effective on left-handed tracks when landing the Grade 1 Betway Bowl at Aintree last April. He does, however, have a lot to find with Bristol De Mai on their Haydock running.

Kim Bailey enjoyed an across-the-card double at Ascot and Haydock last Saturday and is responsible the wonderfully consistent, battle-hardened, 2016 Grand National runner up The Last Samuri. The hardy son of Flemesfirth has hit the frame in 12 of his 15 starts over fences, including 5 victories, and simply doesn’t know how to run a bad race. Somewhat reminiscent of last year’s heroic winner. Last seen finishing 9 lengths (second) behind a well handicapped Blaklion, to whom he conceded 6lb, in the Becher Chase at Aintree, another bold effort can be expected.

Definitly Red is cut from the same cloth as The Last Samurai and is yet to finish out of the places in 12 completed starts over fences (15 runs. 1 fall, 1 unseat, 1 PU).

Brian Ellison’s nine-year-old arrives here on the back of a Grade 2 success at Aintree, where he ground his opposition into submission on bottomless ground. With conditions to suit and the yard amongst the winners of late, Definitly Red warrants the utmost respect.

American is a fascinating contender despite his disappointing showing in the Ladbrokes Trophy (Hennessy).

Harry Fry’s fragile eight-year-old is undoubtedly very talented, as his record of 3 victories from 4 starts over fences clearly indicates. However, he is also plagued by small injuries that mean we don’t get to see him very often.

Well supported for the Ladbrokes Trophy, American lost a shoe and suffered on overreach before pulling up after the seventeenth obstacle. With that in mind, it would be no surprise to see the lightly-raced bay bounce back to form with conditions to suit and his trainer enjoying a purple patch of form.

Perfect Candidate, Singlefarmpayment and Theatre Guide will represent Fergal O’Brien, Tom George and Colin Tizzard respectively.

The former is a Prestbury Park regular who landed a Grade 3 handicap chase at the track in November. While the second named is a course and distance winner who also finished second in the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase on the opening day of the 2017 Cheltenham Festival. Whilst you couldn’t rule either out completely, they would have to improve significantly to feature.

The latter has also won at the course and is a grand old servant for Colin Tizzard and Jean Bishop. However, while he would be a fairly popular winner, he does look up against it.

CONCLUSION: Bristol De Mai is undoubtedly the horse to beat based on figures. However, he may not get things all his own way here and is yet to win a race around the undulations of Prestbury Park. Definitly Red and The Last Samuri are thoroughly consistent Stayers who are virtually guaranteed to run their race. While Tea For Two is another who has the ability to play a role. But it may be worth siding with the frustratingly fragile, but very talented AMERICAN, who had excuses for his disappointing run in the Ladbrokes Trophy and is 4-5 in single-figure fields. Harry Fry is currently operating at a 25% (3-12) strike-rate and the imposing eight-year-old will relish the soft ground he will encounter tomorrow. He could jump his rivals into submission if granted an uncontested lead.

SELECTION: American 5/1



This race has a good history of unearthing smart young horses, with Yanworth (2016) and Wholestone (2017), who have both progressed to win graded races in open company, fine examples of those who have tasted success in this Grade 2 contest.

Nicky Henderson saddles debut winner Santini, who looked a potentially smart recruit when comfortably dispatching eight rivals at Newbury in December.

The strapping six-year-old beat stablemate Chef Des Obeaux by four-and-a-half-lengths, who went on to win his next start at Kempton by an impressive 19 lengths, giving the form a very solid look.

Henderson often introduces smart novice hurdle prospects at Newbury. And he looks to have another hugely promising weapon to go to war with this spring.

Stablemate Pacific De Baune joins Santini in the line-up, and is the choice of stable jockey Nico De Boinville.

Second on his solitary start between the flags at Durrow last March, the four-year-old displayed a pleasing attitude to forge 7 lengths clear of the second, with a further 5 lengths back to the third who franked the form in some style when scoring by 31 lengths at Taunton next time out.

The exciting youngster has been the subject of strong market support all week. And needless to say – he warrants the utmost respect.

Warren Greatrex is enjoying a real purple patch of form at present and will be represented here by Grade 1 Challow Hurdle runner-up Mulcahys Hill. A maiden point winner at Tallow in February 2016 – where he beat David Pipe’s talented novice chaser Ramses Des Teillee by 31 lengths – this exciting son of Brian Boru gave the vastly more experienced Poetic Rhythm a real battle at Newbury, eventually losing out in a photo.

That rates a mighty effort on just his second start over hurdles. And, if he has fully recovered from those exertions, he would hold solid claims in this Grade 2 contest.

Noel Fehily and Neil Mulholland team up with last time out winner Tikkanbar. That victory came over this course and distance on heavy ground, which ticks two important boxes when looking at potential protagonists. With his overall career record of 211011 showing what a consistent and talented prospect the seven-year-old is.

Obviously, this represents a rise in class for the son of Tikkanen. However, he beat some smart prospects on New Years Day and could easily have plenty more to come.

Aye Aye Charlie finished a shade over eight-lengths (fourth) behind Tikkanbar on New Years Day, and could also have more to offer after just 2 completed starts over hurdles (fell at Cheltenham in November).

Third behind the hugely exciting On The Blind Side at Aintree in October, I am sure that a maiden success won’t be too far away. However, he may find one or two too good again tomorrow.

Slate House has already proven his ability to perform at Prestbury Park, with a maiden success in October preceding a Grade 2 victory from subsequent Tolworth Hurdle winner Summerville Boy in November.

However, both of those victories came over the minimum distance, and this will be the first time that the imposing son of Presenting has tackled two-and-a-half-miles under rules.

Breeding would suggest that the trip should hold no fears. While his graded success was achieved on soft ground, which puts the all important tick in the going box. It would no surprise to see Slate House play a leading role.

Tom George fields the Roger Brookhouse owned Black Op, who got off the mark at the second time of asking when landing a maiden hurdle at Doncaster by 17 lengths.

The step up to two-and-a-half-miles was undoubtedly a key factor in the seven-year-old’s success, and it impossible to predict just what the promising son of Sandmason is capable of. However, he clearly possesses a fair amount of ability and commands respect here.

While last time out Fontwell scorer De Rasher Counter and big-priced Martin Keighley runner Fairmount complete the field.

CONCLUSION: the Nicky Henderson trained pair Pacific De Baune and Santini made striking impressions when scoring on their respective hurdling debuts at Newbury. While Black Op also looks a smart prospect and could take a big step forwards. However, both TIKKANBAR and SLATE HOUSE possess smart pieces of course form and won’t be inconvenienced by the soft underfoot conditions. They have to concede 5lb to all of their rivals, but both look fair value in an open contest.

SELECTION: Tikkanbar 13/2, Slate House 11/1



To decision to revert to hurdling with Finian’s Oscar has undoubtedly added an extra edge to this year’s Cleeve Hurdle, where a bold performance could see his price for Stayers Hurdle tumble dramatically.

Colin Tizzard’s talented six-year-old tasted Grade 1 novice hurdle success over two (Tolworth Hurdle) and two-and-a-half miles (Mersey Novices’ Hurdle) last season, but has yet tackle three-miles under rules.

Not the most natural jumper of fences, the switch back to timber and increased distance could easily reinvigorate the talented son of Oscar. Therefore, he warrants the utmost respect at a course where his form reads 1 start, 1 win.

In a field packed with potential dangers, Wholestone could easily prove the biggest threat to Finian’s Oscar.

A dual Grade 2 winner at Prestbury Park last season, including when beating subsequent Lanzarote Hurdle winner William Henry (second) and Grade 1 winning novice Poetic Rhythm (third) over two-and-a-half miles at this meeting 12 months ago, the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained seven-year-old returned to his happy hunting ground to claim the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle on New Years Day, where he had the re-opposing Agrapart (second) and Colin’s Sister (third) in-behind.

His maiden Grade 2 success came over this course and distance, as did his fine third placed effort in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle last March. On form, Wholestone looks a very solid candidate.

There will be many cheering on Newbury’s Long Distance Hurdle winner Beer Goggles following the shock news of Richard Woollacott’s passing earlier this week. And it would certainly be a fitting tribute to a much respected and talented man.

The progressive seven-year-old saw off Unowhatimeanharry, Taquin Du Seuil, Colin’s Sister, Thistlecrack and Wholestone under a canny front running ride from champion jockey Richard Johnson, who will retain his place in the saddle tomorrow. And it would undoubtedly be an emotional success if Beer Goggles could get his nose in front once again.

Thomas Campbell is another contender who has worked his way up through the handicap ranks and, despite finishing fifth at Ascot last time out, is more than worthy of his place in the field given his impressive record at Prestbury Park (1511).

Beaten a shade over 14 lengths by ante-post Stayers Hurdle favourite Sam Spinner at Ascot, connections will be hopeful that both the experience he gained and the return to his favourite track will see him run a much bigger race tomorrow.

The Worlds End, who finished one place ahead of the aforementioned Thomas Campbell at Ascot, looked set to play a starring role in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle last March before a taking a heavy fall at the penultimate flight of hurdles.

Grade 1 compensation swiftly followed at Aintree and the promising eight-year-old began this season as many people dark horse for the Stayers Hurdle.

Although two runs this season have yielded no further success, the imposing son of Stowaway has often required a run or two in order to hit peak form. And his run at Ascot last time out was much more encouraging than the bare form may suggest.

Perhaps seen to best effect on better ground, I am sure that connections will be hoping that he runs a good trial tomorrow.

The aforementioned duo Agrapart and Colin’s Sister with represent Nick Williams and Fergal O’Brien respectively.

Agrapart appears to save his best efforts for Prestbury Park these days, with his last victory coming at the track in January 2016 when landing the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle from subsequent French Champion Hurdle winner L’Ami Serge.

That said, he is yet to win over three-miles (0-2) and does have to concede weight to a number of his rivals. This looks no easy task.

The locally trained Colin’s Sister has always looked a well above-average mare and confirmed that theory when getting the better of Wholestone in Grade 2 company at Wetherby in November.

Third behind that rival when last sighted on New Years Day, connections will be hoping that a return to three-miles can see the smart seven-year-old turn the tables on her conquerer once again. With the soft conditions and mares allowance very much in her favour.

Court Minstrel, who would prefer better ground, Ex Patriot, who achieved a thoroughly respectable fourth placed finish in last season’s Triumph Hurdle and tries this three-mile trip for the very first time, and Saint Are, who begins his preparations for the Randox Health Grand National, complete the field.

CONCLUSION: this looks a fairly competitive renewal of this Grade 2 prize, with Relkeel Hurdle 1-2-3 Wholestone, Argrapart and Colin’s Sister all potential players once more. Beer Goggles had some of these in-behind when landing the Grade 2 Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury, and can rely upon the services of champion jockey Richard Johnson one example again. While The Worlds End is progressing with every start and was in the process of running a huge race in the Albert Bartlett last March before crashing out two from home. However, FINIAN’S OSCAR is undoubtedly the most intriguing contender in the field, and this return to hurdling can hopefully save the six-year-old’s season. A dual Grade 1 winner as a novice, the manner in which he flew up the hill in November suggested that this three-mile trip could yield further improvement. Victory here would put the youngster firmly in the Stayers Hurdle picture.

SELECTION: Finian’s Oscar 7/2



A typically tricky two-mile handicap hurdle concludes proceedings at Prestbury Park, with 12 contenders set to go to post at 4.10.

Brian Ellison has been enjoying a fine season thus far and looks to have a live contender here in the form of Zaidiyn, who won a handicap hurdle off his current mark in February 2016.

While that may seem a long time ago, the eight-year-old has only graced the racetrack five times subsequently, with his only start over hurdles coming at Wetherby earlier this month. He warrants a market check.

Le Patriote looks a fascinating contender for Dr Richard Newland and Daryl Jacob.

Twice a winner in his native France, it was somewhat surprising to see the Poliglote gelding contest the Lanzarote Hurdle on his British debut, which clearly indicates the regard in which he is held by his new connections.

The six-year-old achieved a hugely creditable seventh placed finish at Kempton, and will line up here off the very same mark of 127.

Last time out winners Litterale Ci and Robin Of Locksly will represent Harry Fry and Sophie Leech respectively.

The former got off the mark at the fourth time of asking and has displayed a preference for soft ground in her short career to date. While the latter posted a 10 lengths success at Leicester earlier this month and makes his stable debut in the Cotswolds tomorrow. Neither can be discounted.

Sophie Leech is also responsible for Birch Hill, who returns to the track after spending the best part of 15 months on the sidelines.

The handicapper has given the eight-year-old a chance by dropping him 5lb for his absence. And he could certainly feature if primed for action on his reappearance.

Both Huntsman Son and Our Merlin will look to regain the winning thread after their winning streaks came to an end last time out.

The former failed in a hat-trick bid on ground that was perhaps unsuitable at Newbury in December, and can rely upon on the services of talented conditional jockey James Bowen once more. While the latter was looking for a four-timer when bumping into smart performer Call Me Lord at Sandown, and will compete off a 4lb higher mark here.

Remiluc and Eddiemaurice are further credible contenders.

The former has suffered the fate bestowed upon many genuine, consistent performers – creeping up the handicap following a string of second placed efforts, including over this course and distance in December. While the latter is more than capable on his day, but has been hit with a 4lb rise for his second placed finish behind the smart Kayf Grace last time out.

Clondaw Castle and Dino Velvet with represent Tom George and Alan King respectively.

Clondaw Castle is 2-3 over hurdles and could easily be well treated off a mark of 134 on handicap debut. While Dino Velvet has often threatened to land a good prize, but is yet to fulfil that promise.

The resurgent Donald McCain fields experienced campaigner Viserion, who won on his penultimate start at Sedgefield, but may find life tough off his current mark.

CONCLUSION: this looks a very tricky puzzle to solve. However, Zaidiyn and LE PATRIOTE may be the two to focus on, with preference for the latter. Dr Richard Newland is well know for his shrewd placing in handicaps and the French bred travelled well for a long way in the Lanzarote Hurdle. He is well worth trying over this two-mile trip and could easily be better than a mark of 127.

SELECTION: Le Patriote 4/1