CHELTENHAM IS BACK!

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The grass is lush and green, the fences are trimmed and sturdy, and the buzz of excitement can not only be heard, but felt as Cheltenham Racecourse host their Showcase Meeting. Welcoming in the new season with a typically enthralling card!

A trip to the parade ring is a must. The views on the walkway sublime. An amphitheatre like no other.

And then off down the shute and away we go, the tapes are up and so is the wait!

The opening card, as you’d expect, features many exciting prospects, with quality novice events, as well as the usual highly competitive handicaps. I’m going start by taking a look at the novice events, before highlighting a few horses in the handicaps that may be worth a second look.
The Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle gets the day underway, and boasts a plethora of interesting contenders.

Recent Grade 2 scorer El Bandit lead the charge for Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls, and he certainly has good credentials.

Winner of the Grade 2 Persian War Novices’ Hurdle at Chepstow 2 weeks ago (9th Oct), El Bandit has improved with every run for Nicholls, winning his last 4 races.

A novice until the end of October, this could well be his last run over hurdles, with novice chasing a possibility. But if he were to win here, he could easily be tried in hotter waters prior to the switch.

The in form Nigel Twiston Davies runs Templeross, who achieved a fair level of form in bumpers last season before making a successful debut over timber at Newton Abbot in September on seasonal debut, beating the Nicholls trained Rainy City in the process. He should improve for his reappearance.

Trained by Fergal O’Brien, Colin’s Sister showed an above average level of form in bumpers last season, culminating in a fine second to the Warren Greatrex trained The Nipper in a Listed Mares event at Sandown in March.

Her successful hurdling debut at Chepstow will have set her up nicely for this. It will certainly be interesting to see how she gets on against the boys, but she does look an exciting prospect over hurdles this season. She certainly has the potential to land blow here.

It would be careless to merely overlook the Charles Byrnes trained Black Water. An extremely shrewd trainer, as he proved when masterminding the infamous Roscommon coup in August, he has a reputation for being a fine target trainer.

Last year he brought Leave At Dawn over for the Paddy Power Meeting, and set sail back to Ireland with the prize in safe keeping.

His wins have all come in the summer months (May, June and August) and therefore not in the most competitive of waters. However any runner he brings to Britain has to be respected.

Pickamix, the winner of a bumper last season, and maiden hurdle on seasonal debut earlier this month, provides Charlie Mann with an interesting contender.

Noel Fehily looks a good jockey booking and Pickamix certainly shouldn’t be underestimated.

 

Next on the card is the squareintheair.com Novices’ Chase, run over a trip of 1m7f199y. And once again, the entires look very interesting.

Marracudja made a successful chasing debut for Paul Nicholls and the newly formed Ditcheat Thoroughbreds syndicate at Newton Abbott in September, and looks a nice prospect for the season ahead.

Likened to former classy Ditcheat performer Sanctuaire by his trainer, Marracudja has clearly been impressing his onlookers at home.

James Ewart could have a smart novice on his hands in the form of Aristo Du Plessis.

A highly progressive horse, Aristo Du Plessis won 6 of his last 8 races over hurdles, rising through the handicap at a rate of knots. He’s certainly an interesting prospect over fences this season.

The Irish contingent comes courtesy of Jessica Harrington, who has runs two, Neverushacon and Gambling Girl, and Henry De Bromhead, who has Ridestan in the mix, the winner of his last two starts in Emerald Isle.

Neil Mulholland has Pinkie Brown engaged here, who won well at Towcester on his most recent outing in earlier this month. While Harry Fry has the well campaigned, recent Market Rasen runner up, Presenting Arms as a possible.

The field is completed by the likeable Gary Moore trained Baron Alco, who rattled up a fine hat-trick over hurdles last season, before finishing a half length second to the exciting Rock The Kasbah in a Class 1 event at Ascot. A consistent, hardy horse, he’s not one to rule out lightly.

 

The second novice chase on the card, the Class 2 Ryman Stationary Cheltenham Business Club Novice Chase, run over 3m80y, also looks an interesting contest.

Gordon Elliott has runs recent Munster National winner Tiger Roll who, of course, landed the 2014 Triumph Hurdle for owners Gigginstown House Stud.

Tiger Roll has gained plenty of experience through the summer months, and as mentioned earlier when discussing Charles Byrnes, Gordon Elliott is another trainer that you have to take serious notice of when travelling horses. Rule him out at your peril.

Henry De Bromhead has 2 contenders here, choosing to run both both Full Cry and Heron Heights. While Jessica Harrington has Duckweed as a possible.

Heron Heights has won 3 of his 5 starts over fences, but one of his 2 defeats did come at the hands of current favourite Tiger Roll at Kilbeggan in August.

He did however slam another of today rivals, Duckweed, by 8L on his latest start at Clonmel in late September. He could be interesting here.

Full Cry has won 2 of his 8 outings over fences, with both wins coming before a third place finish when last seen on the track at Tipperary earlier this month.

All 3 boast mainly summer form, but still have to be respected with the ground sound underfoot.

Martin Keighley has an interesting novice chaser lined up for this race, in the form of Cottersrock.

The winner of a Down Royal bumper and Kempton handicap hurdle last season, he made a successful chasing debut at Uttoxeter earlier this month (Oct 2nd). Given that he’s trained locally, Cottersrock may prove popular here.

Tempestatefloresco represents Colin Tizzard, and boats an unusual profile given that he only made his debut under rules in August, at the age of 8.

A winner on that occasion, he fell when in contention at the penultimate fence on his next start, before finishing second, and then third, to Paul Nicholls smart performer Frodon (who should most definitely be noted if taking up either of his two engagements at Cheltenham on Saturday) in two subsequent runs. He’s hard to access.

 

The Harrison James & Hardie Maiden Hurdle is the fourth novice event on the card. Contested over a trip of 2m87y, the race has attracted some interesting prospects.

The field is headed by the David Bridgwater trained Accord, who finished runner up to Neil Mulholland’s exciting Peter The Mayo Man on hurdling debut at Warwick in late September.

They think a lot of Accord at home, and his promising performance at Warwick means that his presence should be respected.

Next in is Dan Skelton’s Ckalco Des Loges. This is one of 3 entries held by Skelton’s charge over the next few days. However if turning up here, he would rate an interesting contender.

Ian Williams has the superbly names Thehossbehind in the mix. He finished second on his only run to date in a bumper at Worcester in June 2015, beaten 9L by an inmate of former trainer John Ferguson, namely London Prize. He does, however, have a 16 month layoff to overcome.

Phillip Hobbs has Casper King entered here, whose record under rules reads; 5 starts, 5 second place finishes. He does however boast a fair level of form in both bumpers & Maiden/Novice hurdles.

His latest runner up effort came at Chepstow 2 weeks ago, when beaten by the promising Geordie Des Champs, with the highly regarded Capeland, who got off the mark over hurdles at Newton Abbot this afternoon, back in third. It won’t be long before this son of Scorpion gets off the mark.

Garo De Juilley is set to make his eagerly anticipated stable debut for Paul Nicholls, after attracting the praise of those that look after him every day.

Winner of his last 4 starts on the flat in France, the word is that the son of Ungaro has schooled well over hurdles at home. He could well be one of the more exciting young French exports for team Ditcheat this season.

Nicky Henderson runs 2 in the the race, namely Khezerabad, the current favourite, who finished a respectable third behing Paul Nicholls smart Zubayr in the Grade 2 Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton last season, and Thomas Campbell, who left an average bumper debut behind him when bolting up next time out in a Kelso bumber, winning by 14L. They both clearly have chances.

Tom George’s Bigpipenotobacee and the he Nigel Twiston Davies trained Gulshanigans completed the field. But it’s fair to say that both will need to step up on what they have previously shown to be a factor here.

 

Now for a quick look at horses that might be worth a second look in the handicaps.

 

3.20 CHELTENHAM

FLORRIE BAY:

Nigel Twiston Davies could hardly be in better form, currently operating at an impressive strike rate of 42% (11-26) in the last 14 days.

I like the look of Florrie Boy in this hotly contested handicap, in which the son of Milan is set to carry 10-2, taking in to account Jamie Bargary’s 5lbs claim.

Twice a winner last season, Florrie Boy rose through the ranks, scoring in two Class 4 events before finishing a respectable second to an improving horse of Phillip Hobbs, Braavos, in a Class 3 event at Perth.

He then turned up at Haydock to contest a Class 2 event, where he ran with credit, coming home a 15L sixth to Harry Fry’s consistent Whataknight. Recent novice chase winner Minella Daddy came second, David’s Pipe’s smart Dell’Arca was fourth, Phillip Hobbs grey Brother Tedd was fifth and Paul Nicholls multiple winner Southfield Vic finished one place behind Florrie Boy, to give you an idea of the form.

Both his wins last season came on good ground, and with the Twiston Davies yard in such good form, Florrie Boy could easily outrun his price here.

CURRENT PRICE: 10/1
ARCTIC GOLD:

Twiston Davies also runs Artic Gold, who enjoyed a successful season over hurdles last term, winning 4 times, including twice in Class 3 events.

Perhaps outclassed in two Class 2 outings, first behind Flintham, and then when finding himself unfortunate enough to bump into the hugely exciting Nicky Henderson trained Different Gravey at Ascot, he still ran credibility, finishing sixth on each occasion.

An impressive winner at Ffos Las when last sighted, he forfeited weight to all of his rivals and still won nicely by upwards of 3 1/2L.

Most of his racing has come on ground with plenty of cut, however he did win his maiden hurdle on good ground at Stratford last term, so he should handle conditions.

10lbs claimer Tom Humphries will be doing the steering, which more than counteracts the 7lbs rise the son of Gold Well incurred for his Ffos Las victory. Only a 5yo, there’s every chance that he will be bigger and stronger this year after another summer at grass.

CURRENT PRICE: 16/1
5.05 CHELTENHAM

Neil Mulholland runs the interesting Fingerontheswitch here, who must be better than the 2 attempts he has put up so far over fences.

A smart novice hurdler last season, Fingerontheswitch beat reliable yardstick Ballydine at Worcester, before finishing fourth to future Albert Bartlett winner Unowhatimeanharry at Cheltenham in November.

Since switched to fences Fingerontheswitch has finished fourth, behind Tempestatefloresco (who runs in the 3.55) at Newton Abbot, before finishing second of 2 at Cartmel in late August.

A winner of his third PTP, Fingerontheswitch finished second to the very talented Shantou Village on his second start between the flags, beaten just 4L. Running off a mark of 123, he has to be worth another chance here.

It’s also worth nothing that the yard won this race in 2014 with The Young Master.

CURRENT PRICE: 10/1
5.40 CHELTENHAM:

WISHFULL DREAMING:

Connections have always held Wishfull Dreaming in some regard, and he showed 2 weeks ago, when bolting up at Chepstow, just why they do.

The winner of a Listed bumper at Cheltenham on his second start under rules, The son of Alflora has always promised to be above average, and now he looks to be confirming it.

He travelled and jumped supremely well at Chepstow. And when Richard Johnson said go, the race was put to bed in a matter of strides.

Raised 8lbs for that romp, Phillip Hobbs has reduced that penalty by 3lbs, by putting up conditional jockey Ciaran Gethings. If in the same form, he could be very tough to beat.

CURRENT PRICE: 7/2
CLIFFS OF DOVER:

Paul Nicholls looks to have found a smart recruit to the jumping game in the form of the 3yo, Cliffs Of Dover.

Winner of 3 of his 4 starts over timer, the progeny of Canford Cliffs has won twice in the last week alone, seeing off Moonday Sun at Wincanton last Friday, before taking the scalp of previous easy scorer, and odds on favourite, Lord Huntingdon at Kempton on Sunday.

A slick, quick hurdler, he could be very well in here, and the talented Harry Cobden will once again be claiming his 3lbs allowance. The only real question marks being whether his busy schedule will catch up with him, and whether taking on his elders will prove to much at his tender age.

CURRENT PRICE: 7/1

 

All that’s left to say is good luck!

Have a great 2 days!image

Team FOB – Training Winners? A Piece Of Cake!

Burgeoning National Hunt trainer Fergal O’Brien sent out a personal best tally of 60 winners from his Naunton based Grange Hill Farm operation in the 2016/17 season, and it’s no secret as to why. 

As I arrived in the picturesque Cotswolds countryside one thing shone even more brightly than the early morning sun. The magic formula behind the ever increasing success was quite literally staring me in the face; smiling, cheery faces and happy, healthy horses. Indeed, Team FOB are a prime example of National Hunt harmony.

It’s a credit to all involved that the smiles and laughter transcends the office, with dedicated and diligent stable staff happily going about their work as first lot limber up for a trip to the gallops. It’s fair to say the yard works like a well oiled machine, and talking of machines, every box comes it’s own racing engine. 

From the popular and galant campaigner Perfect Candidate to the hugely exciting unbeaten mare Cap Soleil, who landed Listed contests at both Cheltenham and Sandown last season, virtually every head that pops out to say hello tasted success last term. 

A handful of hugely talented mares’ played a key role in the success of the stable, spearheaded by Listed and Grade 2 winning novice hurdler Colin’s Sister, who will certainly be a force to contend with in mares events over the coming years. 

The Fergal O’Brien Racing Clubs’ Miss Maiden Over played her part with a double in November. Whilst stable favourite Wizards Sliabh also recorded a brace of victories. And Oscar Rose, who finished second in the Grade 2 contest confined to mares at Aintree’s Grand National Meeting, also showed herself to be well above average. It’s fair to say the enthusiastic O’Brien has a way with the ladies!

Of course fantastic facilities further aid the upwardly mobile operation, with a superb schooling arena & testing uphill gallop that ensures the yards finest are also the fittest when they head to the racetrack.

My visit coincided with the aforementioned Cap Soleil’s first trip to the schooling arena (below), where I’m pleased to report the exciting daughter of Kapgarde jumped poles and barrels with enthusiasm & promise, which bodes well for her novice campaign set to get underway this Autumn. 

Cap Soleil jumping barrels (5/5/17)

The fun and friendly atmosphere is often enhanced by the presence of coffee and cake, and it’s fair to say the trainers eyes lit up when I produced my offerings from the boot of the car, even if it may have been shop bought! (Sorry, but I’m a blogger, not a baker!)

As I enjoyed my coffee in the company of Perfect Candidate I must confess I found myself day dreaming about entering the wonderful world of racehorse ownership one day. Although I’m sure my bank manager wouldn’t encourage a trip to Tattersalls any time soon!

It’s a sign your on the right tracks when more owners are eager to come on board, and the lastest to join the roster at Grange Hill Farm is Malcolm Denmark, who has sent 2 lovely young horses, recently named Saturdaynightfever (King’s Theatre X Get Me Home) and Mercy Me (Shirocco X Monsignorita). 

Both are 5-year-olds and fall into the bracket of ‘could be anything’. But they’re both nice types and it’s a nod to the achievements of the yard that the prominent owner has enlisted the services of O’Brien.

Saturdaynightfever (left) & Mercy Me. 

Following the success of Miss Maiden Over last term, the yard have acquired a currently unnamed half brother to the mare who is currently for sale. 

The youngster (Wareed X Rock Garden) is also related to the stables War On The Rocks who landed a Stratford bumper in March 2015, and will head down the bumper route himself this season. If you’re interested in the dashing 4-year-old, feel free to contact the yard for more details. 

2013  Wareed X Rock Garden 

I rounded off a superb trip at Cheltenham Racecourse, and it was brilliant to see Fergal O’Brien train the emphatic winner of the opening race on Cheltenham’s Hunter Chase Evening. 

Brodie Hampson gave the interestingly named Are They Your Own a superb, prominent ride before going to the front turning for home and positively flying up the hill to record a facile 26 length victory. 

It was some way for Team FOB to get off the mark in the 2017/18 campaign, and hopes are high that that success was the first of many as the flag falls on the race to surpass last season’s personal best tally of 60 winners. 

Are They Your Own & Brodie Hampson on their way to the start at Cheltenham. 

As the old adage goes, there’s strength in numbers. And it’s clear to see that it’s a real team effort at Grange Hill Farm. All are driven by passion and the burning desire for success, but importantly, they don’t let that stop them from enjoying themselves. 

There are plenty of promising youngsters in among the tried and tested stable stalwarts, and the environment is certainly ripe for the yard to grow and flourish in the years to come.

Obviously there’s no exact science to training racehorses, but just like baking a cake, if you put the right ingredients together and give them the necessary conditions you’re sure to be on the rise. 

@Jimbo_JumpsMan

 



BIG RACE PREVIEW: The Coral Scottish Grand National

THE CORAL SCOTTISH GRAND NATIONAL HANDICAP CHASE

3m7f176y   (Grade 3)   


10 YEAR HISTORY: 

2007  Hot Weld                 F. Murphy

2008  Iris de Balme          S. Curran

2009  Hello Bud                N. Twiston-Davies

2010  Merigo                     A. Parker

2011  Beshabar                 T. Vaughan

2012  Merigo                     A. Parker

2013  Godsmejudge         A. King

2014  Al Co                        P. Bowen

2015  Wayward Prince   H. Parrot

2016  Vicente                    P. Nicholls 


TRENDS:

▪️7 of the last 10 winners were aged between 7 & 10. 

▪️6 of the last 10 winners carried 10-6 or less. 

▪️10 of the last 12 winners had won over 3 miles previously. 

▪️Only 1 favourite has won in the last 12 years. 

▪️10 of the last 14 winners finished in the first 3 last time out.

▪️11 of the last 14 winners were sent off at a double figure price. 


CONTENDERS: (In Handicap Order)

MISSED APPROACH                                     

OR: 148    Weight: 11-12

Trainer:  W. Greatrex

Jockey:  G. Sheehan

Second to Tiger Roll in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham, Warren Greatrex’s 7-year old has enjoyed a fine first season over the larger obstacles. The Golan gelding was sent off a well supported favourite for the Grade 2 Towton Novices’ Chase at Wetherby in February, but could only finish third. 

Fourth behind the smart pair American and Label Des Obeaux on chasing debut, Missed Approach turned the tables on the latter next time out. His Festival performance was hugely encouraging, and he should relish the marathon trip here. 


VIVALDI COLLONGES

OR: 148    Weight: 11-12

Trainer:  P. Nicholls

Jockey:  H. Cobden

Paul Nicholls’ stout stayer Vivaldi Collonges looks one of the more interesting outsiders despite showing very little in 3 starts this term. Third of four at Sandown on seasonal debut, the stamina laden son of Dom Alco has pulled up on each of his 2 subsequent efforts, in the Grade 3 Betfred Classic Handicap Chase at Warwick, and Grimthorpe Handicap Chase at Doncaster respectively. However his strongest piece of chasing form comes from this meeting last year, when the 8-year-old gave 14lbs and a 26 length beating to none other than Aintree Grand National hero One For Arthur (third) in a 3m novice chase. 

If able to re-capture that form, he would obviously be a danger to all here. However his mark looks tough enough, and he’s not easy to back on this season’s performances. 


FINE RIGHTLY

OR: 147    Weight: 11-11

Trainer:  S.Crawford

Jockey:  A. Lynch

Yet to win this term, the experienced 9-year-old has enjoyed a varied campaign, returning with a fine fourth placed effort over hurdles in a race that has worked out well, before finishing third behind the deadly Douvan over 2m1f in Grade 2 company at Cork in December. Eleventh in the Lexus Chase before a fourth placed effort at Kelso, the son of Alflora arrives here fresh having not raced since mid January. 

An easy winner over 3m2f at Down Royal last year, Crawford’s charge is well worth a go at this marathon trip. And it wouldn’t be a surprise if he went very well for his shrewd trainer. 


KRUZHLININ

OR: 146    Weight: 11-10

Trainer:  P. Hobbs

Jockey:  R. Johnson

Winner of the valuable Grade 3 Fixed Brush Handicap Hurdle at Haydock in November, Paul and Clare Rooney’s 10-year-old has only raced twice since, finishing a good second to the clearly well handicapped Our Kaempfer at Kempton in December, before posting a sixth placed finish in the Grand National Trial at Haydock in January. 

Fifth behind Un Temps Pour Tout at the Cheltenham Festival in 2016, barring jumping errors he could have finished much closer. That came off a mark of 148, which makes his mark of 146 look reasonable. If putting his best foot forward in the jumping stakes, he could be interesting. 


VICENTE                                                         

OR: 146    Weight: 11-10

Trainer:  P. Nicholls 

Jockey:  S. Twiston-Davies

Last year’s winner arrives here off the back of a first fence fall in the Aintree showpiece 2 weeks ago. Purchased by leading owner Trevor Hemmings earlier this year, the National fanatic will be hoping to recoup some of the fee he paid for the 8-year-old tomorrow. 

Sixth placed efforts in both the Welsh Grand National and Sky Bet Chase this season rate solid pieces of form, and the fact he lines up off the exact same mark he triumphed off last season, 146, gives Paul Nicholls’ charge every chance of defending his crown in Scotland this weekend. 


ARPEGE D’ALENE                                        

OR: 145    Weight: 11-9

Trainer:  P. Nicholls

Jockey:  S. Bowen

You get the impression that there isn’t a race run over a trip too far for Paul Nicholls’ second contender Arpege D’Alene, who finished a creditable fourth in the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last month, 2 places and 3 and a quarter lengths behind the re-opposing Missed Approach.

The stamina laden son of Dom Alco certainly doesn’t do anything quickly, and often takes his time in the air. But a second placed effort behind the talented Singlefarmpayment at Cheltenham in November reads well, and if able to stay in contention he’s likely to be battling on when others are crying for mercy. 


SELDOM INN

OR: 145    Weight: 11-9

Trainer:  S. Thompson 

Jockey:  D.Fox

Scottish based trainer Sandy Thompson sent out Seeyouatmidnight to be third in this last year, however a recent set back means the talented 9-year-old will sadly miss the race this this time around, which leaves stablemate Seldom Inn carrying the hopes of the yard tomorrow. Twice a winner at Kelso this season, beating the talented duo Tenor Nivernais and Le Mercurey on the latter occasion, Seldom Inn finished 7 lengths behind the Venitia Williams trained Yala Enki at the Scottish venue last time out and will be trying this stamina stretching trip for the very first time. 

The 9-year-old will line up off a career high mark of 145. He needs to improve, but you couldn’t rule him out. 


BATTLE OF SHILOH

OR: 142    Weight: 11-6

Trainer:  T. George 

Jockey:  A. Heskin

The lightly raced Battle Of Shiloh boasts a very impressive CV, winning both of his starts between the flags, both starts over timber and arriving here with a record of 2 victories from 3 starts over fences, with his sole defeat coming when falling last time out at Chepstow. However it has to be said, he did look held at the time.

Whether the 8-year-old possesses the required experience to land a race of this nature remains to be seen. But Tom George and Adrian Heskin have enjoyed a superb 2016/17 campaign, and this would certainly be the cherry on the cake if they could land he spoils here. 


SOUTHFIELD ROYALE                                

OR: 141   Weight: 11-5

Trainer:  Neil Mulholland

Jockey:  Noel Fehily

Well supported for the Kim Muir Challenge Cup at the Cheltenham Festival last month,  Neil Mulholland’s talented Bay fell at the ninth when tracking the leaders, and heads up north in search of ample compensation.

The son of Presenting ran a very disappointing race in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster in January, which saw the handicapper drop the 7-year-old 6lbs to a mark of 141, a mark that looks very dangerous on the form of his fourth placed finish in the 2016 National Hunt Chase, with Gold Cup second and third Minella Rocco (166) and Native River (167) finishing first and second respectively, last year’s winner of this race Vicente (146) coming home fifth and subsequent Becher Chase victor Vieux Lion Rouge (155) back in sixth. 

Champion Hurdle and Champion Chase winning jockey Noel Fehily will do the steering. 


DANCING SHADOW

OR: 139    Weight: 11-3

Trainer:  V. Dartnall

Jockey:  N. Scholfield

Pulled up in the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festsival, Dancing Shadow tasted Edinburgh National (4m176y) success at Musselburgh on his penultimate start, and connections will be hoping another trip up north will see the stamina laden son of Craigsteel bounce back to form. 

Also a winner over 3m2f at Doncaster in December, the imposing 8-year-old made light work of his opposition, which included 2013 Scottish Grand National winner Godsmejudge, to score easily in the hands of Nick Scholfield. The ground and the trip look ideal. 


PREMIER BOND

OR: 139    Weight: 10-11

Trainer:  N. Henderson

Jockey:  D. Bass

Premier Bond caught the eye when finishing third in the Kim Muir Challenge Cup at the Cheltenham Festival last month, beaten just 1 and a half lengths by the winner, Domesday Book. Clearly stamina is very much the 7-year-old’s forte, and the bookmakers haven’t missed him as he’s been more of less favourite since the antepost market was formed. 

Second to stablemate and dual Grade 1 winner Might Bite on his first start over the larger obstacles at Doncaster in December, Henderson’s son of Kayf Tara won easily next time out before returning to Doncaster and recording a gusty success over Alan King’s Kerrow. Clearly the youngster isn’t scared of a fight, which will certainly stand him in good stead here. 


STRAIDNAHANNA

OR: 139    Weight: 10-11

Trainer:  Sue Smith

Jockey:  S. Quinlan

Sue Smith’s battle hardened 8-year-old returns for a second bite of the cherry after pulling up in the race last year. But it certainly won’t be an easy task off a mark just 1lb shy of a career high rating.

Nonetheless, Straidnahanna put in a typically gutsy performance when landing the North Yorkshire Grand National (3m5f214y) at Catterick in January. And although the son of Medaaly races off a 6lbs higher mark here, he’s sure to put his best foot forward. 


SHOTGUN PADDY 

OR: 137    Weight: 10-9

Trainer:  E. Lavelle

Jockey:  D. Jacob

Shotgun Paddy is becoming a standing dish in these hugely competitive marathon events, and finished a throughly respectable tenth in this contest last year. 

Emma Lavelle’s battle hardened 10-year-old finished third in both the Betfred Classic Handicap Chase and Betfred Eider Handicap Chase on his last 2 visits to the track, beaten just 10 and a half lengths by impressive Grand National winner One For Arthur at Warwick. The gallant son of Brian Boru hasn’t always jumped with the greatest of fluency, but he certainly has an engine.


BENBENS                                                

OR: 135    Weight: 10-13

Trainer:  N. Twiston-Davies

Jockey:  Mr Z. Baker (7)

Without a win since October 2015, the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained 12-year-old has only raced 4 times subsequently, returning to the track after 11 months off in the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter last month when pulling up before the penultimate fence. 

Whether the fire still burns within Benbens remains to be seen, but his shrewd trainer wouldn’t persist with him if he felt the fight had gone. Zak Baker will be on board. 


LESSONS IN MILAN

OR: 135    Weight: 10-13

Trainer:  N. Henderson

Jockey:  J. McGrath

Eighth in the Kim Muir Challenge Cup at Cheltenham last month, the Trevor Hemmings owned 9-year-old tackles this trip for the very first time. The Milan gelding lines up off the same mark he ran off at Cheltenham, and it’s quite possible he could improve for the extra yardage here. 

Second in a decent Class 3 event at Newbury on his penultimate start, Lessons In Milan also finished third to his potentially smart stablemate Beware The Bear at the same course in December. He’s one of 3 Seven Barrows inmates who could go well here. 


AL CO

OR: 135    Weight: 10-13

Trainer:  P. Bowen

Jockey:  J. Moore

Peter Bowen, Jamie Moore and Al Co team up in an attempt to double up in the Ayr marathon, having first landed the prestigious prize in 2014. A 5lbs lower mark will certainly aid the 12-year-old son of Dom Alco, however the gallant old boy has failed to complete on 2 of his last 3 visits to the racecourse, with an eleventh placed effort in a 12 runner contest offering no encouragement as to the geldings chances. 

A winner at Aintree in May of last year, in racing you can never say never. But there looks to be a plethora of up and coming staying chasers engaged in the race this year, and Al Co may struggle to keep tabs on them all. 


ANOTHER HERO

OR: 135    Weight: 10-13

Trainer:  J. O’Neill

Jockey:  A. Coleman

Jonjo O’Neill and Aidan Coleman have formed a productive partnership this season, and they once again team up tomorrow as Another Hero heads North in search of Scottish Grand National success.

Fourth in a Listed contest at Ascot in December, the JP McManus owned 8-year-old finished third on his penultimate start when taking in the ultra competitive Skybet Chase at Doncaster in January off a mark 1lb higher than he carries into battle tomorrow.

Thirteenth in the Kim Muir Challenge Cup at the Cheltenham Festival, the decent ground and recent good form of his trainer are definite positives here. 


HENRI PARRY MORGAN

OR: 135    Weight: 10-13

Trainer:  P.  Bowen 

Jockey:  R. Dunne

It’s fair to say Peter Bowen’s 9-year-old has slightly lost his way this season, which started with an eleventh placed effort in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury when sent off a relatively well fancied 10/1 chance. Fifteenth in the Grade 3 Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last month, the son of Brian Boru went on to Aintree where he finished sixth in a Listed handicap chase, staying on well, but never threatening the principles. 

Jumping has regularly been the achilles heel of Bowen’s charge, and he’ll have to pull it all together if he harbours aspirations of playing a major role here. However it’s easy to think he’s well treated off a mark of 135. 


VINTAGE CLOUDS

OR: 134    Weight: 10-12

Trainer:  S. Smith

Jockey:  D. Cook

Another contender for both Sue Smith and Trevor Hemmings, Vintage Clouds boasts some fair form for a novice, including when running a huge race in the Grade 3 Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last month, forming part of an elite group that kicked clear on the turn for home before coming to grief at the penultimate fence. 

The promising 7-year-old son of Cloudings finished third behind Vieux Lion Rouge and subsequent Grand National fourth Blaklion in the Grand National Trial at Haydock in February, which puts a tick in the box concerning stamina whilst also providing the youngster with some valuable experience in open handicap company. He could go well here in the hands of Danny Cook. 


SUGAR BARON

OR: 134    Weight: 10-12

Trainer:  N. Henderson

Jockey:  N. De Boinville

A staying on sixth in the Kim Muir Challenge Cup at the Cheltenham Festival, Nicky Henderson’s 7-year-old did all of his best work at the finish, which bodes well for this extreme test of stamina. Dropped 1lb by the handicapper for that effort, that can only be considered a bonus. Sugar Baron ran out a 4 and a half length winner from subsequent Grade 2 scorer Present Man on chasing debut at Wincanton last May, and ran a huge race at Prestbury Park on just his fourth start over fences. 

The master of Seven Barrows sent out Vyta Du Roc to finish fifth in the race last year, and Henderson will be hoping Sugar Baron can improve upon that placing. 


BLAKEMOUNT

OR: 134    Weight: 10-12

Trainer:  S. Smith

Jockey:  H. Brooke

Sue Smith’s third and final contender is Blakemount, who has always threatened to have a decent contest in him despite a succession of defeats when sent off a well supported favourite. Twice a winner over fences, both of those victories came at Carlisle. 

Fifth in the Midlands Grand National (4m1f92y) last time out, the trip and ground Gold no fears. Henry Brooke takes the ride. 


FIREBIRD FLYER

OR: 133    Weight: 10-11

Trainer:  E. Williams

Jockey:  T. O’Brien

Winner of the 2016 Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter, Evan Williams’ charge was pulled up when attempting to defend his crown last month. Eight in the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow in December, the 10-year-old failed to complete on each of his next 3 trips to the racecourse. 

Eighth over hurdles at Ffos Las earlier this month, connections will be hoping that proved a confidence boosting outing for the son of Winged Love. However he has shown a preference for softer ground in the past. 


DAWSON CITY

OR: 133    Weight: 10-11

Trainer:  P. Gundry 

Jockey:  W. Hutchinson

Off the mark over fences at the eleventh time of asking last time out, the manor in which the 8-year-old got the job done (won by 32L) suggested there could be plenty more to come. If that is the case, Polly Gundry could have a very well treated horse on her hands. 

The main problem however could be the ground, with the Midnight Legend gelding racing almost exclusively on a surface with plenty of cut. That said, the presence of Wayne Hutchinson in the saddle is a definite bonus, and he arrives here on the back of a confidence boosting win. 


TRUSTAN TIMES

OR: 132    Weight: 10-10

Trainer:  M. Walford

Jockey:  J. Greenall

2014 third Trustan Times lines up in the race for the third time tomorrow, this year warming up for the marathon with a handicap hurdle win at Kelso earlier this month. Pulled up in the 2015 renewal, the gallant 11 year old runs off a mark 8lbs lower tomorrow. 

Having only raced twice since this race in 2015, clearly the son of Heron Island has had his problems. But he confirmed his well being with his victory at Kelso, and Mark Walford will be hoping the gallant old boy can use that as a springboard to Scottish Grand National success here. 


PORTRAIT KING

OR: 124    Weight: 10-9

Trainer:  P. Griffin

Jockey:  C. O’Farrell

Eighth in the Midlands Grand National last month, Patrick Griffin’s grand 12-year-old ran a huge race to finish third in the hugely competitive Topham Chase at Aintree last time out, making up plenty of ground on the run for home after getting some cover early on. Those with long memories may remember Portrait King finishing tenth in this race in 2012, which is a great credit to connections who have plotted his career so well. 

Clearly the hardy chaser is in fine order at present, and he should enjoy the decent ground he’ll encounter at Ayr tomorrow. Conor O’Farrell takes the ride, which is a positive as the pair got on well when teaming up at Aintree. 


COGRY

OR: 131    Weight: 10-9

Trainer:  N. Twiston-Davies

Jockey:  J. Bargary (3)

If there’s a horse is training that deserves a huge slice of luck it must be the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Cogry, who endured a tough time over fences in the Autumn when falling, being brought down and unseating in 3 consecutive starts. However there have been sparks of a revival since the turn of the year, with a victory over timber at Cheltenham on New Years Day providing a much needed confidence booster. 

Sixth in the Midlands Grand National, the 8-year-old finished second at Ffos Las earlier this month, and a mark of 131 certainly looks exploitable at some stage. 


ALVARADO

OR: 129    Weight: 10-7

Trainer:  F. O’Brien

Jockey:  B. Hughes

Second in the race last year, Fergal O’Brien’s likeable warrior flew up the home straight to take the silver medal in the shadow of the post. And lining up off a 6lbs lower mark this year, it’s entirely possible the gallant chestnut with the big white blaze will be on the premises at the business end once again. Fourth in both the 2014 and 2015 Aintree Grand National’s, unfortunately the stamina laden son of Goldmark failed to make the cut this year, and connections will be dreaming of gaining valuable compensation in Scotland tomorrow. 

Brian Hughes has enjoined a superb 2016/17 season, currently sitting second behind only Richard Johnson on 140 winners. This would represent the perfect ending to brilliant campaign for the go too man in the North. 


GONE TOO FAR

OR: 129    Weight: 10-7

Trainer:  D. Pipe

Jockey:  M. Heard (5)

Switched to Pond House in the summer of 2016, Gone Too Far has only ran 3 times for his new connections, each time at Ludlow. Pulled up either side of a fourth placed effort in January, this looks a huge ask of the 9-year-old son of Kayf Tara. 

In races of this nature we all know you can never say never. But it would be a fair surprise if Gone Too Far landed the spoils here. And the form of his trainer (0 from 24 in the last 14 days) certainly doesn’t enhance his claims. 


FATHER EDWARD

OR: 128    Weight: 10-6

Trainer:  D. Pipe

Jockey:  D. Noonan

David Pipe’s second contender, who is also owned by Fergus Wilson, would certainly look the pick of the Pond House pair, arriving here after running fifteenth in the Kim Muir Challenge Cup at Cheltenham before a ninth placed effort in the Topham Chase at Aintree earlier this month.

It’s still not easy to see the Flemensfirth gelding playing a major role here, but at least he brings reasonable handicap form to the table. 


MAN WITH VAN

OR: 127    Weight: 10-5

Trainer:  P. Griffin

Jockey:  A. Short (7)

Pulled up in the 2015 running of the race, Man With Van returned to the track after 13 months on the sidelines with an eighth place finish in a handicap hurdle at Navan in February, and provides Patrick Griffin with a second string to his bow tomorrow.

Lightly raced for his age, the 11-year-old runs off a mark of 129, which looks fair based on his form of 2 years ago. However it certainly won’t be easy on just his second start after such a layoff. 


SUMMARY:

Vicente is the obvious starting point as he lines up off the same mark he carried to success last year. If non the worse for his early exit at Aintree, he should go very close in his title defence tomorrow. 

Whilst Nicky Henderson has solid contenders in the form of Kim Muir third and sixth Premier Bond and Sugar Baron. Of the pair, i’d have a preference for the latter who looks well treated off a mark of 134 and can rely on the services of stable Jockey Nico De Boinville. 

Of those at the bottom of the weights, Cogry and last year’s second Alvarado look the 2 who could make the most of the weight they receive from many of the main protagonists. 

That said, SOUTHFIELD ROYALE looks dangerously well handicapped off a mark of 141 judged on his form as a novice last year, when easily scoring in Grade 2 company before a fine second placed Grade 1 effort at Kempton. He represents the in form partnership of Neil Mulholland, who does really well in staying events, and Noel Fehily, who has enjoyed another superb season. He’s the selection. 

Of the novices, who do have a good record in this race, the Sue Smith trained VINTAGE CLOUDS really caught the eye before crashing out at the penultimate fence at the Cheltenham Festival. A mark of 134 certainly looks exploitable at some stage, and the 7-year-old’s performance behind Vieux Lion Rouge and Blaklion at Haydock in February shows he’s more than capable of mixing it with the big boys in open handicap company. 


SELECTIONS:

Southfield Royale   10/1

Vintage Clouds   16/1


FOOTNOTE: 

Obviously it’s also the Scottish Champion Hurdle at Ayr tomorrow, and whilst unfortunately I dont have the time to preview the race, I will give a strong mention to the Alan King trained Winter Escape. 

Fifth in the County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, Winter Escape has always been held in high regard at Barbury Castle, and the 6-year-old could easily be dangerously well handicapped off a mark of 141 on this decent racing surface. 

The son of Robin De Pres was the subject of a huge antepost gamble for the Grade 3 Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham in November but could only finish eleventh, despite being sent off a strong 3/1 favourite.  The youngster reportedly returned home vey sick, and wasn’t seen again until March. 

A Grade 2 winner at Kempton in February 2016, Winter Escape could easily prove better than a mark of 141, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see plenty of market support.  He may be favourite, but the 5/1 generally available looks a very fair price. 


SELECTION:

Winter Escape   5/1

Aintree 2017: Day 3 Preview

1.45  GASKELLS HANDICAP HURDLE   3m149y   (Grade 3)

A typically competitive handicap, Paul Nicholls’ gallant old boy Zakandar tops the weights. 

The Fergal O’Brien trained Barney Dwan could go well after a fine second placed effort in the Pertemps Final at last months Cheltenham Festival. Whilst the Phillip Hobbs trained pair For Good Measure and Golden Doyen, who finished ninth and twelfth respectively in the same contest, also look for compensation here. 

Hobbs also runs the progressive No Comment, who rattled up a hat-trick of wins prior to finishing seventh in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle. He’s the choice of Barry Geraghty. 

The Skelton’s team up with No Hassle Hoff, who could be interesting stepping out of novice company and into open handicap company off a reasonable looking mark of 134.

The hat-trick seeking Fountains Windfall represents the bang in form yard of trainer Anthony Honeyball. The progressive 7-year-old could be well treated off a mark of 137, and could go well with just 10-12 on his back. 

Duke Street, Joe Farrell, Mr Mcgo, Dadsintrouble and the mare Morello Royale look further interesting contenders. 


SUMMARY:

This really is a trappy looking event, with plenty of contenders holding fair claims for this Grade 3 prize. But the selection is FOUNTAINS WINDFALL, who represents his in form trainer Anthony Honeyball, and has some decent form in the book. 


2.25  BETWAY MERSEY NOVICES’ HURDLE   2m4f   (Grade 1)

This looks a seriously good renewal of this valuable 2 and a half mile contest, with Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle winner Finian’s Oscar at the head of the market. 

Alan King’s Messire Des Obeaux ran a very creditable race when finishing third in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at Prestbury Park last month. Whilst Bordeaux Bill, Captain ForezLe Breuil and Lough Derg Spirit arrive here having bypassed the Cheltenham Festival.

La Bague Au Roi tackles the boys after her seventh placed finish in the Mares’ Novice Hurdle in the Cotswolds. With Paul Nicholls Brio Conti, who won the consolation race at Kempton for horses who didn’t make the cut at Cheltenham, completing the field. 


SUMMARY:

Le Breuil and Lough Derg Spirt should run well for Ben Pauling and Nicky Henderson respectively. And Messire Des Obeaux should also go well after a hugely successful campaign. I respect Captain Forez, but I see him more as a serious chasing prospect for later this year. However I was lucky enough to be at Sandown to witness FINIAN’S OSCAR’S Tolworth Hurdle victory in January, and although the form has taken a few knocks since, you can’t crab the manner in which he put the race to bed. He’s the selection. 


3.00  DOOM BAR MAGHULL NOVICES’ HURDLE   1m7f176y   (Grade 1)

Disappointingly, this race has cut up to just 5 runners, and only 4 of those appear to have a realistic chance of victory. 

Kim Bailey’s Charbel is a short priced favourite after coming to grief at the penultimate fence when making the potential superstar Altior work for his victory in the Arkle Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham last month. 

Brian Ellison is responsible for current second favourite Forest Bihan, who won the Grade 2 Lightning Novices’ Chase at Doncaster in January, form boosted by the second placed effort of Cloudy Dream at Aintree on Thursday. 

Paul Nicholls fields both the flying grey Politologue and San Benedeto, who arrives in search of a 4-timer. Sam Twiston-Davies has elected to ride the former. 

The Dunne’s team up with Colla Pier, who is the big priced outsider of the field. 


SUMMARY:

There’s likely to be plenty of pace on up front as neither Charbel or Politologue like to hang around. The pair could easily battle out the finish, but, if they were to soften each other up with their exuberant leaps FOREST BIHAN could well be the one to take advantage. 


3.40  BETWAY HANDICAP CHASE 3m210y (Listed)

Again this looks a hugely competitive handicap heat, with David Pipe’s Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate fifth Starchitect leading the way. 

Harry Whittington’s Emerging Force, who hasn’t been seen since finishing fourth behind Singlefarmpayment at Cheltenham in December, could go well. Especially as he attempted to concede 8lbs to his talented opponent in the Cotswolds. 

Our Kaempfer could go well for Charlie Longsdon if finding some fluency in the jumping stakes. Whilst Value At Risk, who was well supported for the Close Brothers Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival before missing the race after picking up a knock at home could go very well for the Skelton partnership. 

Thomas Brown and Sizing Codelco look to be on reasonable marks for Harry Fry and Colin Tizzard respectively, and could easily go well. And the same could be said about the Phillip Hobbs trained Lamb Or Cod, who will relish the decent ground. 

Henri Parry Morgan could look very well treated off a mark of 138 given he finished second to subsequent Hennessy Cup and Welsh Grand National winner Native River in Grade 1 company at this meeting last year. The 9-year-old finished a 17 length second to Thursday’s Grade 1 Betway Bowl Chase winner Tea For Two at Exeter in February, and could go very well for the father and son combination of Peter and Sean Bowen. 

Sue Smith’s I Just Know arrives here in search of a hat-trick. Whist Potters Legend and Rightdownthemiddle could also go well. 


SUMMARY:

This looks a very competitive handicap on paper, and there could easily be a few well handicapped novices’ here. But HENRI PARRY MORGAN looks particularly well handicapped on the form of his effort at this meeting last year, and is therefore the selection. 

4.20  LIVERPOOL STAYERS’ HURDLE   3m149y   (Grade 1)

Champion Hurdle seventh Yanworth is a short priced favourite on his first attempt over 3 miles for Alan King and Barry Geraghty, after being outpaced in the 2 mile Championship at Cheltenham last month. 

2015 World Hurdle (Stayers Hurdle) winner Cole Harden has been running well of late and is next in the betting. Whilst Coral Cup victor Supasundae and the Nigel Twiston Davies trained Balloptic, who won this Grade 1 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at this meeting last year, are next in. 

Paul Nicholls fields both 2015 Coral Cup winner Aux Ptits Soins and 2016 French Champion Hurdle victor Ptit Zig in a last gasp attempt to overhaul Nicky Henderson, who runs Different Gravey, in the Trainer’s Championship. 

Snow Falcon is the second and last Irish trained contender in the field. Whilst Coral Cup second, and this season’s BetVictor Gold Cup winner, Taquin Du Seuil rates a lively outsider for Jonjo O ‘Neill. 

Dan Skelton’s Three Musketeers and Oliver Sherwood’s Puffin Billy compete the 11 runner field. 


SUMMARY:

I was expecting Yanworth to be campaigned over 3 miles this season, and having Barry Geraghty back on board is a definite plus. However he’s plenty short enough on his first attempt at the trip. Supasundae was mightily impressive when winning the Coral Cup last month and could have more to give over this longer trip. However the selection is BALLYOPTIC, who has been unlucky when falling twice this season, and looked a horse of great potential when grinding out a Grade 1 victory at this meeting last year. The presence of Champion Jockey Richard Johnson in the saddle is also a bonus. 


5.15  RANDOX HEALTH GRAND NATIONAL CHASE                               4m2f74y   (Grade 3)

I’d have to be Mystic Meg to predict who will win the Grand National, and that seems pretty unlikely! So I’ll just run through a few contenders who I think could go well at big prices. 

Of the market principles, Blaklion is the one who appeals most to me. Winner of the 2016 RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, the 8-year- old ran a fine race when second to Vieux Lion Rouge (who received 6lbs) in the Grand National Trial at Haydock in February. Recent Champion Hurdle and Champion Chase winning Jockey Noel Fehily takes the ride. 

Grand National loving owner Trevor Hemmings has recently purchased last year’s Scottish Grand National winner Vicente, who could go well if returning to the form that saw him land the Scottish marathon at Ayr last April. 

Last year’s Irish Grand National victor Rogue Angel gained some experience over these fences in the Becher Chase in December. He may have finished tenth, but the 3m1f trip was always going to be on the short side for the gutsy Gigginstown House Stud owned gelding. He could run well. 

Venetia Williams’ Houblon Des Obeaux would be my final dart at the contest having slipped down to a mark of 142, which is a full 16lbs lower than this time last year. A consistent performer in graded staying events over the last few years, for once he won’t have to carry a welterweight burden (10-12), which could see the thoroughly likeable 10-year-old run a big race here. 


6.15  PINSENT MASONS HANDICAP HURDLE    2m103y    (Class 2)

We have a handicap hurdle confined to Conditional Jockeys to bring the curtain down on the 2017 Aintree Festival, and it looks just as tricky as the previous 2 handicaps on the card. 

The Ian Williams trained So Celebre could prove popular after an impressive win at Ascot last weekend. Whilst Wakea, who led the field a merry dance in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham before being swallowed up by the field on the climb to the line. 

Bridget Andrews rides the Dan Skelton trained Born Survivor, who has always been held in high regard at home. 

Chesterfield, Master Of Finance and Curious Carlos could go well for Seamus Mullins, Malcolm Jefferson and Peter Bowen respectively. Whilst Gary Moore’s Darebin and Oliver Greenall’s Zalvados are interesting at the foot of the weights. 

The Evan Williams trained John Constable has some decent form from last season, and looks fairly treated off a mark of 129. Conor Ring takes the ride. 

The Grey Taylor is starting to look dangerously well handicapped for Brian Ellison, having reached a peak rating of 140 in 2015. If he could rediscover his form, he could go very well off a mark of 126. 

Vosne Romanee, Robinshill, Highland Fling and Chieftain’s Choice are further interesting contenders. 


SUMMARY:

It’s definitely worth having 2 horses on side in this competitive handicap, so I’ll be backing both JOHN CONSTABLE and THE GREY TAYLOR tomorrow as both look potentially well treated on previous form. 


SELECTIONS:


1.45    Fountains Windfall  16/1

2.25    Finian’s Oscar  7/2


3.00    Forest Bihan  6/1


3.40    Henri Parry Morgan  12/1 


4.20    Ballyoptic  9/1


5.15    Blaklion  14/1

            Vicente  25/1

            Rogue Angel  25/1

            Houblon Des Obeaux  50/1


6.15    John Constable  12/1

           The Grey Taylor  25/1

Aintree 2017: Day 2 Preview

1.40  ALDER HEY CHILDREN’S CHARITY HANDICAP HURDLE   2m4f   (Grade 3)

Day 2 gets underway with a hugely competitive handicap hurdle, as indicated by the current 10/1 the field. 

North Hill Harvey is set to represent the Skelton brothers here after disappointing in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham last month. Winner of the Grade 3 Greatwood Hurdle in November, the imposing son of Kayf Tara beat subsequent Lanzarote Hurdle victor Modus in a ding dong battle up the Cheltenham hill that day, leaving the impression that the 6-year-year had much more to offer. 

Dan Skelton’s charge finished fourth in a red hot Top Novices’ Hurdle at this meeting last year, won by Champion Hurdler Buveur D’Air, with Irish Champion Hurdler Petit Mouchoir in second, classy Listed scorer Limini in third and January’s Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle winner Agrapart back in sixth. He could easily be better than his rating of 146. 

Ben Pauling’s A Hare Breath returns to timber after a less that satisfactory round of jumping in the Arkle at Cheltenham last month. And could go well in the hands of David Bass off a mark 2lbs below his current rating over fences. 

Runswick Royal lines up in search of a hat-trick after notching wins at Ayr and Kelso recently, with talented 3lbs claimer Ryan Day retaining his place in the saddle. 

Ann Hamilton’s progressive 8-year-old returned in January after sitting out the best part of 16 months through injury, and is still 2lbs below his highest winning mark of 144. He could go well. 

Tim Easterby and Bryan Hughes team up with former Cheltenham Festival winner Hawk High, who runs in the colours of Aintree enthusiast Trevor Hemmings. 

Thirteenth in the Coral Cup last time out, the 7-year-old son of High Chaparral looks poised to strike off a decreasing mark of 138, and actually scored off the very same rating at Aintree in October 2014. Which also represented his second success at the Liverpool venue. He’s interesting here. 

Thomas Campbell looks a strong contender for Nicky Henderson and Nico De Boinville here, having finished a fair fifth in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle in the Cotswolds last month. 

The 5-year-old son of Yeats could easily be well treated off a mark of 139, and he’s likely to prove a popular selection for those looking to get off to a winning start on Day 2. 

Rather Be looks a solid second string for the Lambourn based trainer, with a second placed effort behind subsequent Triumph Hurdle seventh Coeur De Lion at Sandown looking like decent form. 

He has to bounce back from unseating his rider in the Matrtin Pipe Conditionals Jockeys Handicap Hurdle, but he could easily go well here. 

Paul Nicholls’ Zubayr looks to get back on track after a thirteenth placed finish in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury. Whilst Jeremiah McGrath will get the leg up on the Harry Whittington trained Bigmartre, who looked to be progressive when accounting for Drumcliff (second), Beltor (third), Wait For Me (sixth) and William H Bonney (eight) at Kempton over Christmas. 

Geordie Des Champs could go well off a mark 135, having been extremely well backed for a Grade 2 contest won by subsequent Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle winner Willoughby Court at Warwick in January. 

Coral Hurdle winner Ice Cold Soul should run well for Noel Meade and Bryan Cooper. Whilst Sumkindofking could look well treated for Tom George and Adrian Heskin, who are enjoying a fantastic season. 

Mad Jack Mytton, Byron Flyer and Dream Berry look further interesting contenders. 


SUMMARY:

There are plenty in with chances in this hugely competitive handicap, which virtually guarantees the winner will return at a fairly generous price. NORTH HILL HARVEY has to be backed on the strength of his form at this meeting last year, and looked like he had more to give when winning the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham in November. 

I’ll also be backing Tim Easterby’s HAWK HIGH each way, with the 7-year-old having dropped to an appealing looking mark. 


2.20  CRABBIES’ TOP NOVICES’ HURDLE        2m103y   (Grade 1)

This is a race that Nicky Henderson has farmed in recent years, with Darlan (2012), My Tent Or Yours (2013), Josses Hill (2014) and Buveur D’Air (2016) all ensuring the prize has returned to Lambourn in 4 of the last 5 seasons. 

Seven Barrows are set to be represented by River Wylde this year, who should go extremely well with Nico De Boinville on board. 

Third in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham last month, the classy son of Oscar travelled powerfully into the home straight before lacking the finishing kick of winner Labaik and runner up Melon after negotiating the last. 

River Wylde won a competitive renewal of the Grade 2 Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle at Kempton on his penultimate start, beating Elgin, Peter The Mayo Man and Capitaine in the process, which makes the the 6-year-old look a solid contender for this Grade 1 prize tomorrow. 

Moon Racer returns to novice company after being pulled up in the Champion Hurdle last month, and looks set to play a leading role with Supreme fourth Ballyandy positively advertising the form of his novice hurdle victories earlier this season by landing the ultra competitive Betfair Hurdle at Newbury in February.

A mistake at the top of the hill certainly didn’t help the talented 8-year-old’s chances on the big stage at Cheltenham, and Tom Scudamore ensured the gelding wasn’t knocked about when his chance had gone, which is a positive as far as his chances tomorrow are concerned. 

The fact connections were brave enough to tackle the Champion over the Supreme at Cheltenham shows the regard in which the son of Saffron Walden is held at Pond House. He could prove hard to beat. 

Malcom Jefferson won this event with the talented Cyrus Darius in 2015, and fields the potentially high class Mount Mews tomorrow, who has won 3 of his 4 starts in Novice Hurdles’ this term, including a 49 length success in Grade 2 company at Kelso last time out. 

The Trevor Hemmings owned youngster is proven on ground ranging from good to heavy, so underfoot conditions are of no concern. And Brian Hughes, who is enjoying a superb season this far, must be looking forward to getting leg up on the imposing son of Presenting in Liverpool tomorrow. 

American Gigolo, BulkovChti Balko, High Street and The Unit complete the field. 


SUMMARY:

Obviously Nicky Henderson holds a strong hand here, with Supreme Novice Hurdle third River Wylde set to represent the trainer who has a fantastic recent record in this race. Whilst Champion Hurdle runner Moon Racer could must go close for connections of Pond House if feeling no ill effects from his trip to Prestbury Park. But the vote goes to Malcolm Jefferson’s MOUNT MEWS, who looks a high class northern prospect with 3 wins achieved from 4 starts this term. The trainer won this with Cyrus Darius in 2015, and therefore knows what it takes to land this valuable prize. 

2.50  BETFRED MILDMAY NOVICES’ CHASE   3m210y   (Grade 1)

Might Bite is set to be the star of the show here after compensating connections for his last fence fall in the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton over Christmas by landing the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in thrilling, and rather remarkable, fashion. 

The hugely talented 8-year-old clearly has his quirks, but he was in the process of clocking a faster time than Thistlecrack managed in the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day, and the manor in which he hung badly on the climb up the hill at Cheltenham before Nico De Boinville managed to straighten him up and pull the race out of the fire in the dying strides shows the size of the engine burning away in Nicky Henderson’s charge. 

If his Cheltenham effort haven’t left a mark,  the son of Scorpion should take all the beating here. 

The chief threat to the favourite looks to be his stablemate Whisper, who was denied in the shadow of the post at Prestbury Park when it looked like the race had been handed to him by the antics of Might Bite after the last. 

Dai Walters pride and joy landed the Grade 2 Dipper Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham on New Years Day, and is enjoying somewhat of a bromance with retained rider Davy Russell, with form figures of 112 since teaming up this season. 

A dual winner of the Stayers Hurdle at this meeting, the 9-year-old clearly loves the course and should go well for his in form trainer and canny Jockey. 

Calett Mad didn’t appear to stay the 4 mile trip in the National Hunt Chase, so the return to 3m1f should benefit the 5-year-old son of Axxos here. Whilst Marinero, who finished 3 and three quarter lengths behind the mighty King George winner Thistlecrack at Cheltenham in November, blundered and unseated at the third fence in the RSA Chase last month, and looks to gain compensation at Aintree tomorrow. 

Dan Skelton’s Virgilio finished second in the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton over Christmas, and boasts a record of 2 wins from 3 starts at the course over timber. He could go well at a price. 


SUMMARY:

Might Bite is clearly a very talented horse after snatching victory from the jaws of defeat at Cheltenham last month. However dual Stayers Hurdle victor WHISPER, who finished second to his stablemate at Cheltenham, is the selection here, with the gelding enjoying a fine season. He can make it a fantastic Aintree treble in the hands of Davy Russell. 


3.25  JLT MELLING CHASE                      2m4f   (Grade 1)

God’s Own returns to Aintree this year with the aim of defending the crown he claimed last term, having once again used the Champion Chase at Cheltenham as a springboard to Aintee and Punchestown in a bid to mirror his superb spring campaign of 2016 that saw the 9-year-old scoop Grade 1 honours on both sides of the Irish Sea.

Tom George’s stable stalwart finished fifth behind Specail Tiara at Cheltenham, where a bad error at 2 out all but ended the gelding’s chances just as Adrian Heskin looked set to play his hand on the seasoned campaigner. 

The son of Oscar went down by just 1 and 3 quarter lengths at Aintree in October, when attempting to concede 16lbs to the Colin Tizzard trained Third Intention, who’s classy enough on his day, before finishing a close up third to Un De Sceaux in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown, beaten just a length and a neck. He should go well here. 

However Fox Norton provides stiff opposition for trainer Colin Tizzard and Jockey Robbie Power on the back of a sound second placed effort in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham. The improving 7-year-old chased the victor, Special Tiara, all the way to the line in the Cotswolds, and could go well for his Gold Cup winning owners Ann and Alan Potts.

The son of Lando made a mockery of a mark of 146 in October before scoring in Grade 2 company at Prestbury Park in November, where he picked up an injury that kept him off the track until February. 

Fox Norton returned to finish second to the super exciting Altior in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury when possibly needing the run, and its possible the gelding will improve further for his Cheltenham exertions. 

2015 Ryanair Chase winner Uxizandre made a hugely promising return to the track after the best part of 2 years on the sidelines when second to hugely impressive Ryanair Chase winner Un De Sceaux over 2 miles at Cheltenham in January. 

It’s possible Alan King’s classy 9-year-old fell victim to the dreaded bounce factor when finishing seventh in his attempt to regain his Festival crown in the Cotswolds last month, and Barry Geraghty will be hoping the son of a Fragrant Mix can return to top form in this Grade 1 contest tomorrow. 

The Gigginstown House Stud owned Sub Lieutenant represents this year’s Ryanair Chase form, having ran a big race to finish second behind the impressive winner Un De Sceaux.

Henry De Bromhead’s 8-year-old also boasts a third placed effort behind Djakadam in the Grade 1 John Durkan Chase, in addition to a fine second placed effort behind subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Sizing John in the Grade 3 Kinloch Brae Chase at Thurles in January. On form, the Brian Boru gelding looks a very strong contender. 

Ryanair Chase fifth Josses Hill is set to represent Nicky Henderson’s Seven Barrows operation, and could run well if able to replicate the form of his Perterborough Chase victory in December. 

Henderson has always held the 9-year-old in high regard, and the son of Winged Love appears to have finally got his act together over fences this season. The gelding landed the Grade 1 Top Novices Hurdle on this card in 2014, which shows his aptitude for this track. Nico De Boinville will do the steering. 

Kerrie Lee’s Kylemore Lough looks to add to his Grade 1 success at Fairyhouse 12 months ago, arriving on the back of a light campaign that has only only seen the 8-year-old grace the track on 3 occasions. 

Second to the re-opposing Royal Regatta at Ascot in November, they had prominent contender God’s Own back in third, and Kerry Lee’s imposing gelding has not disgraced himself in 2 subsequent efforts, finishing fifth when attempting to concede weight to all in the Caspian Cavair Gold Cup at Cheltenham, before filling the same position behind the much missed Many Clouds in the Cotswolds Chase in January. Jamie Moore will ride. 

Champion Chase fourth Top Gamble will als represent Kerry Lee, with Davy Russell set to ride the gutsy 9-year-old again. 

Third behind the aforementioned pair Un De Sceaux and Uxizandre at Cheltenham in January, the son of Presenting is yet to competeat Aintree, however rarely does he run a bad race. 

Father and son combination Gary and Joshua Moore team up with the classy but fragile Trafic Fluide, who is yet to shine this term having finished last across the line twice from 3 starts. 

6th in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham last month, the 7-year-old will need to up his game if harbouring aspirations of playing a part in the finish here. 


SUMMARY:

God’s Own came to life in the spring last year and clearly enjoys his trips to Liverpool. Whilst Uxizandre could easily bounce back to form with the visor back on for Alan King and Barry Geraghty. However SUB LIEUTENANT’S form looks rock solid this season, and Henry De Bromhead’s 8-year-old can pick up the Grade 1 prize his efforts this season deserve. 

4.05  RANDOX HEALTH TOPHAM CHASE   2m5f19y    (Grade 3 Handicap)

Any race contested the National fences is a spectacle to behold, and the Topham is certainly no exception. There are any number of potential winners packed into the bumper field, as indicated by the current 10/1 the field offered by the majority of bookmakers. So finding the winner is no mean feat. 

December’s Grand Sefton Handicap Chase could hold some clues, with winner As De Mee, second Seefood, third Henryville and  eighth Vintage Vinnie all renewing rivalries in Liverpool tomorrow. 

As De Mee gave Sean Bowen a terrific spin on the spruce fences that day, travelling strongly and jumping well to score by a clear 5 lengths. 

The 7-year-old has run in hot events throughout his career to date, and Paul Nicholls will have him spot on for this assignment after a respectable second placed effort at Fontwell last time out.

Dr Richard Newland, who is no stranger to success over these obstacles having trained Pineau Du Re to win the Grand National in 2014, has booked Champion Jockey Richard Johnson to ride Seefood at Ainteee tomorrow, which is a clear indication of confidence connections have in the horse. 

Formerly trained in Ireland by the late, great, Dessie Hughes and daughter Sandra, the 10-year-old has run respectably all season, finishing fifth at Cheltenham in October before scoring at Musselburgh next time out. He should go well in the hands of the champ. 

Henryville would be the pick of the bunch on these revised terms, with an 8lbs pull at the weights with As De Mee and a 2lbs swing with Seefood making Harry Fry’s 9-year-old look an interesting proposition in this contest. The son of Generous has always hinted at ability, but sadly doesn’t seem easy to train and is simply hard to catch at the right time as a result. 

Henryville had to make up plenty of ground in December, whilst As De Mee raced prominently throughout. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Paul Nicholls former student teach his master a lesson here. 

Vintage Vinnine ran well for a long way before perhaps making his challenge too soon and fading. Yet to race since, Rebecca Curtis may have had this race in mind ever since. And if she has, he should go well. 

Paul Nicholls also runs Bouvreuil, who has raced exclusively at Cheltenham this season, finishing a thoroughly respectable third place behind 2 clearly well handicapped novices in the form of Road To Respect and Baron Alco in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate at Cheltenham last month. 

The talented son of Saddler Maker is yet to run a poor race over fences, and it’s quite possible the ball simply hasn’t bounced his way on a number of occasions. He could run a very tidy race here. 

Colin Tizzard’s Third Intention finished third in this last year and returns with the aim of going 2 places better off a 7lbs lower mark. 

The experienced 10-year-old beat God’s Own (receiving 16lbs) at Aintree in late October, which further demonstrates his liking for the course. 

Jonjo O’Neill has 2 darts to aim at the prize he snaffled last year, with Eastlake returning in a bid to defend his crown, and the consistent Go Conquer, who finished a sound fifth place in the Ultima Handicap Chase at The Cheltenham Festival last month, joining him on the lorry. 

Heart problems make it nigh on impossible to second predict how the JP McManus owned Eastlake will perform. But if you catch him on a going day he can be hard to peg back, as he showed in this race last year, and again at Cheltenham in December. Tenth in the Grand Annual last month, hopefully the 11-year-old will be on a going day tomorrow. 

Katachenko is a very interesting contender for Grand National winning connections Donald McCain and Trevor Hemmings, having landed the Grade 3 Red Rum Handicap Chase off a 2lbs higher mark at this meeting last year. The son of Kutub is yet to taste success since scoring in that valuable contest 12 months ago, but did finish a respectable tenth place in the aforementioned Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate at Cheltenham last month, just a head behind the re-opposing and much more fancied Henryville.

He gets in here of a featherweight 10-0, and this could well have been the target since his victory at the meeting last year. He could be very interesting at a big price. 

Nicky Henderson has farmed this race in recent times, boasting 3 victories in the last 4 years courtesy of Triolo D’Alene (2013), Ma Filleule (2014) and Radjhani Epress (2015). This year the master of Seven Barrows relies on the talented pair O O Seven and Gold Present, with stable jockey Nico De Boinville getting the leg up on the former. 

The imposing son of Flemensfirth has won 2 of his 4 stars over fences this season, finishing a well beaten fifth in the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last month. Whilst Gold Present ran a huge race to finish second to the well handicapped Tully East in the Close Brothers Handicap Chase in the Cotswolds, and should make another bold bid off a 5lbs higher mark tomorrow. Both should go well. 

Irish Cavalier and Bright New Dawn could run big races for Rebbeca Curtis and Venetia Williams respectively. Whilst Thomas Brown and Ballykan also look interesting for Harry Fry and Nigel Twiston-Davies. 

Alelchi Inois, Clarcam and Mr Diablo are further interesting contenders having all travelled over from Ireland. 


SUMMARY:

If you find the winner of this contest you’ll certainly be well rewarded. The Grand Sefton form looks solid, and at the revised weights HENRYVILLE looks to have sound claims for in form trainer Harry Fry. 

However KATACHENKO also looks a fascinating contender given his victory at the meeting last year off a 2lbs higher mark for connections who love a winner over these spruce obstacles. He sneaks in at the foot of the weights, and could go very well. 


4.40  DOOM BAR SEFTON NOVICES HURDLE   3m149y    (Grade 1)

This race is often a gruelling contest, with stamina laden novices going to war over the extended 3 mile trip. 

The Worlds End currently heads the betting for this Grade 1 prize, and was the cause of the commotion at the second last in the Albert Bartlett when scything through the field to mount what looked a serious challenge before his unfortunate demise. 

Tom George’s son of Stowaway, who has won 3 of his 5 starts over timber, was victorious in the Grade 2 Prestige Novices’ Hurdle at Haydock in February, entering the notebooks of many a shrewd judge after recording an impressive 9 length victory from previous winner’s No Hassle Hoff and Ballyarthur. Whatever happens here, he looks to have a bright future. 

Nicky Henderson’s Constantine Bay was perhaps the main casualty of the fall of The Worlds End at Cheltenham, suffering major interference before running on strongly to take fourth place having looked completely out of contention turning for home. 

Winner of the Grade 2 River Don Novices’ Hurdle at Doncaster in January, Cheltenham was the first time the gutsy 6-year-old has met with defeat, and the attitude he demonstrated to overcome his adversity will stand him in very good stead in his future career. 

Colin’s Tizzard’s West Approach drops back in to novice company after being pulled up in the Grade 1 Stayers Hurdle at Cheltenham last month, and is easily the highest rated contender in the field with an official rating of 157. 

His rating comes from his endeavours in open company, where he was in the process of running a big race behind multiple Grade 1 winner Unowhatimeanharry at Newbury before coming to grief at the last, and then when finishing a credible third to the same opponent in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham in January. He should go well here if last months exertions haven’t taken too much out of him. 

Supreme Novice Hurdle sixth and Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle seventh Beyond Conceit and Keeper Hill are set to try this trip for the very first time, and have bothed shaped as stayers in their on course efforts this term. Whilst Elegant Escape, who already looks a chaser of the future, will need to improve on his seventh placed finish in the Albert Bartlett last month to play a part here. 

Ballymalin, Debece, Get On The Yager, Monbeg Charmer, Moulin A Vent and Testify complete the field. 


SUMMARY:

Both The Worlds End and Constantine Bay look strong condenders here. But at a much bigger price, I’m going to side with the Warren Greatrex trained KEEPER’S HILL, who shaped as though he would appreciate this 3 mile trip when staying on well in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham last month. 


5.15  WEATHERBYS PRIVATE BANK CHAMPION STANDARD OPEN NH FLAT RACE   2m209y    (Grade 2)

On paper this race looks like it will more than live up to the grade, with some seriously impressive bumper scorers set to battle it out in the day 2 closer. 

Champion Bumper third and fifth,  Claimantakinforgan and Western Ryder, will put the form of that Grade 1 event to the test here, representing the powerful bumper yards of Nicky Henderson and Warren Greatrex respectively. 

The former won a maiden PTP 12 months ago, and enjoyed a successful start to life under rules at Haydock in November, before finishing sixth behind Warren Greatrex’s charge at Ascot 4 weeks later. 

Second to the re-opposing Black Op (who received 7lbs) on his only other start, Claimantakinforgan finished 2 and a half lengths behind Tom George’s exciting prospect, and could put his experience to good use here. 

Western Ryder has achieved a fair level of form in this discipline so far, with 2 victories and a gallant second placed effort when attempting to concede 21lbs to Nicky Henderson’s smart mare Daphne Du Clos in a Listed event at Newbury in February giving the impression he’s well above average. 

The 5-year-old son of Westerner looks a very tough cookie. And as long as his Cheltenham exertions haven’t emptied the tank, he looks set to play another leading role at Aintree tomorrow. 

The aforementioned Black Op will undoubtedly be popular here having shown a likeable attitude on his racecourse debut at Doncaster in February. 

Winner of his sole PTP, the imposing son of Sandmason raced prominently before displaying too many gears for his contemporaries on the decent ground. He could easily play a starring role in the finish here. 

And The New out-ran his 100/1 starting price when finishing seventh in the Cotswolds last month, and will once again be the mount of talented young Jockey Brendan Powell. Whilst debut winner  Niceandeasy could go well for Keith Dalgleish and Brian Hughes if ready to tackle an event of this nature. 

Harry Fry is another trainer who does well with his bumper horses, and runs the Paul and Clare Rooney owned If The Cap Fits after winning both of his starts to date at Plumpton and Taunton. The Milan gelding looks a real chasing type, and has displayed signs of inexperience despite winning with authority on both occasions. The 5-year-old bolted up under a penalty at Taunton last time out, and should run a good race for his in form trainer tomorrow. 

Dual bumper scorer Loud And Clear respresents a first ride under National Hunt Rules for Derby-winning Jockey Martin Dwyer, who rides the Iain Jardine trained 6-year-old in honour of his late father, Martin snr. 

The son of Dalakhani is owned by the Tapas Partnership, a syndicate that includes a number of the Dwyer families closest friends. It would certainly be a heartwarming story if Loud And Clear was to come home in front. 

Victor Dartnall has booked Nick Scholfield to ride Run To Milan, who won his only start at Wincanton in determined fashion. Whilst Richard Johnson is a notable booking on Lalor, who got off the mark at the third time of asking after finishing second to Run To Milan on debut before filling the same position next time out. 

Jump Jockey turned flat Graham Lee teams up with Rose Dobbin aboard Some Reign. Whilst Tom Scudamore is set to get the leg up on the Neil Mulholland trained Tikkanbar, who has won his last 2 starts nicely after a debut second at Ffos Las. 


SUMMARY:

Western Ryder looks a solid contender based on this season’s form. Whilst If The Cap Fits certainly looks an exciting long term prospect. However BLACK OP is the selection after producing a smart display on his debut under rules, and looks fair value in a potential packed field. 


SELECTIONS:


1.40    North Hill Harvey  12/1

            Hawk High  18/1


2.20    Mount Mews  11/4


2.50    Whisper  3/1


3.25    Sub Lieutenant  10/3


4.05    Henryville  14/1

            Katachenko  33/1


4.40    Keeper’s Hill  20/1


5.15    Black Op  7/2

Aintree 2017: Day 1 Preview

1.45  MANIFESTO NOVICES’ CHASE   2m4f   (Grade 1)

On paper this looks a cracking contest to get the 2017 Grand National meeting underway, with both last months Arkle Novice Chase runner up Cloudy Dream and JLT Novice Chase second Top Notch set to do battle over the intermediate trip of 2m4f.

The Trevor Hemmings owned Cloudy Dream faced the unenviable task of lowering the colours of the 168 rated (170 before the race) Altior at Prestbury Park last month, and ran a superb race to finish just 6 lengths adrift of the potential superstar, whilst pulling 9 lengths clear of the third, Ordinary World.

Facile victories at Carlisle (beating subsequent dual winner Chidswell) and Haydock preceded a second placed effort behind none other than Champion Hurdler Buveur D’Air in December, where Malcolm Jefferson’s talented 7-year-old attempted to concede 8lbs and only lost out by 3 and a quarter lengths. A very fair effort.

Second to Forest Bihan conceding 3lbs, Cloudy Dream was only beaten 1 and three quarter lengths in the Grade 2 Lightning Novices’ Chase at Doncaster in January, and beat that same opponent 17 lengths at Cheltenham off level weights last month. He looks a solid contender with Brian Hughes in the saddle.

Top Notch was terrier like in defeat at Cheltenham, battling on bravely up the hill after missing the second last and giving Yorkhill the hurry up on the run to the line. Many were concerned about his slight of stature when embarking on a career over fences, however after finishing third to Charbel and Le Prezien in early October, Nicky Henderson’s talented 6-year-old wasted no time in rattling up a 4 timer, culminating in victory in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown in February.

Rated 157, Top Notch is he highest rated contender in the field, and is deservedly favourite based on his Grade 1 victory over this trip at Sandown, with Daryl Jacob in the saddle and on his preferred better ground. He should go well.

Flying Angel trailed in last of the 6 to complete the course in the JLT, however that does not reflect the geldings true running, having been brought to a virtual standstill when badly hampered by the fall of Baily Cloud at the 11th which ended any chance the gelding had of victory.

The Nigel Twiston-Davies trained 6-year-old ran out an impressive winner of the Grade 2 Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick in February, and wasn’t given too hard a time at Cheltenham when the race was beyond him. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the grey bounce back to form here.

Paul Nicholls relies on Frodon, who arrives here fresher than some having skipped Cheltenham, and boasts solid form in open company having landed the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham in December, some feat for a then 4-year-old. 6 wins from 9 starts over fences reads well for the talented son of Nickname’s chances. He should go well.

Tom George and Adrian Heskin are responsible for last time out winner Max Ward, who finished a 20 length third to Altior in the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices’ over 2 miles at Sandown earlier this season.

This represents a rise in class for the Milan gelding based on his recent assignments, and he may need a few to underperform if harbouring aspirations of success tomorrow.

Ben Pauling’s Cyrus Moriviere completes the field, but has failed to complete the course on his last 4 outings, and therefore looks one to swerve.


SUMMARY:

Top Notch is a very worthy favourite here after a gallant effort in defeat against the classy Yorkhill at Cheltenham. Whilst Paul Nicholls Frodon could also go well after skipping the Festival altogether. However CLOUDY DREAM ran a big race behind a potential superstar in Altior in the Arkle last month, and could improve for the extra yardage of this particular contest. He is the selection.


2.20  BETFRED ANNIVERSARY 4-Y-O JUVENILE HURDLE   2m209y   (Grade 1)

Apple’s Jade ran out an extremely impressive winner of this contest 12 months ago after finishing a good second to Ivanovich Gorbatov in the Triumph Hurdle at the Festival. However this year looks to be all about the Triumph winner, as the unbeaten Defi Du Seuil looks to take his unblemished record to 7 wins from as many starts after proving far too good for his contemporaries at Cheltenham.

It’s fair to say Phillip Hobbs’ son of Voix Du Nord has yet to be tested in his career to date, easily dispatching anything put before him, and winning as he liked at Ffos Las, Chepstow and Cheltenham on 4 occasions. Therefore it goes without saying, the dual Grade 1 winner is very much the one to beat here.

Nicky Henderson’s Fred Winter runner up Divin Bere looks to be the biggest threat to the favourite here, having carried top weight at Prestbury Park, conceding 5lbs to the winner, Flying Tiger, and 9lbs to the third, Nietzsche, whilst only losing out by a neck at the line.

The 4-year old beat subsequent easy Grade 2 Adonis Hurdle winner Master Blueyes (who received 4lbs) on his only previous start in the UK in January, and underwent a breathing operation prior to running at Cheltenham. Noel Fehily will be on board the youngster, who should run a tidy race for the Seven Barrows outfit.

Divin Bere’s conquer Flying Tiger is set to re-oppose here, with his trainer Nick Williams of the opinion that Aintree will be more to the youngster’s liking than Prestbury Park, which could make the Solider Of Fortune gelding an interesting proposition here at a double figure price.

Richard Johnson gave the experienced 4-year-old (7 runs, 3 wins) a very good ride at Cheltenham, settling him in rear before unleashing the 33/1 shot with a strong run up the inside to put his head in front in the final furlong, tactics which could deployed again in Liverpool tomorrow.

Fourth in the Grade 2 Adonis Hurdle at Kempton in February, Flying Tiger is well worth a shot at Grade 1 company. And he could run very well granted a quick pace, which should aid the youngster to settle.

Dan Skelton’s Bedrock finished 4 and a half lengths behind Flying Tiger in the Adonis, which a fair performance given it was the gelding’s first start over timber.

Twice a winner in the flat for William Haggas, the son of Fastnet Rock showed enough promise on debut to warrant his place in this field. And whilst his lack of experience could be considered a negative, he arrives here fresh, which can only be a positive.

Owned by her Majesty the Queen, Forth Bridge has made a smooth transition to hurdling after performing to a respectable level on the flat for Michael Bell, backing up a solid debut effort when second to Triumph Hurdle seventh Coeur De Lion with back to victories at Musselburgh. He could go well for triainer Charlie Longsdon.

LandinNucky Thompson and Ronnie Baird complete the field.


SUMMARY:

It’s very hard to get away from DEFI DE SEUIL here, who is likely to prove the first leg of a green and gold double, or even treble for many, with both Buveur D’Air and On The Fringe likely to be sent off a short prices later on the card.


2.50  BETFRED BOWL CHASE               3m210y   (Grade 1)

A small but classy field will go to post for the Betfred Bowl this year, set to be run on good to soft ground which shouldn’t hinder nor harm the chances of any of the contenders set to do battle. Cue Card won this race in splendid isolation last April, and the fan favourite is reportedly in fine form ahead of his attempted defence tomorrow.

It’s hard to believe that Cue Card arrives here on the back of the exact same preparation as last year, having departed the Gold Cup at the third last fence for the second year in succession. However that obviously didn’t harm the popular chasers chances here last year, so you couldn’t rule out Jean Bishop’s multiple Grade 1 winner gaining compensation in this valuable prize again tomorrow.

Impressive victories in the Betfair Chase and Ascot Chase this season show that the fire still burns brightly in the engine of the former King George winner. Paddy Brennan will be relishing the chance to once again banish the memories of March.

Tea For Two is another on a retrieval mission having unshipped Lizzie Kelly at just the second fence in the Gold Cup, which came as a great disappointment to both herself and step father Nick Williams.

A Grade 1 winner over fences as a novice, that victory came at Kempton, and therein lies the issue, as the gelding has always displayed his best form on right handed tracks. Therefore he looks worth opposing here.

Empire Of Dirt is the only Irish trained contender in the field, and Gordon Elliott will be keen get the 10-year-old back to winning ways after a below par effort when finishing fourth in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham.

Winner of the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate 12 months ago, the son of Westerner has continued his progression this term by landing the hugely competitive Troytown Handicap Chase at Navan in November, before running a huge race to finish three quarters of a length behind subsequent Gold Cup winner Sizing John in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown in early February.

Elliott was mad keen to run his change in the blue riband event last month, however owner Michael O’Leardy has very different ideas. Stepping back up in trip, Empire Of Dirt is a serious challenger here.

Gold Cup seventh Bristol De Mai is another contender who will be hoping to regain the winning thread, having looked a potential star when blowing away a strong looking field in the always competitive Grade 2 Peter Marsh Handicap Chase at Haydock in January.

The imposing grey gelding was found to be wrong after subsequently disappointing behind Native River in the Denman Chase at Newbury, and travelled well for a long way in the Gold Cup before the protagonists upped the ante and pulled away from Simon Munir and Isaac Souede’s 6-year-old.

There is a train of thought that Bristol De Mai has a strong preference for soft ground and Haydock (2/2 at the track, recording 32L and 22L victories). However he has shown a reasonable level of form on good to soft ground at a number of venues.

Smad Place finished one place behind the Bristol De Mai last month, and returns here in an attempt to go 3 places better than when fourth to Paul Nicholls’ dual King George winner Silviniaco Conti in 2015.

The gorgeous grey is without a victory since landing the Cotswolds Chase at Cheltenham in January of the same year, but has run consistently in top class staying chases’ ever since. Including seventh and third placed efforts in the Hennessy Gold Cup and this year’s Cotswolds Chase respectively this term. He’s sure to run his race once again.

Silviniaco Conti scooped this prize in both 2014 and 2015, but it’s possible age is catching up with Paul Nicholls’ stable stalwart this term, with a fourth placed effort in the Betfair Chase, and a third placed finish in the King George the highlights of a winless campaign thus far.

Regular Jockey Noel Fehily will be on board, with the 11-year-old looking to add to his 3 victories at this meeting (won the Mildmay Novices’ Chase in 2012). He arrives here fresh having been off the track since finishing fourth in the Cotswolds Chase in January, which could certainly be considered a positive as the majority of the field endured the gruelling Gold Cup test last month.

The Venetia Williams trained Aso completes the field, and has to be worth a second glance after his third place finish in the Ryanair last month.

Whether the 7-year-old possesses the requisite class to play a role here remains to been seen, but the Goldneyev gelding certainly warrants his place in the field following a string of fine performances this season.


SUMMARY:

Cue Card ran out a hugely impressive winner of this contest last year, and looks set to put up another bold showing here in the hands of trusty partner Paddy Brennan. However EMPIRE OF DIRT should relish stepping back up to 3 miles after his fourth placed effort in the Ryanair Chase, and holds very strong claims on his narrow defeat at the hoofs of Gold Cup winner Sizing John in the Irish Gold Cup in February.


3.25  DOOM BAR AINTREE HURDLE     2m4f    (Grade 1)

Unfortunately Annie Power will not be returning to Liverpool in a bid to defend the crown she so brilliantly claimed in this Grade 1 contest last year. However, Buveur D’Air will attempt to emulate the magnificent Mare by following up his impressive Champion Hurdle romp with success in the Doom Bar Aintree Hurdle tomorrow.

Nicky Henderson’s talented 6-year-old returned to timber at Cheltenham after recording 2 victories over fences this winter, and breezed into the lead on the run towards 2 out, before crossing the line 4 and a half length ahead of his opposition in the hands of Noel Fehily.

Third in last season’s Supreme Novice Hurdle, Buveur D’Air took Grade 1 honours in the Top Novices Hurdle here 12 months ago, accounting for Champion Hurdle third Petit Mouchoir, Mares’ Hurdle third Limini, Greatwood Hurdle winner North Hill Harvey and Relkeel Hurdle victor Agrapart in the process. He should take plenty of beating here.

Nigel Twiston-Davies’ stable stalwart The New One lines up for the fourth time in 5 year, having finished second in 2013 before landing the spoils 12 months later. He did, however, crash out at the fifth last term.

A brace of Grade 2 victories at Cheltenham and Haydock this term were split by a fine second placed effort in the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton. And the King’s Theatre gelding arrived here on the back of a fine fifth placed finish behind Buveur D’Air in the Champion Hurdle.

The extra yardage here will be a huge bonus for the former Neptune winner, and his trusty partner Sam Twiston-Davies will no doubt be looking to utilise the 9-year-old’s potent blend of speed and stamina to best effort tomorrow.

My Tent Or Yours followed Annie Power home last April after a fine runner up effort in the Champion Hurdle following the best part of 2 years off the track. Second in the main event at Cheltenham again last month, the JP McManus owned 10-year-old is set for another spin around Aintree tomorrow.

The Desert Prince gelding finished second to fellow competitor The New One at Cheltenham in December, before running a respectable race in the Christmas Hurdle to finish fourth, when a mistake at the last did the gallant old campaigner no favours, even if there were only minor honours up for grabs. He could run well once again.

Henry De Bromhead’s Identity Thief returns to timber after a luckless winter spent novice chasing. Sixth in the 2016 Champion Hurdle, the 7-year-old son of Kayf Tara looked to have made a smooth transition to fences after notching up 2 smooth victories at Punchestown in late autumn, however it’s all been down hill from that point.

Pulled up in Grade 1 company over Christmas, the gelding unseated his rider at the first fence when next sighted at Leopardstown, and could only finish fourth when beaten 24 and three quarter lengths early last month.

De Bromhead will be hoping a return to the smaller obstacles will reignite the flame in his formerly promising young charge, but he’s hardly enjoyed a smooth campaign this term, and he certainly won’t be afforded any favours at Aintree tomorrow.

Rashaan, who has been the subject of much debate in handicapping circles this season, lines up for Irish handler Colin Kidd, and could perform better than his price suggests if running to the form of his Down Royal victory in November when lowering the colours of Mares’ Hurdle winner Apples Jade and subsequent dual Grade 1 winner, and Champion Hurdle third, Petit Mouchoir.

Paul Nicholls former Greatwood Hurdle winner Old Guard completes the field, and arrives here on the back of a creditable seventh place finish in the Coral Cup at Cheltenham last month. This, however, will demand a lot more.


SUMMARY:

It’s very hard to look past the Champion Hurdle hero BUVEUR D’AIR here, especially given the manner of his Festival success. His performance at this meeting last year also reads very well, and the extra yardage shouldn’t be an issue as he’s bred to get this extended trip.


4.05  RANDOX HEALTH FOXHUNTERS’ CHASE   2m5f19y   (Class 2)

On The Fringe has landed this event in each of the last 2 years, and Enda Bolger’s Hunter Chasing star returns in search of an awesome Aintee hat-trick, having failed in his gallant attempt to achieve the same feat at Prestbury Park last month.

Jamie Codd rode the 12-year-old over the spruce fences last April, and will bid to emulate his sparkling success tomorrow, with Aintree arguably playing to the strengths of On The Fringe more than Prestbury Park ever has.

Victory for the son of Exit To Knowhere would without doubt be a roof raiser at Aintree, not only because he looks set to be sent off favourite, but also because there’s nothing the National Hunt faithful love more than a champion over the unique Aintree fences. What a party it would be!

However Pacha Du Polder, who successfully wrestled the crown from the head of  On The Fringe at Cheltenham, will be looking to play the role of party pooper once again, as Bryony Frost looks to steer the Paul Nicholls’ trained second favourite to a memorable Foxhunters double.

The 10-year-old came home a distant sixth in this contest last year, but will arrive this year race brimming with confidence following his Cheltenham success. He’s sure to have his supporters.

Balnaslow ran a fine race to finish fifth at Prestbury Park last month, especially as it later transpired the gelding had lost a shoe during the race, but still kept on well for pressure after attempting to make all in the hands of top amateur Derek O’Connor.

Graham McKeever’s son of Presenting should relish the decent underfoot conditions, and could easily go well under the leading amateur once again.

Rebel Rebellion provides Paul Nicholls’ with a fair second string to his bow. However he does need to overcome a very lacklustre effort when last seen on the track at Leicester in February if he harbours ambitions of being involved in the shake up here.

In the 12-year-old’s defence, that was a second quick run after a lengthy time on the sidelines, and it could be a case of the dreaded bounce factor resulting in the gelding’s poor showing. Time will tell.

Peter Bowen sent out Dineur to finish second in this race last year, and the gallant 11-year-old returns with the aim of going one place better under his talented amateur jockey James King, who knows the gelding well having ridden him on more that one occasion, most recently when finishing second at Chepstow 2 weeks ago, which should have put him spot on for this assignment.

Black Thunder will be the mount of Sam Waley-Cohen this year, who boasts an impressive CV over these unique spruce fences, with the Gold Cup winning amateur a 6 time winner over this course. The most of any jockey in the modern era.

Pulled up in the Grand National last April, the Warren Greatrex trained 10-year-old won first time out for his new connections before being turned over at prohibitive odds of 1/8 next time out.

Pulled up when contesting the Festival Foxhunters last month, the gelding lost a shoe that day, which may account for his below par performance. He could easily prove a popular each way alternative here, especially given his jockeys’ accomplished record over the fences.

Bear’s Affair, Big Fella Thanks, Loch Ba, Mendip Express and Poole Master are further notable contenders.


SUMMARY:

It would be no surprise if ON THE FRINGE gained revenge on Pacha Du Polder for his Cheltenham defeat last month, especially as these fences appear to bring out the best in Enda Bolger’s pride and joy.

Whilst last year’s second DINEUR could be the one for each way backers, having put up a respectable effort when hinting at a return to form in a Hunters’ Chase at Chepstow last month, conceding at least 7lbs to the majority of his rivals.


4.40  BETFRED RED RUM HANDICAP CHASE   1m7f176y   (Grade 3)

Always a competitive heat, this contest will be run at a fair old clip, and therefore favours a horse who can jump and travel at speed whilst possessing the stamina to battle all the way to the line.

Arthur Moore’s Dandridge finished second here 12 months ago after filling the same position in the Grand Annual at Cheltenham, and the gelding will be aiming to go one place better after a fourth placed effort in the corresponding Festival race this term.

Davy Russell will again be tasked with doing the steering, with the 8-year-old set to compete off the same mark (142) he lined up off last year. He holds an obvious chance.

Theinval finished one place ahead of Dandridge at Cheltenham, and should go well again for Nicky Henderson here.

The 7-year-old son of Smadoun doesn’t look the easiest of rides, but definitely possesses the ability to land a contest of this nature. Nico De Boinville will be in the saddle.

The ultra consistent Gino Trail is set to represent Kerry Lee and Jamie Moore after 3 wins and as many second placed efforts from 7 starts over fences this term.

A 2 and a quarter length second to Champion Hurdler Buveur D’Air at Warwick in December arguably rates the 10-year-old’s best piece of form, especially as the son of Perugino attempted to concede 6lbs Nicky Henderson’s Cheltenham hero.

Second to Flying Angel in the Grade 2 Kingmaker Novices’ Chase back at Warwick in February, a mark of 145 may be exploitable given the geldings low mileage.

Northern supremo’s Malcolm Jefferson and Brian Hughes team up with Double W’s, who was last seen finishing 9th in the Close Brothers Handicap Chase on Day 1 of the Cheltenham Festival, travelling prominently before weakening on the charge up the hill.

The imposing Chestnut gelding won his first 2 starts over fences in October, and connections were understandably excited about the season ahead. If Double W’s is to achieve the heights once dreamed of by his nearest and dearist, a mark of 139 would have to be workable. And a return to this 2 mile trip could make all the difference.

Foxtail Hill was sent off favourite for that 2m5f handicap at Cheltenham, but departed the scene early in the piece when making a mistake and crashing out with a circuit left to run.

Nigel Twiston-Davies’ 8-year-old had recorded back to back victories prior to setback, with the form of his latest success being boosted by both the second placed Saphir Du Rheu and third placed Tenor Nivernais subsequently. If showing no ill affects from Cheltenham fall, he will surely make a bold bid once more.

Bun Doran is another to come out of that Festival race, running a decent race before being unable to quicken up the hill and eventually finishing sixth.

Tom George’s change looks fairly treated off a mark of 139, but it’s possible he’ll be seen to better effect next season with another summer at grass under his belt.

The Paul Nicholls trained Romain De Senam missed the cut for the same contest, and heads heads to Aintree in search of compensation.

Sam Twiston-Davies will ride the 5-year-old who is 5lbs well in on his Juvenile hurdle form of last season.

Astre De La Cour could prove popular for trainer Robert Walford after a fine effort behind subsequent Grand Annual runner up Gardefort at Wincanton in February.

The 7-year-old has been in fine form this season, boasting form figures of 122 from his last 3 starts. He could be interesting.

Henry De Bromhead’s Alisier D’Irlande is set to shoulder the burden of top weight after an all the way win at Naas in February, finishing 10 lengths clear of useful yardstick Pairofbrowneyes.

The 7-year-old has faced some stiff tasks in his career to date, and clearly appreciated the drop in grade when bolting up last time out. He could run a big race here.

Doitforthevillage, YorkistParsnip PeteRock On RockyRavens Tower and Witness In Court complete the field.


SUMMARY:

Dandridge should go well off the same mark he competed off last term. Whilst Gino Trail and Foxtail Hill could have a say if getting into a rhythm on this decent ground. DOUBLE W’S should appreciate this drop in trip and could therefore run a big race for his leading northern connections. And off a mark of 139, he’s the selection.


5.15  GOFFS NICKEL COIN MARES’ STANDARD OPEN NH FLAT RACE      2m209y   (Grade 2)

The improvements implemented to the mares program in recent years has greatly benefited contests such as this, with a host of potentially classy maes set to go to post in the closer on Day 1.

Warren Greatrex does incredibly well with his bumper horses, and is responsible for the current favourite Petticoat Tails, who finished second to smart mare Cap Soleil (who received 4lbs) at Sandown last time out.

Two impressive victories preceded that Sandown effort, and connecttions will be hopeful the daughter of Presenting can reverse the form having only lost out by a battling half a length. Gavin Sheehan will do the steering.

Martello Park (fourth) and Oscar Rose (seventh) are further contenders to have run in that Sandown contest, and it goes without saying that each would have a fair chance or reversing the form with the mare at the head of the market.

Martello Park, who finished just 2 and three quarter lengths behind impressive Cheltenham Champion Bumper winner Fayonagh on debut, boasts plenty of experience for Mags and Danny Mullins. And therefore could run well.

Whilst Oscar Rose represents the burgeoning yard of Fergal O’Brien, who finished a decent fourth behind fellow competitor Irish Roe at Cheltenham in November. O’Brien has emjoyed a great season in bumpers, and it wouldn’t be a huge shock if his good form continued.

Irish Roe is set to represent Peter Atkinson and Henry Brooke, and is much better than her twentieth placed finish in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham last month suggests.

The 6-year-old carried an unblemished 3-3 record into that Grade 1 contest, including a dead-heat victory at Cheltenham in November, where the daughter of Vinnie Roe showed a potent turn of foot on the run to the line. She could easily bounce back here.

Brendan Powell senior teams up with Brendan Powell junior as the unbeaten daughter of Black Sam Bellamy, Sweetlittlemystery, looks to secure a hat-trick of bumper wins in this prestigious Grade 2 contest.

The talented 6-year-old has shown a nice attitude on the track, conceding weight to the majority of here opponents on each occasion and battling past her contemporaries on the charge to the line. It’s hard to know how good she could be.

Nicky Henderson bagged this prize with the smart Kayf Grace 12 months ago, and it should be noted that his sole representative this year is Polly’s Pursuit, who didn’t show much in 2 runs on turf, but has shown improved form on the All Weather surface at Lingfield recently.

A comfortable 7 length success in late January preceded a second placed effort behind the potentially smart The Big Bite (received 3lbs) when returning to the track in March. If building on those efforts on her return to turf, the 5-year-old could easily play a part here.

Davy Russell is set to partner the Shane Crawley trained Sassy Diva tomorrow, who is yet to score in 4 starts under rules, but does boast placed form behind talented performers such as recent Newbury scorer Snow Leopardess, Gordon Elliott’s Three Swallowsnick and the aforementioned Fayonagh.

Form such as this makes the daughter of Kalanisi look an interesting each way contender at a double figure price, especially with the canny Russell booked to guide her around.

Brian Ellison runs the flat bred mare Shearling, who proved she stays this trip when winning a 2 mile event in soft ground at Catterick last time out.

The dual purpose trainer recently gave the daughter of Rail Link a glowing report in a stable tour for the Racing Post Weekender, and Champion Jockey Richard Johnson has been booked to ride the talented 4-year-old.

Mountain Path is the only horse to have beat to have Shearling (who gave 6lbs), when making a successful start to life on the racetrack for Micky Hammond in January.

Transferred to Jonjo O’Niell subsequently, it’s interesting that the promising 4-year-old is making her stable debut so quickly and in such a prestigious contest, something that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Skewiff, Redemption Song, Scopion Princess and Maria’s Benefit are further interesting contenders.


SUMMARY:

Petticoat Tails looks a very smart mare, and represents powerful connections when it comes to contests of this nature. Whilst Irish Roe is much better than she showed at Cheltenham last month and could easily return to form here. However the selection is SHEARLING, who has won 3 of her 4 starts for Brian Ellison, and will have the assistance of Champion Jockey Richard Johnson.

I’ll also being having a small each investment on Jonjo O’Neill’s MOUNTAIN PATH, given the form with Shearling and the fact that connections feel she’s up to this after just one run and after being transferred recently.


SELECTIONS:


1.40    Cloudy Dream  3/1

2.15   Defi Du Seuil  1/3


2.50    Empire Of Dirt  11/4


3.25    Buveur D’Air  2/5


4.05    On The Fringe  9/4

            Dineur  25/1


4.40    Double W’s  9/1


5.15    Shearling  9/1

           Mountain Path  20/1

Thank You

I’d just like to say a huge, sincere thank you to everyone who took the time to read, retweet, quote retweet, like and respond/give feedback to my Cheltenham previews this week. It really is much appreciated. 

I hope they proved useful, even if winners were thin on the ground, as they were written primarily as guides to the races’ and runners, and not as tipping pieces. That said we did finish the week on +£43.00 thanks to the 50/1 success of Labaik in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, 16/1 success of Tully East (also advised at 20/1 antepost) in the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase and the victory of Yorkhill in the JLT Novices’ Chase at 6/4.

There were also two agonising second placed finishes at 7/1 and 6/1, as well as 4 third placed efforts. 

It was certainly a tough week, highlighted by the fact that only 6 favourites won, resulting in a loss of £11.12 for favourite backers across all 28 races. Which shines a positive light on the £43.00 profit we managed to escape with!

The previews consisted of 5688, 4080, 4955 and 5557 words respectively, so as you can imagine, they took a fair bit of time to put together! So apologies for any minor typing errors, but I do work full time as well!

I penned these pieces because I truly love the sport and enjoy nothing more than writing/talking about it, whilst hopefully helping people to find an angle they like on a race, or perhaps occasionally, giving them a shove in the right direction. I did say occasionally!

My work received 7644 views over the 4 days, and I’d like to thank everyone who thanked me or offered kind words on the content of each piece (some of which you can see below). 

I would dearly love to work within the sport one day, and the support I’ve received from many Twitter followers has been extremely helpful and shows what a friendly and passionate racing community we are lucky to be part of. 

Good luck to all, no doubt you’ll be hearing from me again soon! 

Regards,

Stuart Williams. 

The 2017 Cheltenham Festival: Day 4 Preview 

Friday 17th March 2017:  Day 4

Friday see’s the long awaited blue riband event of National Hunt Racing, the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup. A race in which Colin Tizzard holds a strong hand with both Cue Card and Native River set to face the starter in the Dorset based handler’s quest to land a first Gold Cup success. 

But it’s not all about the Gold Cup of course, with the Triumph Hurdle and Albert Bartlett providing further Garde 1 entertainment on the action packed card. Topped up further by highly competitive graded handicaps and the thoroughly enjoyable Foxhunters Chase in which Enda Bolger’s Hunter Chasing star On The Fringe will be bidding for a fantastic Festival hat-trick. All looks set for a most enjoyable Festival finale. 

So let’s take a look at race’s 22 to 28 and hopefully end the week on a high! 


1.30  JCB TRIUMPH HURDLE              2m179y  (Grade 1)

Defi Du Seuil has long been favourite for this Grade 1 contest, with 3 course and distance victories already to his name. 

The 4-year-old is unbeaten (5/5) since arriving from France, gaining plenty of experience along the way, including when landing the Grade 1 Future Champions Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow over Christmas. 

The talented son of Voix Du Nord didn’t jump particularly well up the home straight on that occasion, but personally I’d put that down to the youngster getting lonely out in front, as he’d jumped proficiently in each of his previous racecourse outings. 

Phillip Hobbs charge looks a very solid favourite with his unbeaten record, course form and vast experience adding to weight to his claims. 

Gordon Elliott trains second favourite Mega Fortune, who has progressed with each run in Ireland this season prior to landing the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown in February. The son of Soldier Of Fortune fell on his hurdling debut before making amends next out, landing a 3-Y-O Hurdle in facile fashion. 

A brace of third placed efforts in Grade 3 and Grade 2 company behind Landofhopeandglory and Bapaume followed, however Mega Fortune gained revenge on the latter at Leopardstown last month. 

Elliott won this race in 2014 with Tiger Roll, and could easily repeat the feat with this progressive looking youngster. 

The aforementioned Bapaume is set to represent the formidable trio of Ricci, Mullins and Walsh in the day 4 opener, having achieved Grade 2 success in December, before having the tables turned on him last time out. The son of Turtle Bowl has looked very professional in his 3 starts this term and comes into the contest as the apparent first string for the master of Closutton.

Landofhopeandglory takes the final seat on the Irish Juvenile Hurdle merry-go-round, having defeated both Mega Fortune and Bapaume in a Grade 3 contest in November. 

Landofhopeandglory was transferred to Joseph from his father Aiden, having achieved a fair level of form on the flat, including a fourth placed effort in the Queens Vase at Royal Ascot in June. It’s hard to know quite how to rate the Irish form this season, as they all appear to be beating each other. Which of course is never ideal as a guide as to the pecking order. 

Master Blueyes shot on to the Triumph Hurdle scene with a decisive victory in the Grade 2 Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton late last month, and looks one of 2 contenders for trainer Alan King, who always does well with his Juvenile Hurdlers. 

The 4-year-old has progressed throughout the season, finishing second to Nicky Henderson’s highly regarded Charli Parcs on his penultimate start. If the youngster can take another step forwards here it would be right in the shake up. 

Having looked likely to take his chance in the Supreme, Charli Parcs has been rerouted to this contest following his mishap in the Adonis Hurdle last time out. And given the performance he put in a Kempton over Christmas, he has to be of significant interest here. 

Nicky Henderson has made some bold statements about the son of Anabaa Blue, and his optimism is certainly infectious, and should be respected coming from a trainer who boasts such a good record in the race. You can’t write a horse off after one questionable run, and he could prove very good value against a strong looking favourite. 

His stablemate Coeur De Lion also rates an interesting contender here, and boasts solid form having beat a subsequent dual winner on his debut over timber before finishing second to Don Bersy at Sandown, who recived 6lbs and won again next time out. 

The son of 2011 Derby winner Pour Moi also finished second to favourite Defi Du Seuil at Cheltenham in November, and prepared for this assignment with a Sandown success early last month. 


SUMMARY:

There’s no doubting Defi Du Seuil looks a very solid favourite on paper, and hasn’t been overly stretched in 5 starts this term. However i’m prepared to give CHARLI PARCS a second chance here, as he looked to be brimming with potential on his first start at Kempton and represents a bullish trainer who is peerless when it comes to training Juvenile Hurdlers. 



2.10  VINCENT O’BRIEN COUNTY HANDICAP HURDLE  2m179y  (Grade 3)

The County Hurdle is always a hugely competitive heat, and this year looks no different. Dan Skelton notched his first Cheltenham Festival success in this contest 12 months ago, sending out Superb Story to get the job done in style. This year the burgeoning young trainer is responsible the well supported favourite, as November’s Greatwood Hurdle victor North Hill Harvey returns to the scene of his biggest win to date. 

The imposing 6-year-old was in process of running a big race in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 12 months ago, before a shuddering error coming down the hill shot the Kafka Tara gelding back through the field, eventually plugging on to finish ninth. 

Fourth behind Buveur D’Dair, Petit Mouchoir and Limini on his final start last term, Skelton wisely saved his charge for the ultra competitive Greatwood Hurdle in November, where the gelding showed he was very well treated off a mark of 141, charging up the hill and out batting the talented Modus, who has since won the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton, giving the Greatwood Hurdle form a very solid boost.  

Again Skelton has showed great patience in waiting for this Grade 3 prize off an 8lbs higher mark, with the way in which North Hill Harvey picked up again after Modus came to challenge suggesting the youngster had plenty left in the tank that day. 

However stern opposition will await the favourite here, with horses of the calibre of 2015 Champion Hurdle runner up Arctic Fire, joined by potentially well treated improvers such as Winter Escape, who was sent off a strong favourite for the Grade 3 prize North Hill Harvey scooped in November. 

Alan King has long held Winter Escape in very high regard, sentiments echoed by the decision of connections to bypass the Cheltenham Festival last year with the 6-year-old, electing to give him time mature both mentally and physically. 
The Robin Des Pres gelding was sent off a warm 3/1 favourite for the ultra competitive Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at Prestbury Park in November, but disappointed on the day and returned home sick. 

Alan King issued a positive bulletin on the youngster earlier this week, and there’s been plenty of support for Winter Escape in recent weeks. 

Last year’s Triumph Hurdle winner Ivanovich Gorbatov is another contender who will don the famous green and gold bands of JP McManus, with many believing he has been plotted up for this race all season long.

The form of his Festival victory last year reads well, with Tuesday’s Mares’ Hurdle winner Apples Jade back in second, and yesterday’s Novice Mares’ Hurdle victor Let’s Dance coming home fourth. 

Joseph O’Brien’s charge runs off a mark of 150 here, and could go well if the return to his happy hunting ground has a positive effect on the 5-year-old.

Mick Jazz is another to have significantly shortened since Tuesday afternoon, with Supreme Novice Hurdle winner of Labaik providing his stablemate with a strong and timely form boost, as the extremely quirky but equally talented grey beat Mick Jazz by a mere 1 and three quarter lengths at Navan in November. 

Gordon’s Elliot’s charge progressed from that performance to beat subsequent Supreme Novice Hurdle fifth Cialos Emery at Punchestown last month, and the 6-year-old could easily well treated off a mark of 143 for his powerful and in form stable. 

Last year’s fourth Wait For Me returns for a crack at this competitive contest. Whilst last season’s Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle winner Diego Du Charmil represent Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls and stable Jockey Sam Twiston-Davies. 

2014 runner up Artic Fire will attempt to condede weight to all of his rivals under Jockey Paul Townend, with the gelding having his first run since chasing home Faugheen in the 2016 Irish Champion Hurdle. 

L’Ami Serge is the mount of 2014 winning Jockey Daryl Jacob, and could go well for the in form yard of Nicky Henderson. The imposing son of King’s Theatre was out battled by Argapart in the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Years Day, and should appreciate the better ground and drop in trip today. 

The hugely progressive Air Horse One, solid yardstick Joey Sasa and the Rich Ricci owned Renneti, who may prove popular for the red hot combination of Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh, are further interesting contenders. 


SUMMARY:

In a typically competitive heat, NORTH HILL HARVEY stands out as a solid contender, having shown a liking for the course and given the fact that he’s been put away for this race by last year’s winning trainer Dan Skelton. 

The other interesting one for me is IVANOVICH GORBATOV, who has been campaigned against good horses all season long, and now returns to the place of his greatest succes 12 months off a potentially lenient mark of 150. Especially given how well the Triump Hurdle form has worked out, with second, Apples Jade, landing the Grade 1 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle on Tuesday.  


2.50  ALBERT BARTLETT NOVICES’ HURDLE  2m7f  (Grade 1)
This year’s Albert Bartlett looks a very good renewal, with the impressive, unbeaten hurdler Death Duty leading the way for his adoring trainer Gordon Elliott. Indeed Elliott could wax lyrical about the imposing son Shantou for hours, and has done in multiple Cheltenham Preview’s throughout Britain and Ireland in the build up to the Festival. 

The 6-year-old hasn’t really been troubled in 4 starts over timber, for all that Augusta Kate looked to be coming will a challenge at the last when falling at Naas in January. 

Easy victories  over horses such as Invitation Only, Monalee, Turcagua and Blood Crazed Tuger only bolster Death Duty’s profile, and Gordon Elliott has already stated on more than one occasion that he’s better the Don Cossack and No More Heroes at this stage of his career. 

However the Gigginstown runner won’t have it all his own way as Augusta Kate will be aiming for revenge tomorrow with connections feeling that she had the measure of the favourite before her unfortunate exit at the last in Naas. 

The impeccably bred daughter of classy racemare Feathard Lady ran seventh in the Champion Bumper 12 months ago, before a fine second placed effort in the Grade 2 contest confined solely to Mares at Aintree. 

A facile maiden hurdle victory preceded her encounter at Naas, and she looks sure to run a big race with a handy 7lbs mares allowance. 

On the home front, Wholestone and West Approach have butted heads on no fewer then 3 occasions already this season, with each of those encounters coming around the undulations of Prestbury Park. The score is currently 3-0 to Wholestone, which is surprising when you consider he’s rated 145, which is a full 12lbs lower than Colin Tizzard’s experienced novice. 

Although that rating is achieved due to his exploits in open company, it does highlight the ability of Wholestone, who rates a serious contender for Nigel Twiston-Davies.

Ami Debois finished just a length behind Wholestone at Cheltenham in December, and could run a good race for Graeme McPherson and Kielan Woods. 

The aforementioned Monalee looks a very smart prospect for top Irish trainer Henry De Bromhead having claimed the scalps of The Storyteller, who we’ll come back to later, Turcagua and Battleford among others either side of his second placed effort behind Death Duty at Navan. 

It was a toss up between this race and the Neptune for the well put together son of Milan, and he certainly warrants respect given the level he has performed too across the Irish Sea. 

The Worlds End look a very exciting horse for the future, and could run a very big race for Tom George and Adrian Heskin based on his impressive 9 length victory in a Grade 2 contest at Haydock last month. Whilst Paul Townend could easily get a nice tune out of Penhill if the gelding puts his best foot forward in the jumping stakes. 

SUMMARY:

Gordon Elliott’s confidence in DEATH DUTY is hugely infectious, and therefore he is the selection. However Wholestone looks in danger of being underrated here and mustn’t be overlooked lightly given his superb course form and his record over the re-opposing West Approach.

3.30  TIMICO CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP  CHASE  3m2f70y  (Grade 1)

It’ll be some party in Dorset if Colin Tizzard can land the most cherished prize there is in National Hunt Racing, and the dairy farmer turned training supremo looks to have an outstanding chance of doing just that with both Cue Card and Native River in his armoury in twin assault on the Blue Ribband event.

Cue Card, who departed the contest at 3 out last year as Paddy Brennan appeared to be making his move on the multiple Grade 1 winner, would certainly represent a victory for the National Huny faithful, having become a firm fan favourite since landing a shock 40/1 surprise in the Champion Bumper all the way back in 2010!

Jean Bishops’s admirable 11-year-old enjoyed a fantastic season last year, landing the Charlie Hall Chase before recording a Grade 1 hat-trick with Betfair Chase, King George and Betfred Bowl success. 

Only third in the Charlie Hall Chase this season, the son of King’s Theatre looked as good as ever when defending his Betfair Chase crown at Haydock before taking on Thistlecrack a long way out in the King George at Kempton, finally finishing second to his power packed stablemate. 

Cue Card landed the Grade 1 Ascot Chase last month in preparation for the Cheltenham showpiece. And connections will be hoping he can make anends for last seasons unfortunate demise. 

Native River looks a tailor made Gold Cup contender having lifted the Hennessy Gold Cup in November before turning the Welsh Grand National into a procession at Chepstow over Christmas. The rapidly improving 7-year-old simply hasn’t looked back since finishing second in the National Hunt Chase at the Festival last March, landing Grade 1 spoils at Aintree before putting up a career best performance over timber on his reappearance this term. 

A killer combination of spring loaded legs and a jumbo jet tank make Native River a formidable weapon wherever he lines up, forcing any potential opponent to live with his breakneck gallop before facing the unenviable task of going past the chestnut horse who doesn’t know when, or indeed how, to quit. 

The son of Indian River landed the Grade 2 Denman Chase in preparation for this contest, where he showed us that he possessed speed as well as stamina, confirming that the gelding is progressing all the time. 

Champion Jockey Richard Johnson could only watch on that day due to illness. And while Aiden Coleman gave the Chestnut a good ride at Newbury, Native River and Richard Johnson have developed quite a bromance, with the pair appearing to be made for each other both in attitude and ability. 

The Brocade Racing owned stayer is a very worthy second favourite and ticks all the relevant boxes a Gold Cup contender must.

Another contender coming back for more is dual runner up Djakadam, who is set to represent the powerful trio of Rich Ricci, Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh for the third a third successive year. 

Many will write off the 8-year-old who has been to the wedding twice and returned as the bridesmaid on each occasion. But on the flip side you could argue that the horse is now in his prime and possess solid Gold Cup form which can only be a bonus. 

The vibes behind the son of Saint De Saint are extremely positive, with Djakadam enjoying an ideal preparation in the run up to this year’s race, which is something that has potentially cost the gelding in the last two years. Confidence is certainly very high within the camp. 

Lexus Chase winner Outlander is set carry the hopes of Gigginstown House Stud, however Gordon Elliott has mentioned more than once that he has concerns over the 9-year-olds stamina. Brian Cooper will of course be in the saddle, and the form of the Cullentra besed squad has to be a considered a positive. 

Sizing John is set to represent Jessica Harrington at the Potts after confirming his stamina for 3 miles last month when landing the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown. 

After being bullied by Douvan over 2 miles for the last 2 seasons, it’s great to see that connections have decided to take a different route with the talented 7-year-old, who is finally starting to hit the heights he’s always promised were possible. 

The Midnight Legend gelding gelding landed the Grade 3 Kinloch Brae in January, so heads to Cheltenham in fine form for his biggest assignment to date. 

The only real question mark is Sizing John’s stamina for 3m2f70 around Prestbury Park. But if the distance is within his radar, he couldn’t be ruled out. 

Sizing Johns former trainer Henry De Bromhead is set to field impressive Thyestes Chase winner Champagne West, who has always threatened to a classy performer before his striking  performance at Gowran Park in January. 

The 9-year-old son of Westerner has scored over the Cheltenham fences twice before, when landing back to back novice contests in 2014. He was, however, pulled up in the Ryanair Chase last term, so only time will tell. 

Bristol De Mai shot on to the Gold Cup scene when routing a field of established and experienced opponents in the Grade 2 Peter Marsh Handicap Chase at Haydock in January, before running well below form when finishing a lacklustre third of 3 behind Native River in the Grade 2 Denman Chase at Newbury. 

Simon Munir and Isaac Souede’s imposing grey had been the model of consistency prior to that disappointing effort, having finished in the first 2 in each of his 11 previous starts over the larger obstacles. 

Daryl Jocob was quick to confirm that the 6-year-old hadn’t pleased him at any stage of the race, feeling flat, with no hint of the brilliance he had shown at Haydock. 

You have to forgive a horse one bad run, especially at the tender age of 6. And you can guarantee Nigel Twiston-Davies will have Bristol De Mai spot on for the day. 

JP McManus and Jonjo O’Neill have a brace of runners, with former World Hurdle winner More Of That and last year’s National Hunt Chase victor Minella Rocco set to carry the famous green and gold bands in to battle. 

Both travelled to Ireland to contest the Irish Gold Cup in preparation for the Gold Cup, however both failed to complete the course, as Minella Rocco ejected Aiden Coleman at the 5th before More Of That, who had run a promising race, came down when still in contention at the last. 

Aiden Coleman will ride More Of That, with Noel Fehily getting the leg up of Minella Rocco. It’s fair to say their prices’ relflect their chances on this season’s form, but if either could run to the level of form of their previous Festival exploits, they could easily be considered lively outsiders. 


SUMMARY:

The vibes about Djakadam have grown increasingly strong in recent weeks, with Willie Mullins’ dual runner up reportedly receiving a perfect preparation for the contest this year. Cue Card comes out top on official figures, but has the dreaded age stat to overcome. However it would be some party if the fan favourite could make amends for his unfortunate exit 12 months ago. However the selection is NATIVE RIVER, who has progressed for every start this season. The Hennessy Gold Cup and Welsh Grand National hero looks to have a lot in his favour, with ground to suit, stamina to burn, pinpoint jumping and the assistance of Champion Jockey Richard Johnson, who knows the horse like the back of his hand. 


4.10  St JAMES’S PLACE FOXHUNTER CHASE CHALLENGE CUP  3m2f70y

Once again all eyes will be on the much loved On The Fringe, who returns to Prestbury Park for a third successive year in search of a fantastic Foxhunters Festival hat-trick. 

Enda Bolger’s classy performer ran a stormer on his return to the track at Leopardstown in February, going down by just 2.75 lengths to the formerly smart performer Foxrock. The Exit To Knowhere gelding then enjoyed a racecourse gallop at the course 2 weeks ago where the finishing touches were applied to the 12-year-olds preparation. 

It’s going to take a smart performance to deny On The Fringe his terrific Festival treble, but as always, there will be plenty lining up to try and take advantage of any chinks there may be in the old boys armour. 

Paul Nicholls’ Wonderful Charm has often shown glimpses of being a classy sort, and rates exactly that in the context of this race. The 9-year-old has recorded too facile victories to qualify for this contest, and Nicholls’ wasted no time in acquiring the services of to amateur Katie Walsh to do the steering. 

The Poliglote gelding has shown a definite preference for decent ground, so connections with be hoping and praying that the rain stays away. And if it does, he could easily be the biggest danger On The Fringe faces in the defence of his crown. 

Ask The Weatherman looks the other standout contender in the field, having notched up a sequence in Points and Hunter Chases’ this term. Jack Barber trains the 8-year-old, who will have proven amateur Will Biddick on board. 

The experienced stayer beat Paul Nicholls’ seasoned campaigner Rebel Rebellion at Wincanton in February, and carries great stable confidence into the race tomorrow. He definitely has a chance. 

The dark horse in the field is prolific Irish Pointer Anseanachai Cliste, who has been granted a wildcard entry by the chief of British handicapping Phil Smith. 

The 9-year-old has rattled up a sequence of 8 straight wins in Irish points over the last 12 months, and has been mentioned by a few shrewd Irish judges in recent weeks. 

His presence here adds a fascinating twist to the race, and any significant support for Stephen McConville’s charge must be taken seriously. 

There are many familiar names in the line up, with Paint The Clouds, Pacha Du Polder, Aupcharlie, Grand Vision, Buckers Bridge and Dolatulo to name just a few. But in all likelihood, it’ll be one of the top 3 in the betting that comes home in front. 


SUMMARY:

This looks the toughest test ON THE FRINGE has faced in this contest, with Ask The Weatherman and Wonderful Charm serious threats to the Champions Crown.  

However his prep run at Leopardstown was extremely pleasing, and I’m backing the old boy to raise the roof and make it a fantastic Festival hat-trick. 


4.50  MARTIN PIPE CONDITIONAL JOCKEYS’ HANDICAP HURDLE      2m4f56y  (Class 2)

Like with amateur races, you’re eyes are naturally drawn to the top conditionals the sport has to offer here, especially those riding for trainers like Gordon Elliott, Willie Mullins and last year’s winner Paul Nicholls.

Each of those powerful handlers have horses in top 5 of the betting, with Battleford representing Mullins, Runfordave lining up for Gordon Elliott and  one of a couple of possible chances for the British Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls. 

Battleford came in to this season will the aim of running in graded races for his powerful connections, however the Graham Wylie owned youngster now pitches up for a handicap off a mark of 135. 

The gelding has finished behind the likes of Brelade, Joey Sasa, The Storyteller and Monalee over hurdles, as well as picking up a maiden hurdle at Leopardstown in December. He could easily be thrown in here. 

Runfordave will undoubtedly be well supported for the in-form Gordon Elliott stable, with the trainer enjoying an incredible week already, and boasting further strong chances on the day. 

The Stowaway gelding won an egg and spoon race last time out, but had previously finished third behind Any Second Now and Supreme runner Crack Mome in a Grade 2 event at Punchestown in January. 

The 5-year-old also won a 20 runner maiden at Fairyhouse in December, with smart types Capital Force (second) and Castillo Sforza (third) in behind. He should go well here. 

As mentioned previously, Nicholls’ landed this year with the well treated Ibis Du Rheu, and the champ, who also won this race with Salubrious in 2013, looks to have another strong contender in the form of Tommy Silver this year. 

Tommy Silver should go well under Nicholls crack Conditional Stan Sheppard, having finished seventh in a decent looking Triumph Hurdle last year. 

The gelding returned to form with a decent handicap win at Taunton last time out, and should go well for a yard who know how to win the race. 

Nicholls also runs 2014 County Hurdle winner Lac Fontana here off a mark of 139, the exact mark he won off 3 years ago. 

The talented gelding missed last season through injury, but has made it to the track twice already his term which should have blown the cobwebs away. He’s one for the contingent who like previous Festival form. 

The Phillip Hobbs trained to No Comment currently heads the betting, and is starting to get the hang of things now after unseating early on in the Grade 2 Persian War Novices’ Hurdle earlier this season. 

 Second to the hugely exciting Robin Roe next time out, the Kayf Tara gelding has won all 3 subsequent starts, appearing to progress each time he hit the track. 

He lines up here off a mark of 137, which could be very lenient for 6-year-old who landed a Punchestown Festival bumper last spring. Ciaran Gethings takes the ride. 

Dan Skelton runs Born Survivor here, who has always been highly regarded and was in the process of giving Champion Hurdle runner Cyrus Darius a race when darting at the second last in the Morbattle Hurdle at Kelso last month. 

The scopey 6-year-old was sent off an 8/11 favourite for that contest, and was traveling extremely well before crashing out to the great annoyance of Jockey Harry Skelton. Bridget Andrews takes the ride. 

Willie Mullins won this 2 years with the classy Killultagh Vic, and runs the JP McManus owned Castello Sforza who ran a big race to finish fourth in the Champion Bumper at the Festival last year. 

After finishing third to Runfordave hurdling debut, the talented gelding filled the same position behind the well regarded Joey Sasa and smart mate Barra, which looks very solid form. 

Second behind Mossbank at Punchestown last month, the return to Prestbury Park and, in particular, back on decent ground providing there isn’t too much rain, could see the Milan gelding leave that form behind tomorrow. 

Coo Star Sivola could run well in the hands of Lizzie Kelly, with the pair successful at Prestbury Park on New Year’s Day. Whilst Thomas Campbell, who has also tasted victory at Cheltenham this term, could go well for the In-from yard of Nicky Henderson. 

Rather Be is another contender who looks rather interesting for the Seven Barrows team, boasting a record of 2-3 over hurdles, and putting up a bold effort when failing to concede 9lbs to smart Juvenile hurdler Coeur De Lion at Sandown last month. Charlie Deutsch take the ride. 

Doesyourdogbite could prove popular for Jonjo O’Neill, having been sent off favourite for the competitive Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton. Whilst David Pipe would dearly love to land the race run in the name of his farther, and sends out stable stalwart Dell’Arca in search of glory. 


SUMMARY:

This, as always, looks a very tricky puzzle to solve. My 2 against the field are BATTLEFORD and CASTELLO SFORZA, who both look potentially well treated, and have proven that they act around the track. 


5.30  JOHNNY HENDERSON GRAND ANNUAL CHASE CHALLENGE CUP  2m62y  (Grade 3)

The Festival closer is possibly the fastest race ran under National Hunt rules! The breakneck gallop puts an emphasis on both jumping and stamina, as you need to jump to stay in touch and require stamina to keep going up the long Cheltenham Hill when others are gasping for breath!

Last year’s runner up Dandridge leads the way for trainer Arthur Moore and jockey Davy Russell, having enjoyed a nice pipe opened over hurdles at Leopardstown last month.  

The Irish raider stayed on strongly 12 months ago, and connections will have spent the last year plotting and planning how to get him here fit and well for another crack at the Grade 3 prize. 

Third placed Rock The World also returns for a second crack at the Festival closer, having been a plunge horse on the big day last year. Jessica Harrington doesn’t travel her horses if she doesn’t think they have a good chance, and the Michael Buckley owned 2 miler runs off a mark just 1lb higher than last year. He could easily go well again. 

Last year’s winning Trainer Paul Nicholls has a solid looking contender in the form of Grade 2 winning novice chaser Le Prezien, who could be well treated off a mark of 146 on his first start in handicap company. The 6-year-old won a Grade 2 event over 2 miles at Cheltenham’s Open Meeting in November, and further enhanced his reputation with victory over last seasons JLT third L’Ami Serge in a 2m1f contest at Exeter in December. 

Le Prezien then finished third behind Top Notch in the 2m4f Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown last time out, comfirming both the youngsters ability to jump at pace and his stamina, which as previously mentioned, is advantageous here. 

The Champion Trainer also runs 2015 Champion Chaser Dodging Bullets, who has failed to get his head in front since that super success and as a result has fallen through the handicap to a mark of 151, which is a full 20lbs below his peak rating of 2015.  

There’s no disputing the Frankie Dettori bred gelding is well handicapped on his Championship winning form, however the son of Dubawi has struggled in Graded contests this term and will need to up his game significantly in the rough and tough environment of a hugely competitive big field Cheltenham handicap. 

Nicky Henderson would dearly love to win the race run in honour of his father Johnny again, having last won the race with the quirky JP McManus owned Bellvano in 2012, who received a typically cheeky and patient Paul Carberry ride. This year Henderson looks to have an interesting contender in the form of Theinval, who has run to a reasonable level of form in novice chases’ this term, lowering the colours of Theo’s Charm at Plumpton when last seen in December. 

This race has a habit of being won by slightly quirky types, and Theinval certainly shows signs of not being the most straightforward of sorts despite his obvious ability. A mark of 141 looks fair, and the 7-year-old could well benefit from the lightening quick gallop he’ll encounter here. Stable jockey Nico De Boinville gets the leg up. 

The highly unpredictable Eastlake is set to represent Jonjo O’Neill and JP McManus for a fourth straight year, having finished sixth in 2014, second in 2015 and ninth 12 months ago. 

Heart problems make the likeable Topham Chase winner impossible to read, however he does have an engine and when everything is right he knows just how to use it. 

Another contender with past experience of this race is Croco Bay, who Ben Case trained to finish third in the race in 2015, before bringing him back last year when the 10-year-old exited the race prematurely at the sixth. 

The gelding is now rated 8lbs lower than his third placed effort in 2015, and carries a lbs less in to the race. He could go very well again.

The Game Changer should enjoy the end to end gallop for Gordon Elliott and Bryan Cooper. Whilst Quite By Chance, who has performed creditably at the course twice already this season, and Sizing Platinum, who chased home Fox Norton at Prestbury Park in October, could both run well for Colin Tizzard. 

Irish raiders Velvet Maker and Pairofbrowneyes could go well for Alan Fleming and Barry John Murphy respectively, with both potentially having been laid out for a crack at this Grade 3 prize. 


SUMMARY:

It’s quite possible that LE PREZIEN is well treated on his first start in Handicap company with form lines including Charbel and Top Notch suggesting a mark of 146 is workable. He should enjoy the frenetic gallop and therefore he it’s the main selection. 

However I can’t resist an each way flutter on CALIPTO on his first start for Venetia Williams, as a mark of 139 could be exploitable, especially based on his close up finish behind Garde La Victoire and Champion Chase runner up Fox Norton at Prestbury Park in November 2015. 


SELECTIONS:


1.30   CHARLI PARCS    7/2


2.10   NORTH HILL HARVEY    8/1

           IVANOVICH GORBATOV    12/1


2.50   DEATH DUTY    9/4


3.30   NATIVE RIVER     5/1


4.10   ON THE FRINGE    15/8


4.50   BATTLEFORD    9/1

          CASTELLO SFORZA     14/1


5.30   LE PREZIEN    15/2

          CALIPTO    33/1