With less than two months remaining to the beginning of the Cheltenham Festival, the racecourse stages its late January meeting at the weekend with the Argento Chase featuring as the one of the principal races on the card. Underfoot conditions are predicted to be testing for the 3m 1f contest but a competitive field is expected to assemble.
Ante-post favourite is the Paul Nicholls trained Rocky Creek whose only previous racecourse appearance this season was in finishing second to Triolo d’Alene in the Hennessey Gold Cup at Newbury. The 8 year old gelding appears to prefer easier ground but was only eighth in his sole previous visit to Cheltenham in the 2012 renewal of the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle. Even so, the Nicholls yard is in form and Rocky Creek can be backed at 5/2 with Paddy Power while Triolo d’Alene may bypass this race as he prefers a sounder surface.
Theatre Guide finished one place behind Rocky Creek at Newbury and has since finished a narrow second to Monbeg Dude over course and distance. He has displayed decent form on soft ground but despite his 6/1 quote by Coral, he will meet Rocky Creek on unfavourable terms compared to the Hennessy.
Third favourite HOUBLON DES OBEAUX was back in sixth place in the Hennessy but was not suited by the quicker ground. The Venetia Williams trained horse won the Ascot Silver Cup over three miles just before Christmas (see video below) and is treated quite favorably at the weights for this race despite being asked to shoulder 11st 6lb. He is priced at 6/1 with BetVictor.
One of the more interesting contenders who may feature on Saturday is The Giant Bolster who has finished second and fourth in the last two renewals of the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He last raced on this course in a hurdle race on New Year’s Day and it was no surprise when he finished well adrift after being outpaced. The horse prefers a galloping track and a real test of stamina but will not wish for conditions too demanding. If trainer David Bridgwater declares him as a runner, the odds of 10/1 with SkyBet are quite appealing.
The Kim Bailey trained Harry Topper is another intended runner with proven form on heavy going. However, he will need to improve his jumping and has yet to be tested around the gradients of Cheltenham but 888Sport are quoting odds of 10/1 for his chances on Saturday.
Saturday is also expected to mark the return of World Hurdle favourite Big Bucks to a racecourse and he is quoted at 8/11 with Boylesports for his comeback appearance in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham. Yet Reve De Sivola will surely have the advantage in race fitness and can be backed at 3/1 with William Hill to finally end the winning streak of the Paul Nicholls horse.
Over in Ireland, Sunday’s Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown may feature Hurricane Fly, Jezki and Our Conor. In an expected tactical affair, Our Conor may benefit from his previous race when third to the same opponents in the Ryanair Hurdle. Lack of fitness denied him that day and he is priced at 4/1 with Paddy Power to assume superiority
on this occasion.
10pts win – Houblon des Obeaux – 6/1 BetVictor
5pts win – Our Conor – 4/1 Paddy Power
Race Replay: Silver Cup, Ascot, 21-12-2013
Houblon Des Obeaux digs deep to see off a strong challenge from Cedre Bleu.
Images courtesy: Meteorshoweryn