THE Paddy Power Gold Cup (2.35pm) is the first big handicap of the jumps season and there is no other place to start than with last year’s winning trainer, David Pipe.
Great Endeavour won the prize for a record ninth time for Pond House 12 months ago, following father Martin’s eight successes between 1987 and 2005.
According to many, a 10th victory is already in the bag as Grands Crus is one of the most promising chasers around and is no bigger than 5/1 for next month’s King George at Kempton.
I have no doubt that the dashing grey is well-handicapped off a mark of 157, but he still has to carry 11st 6lb tomorrow and only five horses have successfully lumbered such a burden in the past 25 years.
Grands Crus is the most likely winner but, at 9/4 with Paddy Power, I’m happy to look elsewhere. Don’t forget that Long Run came to this race off a very similar mark two years ago, but couldn’t beat Little Josh or Dancing Tornado, before going on to win the King George and Gold Cup.
Hunt Ball is a remarkable animal to have progressed the way he has, but he was hammered by the handicapper for winning a bad race at the Festival and I struggle to see him taking this.
Al Ferof also has a welter burden and although I think Walkon and Divers are interesting at the foot of the weights, I’m relying on FORPADYDEPLASTERER at a massive 33/1 with Coral.
Thomas Cooper’s 10-year-old has been called all the names under the sun, mainly due to him not winning since his Arkle success in 2009, and finishing second in 13 of his 26 career starts.
However, this is his first ever run in a handicap and, off a mark of 150, he has the potential to go very well indeed. He was second to Sizing Europe on his seasonal reappearance at Gowran Park and should get the strong pace and decent ground that he needs tomorrow.
The opening JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial (12.45pm) looks a shootout between the three powerhouse stables of Paul Nicholls, Nicky Henderson and Alan King.
It’s difficult to know at this stage of the season whose juveniles are more forward, but Nicholls has won this race for the last two years and I fancy him to land the hat-trick with FAR WEST.
My selection beat Handazan, who has since gone in at Aintree, and that form looks much stronger than the race Vasco Du Ronceray won at Hereford, while Mcvicar has a 4lb penalty to carry.
Galaxy Rock will be trying to win his second Henrietta Knight Handicap Chase (1.55pm) and if the rain stays away, he will surely go close after a decent second at this course last month.
However, BRADLEY, who finished two places behind him in that race, has always looked a real stayer and he was making up ground at the death. The step up in trip will suit and he should be good each-way value for the in-form Fergal O’Brien yard.
There is some excellent racing this afternoon and I can’t see past Nicholls’ DODGING BULLETS in the novice hurdle at 2.25pm. He finished fourth in the Triumph last year and broke his maiden in impressive style over course and distance last month.
The opening novice chase features some very promising animals, but I can’t split Fingal Bay and Dynaste, so am happy to keep a watching brief.
This is a meeting where Henderson normally does very well and KID CASSIDY has to be of interest in the Paddypower.com Handicap Chase (1.50pm).
He was a disappointing favourite in the Grand Annual at the Festival, but he is very talented and with the yard winning this for the last three years, it surely has to be significant that he is their only runner.
KID CASSIDY 1.50pm Cheltenham (today)
DODGING BULLETS 2.25pm Cheltenham (today)
FAR WEST 12.45pm Cheltenham (tomorrow)
BRADLEY e/w 1.55pm Cheltenham (tomorrow)
FORPADYDEPLASTERER e/w 2.35pm Cheltenham (tomorrow)