Antepost Angle: Saint’s a live one
Irish Saint features in Matt Brocklebank's antepost staking plan for the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
IRISH SAINT looks potentially well-handicapped on his return to fences in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham and is well worth getting on side at the general 20/1 on offer.
He travelled menacingly for a long way under Nick Scholfield in a hurdle race over three miles at the Open Meeting, showing plenty of his old ability on his favoured soft ground in the process, and should be much sharper on the back of that first run in just over 19 months.
A tendon injury kept Irish Saint out of action for the whole of last season, which was a blow to the trainer at the time given the promise the young French-bred had shown in his novice chasing days.
He was a very useful hurdler of course – finishing third in the 2014 Betfair Hurdle at Newbury among other high-class efforts – but definitely raised his game when sent over fences, as his Grade One Scilly Isles second at Sandown and Grade Two Pendil victory at Kempton demonstrate.
He signed off in 2015 with a fair fourth in Vautour's memorable JLT Novices' Chase, followed by a well-held third behind stablemate Saphir Du Rheu at Aintree.
They were both perfectly respectable efforts, with the likes of Wakanda and Carole's Destrier well beaten off on Merseyside, but the spring is never really going to be Irish Saint's time of year and there's every chance Nicholls has been working back from Cheltenham's big winter handicap since he returned to training.
The seven-year-old had an entry in the Hennessy right up until one of the final forfeit stages but a gruelling test over three miles, two furlongs has been passed over in favour of this prestigious prize and it could prove to be a great decision.
Run over two and a half miles of Cheltenham's demanding New Course, the race should certainly provide enough of a test and he looks to possess the touch of class required for a race Nicholls has won three times in the past seven years.
The trainer has six in line for the race in total, with Bouvreuil possibly the pick of the remainder.
He was selected in this column for the BetVictor Gold Cup and ran a perfectly sound race in fifth. He appeared to be warming into the race the further they went and his jumping certainly wasn't an issue, but I'd be concerned about Nicholls' pre-race comments that he'd been "trained hard and trained for the race."
BetVictor winner Taquin Du Seuil is among the market leaders but he's going to need to carry top weight to victory if he's to complete the double – something last achieved by his trainer's Exotic Dancer 10 years ago – and he's not hard to oppose at the prices following a rise up to a career-high mark of 161.
He just clawed back the front-running Village Vic, who has been hit with a 3lb rise himself and now lines up from a 22lb higher mark than when turning last year's Caspian Caviar into a complete procession.
The real eyecatcher from last month's race was fourth home Aso on his first start of the season. He enjoys getting his toe into the ground and looks to have resumed on a workable mark. He's a danger to all under 10-9 with Charlie Deutsch presumably set to keep the ride, though he's priced about right at no bigger than 12s at this stage.
KING'S ODYSSEY is more appealing from those towards the sharp end of the market and is another worth backing at 16/1 (general).
Evan Williams' charge improved significantly for his first run of the season last term and looks a big player at Cheltenham if able to follow a similar trajectory this year.
His trainer has always held this gelding in really high regard but it's clear from his physique that he was never going to reach his peak until sent chasing and it duly took him four attempts to get off the mark over timber.
After slamming a small field in a maiden hurdle at Warwick last March, the son of King's Theatre was put away for the summer before reappearing in a novices' handicap chase at Southwell last November and, from a mark of 131, big things were clearly expected as he was sent off the 5/2 joint-favourite.
He unfortunately broke a blood vessel which explains his disappointing display that day but there were no ill-effects a month later when winning well from subsequent dual scorer Southfield Vic at Wincanton, and he followed up over the same course and distance as the 'Caspian Caviar' with an impressive performance from a mark of 139 in January, the form of which has also formed out extremely well.
The race has produced nine future winners in total (seven horses), including the classy Un Temps Pour Tout, who was back in fourth and went on to Festival glory in March.
King's Odyssey is going to need some cut in the ground to be seen at his best but it's the step back up in distance that marks him down as a big improver following a comeback run over the extended two miles at Haydock.
He faced a near-impossible task conceding weight to the promising Cloudy Dream there and didn't run too badly in the circumstances to finish third.
Considering how much he improved from his comeback 12 months ago, progress can definitely be expected and although coming to the race via a different route to Irish Saint, his handicap form is absolutely rock-solid, while the aforementioned course experience, low weight and an in-form trainer (13-61 during November) all contribute to the feeling that he's more than ready for this kind of challenge at this stage of his career.
Posted at 1730 GMT on 30/11/16.
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