Art Mauresque in good shape to give Nicholls repeat victory
Former William Hill chief executive John Brown once said: "As soon as you think, 'That horse can't win', you're dead as a bookmaker."
It's the same for punters, too, and you have to be open to the idea that almost anything can happen in this game.
Back in 2009, I was left with egg on my face when I told the lads down the local that Mon Mome had absolutely no chance of winning the Grand National as no French-bred horse had been victorious in the previous 100 years.
A mate of mine, who knows nothing about horse racing, was going to stick €2 on the nine-year-old but I talked him out of it.
When Venetia Williams' gelding obliged at 100/1, my heart sank to the ground. I paid for his pints all day and a Chinese on the way home but I haven't lived it down and I don't think I've called any horse an absolute no-hoper since.
With that in mind, I'm cautious about saying that older horses should be avoided in this afternoon's Paddy Power Gold Cup Chase (2.25 Cheltenham), although you have to narrow down the field somehow and it's fair to say that this race usually goes to an up-and-coming sort, rather than an exposed and seasoned chaser.
I say 'usually' because there are exceptions. Clear Cut was aged in double-figures when he won for Maurice Camacho back in 1975, while the last nine-year-old to win was Martin Pipe's Cyfor Malta in 2002.
Since Cyfor Malta's win, 48 horses aged nine or older have attempted the two-mile-four-and-a-half-furlong challenge and eight have placed but none have won.
We've four nine-year-olds in today's 20-runner field, the most prominent of which in the betting is Monetaire representing David Pipe.
Considering the yard's record in the race, Monetaire is respected although he was beaten at the Festival by another of today's nine-year-olds, Darna, and didn't make much impact in a handicap hurdle at Punchestown.
The word on the street is that his work has been unsatisfactory at home over the past few weeks and Pipe acknowledged as much yesterday, saying his schooling "has not been as exuberant".
On the plus side, he did win a big handicap chase at Newbury this time last year and for his age, he's not too exposed. All considered, a price of 10/1 or thereabouts seems a little short although it would be no surprise to see him placed.
Stablemate Kings Palace is another one with claims and is likely to go off as favourite. He's a little short in the betting for my liking based on a disappointing sixth of eight runners in the RSA Chase in which he made a couple of blunders, but he's otherwise unbeaten over fences and is one that may well progress this season.
But trading around 10/1 yesterday evening, Art Mauresque ticks the right boxes.
Paul Nicholls' charge is a little on the young side aged five, although that didn't stop Caid Du Berlais winning for the same trainer last year, and is the least exposed in the field.
This is Art Mauresque's first time racing in a big-runner handicap but he's got winning form at the course which is important and is in good shape.
He won a novices' chase handy enough here in October and would appear to have more to come, so a racing weight of 11st this afternoon seems quite fair.
In the opening Grade Two Triumph Hurdle Trial, Nicholls can get the day off to a good start with Romain De Senam (12.40).
Available at 15/8 at the time of writing, the talented three-year-old was successful in a juvenile hurdle at Wincanton, which was his first race for Nicholls since leaving Guillaume Macaire in France.
Nigel Twiston-Davies' Cogry was going well when falling four fences out in the Scottish Grand National off a mark of 135, and the six-year-old is shaping up to be a decent chaser, winning two novice races last term.
Running off the same mark in the Murphy Group Handicap Chase (1.50 Cheltenham), he looks to have every chance if he stays up straight and jockey Ryan Hatch's 3lb claim should come in useful this afternoon, priced in the region of 12/1.
12.25 Punchestown: Gitane Du Berlais
12.40 Cheltenham: Romain De Senam
1.50 Cheltenham: Cogry (e/w)
2.25 Cheltenham: Art Mauresque
3.10 Lingfield: Let's Go
4.05 Cheltenham: Tobouggaloo