It’s Cheltenham Trials Day in the Cotswolds but as usual in pre-festival meetings at Prestbury Park, we’re happy enough to watch the great action unfold with a view to marking our card for March.
Betting-wise there are value bets elsewhere though, beginning with Lingfield on the flat.
1.10 Lingfield (Handicap) – PIRATE KING
A decent Class 3 handicap over a mile-and-a-half, one that could well go to Charlie Fellowes and his Pirate King after a very nice win over Battle Of Marathon here a month ago, a horse who has proven to be a good yardstick when assessing the various form lines in this event.
As a horse who has just turned five we can assume there’s a little bit more to come from this horse, one whose profile shows him to be very happy over this distance as it appears to be his absolute optimum, while it was also interesting to note that Kieran Shoemark is at Lingfield only for this mount before he heads to Kempton. Ralph Beckett’s former Aidan O’Brien horse Cliffs Of Donneen looks to be best of the rest.
2.05 Doncaster (River Don Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – CHAMPAGNE WELL
Course and distance winner Boss Man Fred will no doubt be very popular, his win at the back end of December reading well and entitling him to a step up to graded company, especially given that he took that race with a fair amount in hand.
Up in this sphere though, even with further improvement expected from Dan Skelton’s charge, he may well just fall short for my money and it could well be that his impressive unbeaten run is about to come to an end.
Enter Fergal O’Brien’s Champagne Well. The Cheltenham-based trainer had an option for this horse at home on Trials Day today back over 2½ miles, but it makes sense to come here instead.
Winning first time up for the campaign over 2m5f at Cheltenham, he stepped up from that when running over the same course and distance in place behind Thyme Hill at this level and that form alone would have entitled him to go very close in this contest.
He was upped to three miles in December, finishing a close second to Redford Road showing no real improvement but over this easier track another step forward is predicted which should most likely make him the one to be on.
Ramses De Teillee is back over hurdles now and should go OK for David Pipe and Tom Scudamore, but Paddy Brennan’s mount is probably the class act in this line-up right now and should prove it at what look to be reasonably attractive overnight odds.
2.40 Doncaster (Yorkshire Rose Mares’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – FLORESSA
This is a race that for many will revolve around last year’s winner Lady Buttons, an admirable ten-year-old mare who comes into this race on the back of yet another win, the 14th of her career.
That success was over fences while back over hurdles you can’t help but feel she’d need more of a test to be at her best, be it softer ground or a longer trip.
At this stage of her career it’s hard to see her being any better than twelve months ago, something that in giving away weight to Floressa could mean heartbreak for her many supporters.
Nicky Henderson’s five-year-old mare is a real improver, as she should be at this age, flying up through the ranks with two wins and a second in three hurdle starts so far. Her latest win at Newbury in Listed company reads well and with the prospect of plenty more to come from her, she should have enough to take of Philip Kirby’s local favourite.
The one to watch from an each-way perspective, even in a 6-runner field, is Kelly Morgan’s Timetochill who at around 12/1 overnight has been grossly underestimated.
Her two wins on the bounce in November will have taught her plenty and she is a fresh horse now having been off for a couple of months, so don’t be surprised off her racing weight if she puts it right up to the main pair.
9.49 Gulfstream Park (Pegasus World Cup Turf – Grade 1) – WITHOUT PAROLE
The former John Gosden-trained Without Parole, a St James’s Palace Stakes winner in 2018 at Royal Ascot, came back from a six-moth lay-off to run on extremely well at the death in the Breeders’ Cup Mile in November to eventually finish third, so now he’s back to full fitness and with this 1m1½f trip looking ideal he could be tough to beat under Frankie Dettori for master trainer Chad Brown.
Without Parole is arguably a forgotten horse but has genuine Group/Grade 1 pedigree, while both Hollywood Derby winner Mo Forza and Aidan O’Brien’s admiral Group 1 winner and last year’s runner-up Magic Wand are solid alternatives although their wide gates could negate their challenge somewhat which makes me more confident about the selection.
10.34 Gulfstream Park (Pegasus World Cup – Grade 1) – MUCHO GUSTO
Having already lost the majority of its purse, being a $3million dollar race instead of a $16million one, the fourth Pegasus has now cut up massively.
Firstly, crack dirt horses McKinzie and Maximum Security have given this a swerve to head instead for the Saudi Cup, while overnight on Thursday the race lost the top two in the market in the shape of Omaha Beach and Spun To Run with a suspected fracture and a skin rash respectively.
In their absence the solid one is Bob Baffert’s Mucho Gusto. Underestimated to a degree, the four-year-old beat Roadster and finished second to Maximum Security last year which reads very well, while he faded late having run well in the Travers Stakes making this 9-furlong trip look ideal.
Favourite may well be Higher Power, but he was flattered by his wide-margin Pacific Classic win and his other form doesn’t match up, perhaps leaving Tax as the value alternative to the selection from a good inside gate.