We start off today’s channel four article with a supreme novice hurdle trial run over two miles and 110 yards.
This is a race that looks to surround the three at the head of the market, with the Paul Nicholls inmate Emerging Talent heading the betting here. The 5yo had a satisfactory hurdling debut and it just looked like a lack of race sharpness cost him a victory as he traveled like the winner throughout but just appeared to blow up late on. This run was also at a time when Nicholls horses were not firing, but he seems to have his horses in fine order now. This has been a good race for favourites with the last four renewals going that way and a fifth being narrowly denied. With a clear round the son of Golan looks the one they all have to beat.
The Nicky Henderson trained Vyta Du Roc is next in the betting here and returns from a 155 day absence. An impressive winner of a maiden and novice hurdle in the summer and given an official mark of 140. I am always cautious of marks earned during the summer as it is usually much easier to achieve higher marks taking on less classier opposition. The gelding also has to concede seven pounds to the Nicholls runner and I think he possibly looks the more vulnerable under a penalty here.
The biggest danger to the favourite here is John Fergusons four year old Commissioned who has been impressive in his two starts, since returning from a summer break. The gelding was an above average juvenile last season and he looks to have improved a bit from last season too. I think if he was taking on the Nicholls runner at level weights he might have got my vote but he just might struggle to concede seven pounds here. This also looks a good deal tougher than his opening two assignments this season.
Of the remainder Pyromaniac appeals most and while he is an above average performer he did not look all that resolute when asked to battle for his win.
Emerging Talent (WIN)
We make the switch to Fontwell for their localized grand national run over a marathon three miles and four furlongs. This is going to be an extreme test of stamina given the heavy ground that is forecast, so you are going to have to side with something with proven stamina. We have two previous winners lining up in this contest and both are at the head of the market here.
The Rebecca Curtis trained Boyfromnowhere won this race last season on very similar ground off a two pound higher mark. The horse has obviously been campaigned towards this race again this year and the trainer has done well to get him here on a two pounds lower mark. A run 39 days ago should see him arrive here fully fit and as long as the gelding puts in a clear round, he is sure to have a say in proceedings here.
The 11yo Incentivise won this race two years ago off a one pound higher mark but that win did come on much quicker. While the Richard Lee inmate is fairly ground versatile, I don’t think he is as effective on ground as testing as this. The gelding carries no weight here though and while not as effective on ground this heavy, he does have winning form on it so is sure to have a say in the finish.
Seven Woods looks to be fairly well handicapped but returns from a 229 day absence. Given how testing the ground is going to be, you would have to be concerned with backing a horse on seasonal return.
The each way value of the race looks to be the Mick Channon trained Ballypatrick and he should have no problem with the trip. The son of Presenting was only beaten just over two lengths in last seasons Eider chase off a two pounds higher mark. While that run came on heavy ground, you would be happier if the race was run on a less testing surface
We next head back to Cheltenham for an Arkle trial run over two miles on the old course.
Heading the betting here is the Paul Nicholls trained Vibrato Valtat who ran out a fairly cheeky winner on chasing debut. This horse has a very high cruising speed but I am not too sure if he is one that relishes a battle too much. Saying that he does have the potential to take it to another level over fences and given that he handles the underfoot conditions, does look the one they all have to beat here.
Setting the highest standard here is the Evan Williams trained Court Minstrel and a mark of 154 probably looks about fair. His trainer voiced concerns that he thought he would not develop in to as good a chaser as he was a hurdler. So far the gelding looks every bit as good over fences as he did over hurdles, so you would get the feeling the trainer was underplaying him a bit. You would have to be concerned about the ground for him though as he looks much more effective on a sounder surface. With those concerns in mind you would be slow in putting him forward confidently.
While Dunraven Storm jumped well and looked ok on chasing debut, I think it may have been more of the opposition not being fully fit rather than him looking impressive.
Duke of Navan battled well to win on chasing debut at Carlisle but he horse he beat ran poorly here yesterday. Even though progeny of Presenting are usually better on faster ground, Duke of Navan seems equally effective on soft ground. If Court Minstrel fails to act on the ground, he may be the one to put it up to the Nicholls runner.
Vibrato Valtat (WIN)
Next we head to Ireland as Punchestown host their feature event, the Grade 1 Morgiana hurdle. This looks a straight match up between the two market principles and it is difficult enough to separate them. I have changed my mind regarding the outcome of this race all week and that will tell you how difficult it is to separate them.
I think that Jezki’s biggest problem when facing Hurricane Fly early last season was that they went no gallop in any of their meetings. With Little King Robin in the race you are sure of a strong gallop being set here and I think this is exactly what Jezki needs to be seen at his best. With that in mind I think that Jezki looks the one that they all have to beat.
If Jezki is only at 80% here today it could be Hurricane Fly that capitalizes as he should be as fit as Willie can get him here. There will be very little opportunities for the multiple Grade 1 winner this season as he gets on in years, so his trainer will look to capitalize early in the season with him.
The only other runner in the lineup that you could give a serious chance to is the lovable Little King Robin. With her in the field we are assured of a good gallop and if they afford her too soft a lead she could make them pay. It’s one thing running handicappers in to the ground, but it is a totally different ball game at Grade 1 level.
We head back to Cheltenham for the Shloer chase, a Listed contest run over two miles. This race looks to surround the four at the head of the market.
Dodging Bullets heads the market here and although he returns from a 227 day absence, he has won first time out in each of the last two seasons. The gelding does like it around here and has been victorious on three occasions and also won’t mind the rain softened ground. While he has a large deficit to turn around with Uxizandre on meeting at Aintree last season, I don’t think he saw out the two mile trip and it would not be the first time he flopped at the end of a season.
Uxizandre arrives here on the back of an adequate run in the Roan chase at Aintree where he looked in need of the run. While he is possibly a slightly better horse than Dodging Bullets he may not have to pace to match the Nicholls inmate at this trip, at the business end of the race. For that reason I would be prepared to over look him here.
Simply Ned is a horse who has kind of managed to slip in under the radar as he now has an official rating of 161 all of a sudden. I suppose he has a similar profile to Sire De Grugy, who also managed to slip in under the radar before people took the horse seriously. I think this is one of the classier lineups that he has faced and if he is to compete at this level this season he has to go close today.
The only other one in the field you could give a chance to is Module but he looks vulnerable under a penalty and also meets the Nicholls runner on 10lb worse terms from a neck win last season.
Dodging Bullets (WIN)
The final race that we cover today is the hugely competitive Greatwood hurdle.
At the head of the market is the Nicky Henderson trained Vaniteux who has to concede weight all round but looks open to more improvement. The talk earlier in the week would Barry Geraghty go to Ireland to ride Jezki or stay to ride Vaniteux all seemed a bit like an excuse to maybe push the price out a bit. I think that Geraghty was always going to stay to ride this fella and if last years novice form is as strong as everyone is making out, he is sure to go close here. He is my win selection in this competitive event.
My each way selection in this is the slightly frustrating Regal Encore trained by Anthony Honeyball. While he never really landed a blow on seasonal debut, I think he was in need of the run. On the best of his form I think he could have at least 12lbs in hand and could potentially have 20lbs in hand. The hood also makes and appearance for the first time and I think he has been crying out for this aid to be applied. I am hoping that today will be the day we see why JP McManus got out his chequebook to buy him,
There are plenty in this that you could give a chance to as it is such a competitive event with Blue Heron and Katgary(jockey arrangements a bit puzzling) also appealing as each way options.
Regal Encore (E/W if 5/1+)