Agh these crossbars. Won’t dwell, we’re going to find a handicap winner today. Long term fancy for the triumph, A Hare Breath, didn’t make it in, which is frustrating, but there were so many I wanted to back in the race that at least it opens up a few more options. All of Paul Nicholls’s horses make appeal and pick of them is Modus. Nicholls was happy for Nick Scholfield to ride him in the Betfair - the jockey knows him well apparently - but he got no run that day and the ground wouldn’t have suited. It will today, he has Cheltenham form, is chucked in based upon his champion bumper run and I think he has a monster chance here. Geraghty has chosen Great Field but the race is a graveyard for handicap debutants. I also like Superb Story who really shouldn’t finish out of the places. He ran a somewhat unlucky 2nd behind Old Guard in the Greatwood (who would’ve finished 2nd in the Champion Hurdle, honest) and the form is strong. A 9lb rise still makes him look fairly treated and he should be patiently ridden, normally ideal in this.
Don Poli isn’t a chunky price but I’m so surprised he’s not favourite for the Gold Cup. First the negatives for the others - Djakadam has tried to win a Gold Cup and that’s a bad omen. Repeat attempts don't tend to come off. Don Cossack’s jumping is a big worry. For what it’s worth I think he handles Cheltenham fine but when being asked to jump at pace in the very best company, as has been the case in the heat of the RSA and Ryanair here and the King George at Kempton, he is prone to an error. Cue Card would be a teary result but 10 year olds or older have a pitiful record in the Championship races at Cheltenham (1-147 this century) and Poli has the ideal profile for this. A grinder, Smad Place should ensure the test he needs and I fancy he’ll finish stronger than anything. He comes alive at the festival and I’d have him as favourite.
Qualando has been a long term fancy for the Martin Pipe and nothing changes that on the day. The negative is the presence of the blatantly well treated Squouator but he’s not my sort of bet in a race like this. Qualando looks well treated off just 8lb higher than his Fred Winter win last year and I hear this has been the aim all season. The other I like is Childrens List for the trainer who has won this 3 times in the last 5 years. You tend to need to stay to win this and he’s proved that over further. Good ground will help his cause too and I’m surprised he’s as big as he is given connections.
The last is a race I’ve never backed the winner of! Great. I did back Eastlake last year though and am going in again. The team behind him have worked their magic and got him down to 143, 2lb lower than last year when dropped out in a race which saw the winner make all. He flew home and yet conditions wouldn’t have been ideal. He’s a good ground course and distance winner so today’s conditions will help his cause and he's a big enough price for JP’s first string. I also like The Saint James - novices have a decent record in the race - but will save a play for good ground lover Workbench. He has run well here twice this season, last time on ground that really won’t have suited. Dropped out, he did best from the rear and the pace on today is no bad thing. He’s not chucked in but weighted to go close and is worth an e/w play.