BILL ESDAILE AND BEN CLEMINSON WITH THE WEEKEND’S BEST RACING AND FOOTBALL BETS
TRIALS Day at Cheltenham gives jockeys the last chance to ride around Prestbury Park before they line-up for the Festival opener, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, in six and a half weeks.
There is no doubt that the highlight of the card is the return of Big Buck’s in the Galliard Homes Cleeve Hurdle (3.35pm). Sam Twiston-Davies sits on the 11-year-old for the first time, hoping to extend his unbeaten run to 19 races.
Big Buck’s is a wonderful animal and everyone can’t wait to see if he retains all his old ability and enthusiasm. He can be backed at 5/6, but it’s very hard to recommend a bet on a horse that has not seen a racecourse for well over a year. For me, this is a no bet race and let’s just hope that he is back.
It is going to be a huge day for trainer Paul Nicholls, whatever happens, and I fancy his ROCKY CREEK to take all the beating in the Argento Chase (2.25pm). He ran really well to be second in the Hennessy last time and he should be able to reverse the form with Triolo D’Alene, who isn’t guaranteed to line up on this softer ground.
Rocky Creek was a decent novice last season, winning the RSA trial at Warwick and then the Reynoldstown at Ascot. He is a sound jumper, a strong traveller and is three from three on soft ground. The 9/4 generally available is well worth taking.
Houblon Des Obeaux will love the conditions, but he hasn’t shown his best form at Cheltenham in the past. Therefore, a bigger danger is Hennessy third Theatre Guide, despite there still being a worry about the virus affecting the Colin Tizzard stable.
I also wouldn’t rule out The Giant Bolster, whose best form has come on this track and who is well in at the weights. However, Rocky Creek might just have too much and he’s my main fancy tomorrow.
We won’t know the final field for any of the Cheltenham races until later this morning, but I am interested in David Pipe’s RED SHERLOCK in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (3.00pm) if he takes his chance.
The unbeaten son of Shirocco has looked good on all three starts this season and he seems to be well suited to soft ground. Although this is a big step up on the races he’s been contesting so far, he looks like a decent horse and the Johnson Family would love nothing more than a big win at the Festival this year.
The big betting race up at Doncaster is the Sky Bet Chase (3.15pm) and Nicholls could be celebrating again if Unioniste wins under Harry Derham. He is a big player, despite the burden of top weight, but I prefer those towards the bottom of the handicap in contests like this.
My selection is THE DRUIDS NEPHEW who ran such a good race at Chepstow last time, finishing in front of Welsh National first and second, Mountainous and Hawkes Point. He was only raised 3lb for that effort and he looks a strong each-way candidate at 10/1 with Star Sports off just 10st 3lb, with his rider’s claim.
There is some terrific racing in Ireland over the weekend and, from a punting perspective, the Boylesports Hurdle (3.20pm) at Leopardstown tomorrow is the main race to get involved with.
I just cannot get away from the claims of Tony Martin’s QUICK JACK, whose victory at Cheltenham in November has been franked countless times and he races off a featherweight. I think he will go off shorter than the current 7/2 available with Star Sports.
ROCKY CREEK 2.25pm Cheltenham (tomorrow)
RED SHERLOCK 3.00pm Cheltenham (tomorrow)
THE DRUIDS NEPHEW E/W 3.15pm Doncaster (tomorrow)
QUICK JACK 3.20pm Leopardstown (tomorrow)