Psycho has pace to keep suspense to a minimum
British racing's campaign to promote Tony McCoy's prospects of winning the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year Award, for which the public votes tomorrow week, may be a mixed blessing.
The consensus is that McCoy should win, but that takes no account of stellar names also in the running from infinitely more popular sports. McCoy himself has already alluded to this.
The danger is that the Beeb will take umbrage at racing's lobbying -- as it did in 1991, when angler Bob Nudd received the most postal votes after a campaign by 'Angling Times' to get their man home. Yet Nudd was shunned in favour of Liz McColgan.
Even Chelteham has embraced the campaign, with today's running of the Vote AP Gold Cup (2.30), in which the champion stays loyal to Tom Taaffe's Finger Onthe Pulse.
The combination was selected for a similar race at Cheltenham last month, when some shoddy jumping cost Finger Onthe Pulse valuable momentum. However, even with a better round, it's hard to see him catching up with Little Josh, Mad Max, Poquelin and several others which finished ahead of him and reoppose here.
Little Josh will be a popular call to follow up, with Sam Twiston-Davies again claiming a valuable 3lbs, but his card as a forecful front-runner is now marked. Dave's Dream has possibilities after his decisive victory here last month, but although Nicky Henderson's horse had a wind operation over the summer, he is prone to inconsistency.
For that reason, the vote goes to the Tony Martin-trained Psycho, a smooth winner over fences last time and reunited today with Davy Russell. Psycho has long threatened to win a race of this nature. His jumping is sound in the main, and he has the pace to hold a prominent position before making his move.
Sentry Duty's ability set to catch rivals off guard
Today's card at Cheltenham offers an embarrassment of riches for fans starved of meaningful action for the last two weeks.
Every one of the eight races has implications for the March festival and the Unicoin Relkeel Hurdle (1.20), good enough to showcase most Saturdays, has not even made the 'Channel 4 Racing' cut.
Gordon Elliott sends over Carlito Brigante, but this step up to two and a half miles is offputting for a horse bred to sprint on the Flat. Conversely, the trip won't trouble Celestial Halo, which returns to hurdles after two abortive efforts over birch. With Quartx de Thaix and Banjaxed Girl in opposition, the likely strong pace will suit Paul Nicholls' runner.
Yet the same applies to Sentry Duty, which loves to come through beaten horses from the rear. Nicky Henderson's charge is best fresh and has the ability to spring a mild surprise. The StanJames.com International Hurdle (3.05) is an equally intriguing contest. It features Cue Card, the unbeaten novice which tackles open competition for the first time and may find things happening too quickly over the minimum trip.
Another novice, albeit one with more experience, is Silviniaco Conti, which hacked up from some out-of-sort-types at Ascot last time. He is a horse with a future, but Menorah, winner of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, is the one to be on. The progressive five-year-old defied top weight in a competitive handicap here last month and should take plenty of beating.
The Keith Prowse Tingle Creek Chase (1.55), transferred from Sandown's abandoned fixture last week, gives Master Minded another chance to advance towards the summit of the two-mile division, which he once dominated.
The signs were encouraging on his recent comeback victory, although he had little to beat once Albertas Run crashed out at the third-last fence. This is a stronger race, and with layers pricing him up at a shade of odds-on, he looks worth opposing.
Money has come for Petit Robin, a top chaser at his best, but he closed last season with something to prove after failing badly in the Ryanair Chase. Twist Magic rarely goes well here, and with Gauvain having more on his plate than when beating Forpadydeplasterer last time, Kalahari King warrants each-way support.
Ferdy Murphy's chaser shaped well enough on his reappearance and goes well around Cheltenham.
Nicholls is strongly represented throughout the day and the champion trainer can land the opening Jenny Mould Memorial Handicap Chase (11.40) with Woolcombe Folly.
This one, brought along steadily to date, looked ready for this level of competition when bolting up in a competitive race at Ascot last month. He can follow up from a 12lb higher mark.