12:40 - A fascinating Triumph Hurdle trial to open the meeting. Who Dares Wins has continued his Flat improvement in his hurdles career and ran away with a similar race at Doncaster last time, but he has a penalty to shoulder for that success, which tips the balance in favour of Clan des Obeaux. Paul Nicholls' charge made a most impressive debut at Newbury last month, looking a class apart both in the paddock and the race, and he rates a most exciting prospect. The Nicky Henderson yard that sent out Peace And Co to win 12 months ago has two interesting French recruits in Consul de Thaix and Protek des Flos; the market will provide the biggest clues as to their chances (neither well backed as of yet).
13:15 - There are plenty to consider in the latest renewal of the Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase, a race won by the likes of The Giant Bolster and Hey Big Spender in relatively recent years. Timeform Horses To Follow Smooth Stepper still has more to offer, as does King's Odyssey, Regal Encore and Un Temps Pour Tout to name but three, but the vote just goes to Imagine The Chat who won with plenty in hand at Newbury last month following a short break and can defy a 12 lb hike. Viva Steve ran very well when second in open handicap company at Kempton over Christmas, so much so that he's narrowly Timeform top rated here, and he must be considered too, for all he's perhaps more exposed than a number of his rivals.
13:50 - The feature race on the card, the Grade 2 staying chase known to most as the Cotswold Chase, and a genuine trial for the Gold Cup here in March. Last year's one-two, Many Clouds and Smad Place, should offer some resistance but Djakadam looked at least as good as last season (runner-up in Gold Cup) when making a winning return and will prove difficult to beat as he takes his next step towards another crack at jump racing's blue riband event. Those who don't like betting at odds-on may want to consider playing the straight forecast, and we prefer Many Clouds over Smad Place to follow Djakadam home.
14:25 - Plenty of regulars in these races meet again in this 21-furlong handicap, including Annacotty and Irish Cavalier who finished first and fifth in the Paddy Power Gold Cup here in November. Irish Cavalier actually went like the best horse for a long way that day, going 2/1-on in-running (started at 13/1 on Betfair), and he must be considered here from a 2 lb lower mark (outclassed in King George last time), but Champagne West is less exposed than most and is just preferred to go one better after chasing home his stable companion Village Vic here on his latest starte. Champagne West had little chance of conceding a stone to the progressive winner that day and he's sure to go well again here, jumping permitting (made a significant error with a circuit to go last time).
15:00 - One of the best novice hurdles so far this season, even without Barters Hill who runs at Doncaster instead. Yanworth is undoubtedly an exciting prospect, having scored without coming off bridle again in tactical Grade 2 at Ascot last time, but he trying beyond two miles for the first time (strong traveller) against proven stayers on soft ground here, which tips the scales in favour of the similar unbeaten hurdler Shantou Village. Neil Mulholland's gelding was the emphatic winner of a Grade 2 novice here when last seen in November, when he jumped well, and that form has been franked twice by the runner-up Champers On Ice (takes on Shantou Village again here).
15:35 - The Cleeve Hurdle, a race won by some of the best staying hurdlers down the years, including Big Buck's (twice), Inglis Drever and Lady Rebecca (three times). Thistlecrack has looked a different horse since being stepped up to three miles and has won the Long Distance and Long Walk Hurdles this term without barely coming off the bridle. He has a high cruising speed but is a thorough stayer at this trip, and is proven under these conditions ideal, which means it's hard to see him being beaten today, especially with his chief market rival Camping Ground trying three miles for the first time (not sure to stay and also holds and entry in the Champion Hurdle). Like the 13:50, this could be a race to play the straight forecast, with Ptit Zig (in receipt of 8 lb) chanced to follow Thistlecrack home.
16:10 - Clean Sheet is a member of the Timeform Fifty To Follow this season for several reasons: his form is strong, he remains open to considerable improvement and he represents top connections. He is firmly on the radar to win a big handicap this term, though he's entitled to need this first start for almost a year. His stablemate Maestro Royal, Champagne At Tara (same owner as Clean Sheet) and the thriving Solstice Star are all respected.
Back Shantou Village in the 15:00
12:40 - 3
13:15 - 8, 9, 11
13:50 - 1
14:25 - 1, 2
15:00 - 4
15:35 - 2
= 6 lines
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