Cheltenham and Doncaster are on ITV this weekend and all of these races are, in a way, trials for the Cheltenham Festival in March.
We kick off at Cheltenham with a handicap chase with lots of familiar names. Lalor is prominent in the betting and, on the back of his really good run last time over course and distance, you can see why.
The worry with him is that he has struggled to back up a good run with another good run and that would be the only concern. Spiritofthegames ran a hell of a race when just getting beaten by warthog in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup in December, and his overall Cheltenham form is strong. He gets the nod.
The Cotswold Chase is a trial for the Gold Cup and Santini has been absent since November, when he struggled to beat an inferior rival, Now Mcginty, at Sandown. He has had wind surgery and is in very good form at home – I watched him jump five fences on Thursday and he was electric. If he is to be a gold cup winner he should be winning this.
Bristol De Mai is higher rated than him and a reproduction of his third place in the Gold Cup last year would see him be a tough nut to crack. Slate House is interesting but you wonder about the form of his win at Kempton.
The Ballymore Novices Hurdle has been the source of a few Festival winners with Wichita Lineman, Bobs Worth and At Fishers Cross.
Time Flies By is interesting here as he looked very green when running at Ascot, but stepping up in trip could be a surprise package. Emmet Mullins sends over Rocket Lad and he is way too big a price – I recommend backing him each-way as none of the others are stars basedon what we have seen of them.
The Cleeve Hurdle has Paisley Park heading the market. You want as a racing fan to watch him win, but at cramped odds that is no fun. The worry for him is the only pace in here is Summerville Boy and he will go steady to try and do what he did last time.
The great thing for Aidan Coleman riding Paisley is that there is a long run from 3 out to 2 out and 2 out to the last. If you ride a hold-up horse like him you want the rest to go flat out and then you weave through them. It will be harder like this but he has overcome It before. Summerville Boy, if allowed to dictate, could be 2nd at a price.
Chief Dan George won this race before I won a grade 1 on him at Aintree. Boss Man Fred jointly heads the market at the time of writing, but has looked vulnerable with his style of racing and Champagne Well has the better form. His 2nd to Thyme Hill reads well and he gets the nod at a track that will suit.
I love Lady Buttons! What an unbelievable horse to be involved with for the owners. She was brilliant when winning over fences last time, but back over hurdles and dropping back in trip will make it tougher.
I really like Floressa in here and she has a lot of speed. I think she will upset the favourite at this track and even the handicapper thinks there is nothing between them. Floressa for me.
The Skybet Chase has Dingo Dollar as favourite and on the back of his run in the old Hennessy he should figure. However, he did the same last year and was well beaten in this.
Burbank will like the track and if you could rely on him he would be the one – but he throws in the odd bad run (hence the blinkers).
Fingerontheswitch travelled really well at Kempton and I just feel at the prices this horse could be a value bet each-way.
If Calipto had run better last time I would be really tempted by him. He is on a decent mark and ran well on much quicker ground last year. Ok Corral is the forgotten horse: he was fav on the build up to the Ladbroke but ran a bit too free. If he finds his mojo we might all look silly not backing him.
Azzerti has been keeping on in his recent races Ascot and Newbury and he could be the one in a trappy contest.