Tuesday 16 January 2018

Champion Court can seize his opportunity at Cheltenham

Trainer Paul Nicholls
Trainer Paul Nicholls

Wayne Bailey

I won't pretend I know a whole lot about the Chinese zodiac calendar, but a bloke I often meet out racing, who is originally from Shanghai, has told me that we are about to enter the Chinese Year of the Horse.

This guy seems to hand every penny he earns over the betting shop counter, but he reckons the Year of the Horse will be a lucky one and bring him prosperity and good fortune.

I'm not very superstitious myself and I somehow doubt he'll make his million backing anything with four legs, although I do agree that the best way to celebrate the Year of the Horse is to watch some of the best of them in action.

This weekend is extra special in that regard with Big Buck's, Annie Power and Hurricane Fly all on show as the Cheltenham build-up continues in earnest.

Controversially, Sam Twiston-Davies will be aboard Big Buck's instead of Daryl Jacob and, while Nicholls maintains that Jacob wasn't too keen to take the ride, the Ditcheat trainer has a habit of airing dirty linen in public.

Jacob is staying quiet, but it's a little hard to believe that the stable's number one jockey doesn't want to ride one of their best horses.

As regards the horse itself, Nicholls reckons he's as good as ever and, on paper, he has nearly a stone in hand in the Cleeve Hurdle (3.35 Cheltenham) although that assumes he's still in the same condition as he was before he picked up an injury which kept him out for nearly 14 months.

Unlike my Shanghai friend, I won't be having a bet at 10/11, but I'll cheer him on enthusiastically nonetheless.

You can only do so much with them at home and it might be presumptuous to assume he'll cruise home in his usual fashion, now aged 11. But then again, this is Big Buck's and there's nothing usual about him.

In the Irish Champion Hurdle tomorrow (2.35 Leopardstown), I don't see any reason why the Ryanair Hurdle form will be reversed and Hurricane Fly should retain his 100pc record at the course.

Jezki would have preferred a stronger pace at Christmas and this should prove interesting from a tactical point of view but at the prices, it's also a race best watched.

For something with decent odds then, Champion Court gets the vote at 13/2 in the Argento Chase (2.25 Cheltenham).

It's been hit and miss for Martin Keighley's gelding lately and he appeared a little one-paced when beaten by Captain Chris at Kempton earlier this month – but on his Peterborough Chase form (second to Riverside Theatre), he has claims and he may well have won that race had Ian Popham's saddle not slipped.

Previously, he unseated his rider in the King George although being honest, he hadn't a hope of winning a race of that quality.

I could be accused of making too many excuses for the nine-year-old and he hasn't won since landing the Silver Trophy Chase last April, but things simply haven't fallen right for him and he deserves another chance in graded company.

Rocky Creek will most likely go off as favourite around 6/4 and deserves his place at the top of the market based on a very promising second in the Hennessy. But the likes of Houblon Des Obeaux and Harry Topper can't be ruled out either and this race may be more open than the market suggests.

EACH-WAY OUTSIDER

Lucinda Russell's Tap Night looks overpriced at 10/1 for the Freebets.com Trophy Handicap Chase (1.50 Cheltenham). A talented novice last season, the seven-year-old struggled in his latest two races off 149 and 145 at Cheltenham, but the handicapper has now eased him down to a manageable 142. With champion jockey AP McCoy back on board, punters are assured a good run for their money.

TODAY'S SELECTIONS

12.40 Cheltenham: Vicenzo Mio

12.55 Doncaster: Valdez

1.50 Cheltenham: Tap Night (e/w)

2.15 Leopardstown: Road To Riches

2.25 Cheltenham: Champion Court

2.40 Doncaster: Timesremembered

3.0 Cheltenham: Aubusson

Irish Independent

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