Catching Pigeons: Is it just Mee?
Our column says that while Paul Nicholls has a strong hand in the big race at Cheltenham, the market may not have it right.
Castle Harbour: Should not be opposed at Lingfield on Saturday.
Paul Nicholls has an outstanding chance of winning the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday – but perhaps not with the horse that the bookmakers expect.
Frodon has headed the ante-post market this week, and is undoubtedly fully-tuned for this assault, but he will have to be seriously smart to win a contest as competitive as this off his rating. Although the race was never an afterthought and always on Nicholls' agenda, Frodon is the not the only one to have been pencilled in for this for some time.
Bouvreuil has had this contest as his early-season target for months, as has As De Mee, and it's the last-named who gets the nod to land this tasty prize for his impoverished owners, the Stewart Family and Dame Judi Dench.
As de Mee did not quite hit the heights that might have been expected in his first season over fences last term, and his trainer was left frustrated by the fact he did not manage to win a race with him.
However, some of his form, particularly that achieved earlier in the campaign, was particularly sound and he looks very nicely handicapped here on his run behind big fancy More Of That at this very meeting 12 months ago. His six-length second to Bristol De Mai in the Scilly Isles Chase is of some note too.
As De Mee disappointed in three starts afterwards but a wind operation was undertaken during the summer and the surgery immediately bore fruit with an easy win at Fontwell last month, and his subsequent work has been of sound order.
Shotgun Paddy, beaten less than four lengths in the same race 12 months ago, should be tough to beat in the Bet Victor Handicap Chase half an hour earlier in the card. Emma Lavelle suffered a nightmare campaign last season, and this admirable nine year old lost his form.
But the stable's runners are back in good nick now and he can make the most of a 5lb drop in his handicap mark. Connections believe they have got him right for this.
Charles Byrnes is always a man to take note of on his forays to Cheltenham and he should go close to following up his 2015 success with Leave At Dawn with Top Of The Town in the Martin & Co Jewellers Intermediate Handicap Hurdle.
He producing an eyecatching display to finish third here in a tough handicap three weeks ago, and can be expected to improve.
Melangerie, a half-sister to the promising Cultivator, should go well on her debut in the High Sheriff Of Gloucestershire Bumper that closes the card.
Nicky Henderson gave the well-bred daughter of Fair Mix time to strengthen last season, and she has come back looking a much more impressive-looking specimen. She has been working very well, and she is given a narrow vote over Alan King's quietly-fancied Pique Rock.
Warren Greatrex has a good record at Wetherby and he should land the first two contests at the track with La Bague Au Roi in the Sixt Rent A Car Mares' Novices' Hurdle and Ma Du Fou in the Colin Baldwin 85th Birthday Novices' Chase. The latter did well over hurdles in the first half of last season, and has schooled well in readiness for this first venture over birch. He has pleased in his schooling, and the prospect of rain overnight and in the morning should aid his cause – though he will handle conditions has they currently stand.
Roll The Dough was disappointing when tried over three miles on his chasing bow at Worcester last time, but he looks worth another chance on his return to two and a half miles in the Wychwood Hobgoblin Limited Handicap Chase at Uttoxeter. He jumped very well until getting tired, and connections hope he is the sort to improve as the season progresses.
There are two cracking Listed contests at Lingfield and Realize is worth a look at a decent price for Stuart Williams in the Betway Golden Rose Stakes.
Given that he's so much better-treated on Turf than on the All-weather, it's no surprise at all that connections have been trying to exploit his turf mark in recent weeks, but Realize simply doesn't look the same horse on a green track as on a nice brown one like Lingfield.
Back at six furlongs and from a wide draw, he'll need a monster burn-up to get involved from the rear, but he might just get one with Rivellino from stall two likely to be pressed by Lord Of The Land, and if Realize gets the breaks, he could well reward each-way support at a double-figure price.
As mentioned before in this column, John Gosden still has a number of good horses to run in the weeks ahead judged by the size of the team still wending its way up Warren Hill most mornings.
His Castle Harbour should take some beating in the Sunbets.co.uk Handicap, having come on plenty for his recent return at Doncaster. Gosden has always rated this colt particularly highly and he will go on to prove himself better than a handicapper next year.
Nicky Henderson is responsible for the mercurial Simonsig in Sunday's feature contest at Cheltenham, the Grade Two Shloer Chase, and he has been pretty well tuned-up for this race after a rare clear run with him fitnesswise over the last eight weeks.
There's but with Simonsig though, and that's his habit of being a bit over-fresh and leaving nothing in the tank close home – remember Bobs Worth going sailing past at Aintree first time out last season?
He's opposable in this contest and the Irish pigeon has flown across to bring a very good word for Special Tiara, representing the in-form Henry De Bromhead.
He's been dining at the top table in this division for over two years now, finishing a close third to Sprinter Scare in the Champion Chase at the Festival here in March after an unlucky second in the Tingle Creek at Sandown earlier last season.
Although he must overcome the lack of a previous outing, the conditions of this race mean that he gets weight from some of the younger up-and-coming two milers, and word suggests he is going to want plenty of beating.
Keep In Line can see off a useful field in the Sky Bet Supreme Trial. High-class young hurdlers have been relatively thin on the ground so far due to the autumn drought, but this former smart Flat performer,has looked the real deal on his two outings so far.
His jumping, fast and slick like an old hand, has been a joy to watch, and he has put his turn of foot to good use to win with plenty in hand. This is his toughest test so far, but he should give some of the highly-rated jumping breds here plenty to think about.
Ben Pauling used this meeting 12 months ago as a springboard to a very successful with his relatively small team and he will be looking to Boreham Bill to promise much for the future in the Jockey Club Ownership NH Flat Race that brings the meeting to an end.
There was quiet confidence behind this gelding on his only appearance so far at Market Rasen and he duly delivered despite the fact he was in need of the outing,both for experience, and fitness .It was to his credit he was able to prevail, given most of the Pauling team have blown up on their comebacks, and he is expected to improve a good deal for the run. And who could begrudge the stable some good fortune after the blow they suffered with Barters Hill on the first day of the meeting.