RACING fans all look forward to this weekend’s big Cheltenham meeting as it’s a sign that the season has really moved up a gear.
Prestbury Park’s undulations throw up their own challenges but prominent racers who jump well are never far away, as we saw in last year’s Bet Victor Golf Cup where Baron Alco and Frodon jumped their rivals silly out in front and were in complete control from the outset.
Gary Moore’s Baron Alco led from start to finish last year, giving the trainer his first victory in the race, and he saddles an interesting type this year in KNOCKNANUSS, who looks to be one of the best handicapped horses in the field and could play a part if curbing his enthusiasm now back up in trip.
The favourite for this year’s renewal is the Colin Tizzard-trained SLATE HOUSE. Always held in high regard by connections, he finally put it all together over fences when making a winning return in novice company at the showcase meeting here last month.
That was his first start after a wind operation and he could hardly have done it any easier on the day, jumping fluently under a patient ride and having far too much for his rivals in the closing stages. He is also the selection of Carrigill’s regular Jeff from Mirfield, a Batley Bulldogs fan who has provided their nap this week as he’s backed the winner of this race for the last three years.
The form of last year’s renewal is represented by GUITAR PETE (third) and EAMON AN CNOIC (fifth), who were two of only six to finish in an eventful contest. Both horses line up here from even higher in the weights, though, which sums up the task that they face to improve their finishing positions.
Nigel Twiston-Davies’ best chance of recording a fifth win in this might rest with COUNT MERIBEL, who won two of his four starts in 2018/19, including a novice event at this meeting over C&D, and proved better than ever after eight months when chasing home Lostintranslation at Carlisle last time.
There was plenty to like about that effort and he certainly fits the right sort of profile for this race now back in a handicap, a seven-year-old who has course form and arrives on the right sort of mark for this race. He sets the standard on weight-adjusted ratings and looks to have been underestimated at around 14/1.
At even bigger odds, SKY PIRATE is worth a second look for the Jonjo O’Neill yard that has won this race three times since 2006. He already has course form to his name having caught the eye when seventh in the Kim Muir at the Festival and there may be even more to come after only six starts over fences.
Sunday’s Greatwood Hurdle won't have a maximum field this year (24) with only 19 entered at the five-day stage, but it is still a typically open renewal, an opinion that the ante-post betting market mirrors, with Carrigill’s going 13/2 the field.
Leading owner J. P. McManus has three horses entered at this stage including the Nicky Henderson-trained DAME DE COMPAGNIE, who has a 577-day absence to overcome but she could hardly be in better hands and could prove this opening mark all wrong.
Money has come for MONSIEUR D’ARQUE from the Dan Skelton stable and he’s now 14s with Carrigill’s from 20/1 and is my each way selection.
Carrigill’s nap: (money back as a free bet if finishes outside top 4. Write Augur on your slip to qualify): SLATE HOUSE, Cheltenham, Saturday, 2.25.
Augur’s best bet:
MONSIEUR D’ARQUE (e/w), Cheltenham, Saturday, 3.00.