Cheltenham Races: Five to follow at the Showcase Meeting

Racing returns to Cheltenham this Friday & Saturday
Racing returns to Cheltenham this Friday & Saturday

13:45 - Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle

Fergal O’Brien is no stranger to winners at the Showcase meeting at Cheltenham, having famously saddled a treble here in October in emotional scenes which triggered tears from the man himself, and I expect he could be celebrating once again with a winner in the opener in the form of Byzantine Empire.

An ex John Gosden runner, the four-year-old has come into his own over the summer months with form figures of 3121 on ground very similar to this, with that second place coming behind the smart Celestial Force. Entering Handicap company for the first time, a mark of 115 looks very workable, especially considering it was a fairly simple success last time out, and with the current leading conditional jockey Liam Harrison expected to be booked, he may be one to side with at a double-figure price to get the Showcase Meeting off to a flyer.

Cheltenham 13:45
Byzantine Empire silk

Byzantine Empire

Non-Runner

14:20 - 888Sport What’s Your Thinking Handicap Chase

Cheltenham really is a unique course and it takes a particular sort of horse that is capable of handling all the underlations to win there, so siding with a course winner is always a smart move. One horse that stands out like a sore thumb in that regard is the Kerry Lee trained Storm Control, who has form of 115 at Prestbury Park. A winner over course & distance at the November meeting last year, followed by a win at the December meeting off the same mark he will run off for this outing (137), his only loss here came in the Kim Muir at the Festival, and a fifth placed finish is hardly something to scrunch your nose at in any Cheltenham race.

Although beaten a good distance that day, it was off a career high mark and he has since been eased 5 lb since then, putting him really within his winning range. The only worry is his first time out form which reads 747, but he has to be worth a punt given his history at the National Hunt headquarters.

Cheltenham 14:20
Storm Control silk

Storm Control

Pulled Up

15:30 - 888Sport Handicap Chase

Another who has impressed me around Cheltenham before, though on the face of it not overly staggering, is Fanion D’Estruval, whose figures around Prestbury Park read 2F5. The latter fifth can be completely written off as it was in the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase, a race far too hot for him, but his second is the one to note.

That was off 150 in the Class 2 Paddy Power Handicap Chase at the November meeting and was probably his last ‘great’ run, as he was moved up into Graded company and hasn’t been out of it since, contesting the Grade 2 Peterborough Chase, Grade 1 Ascot Chase, Grade 2 Game Spirit Chase and the aforementioned Ryanair Chase at the Festival - four very tricky races. 

He’s one of those horses that is at the bottom end of the top graded races but top end of the high-class handicaps, but a return to this company off a mark only 2lb higher than for his last second, behind Magic Saint who he has subsequently beaten on level terms, makes him a very appealing prospect. His first time out form is more than impressive, winning twice, and he should handle this ground having gone close over good-to-soft. Another one at double-figure prices that could be hard to ignore.

Cheltenham 15:30
Fanion D'Estruval silk

Fanion D'Estruval

16:05 - Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle

I shall apologise in advance for this one as it will almost certainly be a frustrating bet, as it has been for me on many an occasion, but as usual there is a handicap at Cheltenham and there is a horse at a double-figure price that can’t be ignored - Spiritofthegames.

Frustrating how? Well, he is the model of consistency around Cheltenham without ever actually winning with form figures of 4533P22628. Only on four of those 10 occasions has he ever been a single-figure price, with only one of them being a non each-way prospect at 3/1, but such is his form that if you backed him with £1 each-way every time he was at Cheltenham, you’d actually only be out of pocket to the tune of 60 pence, which given he has never won here from a whopping ten runs and you would have laid out £20 in that time, is quite remarkable.

Always goes well fresh, is effective over both hurdles and fences, form of 4211 on good ground and enough knowledge of Cheltenham that he could probably do it blindfolded after being spun round at the start to the point of dizziness, Spiritofthegames is yet again worth siding with at an each-way price on Saturday.

Cheltenham 16:05
Spiritofthegames silk

Spiritofthegames

16:40 - Mick Turner A Lifetime In Racing Novices’ Chase

Last season was a really impressive one for the Kim Bailey trained Does He Know, contesting in some of the seasons hottest novice hurdle races after starting the year relatively unknown at Ludlow. Two wins at Cheltenham, with one being in the Grade 2 Hyde Novices’ Hurdle put him at the forefront of discussion for the spring festivals but he peated off a bit, being well beaten at Exeter before finishing fifth of seven in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival.

He made a very pleasing chase debut at Chepstow’s Persian War meeting earlier this month, beating the well regarded Threeunderthrufive by five-and-a-half lengths, and can’t be ignored back here at Cheltenham on Saturday. Seemingly a fan of the Autumn ground, where his career form reads 221111, and seemingly a fan of Cheltenham himself, he is certainly one to watch out for on Saturday even though he could be quite a short price.

Cheltenham 16:40
Does He Know silk

Does He Know

won
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