There’s a fabulous three days of racing coming up at Prestbury Park where we can keep our eyes peeled for clues for the Festival next March.
Lots of the runners who turn up here will be visiting the winner’s enclosure next year and hopefully a few of these selections will be visiting the same spot on Friday!
We start the day with an amateur riders chase at 12.40 and very often it can pay to go with the jockeys from across the Irish sea as the last three winners have been ridden by Irish-based riders. I am going to buck that trend with an accomplished English amateur in Sam Waley-Cohen. The Young Master won the Bet365 Chase at Sandown in 2016 off a mark 13lbs higher than his mark on Friday. He was a good winner at Chepstow last month and the second that day, Traffic Fluide, has won since at Ascot.
The Young Master is the one to be on again.
The 13.15 is a 2m novice handicap hurdle and Nicky Henderson has an interesting French recruit in Dream Du Grand Val. This could be a very shrewd move by the champion trainer to run in a novice handicap on his first UK start, as he was placed in a five-year-old hurdle race at Auteuil on his last start.
It is dangerous to dismiss him and he gets the nod.
Philip Hobbs’ Dostal Phil travelled like a winner at Uttoxeter before finishing second, where he disappointed a little. Connections think a lot of him though.
A Hare Breath in the 2m Handicap Chase at 13.50 won the novice handicap hurdle a few years ago here and has a great record fresh. I am not convinced by how he jumps fences, however. I have no doubt he is the best horse in the race, but you can’t give ground away jumping around Cheltenham.
So I’ll go with Bun Doran. He got narrowly beaten over the stiffer new course here last December when he stuttered over the last couple of fences. He is still reasonably handicapped and can go in here at the expense of A Hare Breath.
The 2m 4f novice chase at 14.25 has been a good race in recent years for horses at the head of the betting and Mr Whipped is one of two runners in the race for Nicky Henderson. Mr Whipped jumps very nicely at home. His season reached a climax when he won at Warwick and he has always been thought of as a chaser. The only concern is that on the quicker ground he may get mugged by a speedier type around this track. He did win over two miles at Kempton first time out last season.
His other runner, Jenkins, has already won a chase when he scored at Stratford last month. He has to carry a penalty for that win and that may just count against him, I would still be really tempted to have a little each-way on him as I think he is too big a price.
The Cross Country Chase at 15.00 sees some previous winners here clashing again. Josies Orders has the best early-season record of stablemates Bless The Wings and last year’s Grand National winner Tiger Roll. I adore Tiger Roll but it’s going to be hard to have him ready to win first time out carrying top weight. For that reason, I am going with the Enda Bolger-trained Josies Orders. This lad loves it round and has only 10st 11lbs to carry as the race is a handicap this year.
Nicky Henderson won this novice hurdle last year with On The Blind Side and relies on Pym in the 15.35. He was beaten at Ascot when carrying a penalty for his Chepstow win but I have to desert my old boss here by siding with Fergal O’Brien’s Coolanly, who was not beaten all that far by Lalor in a graded race at Aintree. A few winners have come from out of that the race including Midnight Shadow who won the Scottish Champion Hurdle for Sue Smith next time and Samcro’s conqueror Bedrock.
He is highly thought of by connections and the trainer did really well with Poetic Rhythm when he campaigned that horse aggressively.