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A small but select field, but you can make strong cases for quite a few of the runners. Metier has not run for a while and I spoke with his trainer Harry Fry, who is really keen on his chances. The drying ground is not a problem as he ran to quite a high level on the Flat. His jumping has gotten better with each run and you can’t underestimate him.
The Betfair Hurdle winner Soaring Glory is another with a big chance on drying ground. Willie Mullins’ Appreciate It has long been the ante-post favourite and is unbeaten over hurdles. The drying ground may not suit his chances, but it will suit BALLYADAM, who is good each-way value. He is a strong traveller and made a mistake late on at Leopardstown when beaten by Appreciate It. He can get a lot closer now.
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The 2m speed test for novices has lost a lot of its appeal with the withdrawal of the second favourite Energumene. I really can’t see past Nicky Henderson SHISHKIN to win it.
Allmankind is a very likeable horse. A sort of roll-your-sleeves up type who won’t shirk a battle. He will need to battle now and at Warwick he didn’t jump as well as he had at Sandown previously. He has only one style of going and if his jumping is not slick, he will be picked off easily.
AYE RIGHT as run in the Charlie Hall Chase, finishing placed behind Cyrname, and in the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase, where he was second to Cloth Cap. He ran a blinder in both and he is at the top of the weights now, but this is a race which has been won by exposed horses in the past.
Aye Right definitely on the up and represents really good value in here for his trainer Harriet Graham. Look out for Milan Native. His form is scattered, but he is a previous Festival winner.
The two mares Epatante and HONEYSUCKLE are at the top of the market. I saw something with Honeysuckle last time out at Leopardstown that I didn’t think she was capable of. She is proven at the track and I just hope the ground doesn’t dry up too much for her, because that would be the only negative to her chances of winning.
Epatante was disappointing in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, but was superb at Newcastle before that last November. She is the defending champion and she has been in very good form at home. Her trainer Nicky Henderson has trained eight Champion Hurdle winners. If anybody can get her back in the winner’s enclosure – it’s him.
Goshen is a hard one to figure out as he looked really good at Wincanton and a reproduction of his run in last year’s Triumph Hurdle would give him every chance now. I’m just not convinced that the Old Course at Cheltenham, which is a lot sharper than the New Course, will play to his strengths. Sharjah was placed last year and could be the value to place again.
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ROKSANA won this two years ago when she was lucky as leader Benie Des Dieux falling at the last. She is a much better horse now and sets a good standard. Concertista won the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle here last year over 2m 1f but this is a different test over a 2m 4f trip. Roksana is the one for me.
Dame De Compagnie could be the surprise package as she was a very easy winner of the Coral Cup last season and seems to save her best for this track.
SAINT SAM was second to Zanayhir, who is favourite by for the Triumph Hurdle on Friday, at Fairyhouse in November. Even though he has to carry a lot of weight, Saint Sam is a very smart performer. He is not badly handicapped off his mark and can take advantage. Paul Nicholls is very keen on Houx Gris and he could be the danger to the selection.
GALVIN has moved on from Gordon Elliott’s yard and is now in the care of Ian Ferguson. He is smart and proven at the track, drying ground will also be welcome. He was second at the Festival last year in the Novices’ Handicap Chase to Imperial Aura. I was super impressed with him at the track when he came over last October as he scored in a novices’ chase and he gets the nod.
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