IN the first of a seven part series, our racing man Graeme Johnston (@GraemeJ_83) picks out a horse he'll be supporting at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival.
Cheltenham Festival Fancies | 14-17 March 2017
The Twisten-Davies name has rose back to prominence in horse racing circles in recent years. Nigel has had a steady stream of top-class horses over the decade including Imperial Commander, Khyber Kim and The New One.
On top of this, his son Sam has turned into one of the big names in the jump jockey's weighing room and is No.1 jockey to champion trainer Paul Nichols.
It's to the Twiston-Davies stable that I'm turning my attention to for my opening Cheltenham Festival Fancies article. I like one of his runners in the SunBets Stayers Hurdle, the premier race on Day 3 of the Festival.
Ballyoptic is currently trading (as I write) at best price 14/1 and I think there's value in that. This 7 year-old ticks a lot of boxes for me and should be a threat to strong favourite Unowhatimeanharry come mid-March.
He burst onto the scene last year by winning his first four starts over hurdles. The first two of those were unspectacular novice hurdle races but the third made everyone sit up and take notice.
Yes, from two mid-grade novice wins Ballyoptic moved up to Grade 1 company at Aintree and continued his winning run, all in the space of just two months. Winning a Grade 1 and getting the better of Bellshill is not to be sniffed at.
From there he tasted victory in a Grade 3 at Chepstow in the autumn before the competition got a bit stiffer. He took a tumble at Wetherby in October before being beaten by Unowhatimeanharry at Newbury in November.
He took on the Frank Bruno inspired horse again in the Long Walk at Ascot and was giving him a run for his money before he fell again. Clearly this is a negative, although I do think he is a decent jumper.
Ballyoptic stays very well and though he seems to have a preference for softer ground he has won on good before. As I said earlier, he ticks a lot of boxes as a selection as he stays, he is being aimed at the race and has Spring form in the book.
In a race that will push your stamina to the limit I'm backing Ballyoptic each way at the prices as given an error free round I expect him to pick up some prize money at a nice price.
Graeme Johnston's Festival Fancies
Stayers Hurdle – Ballyoptic each way (14/1 Betfair)