JCB Triumph Hurdle
Just nine runners for the Triumph, but it a much stronger event than that would suggest, and long-time favourite Apple’s Shakira looks vulnerable at around 3.0 in the exchange market.
She seems to save her best for the track and has impressed in three deep-ground wins here at Cheltenham, although hasn’t been faced with top quality opposition for any of those.
Nube Negra, second to her here in December ran well off a mark of 135 in the Fred Winter, but he was beaten after all, as was Look My Way in eighth, who chased Apple’s Shakira home in January, and it will be harder to subdue the likes of Farclas, Mr Adjudicator and Redicean given their proven ability. The first-named of that trio is the one I’m most inclined to having had less experience on the flat than Mr Adjudicator or Redicean, and seeming the type to keep progressing.
At huge prices, I could see Gumball running well, as he was fancied to beat the favourite here at the November meeting but was floored by a combination of sloppy jumping and keeping to the slower ground on the inside. He never raced on the flat, so is entitled to find more improvement in this sphere, especially with a two-month break likely to help him. He must jump better to make an impact, but isn’t outclassed otherwise.
Randox Health County Hurdle
Not a race to be adamant about, with heavy ground a concern for my long-range hope Chesterfield, and a host of unexposed handicappers to weigh up.
A Hare Breath has been laid out for this, and has been well talked up meaning he’s a short price, but backing 10-y-o’s off career high marks in Festival handicaps isn’t as shrewd as you might imagine.
He won’t be as happy in hock-deep ground as some, and I’d be tempted to lay him for a place if he shortened any further.
Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
This is tough, and history shows that toughness and experience are at least the equal of class in this contest. For that reason I have to oppose Santini in the place market, as he has had only two outings over hurdles, and while his win over Black Op last time looks very good, I can see the attritional nature of this contest getting to him.
There is a lot of depth to this as well, and I find myself giving a squeak to horses as big as 33/1, which gives me a bit more confidence, as we appear to have plenty of horses running for us.
Timico Gold Cup
Another brutal race to solve, but what’s clear is that this isn’t the cakewalk which fans of Mite Bite have been predicting, at least on paper, and a big field of talented horses allied to heavy ground makes me think the jolly could blow out entirely.
Most of his rivals have solid and plentiful form on deep ground, but Mite Bite has avoided such conditions until a workmanlike win in the King George, which didn’t make him look a world beater by any stretch of the imagination.
The official going for Kempton was good to soft, but it probably rode a bit deeper, while it was officially soft when he won a 4-runner listed race confined to second-season chasers at Sandown. Timeform rated that surface as quicker than the official, and there is no doubt that heavy ground is a massive worry for the favourite, while he’s got plenty of gears, and wouldn’t appreciate it if this turned into a slog, which looks sure to be the case.
We haven’t even touched on his dubious temperament as yet, and the case is stacking up against him. I don’t know what will win, but I’m happy to conclude that it won’t be Mite Bite.
- 13:30 Lay Apple’s Shakira @ 3.1 or shorter
- 14:10 Place lay A Hare Breath @ 4.0 or shorter
- 14:50 Place lay Santini @ 3.0 or shorter
- 15:30 Place lay Mite Bite @ 2.4 or shorter