A COUPLE of British horses on my original Cheltenham wish-list, Santini and Kalashnikov, have been struck off due to the equine flu shutdown.
Santini hasn’t run since Boxing Day when beaten by La Bague Au Roi and Topofthegame at Kempton, a track that doesn’t play to his strengths, and he looks a suspect favourite in the RSA Chase.
Soft ground and a serious gallop is what Nicky Henderson’s gelding needs, and I thought he was ridden too far out of his ground when third to Kilbricken Storm in last year’s Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. I like Santini but he has missed his intended prep race and the vote goes to DELTA WORK.
He bypassed a recent engagement but that is less of a concern as he defied a 191-day absence to score at Down Royal in November before beating very useful Le Richebourg at Fairyhouse the following month. Again, Delta Work was most impressive when dismissing a strong field at Leopardstown on December 29 and we know he acts around Cheltenham, having inched out Glenloe in last year’s Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle Final, in the process thwarting a significant gamble on the JP McManus-owned runner-up. Delta Work is currently trading at 4-1 generally, with Paddy Power 7-2 Non Runner No Bet.
Arkle Trophy Chase
The Arkle Trophy Chase is shaping up to be another cracker but confidence is ebbing in last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle runner-up Kalashnikov as he hasn’t been spotted since getting a rear view of Dynamite Dollars at Kempton’s Christmas bash. He was in receipt of 5lb that day and I’d rather be with LALOR.
Kayley Woollacott announced her stable star would go straight to Cheltenham following his lacklustre third to Dynamite Dollars at Sandown in early December. That was a shock to the system but Lalor is probably better going left-handed and he pulverised the opposition in the Arkle Trial at Cheltenham in mid-November, strolling seven lengths clear of Dynamite Dollars. He is 5-1 with Sky Bet NRNB.
National Hunt Chase
The four-mile National Hunt Chase usually goes to one of the betting market front-runners and OK CORRAL is a standout on form. He was runner-up in last year’s Albert Bartlett and has taken the switch to fences in his stride, scoring at Plumpton and Warwick. On the latter occasion he was particularly impressive in disposing of the smart Secret Investor by six lengths and Ok Corral has been kept fresh for a race that is dear to JP McManus’ heart. He is 3-1 with most firms.
Supreme Novices' Hurdle
Nicky Henderson’s Angels Breath has been market leader for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle since laughing at the opposition when making a winning debut at Ascot in December. It didn’t look the most competitive event and he is another connections were keen to get a run into before Cheltenham.
With that in mind, FAKIR D’OUDAIRIES gets the call, although a watching brief is needed with this one. Joseph O’Brien has made a whirlwind start to his National Hunt career and he sent Fakir D’Oudairies to Cheltenham on January 26 for the Triumph Hurdle Trial on the back of a smart Cork success. He duly bolted up at Prestbury Park by 13 lengths from Fine Brunello and Adjali.
Post-race opinion held that Fakir D’Oudairies would be very hard to beat in the Triumph come March but then along came another eye-catching four-year-old, Sir Erec, owned by JP McManus and also trained by young Mr O’Brien. This one disposed of stablemate Gardens Of Babylon with the minimum of fuss at Leopardstown on February 3, form which was made to look rock-solid when Gardens Of Babylon strolled home at Naas last Saturday.
So would they both be running in the Triumph? The betting market has been giving us a clear clue. Sir Erec is currently 13-8 favourite for the Triumph, which points to Fakir D’’Ouvairies targeting the Supreme at odds of around 6-1.