Cheltenham are becoming increasingly confident that their Festival Trials' card will go ahead this weekend.
We begin with a Juvenile Hurdle which sees Rolling Star (12.10) of Nicky Henderson's bid to make a winning British debut having scored at Auteuil last October. The noises coming out of the yard suggest the four-year-old has thrived since coming to Lambourn and he is 12/1 (non runner - free bet) at BetVictor ahead of his first start for his new trainer.
I am convinced that Gullinbursti (12.40) is not an out-and-out stayer and he is taken to go well in the Novices' Handicap Chase which sees a host of progressive first season chasers.
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I remember backing the selection at Doncaster over timber last year when, for much of the journey, he appeared to be going well before being run out of it by Rocky Creek of Paul Nicholls.
He may have been let in kindly off a mark 3lb below his hurdle rating in a fascinating race. Ballygarvey only won an egg and spoon race at Lingfield but he was very impressive on that occasion and a 15lb rise might not prevent the Hobbs' runner following up.
French import Katenko (1.15) has been raised 11lbs for his latest Sandown success and drops back in trip for Venetia Williams in the Murphy Group Chase.
The selection travelled really well at the Esher track and could be called the winner from some way out, so I am not too concerned with the drop back in trip and stamina might be the order of the day given conditions are sure to be very testing.
Hell's Bay may be 11 years of age but he is beginning to look well-handicapped and it would be no surprise to see him running into a place off his feather-weight.
Sprinter Sacre really ought to win the Grade 1 Victor Chandler Chase but at 1/5 he makes no appeal as a betting medium. If the ground came up very testing I'm not sure it would suit Sanctuaire and last year's winner Somersby (1.50), having his first start for Mick Channon, at 13/8 with BetVictor is the call in the market without the favourite.
Gold Cup favourite Bobs Worth bypasses the Argento Chase, having scoped badly earlier in the week, but the enigmatic Tidal Bay, last seen winning the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, is in the 12-runner field and is the one to beat.
He may find the concession, however, of 10lbs to former Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander (2.25 ew) too much although how much ability does the selection, returning from a 680-day absence, retain? He does have a very good record fresh, however, and it just might be
worth taking a chance on him; I hope it is not my heart ruling my head but he receives weight from inferior rivals and Nigel Twiston-Davies wouldn't bring him back if he didn't think he was ready to do himself justice.
Argento Chase: prices from BetVictor:
Tidal Bay 15/8, Grand Crus 9/2, Imperial Commander 5/1, Hunt Ball 10/1, Wayward Prince 10/1.
Puffin Billy misses the Neptune Novices' Hurdle over 2m 5f but it still looks a cracker with Coneygree and The New One (3.00) in opposition.
The former may need 3m against this class of opposition whilst the selection looked the next Twiston-Davies superstar at Warwick last time and cannot be opposed.
I would love to have seen Novice Coneygree stay at 3m against Oscar Whisky and co in the Cleeve Hurdle in another wonderful race but Reve De Sivola (3.35) can build on his facile win in the Long Walk at Ascot last month under similar conditions.
Oscar Whisky has never struck me as an out-and-out stayer but there were excuses given for his below-par run in the World Hurdle last season on his only previous attempt at the trip. The race will decide if he is a possible World Hurdle winner or whether his big chance of Grade 1 success comes at Aintree in the spring and a third Aintree Hurdle.
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