There is some cracking racing on ITV from Cheltenham to start 2018 with a bang, and here with his stopwatch selections on four of the afternoon's races is Will Hoffmann...
"Down at this trip today, against somewhat poorer opposition, Wholestone should win if rediscovering his best form in the 15:10 race."
Although I spent the evening in Edinburgh, I can't excite you with tales of the street-party having enjoyed a smaller-scale party at home with friends, before walking up Blackford Hill to take in the fireworks. Although I'm feeling light-headed this morning, I made my selections for the day prior to touching a drop, so no excuses if they don't run well. I have four picks for you from Cheltenham.
In the 12:15, I like Aye Aye Charlie. It's hard to judge how well he ran last time out; he was just starting to look outpaced when he fell three from home, but he looked to stay well at Aintree where he has to be upgraded for his nine-length third as he came from in-rear, against a pace bias. Today's race isn't as strong as that contest, at least on my numbers. I have most of these running to marks in the low-to-mid 120s, which means it's probably a below-average renewal. Aye Aye Charlie is at least on that level and, unlike a few of the others, has no question marks as to his ability to stay the trip, nor his temperament. He should go well.
Ballymalin is my selection in the 12:50. He refused on last start, when looking outpaced, although he was struggling at the time. His third behind Black Corton on penultimate start is form which has been boosted since, and a mark of 135 looks generous on the basis of that run. He's always shaped like marathon staying trips were his thing, particularly over hurdles, though his jumping of fences has been somewhat disappointing thus far. A small field and heavy ground should suit, and I doubt there's anything in the race with the same scope from their mark.
I've never been the biggest fan of Willoughby Court previously, but I'm backing him today in the 13:25. His round of jumping was impeccable last time out, and he was better than the bare result having idled badly in front. The sectional performance was very decent - in the range of 150 - and you get the impression he would have gone again had he been challenged. Yanworth was arguably the better horse that day, having jumped indifferently, and gotten within three lengths nonetheless, but I find him to be a pretty awful jumper of a fence, and couldn't back him as a result. Sizing Tennessee was a good winner a few weeks back, and looks slightly overpriced, but he was incredibly guessy at his fences, and this is a tougher test.
Wholestone ran an odd race behind Beer Goggles last month: he's usually a very strong traveller, but basically didn't go a yard that day, and I'm inclined to forgive him that. His best performance came when third at the Cheltenham Festival, in a race where the first three runners put up sectional performances in the range of 160. My impression has always been that he's a better horse over the intermediate trip, however, as he jumps well and tends to travel overly strongly. Down at this trip today, against somewhat poorer opposition, he should win if rediscovering his best form in the 15:10 race.
Back Aye Aye Charlie at [9.4] in the 12:15 at Cheltenham
Back Ballymalin at [6.2] in 12:50 at Cheltenham
Back Willoughby Court at [2.84] in the 13:25 at Cheltenham
Back Wholestone at [3.95] in the 15:10 at Cheltenham