Join Together to give Nicholls his first Albert Bartlett winner

EVEN though this year’s Cheltenham Festival is within touching distance, there still seems to be some ante-post value out there. Now, the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (run two weeks today) may not exactly be the highlight of the week, but Paul Nicholls’ JOIN TOGETHER looks to have an excellent chance and is a cracking each-way proposition at 10/1 with Victor Chandler.

The six-year-old ran a stormer behind Court In Motion on his hurdling debut at Exeter in November and then ran an equally impressive race behind Mossley at Cheltenham in December. Nicholls has said that riding instructions to French pilot David Cottin were ‘lost in translation’ that day and that he would improve for being ridden up with the pace.

That was certainly the case when he bolted up at Chepstow last time and he is reportedly one of Ditcheat’s leading fancies for the meeting. The champion trainer has never won this race, but Najaf finished second last year, as did Pride Of Dulcote 12 months earlier. Ruby Walsh is likely to be in the saddle and I would be astonished if his price isn’t nearer 5/1 on the day. The same stable send out POQUELIN in the Ryanair Chase on the Thursday and he is going to be very difficult to beat. He went off favourite for this last year, but couldn’t get the better of Albertas Run and he is a strong fancy to set the record straight.

Andy Stewart’s eight-year-old ran a decent fifth in the Paddy Power Gold Cup in November, before powering up the hill to take the Vote AP Gold Cup a month later for the second year running. He absolutely loves Cheltenham and the dry forecast over the next couple of weeks will only boost his chance. He is currently 9/2 with Victor Chandler and I’d be surprised if he doesn’t go off 3/1 or shorter.

Regular readers of this column will have already taken the 14/1 about MOURAD for the World Hurdle and 6/1 in the without Big Buck’s market. He’s now a general 10/1 shot and I’m still very keen on him. Paul Nicholls’ star hurdler will be very difficult to beat, but I wouldn’t put anyone off going in again on Mourad in the ‘without’ market at 5/1 with William Hill.

Tomorrow’s Greatwood Gold Cup at Newbury looks ultra-competitive, but I’m going to take a chance on Nicholls’ TAKE THE BREEZE, who has run some excellent races this season. The champion trainer has won four of the last five runnings of this race and the eight-year-old looks a better contender than Walsh’s mount Niche Market.

This column is starting to sound like a Paul Nicholls fanzine, but keep an eye out for his BROOMFIELD in the Bumper. He is entered here and at Doncaster, but is well regarded at home and could take plenty of catching.

Elsewhere, Racing for Change have announced that an incredible 25 of Britain’s racecourses are to open their doors for free in April. This is a tremendous initiative and should be applauded.

You can now follow me on Twitter @BillEsdaile and get all my latest thoughts in the build-up to the Festival.

POINTERS...

TAKE THE BREEZE e/w 3.00pm Newbury (tomorrow)
BROOMFIELD 5.20pm Newbury (tomorrow)
POQUELIN Ryanair Chase
MOURAD World Hurdle, w/o Big Buck’s
JOIN TOGETHER e/w Albert Bartlett