Good morning all,
The forecast heavy rain hasn't hit Cheltenham yet, but with over three hours to racetime, things could change a lot.
My thoughts on two of the big races, and the rest covered off on the accompanying video are on today's main piece.
2.15 – Paddy Power Gold Cup Handicap Chase (2m4½f)
As ever, ultra-competitive.
Simply The Betts has to be the right favourite, fitting plenty of the trends you’d look for when trying to find the winner, and the fact that he’s 100% proven over C&D with cut in the ground only adds to his chances. The form of his Timeform Novices Handicap chase win on Trials Day last year looked strong, and he showed exactly how strong it was when defeating Happy Diva in the Brown Advisory at the Festival, rallying well on the run-in despite a couple of errors on the way round.
The handicapper gives him another 8lb to carry to start the season off, and he is, of course, well found by the market, but he goes on any shortlist for this.
Happy Diva has to be given a positive mention, as so many of the form lines for this tie in to her. Brought down when travelling well in this in 2018, she made amends by winning this by a neck from Brelan D’As last year, showing how tough and genuine she is. From an 8lb higher mark this time around, she’ll need more, but her record at the track means she has to be given a chance.
And if we are giving Happy Diva a chance, then we have to give Aso a second look as well. Yes he’s got top weight, but he deserves that, and the last time he raced in a handicap was off the same mark, over this C&D on New Year’s Day, beating none other than Happy Diva. The latter is no less than 11lb worse off with Aso here, so from a handicapping point of view, Aso has to be given a chance.
It isn’t hard to forgive Aso some moderate efforts last year either, given he was overfaced for much of it, but he’s back in his wheelhouse here and with plenty of decent efforts fresh, he looks the each-way value.
Needless to say there’s plenty of others you can give chances to, there’s so much Cheltenham form on show here you can make a case for pretty much everything, but Aso will do for me.
2.50 – Paddy Power Games Handicap Hurdle (3m)
Here’s a jolly old favourite I want to take on, especially if the expected rain does come on Saturday morning, namely Tea Clipper (Update – he's out, unsurprisingly).
Whilst I have no doubt he’s an improving sort, he’s yet to try 3m, yet to race on anything worse than good to soft, and yet to tackle a hill finish. That, at 5-2, is all more than enough to make me look elsewhere today.
Neither am I mad keen to dive in about the 5-1 Dandy Dan returning to hurdles, although I’ll grant you he’s well handicapped and the more rain that falls the better his chance. I reserve the right to change my mind about him, based on the weather….
The more rain that falls the better for Tobefair, too, but that was a pretty moderate effort on his comeback here last month and I suspect he might need another before he achieves peak fitness. There’s tons of good course form to fall back upon, and I’m finding it hard to put the pen through him completely, but I’d want a bit bigger than 10-1 before I got involved.
The two that make the most appeal have both been seen within the last week.
Golan Fortune is another that will appreciate a Saturday morning deluge. He really can’t have it soft enough, and won this from a 2lb lower mark last year, getting a good ride from his usual pilot, Sam Lee. He’s shaped really well on both starts this year, finding 2m5f here on the short side and then staying on all the way to the line when fourth to Unowhatimeanharry at Aintree last week. The quick turnaround is no issue either, as he was turned around after four days to win two competitive handicaps over the Christmas period back in 2017.
Who’s My Jockey is more speculative but he looks all stamina, and 3m in soft ground is just what he needs to produce his best, as demonstrated when needing all of Hexham’s three miles to score over fences last year. He ran okay over this C&D on New Year’s Day, and came back from his summer break to run well at Kempton earlier in the week, beaten just 2½l and looking like the race would bring him on. This second quick run is a question, but he looks an ideal ride for Sam Twiston-Davies, who will push and shove as much as is necessary to try and get him home. 16-1 and four places is worth a try.
Today's selection – Aso (e/w 6 places) 2.25 Cheltenham
Good luck with all your bets today,