Andy Stephens tipped five winners in his How To Bet £20 On A Saturday column last week, including Hogan’s Height (advised 25-1), Esprit Du Large (16-1) and Walk In The Mill (9-1). Any one taking his advice would have had a return of more than £500. On Friday, his nap, Cogry, won at 5-1.
The slow times at Cheltenham on Friday suggested the ground was riding deeper than expected and with more rain forecast overnight fitness and stamina will be at a premium on Saturday.
I made a case for backing Cepage each-way in the BetVictor Gold Cup earlier in the week and believe the general 6-1 chance is still the most likely winner, especially with his Aintree conqueror, Riders Onthe Storm, ruled out in unfortunate circumstances.
Cepage lost little in defeat at Aintree behind an obviously well-handicapped rival – the pair finishing clear of subsequent Newbury winner Old Grangewood - and the stiffer test of stamina on Saturday will play even more to his strengths. He gave Frodon plenty to think about last year, and might even have won had their respective jumps two out been reversed.
I’m also going to have a small each-way wager on Benatar at 12-1 with Betfair and Paddy Power, as they dangle a carrot by offering five places for each-way backers, even after Riders Onthe Storm and Lalor being ruled out from the final field of 16.
Benatar, one of two Gary Moore runners, has stacks of ability but has been held back by his headstrong nature. This promises to be run at a strong gallop, which should help him to settle, and the application of a first-time hood may also help unlock more from seven-year-old. The one niggle is whether his 11-month absence will betray him when it matters most given the conditions.
The Moore-trained Botox Has is a short price to win the JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle after chasing home Allmankind at the November Meeting.
He might well go one better but at double-figure odds I’d much prefer to risk Elysian Flame, even though none of us have seen Mick Easterby’s gelding jump an obstacle in public.
Elysian Flame thrived on the Flat this year when given stamina tests in the mud, and his rating of 91 on the level (that's a bit higher than Allmankind) is 23lb superior to Group Stage, who is a shorter price despite having to concede him 4lb.
Easterby could have picked any number of easier assignments for his debut and I can’t believe he would risk the highest-rated horse in his yard, competitive in Flat handicaps worth six figures this year, if he had not shown an aptitude for jumping.
The Unibet International Hurdle revolves around Pentland Hills and Call Me Lord, both trained by Nicky Henderson.
Pentland Hills was last season’s leading juvenile but you can pick holes in his form, plus he has a penalty to carry and will be racing on the most testing ground he has encountered.
All the early money has been for his stablemate, and I’m not surprised because he’s got easily the best form, is favoured by the conditions of the race and is will served by soft ground. I also like the fact he stays further, which will help if it turns into a bit of a slog.
He’s raced exclusively on right-handed tracks in Britain, but his wins in France were achieved on left-handed courses.
He kept perfectly straight on his return at Ascot last time and, in any case, he could probably run 7lb below his best and still win. In addition, his principal rivals – Pentland Hills, Ch’tibello and Elixir De Nutz – have been off a minimum of eight months.
Call Me Lord is 11-4, having been 5-1 on Friday morning, but in my book he should definitely be favourite.
Henderson can also strike with Igor in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle.
This lightly-raced six-year-old has “staying chaser” stamped all over him but the manner in which he zestfully galloped his rivals into the ground after six months off at Ascot last month suggests he can first make his mark over hurdles.
It looks to me as if he is finally growing into his big frame and he can bully his rivals into submission.
Dame De Compagnie is another leading Henderson contender in the closing Park Mares' Handicap Hurdle but her eye-catching run in the Greatwood Hurdle came after 18 months off and the bounce factor is a concern given the odds on offer.
River Arrow is 2lb lower than when runner-up in the corresponding race last year. The winner, running off 134, went close in Grade One company next time
Most firms are offering five places and that makes River Arrow a must-bet, even though the original 16-1 on offer has shrunk to 12-1.
She is 2lb lower than when runner-up to handicap snip Marmello in this race two years ago and her reappearance run at Uttoxeter suggests she is in similar heart.
Finally, Volcano is worth an interest in the Green Dragon Hotel Handicap Hurdle at Hereford.
The grey ran better than the bare form suggests on his return at Cheltenham last month and is entitled to be sharper in a weaker race. The longer trip will also suit and he has been eased 2lb with crack conditional Ben Jones taking another 5lb off his back.
We’ve missed the boast a bit – he’s a general 8-1 having initially been twice that price on Friday – but there's still some juice in those odds.
How To Bet £20 on Saturday:
12.10 Cheltenham: Elysian Flame £3 win at 11-1 with bet365
1.55 Cheltenham: Cepage £3.50 win at a general 6-1
1.55 Cheltenham: Benatar £1 each-way at 11-1 with Betfair and Paddy Power (both firms offer five places)
2.30 Cheltenham: Igor £2.50 win at a general 9-2
2.55 Hereford: Volcano £2 win at a 17-2 with William Hill
3.05 Cheltenham: Call Me Lord £3.50 win at a general 11-4
3.40 Cheltenham: River Arrow £1.75 each-way at a general 12-1
44p Win Lucky 31 plus 31p each-way fivefold on
12.10 Cheltenham: Elysian Flame
1.55 Cheltenham: Cepage
2.30 Cheltenham: Igor
2.55 Hereford: Volcano
3.05 Cheltenham: Call Me Lord
Plus a 10p Win Heinz – above five plus
3.40 Cheltenham: River Arrow
Select any odd to add a bet