The Betfair Sportsbook have added some extra places for each-way bets on day one of the Cheltenham Festival, and Kevin Blake is recommending two to back in the Ultima and Boodles...
"The combination of a stronger pace, a stiffer test of stamina and the addition of first-time cheekpieces sharpening him up in the middle part of the race all promise to bring about a career-best effort from him."
The Cheltenham Festival is finally here. We spend so long building up to it that it can be difficult for the crescendo to do justice to the build-up, but we will soon find out just how high a note this year's Festival can reach.
Day one is notable for smaller than usual fields in many of the Graded contests with most of the favourites looking particularly solid. However, the focus of this column for the week will be to try and find horses at each-way prices in races that the Betfair Sportsbook are offering enhanced place terms, so the two races I will focus on are the Ultima Handicap Chase and the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
Milan can score at the Festival once more
The Ultima Handicap Chase (14:30) is a race that Irish-trained horses have traditionally struggled in, with Dun Doire's success back in 2006 being their latest victory in it, but I think that drought could come to an end on Tuesday.
The Sneezy Foster-trained Milan Native broke his maiden over fences when winning the Kim Muir Challenge Cup at last year's Cheltenham Festival. Racing off a mark of 141 and trying a staying trip for the first time, he ultimately won very well indeed despite being caught notably wide from the sixth-last fence and getting to the front much earlier than ideal.
While his form has seemed to have tailed off this season, he underwent a breathing operation after his most recent run at Leopardstown' Christmas meeting and one can be sure that his connections have been aiming to get him back to the Cheltenham Festival in top form.
He is rated 8lb higher than he was at the meeting last season, but that appeals as being workable. Conditions will suit and with the Betfair Sportsbook paying five places on the race, he looks to be an excellent each-way bet at 9/1.
Career-best effort on the cards for Busselton
In contrast, Irish-trained runners have an excellent record in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (16:15). Despite this, the British handicapping team seem to have let in the Irish-trained runners a bit lighter than in recent seasons, which makes them even more appealing as a group.
While the Willie Mullins-trained Saint Sam looks to have excellent claims, I have narrowly come down on the side of the Joseph O'Brien-trained Busselton. The son of Mastercraftsman has run well in both his starts since joining O'Brien, shaping better than the bare result on both occasions. He was unsuited by the slow pace in a Grade 2 juvenile hurdle at Leopardstown's Christmas meeting and lost his position at a crucial stage prior to coming home well in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival.
The combination of a stronger pace, a stiffer test of stamina and the addition of first-time cheekpieces sharpening him up in the middle part of the race all promise to bring about a career-best effort from him. The handicapper hasn't been hard on him and with the Betfair Sportsbook paying six places, he looks to be an excellent each-way bet at 8/1.