Simon Holt: Steel Drum can delight
Simon Holt picks out his best bets for Saturday afternoon's televised action from Cheltenham and Doncaster.
On a stellar card at Cheltenham on Saturday, Thistlecrack, Un De Sceaux and Unowhatimeanharry will start at short prices to advertise their Festival credentials.
All eyes will be on Thistlecrack, taking on the experienced and sound jumpers Smad Place and Many Clouds, who have won the last two runnings of the BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase.
After his fine victory in the King George at Kempton last month (Silviniaco Conti third) on just his fourth start over fences, it will be a major surprise if the odds-on Gold Cup favourite and brilliant World Hurdle winner is beaten – but this is certainly another test of his credentials.
Smad Place and Many Clouds, who put in an excellent round of jumping to win on his Aintree reappearance, were first and second last year and will give the favourite little peace on this challenging course while Kylemore Lough is an improving chaser who receives 4lb.
With big rival Ar Mad missing from the original Spectra Cyber Security Solutions Clarence House Chase entries, the rescheduled Grade One contest ought to see Un De Sceaux, likely to run in the Ryanair in March, hard to beat.
However, given that he has almost nothing in hand over the re-opposing Special Tiara, only a nose behind him when they finished second and third to Sprinter Sacre in last year's Queen Mother Champion Chase on the Old Course here, an element of caution is required.
The good ground conditions that day over two miles were almost certainly quick enough for Un De Sceaux who has since won over two-miles-and-five-furlongs in France and was impressive in this race last year on soft ground when run at Ascot, it's rightful home.
With the going at Cheltenham described as good-to-soft, as it was at Sandown when he won the Tingle Creek in December, the placings with Special Tiara who, despite winning at Kempton over Christmas, hasn't been seen at his best so far this season, should just about be confirmed.
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Meanwhile, it will be good to see Uxizandre, a fluent winner of the Ryanair Chase under AP McCoy at the Festival in 2015, making his comeback from injury.
Stayers Hurdle favourite Unowhatimeanharry should also take some stopping in the galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle if reproducing impressive victories at Newbury and Ascot this term.
The two horses who might give him a race are 2015 World Hurdle winner Cole Harden, for whom the rain fell against him here last time when he finished third behind Agrapart, and Ballyoptic, who had only just been headed by Unowhatimeanharry when falling at the final flight at Ascot.
The supporting races at Cheltenham look competitive but CHAMPERS ON ICE ran well on the course over hurdles last season, including when finishing third to Unowhatimeanharry in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle at the Festival, and should go well in the Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase.
David Pipe's grey was always fighting a losing battle against the smart American at Warwick two weeks ago but a return to the stiffer track should suit him especially if aggressively ridden.
Later, DRUMCLIFF can make amends for an unlucky defeat at Kempton last time in the Steel Plate And Sections Handicap Hurdle.
Disaster struck the six-year-old at the second last that day when he was badly hampered and stumbled on landing, yet he recovered exceptionally well and might have caught the reopposing Bigmartre in a few more strides.
This is a hot race but Drumcliff looks at the right end of the handicap.
At Doncaster, Bigbadjohn and SOUTHFIELD ROYALE could be the pick of the weights in the Sky Bet Handicap Chase.
The former was no match for Thistlecrack at Newbury last time but third-placed Ibis Du Rheu has run well since while he previously beat the now 148-rated Our Kaempfer (who gave 3lb) in a match on the same course. Bigbadjohn can run off 136 here.
However, I am inclined to take a chance with Southfield Royale overcoming a nine-month absence for his excellent trainer Neil Mulholland.
The seven-year-old proved highly progressive over fences last season, slamming Coologue (only 2lb better off) by 13 lengths over the course and distance in early December before splitting Tea For Two and Native River at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Clearly that form has been well boosted since with the winner running well in the King George and the third winning both the Hennessy and Welsh National this season, and both have improved a good deal.
But Southfield Royale ran another excellent race at Cheltenham subsequently, just failing to see out the four-mile trip in fourth behind Minella Rocco and Native River with subsequent Scottish National winner Vicente (now 2lb worse off) back in fifth, and can be forgiven a less good run in Grade One company at Punchestown on his final start when there may have been excuses.
With James King taking off 5lb, the selection is clearly well in off a mark of 147 considering the achievements of some of the horses he raced against last term.
Posted at 1150 GMT on 27/01/17.
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