Djakadam a worthy hotpot but there's value in Smad Place
It was shaping up to be another expensive Saturday last week until the Sue Smith-trained Cloudy Too got me out of jail in the Peter Marsh Chase at 6/1.
That win was a much-needed boost for the betting balance on a day in which I'd spent quite a lot more than was sensible backing Sire De Grugy in the Clarence House Chase.
Although the ten-year-old certainly wasn't disgraced coming second to Un De Sceaux, you could sense a changing of the guard with an eight-year-old winning, and Sire De Grugy's six-year-old stablemate Traffic Fluide gaining ground late on to finish third.
To make matters worse, a mate of mine, who is possibly the meanest bloke in Ireland, got a Yankee up which included Un De Sceaux and collected close to a monkey (€500).
Don't get me wrong, I love to see any man or woman get one over the bookmakers but this chap probably bangs his head off the ceiling when he gets up every morning with all the money he has stashed under the mattress.
Un De Sceaux went off at 1/2 and was worth opposing at the price, although taking on these Willie Mullins hotpots has become an expensive business these days and I hope I'm not kicking myself once again after the Grade Two Betbright Trial Chase (1.50 Cheltenham), in which I'm avoiding Djakadam at a similar price.
Not that I believe he's got a very strong chance of being beaten, but such short odds may mean there's some decent each-way value available on the others in an eight-runner field.
While Mullins' charge looks exceptional, it's not a bad race for opposing favourites, with Dynaste, Rocky Creek, Grands Crus, Punchestowns, Carruthers and Our Vic among the big-name casualties in the last decade.
In fact the last favourite to win was Cyfor Malta way back in 1999, which might be of some concern those brave enough to go all in on the 2015 Gold Cup runner-up this afternoon.
If you ask me, Alan King's Smad Place could be the one to side with and was available at 15/2 in places last night. Although rated 2lb inferior, Smad Place will get 4lb off the favourite so it's a little tighter than the markets suggests and I was well impressed with his performance in the Hennessy Gold Cup, in which he jumped with gusto to land the prize.
It was one of his best performances to date, although it took a bit out of him and he struggled somewhat in the King George, finishing fourth. However, his trainer reports the selection to be in good shape this time around, and he can run just as well if not better than last year's race in which he came second.
One short-priced favourite I'm definitely keen to keep onside today is Thistlecrack in the Cleeve Hurdle (3.35 Cheltenham), although no-one will be getting rich by backing him at 8/11 or thereabouts.
Regular readers will know that I was extremely keen on Colin Tizzard's star in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in which he proved he's one of the best around in this division by comprehensively beating the likes of Reve De Sivola and Saphir Du Rheu at 2/1.
I've heard it argued that the lack of a decent performance at the Cheltenham course is a possible negative but I don't think that's a factor at all as the last time he raced here was over a year ago in a two and-a-half mile novice hurdle.
He's been a different prospect altogether since stepped up in trip, and is now as short as 2/1 in places for the World Hurdle at the Festival.
Unless something goes drastically wrong, it will take a good one to beat him there. Having said that, the Festival isn't the only show in town and Tizzard is taking it one step at a time.
Rather refreshingly, he recognises that this afternoon's contest is a great prize to win in itself and has described the eight-year-old as being fit and ready to show his best today.
For something at a bigger price, a chance is taken on Final Assault in the Freebets.com Trophy Handicap Chase at Cheltenham (2.25), which looks set to go off in the region of 12/1.
It's no secret that Lucinda Russell holds this horse in high regard, and he won a six-runner handicap chase at Ayr with relative ease back in November.
Fair enough, it wasn't the strongest race in the world but he travelled powerfully throughout and the softer ground seems to suit him best.
Although given a hike of 9lb in the weights, he subsequently finished fourth in a valuable Listed handicap at Newcastle, and his latest loss is dismissed as he unseated his rider early on.
As mentioned, Sue Smith's Cloudy Too came up trumps for this corner last week and I'm quite keen on another one of her runners each-way in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster this afternoon (3.15) at what should be a nice double-figure price.
Useful over both hurdles and fences, No Planning didn't really take to the national fences when unseating Sean Quinlan at the sixth in the Becher Chase at Aintree, but he's best judged on some smart previous runs - including his third place in a good quality handicap chase at Haydock in November.
He's down 2lbs in the ratings since to 137 and he's been fairly reliable down through the years, earning nine wins and as many places from 31 career runs.
Paddy Brennan is set to take the reins today and in a race where a case could be made for five or six runners, likely favourite Le Mercurey looks a little short in the betting at 5/1.
1.50 Cheltenham: Smad Place (e/w)
2.05 Doncaster: Morning Run
2.25 Cheltenham: Final Assault
2.50 Lingfield: Beleave
3.0 Cheltenham: Yanworth
3.15 Doncaster: No Planning (e/w)
3.35 Cheltenham: Thistlecrack