IT was a decent start yesterday with winners at 5-1 and 5-4 while 10-1 chance Rahter Be was pipped by a head in the last.
On to Wednesday and here is my race by race guide and selections.
Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (1.30)
Can anything match strides with sizzling Samcro? Punters will need to take short odds if they fancy the Gigginstown ace and there is every chance he will live up to expectations.
His main market rival Next Destination has won all three races this season, twice lowering the colours of highly-regarded Cracking Smart. Willie Mullins would have had a few to choose from for this event and Next Destination is closely matched with Samcro on a collateral formline through Mullins’ Duc Des Genievres. Finished fourth in last year’s Bumper.
Vision Des Flos was impressive at Exeter following a wind operation, while Black Op’s close second to Santini in a muddy slogfest at Cheltenham in January gives him a clear chance if the Irish challenge falters. He’s the e/w play.
- BLACK OP each-way
- (17-2, Betbright)
RSA Chase (2.10)
A crackerjack of a contest with Presenting Percy, Monalee and Black Corton to name but three top-class staying chasers doing battle.
Black Corton and Bryony Frost have been one of the fairytale stories of the season, with Paul Nicholls’ gelding mopping up seven of his eight starts, including two at Cheltenham.
Whether he is good enough to repel the formidable Irish challenge is debatable. Presenting Percy was impressive when landing last year’s Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle and has taken well to fences.
His close second to Gold Cup aspirant Our Duke over a shorter trip at Gowran Park was his marquee performance. There doesn’t appear much between him and Monalee,winner of a Grade 1 at Leopardstown, beating two Mullins horses in Al Boum Photo and Invitation Only. His second to Penhill in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle gives him vital Cheltenham experience.
Ballyoptic comes into the equation on his Exeter run where he beat Elegant Escape and Barney Dwan but may come up short in this company.
- PRESENTING PERCY
- (9-4, Betbright)
Coral Cup (2.50)
William Henry scored a shade cosily in the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton, the form of which is working out a treat with the runner-up, sixth and eighth horses since running very well in defeat. James Bowen takes off 3lb and William Henry has winning course form, coasting to victory in a novice hurdle last April. Cheek-pieces are added for the first time.
Max Dynamite hasn’t been disgraced in Group 1 company on his travels abroad on the Flat but was well beaten in the Galway Hurdle when last seen running over hurdles. He was fourth to stablemate Wicklow Brave in the 2015 County Hurdle off a lower mark than today’s.
Le Breuil is highly-rated by Ben Pauling and hasn’t been sighted since chasing home much-improved Black Ivory at Aintree in early December. This has clearly been his objective for some time and Le Breuil could prove well enough handicapped to take a hand.
- WILLIAM HENRY
- (15-2, Betbright)
Queen Mother Champion Chase (3.30)
Altior will be the backbone of many accumulators and, despite his late injury scare, I don’t intend opposing him. It’s no cakewalk, however, with Douvan and Min serious rivals if Altior is not 100 per cent.
- (Evens, Betbright)
Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase (4.10)
Gordon Elliott could be holding all the aces here, saddling strongly fancied Tiger Roll, Bless The Wings and Cheltenham superstar Cause Of Causes.
However, The Last Samuri would be conceding upwards of 7lb to all his rivals if this was run on a conventional track. Yes, it’s a big ’if’ but he has been schooled over the X-country circuit, and the 2016 Grand National runner-up ran a cracker here in the Betbright Cotswold Chase when a running-on fourth to Definitly Red.
- THE LAST SAMURI
- (6-1, Betbright)
Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (4.50)
Any number of fancied runners and a red-hot betting heat. Nube Negra was talked up at a recent Cheltenham preview and his only defeat in three starts came at the hands of Apple’s Shakira. Nube Negra has since trotted up at Doncaster and Dan Skelton’s gelding looks attractively treated.
Nick Williams has had 10 placed horses from 18 Cheltenham handicap runners and won it with Flying Tiger last year (Diable De Sivola an unlucky 5th).
He saddles Esprit de Somoza and Mercenaire this season; both deserve a close look.
Esprit de Somoza, the mount of Lizzie Kelly, beat 144-rated Gumball quite convincingly at Huntingdon in January and stepped up again at Taunton the following month when chasing home Colin Tizzard’s The Russian Doyen. That horse ran a cracker (sixth) under 11st 12lb in last Saturday big Sandown hurdle won by Sam’s Gunner.
Mercenaire should outrun his huge odds. All three UK runs have come on heavy ground and he will appreciate this drop into handicap company having come up against classy sorts like Vision De Flos at Exeter and We Have a Dream and Sussex Ranger in Grade 1 class at Chepstow in January. Chester Williams takes off 7lb.
I’ll be backing both the Williams-trained runners at e/w prices.
Gordon Elliott could have a well-handicapped horse in Mitchouka, an odds-on winner at Fairyhouse late last month. I doubt we have seen the best of him. Act of Valour is another with scope for improvement and Paul Nicholls has an eye-catching record in this race.
Recommended bet (5.30)
- ESPRIT DE SOMOZA
- (12-1, Betbright)
Weatherby’s Champion Bumper
Blackbow’s victory over Rhinestone at Leopardstown in February appears the strongest form on offer. His subsequent Racing Post rating would be high enough to have won eight of the last 10 Cheltenham bumpers. Willie Mullins’s gelding is the highest-rated bumper horse around, 17lbs higher than last year’s winner Feynoagh. Clearly, Rhinestone is also a player for Joseph O’Brien and JP McManus.
Given Gigginstown’s well-documented aversion to this event, the fact they are prepared to run Felix Desjy has to be a positive pointer. Hood applied for first time.
Best of the home bunch could be Newbury winner Acey Milan, a tough sort with past Cheltenham form.
- (9-2, Betbright)