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Paricolor was placed in the first race and that was the only positive to take out of Day 1 of Cheltenham. There are still negatives to take away from it as I picked the wrong David Pipe horse and I mentioned he targets the race. Both of the jockeys riding his horses do ride for Pipe, the winner did have the more experienced and used jockey on board, so that's on me, but I didn't think he was as well-handicapped as my selection.
Mighty Tom was given a strange ride, but I don't think it deserves pelters even though he had the horse 10L off the third horse from the very start. The jockey brought him closer before turning for home and gave him every chance but the horse is a bit of a monkey and clearly doesn't like going through with it when the jockey asked for his effort. Poor effort in total and wasn't even close to winning even when the leader fell at the last. Gold Des Bois was also poor, his jumping wasn't spot on, and he had a wide trip but no excuses as he was outclassed. I expected more from Fathom Two in the opener, but he scoped dirty after the race, so he does have an excuse and will be interesting in his future races.
Cheltenham 12:35 – Knight Of Allen 33/1 (0.5pt EW, Bet365)
I've mentioned in the past that Jane Williams is a trainer to keep an eye on with her juvenile runners as she tends to have at least one or two good hurdles for this age group, every season. This is a big ask on debut, but I think there's optimism to take into this race with Knight Of Allen, that they are willing to chuck him in the deep end on his first start.
Jane and Nick Williams, no longer together as a couple, but when they were training under the same roof they had a few horses run in this race including a 2nd in this race back in 2016 when finishing behind Defi Du Seuil, who turned into a bit of a unit as he progressed. Coo Star Sivola was another runner-up in this race back in 2015 at odds of 25/1, which came on his first start in this country. They had the favourite for this back in 2018, that horse flopped, but it shows that they do like to send what they deem to be good juveniles into this race, so despite this being Knight Of Allen's first race, there are positives to take and at odds of 33/1 or around that, he is worth a few quid EW.
He is a well-bred horse, and is related to some horses who have gained black type with the likes of Galahad Quest, who is still in training with Jane and is owned by the same connections who have Knight Of Allen. Iliade Allen is a half-sister to my selection and she finished 2nd at Cheltenham in a Listed juvenile bumper race in 2022. If you delve a bit deeper into the pedigree he is related to Hermes Allen who was all the talk at the start of last year's jumps season, and the pedigree would suggest the testing surface isn't going to be a concern, which isn't a surprise given that this horse comes from a French background and they all seem to handle soft ground over there.
Cheltenham 1:10 – Strictlyadancer 6/1 (1pt EW, Bet365 5pl)
I put Strictlyadancer as my NAP for the Cheltenham October meeting when he ran in the race he won back in 2021, he didn't manage to win on that occasion but he finished in the places and got going too late in the race. I'm not giving up on him just yet as I think he has a cracking chance of winning this race like he also did back in 2021 when he won at both the October and November meetings. Christian Williams booked Gina Andrews for his last run, she is a great jockey for the Amateur races, but I think he'd like a bit of weight coming off his horse so he's opted for Tim Vaughan's son, Mr Edward Vaughan who claims 7lbs.
The jockey hasn't won a race, which is normally a red flag, but he rode in the Amateur's race a month ago and gave his ride a great chance when leading for most of the race, he got the horse into a nice rhythm but the horse made a mistake at the second last, but if he landed it soundly he would've been pitching for the win. This is going to be a different scenario for the young jockey as Strictlyadancer is a hold-up horse, but with him taking 7lbs off the horse is back on a winning mark of 115 given that he won off 119 in November 2021.
Soft ground will make this a real stamina test and I think that's what he wants, he handles all types of conditions, but knowing he stays a bit further than today's trip, it should bring him into contention when turning for home when the others are starting to tire. Christian Williams is a great target trainer and he would've been disappointed not to have walked away with the win last time out, but this race would've also been on his agenda when mapping out the route for this horse.
Cheltenham 2:20 – Unexpected Party 11/2 (1pt EW, PaddyPower 5pl)
Talking about target trainers, there are few better than Dan Skelton and no matter how much he eases his enthusiasm about his horse getting the win in this with him saying “We hope to see him hit the frame, anything else is a bonus”, I think he knows his horse has a good chance of winning this.
Unexpected Party is my selection for the Paddy Power Gold Cup Handicap Chase, and let's not beat around the bush this is a very tough race to win as the prize money of £90,032 to the winner is a big pot to scoop. However, I do think Unexpected Party does have the minerals to win this and that's not a recency bias due to his win over Knapper's Hill who has since won a Grade 2, I think there is substance to his form of last year.
Hibee was bullish about his chances on seasonal reappearance and he was right to be like that as he was clearly ready to win at Chepstow in the Listed race when beating the Nicholls horse, but I don't think the runner-up was fully revved up for that race, but you can't knock the performance as UP jumped well and won nicely. This has always been a horse I've liked as a chaser and I think I put him up on his first-ever chase start last November at Exeter when he finished as runner-up. Since that run he has improved and I thought his run at the Festival was better than it looks on paper with him finishing 8.5L behind Stage Star and Notlongtillmay was placed in that race too. That race was a farce, there was a pace bias from the front, they didn't go a great gallop and Harry Cobden set the right fraction for his horse, arguably being one of the rides of the Festival, but Harry Skelton held his horse up well off the pace and that was never the place to be for that specific race. He stayed on strongly going past a few beaten horses, but the finishing position doesn't tell the full story.
Today's race should be run at a good gallop as The Real Whacker and Stage Star as well as a couple others will want to force the pace, so I think it might suit a hold-up horse like Unexpected Party to come late and pick up the pieces. Harry Skelton is marmite for me, his tactics and decision-making at the last fences do worry me, but I think this race will be set up perfectly for this horse.
Cheltenham 15:30 – Londonofficecallin 11/2 (1pt)
Eric McNamara sends over a few runners to Cheltenham from Ireland for Saturday, two come in the race prior to this, though they have EW chances I thought his best chance of the day was Londonofficecallin.
This horse has improved a tonne since being bought by the Shrewd owning syndicate ‘In Bounds Syndicate', they've made some great buys in recent times and have gotten themselves plenty of winners on the board. This syndicate is 2/3 when travelling to the UK and they actually had a winner at this meeting last year on the Friday in the opener when Sweet Will won for Gavin Cromwell. This horse has improved from 80 rated to 108 rated but he has to run off 111 as he is out of the handicap for this race. His wins have come at a much lower level than today's race, so there's obvious concerns about the step up, but we saw this happen last year when Tony Martin sent over a low weighted improving horse who had done it's winning in much lower level races, and that horse won by 6L, so I don't doubt the trainer's decision to come over and run him in this race as there is a strong possibility he is still ahead of the handicapper.
He didn't win by much last time out, but I think he did well and had more in the tank than what it looked like. He is a smooth traveller, clearly stays a bit further than today's trip and I think he has a great chance at the bottom of the weights.
Navan 2:40 – Riviere D'etel 13/2 (1pt, PaddyPower)
I was very tempted to put up Dysart Dynamo for this race even though he is 6/4 or slightly shorter, but the more I look at it, is he really that good? If you look at his wins they've all come at novice/beginner level other than his Grade 2 win at Punchestown, but in all fairness that form is hardly Grade 2 standard, even though he was very impressive that day (over hurdles), he's really flattered to deceive at the top level and yeah he's finished in relatively close proximity to El Fabiolo, but he's gone hard from the front and the others in behind are normally cooked from the pace he's set.
With him likely to go off like the Clappers I think it will set it up for Riviere D'etel whose form has fallen off since she burst on the scene as a 4yo chaser a couple of years ago when she managed to win a Grade 2, Grade 3 and pushed Ferny Hollow and Blue Lord to hard-fought wins in Grade 1's. On her day she is a very talented mare, and given that she gets heaps of weight from the horses in this race, apart from Dysart Dynamo, but she still gets 4lbs from that rival, I think she is massively overpriced.
She went close in this race last year and probably would've won if she didn't make a mess of the second last fence, as she stayed on very strongly to push Captain Guiness to the line. She has had a prep run over hurdles over 2m 6f which is evidently too far for her, but it would've blown away the cobwebs and set her up perfectly for a crack at redemption in this race.
Cheltenham - 12:35 pm
33/1 @ Bet365
Cheltenham - 1:10 pm
6/1 @ Bet365
Cheltenham - 2:20 pm
11/2 @ PaddyPower
Cheltenham - 3:30 pm
11/2 @ Bet365
Navan - 2:40 pm