The racing broadcaster previews a busy Saturday of racing with three picks for Cheltenham and two more from Doncaster.
Cheltenham rounds off a very enjoyable week spent largely in the West Country with visits to Exeter and Taunton as the National Hunt season gathers full pace. The area remains the powerhouse of domestic jumping at present, and always provides the chance to stumble across the stars of the future starting out on their careers. Quebecois (Exeter) and Ballee (Taunton) were both impressive and names that, by the end of the season, could well be plying their trade at Cheltenham itself.
The December Gold Cup (13:50 Cheltenham) is the feature race of the weekend and as usual features a couple who ran in the Gold Cup at the November meeting in Il Ridoto (third) and Fugitif (fourth), both of whom have reasonable chances. Fugitif was possibly ridden a little close to the pace that day and, with a bit more patience, can reverse the form.
Thunder Rock is the obvious danger as he features horses like Gerri Colombe, Datsalrightgino and Mahler Mission in his recent form lines. Olly Murphy’s horses are in great form and Sean Bowen continues to ride at the top of his game, as he showed at Fontwell in the mud on Tuesday with a double that typified his strength in the saddle.
An each-way bet on FUGITIF 8/1 looks the best angle of attack as has placed rather more often than he has won, but has a consistent string of efforts at the track including when ahead of Il Ridoto at last season’s Festival.
The Cheltenham card kicks off with a juvenile hurdle where connections of AN BRADAN FEASA 2/1 (12:05 Cheltenham) will be happy they have no Burdett Road to contend with this time. He got a positive ride that day, and if Tom Bellamy adopts similar tactics he may be able to lower the colours of French import Kabral Du Mathan and impressive Wetherby winner Kourosh. The latter pair being trained by Paul Nicholls and Dan Skelton increases the chances of Jack Jones’ charge going off over the odds as he is a less fashionable name, yet has made an excellent start to his training career (26/168 A/E 1.29). He also has a couple of decent chances at Wolverhampton in the evening with Cryptos Dream (17:00) and especially The Waiting Game (18:30).
It is worth a reminder that this meeting marks the move from the Old Course at Cheltenham to the New. The latter is more galloping in nature, with a shallower turn into the home straight making it easier to maintain a more sustained gallop than on its sharper Old counterpart. There is also less jumping on the hurdles course in the closing stages with only two flights in the final 7f and an extra one on the side straight turning away from the stands.
The greater demands on stamina may count in In Excelsis Deo’s favour as opposed to Calico in the 2m handicap chase, but based on the prices PRINCE ESCALUS 14/1 (13:15 Cheltenham) appeals as better value. He looked to be coming to hand with a better effort last time in a race where Calico was second and is now getting back to a mark he has been successful off before.
Away from Cheltenham, ITV will also be showing racing from Doncaster, where TWOSHOTSOFTEQUILA 17/2 (15:15 Doncaster) looks worth an interest. Rebecca Menzies’ stable featured as a corner turner in last week’s column and promptly obliged with a 22/1 winner.
Twoshotsoftequila ran well at Catterick before the stable’s upturn in fortune, and the fourth horse Court At Slip has won since. The winner that day, Some Scope, runs earlier on in the 12:40 at Cheltenham, so a good performance there would increase confidence. Twoshotsoftequila looks to have Forward Plan, who ran very well for a long way in a stronger handicap at Wincanton last time, to beat.
Earlier on at Doncaster, HEADSCARF LIL SP (12:50 Doncaster) is consistent at this sort of level and only just lost out at Perth last time. With On We Go and Pure Theatre in the field, a good pace looks likely and this will assist her usual hold-up run style.
JOCKEYS FOR COURSES
Here is today’s list of riders at tracks where they have excellent course records. Rossa Ryan is in at Wolverhampton, having also been included last weekend when he rode a 21/1 double on Saturday and then an 89/1 treble on Sunday.
- Cheltenham – Bryony Frost (11/63 with an actual/expected ratio 1.86 – so rides 86% more winners than the prices suggest she should)
- Newcastle – Marco Ghiani (11/37, A/E 1.65)
- Wolverhampton – Rossa Ryan (117/609, A/E 1.33)
AN BRADAN FEASA 2/1 (Cheltenham, 12:05)
HEADSCARF LIL SP (Doncaster, 12:50)
PRINCE ESCALUS 14/1 (Cheltenham, 13:15)
FUGITIF (EW) 8/1 (Cheltenham, 13:50)
TWOSHOTSOFTEQUILA 17/2 (Doncaster, 15:15)