Tony Calvin returns with his best bets for the televised action from Cheltenham on New Year's Day...
"He has failed to finish in three of his four starts since, and was beaten 23 lengths in the other race, but in terms of raw talent he has very little to find with the principals. And he is two from three in heavy ground."
Tony Calvin on Royal Vacation
Heavy ground is once again the order of the day at Cheltenham, and I don't mind telling you that I was struggling for bets. Somewhat predictably, I don't have a betting opinion in the red-hot Grade 2 novices' chase at 13:25.
I am not sure I would be in a mad rush to back the high-class hurdlers and market leaders Willoughby Court and Yanworth, first and second at Newbury last time, at their respective prices - in fact, I think the layers will be keen to take on the front two, as they have three decent horses running for them - and there are more attractive punting heats on the card.
Switch back to hurdles could pay off for Royal Vacation
Unfortunately, the Relkeel Hurdle at 15:10, was not one of those. Or so, I thought...
I think Colin's Sister is probably the likeliest winner in these conditions, but I couldn't go near her at around the 2/1 mark. She carries a penalty for her Grade 2 Wetherby defeat of Wholestone and she has never produced a time figure of any note.
It is hard to argue with the fact that Old Guard and Wholestone immediately follow her in the betting but, again, neither of their prices are remotely appealing.
Last year's winner Agrapart will have his ground, though he will also have company from Rayvin Black on the front end, and the one that interests me most at the prices is Royal Vacation. The more I looked, the more I thought he was overpriced at [21.0] or bigger.
It undoubtedly takes a leap of faith to back him after his two chase starts this season, most latterly when pulled up in the Ladbrokes Trophy - and the stable aren't in the best of form, either - but the switch back to hurdles for the first time since April 2016 interests me.
He wasn't a bad novice hurdler a couple of years ago, well suited by 2m4f with plenty of cut, and he was a 152-rated chaser last season after winning a 2m5f handicap chase in the soft here last January.
He has failed to finish in three of his four starts since, and was beaten 23 lengths in the other race, but in terms of raw talent he has very little to find with the principals. And he is two from three in heavy ground.
It's a flier, but one worth taking at 20/1+ on a day where little leapt out at me.
Burtons Well the right favourite
The 2m5f handicap chase at 14:00, had me going round in circles.
I was very disappointed by Shantou Flyer's effort when pulled up in the Rowland Meyrick on Boxing Day but I have to now concede that he is best at this trip - he won this race last year among other good efforts over 2m5f - and he may well spring back to form in first-time cheekpieces, and with a talented 5lb claimer on board.
But he has shown very little since winning this contest last year - Spash Of Ginge also took this prize in 2015 - and far more solid conveyances are the likes of Burtons Well and Quite By Chance.
Burtons Well would be my idea of the right favourite after his reappearance second at Stratford in October, for which he justifiably went up 3lb. He has been given a break since but goes well when fresh, and he should love the ground.
He is a fair price at 4/1, as is Quite By Chance at double-figure odds (though he did disappoint in this race last year), but I can leave the race alone.
Let's Skipthecuddles at Prestbury Park
My two against the field in the handicap hurdle at 14:35, would probably be Buckle Street and Skipthecuddles at around 10/1.
Buckle Street has gone up 7lb for his Catterick win in a good time a fortnight ago, and preference is for Skipthecuddles going the other way down the handicap.
I am slightly concerned if his stamina will hold out in heavy ground over this trip - though he is a Westerner half-brother to a multiple winner over 3m - but I thought he shaped with a fair bit of promise at Southwell last time, despite being beaten 16 lengths by Red Riding.
He didn't look entirely at ease on the track that day, but he stayed on well enough up the straight, without being given a hard race, and enjoys a 13lb pull with the winner here.
He handled soft ground well when winning over an extended 2m5f at Wetherby last February and ran as well as could be expected when 8th in the Neptune here, beaten just 14 lengths, in March. He has been dropped 3lb since Southwell and I think he is very competitively weighted off a mark of 132.
If he sees the trip out fully - and it was interesting that he was a big market-springer (12/1 overnight to 7/2 favourite) on his return over 3m in heavy ground at Ayr, only to run poorly - then I expect him to go close in what is obviously a trappy and open handicap.
The two ITV races at Musselburgh have attracted small fields, and nothing takes my eye there.
Have a good start to the New Year.
Back Skipthecuddles at [11.0] or bigger in the 14:35 at Cheltenham
Back Royal Vacation at [21.0] or bigger in 15:10 at Cheltenham