China rock has solid appeal in jewson's jigsaw puzzle
It goes against the grain to wade into in a race like the Jewson Novices' Handicap Chase, with its lengthy cast of "plot" horses. But then, there's no great abundance of punting choice on the weakest day of four at this festival.
Opening day illustrated the fiendish nature of Cheltenham handicaps, which returned winners at 33/1 and 25/1. Yet one Jewson runner that really jumps from the page is China Rock.
Although he won't start at those inflated odds, he comes into the race with the ideal blend of experience and the potential to take a quantum leap forward.
In that respect, China Rock is a typical product of the Mouse Morris academy that excels at Cheltenham. Earlier in the season Morris tried the seven-year-old against the best, felt he might struggle, and lowered his sights accordingly.
The consequence is a handicap mark on a par with English novices more than one cut below the best. That's no mean piece of planning, especially since China Rock's run at last year's festival represents the strongest piece of form in today's race.
To finish fourth behind Mikael D'Haguenet, just a neck behind Diamond Harry in the Neptune Investment Novices' Hurdle, illustrated China Rock's penchant for Cheltenham and his liking for good ground. Assured of those conditions here, he appeals as a decent bet.
China Rock is opposed by The Hollinwell, which is many people's idea of the winner. Othermix and Rivaliste, from the stable that won it last year with Chapoturgeon, further complicate matters. Yet China Rock can find the necessary improvement to ease those St Patrick Day hangovers.
O'GRADY'S SEA CAN RISE ABOVE RIVALS
Some like their favourites rock-solid, others prefer wide-open races. Either way, you can take your pick from today's feature races in which that contrast could not be more pronounced.
Big Buck's trades at odds-on for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, while the Ryanair Chase brings together a tightly-knit cast.
The Ryanair Chase (2.40) has endless permutations. Barber's Shop comes into it now that he drops back in distance after campaigning over three miles. That trip seems beyond him, and it's debatable whether any of his opponents could finish fourth in an English Hennessy or third in a King George.
Against that, the suspicion has arisen that the Queen's runner is a "bridle" horse. If that's the case, he will find it hard to clamber up the hill in front. The chances are that the question will prove redundant anyway, since Tranquil Sea may well have developed past him.
There was much to admire in the way Edward O'Grady's horse landed the Paddy Power Chase in November, when he comfortably accounted for another of today's opponents in Poquelin.
Poquelin boosted that form when winning a similar race at Cheltenham in December, since when he has been freshened for this. His absence has prompted numerous notices that he has improved immensely; so much so that Nicholls nominates him as his banker.
Then again, much was expected after the fitting of blinkers to Celestial Halo for the Champion Hurdle, and he ran a shocker. I prefer to side with racecourse evidence, and, on that, Tranquil Sea has excellent claims. And concerns that he might struggle on faster ground are assuaged by his victory in a Grade One novices' hurdle two years ago. You don't win those on the cheap.
Of his opponents, Petit Robin might find this trip beyond his optimum, and with Schindlers Hunt too often the bridesmaid to be handed the groom's coat, Tranquil Sea has most to fear from Albertas Run. This one positively bounces off good ground.
As for Big Buck's, his domination of the World Hurdle (3.20) looks set to continue -- although in Cousin Vinny, Ebadyian, Karabak and Time For Rupert, he faces some talented young stayers in the making. He should, nevertheless, hold sway without in any way appealing as a betting proposition.
Hobbs in line to make dusk to dawn raid
Some seasoned chasers line up in the Byrne Group Handicap Chase (4.0). Our Vic and The Sawyer are regulars, but in a race largely bereft of predatory novices, From Dawn To Dusk makes most appeal.
This one ran better than his finishing place suggests in a similar race here in December, and the Philip Hobbs stable has since hit form with a vengeance.
The same applies to Galant Nuit in the Kim Muir Handicap Chase (4.40). This one impressed in winning at Doncaster last time and Ferdy Murphy's horses are in rude health.
Amnesty comes good
Even blind pigs stumble upon acorns from time to time.
That rang true yesterday as Weapon's Amnesty, which received an ante-post nod here back in January at 12/1, dismantled some lofty reputations when sweeping to victory in the RSA Chase.