Steve Hughes previews the opening day of the Cheltenham season
Whilst the prevailing fast ground has prevented some of the better known horses from turning up at Cheltenham today, we nonetheless have an extremely competitive card with big fields in all the handicaps. I am concentrating on two of those for an interest today. We had another double in the previous column on Sunday with Copain de Classe (SP 3/1) and Verdana Blue (advised 5/6) both scoring.
Cheltenham 3.10: Court Minstrel
This could be a last hurrah in the big time for the admirable 11yo Court Minstrel, expertly placed over the summer by trainer Evan Williams to get his mark down to a feasible one once more.
He has won eleven times in total, including some big prizes and is 2-2 at this fixture where he normally gets his favoured good ground. However where he used to be all about 2m pace, there is no doubt he needs a longer trip nowadays – his last win coming in the Silver Trophy at Chepstow last October over a stiff 2m4f.
That came from a mark of 142, but the handicapper has given him a real chance having dropped him a full stone for four heavy defeats this summer. However three of those runs were over now inadequate trips of up to 2m2f on sharp tracks. On his last start he showed his old zest back over a suitable 2m4f around Chepstow but was simply given too much to do by his inexperienced pilot. Stable jockey Adam Wedge takes over today.
Cheltenham 5.30: Magic Dancer
Despite two stellar performances at Cheltenham last season, Magic Dancer remains well treated by the handicapper and can maintain his unbeaten record at the track in the finale.
Very much at home on good ground, he won the novice handicap at the November meeting and then on rapidly drying going another 2m prize at the April fixture. On both cases he stormed up the hill having come from off the pace. Considering he won by 6l the last day, it seems extraordinary that he has only been put up 4lbs by the handicapper.
Magic Dancer has also had a wind op during the summer, so whilst we have to take his race fitness on trust, there are so many variables in his favour that he has to be followed again. A win in this race today could set him up for a bid at the Greatwood Hurdle here next month.
0.75pts each-way – Court Minstrel – 3.10 Cheltenham – 7/1 Paddy Power (1/5 odds first 5)
1pt win – Magic Dancer – 5.30 Cheltenham – 5/1 William Hill, BetVictor