Class act Knockara has chance to shine
The Victorchandler.com Handicap Chase at Cheltenham this afternoon provides by far the most appealing betting heat on a busy New Year's Day programme.
Among the 15 runners declared for the showpiece is last year's winner Can't Buy Time, while Mister McGoldrick, third 12 months ago, is also set to take his chance. Sue Smith's stable star turns 14 today, and rarely runs a bad race at Cheltenham.
On the back of two impressive hurdling wins, Carole's Legacy will start favourite for Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty. A three-time winner over fences last term, the seven-year-old mare was a fair second to Quevega on first reverting to hurdles at Prestbury Park in March.
While Carole's Legacy is a worthy favourite, at 9/2 she represents no value in such an open handicap. Preferred is Knockara Beau, a northern challenger with a real touch of class.
Despite all the big-name trainers being represented, it's George Charlton, a relatively unknown Stocksfield-based handler, whose charge has the strongest credentials. Fifth to Mikael D'Haguenet over hurdles at the 2009 Cheltenham Festival, Knockara Beau was brilliantly consistent over fences last term.
A three-time winner, he finished second in graded company to Diamond Harry, Burton Port and Weird Al. His campaign concluded in the spring with a seven-length fourth to Weapon's Amnesty back at the festival, before he went down by the same margin when fifth to Burton Port at Aintree.
That's serious form. Granted, Knockara Beau, which is ridden by Czech-born Jan Faltejsek, disappointed on his return in the Charlie Hall Chase, but he put that effort behind him to finish a staying-on fourth to Midnight Chase at Cheltenham last month.
While today's two mile, five furlong trip may be on the short side for him, he clearly goes well at Cheltenham, he is coming back to form, and the handicapper has given him a chance by dropping him a pound. At around 10/1, he looks the value option.
Earlier on the card, the Henderson-Geraghty axis teams up with Oscar Whisky in a two-and-a-half-mile conditions hurdle. Karabak, Celestial Halo and Barizan set the standard here, but Oscar Whiskey was a very good novice last season and he could yet prove to be up to this level, if not better.
Unbeaten in two bumpers and two hurdles, his most recent start saw him finish fourth behind Menorah, Get Me Out Of Here and Dunguib at Cheltenham in March. For such an unexposed sort, that form reads especially well now.
In the Grade Two Dipper Novice Chase, Medermit, so often disappointing when upped in class over hurdles, can be opposed with Reve De Sivola. Nick Williams' dual Grade One-winning hurdler is a hugely likeable individual, an infallibly honest horse that keeps finding all the way to the line.
While mistakes cost him on his fencing debut at Cheltenham in November, he benefited from that experience when successful over course and distance a month ago. That will have brought Reve De Sivola on again, so the six-year-old, which found only Peddlers Cross too good at Cheltenham in March, is expected to follow up now.
The Skybet.com Handicap Hurdle follows the main event, and features a number of horses better known for their chasing exploits, including the Grand National winner Don't Push It. Den Of Iniquity, on the back of a win on the all-weather at Southwell, holds some appeal off bottom weight, but the versatile Junior might just shade it.
Best bet: Reve De Sivola