Charlie McCann previews Day three of the Cheltenham Festival
Day three of the Cheltenham Festival begins with the JLT Novices Chase and it is possible that the enigmatic Yorkhill could come home alone if his jumping stands the test. He can be very keen, however, and whilst I acknowledge that he is the most talented horse in the race he will have to jump better than he did in his last couple of starts and he is reluctantly overlooked.
Politologue and Disko are much respected but I am going to take a chance on Top Notch (1. 30) who has lived up to his name in recent starts winning his last four including in Grade 1 company last time. The selection is 4/1 at BetVictor and I would be disappointed if he didn’t make the frame.
The Pertemps Final is one of the big betting races of the week and BetVictor are betting each way five places on the 24-runner handicap. The extraordinary Tobefair began life for Debra Hamer running off a mark of just 81 but a magnificent 7 wins later he will attempt to defy a 62lbs rise since his winning spree began back in June 2015.
Today’s good ground holds no terrors for the seven-year-old and it would be a fantastic achievement if he passed this latest test – he has won his last five races by an aggregate of less than five lengths which highlights his fighting spirit.
Marginal preference, however, is for Barney Dwan (2.10) who would have given Tobefair plenty to think about when unseating Paddy Brennan at the last at Warwick and will be 12lbs better off this afternoon. The selection is 16/1 with BetVictor and can reward each way support.
Un De Sceaux (2/1 at BetVictor) is likely to be all the rage for the Ryanair Chase and he is a worthy favourite but I just favour the chances of Empire Of Dirt (2.50) who should have the race run to suit with Sub Lieutenant sure to make it a true test over this near 2m 5f trip. The selection won at the Festival last year and travelled like a drop back in distance would not inconvenience when second in the Irish Gold Cup last time.
Uxizandre, who was Sir AP McCoy’s last Festival winner, ran a cracking race coming back from a long break behind Un De Sceaux over the minimum trip last time and it should be remembered that he is still only a nine-year-old. He got a soft lead when winning the corresponding race two years ago and might not get things all his own way at the front with Sub Lieutenant in the field.
The feature event is the Stayers’ Hurdle and Unowhatimeanharry, who won the Albert Bartlett at the corresponding meeting 12 months ago, is the 5/4 market leader for Harry Fry whose yard came so close to landing the opener yesterday courtesy of Neon Wolf.
Unowhatimeanharry has won all eight starts for Harry Fry but I think on this better ground Cole Harden (3.30) can reverse recent course form with the market leader. The selection won the corresponding race two years ago and is always at his best in the spring on decent ground. The Warren Greatrex stable are in top class form and at 9/1 I would be disappointed if he didn’t run well especially if getting an uncontested lead.
The ground has come right for Gordon Elliot’s Diamond King in the 24-runner 2m 4f Handicap Chase but he is a hold-up horse and will need luck in running – he is a leading contender but 5/1 is skinny enough.
My two against the field are Starchitect who jumped well at Ayr when winning cosily last time and Henryville (4.10) with preference for the latter who is 20/1 at BetVictor. Trained by Harry Fry -could be a good day for the yard – the 9-y-old has bits of form which suggest he is not the forlorn hope his odds would suggest.
Let’s Dance (4.50) is considered one of the bankers of the meeting for Willie Mullins and she is difficult to oppose with the form of her Triumph Hurdle fourth last year franked by the win of third placed Apples Jade in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle on the opening day. The selection is 6/4 at BetVictor and may have most to fear from La Bague Au Roi who has been laid out for this since scoring at Newbury back in November.
The Kim Muir is another ultra-competitive 24-runner event and Squouateur must go close if his stamina holds up but he is short enough at 7/1 and Hadrian’s Approach (5.30) goes well fresh and will love the prevailing good ground. The selection (20/1 at BetVictor) has missed the deep winter ground and is certainly well handicapped on his best form – Cheltenham hasn’t been a lucky hunting ground for the horse but he did finish third in an RSA Chase here a number of years ago and we know the Nicky Henderson yard are in top class form.
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