Friday’s best bets, by Chris Cook
Here’s a quick canter through some of the Cheltenham Festival targets for Nigel Twiston-Davies horses, for which there was no room in this morning’s news piece. The New One, of course, joins Wholestone in the Stayers and the trainer has removed the temptation to switch back into yet another Champion Hurdle with the horse by taking him out of the entries.
Bigbadjohn and Tintern Theatre give him credible chances in the Ultima Handicap Chase on day one of the Festival, though Bigbadjohn might end up in the Kim Muir instead. Tintern Theatre runs first at Kempton this weekend. The trainer also has Double Ross, Cogry and Benbens in the Ultima but said those veterans were “past their …” and let the thought trail away.
Angels Antics is in the Mares Hurdle but might end up in the Novice Mares Hurdle instead. Ballymalin might go in the NH Chase because the owners want a Festival runner but the trainer thinks he’ll be “well outclassed”. Jameson and Ballyhill are both intended runners in the novice handicap chase on day one, the trainer preferring that option to the JLT for both horses. Ballymoy is unlikely for the Supreme unless he hacks up at Kelso next week.
Twiston-Davies quite fancies Ballyoptic for the RSA on day two. Turning Gold is “not a certain runner” in the Fred Winter, as the ground is unlikely to be testing enough for him. Good Boy Bobby could line up in the Bumper, with Volcano and Kingsplace also possibles. Volcano looked pretty green on the gallops and was spooked by the gathered media.
Arthur’s Gift appears likely to try his luck in the Pertemps on day three. Foxtail Hill and Ballybolley are the trainer’s likely runners in the Plate. Splash Of Ginge is likely to miss the Festival in favour of being freshened up for next year.
Count Meribel and Callet Mad will give Twiston-Davies a good hand in the Albert Bartlett on day four. He’ll also have Robinshill in the Grand Annual and described him as having “a good chance”, for all that he has been doing his winning at Ludlow.
Exeter has passed an inspection this morning, which is grand because I fancy the well-backed Surtee Du Berlais (4.15), down to 8-1 from twice that price. Her mark has crashed since she’s been sent over fences, having come down 22lb for three runs since mid-December.
For all that, she’s only had once chance in a handicap since this time last year and ran all right that day until half a mile out under a claiming jockey. With the Oliver Sherwood yard approaching some kind of form, she’s interesting in this small field.
I like Thomas Patrick for the Devon National but, at 7-2, I can watch him without a bet. But there’s 9-2 about Knockgraffon (3.30) at Warwick. I don’t think he enjoyed heavy ground at Wetherby last time and I’m encouraged to see the return of Brian Hughes to the saddle because this one looks a tricky ride for a claimer. He’s only 3lb higher than when scoring under Hughes at Musselburgh on his second start for Olly Murphy.
One last thought: Ruby Walsh is cutting it fine as he plans his return to race-riding before the Cheltenham Festival after three months out with a broken leg. Having missed his original target of last weekend, the jockey has also opted to take no rides this weekend, though he has resumed riding work at Willie Mullins’s yard. Assuming he makes his return in Ireland, his next chance will be Thursday’s meeting at Clonmel, just 12 days before Cheltenham. If the long-range forecast is right, it’ll be -6C in Clonmel that morning, so I’d say he’s probably not coming back that day either…