Friday, 11 March 2016

It was the Friday before Cheltenham!!

Good opening for a book.

A lot of small field races about today as everyone takes stock before the oncoming week of madness that is Cheltenham.

Last nights football result between Liverpool and Manchester United should make St Patrick,s Night next Thursday, the night before the Gold Cup, that bit more memorable with the return leg at Old Trafford....a good excuse, if you needed one, for another drink or two!!

Paul Nicholls does have a couple of runners out today in Minellahalfcentury and The Brock Again. The latter of those looks like going off at odds on so he's one to ignore. The other is in the Grand Military Gold Cup for Amateur Riders and Jody Sole the 2013 winner of this race aboard Nicholls Merrion Square takes the ride and she is the most successful of the jockeys in the line up with 7 wins to her name under rules.

The conditions of this race has Jennys Surprise as the most favoured and this mare won the Royal Artillery Gold Cup here in February by one and a half lengths from Newton Thistle ridden by Captain Harry Wallace - although she was 11lb better off in that than in a handicap with that rival who doesn't line up today. Cowards Close who had won the race the year before, when trained by Paul Nicholls, finished 4th in what was probably his best run since.
Basically all the other runners in that race shot their bolt too early and Jennys Surprise who had been outpaced earlier waltzed her way through from way back at the end whilst the others looked like they had ropes tied to their tales up the Sandown hill and she is a false fav here because it was only their exuberance that cost one of them the race.
If the Captain, who won this race in 2012, has learnt his lesson he will hang on longer before making his move on Ardkilly Witness. Although his form has tailed off of late he was 4th of 14 in last seasons Grade 3 Betbright Handicap Chase at Kempton off 139c, having been 5th the previous year so he has plenty of ability to win this if in the mood to do so. He was bought specifically for this race and he will have been trained for it.
PaulNicholls always said that Wilton Milan didn't stay 3 miles and he has been pulled up three times this season now he's trained by Dan Skelton and maybe this is a bit of an after thought for him.
Dead Or Alive(pulled up in this last season) and Very Live probably don't stand a chance at the weights and they can, you would hope, safely be ignored.
Jockey wise looking at last seasons race, which was won by Loose Chips 129c, Capatin Harry Wallace(Ardkilly Witness) came out on top finishing a neck second to the winner on Merrion Square. Captain Max Chenery(Seamus Mor) was in 3rd, Captain Guy Disney(Wilton Milan) 4th, LBdr Jody Sole(Minellahalfcentury) was back in 5th and Lieutenant Colonel Erica Bridge(Jennys Surprise) was 6th. At the weights Captain Max Chenery probably did the best to finish third as he was 4lb and 12lb worse off the front two than he would have been in a handicap - however Seamus Mor his mount today was only rated 98c before his last win.

Onto Minellahalfcentury he has run just twice so far this season at Cheltenham in an amateur riders handicap chase over 3m 1f when he was said to have needed the run and last time on 02/02 at Taunton in the Class 3 Bathwick Tyres Handicap Chase in which he finished a tailed off 5th of the 6 runners. 
He's dropping down the handicap but that doesn't mean much in this race, however his three wins to date have come when wearing some form of headgear for the first time - namely tongue strap, cheek pieces and blinkers and today he swaps from blinkers to cheek pieces to try and rekindle the flame.
Soft ground suits with two of his wins coming on heavy going and he must stay well as the stable were targeting the Welsh National prior to his  return in November - so if the cobwebs have now been blown away perhaps he can step up.

Overall though I think the finish is going to be between Ardkilly Witness, Cowards Close and Minellahalfcentury and I would even say that is the order they could finish in and if I was betting on it I would have a fiver each on Ardkilly Witness and Cowards Close both at 7/1.

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