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A competitive handicap hurdle to start proceedings and CORIMER, who was seemingly undone by a significant error in the Greatwood Hurdle last time, still looks fairly treated. He was yet to be asked for an effort when he clouted the fifth, and wasn’t knocked about afterwards once his chance had gone. The handicapper has dropped him 2 lb since and he is well worth another look. Hystery Bere, who proved himself well treated when winning on handicap debut on his return, looks a big danger.
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ICEO won easily on his sole start over hurdles in France and looked a smart prospect when bolting up at Kempton for these connections on British debut over Christmas. He saw the race out much better than mostly Flat-bred types in testing conditions on that occasion, but the timefigure he recorded was excellent, so it is worth taking a high view of the form, and he is strongly fancied to follow up even though the ground will be quicker. Pied Piper, who was useful on the Flat for John Gosden, created a good impression at Punchestown, and rates a big threat.
It is fair to say that OSCAR ELITE’s start over fences hasn’t gone according to plan, but he might well have made a winning debut in this sphere had he not crashed out at the third-last in a novice won by Threeunderthrufive when still looking full of running. He bounced back from a disappointing run to some extent in the Dipper over course and distance last time, but he again had excuses, given he was found to have bled and suffered post-race ataxia. Oscar Elite remains a horse to be positive about over fences, and an opening mark of 137 could well underestimate him. Imperial Alcazar and When You’re Ready look the main dangers in a competitive renewal of the Timeform Novices’ Chase.
FARINET may well appreciate a little more juice in the ground, but he confirmed himself a well-handicapped horse when winning with plenty in hand at Sandown three weeks ago, and the third, Goa Lil, has boosted the form since by bolting up at Newbury. The handicapper has raised him 6 lb in the weights for that success, but the very capable Miss Lucy Turner offsets that rise with her valuable 7 lb claim, and there should be even more to come from Farinet. Spiritofthegames is no doubt hard to win with but he went close in this 2 years ago and is lurking on a dangerous mark.
CHANTRY HOUSE was one of the best novice chasers around last season, meeting with defeat only once in five starts, and notably winning the Marsh Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival before beating Shan Blue by 32 lengths in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree. He returned with a routine success in a listed event at Sandown and started favourite for the King George VI Chase at Kempton but he clearly didn’t give his running, chivvied along almost from the off. It is interesting cheekpieces are added now and, if returned to his best form, he will be incredibly hard to beat. Simply The Betts ran a mighty race on his third start for this yard when second off 153 in a Grade 3 handicap here on New Year’s Day and rates the main threat.
CHAMP is now a 10-year-old, but he remains relatively lightly raced for his age, and he looked as good as ever reverted back to hurdles when making a winning return in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot last month, comfortably getting the better of the reopposing Paisley Park. That was Champ’s first start since undergoing back surgery, but he seemed none the worse for it, and he is fully expected to lay down his Stayers’ Hurdle claims here. McFabulous can build on his reappearance in the Relkeel and give Nicky Henderson’s charge most to think about.
It is an interesting renewal of this Grade 2 and HILLCREST is taken to concede weight all round. He remains unbeaten over hurdles, and took a big step forward when beating a promising type of Nicky Henderson’s over this course and distance on New Year’s Day, impressing with how strongly he stayed on after pecking when jumping the last. He looks a cracking type for novice chases next season, but he can reach higher levels still over hurdles in the more immediate future. Balco Coastal is another exciting prospect and can pose the biggest threat.
This looks a cracking mares’ bumpers and there are lots with chances. NELL’S BELLS pulled well clear in the style of a smart prospect at Carlisle last month, though, so she gets the nod to continue the good run of the Donald McCain and Brian Hughes combination. Willie Mullins won this in 2020 and Nos Na Gaoithe has to be on the shortlist given the yard’s excellent bumper record, while Flirtatious Girl, already a winner at this level, is another to consider.
Cheltenham betting tips:
*All prices are bang up to date with our snazzy widgets, while odds in copy are accurate at time of publishing but subject to change
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