CHELTENHAM hosts Festival Trials Day tomorrow and the ante-post markets are certain to be in for a shake-up. The highlight of a strong card is the BetBright Cup Chase (1.50pm) and, despite a field of eight, it actually looks like a decent running of this Gold Cup Trial.
Dynaste is the likely market leader following his second in the King George behind Silviniaco Conti last time. However, I’m not convinced he is a strong enough stayer on this ground and I’m happy to take him on.
Hennessy winner Many Clouds has looked a top class animal this season, but he had a very hard race at Newbury and the combination of that plus 11st 10lb on his back is enough to put me off.
Holywell looks like he will run in the Cleeve Hurdle, but he is better in the spring anyway, and I don’t think Black Thunder will have the gears to see off this bunch.
Last year’s winner The Giant Bolster is respected, as he is a 10lb better horse at Cheltenham, but he is another who has to carry top weight.
So the one to be on is Alan King’s SMAD PLACE who, although yet to win at Prestbury Park, has put in some very solid performances over the past few seasons.
A good third in Big Buck’s’ historic fourth World Hurdle, he then filled the same spot in 2013 behind Solwhit. Last term he just got touched off by O’Faolains Boy in the RSA Chase and he deserves to win a decent race. King regretted not giving him a prep run before the Hennessy in November, but he still ran well to finish fifth. He has been dropped 2lb for that and will get 8lb from most of his rivals tomorrow. The 4/1 looks very fair and he could be an interesting outsider for the Gold Cup.
The Cleeve Hurdle (3.35pm) is shaping up to be a cracker and Paul Nicholls’ Saphir Du Rheu was chalked up as favourite when the market opened earlier in the week.
His claims are strong, but the comparisons with Big Buck’s, who reverted to this race after similarly disappointing over fences, have been overblown.
Yes, he could turn out to be the next superstar staying hurdler, but he hasn’t proven that yet and has no form at three miles. I’m happy to leave him alone at 11/4
There are similar stamina concerns with Un Temps Pour Tout, making his seasonal reappearance, and I can’t have Reve De Sivola at Cheltenham.
Beat That would be interesting if taking his chance, but he might be another that hits form in the spring.
COLE HARDEN is a proven three-miler and has run a trio of excellent races this season. He was a major eyecatcher behind Rock On Ruby here last time over too short a trip. The step up back up to three miles is perfect and he looks a solid each-way bet at 11/2 with Betway.
Possibly the best bet of the day, though, comes in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (3.00pm).
Dan Skelton won another of these Grade Two trials with Three Musketeers at Warwick a few weeks ago and he can repeat the dose with the hugely promising VALUE AT RISK.
Formerly trained by Philip Fenton in Ireland, the six-year-old was third behind Shaneshill and Silver Concorde in last April’s Punchestown Champion Bumper.
But it was his performance at Newbury last month, on his first start for Skelton and over hurdles, that marked him down as something potentially very special, jumping impeccably and pulverising his rivals by 22 lengths.
If he wins as I expect him to, he is likely to return for the Neptune for which he is currently a best-priced 16/1 (see Road to Cheltenham).
Up at Doncaster the main event is the Sky Bet Chase (3.15pm) which looks devilishly difficult.
There are question marks about a number in the field but I’m going to take a chance on the 11-year-old MEDERMIT being too good for them dropping down in grade.
King has booked the impressive Tom Bellamy to take off a valuable 5lb and Medermit will go very close if he can repeat his 1¼ length second to Sam Winner at Aintree last time. Take the 10/1 available with a few firms.
SMAD PLACE 1.50pm Cheltenham (tomorrow)
VALUE AT RISK 3.00pm Cheltenham (tomorrow)
MEDERMIT e/w 3.15pm Doncaster (tomorrow)
COLE HARDEN e/w 3.35pm Cheltenham (tomorrow)