O’Brien to start New Year where he left off

Steve Hughes has selections for Cheltenham for the opening day of 2018

A competitive card at Cheltenham despite the fairly small fields which offers plenty of betting opportunities to start off the New Year on a profitable note. In four full years of doing this column we have made a profit every year and 2017 was no exception with a 101 point profit to advised prices.

Cheltenham 2.00: Splash of Ginge & Burtons Well

In testing conditions a lower weight will be a help and two horses at the lower end of the handicap are favoured.

Splash of Ginge was the here of the day here in the BetVictor Gold Cup, but bookies seem to have a short memory as they have priced him up at decent odds on the basis of a much lesser run here at the last meeting. However the going was much more to his liking when winning in November and the testing conditions will be in his favour again today. He won this race off a 6lb higher mark in 2015.

Burtons Well has yet to prove he is a Cheltenham horse, but has shown good ability and is unexposed. He ran a cracker on his seasonal return at Stratford, beaten just a neck by Romain de Senam on ground probably quicker than ideal. He paid for setting an overly strong gallop when fourth over course and distance on Trials day, so am hoping he does not go as fast today. The going will be no issue as he is a heavy ground winner at Uttoxeter. He looks to need time between races so the 72 day absence is not a concern.

Cheltenham 2.35: Skipthecuddles

His racing style suggests that an extreme test of stamina will suit so today is definitely the chance to put that theory to the test when Skipthecuddles goes to post for this stiff 3m on heavy going.

Local trainer Graham McPherson only started him off over jumps on the 4th January last year, where he was a fine second to Keeper Hill at Hereford. He then won well at Wetherby to book his ticket for the Festival where he was not disgraced beaten 14l by Willoughby Court. The going was probably quicker than ideal that day and he did not have the pace to keep up when sent over to Punchestown for a valuable handicap.

He looked in need of the run when pulling up at Ayr on his return in November, but did travel well for a long way. He lasted better at Southwell last time without really threatening, but he was going on well at the finish on that sharp track and the stiffer track and softer going ought to see him in a much better light today.

Cheltenham 3.10 Colins Sister

Trainer Fergal O’Brien landed his first Grade 1 winner only on Saturday and can land a Grade 2 prize today through Colins Sister.

The softer the going the better this mare goes and she caused an upset when taking the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby in November beating Wholestone. She was put in her place at Newbury last time by Beer Goggles, but arguably the ground was not quite soft enough for her on the day.

That won’t be a problem here – she won a Grade 2 novice at Sandown last winter on similar soft/heavy going and the 7lb mares allowance will once again come to her aid. She has yet to run at Cheltenham over hurdles but I strongly suspect she will love the uphill finish and with proven stamina over 3m, if she is anywhere close coming to the last I expect her to power home on the run-in.

Recommended bets:

1pt win – Burtons Well – 2.00 Cheltenham – 4/1 general

0.75pts each-way – Splash of Ginge – 2.00 Cheltenham – 11/1 Bet365 (¼ odds first 3)

0.75pts each-way – Skipthecuddles – 2.35 Cheltenham – 8/1 Bet365 (¼ odds first 3)

2pts win – Colins Sister – 3.10 Cheltenham – 2/1 general

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