LIKE Thistlecrack in this very race 12 months ago, it is very hard to oppose favourite Unowhatimeanharry in this afternoon’s Stayers Hurdle (3.30pm).
Harry Fry’s nine-year-old continues to improve with every start and has added three decent victories this campaign to his Albert Bartlett victory at this meeting last season.
All of those wins have come with plenty of cut in the ground, but he has proved himself equally effective on a sound surface.
The way he travelled and quickened away from his rivals in the Cleeve Hurdle here, when last seen in action back in January, without doubt makes him the one to beat, but that is reflected in his price.
At just 5/4 with 188BET, it is hard to suggest he is value, but equally hard to say that he won’t win.
The horse I am going to oppose him with on value grounds is Warren Greatrex’s COLE HARDEN.
Regular readers of this column will remember I correctly recommended backing this horse to land this race back in 2015 at 33/1.
Sadly, we won’t get that kind of price two years later, but I’m still tempted by the 10/1 on offer in places and would also recommend buying him in Sporting Index’s race index.
Form experts will tell you that he has absolutely no chance of reversing the placings with Unowhatimeanharry on their recent Cleeve Hurdle running.
Fry’s horse carried 8lbs more than my selection and still emerged the best part of a two-length winner.
However, it was without doubt the best run of the campaign so far for Cole Harden and he will improve dramatically for the better ground.
Yesterday’s brutal RSA Chase proved how the pace horses can slip away from the others on good ground and I’m sure Cole Harden will be a tough nut to crack.
Looking at the rest and you would have to give former Champion Hurdler Jezki a squeak if he can settle.
He’s obviously been a difficult horse to train as he has been plagued with injuries, but there is no denying his talent.
The return to this better surface will obviously help, but there has to be a niggling doubt about whether he is as good at this trip as he was two miles.
If Nigel Twiston-Davies’ horses were in better form, I’d have been much more confident, but I still cannot resist a small each-way bet on his BALLYOPTIC at 16/1.
He was in the process of giving Unowhatimeanharry the biggest fright of his career to date when crashing out at the last at Ascot a few starts back.
There was something amiss when he disappointed here behind the favourite at Cheltenham last time and he came home all wrong apparently.
He has since had a wind operation and there is every chance we are likely to see a dramatically improved Ballyoptic this afternoon.
The addition of a first time tongue tie will also aid any potential breathing problems and he looks another decent each-way alternative to a rock solid favourite.
Cole Harden e/w or buy on win index 3.30pm Cheltenham
Ballyoptic e/w 3.30pm Cheltenham