Andy Stephens takes a look at this week’s races for the latest Paddy’s Pick 5 competition. Don’t forget to make your entries and play for £/€25,000 in our free-to-play game!
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1.50 Cheltenham: SPIRITOFTHEGAMES
A tricky race for starters and I imagine plenty of Paddy’s Pick 5 players will try and negotiate it by “playing safe” and focusing on those at the head of the market. I made a case for backing Il Ridoto at 9-1 each-way at the start of the week but his price has shrunk to 5-1. I’m less keen on him in the knowledge plenty will select him, especially as I imagined the frost coming out of the ground quicker than it has. A tacky, testing surface won’t help him get home.
The other runner contesting favouritism is Fugitif, who bolted up at Chepstow last time. However, he’d previously been beaten at Cheltenham, admittedly over shorter, and now finds himself 12lb higher in the ratings. So how about swimming against the tide and rowing in with SPIRITOFTHEGAMES for Dan and Harry Skelton?
He’s proved a huge tease over the past three years or so, but he’s run some cracking races during that time and is back on the same mark as when third to Coole Cody at the Festival in March – the eighth time he has been placed at the track. His efforts this term over further indicate he is in good heart and he’s versatile regards the going.
Most Paddy’s Pick 5 players will have long given up on him and, if he finally delivers, the vast majority will be knocked out. The door will be open to scoop all £25,000 on offer. Well, that’s the logic, anyway.
2.25 Cheltenham: PROTEKTORAT
Last season’s Gold Cup third looked better than ever when landing the Betfair Chase on his return and the vibes coming out of the Skelton camp are strong. Fresh and favoured by the weights, he’s going to take plenty of stopping on a track where we know he operates so well.
Grand National hero Noble Yeats showed us something different when surging home in the Many Clouds Chase back at Aintree but his heavy defeat in last season’s Ultima off a mark of 147 – the only time he has previously run at Cheltenham – keeps gnawing away at me. Perhaps he’s just much improved, or perhaps the track simply isn’t for him.
Frodon and Ahoy Senor are unlikely to help each other as both are most effective when bowling along at the head of affairs, but I can see Sounds Russian outrunning his odds. He’s most reliable and the stiffest test he’s encountered will play to his strengths.
3.00 Cheltenham: PAISLEY PARK
A poll on Racing TV’s Twitter feed this week invited followers to decide which of the three short-priced favourites on Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham on Saturday was the most vulnerable out of Energumene, Protektorat and Paisley Park. With 43.3 per cent of the vote, it was clear that most thought Paisley Park was the wobbliest.
You can understand why. He’s 11 years old, can be tricky at the start, plus hits flat spots mid-race. And he’s up against a fresh face in Gelino Bello, who is four years his junior.
But, against that, Paisley Park has won the past three renewals of this race, plus won a Stayers’ Hurdle and has been placed in two other runnings. He’s got outstanding form claims, reflected by the fact he’s rated at least 10lb superior to all his rivals, and won another Grade One at Kempton over Christmas despite the speed element of the track.
With Paddy’s Pick 5, all the horses are effectively the same price. Imagine the seven runners were in this race were all chalked up at 6-1. You wouldn't hesitate to back him, would you?
🐴 #RoadToCheltenham weekly poll 🐴— Racing TV (@RacingTV) January 24, 2023
Which of the three short-priced favourites on Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham on Saturday is the most vulnerable - and why? Let us know.
📺And don't miss the show at 9pm on Thursday.
3.35 Cheltenham: ROCK MY WAY
This is tricky, with most of these being on the up. It’s difficult to predict who will soar higher, although you can scratch Blenkinsop from your studying as he’s a non-runner. The one who makes most appeal is ROCK MY WAY, who belied odds of 66-1 when making the promising Weveallbeencaught pull out all the stops on his hurdling bow over course and distance on New Year’s Day.
That looked no fluke, with the pair pulling 23 lengths clear. The winner had previously been a good third to Hermes Allen, so there is substance to the form, and, clearly, he’s entitled to improve.
Pembroke and Henri The Second head the betting and command respect. The former has shone on his past two starts and has the highest official rating, although the trip will ask a new question of him. At bigger odds, Bonttay made some appeal because she’s already shown that Cheltenham holds no fears for her.
4.10 Cheltenham: MIGHT I
It’s a little dull, but the first four in the betting – Punctuation, Might I, Hacker Des Places and Pikar – look the quartet to focus on.
My marginal preference is for MIGHT I, who rubbed shoulders with the best as a novice last season and looks favourably treated off a rating of 142, especially with Lorcan Murtagh (2/4 on him) taking off another 3lb.
Might I was heavily backed for a valuable 3m handicap hurdle on his return at Haydock but he was too keen and wilted. It could be argued that 2m may be a little sharp, but a decent gallop is on the cards and I’m sure his stamina will be brought into play.
Punctuation is feared most, even though he’s gone up an aggregate of 33lb for his four successive wins. He keeps getting the job done, including here at Cheltenham in December.
Five key runners for Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham
Dave Nevison: my best four bets for Cheltenham on Saturday
Paddy Power Cotswold Chase: runner-by-runner guide
Paul Nicholls: guide to my Festival Trials Day team
Festival Trials Day: read what connections have to say
Johnny Ward: my best bet for Fairyhouse on Saturday
Road To Cheltenham: Time right to move for Arkle fancy at 20-1
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