11:40 Cheltenham

Leg 1 Selections: Scriptwriter, Comfort Zone

The opener is the JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle and I fancy the Milton Harris-trained SCRIPTWRITER to maintain his unbeaten record in this sphere. A perfect three-from-three for his handler, he won the other trial here back at the November meeting and has since defied top-weight on the Flat from a mark of 102. His trainer is bullish about his chances and he’s the only one of these with course form in the book, so he gets the main vote in leg 1. 

Joseph O’Brien’s COMFORT ZONE marginally beat Dixon Cove at Chepstow in a Grade Two but was value for more than the winning margin indicated that day. I expect him to confirm that form with the runner-up despite that one being five pounds better off this time around. His only defeat over timber was behind Lossiemouth and that horse is favourite for the Triumph, so he is handed the next vote in the opener. 

12:10 Cheltenham

Leg 2 Selections: Fire Dancer, Stage Star, Malinello

FIRE DANCER was formerly a useful chaser and hurdler when trained in France and despite being off the course for more than two years, he made a winning stable debut for Venetia Williams at Ludlow. He only won by a head that day but was heavily eased down in the closing stages and better is to come. An eight pound rise might seem harsh to some but he gets a lot of weight from all of his rivals here and a mark of 120 actually is lenient based on some of his French form as well. Good chance. 

STAGE STAR is at the opposite end of the handicap, carrying top-weight, and Paul Nicholls’ charge must have sound claims if able to continue his improvement in this sphere. He won a Grade One over hurdles and has won two of his three starts over fences. He has a lot on his plate conceding weight to this field and the fact that his only previous start at Cheltenham was a disaster but otherwise he still makes appeal and warrants a place on the shortlist. 

My third and final choice in this race comes from the Ben Pauling team, who won this race back in 2019, and connections could repeat the dose with MALINELLO, an improving sort. He won and placed twice in three runs over hurdles and made a successful chase debut at Newcastle. I know he could only finish third last time but the drop in trip should suit and he could figure here in leg 2. 

12:40 Cheltenham

Leg 3 Selections: Delta Work, Roi Mage

The defending Cross Country Cheltenham Festival DELTA WORK produced an excellent performance on his first go over the Cheltenham banks to claim the spoils and beat his stablemate Tiger Roll and ran a cracker when third in the Grand National at Aintree in April. He made a winning return to action in the Risk Of Thunder and should prove hard to beat here, so he is definitely included in leg 3. 

However, I have a strong feeling ROI MAGE will give the former a lot to think about if he adapts to the course. He has some high-class form in the locker and his latest third behind Minella Indo and Stattler should have put him spot on for today’s assignment. Patrick Mullins travels over from Ireland to take his only ride on the card, and he has a good record and a lot of experience in these events. This is a good horse and he shouldn’t be underestimated here. 

13:20 Cheltenham

Leg 4 Selections: Energumene

We move onto the rescheduled Clarence House Chase and it is hard to split Edwardstone and ENERGUMENE but the latter marginally gets the verdict, who’s only defeat over fences came when narrowly beaten in this last year. 

The nine-year-old is a top-class chaser, who comfortably won last season’s Champion Chase and looked as good as ever when claiming the Hilly Way again on his reappearance. 

He is rated six pounds higher than Alan King’s charge and although his main rival should keep him honest, he could just have the extra touch of class to beat him here. 

13:50 Cheltenham

Leg 5 Selections: Silver Hallmark, Fugitif, Simply The Betts 

SILVER HALLMARK has undoubtedly been targeted at this race by connections and hopefully that move can pay dividends with a bold effort off a really attractive mark. He is thrown in here off a mark of 140, especially when you factor in some of his previous form plus his latest third at Chepstow was another step back in the right direction as well. 

He has yet to run at Cheltenham but I reckon this course will suit and he is a good horse on his day. He might be lightly-raced for his age but has a bit of quality about him, is open to improvement and is weighted to possibly reverse latest form with Fugitif as well. I like his profile and claims for this race in particular. 

FUGITIF did beat the former last time and is clearly improving with each race. He has taken a big hike in the weights from his latest success but he ran well here back in November when a close-up second to Amarillo Sky and should be able to make the frame, though I do fancy Silver Hallmark to reverse the form if able to handle the undulations of this venue. 

SIMPLY THE BETTS is four pounds lower than when winning the Plate at the Festival back in 2020 and has a chance if able to run to his best under David Maxwell. 

14:25 Cheltenham

Leg 6 Selections: Protektorat, Ahoy Senor

I am surprised PROTEKTORAT isn’t a shorter price than he already is for the Grade Two Cotswold Chase. He brings the strongest piece of form of this season, courtesy of his emphatic Betfair Chase success, in which he won by 11 lengths. Dan Skelton’s eight-year-old is the highest rated of these and was an excellent third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last season. If he turns up in the same form as last time, he should have too much quality for Noble Yeats. 

Lucinda Russell’s AHOY SENOR was a high-class novice chaser last term and although he hasn’t really been able to match that form this season so far in three starts, he wasn’t disgraced when fifth in the King George last-time-out. He should be suited going back left-handed and his only previous visit to Cheltenham saw him finish second at the Cheltenham Festival. He could play a leading role if able to get into a rhythm from the front.