Tom Thurgood (TT) and Harry Allwood (HA) of racingtv.com take a look at this week's qualifying races at Cheltenham for the free-to-play Paddy's Pick 5 game. Enter below for your chance at the £75,000 jackpot!
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1.15 Cheltenham: Editeur Du Gite
A few of these would have strong claims if producing their best form, most notably Gumball, Dolos and Third Time Lucki who have all been rated higher over fences in the past, but that trio are not the most reliable and the safest option looks to be EDITEUR DU GITE following his eye-catching return to action at Cheltenham in November.
Gary Moore’s eight-year-old enjoyed a productive campaign last season – which included two wins at Cheltenham, one being over this course and distance – and he was not beaten far off this rating when fourth in the Grand Annual at the Cheltenham Festival.
Racing prominently suited Editeur Du Gite last season – he made all in each of his four victories over fences - so it was a surprise to see him restrained on his seasonal debut, although that may have been due to two other front-runners being in the line-up, and he certainly shaped as though the outing was needed.
It paid to race up with the pace at Cheltenham on Friday, probably due to the unseasonably quick ground, and I would be surprised if Editeur Du Gite does not race up with the pace this time.
His run in the Grand Annual proved he is capable of being competitive off this rating, despite it being 6lb above his last winning mark, and with a recent run under his belt, it will be disappointing if the selection does not bounce back to his best, especially with ground conditions also in his favour. (HA)
1:50 Cheltenham: Frero Banbou
This is competitive with five runners coming here after contesting the Paddy Power Gold Cup at the November Meeting. The time wasn’t great for such a prestigious early-season handicap and, with the hunch that it may not have been vintage running, it may pay to look elsewhere with last month’s also-rans Il Ridoto and Stolen Silver heading the early market.
Frero Banbou is an experienced chaser who has decent form over a testing two miles, so this first try at an intermediate trip may unlock further improvement for trainer Venetia Williams and jockey Charlie Deutsch.
Frero Banbou was one of yard’s first runners of the jumps season proper at Ascot back in October, yet after a quiet start the stable has picked up – in the last three weeks, Williams has trained 12 winners and had eight placed from 51 winners (42 per cent) and hopefully this seven-year-old can additionally step forward now.
Williams has trained the winner once from 15 tries in this race, but she has saddled the runner-up three times and also had a third and Frero Banbou can prove another stable representative well suited to this task. (TT)
2.25 Cheltenham: Epatante
Only five runners (likely to be four with Zoffanien running in the 3.00pm on Friday), but an intriguing contest on paper. 2020 Unibet Champion Hurdle winner EPATANTE is the one to beat on ratings, especially as she receives the mares’ allowance, too, and this will be her first start outside of Grade One company for over three years.
Although she was soundly beaten by Constitution Hill on her return in the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle, she wasn’t given a hard time once Aidan Coleman realised she was booked for second behind the freakish winner, and this looks an ideal opportunity for the six-time Grade One winner to get back to winning ways.
Despite rising nine now, I don't think either of her past two outings suggest she is on the decline as Constitution Hill is potentially the best hurdler we have seen, and she was probably feeling the effects of her Aintree exertions when third at the Punchestown Festival in April.
She does face three rivals here who are on the improve – Knappers Hill, First Street and I Like To Move It - although they will all need to raise their game again to defeat Epatante on these terms. (HA)
3.00 Cheltenham: Grand Soir
Four last-time out winners line up in a six-runner field and the Irish raider is fancied to go better than early quotes of 9-1 suggest.
Grand Soir has won both of his recent starts and, while this is tougher, he is the established act here in terms of proven ability at this trip under Rules. While there is no dyed-in-the-wool front-runner here, several have raced prominently or gone for home early in their races so there should be enough pace to suit this stout six-year-old.
John McConnell won this race with a 12-1 chance two seasons ago while the trainer boosted his excellent Cheltenham stats with a memorable three-timer at the November Meeting last month. Since 2010, McConnell has trained nine winners from 28 runners at Cheltenham outside of the Festival and Grand Soir could be underestimated given his wins have come at Kilbeggan and Cork, even in a race such as this one which looks weak for Grade Two status. (TT)
3.35 Cheltenham: Martello Sky
This likeable mare won this race last year and is now back to the same rating of 140 despite two good efforts this season.
She stuck to her task well in Grade Two company at Wetherby on her return over an insufficient trip and ran too keenly all the way up to an extended three miles last time. This intermediate distance should be ideal now and she can give weight away to some interesting but inferior rivals, while the likes of Indefatigable and Nina The Terrier towards the top of the handicap don’t quite look in the same form in the early stages of this campaign.
Bryony Frost is still out injured with a broken collarbone and Aidan Coleman comes in for the ride. Interestingly, the jockey has ridden this mare four times and has won on her four times, including in some decent races off lofty ratings.
In handicaps and Listed races against mares only over hurdles, Martello Sky boasts form figures of 1111122 – with the two defeats at extremes of trip. She should go well in this. (TT)
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