Prep race has Cantlow primed for victory in Paddy Power Gold Cup
A former striker for Southampton and England, trainer Mick Channon once said that racing is quite an unusual sport because it's the only one in which you are penalised for winning and, even worse, for finishing second.
He was, of course, referring to the handicap system and from a betting point of view, handicaps can be tough to crack as you are basically trying to spot a horse whose level of ability has been miscalculated by a team of experts.
While the handicappers don't get it wrong very often, the nature of these races means that the prices are usually high - so if you can spot one which is potentially better than its mark suggests, the rewards can be good.
Running off 147, giving him a weight of 11st 3lbs, the Paul Webber-trained Cantlow might be one such horse in the Paddy Power Gold Cup (2.30 Cheltenham), and the assessor dropped him 3lbs earlier this month for finishing tenth in a similar high-quality handicap at Ascot.
Admittedly, that race looks disappointing on paper but Cantlow is always rusty on his first run of the season and he went on to win a decent handicap at Newbury last year, having flopped on his seasonal debut a couple of weeks earlier.
He later went on to finish second to Double Ross in a valuable handicap at Cheltenham (off 148) and although his form tailed off somewhat towards the end of the season, I'm convinced he has more to offer at this level and is worth a small punt today at 16/1.
Buywise also has claims but I can't be having him at 6/1 considering his less than fluent jumping style.
At Punchestown tomorrow, the highlight is the Morgiana Hurdle where six-year-old Jezki (4/5) takes on the decade-old Hurricane Fly (11/10) once again. They are two apiece at this stage but the latest two meetings have gone to the younger horse and it's no surprise to see Jessica Harrington's charge trade at an odds-on price.
While it would be foolish to rule out a horse as talented as 'The Fly', he doesn't appear to be the force of old and the fact that Willie Mullins expressed some concern about his fitness earlier this week makes me wonder if he'll need the run.
Mullins did appear a little more upbeat as the week went on saying his horse is well and that it's "all to play for".
I won't win any awards for originality here but after much deliberation, I'm going to get the wallet out and have a decent sized bet on Jezki, the main reason being that I believe Jezki still has room to improve because of his age.
Rather than improving, Hurricane Fly is at the stage where he's trying to retain ability.
All that said, anything can happen in racing and I've a feeling I'll be watching through my fingers if, as expected, this ends up a two-horse race in the final stages.
But that's what great racing is all about and regardless of betting, this one is shaping up to be a cracker.
FOURTEEN runners will line up for the Listed Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Hurdle (3.0 Cheltenham) and it's one of those tricky races where a good case could be made for almost half the field.
But at 12/1, Invicta Lake catches the eye following a recent win at Plumpton. Sue Smith's gelding had so much in reserve that Paddy Brennan eased off coming home and with the promise of more to come, a rise of 6lbs in the weights to 122 for that win does not seem too restrictive.
1.50 Cheltenham: Master Neo (e/w)
2.30 Cheltenham: Cantlow
3.0 Cheltenham: Invicta Lake (e/w)
3.35 Cheltenham: Golden Doyen
6.15 Wolverhampton: Bamboccianti
2.15 Punchestown: Jezki (tomorrow)
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