The second-half of Cheltenham’s two-day meeting boasts a fantastically intriguing card with the C4 cameras poised on four of the best. Our news team have previewed the tantalising quartet below.
13:50 Cheltenham – Kings Palace
This looks set to be between Kings Palace and Saint Roque with ready preference for the former.
David Pipe’s charge might have been unbeaten over hurdles if not for falling two out on his debut over timber back in January, but victories in both his starts this campaign have restored confidence.
Saint Roque comes from a stable in fine fettle but Paul Nicholls’ charge was beaten with ease on his first start for almost two months at Sandown last time and looks exposed.
The seven-year-old was on a five-timer before being outstayed by Beat That and the eventual winner Killala Quay in Esher and it raises serious doubts about how impressive his previous unbeaten sequence really was.
Potters Cross hasn’t been out of the frame since his first outing but he would need the market leaders to underperform.
14:25 Cheltenham – Colour Squadron
Johns Spirit bids to become only the fourth horse in history to complete the Paddy Power-December Gold Cup double but there is plenty riding against him.
The absence of Champion Court, who tackled the Peterborough Chase earlier on in the week as expected, is one positive for Jonjo O’Neill’s charge’s chances but it remains a fiendishly competitive field. Furthermore, the form of Jackdaws Castle has to be a concern with O’Neill sending out only one winner in the last fortnight despite 49 taking aim. O’Neill sent five horses to Uttoxeter on Tuesday and the best finish from all was only fifth.
In contrast, Philip Hobbs’ string is in excellent nick and his Colour Squadron makes more appeal.
The Somerset saddler has sent out seven winners from his last 16 runners before 12th December and his charge is fancied to reverse the form on Johns Spirit now in receipt of 2lb and time to address some wayward jumping last time.
15:00 Cheltenham – The New One
It’s incredibly difficult to look past Champion Hurdle favourite The New One and so the advice is not to bother.
Jockey Sam Twiston-Davies said that he has been surprised how much his father’s stable star has improved since his seasonal reappearance when slamming Rock On Ruby by 10 lengths back in October and that should concern connections of his six rivals.
Such is the confidence in the Twiston-Davies camp they seemed unconcerned when asked about the proposition of having to make the running on the ultra-talented five-year-old, probably because regardless of how the son of King’s Theatre is ridden they feel assured of the same result. It’s easy to share in that confidence when watching a replay of that Kempton run, where he quickened away from Harry Fry’s high class, and incredibly consistent Rock On Ruby as if he was just any ordinary hack.
Prices of 1/2 are not going to set many pulses racing, but the only viable alternative in Zarkandar has to be opposed.
Paul Nicholls’ 2011 Triumph Hurdle winner rarely puts in a bad performance and had the measure of The New One when they clashed in the Aintree Hurdle after Cheltenham last year.
However, that was a month after Twiston-Davies had brought his horse to the boil in such tremendous style in the Neptune and the chances of him franking that form, considering the respective improvements made by each, look extremely slim.
15:35 Cheltenham – Salubrious
It’s a shame more runners won’t be lining up for a race named after a horse who achieved so much despite such adversity, but that won’t bother Nicolas Bertran de Balanda and his horse Gemix’s chances of winning the Relkeel Hurdle.
The French handler sends out his prolific Auteuil winner for a first raid on British shores and although a certain amount has always got to be taken on faith concerning horses that have to travel, his domestic form justifies his position as market leader.
Gemix’s French Champion Hurdle victory back in June, where he had World Hurdle winner Solwhit eight lengths down in second place, sets a high standard that if repeated would surely be enough to account for his three rivals.
However, despite winning half of his last dozen races the five-year-old has more than hinted at his fallibility in his last two starts where he has only managed to come second and third when priced at 3/5F and 9/5 respectively.
As a result, odds-on quotes don’t appeal greatly and at the prices Paul Nicholls’ Salubrious makes more sense.
Just touched off at the Open meeting in a 17-runner Listed event proves his liking for the course and with his handler in terrific form he will be ready and waiting to take advantage of any below-par performance from the jolly.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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