Simon Holt: Leon to prove a hit

Channel 4 comnmentator Simon Holt is backing Leoncavallo to win Sunday's StanJames.com Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Recommended bets:

2pts win Leoncavallo in 2.30 Cheltenham

2pts win Simonsig in 1.55 Cheltenham

LEONCAVALLO, a horse bred to be a top-class miler on the Flat, turned his career around with five wins over hurdles last season and could be the pick of the weights in Sunday's Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham.

A son of Cape Cross out of a half sister to Librettist and Dubai Destination, the four-year-old was retained by Godolphin chief John Ferguson last year when most of the horses he trained were dispersed.

Leoncavallo has proved progressive; he was challenging the now smart Sceau Royal on the New Course here last December when blundering away Aidan Coleman at the final flight and then finished fifth in the Triumph Hurdle at the Festival.

Connections clearly think Cheltenham suits him well and, while no match for Sceau Royal (receiving 4lb) on his reappearance here last month, his rider (the owner's son) Alex was unable to claim his 7lb allowance in that race whereas he can take off the weight here.

Wolf Of Windlesham, beaten over 10 lengths into fifth in that race, is now only 3lb better off and that's without taking the claim into account.

On the other hand, one big question mark here must be Leoncavallo's rider as, while he has ridden winners, this will be the biggest race he has ridden in, though the likely fast pace will suit his mount well.

Meanwhile, it is easy to see why Winter Escape is set to start favourite after an unbeaten run in three races last term.

Alan King's gelding looks highly promising and the form of his Grade Two win at Kempton last February has worked out well with runner-up Marracudja, third-placed Welsh Shadow and even the remote fourth Oceane (a smart stayer on the Flat this year) performing with distinction since.

On the minus side, Welsh Shadow's current rating doesn't suggest that Winter Escape is overly well-handicapped (though with the potential to improve of course), he lacks experience and looks short enough in the market.

Nicky Henderson is quite well represented with Hargam and Brain Power. The latter looked a decent prospect last season finishing third in a Grade One at Punchestown on his final start and, while his jumping was a bit hit and miss, he clearly has loads of ability.

Hargam, who ran in the Champion Hurdle here in March, was the subject of a spat between his trainer and chief handicapper Phil Smith regarding his rating after winning at Kempton a month ago.

Henderson took the view that the grey had not run up to his rating to win that race and argued that he should have been dropped. Well, Smith has allowed Hargam 2lb off here so it will be interesting to see what results.

On the face of it, he looks to have a stiffish task under 11st12lb.

Hargam's owner J P McManus is also represented by Modus who came from too far back when third behind Sternrubin (Ch'tibello fifth, John Constable seventh) in a bunched finish at Ascot recently and more prominent positioning would suit this one-time smart bumper/novice hurdling prospect.

Leoncavallo's stable-mate A Hare Breath trotted up at this meeting last year and, while beaten next time, came good again at Kempton in January. He remains a nice prospect as does the Dan Skelton-trained North Hill Harvey who was far from disgraced behind the smart Buveur D'Air at Aintree in April.

Earlier, the fragile SIMONSIG could reward the considerable patience of his connections with victory in the Grade Two Shloer Chase.

As a novice, the grey appeared to have the chasing world at his feet when completing a hat-trick of wins in the Arkle over this course and distance but he has proved very hard to train subsequently.

Catching him fresh is probably best nowadays, and he retains plenty of ability judged on a fine third behind God's Own and Vautour (Special Tiara sixth) at Punchestown in April only to blow out on heavy ground in France next time.

In receipt of weight here from the likes of Top Gamble, Fox Norton and Simply Ned, this could be a good chance for Simonsig to shine and, if Special Tiara sets a decent gallop, Barry Geraghty will have a better chance of switching off this free-runner.

Posted at 1045 GMT on 12/11/2016.

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