After a pretty rocky month for racing in general, it will come as a bit of a relief to get Cheltenham underway. From flu to boycotts, failing to honour ante-post bets and a tale of two winning posts, hopefully the Festival can restore some pride to the sport.
The weather forecast, at this stage, looks pretty wild and the ground is certainly softer than for the vast majority of the form in most of the lead up races.
As such, expect a few shocks along the way, especially if it rains once the ground has been opened up on the Tuesday and Thursday on the respective tracks.
All the selections come from the Festival on Tuesday:
Grand Sancy showed a good attitude to win the Kingwell at Wincanton
A far more open race than is the norm here and it has been no surprise to see Al Dancer drift in recent days. His success in the rescheduled Betfair Hurdle lacked its usual depth and he has also been declared without the hood he has worn in his last two victories.
Angels Breath has long impressed in his work at home and reportedly suffered a hold up over Christmas which left him short of work when beaten at Kempton. Anything but knocked about he could well be strong in the market on the build up to the race and could yet prove to be the class horse in the field.
Of the Mullins pair, Aramon may reverse form with Klassical Dream as his best form in Ireland seems to be in truly run races and a decent pace looks assured through Felix Desjy, Brandon Castle and Elixir De Nutz for whom the rain will be welcome as he bids to emulate Somerville Boy in winning this having scored in the Tolworth.
He beat Grand Sancy that day but will face more pressure on the front end here so Paul Nicholls horse gets the vote. A victory over Sceau Royal and Vision Des Flos shows the benefit of him being a battle hardened second season novice whilst in my opinion his handicap fourth at Ascot before Christmas in the old Ladbroke has a greater depth to it than the Betfair Hurdle.
Paul Nicholls has had to be patient at recent Festivals with his only successes coming on the last day but he has a stronger team this year and can hit the ground running with Grand Sancy.
The likely strong pace again looks a key factor here. Even before Clondaw Castle was supplemented, Ornua and Knocknassus’ presence meant there is not going to be much hanging around. Glen Forsa’s jumping and successes over further are both assets but it was only a few weeks ago he was being talked of as a winner of the 0-145 Novice handicap and his price makes little appeal.
If the ground was the reason for Lalor’s Sandown defeat then conditions are hardly likely to suit here, but they could play into the hands of Hardline. He will need to avoid the type of mistake he made at Leopardstown behind La Bague Au Roi last time having benefitted himself from Getabird’s error at Limerick.
He is likely to relish the stamina test at the trip and if able to be within striking distance two out, he appeals as the type to find the hill right up his street whilst there are few riders with a Festival record as good as Davy Russell’s which was pointed out last week.
Relive Coo Star Sivola's victory in the Ultima last year
This looks a strong renewal of a race where form from previous renewals has often proved a key feature. Last year’s winner Coo Star Sivola would be looking to be the fourth back-to-back winner, the latest being Un Temps Pour Tout in 2016 and 2017 whilst others like Holywell fared well when returning after winning it.
For a horse of this type who have few pretensions of top grade success their whole season can be spent in returning here not much higher in the weights than twelve months ago and Coo Star Sivola seems another example. He will handle soft ground and is worth an interest again.
It is not a shallow race. Old rogue Singlefarmpayment needs his rivals to have done their running by the time he chimes in, but several of that type have won Festival handicaps in the past, while a darker horse is Noble Endeavor who third in 2017 off a higher mark.
Lightly raced since, it is possible he has been kept under wraps until the Grand National weights were published having had a sighter over the Aintree fences in the Becher.
He may be worth a speculative ante post interest for Aintree prior to this race at the 50-1 available as a decent run would see those odds shorten significantly.
Has been a mover in the market since it was announced that he will partnered by Jamie Codd whose record in Festival amateur riders’ races is excellent.
Right from the word go he has looked an assured jumper and whilst my belief he needed more cut and a test of stamina, he will be up to the test here if he can get into a good rhythm and he could prove a tough nut to crack.
Whilst much was made of a potential tilt at the Ultima connections have to my mind made the right decision to come here and he should give a bold sight.
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