There’ll be a lot more clues in evidence on Saturday at Cheltenham and Doncaster as the Festival jigsaw starts to take shape.
We kick off at Cheltenham on Saturday, where the chases are run early because of the threat of a low setting sun later in the afternoon meaning fences will have to be bypassed. I was at Ascot when Janika got beaten by Hells Kitchen, who slipped the field and couldn’t be pegged back. With that run under his belt now,
Janika will take a bit of stopping.
The one to keep an eye on in the market is Oldgrangewood who is making his seasonal bow. He has some good form for the Skelton team and market support would make him an interesting contender. Definitely one to keep an eye on whatever he does on Saturday.
You can go around in circles trying to work a race like this – and that’s what happened to me!
Frodon is the obvious choice even the handicapper has him well ahead of his rivals on ratings in this contest. I’m not convinced, even though he loves Cheltenham. If this becomes a slog he may get run out of it, late on.
Terrefort was odds-on to beat Elegant Escape at Sandown, but flopped. He did win some Grade 1 races last year though and Elegant Escape was a long way behind him at Aintree.
Colin Tizzard’s runner was a good second in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury and went on to win the Welsh National. He is a genuine stayer. The handicapper was impressed with Valtor at Ascot, but was it a fluke?
Until he backs that up with another smart performance, there’s always a doubt in your mind.
I’m going to go for some value and plump for Minella Rocco in a tricky contest.
He would be even more of a player, if he had a run this term.
There’s no doubting Minella Rocca’s class, but his completion rate is poor. However, he has had a wind operation and that could help him get back to the form that saw him finish runner-up in the 2017 Gold Cup.
Birchdale has only had one start under rules and that was a comfortable win at Warwick, where he beat stablemate Clarendon Street.
While not hugely impressive, he did quicken away very nicely when asked. The form of the race is strong and a few of the beaten horses that day have come out and won since.
Brewinupastorm was behind Champ in the Challow Hurdle, but the race wasn’t run to suit him. The Fergal O’Brien-trained Jarveys Plate improved for the step up in trip last time and should be taken seriously, but Birchdale should really be winning this.
The each-way bet in this race is Wholestone who was second in this last year to Agrapart, who also runs again.
Looking at the line up they will go hard from flag fall and it will turn into a real test of stamina. While he was beaten last time out by Midnight Shadow, who again re-opposes, that was over 2m 4f.
If you knew for sure that Midnight Shadow will stay the extra half a mile on Saturday , you would be confident of his chances but that’s not guaranteed.
For me Wholestone looks the value play.
There’s a small field for the 3m novices hurdle but the top two in the market, Commodore Barry and Truckers Lodge, have previous form against each other when the former came out on top at Worcester last year.
However, over this longer trip, Paul Nicholls’ Truckers Lodge can turn the tables.
Lady Buttons has been a superstar for her connections and has been found an ideal opportunity here to extend her winning streak.
The biggest obstacle in her way here is one that we have backed with success before – Chica Buena. I’m sticking with her to do us another favour, given the ratings and the fact she gets weight off all the other runners.
Keith Dalgleish’s runner could spoil the party for the favourite.
The 3m handicap chase sees Dingo Dollar at the top of the market. Alan King’s horse ran a career best when third in the Ladbrokes Trophy and hasn’t been raised by the handicapper for that effort. The runner-up Elegant Escape (runs at Cheltenham 2.25pm) went on to win the Welsh Grand National. Dingo Dollar has already won around this track and he is a worthy favourite.
The one i prefer though is Warriors Tale. He was narrowly beaten in the race last year and even though he is slightly higher in the ratings for his Grand Sefton win at Aintree last month – he has to go close. O O Seven and Go Conquer are closely matched on previous runnings and there is very little between them.