my thoughts and bets for day 3 cheltenham 2015

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my thoughts and bets for day 3 cheltenham 2015

Postby beaker1 » March 11th, 2015, 10:27 pm

JLT Novices’ Chase


This will be the second running since its upgrade to Grade 1 status and the fifth all told so we will be struggling for notable patterns for a while to come so I will keep this fairly brief. The Irish have won three of the first four runnings and it would appear only Ptit Zig can halt then from making it four wins in five years with Vautour, Valseur Lido and Apache Stronghold all being Grade 1 winners taking him on.

The only British-trained winner so far ran finished second in the Dipper which Ptit Zig won well before falling when taking on more experienced horses in the Ascot Chase. Last time out fallers only have an approximately 3% winning strike rate at the Festival in the last decade. The highest British-trained finisher for all four runnings of the JLT had won a chase at Cheltenham earlier in the campaign so that also brings in Splash Of Ginge who impressed winning a handicap here on New Year’s Day but he failed to act right-handed at Sandown next time out. Of the four JLT winners so far, three also won their immediate prep race which is against both of those previous course winners. In addition to Ptit Zig, Nicholls also runs Irish Saint who won the Pendil well last time out after finishing second in the Scilly Isles.

The first two years were dominated by horses to run well at the Festival before so that is a plus for last season’s runaway Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner, Vautour. With regards to the Irish, it has been their Grade 1 novice chases over 2m1f rather than 2m4f that have had most impact so far as Noble Prince and Benefficient contested Grade 1 races over 2m over fences as did Vautour whereas Valseur Lido and Apache Stronghold have been running over further, not that should be a disadvantage being the JLT trip. Apache Stronghold reversed Drinmore form with Valseur Lido in the Flogas (The Tullow Tank held in fourth) but Mullins has suggested the runner-up was not fit and will improve for the run.

If we stretch back to the 1989 Festival and concentrate on the now-four novice chases run up to three miles (the NH Chase over four miles is more of a stamina test which I believe is an advantage to older, more-experienced novices), there has been no winning novice over the age of eight which is against Colour Squadron at the age of nine. This third-season chaser is declared in first time blinkers and tongue-tie.

Short List

Vautour

Apache Stronghold

Conclusion

Not a lot of go off but the Irish have dominated as have last-time-out winners so VAUTOUR and APACHE STRONGHOLD fit that profile and therefore get the nod over Valseur Lido though that the Gigginstown-owned Drinmore winner is the best jumper of a fence in the line up. Ptit Zig and Splash Of Ginge have last-time-out disappointments to overcome which is never ideal heading into a Grade 1 race at the Festival.



Pertemps Network Final


Very unusually the top 24 horses at the six-day stage all stood their ground so the well-fancied Tony Martin-owned Edeymi gets in off bottom weight. Despite being responsible for three of the last five runners-up, the Irish are due a win as it has been nine years since their last success when Oulart followed Kadoun thus giving them back-to-back victories. It has been known for some Irish challengers to cross over and book their ticket to the Final by running in British qualifiers, as Edeymi did when the eye catcher of all eye catchers at Musselburgh, but all five of their winners since this race was first run in 1974 contested their own qualifier at Leopardstown. Edeymi is the only Irish runner this year.

What has become increasingly apparent over the last half a dozen seasons is that a different type of horse has been winning the Pertemps Network Final than from a few years ago when unexposed contenders with quiet preparations were the order of the day. This can be put down to the race’s overall quality having improved. I argued ahead of last season’s race that despite the higher standard of horse this Final is now attracting that we should consider making an official BHA rating of 142 our cut-off point as no winner had been rated higher since Rubhahunish won off 148 in 2000 and since his victory a total of 41 horses rated 143+ had tried and failed with only three paying a place dividend. However, following events of 12 months ago when the top pair in the handicap fought out the finish I have little option but to hastily review that opinion. However, the fact remains that only two horses asked to run off an official mark of 150+ have managed a top-six finish since 1997 so I would find it hard to back Henryville and Dawalan.

Jonjo O’Neill saddled his first Cheltenham Festival when Danny Connors landed a gamble in this handicap back in 1999 and he has since added three more victories. His sole representative this year is Join The Clan as Upswing and Alaivan missed out on a run by one and two places respectively. Two of O’Neill’s four winners were owned by J P McManus whose Kadoun, trained by Michael O’Brien, was also successful in this race and he owns Join The Clan. However, the McManus main hope appears to be Regal Encore who won the Exeter qualifier as did last year’s winner, Fingal Bay. That said, last year’s winner was only the second winner of the Final to win a qualifying race in the last 18 runnings. Other winners of qualifiers to run here are Bygones Sovereign, Dawalan, Brother Brian, Peckhamecho and Sybarite.

The recent Ascot winner Unique De Cotte also represents J P McManus for David Pipe who twice won this race with Buena Vista. No trainer has a better record in the qualifiers in recent seasons than Philip Hobbs who appears to target these races in the knowledge than many of his peers are more interested in attempting to qualify their horse to run here. The Final, however, had eluded him until 12 months ago when he sent out Fingal Bay to success. This year he runs the Cesarewitch winner, Big Easy. This was not Nicky Henderson’s race again last season with both his contenders failing to pick up any of the top-six prize money taking his record to 0-25 and just three of those finished in the first ten. His contenders this time are Dawalan and the possible favourite, Call The Cops.

Outside of the qualifiers, or even including the qualifiers, by far the best guide of late has been the Betfair Cash Out ‘Fixed Brush’ Handicap Hurdle on Betfair Chase Day with three of the last six winners of the Final finishing in the first five in that valuable handicap hurdle over three miles at Haydock in which Big Easy finished second and Katkeau finished fifth.
Novices can win this staying handicap, six of them have done so going to back to 1991 though none for six years, but only Pragada has won for five-year-olds since it was first run in 1974 which is against Dawalan and Aqalim (wears a first time visor). My natural inclination is to look at novices first for most handicaps but the Pertemps Network Final is a different animal now to just a decade ago to the extent that horses aged between eight and ten have won as many as seven of the last nine runnings, which is highly unusual for a handicap hurdle. In fact, five of the first six home last year were aged between eight and eleven.

Five years had passed since the winner had also won on its previous start but Fingal Bay put that right last season meaning that over half of winners going back to and including 1995 (10 of 19) were also successful last time out. Last-time-out winners are Dawalan, Closing Ceremony (won the Rendlesham), Join The Clan, Regal Encore, Call The Cops, Bygones Sovereign (won the Haydock qualifier and declared in first-time blinkers) and Unique De Cotte.


Shortlist

Big Easy

Join The Clan

Unique De Cotte

Katkeau

Closing Ceremony

Conclusion


Once we have overlooked winners of qualifiers, five-year-old and horses rated 150+, we have a more manageable starting point and BIG EASY is interesting of those left for last season’s winning stable having finished second in the Haydock race that has provided three of the last six winners who finished in the first six in that Fixed Brush race. KATKEAU finished fifth in that same race and represents the Pipe stable with a good record in the race. Pipe’s best hope however looks to be UNIQUE DE COTTE for J P McManus who has owned three winners and he looks the pick of the last-time-out winners. Given the O’Neill-McManus record in the race, JOIN THE CLAN also has to be on the shortlist and Patrick Cowley takes off a not inconsiderable 10lb and knows him well having won the last twice on him. Being a last time out winner CLOSING CEREMONY grabs the final spot and is towards to the top of the handicap which is the way things are moving in this race.



Ryanair Chase


Don Cossack is entitle to start favourite on pure form but he cannot really be considered a trends horse given he has no Cheltenham form to speak of (fell in the RSA on his only start here) and the Irish are 0-28, though two runners-up ran in his owner’s colours so he is reluctantly looked over for the purposes of this trends-based exercise. Ballycasey, who flopped badly in the Ascot Chase last time out and who didn’t really stay 3m when fourth in last season’s RSA, last season’s runner, Hidden Cyclone, who switches from the Champion Chase as this looks easier, and the supplemented Foxrock complete the Irish challenge in their quest for a first Ryanair winner. Hidden Cyclone was beaten in a weaker renewal than this last season but he enters the race in better form having impressed when winning at Punchestown last time out. This looks like a consensus decision to run Foxrock here as the owner seemed keen to go for the Gold Cup but the trainer wants to look after him for the future and this is a less-taxing option. He disappointed as favourite for the NH Chase last season where he reportedly didn’t take on any water on his travels over so that has to be worry and also whether he is as effective over this trip as he is over 3m where he posted his career best performance when second in the Irish Hennessy?

The Cheltenham profile I alluded to earlier is a strong trend. Nine of the ten winners had won at Cheltenham before as have seven of the ten runners-up. Of the last five winners, three were previous Festival winners. Previous course winners have outnumbered their non Prestbury Park-winning rivals to the tune of 56-48 beforehand but that still doesn’t suggest that the record of previous course winners should be as dominant as is the case. Non course winners are the aforementioned Irish-trained quartet trio plus Balder Succes (though he was going to win when clear in a novice chase but was apparently blinded by the low sun taking his Cheltenham form figures to an ugly FUF), Wonderful Charm, who flopped in last season’s JLT but has had a wind operation since the King George (six of the last seven winners ran in the King George – Johns Spirit also ran at Kempton and Wishfull Thinking was pulled up) and Ma Filleule but she did run a very good second here to Holywell at last season’s Festival.

The Ryanair takes place on the New Course over which four previous winners had won but seven winners had previously won on the Old Course (two of which had won over both) so although some horses excel more on one course than the other, it hasn’t had a bearing on the Ryanair. This might be a problem of sorts for Johns Spirit however as his four big performances at Cheltenham have been on the Old Course (two wins at the October Meeting and first and second in the Paddy Power Gold Cup) whereas his New Course record is not nearly so smart.
Since the Ryanair was upgraded to Grade 1 status, six of the seven winners had already won a Grade 1 race and winners at the very highest level have recorded three 1-2s in the last four years. Non-Grade 1 winners are Double Ross (third in last season’s JLT), Eduard (runner-up in the Peterborough Chase and not run since), Foxrock, Hidden Cyclone, Johns Spirit, Third Intention (won a graduation chase last time beating Josses Hill), Wishfull Thinking (the Peterborough Chase winner’s record is not good – 5356647P – and at 12 he would comfortably be the oldest winner to the tune of two years), Wonderful Charm and Ma Filleule.

The Paddy Power Gold Cup and Betfair Ascot Chase have both featured four winners apiece but it has been the Grade 1 race at Ascot rather than the Grade 3 handicap at Cheltenham that has by far a better record since the Ryanair was promoted to a Grade 1, not unexpectedly given its upgrade. Two of the last three Ascot Chase winners doubled up here which is a positive for Balder Succes who beat Ma Filleule though the view before and after was that Nicky Henderson’s mare can reverse having been in need of the run. The fact that five of the ten Ryanair winners had won or been in placed in either the Paddy Power Gold Cup or Caspian Caviar Gold Cup (December Gold Cup) – the big two handicap chases at Cheltenham over an intermediate trip in the first half of the season – catches the eye at first glance, but their influence has lessened since the Ryanair became a Grade 1 race. It is certainly significant that those five successes were achieved in the first five runnings of the Ryanair (three of which when it was a Grade 2 race) but a big fat zero in five subsequent renewals. This season’s Paddy Power Gold Cup second, Johns Spirit, is their big hope this time.

Checking out last year’s renewal has been productive as Albertas Run won back-to-back runnings and Fondmort and Our Vic went one place better than 12 months earlier, a position filled by Hidden Cyclone last March. In justifying 3/1 favouritism last year, Dynaste became the ninth winner in the race’s ten runnings to be sent off at no bigger than 6/1 (eight of which started in the first two in the betting) so this has been a great race for punters.

Short List

Taquin Du Seuil

Uxizandre

(Ma Filleule)


Conclusion


The previous course-winner angle is going to come under huge pressure this season with the front four in the market having not won here before and this is a race in which the leading fancies have dominated. TAQUIN SU SEUIL and UXIZANDRE are the only course winners in the field which have won a Grade 1 race so they make the short list and worthy of each-way consideration at double-figure prices. They also finished 1-2 in the JLT last year and the only running of the Ryanair since the JLT became a Grade 1 went the way of Dynaste who was second in the JLT 12 months earlier. Attempts to make Taquin Du Seuil a Gold Cup horse have failed and this looks his race. Attempts to make Uxizandre a Champion Chase horse have also failed and he is quite interesting for each-way purposes in a first-time visor under McCoy. J P McManus let McCoy off Uxizandre to ride Taquin Du Seul in last season’s JLT but not here. It’s hard to include an Irish-trained horse in the short list given they are 0-28 though there is no obvious reason why they shouldn’t be able to win this race. The final place goes to MA FILLEULE. She is not a Grade 1 winner or a course winner but she ran a cracker at this meeting last year so clearly handles the track and she was second in the Grade 1 Ascot Chase, a race which has featured four of the ten winners who all finished in the first three. She can reverse placings with Balder Succes whose profile is that of a small-field horse having won ten of his 14 starts with six or less runners but he is 0-8to even place in fields of ten or more since he won his first novice hurdle. Johns Spirit has Cheltenham winning form but all on the Old Course whereas his New Course record is not so great.



Ladbrokes World Hurdle


From a trends perspective, the World Hurdle is the weakest of the big four championship races at the Festival by quite some margin but backing the defending title holder, whose record reads 10121111 since 1998, or second-season hurdlers, who have won on 11 other occasions during that time period, has paid dividends. With More Of That not able to defend his title, the second-season hurdlers are Abbyssial, Aubusson, Cole Harden, Lieutenant Colonel, Seeyouatmidnight, Tiger Roll and Un Temps Pour Tout.
Last season’s World Hurdle has featured six of the last 12 winners but, of that successful sextet, only Iris’s Gift had not won the race 12 months earlier. That would be against At Fishers Cross (3rd), Zarkandar (4th) and Reve De Sivola (8th) especially as we have to go back to 1981 to find the last winner who ran in the race the previous year who did not finish in the first two.
Being the only Grade 1 staying hurdle to take place over three miles before the Festival in Britain, the Long Walk Hurdle in which Reve De Sivola fought back to beat Zarkandar is naturally a strong guide and has featured more World Hurdle winners than any other race in the last 20 years (ten). However, it has lost its position as the most pertinent guide in the last decade as the Cleeve Hurdle has drawn alongside with four winners and saw Saphir Du Rheu beat Reve De Sivola and Un Temps Pour Tout. Cole Harden (2nd) is the only runner from the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury which has poked its head in front with five winners but all five were won by the reigning World Hurdle winner.

More Of That became the fourteenth consecutive World Hurdle winner that could be found in the first four in the betting, positions likely to filled by Saphir Du Rheu, Zarkandar, Lieutenant Colonel and Un Temps Pour Tout though Whisper might be challenging hard for a place in that line up. Punters endured a sticky patch between 1997-1999 when there were 20/1, 16/1 and 40/1 upsets but, since then, it has been the leading fancies all the way and none returning at a bigger starting price than 17/2. It’s not just the winners either as eight of the last 11 runnings have witnessed the first five in the betting provide the 1-2-3.

The Irish won over one-third of the first 24 runnings since the World Hurdle was first run at the Festival in 1972 so it must be disappointing for them that Solwhit’s victory two years ago is their sole success since Dorans Pride took the 1995 running. Not that they have been short on runners-up with six in that time period. This year they are represented by Lieutenant Colonel and Jetson who have finished 1-2 in Grade 1s over 2m4f and 3m this season, the Galmoy and Boyne Hurdle winner, Dedigout, who needs soft ground (five of the last six Irish-trained winners prepped in the Boyne) and Monksland who is gradually finding his best form after two years off the course. Abbyssial represents Willie Mullins but no five-year-old has won since this race became part of the Festival in 1972 and that also means last season’s Triumph Hurdle winner Tiger Roll has that huge stat to overcome. Mullins also runs Zaidpour who is old enough at nine and regularly beaten in lesser staying races than this.

On the subject of age, Crimson Embers caused a mini surprise at 12/1 when successful at the age of 11 in 1986 but even the best staying hurdler we have ever seen in Big Buck’s found his age too big a barrier to overcome finishing only fifth last season at the age of 11. There has been no winner aged in double figures since Crimson Embers which is against Reve De Sivola and Jetson.

Nine of the last ten winners won last time out. Surprisingly, that’s good news for only for Saphir Du Rheu, Lieutenant Colonel and Dedigout. We have to go back to 1998 to find the last World Hurdle winner that did not finish first or second on their previous outing which is against Abbyssial (would have been first or second to Kitten Rock but fell), At Fishers Cross who bombed in the Rendlesham but has reported thrived since due to knee and breathing operations and wears first-time blinkers, Aubusson who looks out of his depth and his jockey cannot claim 7lb, Cole Harden who has had a wind operation since he was fourth in the Cleeve, Tiger Roll who has been struggling over 2m but is a stayer according to his trainer and Un Temps Pour Tout who was an encouraging third in his seasonal debut in the Cleeve. The last 27 winners all finished in the first four last time out.

Reve De Sivola dropped away to finish eighth after attempting to make all the running last season which still means that only Limestone Lad has held on for a place since 1996 having set out to make every yard re-affirming just how hard it is lead from start to finish over hurdles at Cheltenham and especially in staying events and even more so on the stiffer New Course with just two flights of hurdles in the last three-quarters of a mile. Cole Harden and Reve De Sivola looks the most like pace setters.


Short List

Lieutenant Colonel

Saphir Du Rheu

Un Temps Pour Tout

Conclusion

Being a second-season hurdler and last time out winner, which was a Grade 1, and likely to start in the first four in the betting then Lieutenant Colonel has a lot going for him. The Irish may have only won once since 1995 but they have had lots of second places so he is of each-way interest for sire on trends. Having won the best recent trial Saphir Du Rheu also makes the short list. He is not a second-season hurdler but he is young and progressive being aged six and has a similar profile to Big Buck’s before his first World Hurdle success plus he will start in the first four in the market so he too has to make the short list. Un Temps Pour Tout is a second-season hurdler who ran well in the Cleeve when a close up third on his only run this season so he can be expected to build on that and he completes the trio. As much as I like Zarkandar’s place prospects as fancy he might be the last horse off the bridle, he is not a trends horse having finished unplaced in last year’s race.



Brown Advisory and Merriebelle Stable Plate


Back up to its usual trip of 2m5f this season having been reduced to 2m4f for just last year, the first 17 runnings went relatively swimmingly for punters but it has been carnage since then with as many as 13 winners sent off at 20/1+ over the last 25 years and it remains the hardest race to solve at the Festival on SP returns so don’t be afraid to open up your mind.
Unlike other long-standing, official-rating, top-end barriers at last season’s Festival that bit the dust, the Plate’s 141 threshold was not breached thus extending the winning run of horses rated no higher than 141 to 25 wins in the last 27 runnings. On that basis, any horse in the top half of this 24-runner field would be an unusual winner. The last winner officially rated 150+ was 29 years ago which makes it even harder for Hunt Ball, Rajdhani Express and Caid Du Berlais. If you prefer the weight carried angle, only two of the last 20 winners carried over 11st.

This has been a strong race for followers of trainer trends. The Pipe family have made a habit of winning Cheltenham’s big handicap chases at around 2m4f as not only have they won the Paddy Power Gold Cup on nine occasions but, following Ballynagour powering to an easy win last season, they have won the Plate on seven occasions with David Pipe now just one winner behind Martin having also saddled Great Endeavour in 2010 to success and Salut Flo two years later. His sole representative this time is Monetaire. Venetia Williams won her third Plate when Carrickboy made all to record a 50/1 shock two years ago and she runs Dare Me who fell on his only start this season.

With four Plate winners already bagged, Nicky Henderson has had a good time of it and he is responsible for Hunt Ball, Rajdhani Express and French Opera. Paul Nicholls was unrepresented last season but this has not been his race so far with just two of his 23 runners hitting the frame and he runs the Paddy Power Gold Cup winner, Caid Du Berlais. Many will view the Paddy Power Gold Cup as being the key guide being the most prestigious handicap chase run during the season over a very similar distance and also taking place at Cheltenham (albeit on different courses) and they would have been right last year as the winner, second and fourth all took part in the domestic season’s first major handicap chase four months earlier. However, they would have been very wrong for the previous two decades as Paddy Power runner after Paddy Power runner went on to fail here.

French-breds have been successful on seven occasions going back to and including 1999 which is pretty good as they are usually outnumbered in a region of around 3:1. French-bred horses have recorded five runner-up positions on the eight occasions they have missed out since 1999 so, if they are not winning, they have still been knocking on the loudly on the door. French-breds this season are Caid Du Berlais, Edgardo Sol, Un Ace, De Boitron and Monetaire. Of those, Un Ace is a novice. This handicap does tend to attract novices because connections have a far better idea of what they are up against taking on exposed handicappers unlike in the novices’ handicap chase on the opening day over a similar trip featuring fellow unexposed first-season chasers. Their record of four winners in the last 19 runnngs is only around par for the course I would say but they have been responsible for five of the last six runners-up so he makes each way appeal.

In fairness, this isn’t a race the Irish go after in numbers having only sent over six contenders for the last four years and we have to go back to 1982 when this race was known as the Mildmay Of Flete to locate their only winner. This year they send over Make A Track who has his first start for Gordon Elliott since switching from the retired Charlie Swan, Burn And Turn and Klepht.


Short List

Monetaire

Attaglance

(Un Ace)

Champion Court


Conclusion

MONETAIRE is a big player for the Pipe’s who love this race and have won seven times since 1999 and being a French bred and rated lower than 142 make him a strong trends horse. That becomes even stronger still when we consider his owner has won this race twice in the last three years with two horses who had their handicap mark protected having not run since before Christmas. The last time we saw Monetaire he was winning over 2m at the Hennessy Meeting so is also a potential improver for moving up in trip. ATTAGLANCE may be a maiden over fences but he appeals as the right type of these rated no higher than 141 having won and finished second at this meeting before and his stable are flying with five winners already in March after a quiet season. Being a novice and a French-bred I will include UN ACE despite being 3lb over the 141 threshold as he makes each-way appeal and McCoy has come in for the ride. Not a lot else really appeals that strongly on trends but I can see CHAMPION COURT running a bold race as his handicap mark continues to drop having run this course well on many occasions and he is down now to 141 and likes to race close to the pace like six of the last seven winners except for last time when he was bizarrely held up, and it didn’t work.



Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase


This wasn’t a strong trends race even before two of the most ardent patterns were detonated last year when the finish was dominated by two young, Irish-trained horses, so it is even less so now. The last winner not to have contested a handicap on their previous start was back in 1985. Even the novices that have won recently were contesting a handicap last time out rather than a novice chase. Being an amateur-riders’ race, jockeyship is vital and the Kim Muir is usually won by one of the most accomplished pilots. In fact, 21 of the last 24 win-and-place positions were filled by non-claiming amateurs as were seven of the last nine winners.

The most recent six winners all carried 11st 6lb+ as did last season’s 1-2-3 so that’s my idea of the strongest trends angle outside of being on a top amateur so I wouldn’t blame you at concentrating on the top seven in the handicap; Grandads Horse, Masters Hill, Across The Bay, Clondaw Knight, Buddy Bolero, Just A Par and Gold Bullet. Across The Bay probably has the Grand National as his chief objective but Donald McCain has a great Kim Muir record with two winners and a narrow second. In fact, five of his eight runners have finished in the first five so this is unquestionably a race he likes to target. Regards Just A Par, this has not been Paul Nicholls’ race at all however with just one placed horse from 16 starters. David Pipe has some way to go to emulate his father’s record of three winners but a 1-2 in 2011 was a nice start. He runs The Package in first-time blinkers with Jamie Codd booked having placed three times in the 3m handicap chase on Day 1. Kim Muir winners have placed in that race before. Standin Ovation also represents the yard.

For years I had been arguing the requirement to overlook younger horses in favour of more experienced handicappers and with good reason as eight and nine-year-olds had won 15 of the 19 runnings up until 2013 from less than half the total runners. However, times change, and not only do I now consign that advice to the trash folder, I would even suggest we actively go in search for younger horses on the evidence of the last two years. Some will argue that just two years is flimsy enough evidence to make a full u-turn but a 1-2 for seven-year-olds in 2013 followed by another seven-year-old beating a six-year-old last season, tells me that the tide has already turned and the smarter trainers are now targeting the race with less-exposed horses than in the past.


Short List

Across The Bay

Gold Bullet

(The Package)

Masters Hill


Conclusion


Being a horse towards the top of the weights trained by Donald McCain with a non-claiming amateur on board then ACROSS THE BAY fits the main trends. Aintree may be his main aim but this race has been a pretty good guide to the Grand National. Now that Irish have finally won this race again when successful last year, we can start to consider them again for trends purposes and GOLD BULLET could the pick of their runners being towards the top of the weights, an improving young horse and top amateur Derek O’Connor in the saddle who recently won his 1000th race in point-to-points. MASTERS HILL also has a non claiming amateur and is towards the top of the weights so is included as is THE PACKAGE who looks sneaky interesting with Jamie Codd (won the NH Chase on Day 1) booked to tide for a race the stable like to target. He goes well fresh, has placed three times at the Festival and first time blinkers on a 12-year-old catches the eye. He is in the top half of the weights too. Champagne James is no trends horse but from a personal perspective I like him to go close as he is Irish Grand National bound so crying out for this step up in trip and Ted Walsh rode the winner twice so has an affinity with the race. Unsurprisingly, Katie Walsh rides so he has one of the top amateurs on his side too.
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