By Declan Meagher
Declan Meagher is the author of the website learnbetwin. For more visit learnbetwin.com
1.30 - JLT Novices' Chase
This looks a pretty competitive heat with many horses possessing the potential to improve, but the one I think is the most likely winner is Garde La Victoire.
He is three from three over fences, and the form of his win over Fox Norton back in November looks better after that one came third in the Arkle on Tuesday.
He took a while to get on top, after coming to challenge on the home bend, and the way he stayed on up the hill suggests that the extra half mile of this race is a plus. Indeed, he won over this trip over hurdles.
Outlander is one of the main dangers, although I’d have a slight doubt about him being as good on this ground as the heavy he won on last time.
Black Hercules stays three miles on heavy ground, and I doubt these conditions will prove to be his optimum.
Zabana was second in the Coral at last year’s festival, before coming third in a grade one at Punchestown.
He started his chase career with an easy win at Leopardstown and jumped extremely well in the process.
He then ran poorly behind Outlander last time, jumping terribly, but it’s hard to believe that was his true running.
Zabana goes well on fast ground and the fact connections have sent him for this suggests they have been happy with him at home, and if he can put that poor run behind him he has every chance.
I think it’s worth backing both Garde La Victoire at 4/1, and Zabana at 12/1.
Tips: Garde La Victoire 4/1 and Zabana e/w 12/1
2.10 - Pertemps Network Final
The Pertemps Final has 24 declared, and I think it’s worth backing two against the field.
If In Doubt ran in this race two seasons ago, but was very wide for the whole trip. After making a move from near the back of the field to get into a challenging position on the home bend, he couldn’t sustain his effort, doing well to finish ninth in the circumstances.
He then went over fences but never really got the hang of the bigger obstacles, but despite some shoddy jumping he managed to win a handicap chase off a mark of 139.
If In Doubt couldn’t build on that win, and after making numerous mistakes on his first outing this season at Newbury, he went back over hurdles last time. He did really well to come from nearly last place turning in, to win going away by two and a quarter lengths.
The pace was steady enough so he was in the wrong place when they quickened, and he also had to weave his way through several rivals to get into a challenging position.
He gets to run off a mark just six-pound higher here, and that looks lenient.
Our Kaempfer was third in a Grade 1 novice hurdle over three miles last season, and in staying on well for fourth over two miles and three and a half furlongs on his comeback at Chepstow, he suggested he would be capable of doing better again when stepped back up in trip.
A slow pace was against him on his following start, and he was still travelling well when he got brought down last time.
Connections have kept him for this, and the handicapper has been kind dropping him a pound in the weights.
I think it’s worth backing If In Doubt and Our Kaempfer each way. Both are currently 12/1, and try to back with a bookmaker that is offering five places.
Tips: If In Doubt e/w 12/1, Our Kaempfer e/w 12/1
2.50 - Ryanair Chase
The Ryanair Chase field had a bit of a shake-up in recent days with the addition of the supposedly Gold Cup-bound Vautour (above) and he is currently trading at 5/6 to win it.
Rich Ricci, owner of Vautour, had stated that he would stay at home if he wasn’t pleasing them enough to run in the Gold Cup, and in switching to this race the inference is that he isn’t working that well.
I have a feeling that both Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh always wanted to run Vautour in the Ryanair though, and the 'working poorly' angle might be exaggerated slightly.
At his best Vautour would win this easily. His King George form is top class as it stands, but the way he travelled through that race, before emptying out between the last two fences, suggested he will prove to be a much better horse over this shorter trip.
They could try riding him more patiently over three miles, but then you’d be negating one of his biggest assets in his jumping.
I’m not going to recommend backing him at odds on, but don’t be surprised if he drifts on Thursday, and if he was to touch 11/10 then I’d be getting on board.
In the meantime, I think Al Ferof is worth an each way bet. He was a good third in the King George, and while that clearly leaves him with plenty to find with Vautour, it would be better form than anything else in this has shown this season.
He goes very well at Cheltenham and seems rejuvenated for the switch to the Dan Skelton yard this season.
The current price of 14/1 looks too big on him, and I recommend a small each-way bet.
Tips: Vautour (11/10 or higher), Al Ferof 14/1 e/w
3.30 Cheltenham Ryanair World Hurdle
Barry McEneaney previews the World Hurdle here.
4.10 - Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate
Johns Spirit looks very well handicapped on the form he was showing last season, and while he’s been disappointing so far this season, his trainer Jonjo O'Neill is a master at getting them back to their best on the day that counts.
His current price of 13/2 looks fair, but I’d want a little bigger to back him. If he was to touch 8/1 I’d be interested. At the current prices I really like Stilletto.
He’s improving fast as a chaser, and has plenty of scope to improve more. He was cantering when he fell at Wincanton before hacking up at Leicester last time.
A rise of just ten pounds for that looks very lenient, and I think the likely good pace and big field is perfect to bring out the best in him.
At bigger prices I think Buckers Bridge is worth a bet too. He was off for a year and a half before his comeback at Navan in December, when he ran well.
Last time in the Thyestes at Gowran Park, he was bang in there jumping the second last before fading slightly, but it was still a very credible run.
His trainer does very well with his Cheltenham challengers. The drop in trip and better ground are a plus, and he looks much too big at 25/1.
I recommend backing both Stilletto at 12/1 and Buckers Bridge at 25/1 each way.
Tips: Johns Spirit (8/1 or bigger), Stilletto e/w 12/1, Buckers Bridge e/w 25/1
4.50 - Mares Novice Hurdle
The Mares Novice Hurdle is a new race at the festival, and having dominated the Mares Hurdle since its inception, Willie Mullins supplies the odds-on favourite for this in Limini.
She could be anything, but her jumping wasn’t foot perfect when winning easily last time, and with plenty of unexposed sorts in opposition, she looks short enough.
Bloody Mary won on her British debut at Taunton last time, and while that form is nothing special, she has plenty of potential to do better and looks worth a small each way bet at the current 16/1.
Tips: Bloody Mary e/w 16/1
5.30 - Kim Muir
The Kim Muir rounds off the card, a race that Cause of Causes (pictured above) should have won two years ago.
He arrived down to the last still full of running, but made a bad mistake. Despite rallying well, he went down by just under two lengths.
He came back to Cheltenham last March and won the National Hunt Chase over four miles, but the drop back to three miles and two and a half furlongs here is fine.
Connections must have had this race in mind for Cause of Causes for a while, as he has had just the three runs this season, with the last two of those coming over unsuitably short trips.
It’s highly likely his very good trainer will have him spot on for this, and off a mark just two pounds higher than when he came second in this race, he looks handicapped to win, and is worth backing each way at the current 13/2.
Tips: Causes of Causes e/w 13/2