Recap a busy New Year’s Day in racing as Aso extended Venetia Williams’ red-hot run, Midnight Shadow won the Relkeel and Al Boum Photo took the feature in Ireland.

Non-runner, no bet on all Cheltenham Festival races

Lostintranslation wins Dipper | Fenton saddles winner | Picture perfect return for Photo

1540: Right then, time for us to wave goodbye but not before thanking you for following the blog today.

There were some taking winners at Cheltenham, with classy horses winning the handicaps – Aso, Beware The Bear, Aux Ptit Soins – and a new kid emerging on the Stayers’ block in Midnight Shadow.

Lostintranslation gets the gold star from me, however. The way he powered up the hill having not quite been able to match Defi Du Seuil for speed was extremely taking and it’s clear from his reaction that Colin Tizzard really rates this horse.

Over in Ireland, Al Boum Photo beat Total Recall in the feature at Tramore and both horses could yet emerge as Gold Cup candidates for Wilie Mullins, yet to win the race. Perhaps the latter is more Grand National but if it is the Gold Cup, he’s perhaps capable of running into a place as he’d threatened to do last year.

Much of this will be covered in Lydia Hislop’s next Road to Cheltenham, and we’ll leave you with the update published on the final day of 2018. Best of luck for 2019 from all of us.

Clan Des Obeaux announced himself on the big stage

Click on the image to read the latest Road to Cheltenham

1534: Regrettably, Angel’s Acclaim is slowly away – though not as slowly as Luath.

Angel’s Acclaim did then move nicely into the race, just as she had the time before, but it’s near impossible to make up that kind of ground at Southwell and she’s a staying-on second, never nearer, beaten a length and a half.

The race was lost in the first 50 yards. Unfortunate, that, and you’re mad to give up on her if she’s found a similar opportunity.

1525: We’re going to wind the blog up before the bumper – rest required before tonight’s darts final, brought to you live by Chris Hammer – but first let’s see if Angel’s Acclaim can justify confidence and make it a winning nap to just about end the day’s action.

He’s 9/2 and a solid favourite. Luath, who made up ground near the rail last time, looks the danger to me at 15/2. Be very tempted to double up.

1523: Let’s tidy up some reaction to earlier events with Sky Bet prepared to quote 20/1 (NRNB) about Aso winning the Ryanair Chase.

Granted, he’s won a good handicap today, off top weight against inferior horses, and at a time his yard can do no wrong. Still, he ran well in the 2017 Ryanair and it’s easy to see him doing so again. Probably can’t win, though.

Aso jumps for fun on his way to victory at Cheltenham

Aso jumps for fun on his way to victory at Cheltenham

As for Aux Ptit Soins, he’s 25/1 from 50s for the Stayers’ Hurdle.

Now nine and having won today off a mark of 141, it seems unlikely that he’ll prove capable of bridging the gap between a decent handicap and the top level, but he is very much unexposed and was rated 152 when fifth in the race when Thistlecrack won it.

That came off a year-long absence when sent off 16/1 and maybe, were connections inclined, he could go a couple of places better and nab a place. I don’t see why anyone would wish to speculate at 25/1, mind.

Should also mention that Midnight Shadow is 20/1 for the same race after winning the Relkeel. He looks speedy and is no more interesting, although there are far shrewder racing minds and some of them appear to disagree.

Aux Ptits Soins streaks clear at Cheltenham

Aux Ptits Soins streaks clear at Cheltenham

1516: Great finish this. Three in a line approaching the last but it’s Midnight Shadow who is travelling best. Wholestone tries to go with him but the younger horse will win and take another step up the ladder. In the end perhaps the favourite’s lack of a turn of foot costs him his title.

Old Guard is a gallant third, as well you’d expect him to be.

1514: Role reversal three out as the favourite wings it. Nothing between them but watch out for Midnight Shadow in fourth. Old Guard completes front quartet and they’re clear.

1513: Side-by-side the front two until Wholestone makes a mistake four out. Long way to go from there still.

1511: Daryl Jacob aiming to keep it simple on Wholestone, sitting on the shoulder of Clyne. Sensible pace would be my token description.

1509: Looks like Wholestone will go off 6/4 with Old Guard 4/1 and Clyne 9/2. It’s 15/2 bar in a six-runner Relkeel.

1506: White Moon, behind Defi Du Seuil last time, is an impressive winner at Exeter despite a loose horse causing interference. Very stylish though he didn’t have a great deal to beat.

1504: Two more to go at Cheltenham and Wholestone is a strong 5/4 favourite for the Relkeel Hurdle at 3.10.

His Cheltenham form reads 1-2-1-1-3-1-2-3, latterly an excellent third in the Stayers’ Hurdle, and he won this race last year. That was on much deeper ground and there’s a slight worry he could be tapped for toe, but he was a ready winner under similar conditions to these at Aintree and there aren’t many fast horses in opposition.

Clyne should help ensure a decent gallop and he’s respected, having been second when Wholestone flopped at Newbury last time. However, ‘at Newbury’ is key: while Wholestone has never gone well there, this is his turf and Clyne runs at the track for the first time.

Old Guard wasn’t suited by the way the race panned out last time and should do better here, having previously been third in the Greatwood, but he was nine lengths behind Wholestone in this race last year and will do well to bridge the gap.

As for the rest, Midnight Shadow is improving and has conditions to suit. It’s his first time at Cheltenham and recent wins at Ayr and Aintree might hint at a potential issue, but he did win at Uttoxeter as a novice.

Thomas Campbell returns to hurdles with the latent ability to get competitive while Cyrius Darius is in a tongue tie for the first time at the age of 10.

All can be given a chance but the favourite is a strong fancy.

1458: We’re very much hoping Kevin Ryan can secure a measure of compensation in the last at Southwell in around 30 minutes, with Matt Brocklebank’s nap a solid fancy.

1456: Drama at Musselburgh where Iconic Belle falls two out and almost brings down Kajaki, the pair appearing set to dominate at the time.

Kajaki goes on to finish a length second to nine-year-old Chebsey Beau in the first-time tongue-tie, an 11/2 chance who won here on the level in September but had been in poor form over both hurdles and fences since.

The runner-up travelled powerfully throughout and was probably a little unlucky there.

1447: News from Tramore to bring you where Philip Fenton trained his first winner since returning from a three-year ban as 25/1 chance Secret Cargo broke his duck.

Fenton, who trained Champion Bumper winner Dunguib, was banned from December 2014 to July last year and it was Secret Cargo who marked his return six months ago when beaten in a bumper.

Click here for a report and reaction.

1446: Two races left in the ITV7 and two short-priced favourites, namely Kajaki in the 2.50 and Wholestone back at Cheltenham in 25 minutes.

Just waiting to see if any of the three players remaining after four races are still standing after five…

1442: A good day for the class horses in these Cheltenham handicaps. Aux Ptit Soins wasn’t top weight having dropped down the handicap before joining Dan Skelton, but on his second start for the yard he’ll be rocketing back up.

He was always travelling well, took it up at the top of the hill, quickly asserted and found plenty for pressure. As straightforward as it gets for what looked a competitive race.

1441: Taken a pull on Aux Ptit Soins three out, which he bunny-hopped. On the bit.

1440: Gone a real gallop here, the favourite is looming in about sixth.

1436: Al Boum Photo is 20/1 from 33/1 for the Gold Cup with Sky Bet, who are non-runner, no bet, after winning well on his return at Tramore.

Stablemate Total Recall is a big price at 33/1 but his age and the fact he had a go last year are against him. Easy to see him running well in it, though.

Off at Cheltenham.

1434: Late plunge on De Name Evades Me…

1433: Yep, another winner for Williams. What a couple of days they’re having. Sky Bet, by the way, are five places on the upcoming Simplify Horse Racing Selections With Betfinder At BetBright Handicap Hurdle.

1432: Right, Cheltenham. Aux Ptit Soins – the selection of Simon Holt – is a solid favourite for a competitive handicap hurdle.

Jersey Bean should go well, while after Venetia Williams won the previous race to maintain the stable’s red-hot form, of course we should keep an eye on Shalakar – who is a boosted even-money for a top-five finish with Sky Bet.

Looks like Williams might have another winner at Exeter, actually, with Achille going well in front turning in.

1430: Hashtag hair of the dog.

1427: No last-fence drama here, gladly, as Al Boum Photo beats Total Recall convincingly, with Invitation Only third in a Mullins one-two-three.

That’s a serious performance from the winner, always ideally placed, but also an encouraging return from the runner-up who may well be aimed at the Grand National again.

1426: Four clear, three of which belong to Mullins. Al Boum goes well in front but Total Recall is out after him.

1425: Circuit to go. Al Boum Photo looked set to take it up only to blunder the fence in front of the stands but he’s done so now, five out. You don’t want to be far from the pace here and he’s going well in front with several outpaced.

1424: Two circuits to go, bunched behind the leader Last Goodbye but Invitation Only has made one serious mistake. Total Recall and Alpha Des Obeaux in last trio.

1421: Off in the feature at Tramore with Al Boum Photo a drifting favourite. He’s third jumping the second fence with Sub Lieutenant taking them along.

1419: Chica Buena sees off Get Out The Gate after a barging match down the straight, only to have her pocket picked by Normal Norman, who’d last been seen finishing mid-pack at Cheltenham in November.

The son of Shamardal did well to win that having made up plenty of ground but you have to feel for the filly, who was almost put through the wing two out and can surely win more good races without proving Triumph Hurdle class.

1417: Interesting reaction from Colin Tizzard to Lostintranslation’s earlier victory in the Dipper at Cheltenham.

“He could be our next good one, I think. We’ve been blessed to have Cue Card, Thistlecrack and Native River and this one is right in the same groove ability-wise as they were at this stage of their career.”

He suggests it could be RSA rather than JLT but his next run will tell us more. Click here for our full report.

1415: Off at Musselburgh with the favourite heavily supported and popular among the 6,378 remaining ITV7 players. After this we’ll talk Tramore once more.

1410: Four places from Sky Bet in the next ITV race and you may need them, as the Betway Hogmaneigh Handicap Hurdle looks competitive.

Favourite is Chica Buena at 11/4, a fascinating filly who is four today. She won here a couple of starts back off a mark of 112 but, having subsequently trounced her rivals by 23 lengths at Aintree, returns off a 20lb higher mark.

The form of her course win is very solid, though, and she might just be up to defying the hike.

Still, I’ve taken her on with Irish Roe, whose second at Doncaster was franked earlier today. She typically plies her trade in a slightly better class of race and should go well.

1407: A Frodon-esque performance from Aso, who is just a bit too good for these and defies top weight to win and confirm that he could be a Ryanair Chase player.

Second went to Happy Diva, ridden patiently but never quite able to get on terms. Another for Venetia.

1406: Aso reaches for the third last and Ballyhill looms with Happy Diva also with them. One of the three.

1405: Aso took it up with a mile and a half to go and is now pressing on, jumping well. Born Survivor and Happy Diva might be the dangers.

1403: Divine Spear not really taking a cut at them at this point but still in touch with a circuit to go. Aso in third, Happy Diva behind him, all to play for as Foxtail Hill stacks them up.

1401: They are not hanging around as Foxtail Hill and Born Survivor take them along. Early mistake from Dustin Des Mottes and he’s in rear with Happy Diva and Divine Spear.

1400: I can tell you that 17,288 progress to the second race of the ITV7, which this is. Around 20 per cent of them are on Aso as late money comes for my selection (Matt Brocklebank’s selection, really) Born Survivor at 7/2.

1355: Just seven left in the Grade Three Download The BetBright App Handicap Chase, which is due off on the hour.

Aso and Divine Spear share favouritism at 7/2, with Dustin Des Mottes backed into 5/1. He should enjoy a return to a left-handed track and is respected from the foot of the weights.

ITV Racing’s Oli Bell is sweet on Happy Diva for reasons given in the below preview, which you can read by clicking the image. Simon Holt, whose preview is here, agrees.

Richard Johnson rides one of Oli's fancies

Oli Bell’s New Year’s Day bets

1353: That handicap hurdle at Tramore I mentioned earlier goes to Elliott and Askari, with Mullins’ Ask And Bob second and, as should’ve already been clear to me, vulnerable to improvers.

Next there is the feature for which Al Boum Photo is a strong 6/4 favourite with Sky Bet, who go 7/2 that he wins by four lengths or more. Suspect that’ll prove difficult at the track and I’d be happy to take him on anyway, perhaps with both Alpha Des Obeaux and Total Recall.

1346: Here’s Lostintranslation powering up the hill to score at Cheltenham…

1345: Knockgraffon gets up at Musselburgh to deny Forth Bridge, winning the race for the second year in succession.

1342: Duke Debarry wins at Catterick, taking Henderson’s record there to 3-6 over the last five years. You were definitely warned about that one.

1340: Antepost reaction for you and Lostintranslation is 8/1 from 16/1 for the JLT Novices’ Chase with Sky Bet, who remember are non-runner, no bet on all Cheltenham Festival races as of this morning.

Defi Du Seuil remains shorter at 7/1 but while he was conceding 3lb today, I’m not sure it’d have altered the result. Much rather the winner, personally.

The winner is also 14/1 for the RSA Chase but the intermediate trip looks preferable. Black Op meanwhile has been eased slightly for the three-mile race and at 16/1 I wouldn’t be giving up on him just yet.

Sky Bet’s Michael Shinners: “Stamina appeared to win the day for Lostinstranslation and while a couple of the leading contenders appeared to run below expectations, this race looks sure to have a major impact on the spring festivals.

“We’ve gone 8/1 for the JLT and 14/1 for the RSA Chase with Colin Tizzard clearly having a very talented and improving young horse on his hands.”

1335: Five minutes and counting to get your selections in for the free-to-play ITV7.

Mine are: Knockgraffon (though I might be about to jump ship…), Born Survivor, Irish Roe (form franked by Cliffs Of Dover), Achille, Jersey Bean, Kajaki, Wholestone. Please don’t select the same ones you daft idiot.

ITV7 - Play for free

ITV7 – Play for free by clicking the image

1332: Lostintranslation gets back up to beat Defi Du Seuil and is going away at the line. A really nice performance – he jumped well at a good pace out in front, was then pressured and headed, but jumped the last well and really saw out his race.

Black Op has some engine, that’s clear, but needs to jump better while Defi had no excuse really. He came to win the race but was just outstayed up the hill. Might he be interesting off a fast pace in the Grand Annual?

1331: Defi looming upsides. Black Op rallying somehow .Defi leads two out.

1330: All to play for between the three at the front, with Lost leading Defi and Black Op. Front-runner has jumped best but Defi generally good. Black Op doing well to stick with them for now having clouted a few.

1329: Black Op and On The Blind Side both poor over the eighth, the latter way, way behind now.

1328: Bowling along here is Lostintranslation. Black Op poor over the fourth and fifth. Very poor at the fifth actually. On The Blind Side detached, other three tightly grouped. Defi keen.

1326: Lostintranslation wings the first, On The Blind Side was slow and is last of four, 10 lengths behind over the third.

1325: As they leap off in the Dipper, a reminder if you were with us earlier that Henderson has one runner away from Cheltenham today and it comes at Catterick, where Duke Debarry is really interesting despite having a little to find.

That race is in 10 minutes and the horse in question looks like going off around the 5/2 mark.

1324: Market righting itself here at Chelteham, with late money for the highly promising On The Blind side seeing him join Defi at the head of the betting, with Lostintranslation slightly easy to back. Still, it’s 5/2 twice, 11/4 and 3/1. As competitive as it gets given the field size.

1322: Cliffs Of Dover dots up at Exeter under Bryony Frost, riding the horse for the first time. Had this horse finished in the front two when last he ran, I’d have run the table. He went from seventh to first over the last couple… then flattened out and finished third. Seven ran after a non-runner. I don’t (well…) want to talk about it.

Three minutes until we put that behind us with the Dipper.

1321: Emotional day for Fergal O’Brien, no doubt, having had a winner and a third but also had to wave goodbye to a stable stalwart…

1320: Matter-of-fact from Tom George, which I quite liked. Of Black Op, he says:

“He’s come on a lot for his run at Exeter. He’s done plenty of schooling since then, he’s ready to go and take the next step in his chasing career. It’s a nice race, but he’s a nice horse. You can make a case for any of them, really.”

Yes, you can. Current odds: 9/4 Defi Du Seuil; 11/4 Lostintranslation; 3/1 Black Op, On The Blind Side

1317: No Catching Pigeons today – it’ll return at the weekend – but had there been one, fair to say On The Blind Side would’ve headlined it.

“He jumps well at home, but has just taken his time to come to hand this season,” said trainer Nicky Henderson.

“I am looking forward to running him – I don’t like throwing them in there against horses like Defi Du Seuil and Black Op, but we have got to get on with him.

“There was Haydock in heavy ground, but it was no thanks and Lingfield in heavy ground was no thanks as well. The distance is right and the ground is right.

“It is just about getting the run into him. This is all about clear rounds. Two and a half miles is perfect for him. We thought about going up to three, but I don’t think he wanted it.”

Did enjoy Mr Henderson finding the only two tracks in the world where there’s been heavy ground as a means to justifying the delayed return of this potential star. I’m sure there would’ve been a race at Sandown or Kempton or Ascot or Newbury or (insert any one of literally every other track).

1312: Heartbreak for backers of Knock House at Musselburgh as he’s reeled in by Jet Master, just about the outsider of five and matched at upwards of 100/1 in-running.

The runner-up would’ve been completing a double for Donald McCain after he saddled the winner of the second race at Catterick, with daughter Abbie doing the steering.

1308: If, like me, you fear that three cracks at the four-runner Dipper might not be enough (edited as Crucial Role is a non-runner), Sky Bet are at least helping by offering money back as a free bet if second.

I think Defi Du Seuil ought to be favourite, but that On The Blind Side might be the best of them long term, and that Black Op will win good races and so too will Lostintranslation.

Conclusion? No bet, but it’s going to be a fascinating race to watch.

1303: Next at Cheltenham is the Dipper, the most interesting race of the day for my money. For most people’s money, really. Previous winners include My Way De Solzen, Oscar Whisky, Whisper and Yanworth, plus a personal favourite, My Will.

Courtesy of Racing TV, Jonathan Neesom has made the case for On The Blind Side. Watch the video while I buy confectionery.

1300: A first winner of the year (I’ll stop doing this soon) for Willie Mullins as My Sister Sarah does as expected and regains the winning thread. Never really in doubt, that, and after she took it up over the second last it was simply a case of clearing the final flight. The second did rally but the winner probably had a bit left in the tank.

1257: Second start back from wind surgery, first start in blinkers, drop in class, market support, aggressive ride.

Beware The Bear had this race won with a mile to go. Shanroe Santos ran on for second for Sporting Life columnist Daryl Jacob but this was all about one horse, even if he did get a little tired up the hill.

1255: The Druids Nephew pulled up, sadly. Wonder if that might be that for him. Still Beware The Bear in front but being taken on by Perfect Candidate – no hiding place here.

1253: Now, not that anyone thought that favourite would get beat, but we did say this earlier:

“At Fakenham, watch out for Olly Murphy. He’s saddled 75 runners at the track since taking out a licence and 21 of them have won, a strike-rate of 28%. With eight runners on the card, those numbers suggest a couple might well go in and Murphy of course saddled the final winner of 2018.”

Murphy has just made it 22 from 76, the latest at 11/1 in a three-horse race. You were (sort of but also not really) warned.

At Cheltenham, Beware The Bear is being ridden aggressively in the blinkers and leads over the ninth, with The Druids Nephew ridden with extreme patience.

1251: Off at Cheltenham, 2/11 favourite beaten at Fakenham.

1248: Fergal O’Brien won twitter in 2018 and he’ll be hard to beat in 2019, too. Don’t rule out 12/1 chance Perfect Candidate here, either – at his best he’s chucked in (has won off 152, races off 143) and loves it here.

1245: Five minutes from the second at Cheltenham, the Join The BetBright Racing Club Handicap Chase.

Beware The Bear was the morning mover and remains strong in the market at 5/1, with Some Chaos and Rolling Dylan both on offer at 7/2.

There’s some each-way money for The Druids Nephew, once a Cheltenham Festival winner of course. He’s now 9lb lower and wasn’t beaten far when last seen, but that was in April 2017 and he’s now 12. Hard to know what to expect.

It’s Beware The Bear for me.

Meanwhile Extra Mag does get the job done at Exeter, rallying after making a mess of the last to win a shade cosily. Fakenham’s card is under way and Paul Nicholls trains the 2/11 jolly in the first which will surely oblige.

1239: Some turn-ups already today and interesting that Extra Mag has drifted a fair bit for the opener at Exeter. He’d been odds-on overnight and was unlucky not to make a winning debut over timber at Wetherby. Against him are runners from Alan King, Harry Fry and Philip Hobbs but he looks like he’ll be hard to beat.

It’s all go. All. Go.

1237: Point North finished fourth at Southwell. More importantly, our first glimpse of the Sky Sports Racing changes with a lovely camera angle which I can’t accurately describe – sort of like the quick turnaround French shots you get after an Arc. You know?

1236: You can’t have everything, and clearly for Racing TV it’s fantastic that they’ve got some high-class Irish action to add to their package, and today would’ve been busy anyway… but not being able to hear from connections of the Cheltenham winner yet is a shame. The rhythm of what was Racing UK is, for now and quite understandably, missing.

1234: Jarveys Plate and his previous conqueror, Elixir De Nutz, are both 20/1 for the Ballymore with Sky Bet following today’s opener at Cheltenham.

As of 8am this morning, it’s non-runner, no bet on all Cheltenham Festival races.

Sky Bet Non Runner No Bet at Cheltenham

Sky Bet are Non Runner No Bet at Cheltenham – click to see the latest prices

1230: The channel may have changed but that’s about it. Two races in Ireland in 2019, two winners for Gigginstown, the second courtesy of 3/1 shot Swordsman at Fairyhouse as 10/11 favourite Momus can only finish third.

1227: Reaction from Cheltenham to come but quickly a word on the first at Southwell, where Point Zero is out again.

He’s now 0-12 but more pertinently has been runner-up on all five Southwell starts, trading at very short odds on more than one occasion. He was dropped back to five furlongs again last time but was no match for Global Melody, who runs later on today.

Chances are something beats him again, possibly newcomer Hanati, and he’s 1/2 with Sky Bet not to win.

1224: It’s a handsome compliment to Elixir De Nutz, who beat Jarveys Plate here in December and could run in Saturday’s Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown.

Jarveys Plate’s only prior run over hurdles, at Hereford, had also worked out (fourth winner since, second runner-up in hot novices’ hurdle) but with a rating of 126 that either wasn’t much of a race after all or he’s taken a big step forward. Suspect a bit of both.

1221: A reputation dented as I Can’t Explain is disappointing. Jarveys Plate (12/1), on the other hand, has absolutely dotted up, powering clear up the hill to win by 12 or so lengths.

I Can’t Explain did run on to snatch second on the line, shaping as though already in need of a trip, but he’d won over two miles (admittedly on horrible ground) last time.

1217: Favourite buried away as Darlac takes them along. Anemoi made a mistake after half a mile or so and as they pass the stands with a circuit to go he’s pulled his way up to pressure the pace. I Can’t Explain has all six rivals in front of him.

1215: OFF at 12:15:45 (unofficially). A solid start to the year. Good luck with your bets.

1214: Chris Coley’s colours represented by Jarveys Plate in the opener here. No relation to me, but it didn’t stop one member of the family getting in without a ticket once or twice before those fancy turnstiles were unleashed.

I do not condone such behaviour. Obviously.

1212: The first Irish race on Racing TV and the first race of the year went to Notebook, ridden by Rachael Blackmore for Henry de Bromhead. He was sent off at 9/4 and held off favourite Janidil.

You can of course keep tabs on all the results in the usual place, but do be sure to check out our brand new Fast Results app, too.

You can download our new app NOW

You can download our new app NOW – click on the image for info

1210: There’s no doubt I Can’t Explain is held in extremely high regard at Seven Barrows and he’s an odds-on favourite for the first race of 2019 at Cheltenham, the Listed Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.

He was a professional winner at Sandown in a race the yard have used as a springboard for smart types before and as a three-mile point winner, stepping up to 2m4f will only help. It’s no surprise opening 6/4 shows last night were soon taken and he’s strong at 8/11.

Henderson will know where he stands with second-favourite Anemoi, who beat Pym at Ascot before scoring from the penalty spot at Doncaster. Also up in trip, he looks the danger having looked as though he’d learn plenty with racing.

Darlac sets the bar at 139 and probably won’t be good enough, while Mr Pumblechook might have wanted some rain and may lack scope.

1205: Finally, before we focus on the upcoming opener, the Listed bumper. Gulp.

Glory And Fortune has been well-backed. I like trainer Tom Lacey, who operates to a level-stake profit in such races, and the money for this gelded four-year-old has to be respected.

That said, Martyn Meade introduced a smart newcomer on the Flat yesterday and his Cascova, a winner at Huntingdon, gets the token vote. The third and fourth have both gone close since, the second was very well-fancied on the day, and Nico de Boinville’s booking catches the eye.

1200: On to the Relkeel Hurdle and Wholestone’s bid to win the race for the second year running. His form at Cheltenham is just so strong and while I respect Clyne, who ran well last time, Wholestone should win.

Old Guard – Sky Bet’s Price Boost at 8/13 for a top-three finish – will surely go well whether in victory or defeat and Thomas Campbell is somewhat interesting, but at this track, on this ground, Wholestone is a class above. I hope.

Click the image below for Daryl Jacob’s take…

Check out the Daryl Jacob column

Check out the Daryl Jacob column

1155: The Simplify Horse Racing Selections With Betfinder At BetBright Handicap Hurdle – yes, that is the race title – is even harder than the handicap chase.

His remarkable Coral Cup win for Paul Nicholls came off a mark of 139 and he’s only 2lb higher now, so with conditions in his favour it’s not hard to understand why he’s been made favourite.

That said, Jersey Bean gets my vote for Oliver Sherwood, whose runners are ticking over nicely. He was beaten off a mark of 136 at Market Rasen and races here off 142, but he’s been freshened up having well and truly bumped into one that day, the winner having gone in again at this track next time.

This six-year-old has more to offer, the ground is right and he’s preferred to the favourite and Shalakar, another for the in-form Venetia Williams who ran well when second to Trans Express (also runs at Exeter today) last time out and should keep progressing.

Every chance I’ve still not mentioned the winner.

Aux Ptit Soins, now with the Skeltons who are launching a very serious bid for the trainers’ title, was a big eye-catcher at Newbury on his first start in 18 months.

1150: The Grade Three Handicap Chase is, as you’d expect, a competitive race.

Aso is up 8lb for his taking return success at Newbury and therefore needs something like a career best, but he was third here in the 2017 Ryanair Chase and with Venetia Williams having saddled four winners from five runners over the final two days of 2018, he has plenty in his favour.

Giving upwards of a stone to Divine Spear won’t be easy, though, with this eight-year-old open to improvement over fences and having gone well fresh in the past.

Both Simon Holt and Oli Bell fancy Happy Diva, who was brought down here in November having chased home Mister Whitaker on her return. Oli put up Aso prior to his Newbury win so perhaps it’s significant that he’s switching allegiances here.

Watch out too for Born Survivor, who Matt Brocklebank tells me has plenty in his favour. A 60-day break will certainly suit a horse who goes well fresh, he races up with the pace and has some nice Cheltenham form in the book. He looks like he might be ready to deliver on his long-held promise and rates the Sporting Life play at 7/1 or so.

1145: As for the Dipper Novices’ Chase, where Sky Bet are giving money back as a free bet if second, any one of the five could win.

I’ve already previewed the race here, with a token vote given to Defi Du Seuil. I’d have been happy to chance Lostintranslation after he blundered away his chance at Newbury behind La Bague Au Roi, but he’s now favourite and I thought he might be clear fourth of five in the betting.

Black Op might want it a little softer and On The Blind Side, while very much on the radar of those in the know, will do well to win a Grade Two on his first start over fences having evidently been hard to get back to the track.

I wouldn’t completely discount Crucial Role if only for the fact that he jumped like a stag at Uttoxeter and if he does so on the front end here he could get a few in trouble. Nevertheless you’d think he’s up against it a little in a hot little race.

Sky Bet odds: 3/1 Defi Du Seuil, Lostintranslation; 100/30 On The Blind Side; 7/2 Black Op; 9/1 Crucial Role

1140: If I get the timings right we can look at the last six races at Cheltenham one by one and when we’re done, it’ll be time for the first, where there’s a seriously promising odds-on favourite.

So, the 12.50, otherwise known as the Join The BetBright Racing Club Handicap Chase.

Some Chaos is favourite and he’s getting more than a stone from the gambled-on Beware The Bear having done well since returning from a year and a half off the track, winning twice and then bumping into one, Reikers Island, at Wincanton.

With Reikers Island perhaps unfortunate not to win at Newbury over the weekend his form is strong and he’s still open to progress, a mark of 127 probably within his compass as he goes further up in trip once more.

The undulations of Cheltenham and rise in grade are question marks, though, and I’d have been keen to chance the Henderson horse before he was punted as I drove to McDonald’s for breakfast.

Beware The Bear is admittedly a bit of a rogue but this is a significant drop in class from fourth in the Ladbrokes Trophy, he’s just 1lb higher than when winning the Rehearsal Chase last year and he’s got blinkers on for the first time.

Robinsfirth is a lovely, big horse who I like and respect but he’s a little fragile and it’s hard to know what to expect on his first start in more than a year, while Sir Mangan, who did run well on his sole previous visit to Cheltenham, conspired not to take an excellent opportunity last time.

The other to mention is Rolling Dylan, an excellent third over course and distance at the December meeting and just 2lb higher. He should be bang there but the best handicapped horse must be Beware The Bear, although it’s very much worth noting that Simon Holt is keen on Some Chaos.

1130: And so to the feature action and we’ll start with a look at the £50,000 ITV 7, which David Smith has previewed for us. Click the image below for his take on the action or head straight here to enter.

ITV7 - Play for free

Click on the image for our ITV7 guide

1125: Cheltenham in a mo, I promise, but quickly the other Irish notes I wanted to pass on.

Staying at Tramore, there’s an interesting handicap hurdle just prior to the main event in which Elliott and Mullins go head-to-head as per.

There might only be 7,000 euro or so up for grabs but every penny counts and I’d be keen to give one more chance to Eight And Bob, who was gubbed by a fast-finisher at Cork, having traded at close to the basement price in-running.

His starting prices since joining Mullins read 11/10 (Flat), evens, 10/11, 6/5, 4/5 and 2/1, and only once has he won, but at 5/2 or thereabouts today I could give him one more go. Yes, he’s 12lb higher than when winning three starts back but things have gone against him since and he can pick up another small race.

For Elliott, Askari bids to double up having been frustrating prior to winning last time. He’s up 9lb, 16lb if you take into account rider claims, and while respected it’s Eight And Bob who is preferred.

As for Fairyhouse, I’ll shout up if there’s anything major to report but My Sister Sarah looks the day’s banker to me at 12.55. She should’ve made it three from three last time and can get back on track.

1120: Over to Ireland and Ruby Walsh is at Tramore to ride Al Boum Photo in the feature Listed Savills Chase over 2m5f and an extra 100 yards (basically the distance between the back of the last and the line).

Walsh has just been on Racing TV to talk through his rides and was far from bullish, hopeful rather than confident that his mount could improve, aware he’d probably have to if he’s to give weight away to some smart horses on his return to the track after that episode at Punchestown.

Rivals include Alpha Des Obeaux, race-fit and back to his best since new trainer Gordon Elliott put the tongue-tie back on. He chased home Kemboy prior to winning and must be a big threat to the Mullins battalion, which includes Total Recall and Invitation Only, both interesting in their own right.

Matt Brocklebank discusses the race in today’s Talking Points. I suspect he’s pretty sweet on Alpha, with so many of Mullins’ runners looking like they’d benefit for their return runs. I tend to agree but watch out for Total Recall, who can be forgiven his sign-off in the spring and looked like he might place in the Gold Cup before coming to grief. He’s got a big chance at these weights.

1115: Before we focus on Cheltenham, here’s what to look out for across the UK. Plenty to go at today and we’ll start with some of the other stuff in the UK.

At Fakenham, watch out for Olly Murphy. He’s saddled 75 runners at the track since taking out a licence and 21 of them have won, a strike-rate of 28%. With eight runners on the card, those numbers suggest a couple might well go in and Murphy of course saddled the final winner of 2018.

Up the A1 to Catterick and it could pay to keep an eye on Duke Debarry in the Novices’ Chase at 1.35. He has work to do on paper – 11lb to find with the only horse ahead of him in the market, no less – but is trained by Nicky Henderson, who is 40% (2-5) at the track over the last five years.

Duke Debarry has run behind horses such as Kalashnikov and Chef Des Obeaux in the past and, switching to fences after a break and wind surgery, it’s not hard to envisage him taking a good step forward. It’s surely significant that he’s Henderson’s sole runner away from Cheltenham today.

Southwell is as you’d expect but do watch out for Matt Brocklebank’s nap at 3.35. I’m very sweet on this horse, too, after a gentle introduction to the unique style of racing in Nottinghamshire last time out, when Angel’s Acclaim was given a very easy time after a slow start. Her rider said she didn’t like the kick-back but they’ve gone back to Southwell rather than elsewhere and if she breaks on terms she’ll go very close.

Finally, at Musselburgh there’s a runner for the Queen, Forth Bridge, but he’s up against a very interesting horse in Knockgraffon. He won the race last year, returns 2lb lower, has had a break and wind surgery, and should be hard to beat.

In the feature Betway Hogmaneigh Handicap Hurdle all eyes on Chica Buena, who won here a couple of starts ago but returns 20lb higher after bolting up at Aintree. She’s 20/1 (NRNB) for the Triumph Hurdle with Sky Bet and it’ll be fascinating to see if she can defy a mark of 132.

1100: Hello and a very happy new year to all of you. As ever, it starts with a bang in the world of racing, this time with the launch of two new channels – Sky Sports Racing and Racing TV – albeit it’s a little bit like when Jif became Cif at the turn of the century. Them was the days.

We get our first taste of Irish action on Racing TV today from both Tramore and Fairyhouse, but the main event is Cheltenham where Wholestone bids for a Relkeel double and the Dipper promises to be one of the most competitive five-runner races of the season.

Feel free to fire winners over to me on benjamin.coley@sportinglife.com as I prepare to take you around the grounds. In the meantime, here are today’s market movers from Cheltenham:

12.15 – Jarveys Plate 9/1 from 14/1

12.50 – Beware The Bear 5/1 from 9/1

14.35 – Shalakar 7/1 from 14/1

For more movers including a big each-way springer at Catterick, click here.


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