Steve Hughes previews the first of Cheltenham’s two day April fixture
The fields have held up well for Cheltenham’s meeting considering the lack of recent rain. I have selections from the two long distance races on the card.
Cheltenham 3.50: Azure Fly
Normally the master of consistency, Azure Fly had a rare off day at Warwick last time out, but there were excuses and I expect him to be back to form with conditions more in his favour this afternoon.
Never at his best on soft ground (despite a fine third in the Sussex National in January) he was never going at any stage at Warwick where he may also resented first time blinkers. Increasingly he appears to need a stiff test of stamina, so will get that around this venue and 3m4f, but crucially he gets his favoured good going.
He ran well throughout the dry autumn, including when second off the same mark as today at the Showcase meeting here in October. He was also fifth in this last season in what was probably a stronger contest and the booking of champion jockey Richard Johnson catches the eye.
Cheltenham 4.25: First Fandango & Iora Glas
Could today finally be the day for trainer Tim Vaughan to train his first ever winner at Cheltenham (0-89 in past five seasons alone). He saddles two in this race confined to horses without a win this campaign and First Fandango looks the interesting one.
The 10yo has been in terrible form since winning his last race at Musselburgh in November 2014, but finally came back to form when finishing second at Newbury last month on his favoured good ground and perhaps he has finally found his mark now having tumbled 30lbs in the ratings since that last win. With the Vaughan yard going well he looks worth chancing as he is the sort of horse that once he finds form tends to run good races in clusters.
At a bigger price Iora Glas is definitely worth a small each-way wager. This horse is all about stamina having won over an extended 3m2f at Perth last spring, his other career win being gained around the stiff Towcester track. His last run can be ignored given it was over 2m4f on a sharp track, but the handicapper has dropped him 6lbs and back to a stiff 3m on his favoured good going expect a much stronger performance today.
1pt each-way – Azure Fly – 3.50 Cheltenham – 7/1 Bet365, Paddy Power, Stan James
1pt win – First Fandango – 4.25 Cheltenham – 11/2 general
1pt each-way – Iora Glas – 4.25 Cheltenham – 14/1 general