We begin today’s mammoth nine race ITV4 bonanza at Cheltenham with a Grade 3 handicap chase and thirteen runners to work our way through. Saphir Du Rheu was a top class hurdler and won his first two over the larger obstacles but has largely disappointed since and fell last time out so doesn’t look to be one to put the utmost of faith in.
Shantou Flyer arrives on the back of an impressive course and distance victory where he beat a couple of today’s rivals. He has been raised 7lbs but has an excellent record both over todays’ trip and at Cheltenham and looks sure to be in the mix.
Aso is another hit with a 7lbs rise for a win last time out but would perhaps prefer more testing conditions and is yet to win in four attempts at Cheltenham, while Walk In The Mill has won his last two and has made the frame in seven of his nine career runs to date but has been upped a huge 12lbs so preference is for Thomas Crapper.
Robin Dickins’ ten year old was only fifth behind Shantou Flyer last time out but meets his rival with a 9lbs swing and is now 3lbs below his last winning mark. He should appreciate the expected better ground conditions and has ran some excellent races at Cheltenham in the past, winning twice and placing three times from twelve runs. With winning form over the trip an good course form to boot he looks a decent each way option in a competitive opening to today’s tv races.
Thomas Crapper (E/W if 9/2+)
Our first visit to Doncaster sees ten go to post for a Grade 2 over three miles, with seven of the ten runners arriving on the back of a win last time out. Happy Diva has been very impressive in recent weeks, following up an effortless eighteen length victory at Fontwell on Boxing Day with a similarly impressive display when upped to three miles at Wetherby eleven days later. Today’s race is an obvious step up in class but Kerry Lee had a lot of success around this time last year with big Saturday winners so here runner can’t be dismissed here.
Nicky Henderson has a 47% winning strike rate in the last three years with his runners over hurdles at Doncaster and he sends unbeaten Constantine Bay in an effort to maintain this record. He won on debut, beating five subsequent winners, and was a convincing winner when last seen at Chepstow earlier this month. He takes a step up in class, a step up in distance and has so far only encountered soft and heavy ground so with three possible unknowns he is passed over today.
Paul Nicholls also has an excellent record with his runners here at Doncaster with six winners from fourteen in the last twelve months and also sends an unbeaten runner for this race. Give Me A Copper has won a point-to-point, a bumper, and opened his account for the yard with a fourteen length victory at Exeter in December. With no concerns over stamina and impressive victories to date he is the selection here.
Give Me A Copper (WIN)
We return to Cheltenham for the third live tv race, with a Willie Mullins trained hot favourite at the head of the market and just seven scheduled runners meaning just two places on offer. Un De Sceaux won this race last year and returned this season with an impressive victory in the Tingle Creek in December. He will likely be in many multiple bets across the land and in truth should be too strong for his rivals here, yet odds of around 8/15 mean I am forced to look for a bit more value.
Many will opt for Special Tiara as the obvious choice to chase home the favourite and with Grade 1 victories next to her name its not difficult to see why. However, since taking up chasing she has finished third more than twice as many times as she has finished second and in five runs at Cheltenham her best finishing position is third, so with this in mind its worth looking elsewhere.
Top Gamble has an excellent record over fences having won six and making the frame in four from a total of thirteen runs. He seemingly prefers softer ground so connections will likely be hoping for plenty of rain and is another who has had a few runs here at Cheltenham with third being his best result so is another passed over today.
Instead I am opting for Uxizandre who, although is returning from a near two year absence, was last seen winning the Ryanair Chase in 2015 and has an excellent record at Cheltenham with two wins and a second from three runs. Furthermore, jockey Barry Geraghty was on board for his course and distance success and has a 58% winning strike rate when riding for Alan King over the last twelve months so looks worthy of a small each way play against the short-priced favourite.
Staying at Cheltenham we have another hot favourite and just two places up for grabs. We also have two returning winners as Many Clouds once again locks horns with Smad Place. May Clouds won this race in 2015 but these positions were reversed last year with Smad Place winning by twelve lengths. Smad Places’ trainer Alan King has the better recent form and has the better record at Cheltenham, however slight preference of the two would be for Many Clouds given his victory on re-appearance at Aintree in December.
Silviniaco Conti was only four lengths behind Thistlecrack in the King George when last seen and has an excellent record over the trip but always seems to disappoint at Cheltenham, while Kylemore Lough proved himself at Grade 1 level with a victory in the Ryanair Gold Cup Novice Chase at Fairyhouse last March but is yet to prove he stays this trip so with no stand out each way option we return to the heavy favourite Thistlecrack.
Colin Tizzard’s early Gold Cup favourite is unbeaten since going over the larger obstacles and has improved his jumping with each of his four chase victories, proving himself at the highest level with a win in the King George on Boxing Day. He has an excellent record at Cheltenham and has won six from seven over the trip so despite the short odds cannot be opposed.
Enda Bolger has an excellent record in cross-country chases at Cheltenham, having won the cross-country race at the festival five times since its inception in 2005, so any runner he sends to these races requires plenty of respect. He sends two here today with Cantlow at the head of the market and Auvergnat available at at early each way odds. Cantlow is proven over course and distance and has won his last two but has a 7lbs rise to contend with and at the prices my preference is for Auvergnat who ran an excellent race when just five lengths behind Cantlow, on what was his first attempt on a cross-country track, when third over course and distance in December. With that experience under his belt and improvement likely, he looks to be the one to follow.
Valadom has made the frame over course and distance and could have a slight fitness advantage over some rivals having finished a respectable second in a hurdle race at the start of the month. He has made the frame in one from three over course and distance and completed all three, although in truth was never troubling the leaders and looks more likely to be battling for minor honours.
Cause Of Causes has a good record here at Cheltenham but has disappointed since winning the Kim Muir at the festival last year while Any Currency is also respected but at fourteen years of age isn’t getting any younger.
Auvergnat (E/W if 9/2+)
Another race with a Willie Mullins short priced fave, this time Vroum Vroum Mag. The eight year old had looked unbeatable over both hurdles and fences and over any trip from two to three miles before being out-battled by a race-fit Apples Jade on seasonal re-appearance at Fairyhouse in December, however looked back to her best when winning the Christmas Hurdle later on that month. Today’s race looks easier on paper and the drop back to two miles shouldn’t cause any problems but the bookies have her priced up accordingly which means she isn’t really a betting proposition.
Instead we will opt for Coillte Lass who is unbeaten in three since joining Paul Nicholls and was a ready winner of a listed contest at Taunton when last seen. She looks to have both the strongest form and progressive profile of the rest of the field and therefore is taken as an each way option with five runners meaning a second placed effort should pay more than backing the favourite to win.
Midnight Jazz is also worthy of a mention having won on only previous visit to Doncaster and has made the frame in eight from ten over a two mile trip.
Coillte Lass (E/W)
This looks to be a fascinating renewal with a number of runners looking to have good chances here. Alan King has won this race three times in the last five years, twice returning odds of over 10/1, so his entry Keep In Line is an interesting runner. A winner of his first two races over hurdles, he has since ran well in defeat in a couple of Grade 2’s and wouldn’t need too much improvement to get involved.
Elegant Escape showed great battling qualities when winning his first two over hurdles although was outclassed in a Grade 1 last time out, while William Henry returned from an eighteen month absence with an excellent second here at Cheltenham in December and followed up in convincing fashion with a seven length victory on New Years Eve but is unproven over this longer trip.
Kimberlite Candy and Topofthegame both step up in class looking to keep their respective unbeaten records intact, with preference of the two being for Tom Lacey’s Kimberlite Candy, but in such a competitive looking Grade 2 race I am opting for Wholestone who has won over todays’ trip, has won two from three at Cheltenham and is proven at this level having won a Grade 2 when last seen in December.
Wholestone (E/W if 9/2+)
Ballyboker Breeze has won four from seven over similar trips to what he encounters today and since falling on debut has since finished in the first three places in all ten runs. He has won two from three over fences since joining Nicky Richards and looks to be progressing well so looks a decent each way option at early double figure odds.
Early favourite Bigbadjohn won a point-to-point earlier in his career so there should be no concerns over stamina. He has won one and placed once from three since going over fences and looks sure to be in the mix however early prices of around 4/1 look a little short considering the opposition.
Southfield Royal won over course and distance in a Grade 2 in December 2015 and has made the frame in 60% of all runs over a three mile trip. He hasn’t been seen since April 2016 but has won on return from a break in the past and with Neil Mulholland firing in the winners in recent weeks his mount is respected.
A final mention must go to Ziga Boy who won this race last year and has made the frame in all three previous runs over course and distance. He is 4lbs higher here and it does look a slightly tougher race but even so he cannot be entirely discounted.
Ballyboker Breeze (E/W)
We finally arrive at the last of an incredible nine races live on ITV4 and get to see the Harry Fry trained Uknowwhatimeanharry once again take on Nigel Twiston-Davies’ runner Ballyoptic. They have locked horns twice in the last couple of months with Uknowhatimeanharry emerging victorious on both occasions. Unbeaten in seven races since joining the Fry yard and seemingly improving with each run, the nine year old is once again taken to come out on top especially when considering Ballyoptic has fallen twice in his last three runs.
Kotkikova could only manage fifth in the Christmas hurdle but that was his first run since April 2016 and that race has since produced the first, second and third in a Grade 2 at Gowran Park earlier this week so the form looks pretty strong. He has won ten of his thirteen career runs so obviously has a lot of ability and should be fitter for his comeback run so looks a decent each way option at early double figure odds.
Of the remainder, Old Guard has won three from five at Cheltenham but takes a big step up in trip for today’s race while Reve De Sivola has won and placed in this race previously but has been well beaten by Uknowhatimeanharry twice in recent months and has done nothing to suggest he is capable of reversing that form here.
Written by Dean Kilbryde