THE Cheltenham Festival countdown is well and truly underway and our man Graeme Johnston (@GraemeJ_83) eyes up potential candidates.
Cheltenham Countdown | 16th January 2017
All roads lead to Cheltenham at the moment and we're just under two months away from the National Hunt highlight. I'll take a look at some of the weekends races and try and find some pointers for the big festivals.
American won the big staying novice chase and won it in fine style. He jumped well and handled the ground and is clearly a talented horse. However connections have said he doesn't take racing well and despite being unexposed and an impressive winner I wouldn't be backing him ante-post as I'm not sure where he will end up.
Champers on Ice was a little disappointing, he needed niggles along from a long way out and never looked like winning. However he stayed well and with the yard not throwing out as many winners as usual he could be one to keep an eye on. He strikes me as a real stayer and is one to keep an eye on when stepped up to extreme distances.
Willoughby Court won the staying novices hurdle well and clearly enjoys the course as it's his third win there already. Conditions seemed to favour him, and although I don't think there was any fluke about his victory I'm not sure I would rush out to back him next time out if he was on a flat track on good ground for example.
Gayebury ran well on only his second lover hurdles staying on well late on, but the one I took from the race was Peregrine Run. Despite his winning run coming to an end he travelled really well and when he encounters better ground he could get back on the winning trail.
One For Arthur won the Betfred Classic and was immediately aimed at the Grand National by connections. He's not guarantee to make the handicap for that race, however if he does he would have a live chance. He's already been over the National fences and stays very well. He's still available at big prices for the race however the doubts over his participation makes it a risky bet.
Vaniteux got the better of Vibrato Valtat in what would have been a Grade 1 race once upon a time. Both find winning difficult and I would continue to oppose Vibrato Valtat.
Vaniteux may gain confidence from that victory, however it's worth noting all of his career victories have come between November and February and he's never won two races in a row so I'm not in a hurry to back either of these any time soon.
Modus was a very impressive winner of the Lanzarote Hurdle and after competing in numerous big handicaps finally got his head in front. He travelled noticeably well throughout and the extra distance seems to have transformed him. He's not been the most reliable of horses however he has a lot of talent and if he arrives in that form could be hard to beat in the Coral Cup.
From what I seen over the weekend I'll have a small bet on Modus ante-post for the Coral Cup, however at the price he is I don't see too much value given how competitive the market will be on the day.
I will also take a chance on Champers on Ice in the National Hunt Chase where he is available at big odds. I hope connection have a similar opinion to me that he will relish the trip and I think it's his most likely opportunity for a festival win.
National Hunt Chase – Champers On Ice to win (25/1 Ladbrokes)