Cheltenham Placepot: Saturday January 26

Jonjo O'Neill trains Johns Spirit

It's Trials Day at Cheltenham and Keith Melrose is chasing what could be a bumper Placepot dividend.

"Johns Spirit found only Katenko too good over three miles at Sandown last time and will more than likely be suited by this shorter trip, especially given such testing conditions."

12:10 - Market vibes, both in this race and the Triumph Hurdle, would suggest that the Nicky Henderson team think they have something a bit special on their hands with Rolling Star, but Placepot perms have to be especially careful when it comes to hype and therefore we'll side with Irish Saint, who looked Triumph bound himself when winning at Kempton over Christmas on his first start for Paul Nicholls. Given how far ahead of the rest the mentioned pair appear to be, a first-leg banker probably isn't all that risky.

12:40 - This looks a fairly competitive race, though in truth it's no more so than you'd expect of a novice handicap chase at Cheltenham. It looks as though we'll be able to get through selecting just two of them, as well as leaving out current favourite Rajdhani Express. First in in Johns Spirit, who found only Katenko too good over three miles at Sandown last time and will more than likely be suited by this shorter trip, especially given such testing conditions. Second in is Bennys Mist, who has been going the right way all season and has incurred just a 6 lb rise for demolishing a lesser field at Taunton earlier in the month. Although probably a stronger stayer than Johns Spirit, he is unlikely to have trouble dropping back in trip.

13:15 - Again, we're going to duck the favourite (Katenko) in this 21-furlong handicap chase; impressive as his win at Sandown last time was, there are plenty in this field with a shout and a few with more robust profiles. Our number one option in that regard is Bless The Wings, who won the novice equivalent of this race last year and arrives here in the form of his life, still fairly treated following wins at Wetherby and Newbury. We also include Shoegazer, who is every bit as progressive as Bless The Wings but doesn't have it reflected in his bare form figures. He looked set to win at Chepstow last time before a mistake at the last and, considering both that and the fact that the third was 32 lengths behind him, a 2 lb higher mark really doesn't seem penal enough. Finally, Fruity O'Rooney is worthy of a bit of recognition. He's actually shaped as though in top form on his last two starts, just paying for forcing the pace when third to Katenko at Sandown last time. He has previous around Cheltenham (runner-up at the Festival last year) and is likely to be carrying less of the pool than he deserves to.

13:50 - Normally one would lament the two non-runners that have reduced this field from nine to seven, but with the galloping cash machine that is Sprinter Sacre still in the line-up it would be a hollow complaint. Bank on the champion chaser-elect and move on.

14:25 - The Argento is surely the most interesting race of the day, even without Tidal Bay, but it's a real headache for Placepot hunters. Imperial Commander, respected as he is, is a no-go for us following the lion's share of two years off, while Weird Al is another market principal we can't go near. Grands Crus is the real conundrum, with his run in the King George encouraging while not completely satisfactory, but the testing conditions that prevail today just tip the balance against him. Although carrying a maximum penalty against some better horses, Midnight Chase looks our best option from a Placepot perspective, his record around here hard to knock (won this race last year). Our second option is also risky, but Cape Tribulation hasn't really looked back since winning the Pertemps final round here at the Festival and belatedly got his act together when dotting up in the Rowland Meyrick last time. Should his jumping continue to hold up he's not that far away from the likes of Midnight Chase in form terms. 

15:00 - There's a temptation to bank on The New One in this closing leg as he's by far the likeliest winner, but we've been sparing enough with our lines so far that we can afford some insurance should we reach this stage. Moreover, it's not second-favourite Coneygree that I personally fancy as next best, but At Fishers Cross, who has been winning good handicaps while Coneygree has been scoring in fairly ordinary Grade 2s. Unless connections know something we don't, At Fisher's Cross could well be overpriced for the Neptune and Spa at the Festival, and he can show that upped in grade todaye.

12:10 - 1
12:40 - 4, 11
13:10 - 5, 10, 11
13:50 - 8
14:25 - 1, 6
15:00 - 1, 3
= 24 lines

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