While there is some excellent action going on at Newmarket for the Craven Meeting, Cheltenham is staging it’s last event of the season (excluding the Hunter Chase evening). As usual, the quality is very good and we’ve got some decent jumps action to get stuck into.
2.05 Citipost Novices’ Hurdle (Class 2)
Nicky Henderson bypassed both of the British spring festivals with William Henry and this looks like a golden opportunity to get back to winning ways. He has only won once over hurdles, but his two losses have been a length behind Pingshou and three lengths behind Wholestone, need I say more. That form is obviously extremely strong and as odds on shots go, he deserves to be one.
Azzerti has shown decent form with seconds behind Movewiththetimes and High Bridge, but his win last time out wasn’t very convincing against far inferior opposition and will need to massively improve on that to be involved here. Coastal Tiep has a good bit of form in a Handicap Hurdle at Kempton but again would need a personal best to stand a chance with the favourite.
Blairs Cove has shown ok form in bumpers over in Ireland and has his first run for Dan Skelton, who is in great form. Saying that this a tough ask on hurdles debut. Solighoster looks the overpriced one in the field at 9/1 considering his recent second to Fountains Windfall has worked out very well, with that one winning a handicap at the Aintree festival by a facile eight lengths. In his two races prior to that, Solighoster won by seventeen lengths and fourteen lengths. So in my eyes he is the one to give the favourite the most to think about.
2.40 Silver Trophy Handicap Chase (Grade 2)
Six of these competed in the stable plate at the Cheltenham Festival, including Village Vic who put in three solid efforts round here before disappointing in that race and is again lumbered with top weight, the good ground is also probably not in his favour either. Starchitect performed well finishing fifth but this is only a couple of weeks after his Aintree exploits, which is also the case for Henryville. Voix D’Eau and Art Mauresque are closely matched based on their previous encounters, while Thomas Crapper is in great form and should like the ground.
Emma Lavelle’s yard is in good form and she saddles Casino Markets who hasn’t finished outside the top four in his last seven starts. This however is a huge step up and will need to be better than ever to get involved. Dresden was a long way behind Thomas Crapper at Newbury and has plenty to find, as does Un Beau Roman who has disappointed since a couple of top efforts here at the end of last year. This trip should suit Foxtail Hill better than the two miles at Aintree and if getting his own way in front could be tough to catch.
3.15 Arkells Brewery Handicap Hurdle (Class 2)
A competitive race where a few of these could be well handicapped. River Frost carries top weight and wasn’t disgraced when ninth in the Coral Cup off a mark of 143, that is strong form and he has had a short break. Its’afreebee was third in the Neptune last year but hasn’t been close to that kind of form over fences. If this return to the smaller obstacles brings him back to last seasons form then a mark of 142 is very lenient.
Drumcliff disappointed at Musselburgh after a couple of decent runner up efforts and he has been dropped a couple of pounds and off a low weight should give a good account of himself. The worthy favourite is Divine Spear who’s second last time is a strong form line with the winner going on to run well in a Grade 1 at Aintree. Prior to that he was second to Air Horse One who subsequently went on to finish fourth in the County Hurdle. Only 6lbs higher than that run, he is definitely the one to beat.
Qualando won the Fred Winter as a juvenile and looked to be getting back in the swing of things when second on his first run for Alan Jones behind The Unit who went on to be third in the Top Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree.
3.50 Racing UK HD Sky432 Handicap Chase (Class 3)
Fourth Act has slipped down the weights this season and is beginning to look an attractive proposition off a mark of 129 considering he wasn’t disgraced in a Grade 3 at this track when fourth off 137 in November. If rediscovering that form he could be well handicapped. Any Currency won this race last year but he hasn’t been the same since and age may be catching up with him.
After three consecutive seconds Doing Fine will be looking to go one better for Neil Mulholland. He’s off the same mark as last time out when he was top weight and being one of the only ones in form in this field must have a great chance. Azure Fly didn’t respond well to the blinkers last time but was very consistent before that, his mark hasn’t moved much and may find one or two better again.
Troika Steps has only completed once of his last four starts which is a worry, but prior to that he ran a brilliant race at this track off 1lb higher than this mark. Fergal Mael Duin will need to put three poor starts behind him to figure and Millicent Silver is in good form based on her recent runs but all her winning has been done on soft and heavy ground.
4.25 Safran Landing Systems ‘Confined’ Handicap Hurdle (Class 3)
Pillard finished midfield in the Fred Winter last year but is still a maiden under rules. His mark seems fair and if improving for this marked step up in distance, could be a major player. Mckenzie’s Friend has slipped drastically down the weights since his opening mark of 130 and could get involved if running up to the form of his last run behind some decent opposition at Wincanton, blinkers are reached for and if having the desired affect he could be well handicapped.
Max Forte ran out of steam on soft ground last time so hopefully on this sounder surface he will be able to see out the trip. His only win has come on good ground which bodes well. Since winning off this mark last year The Artful Cobbler has struggled off higher marks, but if rediscovering some old form he could be a real danger. First Fandango has been out of sorts for a while now, he showed a bit of improvement last time at Newbury in finishing second and if building on that can go close. His last win was off 28lbs higher than this and with the services of Richard Johnson if he doesn’t go close here then I think he’ll struggle in the future.
5.00 Weatherite Novices’ Chase (Class 2)
The standout in this field is clearly Marracudja, who has been behind Altior twice this season before breaking a blood vessel in a Grade 2 last time. He has had a bit of time off since then and if there are no ill effects, he’s undoubtedly the one to beat. The good ground should suit him and he won at the track in October, so there are no worries there.
Next in the betting is Mick Thonic for Colin Tizzard. He finished midfield in the Grand Annual last time but that was his first run for four months. If back to the form of his second around here on his first run for the stable back in October then he must be in with a great chance. He was behind Shantou Village who is a high class animal, so on that basis he should give the favourite something to think about in receipt of weight.
Aminabad and Deadly Approach both look up against it on these terms but have both won decent enough races this season. If either of the top two don’t turn up then preference would be for the former, as his beating of Two Taffs has worked out well with that one going on to run a decent race at the festival.
5.30 Cheltenham Pony Racing Authority Graduates’ Handicap Hurdle (Class 3)
On paper this looks like a really good race with some well handicapped horses. The form of Copain De Classe’s recent victories could not look any more appealing. He beat Shantou Rock comfortably who has since gone on to win by huge margins. Paul Nicholls’ charge then got the better of Azzuri last time who is rated 132 and was third in a Grade 1 at Aintree last year. The trainer is in superb form and I will be disappointed if Copain De Classe isn’t in with a chance jumping the last.
Poker School has racked up three wins this season but hasn’t been seen since December. A winner over hurdles and fences towards the end of last year, a mark of 130 could be lenient given that he is clearly improving and his last chase win has been given a huge form boost with the third winning four on the bounce since then, including a Grade 1 at Aintree.
Red Tornado won five in a row last season but his mark suffered as a result, but he looked to be finding his feet again last time at Taunton and clearly likes this time of year. Lithic struggled in a Grade 3 last time and this mark looks high enough while Silverhow is a half brother to Altior, unfortunately he doesn’t have the same level of ability and has a lot to do against some well handicapped opponents.
Citipost Novices’ Hurdle (2.05PM, Wednesday 19th April): 1pt Forecast 4-3 (9/2 general)
Cheltenham Pony Racing Authority Graduates’ Handicap Hurdle (5.30PM, Wednesday 19th April): 1pt win Copain De Classe (11/4 general)