1.30 Jewson Novices' Chase: BACKING something at Cheltenham that was pulled up on his last start probably isn't the cleverest idea.
On the vast majority of cases, you need something hitting form as the festival approaches and showing a steady incline in form through the season. MINELLA CLASS certainly doesn't fall into the above category but I'm willing to forgive him his last two runs. He was hampered time and time again but the jockey-less Zaynar and was eventually pulled-up by Barry Geraghty. Before that he fell at Newbury when appearing to be travelling best of all in a hot contest won by Cue Card. Nicky Henderson's strapping sort, who has enough speed for two miles and stays three miles, has only been entered in the Jewson Novices' Chase. Interesting. What's even more interesting is that the first four horses in the betting probably won't run. Sir Des Champs and Silviniaco Conti are likely to head for the RSA while Peddlers Cross and Al Ferof are Arkle bound. Minella Class' sole try at Cheltenham was in last year's Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle where he looked a real threat before fading into sixth. He was only beaten eight lengths though and First Lieutenant, Rock On Ruby, So Young and Oscars Well, who finished in front of him, are all genuine Grade 1 performers. Henderson has always said that chasing will be Minella Class' game and he began his career over fences in promising fashion, chasing home Peddlers Cross at Bangor. For Non Stop is the sensible option. He stays, has good course form and comes into the race on the back of a Grade 1 victory. But Minella Class is triple his price and may prove value.
Selection: MINELLA CLASS Danger: For Non Stop
2.05 Pertemps Final
USUALLY a race to go have a cup of tea, the Pertemps Final is an uncharacteristically hot contest this year with two very well-handicap horses in the line-up. Our Father sits at the summit of the market and his latest success at Ascot was very impressive. David Pipe has won the race for the last couple of years with Buena Vista and his improving grey appears to have been aimed at this year's renewal for quite some time. He looks sure to run well but SIVOLA DE SIVOLA appeals more. Another grey, he is rated just 132 and will carry a featherweight of 10-1 if Restless Harry takes his chance. He is number 53 on the list and there is a worry that he mightn't make the cut but if he does, he could be a blot in the handicap. A winner of one of the qualifiers for the race at Newbury, Tom George's charge warmed up for the festival over an inadequate two miles on Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham. Indeed, he was second to a promising stablemate. He needs every yard of the 3m and has enough class to mount a serious challenge.
Selection: SIVOLA DE SIVOLA Danger: Our Father
2.40 Ryanair Chase
ARGUABLY the best renewal of the Ryanair Chase and the fact that dual winner Albertas Run is as big as 12-1 to retain his crown backs up that point. It would be hard to back him with any confidence given how long he has been on the sidelines though. I'm not convinced that Riverside Theatre is in love with the undulations of Cheltenham so he's crossed off while Noble Prince doesn't appear to have the same zest he had last term. That leaves us with RUBI LIGHT. His best displays have been over 2m4f, the Ryanair distance. He slammed some talented sorts in the John Durkan at Punchestown in December and was 20 lengths clear of Sizing Europe when uncharacteristically parting company with Davy Russell at the last at Gowran Park back in October. Rubi Light was third in the race last year but is rated 7lb higher now. His superb jumping is tailor-made for Cheltenham and don't be surprised if his price plummets should the rain continue to fall. Somersby is the danger if he runs. Henrietta Knight is leaning towards a tilt at the Ryanair instead of the Champion Chase and he has the class to be a major player.
Selection: RUBI LIGHT Danger: Somersby 3.20 World Hurdle
THERE are plenty of short-priced favourites at the festival this year but I think BIG BUCKS is the most bullet-proof. He's won 17 on the bounce, handles any ground and has looked better than ever this year so how can he possibly be beaten? The way in which he galloped past Dynaste after the last on his most recent start was visually as impressive as he's ever been and while this year's race appears stronger than 12 months ago, I don't expect the result to change. Indeed, I think it will be David Pipe runner that will follow him home. It was Grands Crus last year and I think Dynaste will be the one to give him most to think bout provided he is given a more patient ride by Tom Scudamore. Some say Oscar Whisky will end his winning spree but I don't think he'll stay. He's never run over further than 2m4f and wasn't overly impressive when beating Get Me Out Of Here over the furthest he's ever ran. Willie Mullins has plenty of entries but most of those want soft ground so he will be keeping a close eye on the weather forecast. Off all his potential runners, So Young would be the one that would interest me most. But he would not be good enough to beat Big Bucks.
Selection: BIG BUCKS Danger: Dynaste
4.00 Byrne Group Plate
THIS is one of those festival lotteries where it is hard enough to guess what will run, never mind pick a winner. It's often a race that novices' go well and NOTUS DE LA TOUR would be interesting off a mark of 144 if David Pipe decided to go down this route. He tackled some of the best in the business over 2m but I'm convinced he's best of further. His two best displays of the season so far have been over this trip, winning by 24 lengths at Plumpton before finishing third to Walkon at Exeter when giving that rival a ton of weight. He has run well in the Fred Winter and the County Hurdle over the past two years and his prominent style of racing seems to suit the course. He's a solid jumper, not spectacular, but does get from one side to the other in his own way and I think he has the class to put up a bold showing. Hector's Choice ran a cracker when chasing home Nacarat in the Racing Plus Chase at Kempton last month and would be worth serious consideration if turning up here.
Selection: NOTUS DE LA TOUR Danger: Hector's Choice
4.40 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Chase
WHILE all the talk after the Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot last month was about Invictus staking a claim for the RSA and how disappointing both Bobs Worth and Silvianco Conti were, there were far more Cheltenham clues in it if you scrutinised the race closely enough. One horse that certainly caught my eye as I was a recording of the race was BAILE ANRAI. Thrown into Grade 2 company for the third time, he appeared to be full of running coming to the third last but met it all wrong and parted company with Harry Skelton. Had he stayed up, I'm sure he would have finished in the first three. Earlier in the season he registered a comfortable win at Towcester and showed a nice attitude to follow up at Leicester in mid-january. But it was his performance at Ascot that makes his most interesting. A reproduction of that effort would make him extremely well treated off a mark of 133. The enigmatic Faasel looked back to his best when winning a veterans race at Doncaster and likes Cheltenham, so certainly shouldn't be dismissed lightly.
Selection: BAILE ANRAI Danger: Faasel
5.15 St. Patrick's Day Derby Charity Race
You're on your own for this one!