Tuesday 23 January 2018

Uncertainty the only sure thing this week

Rich Ricci celebrates a Vroum Vroum Mag win. Photo: Racing Post
Rich Ricci celebrates a Vroum Vroum Mag win. Photo: Racing Post

Greg Wood

Without uncertainty, there would be no Cheltenham Festival, but this year's meeting seems to be pushing things to extremes. Three days before the first card of the meeting, there are still plenty of horses with a choice of two, three or, in the case of Vroum Vroum Mag, no fewer than six possible engagements over the course of the week, while the betting suggests that the ground on day one could yet be good, good-to-soft or soft.

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Firm predictions, in other words, are more difficult than ever at this stage, but there are still two or three horses each day that should represent value at their current odds.

Tuesday

Melon, the narrow favourite for the Supreme Novice Hurdle which opens the meeting, is likely to divide opinion, as he will arrive at Cheltenham with just a single start, and win, in a maiden hurdle to his name since joining the Willie Mullins stable. He could well drift from his current price of 4/1 as a result, but there was a real sense of strength and class about the way Melon went about his business at Leopardstown last time.

Brain Power, a 7/1 chance for the Champion Hurdle, also makes plenty of appeal. For several weeks now, Nicky Henderson has seemed unable to answer any inquiry about Buveur D'Air, the second-favourite, without adding "but don't forget Brain Power" a split-second later. His two impressive wins this season came in strongly-contested handicaps before Christmas, he travelled exceptionally well in both and seems to have overcome the jumping problems that bedevilled his novice season.

The handicaps are even more difficult to unravel than the Grade Ones, but Henri Parry Morgan (14/1) should go well in the Ultima Handicap Chase. He travelled like a well-handicapped horse before falling three out at Cheltenham on New Year's Day, and has been dropped another 6lb since.

Wednesday

Neon Wolf is a confident selection if he lines up for the Neptune Novice Hurdle as his win at Haydock in February was exceptional, not least in terms of his speed through the final two furlongs, and has been backed up by the performances of the second and fourth horses home.

Whisper is around 8/1 for the RSA Chase and this former top-class staying hurdler is an interesting contender against Might Bite, a stable companion at the Henderson yard. As with Brain Power, Henderson has been keen to highlight his chance, and he could improve on his two chase wins to date now that he steps up to three miles.

If he makes it into the line-up, Go Another One could be an interesting each-way chance at around 33/1. He has not run since winning twice last summer, but few runners in the probable field have posted better performances since then and he may creep in almost unnoticed.

Thursday

The JLT Novice Chase is seemingly the target for Disko (11/2), which has improved steadily during the season and could put pressure on the jumping of Yorkhill, the likely favourite, with his front-running style.

Zabana (12/1) was fancied for the same race last year only to whip around at the start and lose his jockey, but he is back with a real chance in the Ryanair Chase, having travelled like a match for anything in the race before the trip started to tell in the Irish Gold Cup last time out. He could be a big runner at around 12/1, but the Stayers' Hurdle, the day's feature race, looks booked for the favourite, Unowhatimeanharry (5/4).

Friday

Defi Du Seuil will be a warm favourite for the Triumph Hurdle, but Master Blueyes (8/1), which was useful on the Flat, looked the likely winner at Kempton last time out even before the departure of Charli Parcs and should not be under-estimated now that he is getting the hang of jumping. Wholestone (6/1) has plenty of course form and is a fair price for the Albert Bartlett, while this could be the year that Willie Mullins finally lands the Gold Cup.

Ireland's champion has suffered a series of setbacks this season, but Djakadam (4/1), the runner-up for the last two seasons, is now the right age and arriving at Cheltenham after an ideal preparation. He has shortened up significantly in recent days and there are holes to be picked in the case for both the ageing Cue Card and his stable companion Native River, which has had two brutal races already this season.

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