Our racing expert has two selections for the Ladies Day opener.
A race where the cream often rises to the top and it’s been won by some big names that have decorated the National Hunt scene for many years afterwards. Although there’s been the odd turn-up, most of the winners have come via Grade 1 level, so with his win in the Challow Hurdle at Newbury qualifying Champ on that score, Nicky Henderson’s improving gelding is probably a worthy market leader at this stage. The only issue with that hard-fought success at the Berkshire track is that by-and-large, Challow Hurdle winners have a pretty poor record in this race down the years, so despite his obvious-looking claims, that stat has to be of some concern for those thinking of taking a relatively short price. Moreover, only one seven-year-old has ever won the race (French Holly), he’s yet to race at Cheltenham and other than Simonsig winning in 2012, it’s race the Master of Seven Barrows hasn’t exactly dominated in recent times.
The Irish raiders, however, do have a terrific record down the years and having landed the contest with Samcro last season, Gordon Elliott and Giggingstown have another viable candidate in BATTLEOVERDOYEN (best price 6-1). Similarly, to his stable companion, the son of Doyen has an unbeaten record up to now, and following a silky-smooth victory in a maiden hurdle at Navan in December, he was pitched into Grade 1 company at Naas last time out. Stepping up to 2m 4f for the first time at the Co Kildare venue, the six-year-old gelding relished every yard of the trip and in pulling well clear of a useful field in the closing stages, he went on to post a decent speed figure. Despite him being a three-mile chasing prospect for the future, he clearly doesn’t lack for tactical speed, and providing he comes through his next assignment at the Dublin Racing Festival in early February, all roads will lead to Cheltenham for this tall, scopey type.
Runner-up that day, SAMS PROFILE (best price 25-1) probably didn’t get the credit he deserved for his game effort at the Co Kildare track and he looks way overpriced given his progressive profile. A comfortable winner of his maiden hurdle over subsequent dual winner Éclair De Beaufeu at Cork, Mouse Morris’ gelding went on to run perfectly respectably despite being asked to race over a mile further on his next outing back at the same track. Having proven he could cut the mustard against Graded opposition that day, connections of the son of Black Sam Bellamy decided to take their chance in the Naas Novices’ Hurdle on his most recent start and if it wasn’t for a couple of notable bad mistakes along the way around, he may have given the eventual winner plenty more to think about. Indeed, the error he made down the back straight when he left his hind legs in the hurdle in particular was enough to stop any horse in its tracks, so the fact he managed to work his way back into the picture and stay on so strongly all the way to the line is testimony to his ability and gritty attitude. Hailing from a stable that took this race in 2011 with First Lieutenant, the five-year-old gelding has many similar qualities to the one of his old stable star and should Cheltenham get close to soft ground on the day itself, there will be few better equipped to cope with the conditions at this level and he looks a cracking each-way bet at 25-1 at this stage with connections likely to go the direct route.