CHELTENHAM EYE with John Doyle

We are now into that nervous period before the Cheltenham Festival where news starts to come out on the stars that are not going to make the big Meeting.

You live in hope that your well laid plans are not crumbled to dust before the big test. The bookmakers will be offering non runner, no bet concessions now, making it easier to support your selection with confidence where a horse has more than one option at the Festival.

This week, we will look races earlier in the week.

Cantlow – JLT Speciality Steeple Chase

This race is a competitive staying handicap chase which has been won by some progressive young Chasers over the season. 2013 sees one of the JP McManus plots developing in the form of Cantlow. Following a super run in last season’s Pertemps Final, Cantlow was purchased by JP. In four runs over fences, all over inadequately shorter trips, Cantlow has won twice and sits on an attractive handicap mark for this main assignment of the year. Added to the planning here was a win at Plumpton to take advantage of the £60,000 bonus on offer for winning a race at Plumpton & the Cheltenham Festival. The race has plenty of dangers including Our Mick, third here in 2012 and running a promising comeback when unseating at Cheltenham Trials meeting. Other horses currently listed in the betting have alternative targets, so the hint on the meticulous planning behind Cantlow makes him an interesting contender to support

Balthazar King – Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase

The Cross Country Chase is usually ignored by the purists but over the years has been one of the most solvable Handicaps at the Festival. This year is no different with many of the runners easily ruled out, leaving a short group to consider as a winner of this contest. Balthazar King is by far the most interesting runner, winner of the race last season and a credible runner up over the course in December, showing an incredible liking for the course. An even more amazing statistic is the form figures of the horse following 90+ days break between his races (111111). Richard Johnson rides the course well and being the only runner without a major flaw in his profile makes him must support material.

Ruby Walsh, accompanied by Paul Nicholls, on Big Bucks after winning the LADBROKES World Hurdle

The Paul Nicholls stable are in a period of transition as the major star players for the last 6 Festivals are no longer in the mix. As such, the focus at the yard this year looks to be around the smaller fish at the Festival. One such inmate is Sam Winner. Following a Juvenile Hurdle campaign in 2011 where he was a strong finishing 4th in the Triumph Hurdle, he was sent over fences last season where he fell on both occasions. Given a year off, he reappeared over Hurdles in a Pertemps qualifier at Sandown in December, staying on to be a never nearer fifth. Nicholls confirmed that he would not run again over hurdles to protect his mark for this race. Sam Winner participated in a Jumpers Bumper at Kempton in late January demonstrating his well being by running our an impressive winner from the much higher rated, Peddlers Cross. With Ruby Walsh on board, he rates a strong contender.

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