TRAINER Enda Bolger has an unrivalled record in races run over Cheltenham’s Cross Country (3.00pm) course and he will fancy his chances of improving that even further on Friday afternoon.
Fittingly, the market is headed by two Bolger runners, Auvergnat and Cantlow, along with the other JP McManus-owned contender, Cause Of Causes.
All possess plenty of experience over these fences and look to have strong claims in a race in which Irish runners have won three of the last six.
However, I am going to go a little left field and will be siding with Philip Hobbs’s BERTIE BORU at a monster 25/1.
On glancing at the formbook, he would appear to have little chance.
However, he was very much still in touch and travelling like he had every chance when he was badly hampered by a faller and unseated the rider over these fences in December.
The cross-country is typically run at a slower pace than the handicap chases in which Bertie Boru has been running in and this should help his jumping, which has tended to be his Achilles heel.
If he can iron out the mistakes, he’ll go well, even from out of the handicap proper, with this 3m6f trip sure to suit.
Although putting your faith in the jockeys riding in today’s opening amateur riders' handicap chase (12.40pm) possesses an obvious risk, your money is in safe hands with Sam Waley-Cohen.
Having won both a King George and a Gold Cup, not to mention a second in the Grand National, Waley-Cohen is a more than capable jockey and teams up with the very interesting INDIAN CASTLE.
Available at 10/1 with 188BET, the Ian Williams-trained nine-year-old has run around Prestbury Park seven times, winning once and placing twice, and looks a solid contender for Friday afternoon.
He was last seen chasing home What Happens Now, who lines up again here, over course and distance in October but Williams’ runner is now 7lbs better off with the winner.
My selection met with plenty of traffic that day and was running on strongly towards the finish.
There will likely be plenty of money for Jamie Codd’s mount Dueling Banjos, and you certainly can’t argue with the form of Kim Bailey’s yard.
However, I’m not convinced he truly stays this 3m1f trip and I’ll always oppose doubtful stayers at Cheltenham.
Now on to Saturday’s racing, and the 3m3½f handicap chase (1.50pm) looks a red-hot contest.
Although it is difficult to be too sure who is running, with declarations not being made until this morning, I am going to side with the Fergal O’Brien-trained PERFECT CANDIDATE.
Thanks to Minella Rocco shouldering 11st 12lbs at the top of the weights, half of the field is out of the handicap and Perfect Candidate will feel like he is running loose with just 10st 12lbs in the saddle.
He was beaten out of sight behind Cogry at Cheltenham last month, but the same happened on his first run last season at Bangor before he ran a cracker to finish second at this course.
I’m expecting him to strip fitter for his seasonal reappearance and Fergal O’Brien’s runner is worth supporting each-way at around the 16/1 mark.
The yard has made an excellent start to the season and O’Brien loves nothing more than a winner at his local track.
POINTERS - FRIDAY
Indian Castle e/w 12.40pm Cheltenham
Bertie Boru e/w 3.00pm Cheltenham
Perfect Candidate e/w 1.50pm Cheltenham