12:40 Cheltenham

Cross Country Handicap Chase

I am a big fan of the Cross Country events at Cheltenham. Delta Work is the class act in this race and will be fancied by most to win this en route to defending his title in March. However, I really like the credentials of Irish raider ROI MAGE (best price 11/1) from an each-way angle, who takes my interest at very appealing odds and will give the favourite a significant challenge if he adapts to this venue. 

This 11-year-old displayed some high-class form when formerly trained in France and was deemed good enough to contest their huge race of the jumps season, the Grand Steeplechase De Paris three times. He finished third in the 2019 version and took the scalp of Samcro at Down Royal last March. He was then supplemented for the Grade 1 Liverpool Hurdle and although a well beaten 7th, it was interesting to see him feature in the race to begin with. 

He shaped well on his return in a cross country race when sent to Compiegne and warmed up for this with a creditable 3rd place finish behind Minella Indo and Stattler last time. He was ultimately well adrift of the front pair but ran well from the front for a long way and his trainer has clearly been using these prep-runs in order to get him spot on for his first visit to Prestbury Park. 

Patrick Mullins, who has a good record in these events, has interestingly been booked to ride, who makes the trip over from Ireland for his only ride on the card. This Irish raider looks well-treated off 149, has some high-class form in the book, gets a good jockey on his back and gets weight from both Minella Times and Delta Work, so in the hope he takes to the course, he must have excellent claims of at least making the frame here with four places widely available and advised.

14:25 Cheltenham

Cotswold Chase

Normally I will shy away from the obvious but this just seems a perfect time for the Dan Skelton-trained PROTEKTORAT (best price 13/8) to come out on top and book his return ticket for the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.

Frodon and Ahoy Senor might take each other on for the lead and they could easily set this race up for a closer, such as Protektorat, who ran a stormer when 3rd in the Gold Cup last season and would have finished second without making a bad mistake at the final fence. He did well to hold onto third, which was a testament to his metal and quality to be able to overcome that and make the frame. 

He was evidently done for the season when well beaten at Aintree on his final start of the campaign but he made a triumphant return in the Betfair Chase at Haydock, where he had the likes of Bristol De Mai, Frodon and Eldorado Allen all beaten in behind. They went a good gallop in that race and he relished it, as he cruised through, jumped well and won with any amount in hand at the finish. 

He should get a similar set-up here, has proven form at the highest level at this course and seemingly handles all ground as well. He is the highest-rated in the field at 170 and ticks nearly all boxes for this race based on stats and trends. Given his latest career-best performance, he has far less to prove than the majority and therefore gets a confident vote to showcase his qualities here.

15:00 Cheltenham

Cleeve Hurdle

Now I know he has 10 pounds to find with Paisley Park on official ratings and isn’t proven over three-miles over hurdles but DASHEL DRASHER (best price 10/3) is being considered as a possible Stayers’ Hurdle candidate by his handler Jeremy Scott and if those ambitions are to materialise then he will need to run a big race this weekend. He is the best each-way option against Paisley Park in this race in my assessment. 

He won on his reappearance over timber at Aintree before finishing a decent second to Grand National winner Noble Yeats on a first try at three miles in the Many Clouds Chase when returned to Merseyside the following month. He couldn’t match the turn of foot by Marie’s Rock last time but battled to take second and that gives hope about him handling this longer trip. He will battle and will give it everything in order to try and take the title away from the favourite. 

He does have the option of going back over fences if this plan doesn’t go the way his trainer hopes for but I have no doubt he has the class to really serve it up to the defending champion and conditions will hold no fears either. It is a shame this race is restricted to only two places but this 10-year-old is a Grade 1 winner and the fact that connections are persevering with him in this division makes him of interest at the odds here.