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Kissesforkatie shaped like the run was needed when sixth on her reappearance at Lingfield last month but with that run under her belt and with her returning to a right-handed track against her own sex, she has very solid claims off a mark of 125.
She was extremely unfortunate not to win off that mark on her last run of last season and with Harry Skelton taking the ride again, she would look to hold strong claims here in a wide-open mares handicap hurdle.
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Umbrigado, who is only seven years old, had a profitable campaign last season, finishing second in a decent Haydock handicap hurdle off a mark of 139 before going on to win three chases, including The Greatwood Gold Cup at Newbury off a mark of 144.
He found Grade 1 company too hot at Aintree and has been given two runs over hurdles this season to get him to match fitness. He now returns to chasing off a mark just two pounds higher than that Newbury win, while conditions turning testing holds no fears for him either.
Supreme Escape may be 4lbs out of the weights but plenty of his rivals here would prefer if the ground was more testing than it will be in this one. Supreme Escape may have been disappointing over hurdles at Aintree but that was surely just a pipe opener for going back over fences and he was a good winner at Chepstow last March when showing plenty of stamina to win over 3m6f off a mark of 116.
He won’t be inconvenienced by the drop in trip to 3m here and has actually won his last two visits to Chepstow. He is still unexposed with only six starts in total over fences and I would be very surprised if in time he couldn’t rate a good deal higher than a mark of 124, while Evan Williams continues to be among the winners.
Gavin Cromwell has won this Listed Fillies Juvenile Hurdle twice in recent years (with Jer’s Girl and Famous Milly) and there is every chance he can land his third win in the race courtesy of White Pepper. Useful on the flat, she failed to win until her 13th start in that sphere but she was rated 82 after that maiden win in Tramore.
She shaped like the experience wouldn’t be lost on her when fifth on her hurdles debut at Gowran and made no mistake second time over hurdles when slamming Iberique Du Seuil by 13 lengths at Galway. That was on soft ground, so the testing conditions should pose no problems for White Pepper and she might be tough to peg back here if she gets her own way out in front.
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A very interesting renewal of the Many Clouds Chase, with Imperial Aura coming into the race off the back of three non-completions, while Native River is rising 12, Protektorat has stamina concerns on the forecast testing ground and with Simply The Betts completely untested over this trip of 3m1f. Sam Brown has an awful lot to find here on ratings but with the ground likely to be riding on the testing side, he could cause a surprise at a price.
Even though he is nine years old, he has only had nine starts in his career but his trainer, Anthony Honeyball, is quoted as saying that they have finally got a clear run with him coming into this season. He has plenty of ability and relishes testing ground and with questions marks about almost everything in the field, he looks worth taking a chance on.
Chacun Pour Soi may have been disappointing when only third in the Champion Chase last March but I’m not sure Cheltenham is the most suitable track for him and he was a completely different proposition back at Punchestown when he was a wide margin winner of the Champion Chase there, with Nube Negra over 24 lengths back in third that day.
Chacun has only tasted defeat twice in nine starts for Willie Mullins and when he is at his best, he is capable of putting in a monster performance. While he is conceding match fitness to his four rivals here, there is no doubt that if he shows his best he will win. The only issue is his price. It is worth taking a bit of a punt on Chacun to win by five lengths or more and Nube Negra to finish second. Last season in Chacun’s four wins, he won by 19, 6.5, 8 and 5.5 lengths and the track at Sandown will suit his style. I can see Patrick Mullins getting an easy lead here and he will turn the screw leaving the back straight, as it is in that section of the race that Chacun seems to put his races to bed. For that reason, he can cover the five-length distance while for me, there is no doubt that Nube Negra has the second-best form in the race and was quite impressive himself when winning the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham last month. If he can run to that sort of form here, he is the one most likely to chase Chacun Pour Soi home.
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An extremely competitive renewal of the Becher Chase this year but the forecast rain should mean we are looking at testing conditions, which will put a definite emphasis on stamina. Top Ville Ben has had his issues, missing over a year before a disappointing run in a Grade 2 in France, before finding the good ground all against him on his seasonal reappearance in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby.
The testing ground will be right up his street here and it was only two years ago that he turned the normally very competitive Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby into a procession. That was off a mark of 154 and this is four starts later and his first step back into a handicap since and he finds himself 4lbs lower.
It might prove to be the case that he isn’t the same horse since his absence but as a nine-year-old, he could bounce back now dropped in grade with conditions to suit. At a massive price and extra places on offer, he looks well worth an each-way play.
Frank Hickey’s best bets:
12.40 Sandown – Kissesforkatie
12.55 Aintree – Umbrigado
13.22 Chepstow – Supreme Escape
13.30 Aintree – White Pepper
14.05 Aintree – Sam Brown (Each Way)
14.25 Sandown – Chacun Pour Soi to Win by 5 lengths or More and Nube Negra to Finish Second
14.40 Aintree – Top Ville Ben (Each Way)
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