Owner Rich Ricci has openly stated his desire to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup in recent days and his Djakadam will likely head the betting market for that event should he brush these aside. A rapidly improving sort last term saw him finish runner up in the Cheltenham showpiece and a repeat showing here would almost certainly be enough to blitz these. Impressive when hacking up in the John Durkan last time he really is impossible to oppose here and ought to win as he likes and is taken to do just that. Many Clouds had a terrific time of things last season and won this very race along with the Hennessy and the Grand National. A most likable and tough sort he is likely to give his running once more, he does looks slightly below the top notchers however and though he’s respected, a place is surely his best hope. Smad Place routed his opponents in the Hennessy and followed that up with a decent effort in the King George. Closely matched with O’Faolains Boy as a novice he has probably improved past that re-opposing rival but like the rest, an accident or major flop is required from the favourite for him to win. The rest are totally up against it though Wakanda is in great heart and makes most appeal of them at massive prices.
Once again the all conquering Mullins yard are likely to be represented by a short priced favourite and punters will likely line up to punt Morning Run off the boards despite her rather disappointing effort when well beaten on her return at Leopardstown. Quite what went wrong that day is open to question but she probably deserves a pass and should she resume the improvement show before that, she could well take some beating. Fellow Irish raider Rock On The Moor ran in that aforementioned Leopardstown race and finished 13 lengths in front of the Mullins mare. She probably lacks the scope of that rival but at almost three times the odds of the favourite she looks intriguing and is certainly the most temptping of the two at the odds. Lily Waugh has rattled off a hat-trick this term and is another to consider but the vote is handed to Intense Tango who has run numerous promising races without winning of late. Kept busy on the flat of late she won this last season and although this looks tougher, course experience can often tell here. Trading at generous odds, down in grade and on ground she will appreciate, she looks an each way bet to nothing at the odds.
Intense Tango (E/W if 9/2+)
The theme of short priced favourites looks likely to be extened here and given the form of the Hobbs yard it would be no great shock if Champagne West justified his position at the head of the market. A fine second behind a stablemate on his return from injury here the last day was an excellent effort and the 4lbs penalty for that looks lenient. Given normal improvement for that run he is a very big player today, he can be iffy at his fences from time to time however and though he is feared, his price is too short. Tenor Nivernais finished a length behind Champagne West in the race already talked about and is another with very strong claims. He could get an easy lead today and the way he ran on in the final 100 yards last time was very pleasing, from a yard firing he ought to be right there come the end though his mark continues to creep up. Irish Cavalier ran a peculiar race in the Paddy Power when last seen here, cantering throughout he sauntered into the lead only to totally empty at the bottom of the hill. His yard are in much better form now however and he is entitled to have a say, as such he is handed the vote though he clearly comes with some risks attached. Johns Spirit is beginning to look exposed or in need of a better ground, if on song he could trouble them but you get the feeling he is being held back for something later on. Annacotty likes it here and is another to consider and though Salubrious has plenty on his plate, he could well have a say if there is a pace to run at.
Irish Cavalier (E/W if 9/2+)
Two intriguing Albert Bartlett challengers lock horns in this and they are most certainly the ones to concentrate on today. Barters Hill is unbeaten in six runs and is as genuine as they come. A type who likes to be prominent he showed terrific guts when winning the Aintree bumper and had continued his improvement over hurdles so far. Impressive when easily winning a soft G1 last time he usually hits a flat spot in his races but to date he has always found and found impressively. Willie Mullins deserves credit for sending over Up For Review and intriguingly he too likes to lead, as was the case when romping home in his native Ireland the last time. Separating the market leaders looks tough but as Barters Hill has such a willing and proven attitude when the chips are down, he is very difficult to go against and he is taken to out-battle the Mullins challenger late on. The rest though unexposed and likable are impossible to advise as there best hope is that the market leaders set a suicidal early pace.
Barters Hill (WIN)
This looks a proper trial for the festival and the absence of Barters Hill does very little to detract from what looks an excellent field. Yanworth steps up in trip having proven mightily impressive so far in his hurdling career. A runaway winner at Ascot on soft ground the last day was a quite brilliant performance and though there has to be some concern over his unproven stamina, he is taken to make light of it and make all. Shantou Village is unbeaten and has the assistance of Ruby Walsh today, proven over the trip he is a serious contender and looks the most likely to take advantage should the King horse flop. Chef D’oeuvre has plenty of ability and was impressive when trouncing an odds on shot the last day, he could be one for later but his tendency to jump right is off putting for today. Champers On Ice was trounced 15 lengths by Shantou Village earlier in the year but has since gone in and his yard sneaked in a winner yesterday, he is another nice prospect but there will be many easier chances than this in the future.
Holywell makes plenty of appeal in this despite his rather uninspiring recent form and the fact he’s lumbered with top weight. High class on his day he has defied higher marks and has done all his winning in the first three months of the calendar year. Back in handicap company and on ground that is likely to be less taxing than that he’s been racing on recently he looks as good a speculative bet as any in this and is handed the vote to make his class tell. The challengers are endless but perhaps the biggest of them is the Evan Williams trained Buywise. Seemingly always the bridesmaid he deserves to pick up a decent pot and this longer trip could help today. The obvious issue with him is that he always makes one or two serious ricks, nonetheless he will likely be powering home late on and each way punters are likely to latch on. Double Ross is capable when on a going day and comes firmly into the reckoning despite looking high enough in the weights, a comment that also applies to Dolatulo though he seems to run best fresh and may have missed his chance already. Aachen, Ziga Boy and No Planning are others to consider in a wide open contest.
Holywell (E/W) – NAP
Thistlecrack has lowered the colours of most before him this term and deservedly goes into this as not only a strong favourite but also for the World Hurdle at the Festival too. Impressive when brushing aside Cole Harden a few starts back he followed that up with an very impressive victory over Newbury specialist Reve De Sivola last time. Taking him on today looks an almost pointless activity but if one were to question the Tizzard star it could be argued that perhaps he isn’t most keen on stiff uphill finishes as he’s suffered heavy defeats both here and at Sandown before. Unquestionably the one to beat and unquestionably the one with the best form he should win, that niggly doubt about the track will be enough to take him on however and we shall do just that on what is already a long day for those whom prefer to take on odds on shots. Ptit Zig represents the in and out yard of Paul Nicholls and receives a hefty allowance of 8lbs from the favourite, already proven to be decent over hurdles he could have a say even if he does have questions to answer about his current wellbeing. The only other viable option against the favourite is Camping Ground, he seems to love the mud flying and was impressive when hacking up here over 2m4f last time. Should the favourite be found out either on the ground or the track, he looks most likely to take advantage and as he has a course win he is handed what can only be called a shot in the dark selection against what will be a short priced favourite.
Camping Ground (WIN)