So I thought I would take an unscheduled look at Friday’s ITV races at Cheltenham.
What a result to see that all four are handicaps, one of them sponsored by the mighty Betfair no less, and all priced up by the Sportsbook.
What is not to like?
Well, the price of 9/4 about the favourite Fontaine Collonges in the 2m4f mares’ handicap chase (13:50) for one. Sure, she was strong at the line when winning at Warwick last time but she is 7lb higher in a much deeper race and I wouldn’t be barging my way through the crowd to back at her 9/2 myself.
Keep an eye on interesting pair in a tricky handicap
It looks a very tricky handicap but the two that interested me most were Vienna Court and Pretty Little Liar, both priced at 12s. The 20s about the latter went on Monday morning and I can fully see why.
Despite edging out right at a few of her fences at Bangor last time, Vienna Court’s third there against much higher-rated rivals off levels, was probably not far from her best, and she looks fairly treated off 123, with a step back up in trip (in fact, this will be the furthest she will have raced over) likely to suit her run-style.
The UK handicapper was more impressed than his Irish counterpart by Pretty Little Liar’s Thurles victory on her penultimate start, as he has rated the win 5lb higher.
I would agree with the harsher assessment as I was very impressed by the manner of success, and the three immediately in behind have all run creditably in defeat since. That came on the back of a 10-length win in a handicap hurdle, so we are dealing with a fast-progressing mare here.
Obviously, it all went Pete Tong last time when she took the mother and father of a fall, when going plenty well enough five out, but if that has not soured her then she has the most attractive profile in here.
Trainer: David Peter Dunne, Ireland
Weight: 11st 1lbs
I would have played her ante-post if the 20s had stood, but no bet for now on her, or on Vienna Court. I will review if they are confirmed for the race on Wednesday morning and I imagine they will remain top of my tipping list if so.
Trio can challenge Enrilo Betfair Handicap Chase
My Podcast colleague Hugh Cahill will be getting all jiggy on Friday if Santini runs in the 3m2f Betfair Handicap Chase (14:25), as the horse he lovingly ( I think) refers to as “The Boat” promises to have his first run since being pulled up in the Gold Cup and his first for new trainer Polly Gundry.
Obviously, all his best days have come around here and the handicapper has dropped him 8lb for his absence, so he is no forlorn hope at 14/1, especially as he has a great record when fresh.
There is no surprise to see Enrilo head the betting at 2/1, as he went off 8/1 for the Ladbrokes Trophy (having been half that price in the lead-up to the race) and was still in with every chance when falling.
But I can’t see him being much shorter than 2s on the day if the five-day field of 12 stands up to a meaningful degree, while I do think there was some shortening potential in the initial, double-figure prices of Santini (14/1), Commodore (12/1) and Court Master (10/1).
Commodore has a fair record when fresh and is now only 2lb higher than when half-a-length second to Snow Leopardess at Haydock first time out last season. And I suspect he may have won had he not fallen at the last in this race last year, given the antics of the winner Storm Control on the run-in.
Court Master bumped into one when second at Newbury last time, and is probably still fairly handicapped off a 1lb higher mark, though the issue with him is that this is over 2f further than he has ever gone before and he has an entry at Doncaster on Saturday, too (as does Fagan and Potters Legend)
However, my betting interest ended when the 14s and 12s about Santini and Commodore disappeared just before midday on Monday. Santini is now 8s, while Commodore has been cut from 12s to 8s to 6s to 9/2 to 4s!
Happy to ignore Cross Country
When I said at the start of this piece that it was a result that we have four ITV handicaps on Friday, I didn’t clock that one of them was a Cross Country race.
Regular readers will know this specialist discipline is not for me, and what winds me up is that you often hear after the races that “so-and-so has been here and schooled really well” – information that was not known to the betting public beforehand.
That was exactly the case after Back On The Lash was smashed into 4/1 and won here last month – apparently he was “an absolute natural” when having his behind-the-scenes sighters – on the back of a last-of-five over regulation fences just three weeks previously.
No, I am very happy to ignore these races.
Rain should help Shannon Bridge
We have another 2/1 ante-post favourite in the shape of Sporting John in the 3m handicap hurdle (15:35), and a 5lb rise for his defeat of Onagatheringstorm (second favourite here at 5s) over track and trip last time does indeed seem very fair given his Grade 1-winning back class over fences.
One again though, how much can he shorten up from 2s?
Not a lot, as Paul Daniels used to say, and I am going to take a flier in the shape of 33/1 win-only about Shannon Bridge, a horse who finished 60 lengths behind Sporting John here last month and who also ran like a drain when a 68-length last of 14 at Newbury last time.
So it clearly takes a leap of faith to back him here, and they may be targeting him at a handicap down the line (possibly over shorter). I will chance it, though.
If he is declared on Wednesday, then I suspect we will know our fate soon after when we get the headgear information.
Because the tongue-tie and blinkers that he wore when winning at Wetherby and Ascot earlier in the year have been conspicuously missing in his three outings this season, for which he has been dropped 6lb, as have the forcing tactics that served him so well in those successes.
As a result, he is now just 1lb higher than when beating Thibault at Ascot in February, and the wet weather this week – over 9mm is forecast on Tuesday alone – is very much in his favour, too, as all his best form has come on soft and heavy (I should say it is currently good at Cheltenham).
Now, the trip is a slight worry too – the wins above came over an extended 2m3f – but he won over 2m7f as a 4yo and one of his best time and form performances came when a short-head second in the River Don over 3m back in 2018, so that helps ease the doubts, as does the fact he finished off his race so strongly, to win decisively, at Ascot once he was headed on the run-in.
If he runs in the headgear combo, with forcing tactics, on soft ground, then he won’t be 33s. He will be a third of that price.
Big ifs, but the risk to reward ratio is in our favour. If the 33s goes, then 25s is fine, with 20/1 the lowest acceptable price.
Ask Dilllon, Flight Deck, Midnightreflection, Saint Dalina, The Wrekin and Ernesto all have alternative engagements this week, by the way.
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