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Might just may on opening day- If Gold Cup hasn’t left mark

There’s no fewer than four Grade One’s on the opening day of the Grand National meeting, with the Bowl Chase and the Aintree Hurdle the feature events.

Might Bite will be a short-priced favourite for the Betway Bowl, following his runner-up finish in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham and victory in the King George over Christmas. He’s without doubt the class act in a field of eight, though his performance will surely hinge on how he has recovered from those Festival exertions. It’s less than a month since he had that prolonged battle with Native River in testing ground, although his campaign had been light prior to that.

Might Bite landed the Mildmay Novices’ Chase at the corresponding meeting a year ago, following up on his success in the RSA. Both track and trip look ideal for this talented young chaser, and Henderson isn’t one for taking risks with his horses. The Seven Barrows handler must believe that the nine-year-old is fighting fit. If so, he’ll take all the beating.

Last year’s surprise winner, Tea For Two, looks to emulate Silviniaco Conti in achieving back to back victories. Cheltenham doesn’t appear to suit this fella, and he looks more at home on a flatter track. He ran well when third to Might Bite in the King George, and though I don’t fancy him to beat Henderson’s charge, he should run a decent race.

Double Shuffle was runner-up in the Kempton showpiece and will arrive here fresher than most. Tom George had a terrific Cheltenham Festival and this eight-year-old looks a rapidly improving sort. He’s another that has his work cut out to reverse King George form with Might Bite, though missing that arduous encounter in the Gold Cup should work in his favour.

Definitly Red appeared slightly outclassed at Cheltenham, and I’d be surprised if he wins this. Nevertheless, he has course form and if the ground is testing enough, he has the guts to run into a place. Brian Ellison was insistent that better ground would suit his horse, but I struggle to believe it.

Clan Des Obeaux could prove the surprise package. Paul Nicholls has captured three of the last eight renewals, and I can see this young chaser running a cracker. He looks a King George sort to me, and this race should suit. The six-year-old is taking on more experienced rivals but looks hugely talented. This step up in trip appears the main concern, though he didn’t appear to be stopping last time at Cheltenham over 2m5f.

Bristol De Mai is back on a flat left-handed track in testing conditions. He probably needs the ground to be bottomless, nevertheless, we can probably expect an improved performance from the seven-year-old. Nigel Twiston-Davies has also given him a wind-op and, should his jumping hold together, he could prove a serious challenger.

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Might Bite is a cut above these, and as long as the Gold Cup hasn’t left a mark, I’m confident he’ll win. If it has, then Clan Des Obeaux is the one I fancy to take advantage.

Sadly, we will not be seeing Buveur D’Air in the Aintree Hurdle. His absence leaves Jess Harrington’s Supasundae a short-priced favourite. Runner-up in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, the eight-year-old had previously landed the Irish Champion Hurdle at two miles. This trip ought to prove ideal for this grand looking son of Galileo.

Henderson sends 11-year-old My Tent Or Yours into battle. Runner-up in the last pair of renewals, he looked as good as ever when winning the International Hurdle at Cheltenham back in December. He was no match for Buveur D’Air in last year’s race, though I fancy Harrington’s fella is not in that league. This could be his final race and he rarely disappoints. It’s a tough ask at 11, though this race looks more open than the odds suggest.

The New One was a place behind My Tent in last year’s race. This appears his optimum trip, though he is undoubtedly a better horse going right-handed. The soft ground should suit him, and he looks a leading contender. He’s likely to be jumping out to his right all the way up the straight, and that must be a huge concern.

L’Ami Serge is sure to go well for much of the race and may well look a huge player approaching the last. However, he’ll need to battle at some stage, especially against the likes of The New One and Supasundae. And that will surely be his undoing.

Supasundae is progressive and should win, though his odds (currently evens) look a little skinny to me. On this ground I’d probably risk a punt on The New One.

Caspian Caviar Gold Cup – The time is right for Le Prezien

Paul Nicholls aims for another successful Saturday, having last week captured the Tingle Creek at Sandown with Politologue.

The Ditcheat handler tops the training charts for the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup with four victories. Those wins have come since 2009, and he saddled four-year-old Frodon to victory 12 months ago. Tomorrow he heads to Cheltenham with a trio of challengers, including the top pair in the betting, who also sit at the head of the handicap.

Five-year-old Clan Des Obeaux tops the weights and arrives off the back of a decent performance at Haydock. He defeated Vintage Clouds in testing conditions despite having to give his opponent 7lbs. Prior to that, a couple of scrappy jumps late-on allowed Whisper to get the better of him at Kempton. He’s certainly got the stature for fences, but you get the feeling that this fella remains a work in progress. He looks ungainly at times, struggling to get that big frame organised at his fences. The famous hill should suit, but he’ll need to avoid errors in the latter stages if he’s to win this.

Le Prezien was third in the BetVictor last month behind Splash Of Ginge and Starchitect, but is slightly better-off at the weights. He wouldn’t want it as testing as last time, though does go well in soft ground. He clearly likes the track, and this trip looks his optimum. He’s a classy and consistent sort, and with Barry Geraghty on top, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t go close again.

Nicholls also has Romain De Senam among the 11 entrants. Though his breeding suggests testing conditions would be fine, his trainer has said that soft ground is far from ideal. He struggled in the BetVictor, when fading late-on for a fifth-place finish. It’s tough to see him turning that form around, though he is a progressive looking youngster.

The same can probably be said of the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Foxtail Hill. I’m a fan of this horse, but he’s a ‘free-going’ sort and failed to get home in the testing ground of the BetVictor Chase. He beat Le Prezien over the minimum trip back in October, but I fancy we’ll need to wait until the Spring to see him back at his best.

Splash Of Ginge was the star of the show a month ago, and is by no means out of it this time, despite a 5lb rise in the handicap. Though not as desperate as November, the ground will still be soft, and as such the winner will need reserves of stamina to see-out the 2m5f trip. It’s also important to mention that this race is run on Cheltenham’s New Course which has a stiffer finish than the Old that hosted the BetVictor. I’m anticipating a bold run from the nine-year-old, who remains on a fair mark.

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Ballyalton was fourth in the BetVictor, and is another that enjoys his trips to Prestbury Park. He’d be the first 10-year-old to win this race since 1974, though a season off the track means he has few miles on the clock. Like Le Prezien, he’ll likely go better on less testing ground, though has form with soft in the description. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him in the mix, though he’s vulnerable to a more progressive sort.

King’s Odyssey is third-best in the betting, and was tipped-up by Paul Kealy in his Weekender piece. Jumping is key to this fella, having come down when going well in last year’s race. His return at Carlisle was decent if not spectacular, and he does have the all-important course form, having won a novice handicap chase at the start of 2016. I’m not convinced he’s good enough despite a fair looking handicap mark. He’ll enjoy conditions, but I fancy errors are likely as the race hots up.

Starchitect only just failed to land the BetVictor and should go close again. A couple of slight errors at the last two fences arguably cost him victory that day, and with a clearer round he and Splash Of Ginge should again be side by side. He’s a leading contender.

Finally, a mention for the David Dennis-trained Deauville Dancer. He’s the 33/1 outsider of the field, and has been on the go since May. He’s run 10 times in that period, with nine of those coming over fences. He’s won five of them, and this six-year-old looks a much-improved horse. Though only a three-runner affair, his last performance at Doncaster was without doubt his best, and I was impressed by the accuracy of his jumping. His breeding suggests he’ll cope with conditions, and though this is by far his toughest test, he will be ably assisted by Aidan Coleman, who won this race aboard Niceonefrankie in 2014. The trainer almost captured the Badger Ales last month, and this fella has a chance.

Paul Nicholls has a strong record in the race, and I’ll be siding with Le Prezien to make it third-time lucky this term. He’s come close in his last two visits to the track, including that close third in the BetVictor. I’ll also have a small punt on Deauville Dancer. This could prove a step too far for the six-year-old, but he arrives in good order, and I’ll take a chance that there’s further improvement that will make him competitive at a big price.
Best of luck to those having a punt.

Twiston Shout – The New One goes for Fab Four

We’re back to Cheltenham this weekend for their two-day International meeting.

Thankfully the cold snap has passed and any lying snow in the Cotswolds has now melted away. The ground at Prestbury Park is described as soft, good to soft in places, with the likelihood of soft all round by the off.

The action begins on Friday, though it’s the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup and the International Hurdle, both on Saturday, that are sure to provide the headlines. Nigel Twiston-Davies may prove a central figure as he’s responsible for three-time winner of the International, The New One, along with last month’s BetVictor Gold Cup winner Splash Of Ginge in the feature chase.

The former has been a stable star for many years, and has become one of the most popular hurdlers in training. Should he win Saturday’s Grade Two, it’ll be a record-breaking fourth victory in five years. He’s currently tied with Birds Nest and Relkeel with a trio of victories apiece.

The trainer appears as bullish as ever, saying: “He's in really good nick, it's his race and has been for three of the last four years. We gave My Tent weight last year and we've got to do it again this season, but he hasn't run this season so maybe he won't be quite as sharp. Richard Johnson rides and I thought it was a brilliant effort in the Greatwood. He was beaten only five lengths giving tons of weight away. He seems as good as ever.”

Team Skelton continue to bang-in the winners, with a stunning strike-rate of 24%. Ch’Tibello returns to action, and gets a handy 6lbs from The New One. He was just two-lengths behind him in last year’s Christmas Hurdle off level weights, and the six-year-old is open to further improvement. Skelton said of his leading hurdler: “Soft ground has been very much in his favour, which is amazing because we always thought he wanted better ground. He won at Haydock last season in really heavy ground and ran well in the Kingwell. We haven't been to Cheltenham before with him but that doesn't hold too many fears. We get 6lb off The New One and it seemed a sensible race to aim for.”

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Mullins may send young hurdler Melon over for the race, though punters should hold onto their cash until the ferry lands at Holyhead. Runner-up in last year’s Supreme, he looked good when winning the WKD Hurdle at Down Royal, though beat nothing of note. He’ll be giving plenty of weight to My Tent Or Yours and Ch’Tibello, but the opportunity of gaining further Cheltenham experience may sway the Irish trainer.

Twiston-Davies has arguably the better chance of lifting the International over the Caspian Caviar, though the ‘Ginge Army’ may disagree. Splash Of G is up 5lb for his victory last month, and conditions will again be favourable, though you fancy he’s had his day. Le Prezien is better at the weights and could again go close, having finished second and third in his last two visits to the track. Paul Nicholls has won four of the last eight renewals, and has a trio of contenders, including this fella.

Last weekend the Ditcheat handler said of his intended runners: “Romain De Senam wants really decent ground and it turned against him in the BetVictor. Clan Des Obeaux will go on any ground, but cut obviously suits him and he loves really soft conditions. I just want to be sure he's all right as it's not that far along from Haydock. Le Prezien is also likely to be confirmed.”

Clearly conditions have gone against Romain DS, whilst the other pair head the betting. Clan Des Obeaux is lumbered with top-weight, though he certainly has the frame for the job, and his close second to Whisper at Kempton in November reads well after the Ladbrokes Trophy (Hennessy) at Newbury.

Nicholls and Twiston-Davies took the main prizes last weekend, and a repeat performance is certainly on the cards.

Top Notch the type for Sandown Test

Best Mate was the most famous winner of Sandown’s Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices' Chase, back in 2001.

The three-time winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup was a short-priced favourite, when cruising to a stylish victory. Foot and mouth put-paid to the Festival that year, and to Best Mate’s hopes of an Arkle Chase success. But the young chaser was to develop into one of the greats, taking Cheltenham’s ‘Blue Riband’ three years in a row.

Paul Nicholls enjoyed a dominant period in the race from 2006 until 2009. It’s fair to say that none of the winners shot to fame, though Silverburn went on to finish fourth in the RSA behind Albertas Run.

In three of the last season renewals, the prize has gone to Nicky Henderson. Punchestowns, Captain Conan and Oscar Whisky were all classy types, though again, none of the trio hit the heights over fences. The 2010 winner Punchestowns, looked to have a bright future over the larger obstacles, winning this race in stunning fashion before heading to Cheltenham and a tilt at the RSA. Sent off a 2/1 favourite, he faded tamely out of contention, finishing a hugely disappointing fifth behind Weapon’s Amnesty.

The last two renewals of the Scilly Isles have gone to owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede. The pair were responsible for Gitane Du Berlais in 2015 and Bristol De Mai 12 months ago. The latter was a stunning winner at Haydock last month and is now viewed by many as a serious Gold Cup contender. Connections are responsible for one of Saturday’s fancied runners, when they team up with Nicky Henderson and the six-year-old Top Notch.

The master of Seven Barrows will have been pleased with the progress made by his young chaser. Third on debut at Uttoxeter, he has won his last three, and proved a step-up in trip was no issue when winning at Ascot last time. That effort at a right-hand track can only enhance his chances here, and he’s always proved adaptable to ground conditions. He’s not the biggest, but has been neat over his fences thus far. He’s a gutsy sort, with a touch of class, and should go well.

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Paul Nicholls has plenty entered, though appears to be favouring Clan Des Obeaux. He looked a little unfortunate to lose out to Whisper at Cheltenham last time, when meeting the second last fence wrong and losing momentum. He’s a big, raw looking five-year-old, who looks sure to improve over time. He’s won twice since arriving in the UK, and both victories came at Newbury. It’s likely that the flat galloping track suits him at this stage of his development, and how he copes with the railway fences will be of interest. He may well prove the best of these in the long-term, but at some stage on Saturday, his ability to shorten-up into a fence will undoubtedly be tested.

Le Prezien is currently third best in the betting, and should Nicholls allow him to take his chance, he’ll prove an interesting contender. He chased home Yorkhill at Aintree in the Grade 1 Mersey Novices’ Hurdle in April, and has coped well with the switch to the larger obstacles. Just ahead of Top Notch in the Uttoxeter race, he has won his last two, though both at a shorter trip than this. He’s looked capable of going further, though jumped slightly to his left at Exeter last time, which clearly would be less than ideal here.

Baron Alco looks likely to take his chance for local trainer Gary Moore. He has two wins over fences at Plumpton to his name, and has also finished behind Whisper this winter. He’s likely to make the running, and has been neat at his fences thus far. He’s not exceptional, but he’s no mug, and I’d expect him to put up a bold show. Nevertheless, I’d be surprised if he didn’t find one of these a little too good for him.

In a competitive renewal, I’m coming down in favour of Top Notch. I fancy that Clan Des Obeaux will prove a long-term project, and that Henderson’s chaser will be a little more battle-hardened. Best of luck to all those having a punt.