WHERE would you Rather Be after Cheltenham’s Betvictor Gold Cup (2.25) – in the payout queue or tearing up your ticket?
Forget Shakespeare, THAT is the question. And, if you want to be in the former category then backing Nicky Henderson’s lightly-raced seven-year-old is the way to go.
Because RATHER BE has the ideal credentials for the 2m4f test, which will always be the ‘Mackeson’ to me.
He tackled some modest novice events last season winning two from three before being put away for the novice handicap chase at the Festival off a mark of 143.
He ran a cracker too, just finding Mister Whitaker a head too good but pulling clear of a typically strong field.
The winner is back as well and he looked at least as good as ever when making a winning reappearance at Carlisle but the handicapper was watching too and he is 9lb worse off with Rather Be compared to the Festival weights.
Henderson has left Rather Be at home since March and he goes well fresh so it is safe to assume that this has been a long-term plan.
Another second-season chaser with a massive chance at the weights is Kalondra.
He has form at the track, which is always a plus, and would probably have more to carry if he had not fallen last time when running well in a conditions event at Galway.
If that tumble has not left a mark he is a danger to all. Paul Nicholls runs three and all have chances but also their share of ‘buts’.
Frodon has a touch of class but this is a tough race for topweights and his rider, the superb Bryony Frost, can no longer claim.
Movewiththetimes is well in on his old hurdling form but has yet to fully convince over fences while Romain de Senam flopped when well backed for a weaker race than this at Aintree last Saturday and is best watched for now.
One who could be a big threat is King’s Socks, who travelled like a dream but faded up the hill in the 2m5f handicap chase at the Festival in March.
He had some top form in France yet gets in here with just 10-4 to carry and has had a wind operation since we last saw him.
Sun Racing Sunday!
On Sunday there is more top-quality jumping, not something that can be stated very often, not in Britain anyway.
In Ireland Samcro bids to get his Champion Hurdle bid back on track when he tackles Faugheen, Supasundae (running on the right day of the week I suppose!) and company in the Morgiana Hurdle (2.15) at Punchestown.
Fontwell hosts an interesting Sun Racing-sponsored card, which includes a rare appearance on ITV Racing for the Southern National at 2.40.
But the main focus is again Cheltenham where CLAIMANTAKINFORGAN (1.50) will be very hard to beat in the 2m novice chase.
He was a top novice hurdler last term but has always been a chaser in the making and he made an excellent debut over the larger obstacles when winning at Uttoxeter, beating Chesterfield, a high-class handicap hurdler (placed in the County last season).
Claimantakinforgan can take this and advertise his credentials for the Arkle Trophy back here in March.
The big staying handicap chase (1.50) features a number of regulars in such events, who will all have their supporters – all for perfectly sound reasons.
Singlefarmpayment has a solid record at the track, is fairly handicapped and has a good record fresh. He is rock-solid each-way but has a poor strike-rate.
Last year’s winner Perfect Candidate showed little on his return but that was also the case 12 months ago when he pipped Vicente in a thriller.
Both are back and neither is handicapped out of it. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ duo, Calett Mad and Cogry, are two more who are hard to rule out but it could pay to take a chance on the much more unexposed SHARP RESPONSE.
The seven-year-old has only had five runs over fences and was hugely impressive when winning a competitive affair at Carlisle last time on his first run over as far as 3m2f.
He looked ready to go round again so is unlikely to fail here due to lack of stamina. The handicapper has hiked him up 11lb but he has more to offer and is one to follow.
FIRST ASSIGNMENT (3.00) just got up to win, and land a bit of a touch, on his reappearance at the last meeting here and, on the face of it, has a stiffish task off a 5lb higher mark.
But he needed every inch of the 2m5f trip that day and looks likely to find at least 5lb of improvement for the step up to three miles.
I spy an eyecatcher…
At Bangor on Wednesday Alan King gave a hurdling debut to MR PUMBLECHOOK in the maiden hurdle over two miles.
The four-year-old had not shown much in two bumpers last season but they were warm affairs at Kempton and Newbury and he was well backed on debut so must have been shaping with promise at home.
He showed plenty more this week, staying on in good style to take third after being outpaced in the middle of the race.
As a son of Midnight Legend this speed test was unlikely to play to his strengths but he will be winning races when given a stiffer test of stamina.
In contrast Weebill seems harshly treated, having been raised 9lb for winning an Ayr novice hurdle when an odds-on shot six months ago.
Anteros is a standing dish in this race, having won it in 2016 and been second 12 months ago.
He will have been aimed at this again and has each-way claims but he is higher in the weights than in the last two years and, as a ten-year-old, is unlikely to be improving. First Assignment almost certainly is!
There is a quality Flat meeting at Lingfield featuring two Listed events. The best bet there is GIFTED MASTER in the 6f Golden Rose Stakes (3.15), a race the five-year-old won last season.
He produced what was probably his best ever run on turf when winning the Stewards’ Cup at Glorious Goodwood in August off a mark of 111 and, as that race was a handicap, escapes a penalty, unlike 12 months ago when he had an extra 3lb.
That did not stop him beating the re-opposing Mythmaker comfortably, with Intisaab further back, in a fast time.
Kimberella goes well here but will find it hard conceding weight to Gifted Master. The three-year-old Corinthia Knight, a real all-weather specialist, could be the main danger.