Inviting odds for I'moncloudnine
Cheltenham's trials card may boast the highest-quality programme of the day, but it is the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster that is the most intriguing individual betting heat of the televised schedule.
A field of 19 is set to contest the valuable handicap, with Fistral Beach and Blazing Bailey heading the market. Both horses tackle the three-mile feature on the back of impressive wins last time, but they have shot up the handicap accordingly and make little appeal at single-figure odds.
King Fontaine has likewise not been spared by the handicapper after winning four successive chases. However, he, at least, can be backed at a decent each-way price of up to 14/1, and probably represents value given his sustained well-being.
Nicky Henderson, whose stable continues to be in irrepressible form, also has a chance of making the frame with 10/1 shot Wogan. The dual course winner comes out 17lbs better in the weights with King Fontaine, which he finished third to on his seasonal reappearance in November, so he won't be without a chance now.
Preferred for the win, though, is I'moncloudnine. Trained by Neil Mulholland, I'moncloudnine's most recent effort came when third behind Synchronised in the Welsh National three weeks ago. That was a fair effort in the circumstances.
Having never raced over the marathon trip of nearly four miles before, it was surprising that connections opted to ride him so handily at Chepstow. In the event, I'moncloudnine ran a gallant race, and it was only after he landed over the second-last that he gave best to the eventual winner and runner-up.
Significantly, his brave effort in such a competitive contest confirmed that that he is well-equipped to win off his mark of 133. Dougie Costello's mount remains unchanged on that rating now, and he gets in off a lovely racing weight today of 10st 8lb. With the return to three miles sure to suit, 12/1 looks generous.
Back at Cheltenham, the Grade Two Argento Chase is much the lesser for the novice Time For Rupert's absence. Five of the six remaining runners are 10-year-olds, the two-year younger Punchestowns being the exception.
Barry Geraghty's mount is a short-priced favourite and is the most likely winner, but there is a case to be made for taking him on.
Notwithstanding that he has performed well in defeat on two occasions behind Big Buck's, Punchestowns has a strike-rate of just one from five at Prestbury Park.
Tidal Bay, rated eight pounds superior to the favourite yet carrying five pounds less, has an impressive return of four wins from eight starts at Cheltenham. While he might not be the most prolific these days, he did get to within a length and a quarter of the Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander last time, so 3/1 is not to be sniffed at.
The Cleeve Hurdle, in which Tidal Bay beat Time For Rupert in 2010, has been a minefield for favourites in recent years. Just one of the last six has prevailed, and an upset may be on the cards again today, with the untested Grands Crus opposable.
Restless Harry, generally 10/1, is an appealing alternative. Twice a winner at the course as a novice, the seven-year-old has taken a while to find his form this term. He comes here on the back of an improved effort when third to Big Buck's in the Grade One Challow Hurdle, and a similar step up might be enough now.
Also worth consideration is Diamond Brook in the Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase. A number of this one's opponents may have stronger form, but Nick Williams' charge has won both his chasing starts, and he receives weight all round here.
Best bet: Tidal Bay