Our resident horse betting expert Andrew Mount gives his yays and neighs for this week’s Cheltenham meeting…
3m1f handicap chase for amateur riders (12.40)
This three-day meeting commences with a 3m1f handicap chase for amateur riders (12.40), in which it could pay to side with last year’s winner WHAT A MOMENT. David Pipe has landed this contest three times in the past six years and 2011 hero Swing Bill repeated his win 12 months later. WHAT HAPPENS NOW, who made most of the running when scoring over course and distance last month, is the obvious danger.
2m handicap chase (1.50)
Last year’s 25-1 winner of the 2m handicap chase (1.50), the Paul Henderson-trained UN BEAU ROMAN, also bids for a repeat success, but it’s stablemate DOITFORTHEVILLAGE who appeals most. The eight-year-old shaped with promise when sixth of 15 in a similar contest over trip and track last month, and his trainer has had this race in mind for some time. The progressive EXITAS, winner of his last three completed starts, has gone up 10lb in the handicap for his impressive Ascot success but is still the chief threat.
The Steel Plate And Sections Novices’ Chase (2.25)
The Steel Plate And Sections Novices’ Chase (2.25) usually falls to a classy individual, and has provided two Ryanair Chase winners – Taquin Du Seuil and Dynaste – as well as Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander in recent years. Nine of the last ten winners were aged six, and it could pay to side with chase debutante DIVINE SPEAR from the Nicky Henderson stable. He hasn’t raced since the spring but has form figures of 121 on his seasonal debuts.
BALLYOPTIC scored on his first four hurdle outings last year and made an impressive start to his chase career when leading all the way at Exeter, where his jumping was foot-perfect. He can follow up in the 3m novices’ chase.
3m3f Grade 3 handicap chase (1.50)
Younger horses have a fine record in the 3m3f Grade 3 handicap chase (1.50), with the last eight winners aged between five and eight. Seven-year-olds have taken five of the last six renewals and Lucy Wadham’s POTTERS LEGEND could be worth chancing at likely decent odds. He finished strongly into mid-division at Chepstow on last month’s return to action and has a good record at this time of year, recording form figures of 211 in November. Last season’s Gold Cup second MINELLA ROCCO has plenty of weight to carry, but fits the age stats and is regarded as the main danger.
Grade 3 handicap chase over 2m4f (2.25)
Saturday’s feature race, the £160,000 Grade 3 handicap chase over 2m4f (2.25), can go to KYLEMORE LOUGH. The eight-year-old was a Grade 1 winner as a novice, but failed to score last term and has since left Kerry Lee for Harry Fry, who has a made a fantastic start to the new season. Nigel Twiston-Davies saddled the winner in 2008 and 2010 and his bold-jumping front-runner FOXTAIL HILL, a game-winner over a shorter trip here last month, heads the list of dangers.
Trainer Kim Bailey had a glut of winners last week and he can land the staying handicap hurdle (3.00) with the reappearing ROCKY’S TREASURE. The six-year-old was unbeaten in handicap hurdle company last term, scoring with any amount in hand at Ffos Las on his most recent outing.
Grade 3 Greatwood Handicap Hurdle (3.00)
The highlight of Sunday’s card is undoubtedly the Grade 3 Greatwood Handicap Hurdle (3.00), which sees Triumph Hurdle winner DEFI DU SEUIL make his reappearance. He has form figures of 1111111 since joining the Philip Hobbs yard and followed up his Cheltenham festival victory with another comfortable win at Aintree. He looks sure to give it a good go but will have to be at the top of his game to concede chunks of weight to some similarly progressive rivals, including the Paul Nicholls-trained AMOUR DE NUIT. The five-year-old recorded a fast time when scoring at Kempton last month and is expected to appreciate the big field and likely strong pace.