By Tony Calvin
There is nothing like giving jockeys an easy time of it a day before Cheltenham. With three jumps meetings being staged on Monday - and one all-weather card apiece in England and Ireland - today is nothing like it.
It is all a little bit unnecessary, isn’t it, especially as most jockeys don’t have the luxury of saying “no” to their employers and taking the day off. Especially as Taunton has attracted some big fields after putting up some excellent prize money.
It is what it is and I am sure you will have read, and heard, a lot recently about the opportunities to “top up your Cheltenham betting bank” in the days leading up to the Festival.
Well, there is an obvious downside to that ridiculous comment so, once again, I am certainly not going in head-down on Monday’s card.
But hopefully I have eked out some decent, small-stakes, wagers.
There are wind ops and new headgear doing the rounds on a few of these in here, but Kristal Hart has a fair bit going for her. The initial 14-1 with Paddy Power and Betfair didn’t last long on Sunday afternoon but the general 9-1 still has some mileage in it.
She wore a first-time tongue-tie on the Flat at Wolverhampton last month, when running a decent sixth at 33-1, and hopefully she can return to her best over hurdles now.
She has been running poorly over jumps since a narrow second at Wincanton this time last year, but she has slipped 12lb down the weights and makes appeal with Noel Fehily back in the plate. Two of her best efforts have come over 2m in soft ground.
There is nothing “hidden” about this trip. Ding Ding goes her fifth course – all of her hurdle successes have been here – and she comes here in good form to do so.
She has been raised 2lb for a fair second at Fontwell last time, but she is fancied to go one better on her favourite stomping ground. The stable had a welcome winner with their most recent runner, Sixties Idol, at Plumpton last month. The general 5-1 looks very fair.
This is a decent £15,000 mile handicap, but my two against the field are Qaffaal and Poet’s Society, and the former gets the vote.
Again, the 3-1 in a place on Sunday afternoon didn’t last long but the current 2-1 is just about acceptable. Use a Best Odds Guaranteed bookmaker, though.
He races off the same mark as when winning this race last year and the seven-year-old’s record at this track is something to behold.
His course form figures read 11213633, and only once has he been beaten more than 1 ¼ lengths here (and that was under four lengths).
That is some going and he warmed up nicely for a repeat winning bid in this contest when fourth at Newcastle last time, which the handicapper generously dropped him 1lb for.
There is plenty of pace in here for this closer to aim at, and everything is in place for a return to winning form.
As regular readers of this column, and viewers of the Betting Lab, will know, I do love a headgear stat.
And when Richard Guest puts first-time cheekpieces on his horses, it is worth noting. In fact, it is bet-inducing.
For such a small stable, a strike rate of 9 from 44, with a massive level-stakes profit, is very impressive and Craggaknock could be worth a few quid as a result.
He has never raced here before and most of his recent efforts have been over hurdles. But he has been running well enough in that sphere and is fairly treated on his Flat form back in 2015 and 2016.
He has shown his best form over further than 1m2f but I am hoping an aggressive ride from stall one – and he does like to go forward – could see him outrun his big odds. I am willing to take the risk at 14-1 plus anyway.
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