It is very difficult to get away from the chances of Sizing Europe (3.20) in Wednesday’s Cheltenham feature the Champion Chase and he looks sure to go off a warm order to retain his crown.
Eight go to post for the race and although he might have to make his own running (unless they change tactics on Wishfull Thinking again) he is the best horse in the race having slammed 2010 Champion Big Zeb at Punchestown on ground softer than ideal last time.
Big Zeb was not at his best last time but it is hard to see him reverse the form on this better ground; now 11 he has been a credit to connections but if Sizing Europe turns up in the same form as he did 12 months ago or in the Tingle Creek at Sandown before Xmas he will be very hard to beat.
The exciting grey Grand Crus (2.40) has jumped very well in winning all three starts over fences, but I am not convinced he is a thorough stayer and am of the opinion in the long term that the King George (3m flat track) rather than Gold Cup (3m 2f stiff) might be his primary objective given he often pulls fiercely in his races and failed to get home at Aintree last year behind Big Buck’s.
Bobs Worth has a real engine and he will be a threat to all if he is anywhere near the front going to the last; he is unbeaten in three starts at Cheltenham over hurdles but hasn’t looked a natural over the larger obstacles. If he jumps fluently he will be a threat to them all but that is a big if.
First Lieutenant won the Neptune at last year’s Festival but was no match for Last Instalment in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown over Xmas. Another who will have to improve his fencing but he does look a thorough stayer and will love the decent ground.
Many in the Nicholls’ yard believe Join Together is one of their better chances of the week having won both completed starts over fences including over course and distance. Another who has been off the track so far this year but there was much to like about his demolition of Mossley (runs JLT Chase Tuesday) when last seen back in December.
The card begins with the 4m National Hunt Chase where Sir Alex Ferguson’s Harry The Viking looks sure to go off favourite; unbeaten in his last four starts he has been laid out for the race since beating Ikorodu Road at Doncaster over Xmas and the form has been franked by the subsequent wins of the second and third.
Soll represents Willie Mullins and this son of Presenting will love the decent ground having run on ground softer than ideal so far this season. He is the one to beat but the yard are also represented by Allee Garde (1.30) who finished third in a Grade 1 earlier in the season and also promises to stay this marathon trip.
Alfie Spinner ran a cracker at Ascot last time in a race where his jumping got better as the race progressed; connections believe him to be a potential Welsh National horse but he may need softer ground to be seen at his best. Teaforthree looks a bigger threat for Rebecca Curtis having landed two of his last three starts in the manner of a most progressive stayer. The booking of top amateur JT McNamara is a positive as well.
There is a strong Irish challenge for the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle with Noel Meade’s Monksland just preferred to Mullins’ Sous Les Cieux but preference is for the grey Simonsig (2.05) representing Nicky Henderson. The yard felt he was not at his best when beaten by Fingal Bay at Sandown back in December but he made mincemeat of his rivals at Kelso in the BetVictor Morebattle Hurdle last time (2m 2f).
I felt connections would run the selection in the Supreme as he has pace to burn but he is a top class animal and I hope his stamina lasts in what promises to be one of the races of the meeting.
The Coral Cup looks desperately difficult but if Dare Me (4.00) stays the 2m 5f trip he must go close; the selection lacks the experience of many in the field but there has been much to admire in both runs so far this term and he can reward each way support at a big price. Poole Master and Cape Dutch are others to consider down near the bottom of the weights in a cracking renewal of this competitive handicap. Note we at BetVictor are betting ¼ odds first 5 in the race.
There are many at Alan King’s yard who believe Vendor would go close in the Triumph Hurdle and off a mark of 129 the French import must go very close in the Fred Winter (4.40) another race we are betting ¼ odds first 5. That said the Pipe yard think Kazlian is well-weighted and Nicholls’ believes Ulck Du Lin (who Ruby deserts) has a nice mark but Vendor must be the selection.
The concluding Bumper has been won by British runners for the last two years after six Irish winners on the bounce and I think Royal Guardsman (5.15) will take plenty of beating for the same yard who won the race in 2010 with Cue Card.
CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL DAY 2 – Wednesday 14th March 2012
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