Cheltenham Festival 2014: Pertemps Final Preview and Tips

As always a devilishly competitive compressed handicap that will have the full compliment on race day. Phillip Hobbs has a very strong hand with the two at the head of the market that fought out the finish of the qualifier at Exeter in the form of the classy Fingal Bay and If In Doubt. Fingal Bay is a real classy sort who was a very smart novice hurdler two seasons ago before a failed campaign chasing last year and a slight setback. After fifteen months off the track he returned in excellent style to win at Exeter off a mark of 142. A 6lb penalty for the win means he will be off 148 next week and will carry top weight of 11-12. He was rated 153 as a novice so he is surely still competitive off this mark if back to his best.

If In Doubt is a very lkeable progressive type that has had a good season. A facile victory at Towcester followed by an excellent second to Saphir De Reu in the Lanzarote before finishing half a length behind Fingal Bay at Exeter. He is a strong traveler that will be suited by the big field at Cheltenham. Up 5lbs for the run at Exeter means in effect he gets a 1lb pull with Fingal Bay. In essence they should pass the line together.

Hobbs also has the big improver Champagne West who could run here. He has entries in several races though and I think the Coral Cup has probably been ear marked as the likely target. Whilst we are discussing rapid improvers we should certainly be talking about Trackmate for James Evans. James will be a guest at the Preview Evening on Thursday 6 March, where he’ll be providing attendees with an update. Trackmate firmly went on the radar back in September 2012 when beating On The Bridge in a class 4 contest at Uttoxeter off a mark of 111. It may not have been obvious on the day how nice that piece of form was but On The Bridge went on to win his next four starts and is now rated 140. Trackmate returned to action in October after a break and held on really well to win a qualifier over C&D. Five winners have come out of that race and he has surely been trained with this in mind. Just 5lbs higher, he is a big player and is available as big as 22/1 on Betfair. The nibbling has commenced.

Jonjo O’Neil has an excellent record in the race with three winners in the last ten years and he has a live wire in the form of Josies Orders. Wins at Ascot and Huntingdon have propelled the son of Milan 22lbs up the handicap. He laughed at his rivals last time though and having been given a break since, there is certainly no reason to expect a halt to the progress. Jonjo also has Upswing who I’m convinced is still ahead of his mark. He travelled beautifully in terrible ground at Newbury and was nursed to the lead by a brilliant AP McCoy. This sort of hustle and bustle will really suit him and I expect he will still be on the bridle when plenty are calling for the oxygen tank. He’s currently 41st on the list though, so not guaranteed to get in so if you like him then non-runner, no bet! He is as big as 20/1 in places and that is much too big.

My heart would love to see Lie Forrit run a huge race but my gut feeling is that at ten years old he is handicapped to his best now after two excellent runs earlier in the year. I wouldn’t be surprised though if he is still bang there turning for home.

If there is a lurker in the field there is every chance that it could come in the form of Clonard Lad for Willie Mullins. He had smart bumper form before being forced off the track for three years. One or two pieces of his form do suggest that a mark of 128 could be lenient. It is also very interesting that Ruby Walsh has ridden him on every start over hurdles of which he has only had six runs. The race revolved around him last time when Ruby was clearly trying to help him settle and got caught on the inside. The son of Presenting is currently 51st on the list so needs plenty to come out, but if he did sneak in he will be off just about bottom weight. He also has an entry in the Coral Cup. He is for me a classic Cheltenham conundrum horse in that he is 10/1 with some firms, but 20/1 with others. If he gets in the 20/1 will be a long distant dream on the day!


In such a tight race we could sit here and go through several more of the runners, but I’m confident we may have found the winner above. I like the progressive types in this sort of race compared to the ones that will need a career best. I’ve nibbled at Trackmate on Betfair at big prices, so I hope James gives him a nice mention on Thursday but my main selections would be:

Josies Orders 1pt each way @ 16/1 with Bet365

Upswing 1 pt each way @ 20/1 generally

Follow Mark on Twitter @markagrantham.