PAUL Nicholls needs just one more winner at Cheltenham over the next two days to make it 150 at the home of National Hunt racing and looking at today’s card, it might not take him that long to reach such an historic landmark.
In fact, he has every chance of landing the main betting event tomorrow, the Spinal Research The Atlantic 4 Gold Cup (2.30pm), with the Ruby Walsh-ridden Ghizao. However, his chances would improve with every drop of rain that falls between now and then. The opposite is true with Ferdy Murphy’s Divers, as he loves it rattling quick. He is sure to run well, but I’d like to see the stable in better form.
Now, the Nicky Henderson-trained Quantitativeeasing has been a leading fancy for this race all week, but jockey AP McCoy has thrown a proverbial cat amongst the pigeons by opting to partner SUNNYHILLBOY instead of last month’s Paddy Power Gold Cup runner-up. Jonjo O’Neill’s eight-year-old is running off a mark just 3lb higher than when third in this 12 months ago and looks decent each-way value at 8/1 with William Hill for his in-form stable.
His eye-catching reappearance run over hurdles behind Dynaste at Haydock would have blown the cobwebs away and he looks to have been laid out for this. Great Endeavour may well have had a much harder race in the Hennessy than it looked and he races off a 10lb higher mark than when successful here last month.
GRANDOUET really caught my eye when bolting up at Haydock last month and Nicky Henderson’s four-year-old lines up in the stanjames.com International Hurdle (3.05pm) tomorrow where he meets the likes of Overturn, Brampour and Menorah. He can be backed at 3/1 with Ladbrokes and Paddy Power and I thought he’d be a lot shorter than that. Admittedly, there are question marks about whether Cheltenham truly plays to his strengths, but I fancy his class to bring him through.
Looking at today’s card and there is a danger of getting sucked into backing plenty of short-priced favourites who supposedly look fairly bomb-proof on paper. That’lldoboy (1.10pm), Oscargo (2.55pm) and Darlan (3.30pm) are all hard to oppose, but the best bet of the day is SCOTSIRISH in the Cross Country Chase (2.20pm). He looked a real natural when winning over similar fences last time and has also showed a liking to Aintree in the past. This course should prove right up his street and he is taken to see off stablemate Uncle Junior and multiple course winner Garde Champetre.
If you wake up really early on Sunday morning, it may pay to back two locally trained runners in the Hong Kong Sprint at Sha Tin. ENTRAPMENT (12/1) and LITTLE BRIDGE (10/1) have both been allocated decent low draws in the contest and will start considerably shorter than the prices currently on offer.
Finally, RUBI LIGHT has his ideal conditions in the John Durkan Memorial Chase later in the afternoon at Punchestown and should take plenty of stopping in the Grade One contest.
I’m at Cheltenham this weekend and you can follow me on Twitter @BillEsdaile.