Timeform bring you their runner-by-runner guide to the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham on Saturday.
"Produced an extraordinary performance by a novice to beat stablemate and previous year's winner Cue Card by three and a quarter lengths (value for extra) in King George, jumping exuberantly and hugely impressive move to assert on home turn..."
Saturday 28th January, 14:15
MANY CLOUDS (Oliver Sherwood)
Won the Grand National in 2014/15, with his four wins that season including victory in this race (beat Smad Place). Second in last season's renewal (beaten 12 lengths by same rival) in a campaign geared around Aintree, but suffered a breathing problem there when trailing in last of 16 finishers. Bounced back in style (after corrective surgery in the summer) when making all in a five-runner listed event at Aintree last time (by three and a half lengths from Le Mercurey) and no surprise to see another bold bid from this most likeable type.
SILVINIACO CONTI (Paul Nicholls)
Two-time King George VI Chase winner who was well beaten on heavy ground in the Betfair Chase in November. Bounced back with best effort this season when three and a quarter lengths third to Thistlecrack in the latest King George at Kempton, though was flattered by proximity to the eased-down winner. Appeared to be well held on home turn but rallied well there, suggesting this trip around here might be a more suitable test of stamina these days. Likely to be up with the pace but this 11-year-old tends to be more easily brushed aside than in previous years.
SMAD PLACE (Alan King)
Switch to front-running tactics paid dividends last season, following up a graduation chase victory at Kempton with an emphatic Hennessy Gold Cup win at Newbury. As good when fourth in the King George and subsequently back to winning ways in this race (beat Many Clouds by 12 lengths) last season, before signing off with below-form sixth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Did well over inadequate trip when fourth in Old Roan Chase at Aintree on seasonal return in October and not far off his best when seventh in bid for back-to-back Hennessy wins (from an 11 lb higher mark). Best when able to dictate.
THISTLECRACK Colin (Tizzard)
Developed into the leading staying hurdler in 2015/16, successful five times including winning the Cleeve Hurdle on this card, World Hurdle last March and Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree three weeks later. Was most impressive when beating Alpha des Obeaux by seven lengths in the World Hurdle but has already surpassed even that form in little time over fences, unbeaten in four starts, namely novices at Chepstow, Cheltenham and Newbury, and the King George VI Chase at Kempton last month. Produced an extraordinary performance by a novice to beat stablemate and previous year's winner Cue Card by three and a quarter lengths (value for extra) in King George, jumping exuberantly and hugely impressive move to assert on home turn, before coasting on the run-in. Yet to show the full extent of his ability and will be very hard to beat.
VEZELAY (Emmanuel Clayeux, France)
Has some very smart form and reasonably high-profile wins to his name in France, including Group 3 Prix Heros XII at Auteuil, and ran about as well as could be expected faced with a very stiff task up against Cue Card and Coneygree when 28 lengths third of six in the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November. Was ridden to get the best possible placing, which worked for him as others tired, but no match for principals here even if same tactics are applied.
KYLEMORE LOUGH (Kerry Lee)
Very progressive last season, completing five-timer in six-runner Ryanair Gold Cup Novices' Chase at Fairyhouse on final start in March. Shaped encouragingly on his first start at this level out of novice company after eight months off when a head second to course specialist Royal Regatta in Grade 2 at Ascot and again better than the result when two and a half lengths fifth of 16 to Frodon in Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham last time, a bad mistake three out not helping but still leading after the last. Will be trying a new trip here.
PERFECT CANDIDATE (Fergal O'Brien)
Smart handicap chaser who won at Cheltenham (twice, by one and three quarter lengths from Forgotten Gold latter occasion) last season. Quiet reappearance at Bangor in November but better than ever in first-time cheekpieces when a nose second of 12 to Theatre Guide returned to Prestbury Park last time, leading until two out but rallying well to regain lead run-in until headed on line. Unlikely to fare well if repeating those tactics against Smad Place, Silviniaco Conti et al, but will at least be running on well up the hill.
Timeform Cotswold Chase 1-2-3
2. Many Clouds
3. Smad Place
Timeform Analyst's Verdict:
THISTLECRACK beat the best of the British in the King George last month and none of these will get near him if he's on song, but the prospect of seeing fellow good jumpers Many Clouds and Smad Place trying to keep up with him is an exciting one.