12:10pm – Fire Dancer 2pts win @ 7/2
12:40pm – Delta Work 1pt win @ 5/2
3:00pm – Dashel Drasher 1pt win @ 3-1
11:40am – Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 2) (Registered at The Finesse)
Eight are set to go to post in this Triumph Trial run over 2m1f. Irish-raider Comfort Zone currently heads the market following a recent win at Chepstow over Dixon Cove. Prior to his trip to Wales, he was a good third to Lossiemouth in a Grade Three after a maiden win on soft ground. He should cope with a significant ease in the ground but is versatile enough to handle drying conditions too, and is certainly a big danger in this field. The aforementioned Dixon Cove should be suited to slightly better ground conditions but may struggle to reverse form with Comfort Zone.
Jupiter Du Gite was a shock winner on debut for Gary Moore when he demolished the field on the deep Newbury track at a big price. He could back up that run with another good performance here but is still a big unknown, with many in behind underperforming when he was last seen, especially once one of the favourites for the Supreme, Jet Powered.
Ben Pauling’s yard has been in tremendous form this season and they’re represented by one of the outsiders of the field, 60,000 guineas purchase Active Duty. He has only been seen once over hurdles when finishing third at Ludlow following a winless career on the flat. Much more will be needed from him if the young gelding is to have any chance of being competitive in this field.
One to keep an eye on is Milton Harris’ Scriptwriter. Already a strong fancy to outrun his current odds of 16/1 in the Triumph at the Festival, and potentially be the best of the British, as mentioned in The Conditional’s Cheltenham Festival 2023: Antepost Bets, he already has course form following his Grade Two win here at the November Meeting.
The gelded son of Churchill is out of a Pivotal mare and, following a useful career on the flat, without quite reaching the heights expected of him at Ballydoyle, he has a perfect record at his new yard so far with three successful runs. He showed his versatility when carrying top weight to victory over 1m4f at Wolverhampton last month and his previous course form could see him gain an advantage over his rivals. The main concern is the ground as it’s currently described as soft. The forecast at Cheltenham is dry and perhaps it may not be too testing at off time, allowing Scriptwriter to run well enough to throw his name into the hat for the main event at the Festival.
12:10pm – Novices’ Handicap Chase (Class 2)
Venetia Williams’ interesting new recruit Fire Dancer is the market leader in the second race on Cheltenham’s bumper card. He will have needed the run at Ludlow on his first outing in over two years and first run following a wind operation and will likely be much sharper this time out. Off a mark of 120, 6lbs higher for his recent win, he could still be fairly well-handicapped and looks the bet of the race at the weights. The yard has been quiet with most of their recent runners being well beaten, but Fire Dancer could provide a much-needed success for the Aramastone Stables.
Top-weight Stage Star doesn’t appear to excel on soft ground although he has been victorious on testing ground in the past. He didn’t enjoy himself when lining up in the Ballymore last season when the ground was incredibly deep and the rain continued to pour down. Whilst he can certainly be forgiven for that run and has recorded two wins so far this season, this is a tougher test carrying a hefty weight and there may be better alternatives.
Datsalrightgino steps back up in trip over a distance he has struggled to stay at this track in the past. He is off the same mark as when he disappointed last time out and, whilst he should give a better showing, he does have stamina to prove. Llandinabo Lad is winless in three starts over fences to date and is another who must prove he stays the extra distance.
A horse that doesn’t appear well-handicapped is Unexpected Party who last won off a 10lbs lower mark. His current rating of 140 gives him a tough task as he has shown little since being given a 12lbs rise by the handicapper when last victorious twelve months ago. He is perhaps one to consider in future races off a more workable mark.
Malinello could be the biggest threat to the favourite. He is an interesting runner who is unexposed over this trip as a chaser. On chase debut he won over a trip just shy of three miles before finishing third behind Tea For Free recently at Newbury. In his last run he made a bad mistake at the last and has been dropped 1lbs for it. He is a horse that could show tonnes of improvement and appears a decent price at his current odds of 9/1.
12:40pm – Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase (Class 2)
Delta Work battled hard to beat the incredible Tiger Roll to success in the Cross Country at last year’s Cheltenham Festival and continued his good form with an impressive third in the Grand National at Aintree. The ground was significantly better at the Liverpool track which shows Delta Work’s versatility in regards to the ground, suggesting that the current Good To Soft description ahead of Saturday’s race should be to his liking. Amateur jockey Rob James is good value for his 7lbs claim onboard the strong gelding and the half-a-stone taken off his racing weight should allow him to reign victorious in perfect preparation for the main target in March.
An obvious danger in the field is Singing Banjo, a cross-country specialist who was unlucky to be narrowly denied by Delta Work when the pair met at Punchestown in November. The runner-up on that day is much better off at the weights here, carrying a 10st 3lbs, rated 135, with jockey Barry Walsh taking 7lbs off. Delta Work could be much better for that pipe opener, but is a different test as a handicap and Singing Banjo must come into consideration.
Popular grey mare Snow Leopardess ran a strange race at Sandown in the Veterans’ Handicap and did well to finish seventh having been pushed along early on and never looking comfortable. She is much better than she has shown in recent runs and a return over cross country fences could allow her to enjoy her racing more and put in a better showing, however it’s likely she will need much softer ground to be seen to her best.
An interesting horse in the race is the enigma that is Easysland. His career hasn’t panned out the way many expected following his win over Tiger Roll in the Cross Country in 2020. He was rated 152 when victorious at the Festival but is winless since and is now rated 22lbs lower, 37lbs below his career high mark of 167. If he is to rediscover some of his previous form, then surely such a low mark gives him the best opportunity to do so. In four of his last six runs he has been pulled up and practically tailed off in the other two and if going solely on his form he should be a big outsider in this field. However, he is now as short as 10/1 having already received some market support and did seem to enjoy himself more than he has in a while when he lined up here on the first day of the year.
1.20pm – Clarence House Chase (Grade 1)
A better field size than anticipated line up in this year’s Clarence House Chase. With the rearranged contest now taking place at Cheltenham rather than Ascot, there are six runners in contention as opposed to the three expected when racing was abandoned a few weeks ago.
Energumene is the odds-on favourite to go one better than when finishing second to Shiskin in last year’s renewal and it’s difficult to make a case against the Irish-raider who looks set to extend his unbeaten run to four successive wins. Barring his defeat to Shiskin last season he is unbeaten over obstacles, with his only defeat coming on his debut under rules when beaten by Joshua Webb in a bumper. Since then he has been spectacular, recording four Grade One successses and looks set to be a strong favourite to retain his Champion Chase crown in March.
It is worth remembering that his two main rivals failed to complete when he last lined up at Cheltenham as Shishkin was pulled-up and Chacun Pour Soi unseated his rider.
If Edwardstone is on a going day it could be the toughest test Energumene has faced at Prestbury Park. Alan King’s nine-year-old gelding was an impressive winner himself at the track last March when beating a field that included the likes of Gabynako, Blue Lord and Haut En Couleurs to win the Arkle Novices’ Chase. He is an exciting horse for connections but at this stage in his career he is less reliable than the favourite and must prove himself.
Course and distance winner Editeur Du Gite has been supplemented and may well be the best of the rest. He showed great tenacity to win the Desert Orchid Chase having made the running, but it may have been a different result had Edwardstone and jockey Tom Cannon’s partnership remained intact. Regardless, Gary Moore’s likeable gelding was deserving of his Grade Two success and as we saw at Kempton, anything can happen during a race.
1.50pm – Handicap Chase (Grade 3)
A competitive field of horses are set to battle it out in this Grade Three Handicap run over an extended 2m4f. Fugitif was last seen winning emphatically at Chepstow over the festive period and finds himself at the top of the market here despite being given a 10lbs rise by the handicapper. He runs off a career high mark of 143 which makes it tougher, but he is in good form and if he is able to replicate his previous run he will be in contention.
Il Ridoto is 1lbs lower than when fourth over course and distance earlier this month but he has stamina to prove over this trip. The step up in trip could have been to blame for the below par performance by Your Darling last time out Kempton but, whilst he is a horse to keep on side, he may not be suited by the softer ground expected at the track on Saturday.
Phoenix Way was well beaten by Fugitif and finished behind Silver Hallmark at Chepstow but is capable of reversing form with the latter and is one to consider from an each-way perspective. He last won twelve months ago off a 2lbs lower mark and does have potential off his current rating of 142 with Kevin Brogan onboard.
Cheltenham specialist Coole Cody is a fan favourite but this may not be his main target and he is perhaps best watched and instead backed antepost for the Plate in March for which he is currently priced at 40/1. A good run here in defeat could perhaps see him being dropped a couple of pounds by the handicapper, allowing him to run off the same mark as when victorious in the Plate last year. That could be the plan for the twelve-year-old hero, who never knows when he’s beaten and always shows great heart and a real will to win.
SimplyThe Betts is 4lbs lower than his last winning mark, with David Maxwell taking 3lbs off his racing weight, which gives him a chance but will need to give a much better showing of himself than he has so far this season.
Dan Skelton is doubly represented by two horses who both are capable of much more than the level at which they are currently performing. Spiritofthegames is winless since 2018 and is 1/23 over fences. That wouldn’t instil much confidence in potential backers but he often runs well enough to be treated with caution by the handicapper, being dropped no more than a few pounds a time following his defeats. He doesn’t show the determination required to really put in a threatening challenge during the closing stages of a race, often despite running well for a long way.
On many occasions he weakens and fades tamely but he does possess ability and is a decent each-way price at 20/1. Perhaps Saturday will finally be his chance to claim the plaudits but if not it’s likely he’ll be the one plodding on at the end, perhaps doing enough to earn a finish amongst the places.
Stablemate Allmankind is 11lbs lower than his last winning mark when he was successful in the Grade Two Old Roan at Aintree last season. He appears a shadow of the horse who beat the likes of Itchy Feet, Fanion D’Estruval, Nuts Well and the late, great, winner of the Paddy Power Gold Cup, Midnight Shadow. A resurgence seems unlikely and he is the outsider of the field at 33/1.
2.25pm – Cotswold Chase (Grade 2)
The top two in the market are difficult to split in this year’s renewal of the Cotswold Chase. Protektorat was efficient in the Grade One Betfair Chase at Haydock, a race made poorer by the lack of form shown by A Plus Tard who has since been found to have had some issues. Regardless, Protektorat still had to beat three capable rivals in Eldorado Allen, Frodon and Haydock specialist Bristol De Mai who found the drying ground not to his preference on the day. He won well, beating the field by eleven-lengths in comfortable fashion and is a horse capable of showing plenty of further improvement ahead of an expected second attempt at the Gold Cup.
Grand National winner Noble Yeats showed a magnificent turn of foot to pull clear of his rivals in the Many Clouds Chase when last seen. That run puts him in contention here and it will be intriguing to see who does come out on top between the two eight-year-olds.
Away from the favourites there could be some value to find in one of the older statesmen, Frodon.
The eleven-year-old former King George VI Chase winner has built a wonderful partnership with jockey Bryony Frost over the years and has captured the hearts of many fans with his incredible jumping and his determination. If he is able to get into a nice rhythm out in front he could be difficult to peg back, as his ability to glide over fences often allows him to gain an advantage on his rivals.
Ahoy Senor will be keen to ensure that Frodon does not get his own way out in front, although connections could adapt their tactics to try and gain some cover in an attempt to get their stable star to settle better in the early stages of the race. His keenness and tendency to race freely often lets the clearly talented Ahoy Senor down, as he can then empty in the latter parts of a race when his energy has been used up. At his best he is capable of being a top-quality chaser, but his jumping must improve and he could perhaps benefit from an easier assignment in order to provide him with confidence over fences once again.
3.00pm – Cleeve Hurdle (Grade 2)
Warm favourite Paisley Park is the likeliest winner and perhaps the classiest horse in this race. He has been a top staying hurdler for many seasons and now, as an eleven-year-old, he still possesses plenty of ability. However, he often allows his rivals to gain a significant advantage and can be off the bridle early on in his races. His biggest strength is his speed as he can quicken and stay on well in the closing stages of a race.
The problem is he often has to make up a lot of ground on the horses ahead of him and he may struggle to peg back a horse like Dashel Drasher. Paisley Park was narrowly beaten by Champ in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury, having come from the rear of the field. When the pair met at Kempton, Paisley Park reversed form with Champ back in third and Goshen splitting them in second.
Dashel Drasher represents a completely different test. He is a horse who enjoys to front-run, but whilst Champ tends to stay on at one pace in the final furlongs, Dashel Drasher is often able to stay on with more speed and determination. If Paisley Park does find himself with plenty to do turning for home, it could be tricky for him to make up so much ground on Dashel Drasher coming up that Cheltenham hill. Jeremy Scott’s star also receives 6lbs from the favourite and could be the biggest danger in this field.
The decision to revert Gelino Bello back over hurdles seems wise as, although he is 2/3 over fences, he hasn’t looked like the most natural chaser and may have been found wanting in tougher races over the larger obstacles.
Botox Has was disappointing last time out, fading quickly and becoming detached from the field when unable to go with the pace. A step back up in trip is likely to suit but he may be worth watching in this hot contest.
3.35pm – Novices’ Hurdle (Registered As The Classic Novices’ Hurdle) (Grade 2)
Henri The Second did well to win a Grade Two at Sandown in similar race conditions but does have to give weight away to his rivals here. He is a progressive horse who could be capable of showing much improvement. He’ll face stiff opposition in the form of hat-trick seeking Pembroke who has obvious claims up in trip.
Another worthy of consideration is Syd Hosie’s Rock My Way, who gave Weveallbeencaught a fright at the track on New Year’s Day. He was sent off at 66/1 and stayed on well at the finish, showing plenty of promise as the first two home pulled twenty-three-lengths clear of the field.
4:10pm – Handicap Hurdle (Class 2)
Might I is 7lbs higher than when third in the Grade Two Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle and went on to finish second to Three Stripe Life in the Grade One Mersey Novices’ Hurdle in his following run. His last run may have been too stiff a stamina test when appearing on soft ground at Haydock and he may be worth another chance off a mark of 142.
The drop back in trip could suit Dan Skelton’s Pikar, now 1lbs lower than when last seen over 2m4¼f Newbury. He has previously been seen finishing fifth behind Jonbon, four-and-a-half-lengths behind Might I when the pair met carrying level weights. Pikar will carry 10lbs less than his rival here, putting him in with an excellent chance of reversing form if replicating the form shown at Chepstow in October.
The progressive Punctuation bids for a five-timer off a career-high mark of 129 for Fergal O’Brien and is one for the shortlist.