THERE isn’t a race that I enjoy more at the Cheltenham Festival than the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase (2.10pm).
It is the ultimate test of a novice chaser and is normally not won by the flashiest type, but by the toughest and most genuine stayer who battles the hardest.
The obvious candidate is favourite Presenting Percy who is streetwise, stays all day and brings previous Cheltenham Festival winning form to the party.
He has been chosen over other leading contender Monalee by his pilot Davy Russell who rides this place better than anyone else.
At 5/2 with Coral, he will have plenty of supporters and is the most likely winner.
However, I’ve not been a huge fan of his preparation for this, with a really hard race at Gowran Park on bottomless ground less than a month ago far from ideal.
He is tough enough to have got over those exertions but certainly doesn’t represent any value.
All the rain that has fallen will put more emphasis on stamina this year than usual and for that reason I have to oppose Monalee too.
He’s a hugely talented horse, but this trip will stretch him and I don’t understand why connections haven’t waited for tomorrow’s JLT Novices’ Chase over a shorter trip.
The ultra-tough Black Corton will steal the headlines for his pilot Byrony Frost if he wins the 10th race he has competed in since his campaign began back in the summer.
He looked better than ever at Ascot last time, but the fancy prices have long gone and I prefer to look elsewhere.
The two I like are Irish raider DOUNIKOS at 9/1 and ELEGANT ESCAPE at 11/1, both with Grosvenorsport.com, who will double the odds for all new customers on any bet up to £20 with the winnings paid in cash.
Dounikos caught my eye last time at Leopardstown when finishing strongly behind Monalee over far too short a trip.
Already an impressive dual winner on heavy ground this season, the seven-year-old had been earmarked as a likely candidate for the four miler, so stamina is certainly his strong suit.
He was staying on really strongly at the death last time and the step up in trip should suit him.
I’m also going to throw a few quid each-way on Elegant Escape for the Colin Tizzard team who arrive at this year’s Festival back in decent form.
He’s another who will stay all day, handles the ground and looks just the type to get involved.
This afternoon’s action kicks off with the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (1.30pm), which will more than likely go to Samcro who is one of the Irish bankers of the week.
He is unbeaten in all six career starts to date and ran out a hugely impressive winner of the Grade One Deloitte Novice Hurdle last time.
However, he is a best-priced 8/11 with Ladbrokes and doesn’t represent any value at those prices.
I recommended BLACK OP each-way at 14/1 a few weeks ago and I am still hopeful he can hit the frame.
Willie Mullins’ Next Destination looks the most likely to trouble the favourite, but I’m going to chance a few quid each-way on VISION DES FLOS each-way at 9/1 in the market without the favourite.
He looked a different horse at Exeter last time after wind surgery and can go well with the ground in his favour.
Vision Des Flos e/w (without Samcro) 1.30pm Cheltenham
Black Op e/w (14/1) 1.30pm Cheltenham
Dounikos e/w 2.10pm Cheltenham
Elegant Escape e/w 2.10pm Cheltenham