Nicky Henderson will be the key man for many punters on Festival Trials Day when he saddles three short-priced contenders in the biggest races on the Cheltenham card.
A week on from Shishkin's exhilarating win, I imagine plenty will put Chantry House, Champ and Balco Coastal in multiples but the trio will not be forming part of my betting strategy.
Chantry House is odds-on across the board for the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase but he ran lamentably last time out in the King George VI Chase and is now equipped with first-time cheekpieces. Moreover, his penalty means he’s not even the best weighted runner in the line-up.
That distinction goes to Simply The Betts, who I suggested as an ante-post punt earlier in the week when he was available at 6-1. He’s now a general 11-4 chance and, while not inclined to go in again at that price, I remain convinced he’s the most likely winner, with good ground and a likely ordinary gallop offsetting a slight doubt about him getting the trip. I’ll probably end up having a saver on Aye Right, who is tremendously reliable yet has drifted out to 11-2.
Champ is the most likely winner of the Welsh Marches Stallions At Chapel Stud Cleeve Hurdle but this could be a messy race – he may have to make his own pace -and he does have to prove he’s progressed, rather than regressed, since his taking return win at Ascot. Having suggested backing him for the Stayers’ Hurdle at 25-1 straight after last year’s Cheltenham Festival, I hope it’s the former.
Meanwhile, Balco Coastal is only 2-1 for the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle even though the extended 2m4f trip poses a big question mark given the hooded six-year-old can race keenly. His 2m wins this term have been gained on two sharp tracks in Huntingdon and Ludlow. Hillcrest’s credentials for the race look much stronger, while North Lodge impressed when beating two solid yardsticks at Aintree.
My nap for the day is Torn And Frayed in the Paddy Power Cheltenham Countdown Podcast Handicap Chase although when I pinged that detail through to the Racing Post mid-afternoon (all nap selections have to be in by 5pm the day before) he was 8-1, and now generally half those odds and no bigger than 5-1.
That puts a slightly different slant on things but the novice does have plenty going for him against opposition that is either exposed or may find underfoot conditions less than ideal. He got stuck in the mud last time but his efforts before that, including at Cheltenham on a sound surface, suggest a mark of 131 is lenient.Last chance! Start a FREE one-month trial and enjoy over 70 live meetings including Festival Trials Day and the Dublin Racing Festival
Another well-treated runner on the card is Oscar Elite, quoted at 6-1 by bet365 for the Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase.
I fancy he would have easily beaten the now 152-rated Threeunderthrufive (gave 8lb) had he not fallen three out on his chasing bow at Cheltenham in November, and he ran much better than the bare form suggests behind L’Homme Presse here last time. His faltering finish that day can be attributed to him bursting a blood vessel.
Last season’s Albert Bartlett runner-up surely has races in him off a mark of 137. He holds Grade One engagements at the Festival but I imagine his connections will now stick with the handicap route.
Pied Piper has been all the rage for the JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle but I much prefer Iceo, who jumped superbly and galloped all the way to the line on his British bow at Kempton despite being exuberant early on.
The time backed up the visual impression he created that day and the third horse home, beaten 30 lengths, ran well in defeat at Ascot last weekend. There will be far worse 2-1 chances running this weekend.
Enjoy a day at the races on us
At Doncaster, Debece makes plenty of appeal at the 7-1 on offer in the Sky Bet Handicap Chase despite being an 11-year-old who has been absent 11 months.
Having slipped in the weights, he ran a cracker when chasing home Fortescue on his first start for Dan Skelton over 3m at Sandown in March. His jumping was a joy but his exuberance cost him in the closing stages on the testing ground.
That effort looks even better now given Fortescue’s subsequent exploits (for instance he was a close third to Royale Pagaille last week off a 15lb higher mark) and I doubt Debece will lack anything for fitness. The Skeltons have had much longer to get a proper handle on him plus he’s had another wind op since last in action.
An even better wager on the card could be Grangeclare Glory at 9-1 in the opening 2m3½f handicap hurdle.
She was far from disgraced behind leading Betfair Hurdle hope Jpr One on level weights at Taunton last time, having also run well behind Lossiemouth at Ascot in October. In between, she had run much better than the bare form indicates behind My Bobby Dazzler in deep ground over 3m at Aintree.
A mark of 117 should not be beyond her, plus Fergus Gillard takes another 3lb off her back.
How To Bet £20 on Saturday
12.25 Doncaster: £1 win and £2 each-way Grangeclare Glory at 9-1 with bet365
12.45 Cheltenham: £2 win on Iceo at a general 2-1
1.20 Cheltenham: £4 win Oscar Elite at 6-1 with bet365
1.55 Cheltenham: £3 win Torn And Frayed at 5-1 with William Hill
3.20 Doncaster: £2 win and £2 each-way Debece at 7-1 with bet365 (five places)
74 Win Super Yankee and 38p each-way accumulator
12.25 Doncaster: Grangeclare Glory
12.45 Cheltenham: Iceo
1.20 Cheltenham: Oscar Elite
1.55 Cheltenham: Torn And Frayed
Already advised (ante-post)
£20 win on Simply The Betts at 6-1
Select any odd to add a bet