Much will depend on what mood Minella Rocco is in. The Gold Cup runner-up had his best chance for ages at Punchestown last time out when the conditions of the race meant he was very well in. But he ran deplorably, his sometimes iffy jumping not helping.
It might be that he’s at his best on good ground and although Cheltenham is forecast good to soft (same as today), some jockeys today were saying it rode softer and the race times back that up. Anyway, I’ll pass him by.
A few in the race might prefer good ground although Perfect Candidate will be okay on this, as will my selection Three Faces West. He’s been off the track for almost a year but prior to the break he really seemed to have come to himself, helped perhaps by the fitting of cheekpieces. He’s the tentative choice to make all under Richard Johnson.
I’ve had my eye on Foxtail Hill since he won at this track in January, jumping like a buck. I’ve backed him a couple of times since and was hopeful he’d land the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase at the Festival back in March. But he took a heavy fall in the lead that day.
He got some compensation first time out back at Cheltenham last month over 2 miles, a trip considered too short for him. But he made all, battled like a terrier and won by a neck. His jumping is a huge asset, touch wood, and despite what many believe, Cheltenham can be a good track for front runners.
You can seldom be confident in a race like this and I certainly wouldn’t be betting big. But, barring accidents, he should give you a great run for your money.
Thomas Campbell’s a very warm favourite. A bit of a talking horse last season he finally came good when stepped up to 3m here first time out this season. The talented 7lb claimer James Bowen lightens his load to 11st 3lbs and he’s entitled to favouritism. But I wasn’t taken by his jumping last time. He didn’t look a natural hurdler by any means and I’m not willing to take a risk at such a skinny price.
Rocky’s Treasure won twice in a row to finish last season, when the increase in trip is assumed to have contributed to his improvement. But those wins were also on good ground and maybe that’s what helped more than the stamina test. We shall know more after the race but at around 9/2 I’ll skip this one too.
The one I think could well be value is the French raider, Nuits Premier Cru. He’s available online at 25/1 as I write. His trainer Emmanuel Clayeux had two runners at Cheltenham today who finished 2nd and 3rd and I think this one is well worth an EW bet.
His form figures in France are not inspiring but this is his first time beyond 2m5f and he is a half brother to two far more familiar names who stayed 3m: the top-class Grands Crus and very useful Gevrey Chambertin.
You wouldn’t want to be facing a death or glory decision here to pick the winner – it looks very tricky, but young Janes Bowen’s mount Runyon Rattler catches the eye. He’s trained in Ireland and not only is he the only runner at Cheltenham for his yard tomorrow, he’s the sole runner of any kind anywhere for trainer PJ Rothwell.
Rothwell doesn’t have that many horses and it must be said the same is true of winners. He sent Runyon Rattler over for this meeting last year where he finished 8th of 18 over 5f shorter. The horse has won since then leading all the way in a big field and two of his best three ratings have come at around this trip.
Once again, I’m far from confident but at 25/1 (Betfair Sportsbook and Unibet) he’ll do for me as an each way. I’ll also be having a wee EW double with him and Nuits Premier Cru also 25/1. If they both squeeze a place, that’s handsome reward.
Enjoy the racing. Don’t bet more than you can afford. Have a successful day.
No joy today. Two 3rds, one 4th, one unseat. In running, I was more hopeful about Nuits St George at 25/1 than anything else. He travelled really well throughout and came with a challenge approaching the last but he found very little and faded into fourth up the hill.