Our racing expert was 14 points in profit for day three!
Working on the theory that wherever market leader Sir Erec finishes, GARDENS OF BABYLON (best price 6-1) should be somewhere in the same vicinity, Joseph O’Brien’s gelding rates the obvious-looking call in the ‘without the favourite’ market.
As Band Of Outlaws proved when hosing up in the Fred Winter (Fakir D’Oudairies also ran well in the Supreme), the Co Kilkenny handler has a tremendous squad of juveniles in his care this season and it would only be fitting if he were to scoop the biggest pot of all with either one of his leading contenders. Looking back at the arguably the best trial for the Triumph, The Spring Juvenile at Leopardstown, Sir Erec did have a fairly easy time of things out in front, being able to dictate a modest gallop at his own leisure and with a horse off the Flat with a rating of 109, he was always going to win a foot-race from the back of the second last. Back in behind that day, his stable mate spent most of his time behind the bridle and having to be constantly chivvied along after a catalogue if niggly errors that kept ramping up the pressure on him being able to hold his position. Once if full cry when the tempo did finally increase swinging for home, it was encouraging to see the son of Camelot put his head down and battle all the way to the line and it was testimony to his raw courage and ability that he managed to salvage something from the wreckage and finish a creditable second. Without stating the flaming obviously, he’s clearly going to have to jump a good deal better if he’s to reduce the deficit with his old rival, but using the notion that the first-time cheekpieces might just allow him to concentrate and provide Barry Geraghty with a little more assistance heading into and over his hurdles, he will hopefully be a lot slicker in that department. Either way, this talented if not slightly quirky three-year-old has numbers behind him to suggest he should be there or thereabouts in the final reckoning and with the stronger pace, more galloping track and long run from two out set to suit him more than most, he makes quite a bit of each-way appeal.
Having landed this prize twice in recent times, Dan Skelton has an idea of what’s required to unlock the key to this ultra-competitive handicap hurdle and in the shape of CH’TIBELLO (best price 8-1), the Warwickshire handler looks to have another strong contender on his hands.
Runner-up in the 2016 Scottish Champion Hurdle, the son of Sageburg has pretty much dined at the top table ever since and even though he’s only managed to claim just the one prize in the intervening period, he’s often run with great credit in defeat. Outclassed and unable to make any impression on unsuitable ground in last season’s Champion Hurdle, the eight-year-old for one reason or another had rather lost his way, so it was really encouraging to see him bounce back to something approaching his best form last seen at Aintree back in December. In a well-run affair at the Liverpool venue, he kept on strongly in making the classy Midnight Shadow pull out all the stops and with the winner going on to boost the form with a notable success in a Grade 2 at Cheltenham next time out, he clearly turned in one of his career-high performances. Off the track since that smart effort, it’s worth pointing out that he’s undergone surgery to correct a slight issue with his wind and if that operation works the trick and brings about any further improvement, there’s every chance he will play a big part in the final reckoning.
Having thrown up five Cheltenham Festival winners since 1985, three of which have been in this race, The Imperial Cup at Sandown is clearly a form line worth pursuing and having fared best of the two that have been turned out quickly, MONSIEUR LECOQ (best price 11-1) makes the most appeal.
Lightly-raced for a five-year-old, Jane Williams’ gelding has worked his way through the ranks this season and following a couple of impressive victories on soft ground in mid-winter, he was prepared specially for a tilt at the big pre-Cheltenham handicap at the Esher venue. Sent to the front after travelling well throughout, the son of Diamond Boy was agonisingly picked off late on by the strong-finishing Malaya, but with the time figure very good and the pair well clear of the rest, it’s clear that he ran to a very high standard. Whether that hard race may come too soon for this likeable gelding only time will tell, but if he does manage to run anywhere near that same level as he showed six days ago then there’s a decent chance he will once again make his presence felt in another big handicap.
In what looks a stellar renewal of the blue riband of steeplechasing, NATIVE RIVER (best price 5-1) is taken to be the first horse to win back-to-back Gold Cups since Best Mate in 2002. Shipping up here last season off the back of silky display in the Denman Chase at Newbury, Colin Tizzard’s gelding took advantage of being fresher than in previous campaigns and in making all the running, he jumped well at the head of affairs to fend off the persistent challenge of Might Bite. Although he’s failed to add to his winning tally in two starts this term, the son of Indian River has done very little wrong in defeat and his latest effort in the King George Chase at Kempton only went enhance his reputation as one of the toughest and reliable performers in this division. Despite hating the track, the nine-year-old still managed to keep on valiantly all the way to the line and with him looking almost certain to get to the front early again here this afternoon, another potentially dominant display looks on the cards.
Although beaten fair and square twelve months ago, ANIBALE FLY (best price 25-1) cemented his position as a rapidly-improving chaser and a repeat of that effort should see him there or thereabouts on his return to the Prestbury Park venue. Arriving here off the back of two decent enough spins over inadequate trips, last year’s Grand National fourth should once again be in his element at the back end of a race which is likely to be run at a searching pace.
CAID DU BERLAIS (best price 8-1) deserved to be seriously marked up after his eye-catching and slightly unlucky display in this race last year and with his preparation having gone smoothly in the build up to the event, another positive outcome looks on the cards. After a bad mistake at the second twelve months ago, the 10-year-old found himself in an unhealthy position as the runners went out on to the second circuit but in making up a ton of ground in the hottest part of the race, he somehow managed to heave his way into a respectable fifth-place finish (looked the winner at the last until getting tired). Going on to confirm he’s one of the best hunter chaser’s around with a convincing performance in the Irish equivalent at Punchestown, the son of Westerner has had this race as his main target ever since and following a nice spin around Bishop Court to blow away the cobwebs 12 days ago, he arrives here primed and ready in his bid to make amends for last year.
As usual, they are likely to go a million from the get-go in this traditional two-mile burn-up, and that should suit the strong-travelling BUN DORAN (best price 16-1) who has been kept fresh especially for this prize.
The son of Shantou has always had a ton of ability but ever since connections decided to drop him back to the minimum trip, his performance levels have gone to on an upward curve. Off the back of a 218-day break, Tom George’s gelding easily posted one of his striking displays when landing a well-run and competitive handicap and with the runner-up, Movie Legend going on to boost the form twice over since, he certainly has a bright chance just on that effort alone. Although beaten on merit when last seen back here in December, the eight-year-old has enjoyed the pause that refreshes since and with regular pilot and master tactician Paddy Brennan on board top hopefully navigate a smooth passage through what is likely to be a rough race, he’s fancied to deliver a knockout blow at the business end.
The role of honour for this race suggests something with a touch of quality often obliges and then if you add a little bit of track form into the equation both PYM (best price 18-1) and COOLANLY (best price 33-1) fit the bill to a tee.
The former is undoubtably a shade quirky but at the same time he’s also exhibited quite a bit of ability and his latest victory at Kempton should give him plenty of confidence coming into a race of this nature. Although beaten fair and square by Coolanly earlier in the campaign, he might not have been at his best that day and hailing from a yard that have enjoyed another stellar week, Nicky Henderson’s inmate should be capable of outrunning his odds.
The latter has always been held in the highest regard by connections and that fact that he was though good enough to contest the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle two starts ago is testimony to that belief. Although surprisingly beaten at odds-on at Wetherby last time out, it was a race where he had everything to lose and nothing to gain and if you take in to account some of better displays against top-quality opposition, there’s no way he should be allowed to go unbacked at 33-1.