A tricky looking opener to the televised action see’s nine mares lining up to face the judge over a trip that may take some getting in the forecast soft ground. The classy Carole’s Spirit must give five pounds to all her rivals but has an impressive career record of five wins from ten starts, her other five runs have all resulted in places too and her chance from a form perspective is outstanding. Officially she has her eight rivals all covered from a handicapping point of view and although no certainty, she is impossible to oppose and odds against could turn out to be a liberty taken by the bookmakers. Harry Fry sent out Highland Retreat whom beat Carole’s Spirit in the last season, he poses something of an intriguing question by running the lightly raced Bitofapuzzle this time around. She lost her unbeaten record the last day but put up a major fight and the extra yardage today looks a plus, her price however offers very little value and given she must improve to turn over the selection, she is respectfully passed over. Dark Spirit and Mischievous Milly are closely matched judged on their finishing positions behind a useful sort last time, the former finished on top that day but the latter was making her seasonal bow, both are expected to be in the firing line again but both must improve to challenge the selection. Land Of Vic hails from a yard firing at present and she did us a good turn when winning over this trip at Kempton last time, she doesn’t do things quickly but looks a nice sort and could run into a place today.
Carole’s Spirit (WIN)
A Champion Hurdle trial in name, this in reality is a mere piece of work for current festival second favourite, The New One. The only danger here to the Twiston Davies superstar appears to be the hurdles, it would be absurd for me to select him to win when his odds are likely to be close to 1/10, win he will though and he really ought to demolish these on the bridle. It may sound a little diva-ish of me to be so dismissive of the rest but they have almost no hope of beating the favourite so a token gesture to follow him home shall come in the shape of Desert Cry. Donald McCain’s charge finished second in the 2012 renewal of this but ought to strip fitter for his return and may improve enough to fill the runner up spot again, he has a bit to find with Bertimont on the figures but the latter was hammered by the favourite last time and may have been flattered at that. The rest are no hopers in what is a shocking race, though Strongpoint may get in the picture as he likes to lead.
Desert Cry (E/W)
Garde La Victoire won the Greatwood at Cheltenham in decent style and the form of that is beginning to get a top class look about it, judged on the seconds recent exploits. He then attempted to carry a welter burden of 11st 12lbs in the Ladbroke here last time and ran a belter, finishing fifth. Once again today he must carry a huge steadier and although the percentage is to probably oppose him, a few are forced to race from outside the handicap and if the gods are smiling, he will prove up to the task and is handed a tentative vote on the overall strength of his form. Baradari was beaten out of sight by the selection in the Greatwood, he must race one pounds out of the handicap today but is a player up in trip and his yard know how to eke out extra with similar types. Le Mercurey is hard to judge and he flopped on his British debut behind the brilliant L’ ami Serge, he is probably much better than that in reality and Paul Nicholls has picked up plenty of Saturday handicaps lately. The rest are difficult to be confident about on these terms, Lyvius could go close if staying though.
Garde La Victoire (E/W if 5/1+)
Despite being a graduation chase, this is a deceptively strong race and a few have some very strong form. Third Intention would fall perfectly into that category, he has numerous pieces of form in top quality races and a reproduction of almost any of them would see him take this. A recent winner in this Grade over two miles was followed by a couple of decent efforts in a higher grade, back down again today he is very hard to oppose and his fluent jumping could be the deciding factor. Maggio finished second in this last season and has run respectively since, his recent third at Thurles was a good effort given he was forced to race on unfavourable terms and his liking for the ground makes him a serious player. Carraig Mor looks the potential dark horse on his novice exploits, he has a questionable profile though and is not entirely trustworthy. Another concern for the King horse is his jumping against vastly experienced rivals, he could well take this but the blunder he made in unseating last time could have affected his confidence, and so he is taken on.
Third Intention (WIN)
The eagerly anticipated return of superstar chaser Sprinter Sacre promises to be as intriguing a race as any in the build up to this seasons Cheltenham Festival. Officially the highest rated chaser in training he had looked an unstoppable force after winning seven straight Grade One races, he was later to be struck down by a mystery illness though and its anyone’s guess as to how much ability he retains. Connections have stated their desperation to run today and even openly stated a defeat wouldn’t be the end of the world, should the heavens open though he is an unlikely runner and although heartbreakingly difficult to write him off, a chance has to be taken elsewhere as we simply do not know how fit or willing the horse now is. Dodging Bullets has been called many a name by punters having seemingly thrown in the towel in a few top class races before, Nicholls may have found the key to him now though and his performance in winning a sub-standard Tingle Creek was an impressive one. With fitness on his side and with confidence at an all time high, he can take advantage of any fitness flaws the favourite may have. Twinlight is interesting if judges on his victory in a Grade One at Leopardstown last time, he flopped before that though and is in serious water here, he deserves respect but is likely to be found wanting and whilst Somersby is reliable, he is exposed against the likes of these.
Dodging Bullets (WIN)
Hey Big Spender deserves to be the starting point to this having won the rehearsal chase at Newcastle in gutsy fashion, he followed that up with a very good effort at Ascot last time and finds himself two pounds lower today. He shouldn’t be discounted but younger legs shall surely prove too much for him for win purposes and a place is probably the best he can hope for. Corrin Wood was a very useful novice who has seemingly ironed out his habit of jumping right this term, he looks to have a fair amount of weight but further improvement shouldn’t be dismissed and he’s a player. Green Flag was another useful novice and he would go seriously close if reproducing the sort of form that saw him run fourth behind Holywell in a Grade Three at Cheltenham, before that he had beaten the fairly useful Maggio too and this ground holds no fears for him. Lucinda Russell’s charge has a tad to prove but at double figure odds he makes plenty of sense and he can run into at least a place. No Planning attracted a lot of support when winning on his reappearance over hurdles on boxing day, he has likely been aimed at this and although ten pounds higher than his last win over fences, he likes the course and acts on the ground. Broadway Buffalo is two from two around here and also acts on the ground, he is thoroughly untrustworthy though and whilst his chance is clear, so is the chance he will duck it.
No Planning (E/W if 5/1+)
Green Flag (E/W if 5/1+)
This could be run at a furious gallop with plenty liking to lead, Venetia Williams also saddles two to further complicate matters so a chance on a hold up sort maybe the call. Niceonefrankie is in the form of his life and arrives here in search of the hat-trick, he must cope with a seven pounds rise but is two from two here and is entitled to go close again. Stablemate Tenor Nivernais can put in the odd rick but holds King Edmund and is another with a chance, Tom Scudamore is two from eight for the yard and his hold up style could be a strength at the business end. Bobcatbilly has the assistance of Barry Geraghty and although up ten pounds for his latest win, he is another front running type with a chance. Fox Appeal has always impressed with his jumping and he will find this easier than chasing home Balder Success last time, he is yet another whom enjoys to force the pace though and is worth opposing on that score. Ballinvarrig is a monkey who attracted plenty of support when winning last time, he usually has a longer break between runs but this should be run to suit and he is a very serious player. His price is plenty short enough though and so we shall take a risk with an even bigger monkey, Cedre Bleu. He hasn’t won for two years but ran a smasher over the big fences at Aintree the last day and the ground wont bother him here, a quick pace to run at will suit him down to the ground. Currently trading at 20/1, he is taken as a speculative value bet who could nail most of them late.
Cedre Bleu (E/W)