Andy Holding is on fire at the moment with four winners from his last five tips.
Supporters of Getabird will have been buoyed no doubt by the inclement weather in the last 48 hours and this strong stayer at the trip, looks certain to be bang in the mix with a likely aggressive ride from the front. Whether he quite has things all his own way at the head of affairs with the likes of First Flow, Dame Rose and Slate House in the line-up, remains to be seen, so with that in mind, the safest option is to look towards something from an each-way perspective that can be drafted into the contest from off the pace and the one that fits the bill at the prices is SUMMERVILLE BOY (best price 8-1). A steady improver all season long, Tom George’s inmate really came of age last time out in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown when he proved too good for Kalashnikov on heavy ground and it’s that performance, if repeated, that gives him obvious-looking claims this afternoon. Having travelled well off a strong pace set by Mont Des Avaliors, the son of Sandmason took up the running two out and despite being a little disorganised at the last, he stayed on in determined fashion on the climb to the line. Time figure-wise, it was a smart performance by the six-year-old and with the runner-up going on to endorse the form with a wide-margin win in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury next time out, there’s every reason to feel upbeat about his chances of confirming placings with his old rival under similar conditions. Prior to that excellent effort, he impressed by the way he stuck to the task at hand despite the race been run at an unsuitably slow pace over Prestbury Park’s New Course and similar comments apply to his previous outing over today’s C&D, when once again he was staying on strongly up the hill off pedestrian fractions. Whichever way you strip it down, he surely has to be regarded as the one most underestimated horses in the field despite his overall level of form, and with some firms likely to be paying four places in the opener, he makes plenty of each-way appeal.
As ever, this race is likely to be run at a sound pace with no prisoners taken and that kind of test should suit VINTAGE CLOUDS (best price 9-1) down to the ground under the prevailing conditions. Still in contention for a place when over-jumping two out and coming to grief in this race last year, he’d run about as well as could be expected up to that point given the ground on the day was a little quick for his liking, but least it gave him some experience of running in one of these big-field handicaps at the festival. As consistent as ever so far this season, his efforts include an excellent second to the talented Clan Des Obeaux in a fast time at Haydock and a gallant fourth in the Welsh National and on both occasions his jumping stood up to the test in the heat of battle. A creditable runner-up to the talented novice, Ballyoptic, last time out at Haydock, Sue Smith’s charge has plenty in his favour in order to put up another bold display.
Having won this race three times in the last decade, anything David Pipe runs in this contest has to be worth a second look and RAMSES DES TEILLEE (best price 12-1) makes most appeal of his two representatives in this year’s renewal. Although he’s only had four starts over fences, he appears to jump really well for a novice and even though he got beaten last time out at Exeter, there’s no disgrace in having to play second fiddle to a horse of Elegant Escape’s magnitude (pecked on landing and lost ground two out). Prior to that praiseworthy effort, the Martaline gelding had posted a smart set of numbers on the figures when accounting for three useful rivals at Chepstow and with effort and, all of his other three chase runs all coming on heavy ground, he’ll be more at home under the prevailing conditions than most.
It goes without saying this race is likely to be a survival of the fittest (and bravest) so with that in mind, it may pay to look outside the box for a dour stayer not necessarily laden with class who has the ability to just keep going when other have cried enough – step forward DUEL AT DAWN (best price 20-1). Yes, there will be plenty of sexier types who have already run against Graded opposition and many that have the potential to do so in the future, but at least Alex Hales’ inmate has one thing on his side and that’s stamina in abundance and that attribute alone should see him outrun his odds at the very least. Although he came out second best of a protracted dual with Sizing Tennessee over the New Course back in December, he was by no means disgraced, and the same comments also apply to his latest effort when just not quite having the pace in the latter stages to cope with the smart mare, Ms Parfois, at Warwick. Despite the odd mistake here and there, he appears a pretty sound jumper in the main and even though he has a bit to find strictly speaking with his two old rivals, Sizing Tennessee and Ms Parfois, the 4m trip on heavy ground at least gives him some hope of bridging the gap.
Having proven his liking for today’s track several times over and seemingly suited by a stamina test when accounting for Duel At Dawn in that aforementioned race in December, SIZING TENNESSEE (best price 10-1) is a must for the shortlist. Colin Tizzard’s inmate has taken a while to come to terms with his jumping of fences, but on the evidence of his last three starts he seems to be more sure-footed and that should give his pilot, Barry O’Neill, plenty of confidence before he goes out on the 10-year-old. Although well beaten in the end on his last visit to the track back in January, it came at a time when his yard was out of sorts and he also left the impression that 2m 5f nowadays is a trip on the short side. A horse that likes to race up with the speed, hopefully, the Robin Des Champ gelding can get into a decent early jumping rhythm, and if so, there’s every chance he will be competitive throughout.
Having seemingly being a lost cause to get a run here two weeks ago (needed over 25 to drop out) connections of MISTER WHITAKER (best price 10-1) are probably still picking themselves off the floor with amazement following the six-year-old surprisingly getting into this contest, but now he has just sneaked in by one, Mick Channon’s inmate is expected to take advantage and make his presence felt. A creditable runner-up to the enigmatic but talented Hell’s Kitchen at Kempton on Boxing Day, the son of Court Cave made up for that slightly unlucky effort when getting the better of a decent field over today’s course on trails day back in January. In a race noted for its strong pace despite the small field, the six-year-old not only clocked a smart overall speed figure, his final circuit of 3.24 7 was exactly the same as the one posted by the 154-rated Frodon, who took the big handicap chase for the more established chasers on the same card, and based on those findings, he still has the look of a well-handicapped horse off a mark of 137. Although he gave the impression he wasn’t exactly in love with the heavy ground 45 days ago, the fact that he had the guts and class to overcome the conditions is testimony to his natural ability and having proven he can operate around Cheltenham at pace, those attributes are likely to count for plenty in the final reckoning.
Away from the big guns down the front end of the market, LE ROCHER (best price 20-1) seems to have been totally overlooked by the layers and it’s hard to see why given his love for heavy ground. On each of his four starts over fences, the conditions have been extremely testing and if it wasn’t for a bad mistake which brought him to a total standstill at Exeter last time out, he’d be arriving here unbeaten. The way he was travelling at the time suggested he was it total control at the West Country track and with the fourth horse that day, Diamant Bleu, advertising the excellent speed figure of the race in question at Sandown a few days ago, the form looks solid. Although he has shown the tendency just to look after himself on the odd occasion, there’s no doubt he has a big engine and at 20-1, he has more than a fair chance of getting in the mix with a clear round.