Sam can give Ruby Walsh yet another Cheltenham Winner

Bill Esdaile
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THE Pertemps Final (2.05pm) hasn’t been the kindest race for punters in recent years. All of the last nine winners were double figure prices and there have been two successful 50/1 shots in that time.

There are always a number of well-handicapped runners, but it’s finding the one that is the best in at the weights which is difficult. However, this year looks slightly different as there is a horse in the line-up who could literally be stones ahead of the handicapper.

SAM WINNER was the favourite for the Triumph Hurdle two years ago, finishing a respectable fourth to Zarkandar. He then embarked on a chasing career last season which was nothing short of disastrous; falling in both starts over the larger obstacles.

Paul Nicholls has successfully switched back a number of his horses to hurdles, most notably Big Buck’s, and Sam Winner ran an eyecatching race at Sandown on his reappearance when clearly in need of the run.

That qualified him for today’s race and was then followed by an impressive victory over the 165-rated Peddlers Cross in a Jumpers Bumper at Kempton in January. The handicapper obviously couldn’t adjust his hurdles rating of 140 for that performance and I would be surprised if he doesn’t end up in the 160s at some stage.

Ruby Walsh has started the meeting with a bang and he takes the ride. He, along with assistant trainer Dan Skelton, have been very bullish about Sam Winner’s chances.

Essentially, what we’ve got here is a horse who could line-up as a serious contender in next year’s Ladbrokes World Hurdle running off just 140 in a handicap against largely exposed rivals. The value has been mostly squeezed out, but I still think he’ll win, so take the 9/2 with Coral.

Shutthefrontdoor is progressive for Jonjo O’Neill and he is respected on the back of a quickfire hat-trick. He has won his last two by short margins, which means he might still have a little up his sleeve, perhaps not as much as Sam Winner, though.

David Pipe won this two years running with Buena Vista and the yard’s main fancy this time looks like Close House. He beat Rangitoto well at Wincanton in December and has been deliberately kept back for this.

The whole complexion of today’s opening Jewson Novices’ Chase (1.30pm) changed when winter RSA favourite DYNASTE was switched to this shorter race. He has looked a complete natural over fences and connections made the decision to go for this Grade Two contest rather than slog his guts out in the RSA.

That decision is probably quite wise and he is going to be awfully hard to beat. A winner over this course at the Paddy Power meeting, Pipe’s grey gelding has gone on to land two more novice chases in imperious style, including the Grade One Feltham at Kempton.

Dynaste is a speedy animal but has the required stamina for this test and he looks one of the strongest short-priced favourites of the whole week. Snap up the 7/4 available with Blue Square Bet.

I have no doubt that ­CAPTAIN CONAN, tipped up in this column at 6/1 in January, is Dynaste’s main threat. He is another unbeaten in three chase starts and although he looked laboured at Sandown last time, I don’t think that was his true running. But he’s drifted to 13/2 with Star Sports.

Prior to that he had looked very good and he also has that all important course form having won the Racing Post Arkle Trial in November. The six-year-old has shown that he stays this extended trip and he will definitely give Dynaste a race.

The Irish have won the only two runnings of this race and with Willie Mullins’ yard on fire, Aupcharlie is certain to have his supporters. He hasn’t quite stayed three miles on his last two starts, but I’d just be slightly concerned that he will get tapped for toe by some of these speedier rivals.

Module is respected for Tom George and he will relish the step up in trip. He fell on his chasing debut at Exeter, but is a pretty good jumper and has been very professional in his last two starts.

The main worry with him is that all his best form is on soft and the ground at Cheltenham seems to be drying out all the time. I still think he will finish in the top three, but he doesn’t quite have the same scope as Dynaste or Captain Conan.

Follow me on Twitter @BillEsdaile for all my updates live from the track.

■ Pointers…
DYNASTE 1.30pm Cheltenham
CAPTAIN CONAN 1.30pm Cheltenham (already advised)
SAM WINNER 2.05pm Cheltenham