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Smad can book Gold Cup place

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Smad Place (right) loses out to Barry Geraghty and O’Faolains Boy in last year’s RSA Chase at Cheltenham

Smad Place (right) loses out to Barry Geraghty and O’Faolains Boy in last year’s RSA Chase at Cheltenham

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Smad Place (right) loses out to Barry Geraghty and O’Faolains Boy in last year’s RSA Chase at Cheltenham

Only time will tell if the Betbright Chase is a meaningful Gold Cup trial, but the old Cheltenham contest for so long known as the Pillar Chase promises to be a cracking race in itself this afternoon.

The Giant Bolster relished deep ground at his beloved Cotswolds venue 12 months ago to romp clear of Rocky Creek before going on to play his part in a thrilling Gold Cup climax. David Bridgewater's 10-year-old is back today, having finished fifth to Silviniaco Conti in the Betfair Chase at Haydock.

As ever here, he cannot be written off, with the prevailing soft ground clearly not going to pose him any problems. Still, he could prove vulnerable to one or two others in such a competitive renewal of this three-miler.

Paul Nicholls' Black Thunder warrants respect simply because of his trainer's continued prowess, but the Sandown winner has a fair bit to find at the weights in this grade, likewise Theatre Guide.

Dynaste, which is more likely to tackle the Ryanair Chase than the Gold Cup at the Festival, is the standout contender after his staying-on second to Silviniaco Conti in the King George.

David Pipe's grey may prove very hard to beat, but all of his best form over this trip has come on flat tracks. He is the best horse in the race, but, when you also factor in the testing conditions here, he is an opposable market leader.

Many Clouds is the obvious alternative under Leighton Aspell. He won the Hennessy off a mark of 151 for 11st 6lb and is up to 161 now, so he should be competitive, with Unioniste and Djakadam doing wonders for the Newbury form.

There is no doubt that Oliver Sherwood's eight-year-old has a touch of class and is on the up, but it is another of his Hennessy victims that appeals most.

Smad Place was fifth in the famous handicap on his reappearance under a hefty burden of 11st 10lb, with both Unioniste and Djakadam in receipt of weight behind him. That is significant.

Smad Place ultimately blew up in the long Newbury straight after coming through from the rear, but Alan King and Denis O'Regan might also ride him a little differently if they had the chance over. The grey doesn't tend to quicken and he has run most of his best races from close to the pace.

That's part of the reason why he runs so well at Cheltenham, as the undulations suit his style, which we know from seeing him finish third in two World Hurdles behind Big Buck's and Solwhit before just losing out to O'Faolains Bay in last year's RSA Chase.

As such, he is interesting on his return now, and that he is receiving weight all round gives him a real chance. In particular, Smad Place is 12lbs better off with Many Clouds.

Wayne Hutchinson's mount has 20 lengths to make up on him, but he has the scope to find that sort of improvement on just his sixth start over fences. At odds of 7/2, then, Smad Place is worth a speculative venture.

Watching brief ...

Vautour did more or less what was expected of him in disposing of inferior rivals at Leopardstown last Sunday.

However, his fencing doesn't entirely convince. There was no obvious reason for the clumsy manner in which he nearly fell for after getting in close to the fifth-last there on his previous outing, and he lacked fluency last weekend.

He may simply have got a fright at Christmas, and he certainly took the final two fences in his stride on Sunday, suggesting that he had warmed to his task. Still, if there is an underlying lack of confidence, that would be a concern given the speed with which things unfold at Cheltenham in March.

Vautour may even lack a bit of scope, something that hindered Mikael D'Haguenet - a similar sort trained by Willie Mullins - from fulfilling his potential over fences. As a result, right now he doesn't hold much appeal as a 3/1 favourite for JLT Novices' Chase, which seems to be his likely target.

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