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I feel a little hard done by not to walk away with at least one winner on Thursday. Vincenzo did a lot wrong on his hurdling debut, was keen throughout and Charlie Deutsch didn't opt for cover, instead going three wide all race, and his efforts weakened in the final furlong to finish 3rd. Hardy Fella went off favourite, well-supported on chase debut, didn't jump particularly bad but did jump out to his left at most fences which didn't help and got very tired turning for home. Yellowstone Park jumped like brilliantly for his chase debut, did nothing wrong in the race but his fitness looked to be the issue as he went from going very well to being swamped and going backwards in a matter of strides.
Cheltenham 3:20 – Idalko Bihoue 7/1 (0.5pt EW Bet365, better place terms elsewhere but worse odds)
Coming to Cheltenham on the back of a recent fall on chase debut is far from an ideal prep but there are reasons to believe Idalko Bihoue can overcome that.
Warwick is a track which tests you're jumping, so Nigel Twiston-Davies would've been happy with what he'd have seen from Idalko Bihoue at home to pitch him there on his chase debut. He was well-fancied that day, and they did go off at a quick pace and the fences do come quickly at that track, he jumped a few quite badly and ultimately paid the price, but it's clearly not affected him mentally as I refuse to believe they would send him to Cheltenham in a decent field if he wasn't showing what they wanted to see on the back of that, if anything the experience would have done him the world of good if you can forgive the fall.
A mark of 127 looks workable as he looked like a nice horse at the start of last season before his form tailed off massively. He was a PTP winner, so he clearly can jump a fence. Nigel's form is still rock-solid as it has been since the summer.
Railway Hurricane would be of interest as he ran well here last year but was touched off by a chase debutante, the form of that race didn't work out, so he is vulnerable again to newcomers, but he will travel into the race that's for sure. Atlanta Brave will have a future over fences, I backed this horse on a couple of occasions last year but he just looked like an out-and-out stayer and I'm not sure 2m 4f on his return is what he'll want. He was outpaced in every race he ran in last year and even in some relatively poor novices, but his stamina got him through it, before being off the bridle miles from home at Newbury in a Class 3 race, literally being out of the picture before rallying to get 4th. He was meant to run over 3m on his last start of the season but was pulled on ground too quick (good to soft), so the ground won't be ideal for him today and they clearly see him being better over further hence the entry at Ayr in April over 3m.
Cheltenham 3:55 – Lookaway 11/2 (1pt)
I agree with the trainer's comments on Lookaway and he said that if this horse arrived to this race today on the back of his final bumper run where he won a Grade 2 at Aintree in easy fashion then he'd be a very short price for this, but he hasn't and he was very underwhelming last season over hurdles but I think you can look past that.
Neil King was bang out of form last year, he had his worst season for winners since the 2006-07 season, and to put it into comparison he is already 3 winners away from surpassing last year's winning total so it's safe to say the horses are back in form and he's got them running nicely again. This horse didn't look like the same horse as the one which ran away with the Grade 2 bumper which has turned out to be some very strong form with many in that race turning into very good novice hurdlers. This horse has been given a couple of penalty kicks over the summer, winning at very short odds on two occasions, but it just cemented to me that he can jump very well, which he proved last year despite running extremely badly.
There is a possibility that Jack Quinlan will use the experience advantage that this horse has and let him loose on the front end, he can be keen anyway so it'll probably be best to get him into a rhythm and see if they are good enough to catch him. This doesn't look like a strong Grade 2, and it's more of a Grade 2 in name only. Of course, you've got to be wary with the Irish challenger, as he is a shrewd operator.
Cheltenham 4:30 – Strictlyadancer 6/1 (1pt EW Bet365 5pl)
There's no better jumps trainer on this side of the Irish Sea at targeting a race than Christian Williams, and this race would've been the plan for a long time for Strictlyadancer.
This horse was off the scene for over 600 days before making his reappearance at Chepstow in a very hot handicap where he wasn't given a hard time by Jack Tudor when running out of the handicap and at odds of 50/1. For some of the way he would've been trading much shorter than his starting price as he was creeping into contention, but it would've been a pipe-opener for him and nothing more than that, and I think it was a prep run for this race which he won back in 2021.
Gina Andrews gets her first ride for Christian Williams, and she would've been a very hot jockey for this race as she is one of the best amateur riders in this jumps game but Christian Williams has said to the Racing Post, “We feel he can win a big race this season and we've got a good rider booked in Gina Andrews – I rang her husband up six weeks ago to make sure we could get her.” That gives me plenty of optimism that he is going to run a huge race, and on the back of that Chepstow run, I can see why.
If Christian feels that they can win a big race with this horse at some point in the season it'll mean he'll have to go up in the handicap and winning this will point him in that direction, so I'm expecting a big run, even though it looks ridiculously competitive.
Doncaster 4:37 – Raising Sand 20/1 (0.5pt EW Bet365)
At the age off 11 it's easy to write off Raising Sand and I'm sure many of you will give this one a swerve, but I'm expecting some big odds on this horse and I think he should be able to outrun those odds on today's ground which he relishes in.
This horse has been a great servant to his owners and to Jamie Osbourne, he's had many big days in the sun, especially at Ascot where he won some big handicaps. They wouldn't be running him still at the age of 11 if they didn't think he was capable of winning races still, and he proved that last year when he dropped down to today's mark and managed to win two on the bounce. He was given a break this summer and he came back at Ascot and ran adequately, but at his age he was always going to need that run, and that was on ground too quick for him. His mark dropped 3lbs, and that means he is back on a winning mark at this stage of his career, and when you combine that with the heavy ground that they'll be encountering I think he is an EW player in this.
Cheltenham - 3:20 pm
7/1 @ Bet365
Cheltenham - 3:55 pm
11/2 @ Bet365
Cheltenham - 4:30 pm
6/1 @ Bet365
Doncaster - 4:37 pm