What a fantastic four days of sport we’ve just witnessed. I said the festival had to deliver after a less than stellar jumps season. Well, it did, and for me it one of the best Cheltenham Festival’s in years.
A nice profit made for Victor Value subscribers thanks in the main to fabulous Thursday and Iroko (advised 8/1) who looked to be going no way on the home turn but stayed on strongly to land the Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle.
That will do for me given we have just seen the four hardest days of racing of the whole calendar year.
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You can read my thoughts on Gold Cup Day in Monday’s column. I’m concentrating on Saturday action inside today’s main piece with a preview of the Midlands Grand National.
There’s racing from two courses on ITV this afternoon. Four races from Uttoxeter including the day’s feature race the marathon Boulton Group Midlands Grand National (3:00). Kempton also provides three competitive handicaps for the ITV cameras.
Its soft ground at Uttoxeter and there could be some heavy showers and if they arrive it could be very testing by the time of the feature race.
It’s the most valuable days racing at Uttoxeter with £150,000 in guaranteed prize money on offer for the feature race.
1:50 – Up For Parol did too much up front in the hands of an inexperienced conditional jockey at Carlisle last time. Prior to that the 7-year-old had finished an excellent 3rd of 20 in the Lanzarote handicap hurdle at Kempton. A reproduction of that performance would see him go close.
2:25 – Collector’s Item has really improved for the step up to 3m on his last two starts A. short-head 2nd of 12 in the Grade 2 Prestige Novices' Hurdle at Haydock last time. He’s been raised 7lb fo that performance but he’s on competitive mark for his handicap debut and might do even better with more juice in the ground.
Lord Snootie improved for the step up to 3m 2f on handicap debut at Warwick on New Year’s Eve. The handicapper has raised him 9lb but he’s only had four starts over hurdles so is likely capable of more improvement.
3:00 – Boulton Group Midlands Grand National Handicap Chase (Premier Handicap) – 4m 2f
Seventeen have been declared for one of the longest races in the racing calendar. Recent course winner (3m) Guetapan Collonges heads the ante post betting. A 6lb rise in the weights isn’t harsh for this improving handicap chase. However, I’m not sure he’ll stay the trip as strongly as some of his rivals.
One of those rivals is Iwilldoit. Last season’s Welsh Grand National winner returned from a 13 month absence to win Warwick’s’ Classic Chase last time. Guetapan Collonges was 13 lengths back in fourth that day and Iwilldoit is only 2lb worse off here.
Plenty in with a chance…
The Galloping Bear was back to form when a 2 ½ length 2nd of 13 in Eider (Handicap Chase) at Newcastle last time. He would probably have preferred softer ground at Newcastle and looks an ideal type for another marathon handicap chase.
French Paradoxe made it 3-6 over fences when running out a comfortable winner at Newcastle (2m 7 1/2 f) 46-days ago. The handicapper has hiked him up 11lb for his latest success which was fully warranted. He remains capable of better and if he stays the trip won’t be far away.
Tile Tapper gained a second success over fences when winning at Carlisle (3m ½ f) last month. Up 6lb and with stamina to prove but he could be suited to this marathon trip.
Time To Get Up won this corresponding race two years ago and he was a 12 length 3rd of 18 in last year’s race. He’s been struggling to get home in his races since his effort here but he’s 12lb lower this time and not of it over a C&D that suits.
The Two Amigos took advantage of leniency from the handicapper to the win the Welsh Grand National last time. He’s 5lb higher here but he’s not handicapped out of this.
Secret Reprieve is another previous Welsh Grand National winner (January 2021). He’s hasn’t been the easiest to keep sound since that success. The 9-year-old returned to form when a 10 length 3rd of 11 at Cheltenham on New Year's Day. He’s been dropped 2lb and this stamina test will suit him more.
Midlands Grand National Verdict:
I'm happy to take on likely favourite Guetapan Collonges over this marathon trip. However, as can see from my shortlist there are plenty to take him on with. There's the well handicapped proven stayers in Time To Get Up, The Two Amigos and Secret Reprieve. Then there's the inform Iwilldoit & The Galloping Bear and potential improvers in French Paradoxe and Tile Tapper. I will probably end up with two, maybe three, against the field but I will be leaving my final decision until I have a better idea of underfoot conditions for this niche contest.
1:50 – Up For Parol – 9/2 @ Coral & Ladbrokes.
I’m taking a day off tomorrow but will be back on Monday with my Cheltenham festival wash-up.
Good luck with your Saturday bets.