Steve Hughes previews the handicaps at Cheltenham on Saturday
Expect unusually testing ground for the opening meeting at Cheltenham with heavy rain predicted up until the start of racing. My selections should all be able to handle such conditions.
Cheltenham 2.00: West Approach & Get On The Yager
Two nine-year-olds are fancied for a cracking opener.
West Approach is certainly a risky proposition for win purposes with an appalling win record of 4-30 for a horse of his undoubted ability. However for each-way punters he does make a lot of sense, especially with an excellent record fresh. Despite pulling too hard in first time blinkers he ran a cracker to be third in this race last year on his seasonal debut. His form was patchy thereafter, but on a going day he is very good and was second in the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle. Further back his form first time includes a second at this meeting to Wholestone, and two years ago a 9l win over fences at Ffos Las. His chase mark is 10lbs lower than that over hurdles and can be exploited on ground he handles.
Get on The Yager would have been a far more confident choice but for the jockey bookings. They suggest he is the stable third string with a rookie amateur aboard. That could change though if Cobra de Mai is withdrawn due to the softening ground, so Harry Skelton could yet take over. His claims are sound. His last two seasons have largely been based around peaking for the Midlands National. On both occasions he has looked to be going well only to not quite last out the 4m2f. Therefore 3m on a stiff track could be ideal. He has top form on very soft ground and won the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby back in 2017. He is actually a pound lower today, so I am surprised to see him so unconsidered.
Cheltenham 3.10: Doitforthevillage
As good as ever at the age of ten, Doitforthevillage is arguably better over further these days. However a testing 2m might see him to better effect than several of his rivals.
He will be sharper for this after finishing well beaten at Chepstow last time. However he tends to come on for that seasonal debut and he had a cracking run of form last winter, winning over 2m3f at Chepstow and finishing the year with a third place in the Topham at Aintree.
Back in 2017 he won over this course and distance at the November meeting from just a 4lb lower mark and he has plenty of winning form on soft/heavy. With Knocknanuss and Saint Calvados amongst this field it looks certain that a fast pace will ensue and that could suit the selection ideally, with jockey Paddy Brennan able to bring him through the field late.
Cheltenham 3.45: Gunfleet & Neverbeen to Paris
Two of the less exposed horses are fancied for the first in the series of Pertemps qualifiers for the Festival.
Gunfleet is very lightly raced for a 7yo. He won 2-4 over hurdles at the start of his career including over 3m at the stiff Doncaster track. He seemed to lose his way over fences last season, but bounced back to form when staying on into third at Stratford on his return. He looks sure to improve for this extra 2f, softer going and stiffer track.
Neverbeen to Paris was second in that same Stratford race and he too looked to find that race an insufficient test of stamina. Every time he has been stepped up in distance he has improved and he won two races at around 2m5f comfortably in the spring. Three miles will surely be his distance – it is just a question of whether he is ready for it at this stage of his career. He has only just joined Harry Whittington who might find yet more improvement from the 4yo.
0.75pts each-way – West Approach – 2.00 Cheltenham – 8/1 William Hill (1/5 odds 1st 5)
0.5pts each-way – Get On The Yager – 2.00 Cheltenham – 25/1 general (most bookies 1/5 odds 1st 5)
1pt each-way – Doitforthevillage – 3.10 Cheltenham – 10/1 Bet365
1pt win – Gunfleet – 3.45 Cheltenham – 7/1 Bet365, Paddy Power
1pt win – Neverbeen to Paris – 3.45 Cheltenham – 10/1 William Hill