It's the November Meeting next up at Cheltenham with three days of racing to enjoy and Tony Calvin takes a close look at one of the major races - the Greatwood Hurdle
"She has been on my radar for this handicap since her reappearance effort at Wetherby."
I was a little surprised to read on Monday morning that Cheltenham were watering, with the ground currently good, good to soft in places, on both the hurdles and chase tracks, especially as the main forecast I use sees 4mm+ is incoming as early as Wednesday, with a touch less on the following two days.
And we all know how the rain can exceed expectations once it arrives. Or the opposite, in fairness.
It is a three-day meeting from Friday onwards too, I guess, and at least we seem set fair for decent ground this week - the level of watering isn't specified on the BHA site, by the way - so let's try and net an ante-post winner after I have failed miserably with my three early darts so far on the jumps this season.
Protektorat the rightful PP Gold Cup fav
The two big betting races are the Paddy Power Gold Cup (14:15) on Saturday, and the Greatwood Hurdle on Sunday, and I make no apologies for focusing exclusively on those two races here, especially as ITV are broadcasting on all three days, so you will be getting chapter and verse on the day-of-race betting there.
With a maximum field of 20 allowed, I was a touch surprised that we didn't see more than 24 entered at the five-day stage for the Paddy Power Gold Cup, for which an exchange market has been up for a while.
The two horses that have been most popular, Protektorat and Lalor - one punter got very (over) excited by the latter and had £276 on him at 4.03/1 at one point - have both stood their ground, and their claims are obvious.
Protektorat looked very good when winning the novices' chase at this meeting last year and he came right back to form, after a wind op, when beat The Shunter in the 2m4f Grade 1 at Aintree in April and he looks very well handicapped off a mark of 154.
I think he is a very fair price at 5/1 with the Betfair Sportsbook, and a similar price on the exchange.
He certainly looks a more solid proposition than his fellow 5/1 chance on the Sportsbook, Lalor, to me, even though Paul Nicholls has had this race in mind for the horse ever since he joined him from Kayley Woollacott in the summer.
This horse's three best chase runs have arguably all come at Cheltenham, and of course he also has a Grade 1 win over hurdles to his name, as well as a Grade 2 bumper success, both at Aintree, so the potential is obvious if Nicholls has sweetened him up at Ditcheat.
A reproduction of either of his two handicap performances here in January 2020 must see him on the premises but he has apparently had numerous issues in recent years and has been pulled up on his last two starts and he is a 9yo (though three of the last five winners have been that age), so I don't think it is a given that Nicholls has managed that, for all that I am sure a recent wind op could have improved matters.
Al Dancer is another stable-switcher - this time from Nigel Twiston-Davies to Sam Thomas - with excellent course form, including when third in this race, and a very exploitable falling handicap mark. Once again, the 7s about him is okay towards the top of the market.
Caribean Boy completes the quartet of single-priced horses in this race and, quite clearly, all will have their supporters, though I must admit he makes the least appeal of the four market leaders at 8/1. I wouldn't be going near him at 12s, in truth (and that is his win-only price on the exchange).
To be honest, I couldn't see a bet or price that attracted me at this stage.
Plenty have likeable profiles, don't get me wrong.
Course winner Galahad Quest clearly shaped with bags of promise when third at Wetherby, a race in which he hit 1.715/7 in the run, but maybe he would want it softer than appears likely, while 33/1 chance Aso is the one that appealed most at a price considering this is his track, his trip, likely to be his ground, allied to a falling handicap mark. But, at 11yo, he is clearly vulnerable to the younger improvers.
I never put up anything that I am not backing myself - let's wait until we know the final field, the ground and the pace maps etc - so we go straight to the Greatwood Hurdle on Sunday.
Rock not so solid but price is nice
This handicap has attracted 24 entries too, and the Irish, with five of those, are coming to try and plunder some more of our valuable prize money, god bless them.
The UK handicapper has given them all at least an extra 3lb from their Irish marks, but you clearly ignore them at your peril, with Jesse Evans, in winning form on the Flat last month, perhaps the strongest of the quintet.
As you would expect of a 56k-to-the-winner handicap it is devilishly competitive, and doesn't want for a few with sexy profiles.
Top of that list has to be JP McManus' ligjhtly-raced No Ordinary Joe, who heads the Sportsbook's betting at 9/2, ahead of Dan Skelton's returning West Cork at 11/2 and the Grade 1-winning juvenile Adagio at 13/2.
Their obvious chances have been factored into their fixed-odds prices though, and I am leaning towards Marie's Rock at 25/1+ win-only on the exchange. She has been on my radar for this handicap since her reappearance effort at Wetherby.
She had to miss the Festival after impressing in a Taunton win in a good time in December 2019 - that was a dagger to my heart as I was on her at 12s and 10s each-way for the mares' novices' hurdle, although she would have needed a rocket up her ass to beat Concertista that day in March - and last season was a write-off, but I thought she shaped with considerable promise on her return at Wetherby and a mark of 135 is pretty attractive.
That was a kid-gloves return and she caught my eye from off the pace against 10lb higher-rated rivals there, though she was getting a bit of weight and I fully accept she could have flattered to deceive slightly given her free-going nature.
I can see a strongly-run 2m on decent ground really suiting her - a good pace will hopefully make her settle better - and, when I got in touch with one of the owners' team yesterday, they said this race is the plan, though she is due to work on Tuesday morning and that will decide whether the green light is given.
So even though there is clearly a possibility she will not run - her fragility in the last 2 years or so is obvious, so you may want to wait to see if an update is forthcoming on Tuesday afternoon - I am going to suggest backing her win-only on the exchange. She is currently 28.027/1 to back, but any 20/1 or bigger is acceptable, and 20s is the price I will be settling her at for p&l purposes should she prevail.
Of the others I thought Tritonic ran a perfectly respectable race when beaten here under an 8lb penalty on his return and is well-treated off 142, though the general 10s is just a touch on the short side, and the handicapper has given Ballyandy, who loves it here and was unfortunate enough to run into the Shunter when second in this race last year, a fair helping hand after a below-par return at Ffos Las.
I will leave it there but back on Thursday. Until then, good luck.
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