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Mark your Card: your best bets on a bumper day of horse racing

It doesn’t get much better than today’s double whammy at Cheltenham and Leopardstown. Declan Smyth picks the winners.

Image: Nigel French/EMPICS Sport

FOLLOWING INSPECTIONS EARLY this morning, racing at Cheltenham Trials Day and the first of two days at Leopardstown looks set to go ahead this afternoon. The recent weather, particularly in the UK, has posed lots of problems for trainers preparing their horses for the upcoming meetings and with the Cheltenham Festival looming large, many will be anxious to get a run.

Triumph Hurdle Trial (Grade 2)

Proceedings at Prestbury Park get under way at 12.10pm when the tapes go up for the Triumph Hurdle Trial, a Grade 2 race over 2m1f.

Initial prices seem to suggest that this is a two-horse race between Irish Saint and Rolling Star. The former impressed on his debut for Paul Nicholls at Kempton in December, winning to impressively follow up on a listed hurdle win at Auteuil in September. These were his only two starts and he should be open for improvement.

Rolling Star was a maiden on the flat in France before winning his only start over hurdles at Auteuil in October. He makes his debut here for Nicky Henderson and has to be respected; the form is hard to evaluate though and market moves should be noted.

Knight Of Pleasure beat another well regarded Nicholls horse For Two at Sandown three weeks ago. He should be open to improvement on that, his only start, and represents good-each way value but take a chance instead that IRISH SAINT can get the job done.

Victor Chandler Chase (Grade 1)

The Grade 1 Victor Chandler Chase, transferred from last week’s cancelled Ascot card, goes off at 1.50pm. Remarkably, eight runners have been declared to take on Sprinter Sacre, no doubt attracted by the place money down to 6th.

Henderson’s horse looks a class above everything else at this grade but is no value unless you want to put him in multiple bets. Considering chief threat Sanctuaire is only 15/2, each-way value is there with Kumbeshwar at 40/1. Still, SPRINTER SACRE can’t be opposed.

Argento Chase (Grade 2)

The Grade 2 Argento Chase over 3m1f 110yds will be a real test and the late withdrawal of Tidal Bay this morning has shaken up the field a bit further.

Midnight Chase, winner of this race last year, pulled up behind Tidal Bay at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival.

Another leading contender, Grand Crus, had a wind op prior to the King George and might actually come on for that run.

Imperial Commander finally gets back on the track since pulling up in the Gold Cup two years ago and while he does run well fresh, it would be some training performance if he was to win. Hunt Ball will have to improve further if he is to take a hand.

Neptune Novice Hurdle (Grade 2)

The Grade 2 Neptune Novice Hurdle over 2m4f 110yds goes off at 3.00pm.

At Fishers Cross has five wins from seven starts but steps up in class here; he probably has a bit to find with a couple of the others but if he has continued to improve could take a hand.

Coneygree drops back in trip here which doesn’t look ideal considering he is probably an out and out stayer. He is going to have to make the running here to bring his stamina into play which could set it up for the others.

An interesting runner is Whisper from the Nicky Henderson yard. An impressive winner of a bumper at his owner’s Ffos Lass in April, he reappeared there in December and won a novice hurdle in nice fashion. Again, an interesting runner but this is a big step up.

Preference is for THE NEW ONE who was hugely impressive when winning a Grade 2 Hurdle at Warwick. Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies believes he could be the best he’s had and make him the selection to back that claim up.

Cleeve Hurdle (Grade 2)

Oscar Whiskey faces a moment of truth in the Cleeve Hurdle over 3m at 3.35pm. He faded rapidly in the World Hurdle at the festival in March and his trainer has been unable to shed any light on why. The suspicion is that he doesn’t get the trip and with the ground the way it is, it’s hard to back him even though he is the form horse in the race.

A few chasers revert to the smaller obstacles here but don’t inspire, while Crackaway Jack looks good each-way value. Take a chance with REVE DI SIVOLA who reverted to hurdles in impressive fashion in a Grade 1 hurdle at Ascot in December in the mud and will relish conditions here.

Arkle Chase (Grade 1)

Leopardstown are set to stage a great weekend’s racing and hopefully the rain that teemed down yesterday doesn’t cause too many problems. Only three runners go to post for the Grade 1 Arkle Chase which is a bit of a disappointment.

Arvika Ligeonniere, Oscars Well and Benefficient renew rivalry here after meeting each other in the Racing Post Chase at Christmas. The Willie Mullins-trained Arvika Ligeonniere set a strong pace that day to bring his stamina into play and it appeared that Oscars Well was unable to line up with him. Even when the leader jumped alarmingly to the right and then appeared to idle in front, Oscars Well was unable to take advantage and Arvika Ligeonniere came home an impressive winner.

Provided there are no mishaps ARVIKA LIGEONNIERE should again oblige from Oscars Well with Benefficient picking up the minor money.

Boylesports Novice Chase (Grade 2)

In the Boylesports Novice Chase over 2m5f, Marito and Mount Benbulben renew their Naas rivalry where the latter’s jumping probably let him down with just a head separating the two at the line. If Mount Benbulben got his jumping together he could be a serious proposition, while Marito is sure to benefit from the step up in trip and looks to handle the larger obstacles well.

Texas Jack has struggled to fulfill his early promise and is hard to fancy, so preference is for Jim Culloty’s LORD WINDERMERE. He has four wins and two seconds from nine starts and he has won on heavy ground albeit over shorter distances.

Reproduced with permission from WhiteFlagIsRaised.com >>

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About the author:

Declan Smyth

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