ANYONE keeping an eye on the ante-post market for the RSA Chase in recent weeks will have observed that the layers seem to be bracing themselves for Grands Crus’ defection to the Gold Cup. The likes of Bobs Worth, Last Instalment and Join Together have shortened dramatically, while Grands Crus is out to as big as 3/1.
It’s therefore a real shame that David Pipe has elected not to run his promising grey in tomorrow’s Argento Chase at Cheltenham (2.35pm). He would have been a warm favourite and connections would then have had a much clearer idea whether to stick with the novice route or step up and take on the big boys.
Grands Crus looked very special when winning the Feltham on Boxing Day in a very quick time, but he would have been taking on some experienced chasers tomorrow and I would have opposed him.
I was bitterly disappointed with Diamond Harry at Haydock in November, while Captain Chris has stamina questions to answer. The one to be on is TIME FOR RUPERT who looks solid each-way value at 4/1 with Coral after his recent confidence-booster at Newbury.
Paul Webber’s charge was many people’s idea of last year’s Festival banker before bursting a blood vessel and finishing a disappointing fifth in the RSA Chase. He shaped well on his reappearance at Wetherby and even though he was well beaten at Haydock, he loves Cheltenham and I can see him bouncing right back to form.
Trials Day has produced a dozen festival winners since 2007 and it would be a major surprise if Big Buck’s didn’t make it 13 by winning the Cleeve Hurdle (3.40pm) on his way to a record fourth World Hurdle in March.
Irish-raider Mourad, if allowed to take his chance, looks the biggest danger to Paul Nicholls’ wonder-hurdler, but the reality is he’d probably have to start now to stop Big Buck’s making it 15 straight wins.
Whoever wins the Triumph Hurdle Trial at 12.55pm will rocket to the head of the market for that particular contest. BABY MIX, Sadler’s Risk and Grumeti all hold entries for tomorrow’s Grade Two prize and the first-named narrowly gets the nod.
The Murphy Group Chase (2.05pm) looks a typically wide-open handicap and I’m still keen to give Colin Tizzard’s HELL’S BAY another chance, particularly now he’s been dropped another four pounds by the handicapper. He travelled strongly last time and actually ran far better than his eventual finishing position implies. If allowed to take his chance he could go well at a big price.
There are also plenty of Festival clues potentially on display at Doncaster tomorrow where the main betting race on the card is the Skybet Chase at 2.50pm. Alan King’s Hold On Julio was an impressive winner at Sandown last time, but will have to jump a lot better than he did that day to warrant carrying my cash at 7/2 with Blue Square.
I really fancy WAYWARD PRINCE at around 10/1 for the in-form Ian Williams stable to make up for his disappointing no-show in the Hennessy. He showed a lot more zest when fourth at Wetherby last time and can go well off a four pound lower mark. The ground at Doncaster is currently good-to-soft and that should be perfect for him.
Tomorrow’s big betting race in Ireland is the Boylesports.com Hurdle (2.50pm) and the one I’m keen on is Gordon Elliott’s PLAN A. The five-year-old was a hot favourite for last year’s Fred Winter and ran a cracker to finish fourth. He still looks attractively handicapped and with a promising claimer on board, he is worth backing each-way at 10/1 with the sponsors.
Looking ahead to the Cheltenham Festival and this time last year I recommended backing NOBLE PRINCE for the Jewson Novices’ Chase and Paul Nolan’s runner duly went on to land the spoils in March.
Bookmakers reacted to his defeat in his native Ireland last weekend by pushing him out in the betting for the Ryanair Chase to 7/1 and now is the time to step in again. The run will have put him spot on for his Festival assignment and the combination of better ground and a longer trip will bring out the best in him.
I’m at Cheltenham tomorrow and you can follow me for all my latest news and views on Twitter @BillEsdaile.