Charlie McCann of BetVictor.com with the best bets for Thursday of the festival
Day three of the Cheltenham Festival starts with the JLT Novices’ Chase and there is further significant rain forecast for today, which will ensure conditions remain extremely testing although we are switching on to the New course for the last couple of days.
Invitation Only (1.30) travelled well but wide of his rivals when third in a Leopardstown Grade 1 over 2m 5f last time and this slight step back in trip is a positive for the Willie Mullins-trained runner. Do note that the Irish handler has saddled the winner of this corresponding race for the last three years although the selection looks short enough in the betting at 3/1 with BetVictor.
Snow Falcon might be overpriced at 14/1 but, arguably, the most talented horse in the race is Finian’s Oscar who has had a wind operation since disappointing over timber back in January at a time when the Colin Tizzard yard were badly out of form. The horse has not yet showed himself to be the most natural jumper of a fence but the engine is clearly there – he is 7/1 at BetVictor to bounce back to form.
The Pertemps Final is a tricky puzzle to solve as ever and my two against the field met in an Aintree qualifier for this event back in November. Forza Milan (2.10) is taken to reverse form with Louis’ Vac Pouch on 3lbs better terms for the two lengths he was behind the Hobbs runner on that occasion.
The selection is fitted with a tongue-tie for the first time this afternoon and trainer Jonjo O’Neill has a history of getting his horses right for the big day. The selection is 14/1 at BetVictor and gets the each way (1/4 odds 5 places) vote.
Last year’s winner Un De Sceaux is a warm favourite at BetVictor (11/10) for the Ryanair Chase and conditions are ideal for this mud-lover who has looked as good as ever this season winning both starts over the minimum trip.
I just wonder, however, if his stamina on this testing ground will pass the test and he is unlikely to get things all his own way up front with Balko Des Flos in the race. I hope I am not letting my heart rule my head but Cue Card (2.50) who won this corresponding race back in 2013 is taken to roil back the years – I just feel he might out-stay the Mullins runner on this ground.
The selection won the Festival Bumper eight years ago and he has a wonderful servant to the Tizzard yard. I thought he lost nothing in defeat in a top-class renewal of the Ascot Chase behind Waiting Patiently – who I hope will run at Aintree next month – last time and the 12-year-old might just have one last hurrah in him before the curtain comes down on his illustrious career. The selection is 5/1 with BetVictor and he is another each way selection.
The feature race this afternoon is the Stayers’ Hurdle and Sam Spinner (7/2 favourite with BetVictor) has been a revelation so far this season making all at both Haydock and Ascot including in Grade 1 company last time. It would be a wonderful story for the small yard of Jedd O’Keefe based at Middleham in North Yorkshire.
The vote, however, goes to Yanworth (3.30) who reverts to timber having won two of four starts over fences so far this season for Alan King. The selection (5/1 with BetVictor) ended last season beating Supasunsae at Aintree over three miles and the ground holds no terrors for the eight-year-old who looked a future Stayers’ Hurdle winner when winning a Neptune Trial on heavy ground over 2m 4f here two years ago.
The Handicap Chase over 2m 5f is another competitive handicap and my two against the field are Last Goodbye and King’s Socks (4.10) with marginal preference for the latter who made an eye-catching British debut when not knocked about at Kempton in a small Conditions’ event.
The selection finished second to non-other than brilliant Arkle winner Footpad in a Grade 1 hurdle at Auteuil in June 2016 on his previous start and he is certainly entitled to come on for his Kempton comeback – he certainly has the scope to jump a fence. The each way selection is 8/1 with BetVictor
Last Goodbye (12/1 with BetVictor) was a facile winner at Leopardstown last time over this trip and a 14lbs rise is fair given he lost his place with three to jump but came home clear of his field.
Many consider Laurina (4/6 at BetVictor) to be a good thing in the Mares’ Novices Hurdle for Willie Mullins but I shall be betting each way or without the favourite in the race and feel Cap Soleil (4.50) can reward each way support for Fergal O’Brien.
The mare should love the forecast testing ground and at 14/1 with BetVictor I would be disappointed if she were out of the frame.
The Kim Muir Handicap Chase for amateur riders is the concluding race and I would have been keen on the chances of Wild West Wind (20/1 with BetVictor) had this race been over three miles but the additional quarter of a mile might be a bridge too far.
Band Of Blood has done us a couple of favours since moving to the yard of Dr Richard Newland and must go close in his hat-trick bid, but I hope that Missed Approach (5.30) who has had a wind operation since finishing second at Musselburgh last time – can go one better off this same mark.
The selection is 12/1 at BetVictor and is another each way recommendation with Noel McParlan in the saddle for Warren Greatrex.
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