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So after last weekend’s Cheltenham Festival Trials Day – did we learn anything new? I guess a few things. We know that last Saturday’s impressive BetBright Trial Chase winner, Smad Place now looks a fair e/w bet at around 12/1 for the Gold Cup next month, while if you fancy Djakadam, who fell when still going well in that race, you might have a few hairy moments on the jumping front come next month. As a result Vautour is the new favourite for the Gold Cup with most bookies, but, don’t forget, still holds an entry in the Ryanair Chase. We’ll get a few more clues ahead of the Gold Cup this weekend over in Ireland with the running of the Irish Hennessy – I’ll be taking a deeper look into that race below, but it looks like providing last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup third, Road To Riches, with the perfect prep race before heading to Prestbury Park next month.

We also saw my World Hurdle fancy – Thistlecrack – bolt-up in the Cleeve Hurdle last weekend. The 5/2 on offer a few weeks ago when I looked at that race is now long-gone, with the Colin Tizzard-trained horse now generally around 6/4 – hope you got on!

Yanworth was the other star last weekend, for what was a cracking day all-round for the Alan King camp. This JP McManus-owned 6 year-old is now into 2/1 favourite for the Neptune Novices Hurdle on the Wednesday, with jockey, Ruby Walsh, who will be up against him for Willie Mullins, saying this week Yanworth be hard to beat.

Plenty to digest, savour and look forward to when it comes to the Cheltenham Festival, but this weekend we see the C4 cameras head to Sandown, Wetherby and Ffos Las. I’ll be giving you my main picks from the best of the races at those venues, plus a look at the Irish Hennessy Gold Cup.

Irish Hennessy Gold Cup – Road To Riches To Bank Weekend Money

Leopardstown 3.40 – Irish Hennessy Gold Cup (Grade 1) Cl1 3m  ATR
13/13– Had run at Leopardsown over fences before
13/13 – Last ran was 6 weeks or less
13/13 – Had won over at least 3m before in their career (any code)
12/13 – Placed favourites
11/13 – Had won a Grade 1 Chase before
10/13 – Ran in the Lexus Chase (Leopardstown) last time out
10/13 – Came from the top 3 in the betting
10/13– Aged 9 or younger
10/13 – Irish-bred
10/13 – Winners that went onto run in that season’s Cheltenham Festival (no winners)
10/13 – Had won between 3-5 times over fences (rules) before
9/13 – Had won over fences at Leopardstown before
8/13 – Placed in the top 3 last time out
8/13 – Winning distance – 3 lengths or more
8/13 – Winners that went onto run in that season’s Gold Cup (no winners)
7/13 – Rated 160 or higher
6/13 – Winning favourites
5/13 – Trained by Willie Mullins (9 wins in all)
4/13 – Won last time out
2/13 – Won by a UK-based trainer
The average winning SP in the last 13 runnings is 3/1
RICHARD’S VERDICT: I was lucky enough to land this race in back-to-back years in 1998-99 with Dorans Pride and Florida Pearl, so it’s always a contest I’ve fond memories of. In recent years we’ve also seen horses like Beef Or Salmon, Florida Pearl and Jodami win the Irish Hennessy Gold Cup more than once, so with that in mind the 2015 winner, Carlingford Lough, will be looking to add his name to that fall of fame of repeat winners. That said, this 10 year-old has not won since taking this prize 12 months ago and has struggled to hit that form of late – he was last seen running way down the field in the Lexus Chase here at the track over the Christmas period.

The Willie Mullins camp have won this race a staggering nine times, including three of the last five. Their 2013 victor, Sir Des Champs, is engaged again, but is another that needs to put a recent poor Lexus Chase run behind him.

Foxrock, who is trained by Ted Walsh, was only beaten a length in third in the Lexus Chase so if running to that level again has a huge chance, while his track stats read an impressive UR-2-3-2-1-2-3 – looks a solid each-way player here.

First Lieutenant was second in this season’s Lexus – beaten just ½ a length – so is another that enters the shake-up on that form. But, having said that, he’s won just three of his 28 chase starts and the last of those wins came back in April 13. He’s become a shade frustrating to win with – despite often running his race, so is another for the each-way players but it would be a slight shock if he’s up to winning.
So based on all that, and on current form and the official ratings, the one to beat is ROAD TO RICHES. Noel Meade’s 9 year-old has been lightly-raced this season after running a solid third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last year. He was last seen winning the Clonmel Oil Chase over a shorter trip, but has CD-winning form at Leopardstown after landing the 2014 Lexus Chase. The official ratings suggest he’s got 5lbs in-hand on the others on these terms so if running to form looks the one to beat before heading for another tilt at the Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival next month – where he’s currently around 12/1.

Saturday Best Bets

Sandown: 2.25 - Betfred TV Scilly Isles Novices´ Chase (Grade 1) Cl1 2m4f110y CH4
12/12 – Returned 9/2 or shorter in the betting
12/12 – From the top 3 in the betting
12/12 – Won no more than 3 times over fences before
12/12 – Placed in the top 3 last time out
11/12 – Ran within the last 6 weeks
11/12 – Finished in the top 2 last time out
10/12 – Aged 7 or younger
10/12 – Won between 1-3 times over fences before
9/12 – Favourites Placed
8/12 – Winners that went onto run at that season’s Cheltenham Festival (no winners)
8/12 – Favourites
8/12 – Winning distance – 2 lengths or more
6/12 – Aged 7 years-old
6/12 – French bred
5/12 – Irish bred
5/12 – Ran at Cheltenham last time out
4/12 – Trained by Paul Nicholls
3/12 – Winners that went onto finish in the top 5 in the RSA Chase
3/12 – Had run over fences at Sandown before
3/12 – Trained by Nicky Henderson
2/12 – Ridden by Ruby Walsh
The average winning  SP in the last 10 runnings is 7/4
RICHARD’S VERDICT: The Nick Williams yard won this in 2012 with For Non Stop and look to hold another big chance this season with TEA FOR TWO. This 7 year-old was a very impressive winner at Kempton on Boxing Day, giving his jockey, Lizzie Kelly, a memorable Grade one success and I think he can land another for his up-and-coming rider here. That win was over 3m, but the drop in trip won’t be an issue, especially in this ground and the stiff Sandown finish should be another plus for the horse. This talented hurdler is now 2-from-2 over fences and if running well here could be seen next in a few weeks for the BetBright Chase at Kempton on the 27th.

Sandown: 3.00 - Betfred Mobile Heroes Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) Cl1 2m7f98y CH4
10/10 – Raced in the last 8 weeks
10/10 – Won by a horse aged 9 or younger
9/10 – Won over at least 2m4f (hurdles) previously
9/10 – Carried 10-12 or less in weight
8/10 – Officially rated 135 or lower
8/10 – Winners that went to race at the Cheltenham Festival that season
8/10 – Winning distance – 2 ½ lengths or shorter
8/10 – Won only 2-3 times over hurdles previously
7/10 – Winners that came from the top 3 in the market
7/10 – Returned 13/2 or less
6/10 – Won by a horse aged 7 or younger
5/10 – Placed Favourites
5/10 – Won by an Irish-bred horse
4/10 – Raced over hurdles at Sandown previously (3 won)
4/10 – Won last time out
4/10 – Favourites
4/10 – Won by a French-bred horse
4/10 – Ran at Cheltenham last time out
3/11 – Won by the Paul Nicholls yard
2/11 – Won by the Philip Hobbs yard
2/11 – Ridden by Richard Johnson
1/11 – Winners that went onto win at that season’s Cheltenham Festival (Ryanair Chase, 2007 Taranis)

RICHARD’S VERDICT:  The Suzy Smith-trained Invicta Lake took this contest 12 months ago and despite being a few pounds out of the handicap here is on roughly the same mark as when landing the spoils last year. The horse will love the ground and heads here off the back of a solid fourth at Huntingdon in a fair Class Two Hurdle so looks a fair each-way option in a very competitive race. The Hobbs and Nicholls yards have won 5 of the last 11 renewals between them so their Saddlers Encore and Ibis Du Rheu are also respected. Ibis Du Rheu is closely-matched with another runner Yala Enki after that pair finished first and second last time out at Kempton, but with a decent weight turn-a-round then Paul Nicholls’ Ibis Du Rheu is preferred to get his revenge on that horse. Baywing is another horse that will attract a lot of interest after winning it’s last four on the spin. He’ll love the ground and heads here off the back of an easy 5 length win at Haydock, but this is another step up in class so a fair bit more is required in my book. Therefore. I’m siding with the Hobbs-trained SADDLERS ENCORE (e/w) here. This lightly-raced 7 year-old ran a solid race back last time when fifth of 10 at Wincanton and with that being his first run in just over 20 months then we can expect him to come on a fair bit for it. He’s won twice from 4 runs over hurdles, plus add in that he ticks a lot of the key trends then he looks the value each-way call against the three ahead of him in the betting.

3.35 – LE REVE (e/w)
Ffos Las
2.05 - SILSOL
3.15 – BOB FORD (e/w)

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