New Years Day is always an exciting one, particularly at Cheltenham this year where some top novices do battle in the Dipper with Champ being the standout horse in the field. I like the chances of Mister Whitaker in the Paddy Power as he loves Prestbury Park, while Ashington can land the feature at Musselburgh.
Dipper Novices’ Chase
Champ is the standout performer in the field and has jumped impeccably on both starts thus far. He was a dual Grade 1 winner as a novice hurdler last season and is the one to beat.
Sue Smith’s horses have been firing on all cylinders of late and Midnight Shadow will give the favourite the most to think about. He won the Relkeel on this card last season and shouldn’t be underestimated.
The only other one that could trouble Champ is Deyrann De Carjac who put in a career-best effort to finish behind that rival in the Berkshire Chase but I can’t see him reversing the form.
Paddy Power Chase
Amy Murphy’s Kalashnikov put in an impressive weight-carrying performance to just lose out behind Oldgrangewood at Newbury. The handicapper gave him six-pounds for that victory and in this better company, he may be found wanting.
Many will be rowing in behind Magic Saint who beat Bun Doran at Newbury in November. That horse franked the form well over Christmas but off his revised mark and at a track he’s unproven at, I’ll look elsewhere. The aforementioned Oldgrangewood has taken his form to a new level since a wind-op over the summer but has yet to convince at Prestbury Park in my opinion.
The forgotten horse is Mister Whitaker who hasn’t been seen since landing a Grade 2 contest over course and distance back in April. He’s a three-time winner at Cheltenham and had a decent record when fresh.
Selection: Mister Whitaker
68 Sleeps To Cheltenham Handicap Hurdle
This is a race of two stories with class acts reverting back to hurdles after disappointing of late and then improving sorts that have yet o prove themselves ta this level. The two horses that fall under the “disappointing” bracket are Might Bite and Kilbricken Storm. Nicky Henderson’s charge only got as far as the 4th fence in the Many Clouds chase where it was billed as a match between himself and Native River. He was a smart hurdles horse but I don’t see him improving for them.
Kilbricken Storm has shown very little since landing the Albert Bartlett in 2018 but there was some encouragement to be taken from his run here in December and I think he can regain the winning thread.
Skandiburg falls under the improving bracket having taken a competitive handicap at Aintree in November in snug fashion. The handicapper gave him seven-pounds for that win but there could be more to come from Olly Murphy’s inmate.
Fergal O’Brien could run the yard dog and it would win at present and has anther live chance with Goodbye Dancer who was a course and distance winner on his first run for the yard in December. Six-pounds seems lenient for that win and should be on the premises.
Selection: Kilbricken Storm
Janika was a model of consistency last season without winning but got the current campaign off to a flyer when winning the Haldon Gold Cup. He wasn’t beaten far in the Tingle Creek and I find it hard to see him getting beaten back in this company over the smaller obstacles.
Emitom put in a career-best performance ion the Sefton behind Champ in April. That was his first start in Graded company and if fully wound-up he’ll give Janika plenty to think about.
The incredibly lightly-raced William Henry has always shown a lot of ability but never quite scaled the heights through injury. Saying that he did land the Coral Cup off the back of an absence last season and followed this up with a fine fourth in a Grade 1 at Aintree.
Auld Reekie Handicap Chase
The ultra-consistent Sporting Press is overdue a victory here following back to back runner-up placings at Musselburgh. He got dropped a pound for the latest of these and must go close.
The flat-bred Fixed Rate has won two of his last three starts and to be fair showed lots of promise on his return to action at Aintree when finishing second. He’s risen pretty sharply in the weights but is an improving type.
Cracking Destiny easily accounted for the aforementioned Sporting Press on stable debut and with a ten-pound rise, I expect him to confirm the form.
Selection: Cracking Destiny
Hegmaneigh Handicap Hurdle
Ashington was a smart performer on the level and has taken very well to hurdling winning his last two starts in very taking fashion. He’s just turned five and is a real improver.
Recent course and distance winner Fisher Green was bitterly disappointing at Wetherby where the ground might have been too soft for him. I think his current mark may be beyond him and he’ll need some help from the handicapper to win again.
Sir Chauvelin has the best flat form on offer having been placed in the Northumberland plate last season. We haven’t seen him over hurdles since the 2018 Scottish Champion Hurdle and a mark of 129 is very attractive.