The ground for tomorrow’s opening day of the Cheltenham Festival was described as soft (heavy in places) by clerk of the course Simon Claisse on Sunday and it is fair to say that the four-day meeting will start on ground no better than soft with a further 10mls of rain forecast between now and post time.
We are looking at the softest ground Cheltenham Festival for 20 years with further rain forecast on Wednesday evening.
Willie Mullins reported on Sunday that Douvan is likely to run in Thursday’s Ryanair Chase over 2m 4f rather than take on Altior and stablemate Min (also owned by Rich Ricci) in the 2m Champion Chase on Wednesday. The former Arkle winner is 5/2 (from 3s) with BetVictor following the news -with yet another Mullins’ inmate Un De Sceaux the 11/8 market leader.
It is a warm welcome back to Stratford who stage their first meeting of the year this afternoon – although the track will have to pass a 7.30 inspection on race day with the ground described as soft with heavy places on the chase course.
In the opening Handicap Chase over an extended two-and-three-quarter miles Shanroe In Milan has been raised 7lbs for showing improved form for the step up to three miles at Doncaster last time when he was a game winner, although the time suggested the ground was not too bad in south Yorkshire and he may need better ground.
Hey Bill was brought down on the turn into the home straight at Taunton last time and would surely have played a hand in the finish given a clear run. The vote however, goes to After Aspen (2.30) who won a Lingfield Hurdle on his first start for Olly Murphy last time and was equally as effective over the larger obstacles for Liz Doyle in Ireland. Aidan Coleman keeps the ride.
Final Choice (3.00) appeared not to get home over two-and-a-half-miles at Uttoxeter last time and he has been dropped a couple of pounds by the handicapper. When you take into account his inexperienced conditional jockey’s 10lbs claim the selection is 12lbs lower than when third at Newbury back in January and he gets the each way vote in a competitive heat.
The Lengthen The Odds BetVictor Juvenile Hurdle can go to Monsieur Lecoq (3.30) who improved on his French debut when third at Fontwell last time. The combination of trainer Nick Williams and jockey Lizzie Kelly team up with Coo Star Sivola in the Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham tomorrow and the hope is they get their Festival week off to a flying start.
No Dice (4.00) finished last of five at Uttoxeter on his first start for Fergal O’Brien but that was over an additional half mile and he was in with every chance before his stamina gave way – he looks sure to appreciate this return to the minimum trip.
Paddy Brennan keeps the ride on the nine-year-old who has been given plenty of time to get over that run which was his first start following a long lay-off. He remains a maiden after 12 starts, but he had bits of chase form for Tony Martin in Ireland, which suggest he could be well treated. Kim Bailey’s Lake Field looks a big danger in his first-time tongue-tie.
Tinkers Hill Tommy finished runner up in the John Corbett Cup here over 3m 4f here at the big Hunter Chase meeting in June but his best form is on a decent surface and he is reluctantly overlooked in the Follow @BetVictorRacing on Twitter Hunter Chase. I am going to take a chance on Right Of Reply (4.30) who has to brush up his jumping but is open to significant improvement for Dan Skelton and can reverse recent Bangor form with Alfstar.
At Taunton Ilewin Geez (2.40) is taken to go one better than when second at Doncaster last time for Charlie Mann although this good ground Bumper winner would not want the ground to deteriorate too much.
Wotzizname (3.40) shapes like a thorough stayer and can land the feature staying handicap chase over three-and-a-half-miles for Harry Fry and Noel Fehily. The yard have a number of good chances at the Festival later in the week but I do know the yard feel they have Unowhatimeanharry in the form of his life ahead of another crack at the Stayers’ Hurdle on Thursday.
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