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13:45 Cheltenham

The opening contest of this Sunday's live ITV action sees a competitive looking Grade 3 staying chase where sadly we only see the four set to go to post. Nevertheless the quartet look very closely matched with the bookmakers not taking any chance and avoid being overly generous with any of the field.

The most fancied of the four is the Brian Hughes ridden Empire De Maulde who's racked up a solid run of decent performances over the summer and into the start of this term. A winner at Kelso last time out should stand him in good stead but, although it may seem unkind, I do fear the former champion jockey's record here at Cheltenham is a tad off-putting. Of course he's a fantastic jockey to have claimed a champion jockeys crown but he just doesn't seem to steer his mounts to success all that often here in Gloucestershire and sadly it's enough to put me off his ride today.

Of the remainder the crowd would go wild if the eleven year old veteran Yala Enki were to finish with his head in front. A horse who clearly relishes these longer trips he'll have no issue when it comes to this marathon distance however just like the aforementioned jockey Hughes his record here at Cheltenham isn't the best however on his last attempt at jumps HQ (in this race last year) he managed to fill the runners up spot. Maybe it's the heart ruling the head but I hope he can go one better this time around and with Bryony booked for the ride I'm wishing for a fairytale finish.

Of the rest former course winner The Mighty Don looks the most likely to follow home the Nicholls runner.


written by Rory Paddock


14:05 Punchestown

The Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle is the first target for the Champion Hurdle contenders on Irish soil and has been won by the likes of Brave Inca, Hardy Eustace and Hurricane Fly (3 times) in the past. It’s another former victor Sharjah that comes out best on ratings, he’s six pounds clear from the second-highest and last years winner Abacadabras. Willie’s inmate played second fiddle to the mighty Honeysuckle at Cheltenham and Punchestown at the backend of last season, which gives him strong claims. Patrick has ridden him on ten occasions out of his last eleven hurdle starts which is a big positive and I think he should be favourite.

Echoes In Rain was highly progressive in novice company last season, which included a course and distance victory in a Grade 1 when last seen. This lightly-raced mare receives the much talked about weight allowance which is an obvious advantage but I think she may come up short against seasoned campaigners on her seasonal debut.

I love Zanahiyr as an individual and thought he was the Cheltenham “banker” last season only to come up short. The imposing son of Nathaniel won at Down Royal recently which gives him a fitness edge but I think his future lies over longer trips. Another recent winner Darasso looks sure to run well but lacks a gear to trouble the principals.


written by Peter Keogh


14:20 Cheltenham

A fascinating contest that will see Put The Kettle On renew battle with Nube Negra up the Cheltenham hill in the Grade 2 Shloer Chase. They meet on the same terms as they did in the Queen Mother in March, when the mare came out on top by half a length.

It will be interesting to see how the Nicholls pair fair after their respective wind-ops and what improvement Rouge Vif will find for moving to Ditcheat. Although on jockey bookings the popular grey Politologue would seem to be the favoured of the pair.

Nube Negra is the one for me though as I feel he would've won granted a clearer passage in March where his momentum was checked after the last and was closing all the way to line. The Skelton team have been going well of late and their horses tend to be ready to go even for seasonal debuts.


written by Michael Taylor


14:55 Cheltenham

A typically competitive Grade 3 Handicap where many would have to be considered. Alan King has trained the winner of this race twice in the last four years and runs Tritonic who won the Grade 2 Adonis Juvenile Hurdle prior to his fifth in last season’s Triumph Hurdle. Returning with a decent enough second of four over course and distance last month, he should strip fitter for that effort but for me will still need to show further improvement if he is to gain victory here.

Adagio has an excellent record here at Cheltenham, posting two wins and two seconds from four including a Grade 1 victory and an excellent second in the Triumph Hurdle at last years’ festival. He shoulders top-weight but has gone well fresh in the past and has also had a wind op since his last run so warrants plenty of respect.

Camprond has been kept busy over the summer but arrives here on a hat-trick having won at Chepstow and here at Cheltenham in October. He drops back down in trip but that isn’t expected to cause any issues given his record over trips of around two miles reads 2312314 and he looks a solid each way option especially given some bookies are offering up to seven places.

Ballyandy was second in this race last season and arrives here 8lbs lower this year so despite his advancing years and the fact that he would likely prefer a softer surface he nevertheless would have to be considered for connections who had a decent winner with Gowel Road here yesterday.

At a bigger price, and again considering bookies are offering up to seven places, my selection is Galice Macalo who is a strong travelling mare who is three from eight over similar trips and should arrive here fully fit and raring to go after a solid fourth at Chepstow last month. Both trainer and jockey are in excellent recent form and i think this is the type of race that will really suit their runner so she gets the nod today.


written by Dean Kilbryde


15:10 Fontwell

Despite the fantastic form that trainer Gary Moore finds his yard in I'm going to go against his current race favourite Gleno. A former course winner who should strip fitter for their recent outing when claiming second last time out. My big concern is the trip with the horse never tackling this longer trip before he still has questions to answer and I'd rather side with a runner who we already know is guaranteed to stay.

A horse who's best career effort to date has to be when he finished third in the Eider Chase at Newcastle is Salty Boy. He should stay all day and after making his seasonal reappearance recently is another who should come on for that effort. It's hard to be overly confident with a horse who's never won in twelve chase starts but with a few things in his favor today may well be the day he finally triumphs over the larger obstacles.

Le Breuil is perhaps one of the classier runners in the lineup but I feel today may be more of a prep run for a bigger target later in the season.

The ultra-consistent Game Line aims to make it a success for father and son, the trainer and jockey combination of Peter and James Bowen. He's been a profitable performer for punters having not finished outside of the top three in his last eight starts since switching to Bowen's yard and it'd be a shock if he didn't finish in the money once again.


written by Rory Paddock


15:30 Cheltenham

Sonigino is a new arrival at Ditcheat, joining Paul Nicholls from David Cottin’s barn in France. He’s ran well on his first three races, winning two rather well. He’s owned by top connections, who have a rich history with Paul Nicholls. Additionally, Harry Cobden always warrants respect. However, this will be his first race in Britain and he will race on good ground for the first time in his career. He’s well thought of but may just be best left watched on his British debut.

Washington is unbeaten in his first three races for Olly Murphy and looks a nice prospect. He has won over two miles and on good ground, which is a bonus. He took well to hurdles on his seasonal debut at Bangor, last time out. That being said, he’s got a lot to find on his speed figures and this seems a much stiffer task.

I Like To Move It sets the standard for this race. He kept on strongly past two potential heavyweights in Tritonic and Stepney Causeway, over two miles at Cheltenham, last time out. That form alone is enough to stand him in pole position for this race. Add the ninth in a red hot Champion Bumper and that amounts to a massive official and speed rating. Providing he stays on four hooves, he should win today.


written by Kieran McHugh


15:43 Fontwell

The form of trainer Gary Moore has been exceptional at the early part of the season and it doesn't seem to be slowing down any time soon as the team picked up a Cheltenham winner at the November Meeting. I'm hoping such a rich vein of form continues as the Sussex based trainer is set to saddle Natural History. The six-year-old is the current betting favourite and rightly so after his exploits last term. He only won the one race but connections thought he was good enough to enter graded company and although he disappointed he demonstrated he had a touch of class. Now back to a more managable level he has very big claims of playing a major part despite the 215 day absence.

Five of his rivals will undoubtedly have a fitness edge with the quintet having a race within the last 40 days. The likes of Quinta Do Mar, Mercian Prince and Humaniste all won their most recent races but despite theit victories it's Pyramid Place I fear most. He produced somewhat of a shock performance to finish as runner up in a Class 2 race at Chepstow at a massive price of 25/1. In a less competitive race his chances of going one better certainly increase and if the favourite were to faulter it would come as no surprise to see Milton Harris' (A trainer who's currently operating at a massive 50% strike rate) charge to pick up the pieces.


written by Rory Paddock


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