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It’s the traditional 2019 curtain raiser at Cheltenham and Tony Calvin has a trio of horses to follow…

It’s a pretty tricky day’s punting at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day – and the stakes will be on the lower side for me – but I have unearthed three bets and the first up, on the ITV races anyway, is Divine Spear at [6.6] or bigger in the 14:00.

Starting with a Spear

You can make a case for all eight in here (there has been a non-runner already, and there could be a few more on the card, too) but I thought there was a good deal of upside in the selection at the price.

First things first, though, he has clearly had his problems since finishing second at Musselburgh back in February, and is quite a delicate sort by all accounts.

Indeed, he was taken out of the Close Brothers at the Cheltenham Festival with a vet’s certificate on the day of the race, and he has been entered up a couple of times in recent weeks.

But hopefully he is A1 here, and his first-time-out record certainly gives you plenty of hope that he will be cherry ripe and primed for action.

His reappearance form figures read 1211, and the defeat came at the hands of a horse who won his next two starts.

Last season, he obliged at Catterick on his comeback run and then he went on to record an excellent 10-length win from Exitas over 2m1f at Ascot, and the runner-up hasn’t done too badly since.

That gives you a deal of encouragement that he can be competitive off an 8lb higher mark here, and the step up in trip, on decent ground, looks a positive, too.

His best hurdling performances came over this sort of trip, notably when a good second in competitive handicaps at Ascot and Kempton, and this is just his fourth start over fences.

Each-way claims for De Name Evades Me

I don’t have a betting opinion in what looks a superb novices’ chase at 13:25 and the same is also true of the Relkeel at 15:10 where it is a shame that neither of the Willie Mullins pair stood their ground at the overnight stage. Everyone wants to see what Laurina, in particular, can do this season.

In her absence, last year’s winner Wholestone is the obvious favourite, though I can easily leave him alone at around 6/4.

The Newbury race landed by Vive Le Roi could be the key to finding the winner of the 3m handicap hurdle at 14:35 as six of that field renew rivalry here.

Vive Le Roi has gone up 9lb for the win but the runner-up Rockpoint has won a Grade 2 here since, and you can make a case of sorts for all those in behind, too.

Aux Ptits Soins and Karezak were coming back from long lay-offs there, and the market suggested they would need the run, while Juge Et Parti was the punt of the contest into 11/4 that day and ran no kind of race.

He was effectively 8lb well-in there, and it could well be that the race came too soon after his Chepstow second, and he could bounce back.

However, the one I like from the race is the third, De Name Evades Me, who I think is a fair bet at 9/1 each way with the Betfair Sportsbook, four places.

He ran well when second here on his reappearance, won a fair Warwick 3m2f novice (third won a handicap off 116 on his following start, and the runner-up ran well in defeat at Warwick on New Year’s Eve) and then he split two next-time-out winners in Rockpoint and Virginia Chick in the Newbury race above.

He races off the same mark here, and I think there is plenty of improvement to come from him on just his sixth start over hurdles.

The selection could easily have folded after a mistake at the last at Newbury, but he battled back well to reclaim third on the run-in.

Druid can be a winner after long layoff

In the Racing TV-only races, I suspect Sandown winner I Can’t Explain could take all the beating in the opener at 12:15.

The strength in depth of the Nicky Henderson novice hurdlers is something to behold, and he looks to have another potential top-notcher on his hands, though he predictably hasn’t been missed in the market and he does meet some similarly nice and unexposed types.

I very rarely get involved in bumpers – they always seem to be total guess-ups to me – but the extended 3m2f handicap chase at 12:50 is a decent betting heat.

I am going to take a chance with The Druids Nephew at a price after his long lay-off.

I was kicking myself for not siding with the stable’s Carole’s Destrier at Newbury on Saturday, and hopefully the selection will be straight enough after his absence since finishing a close-up 8th, beaten under 3 lengths, in the 2017 bet365 Gold Cup. The booking of Noel Fehily suggests the 12yo may just be.

I have no idea why he has been off since, but the handicapper has dropped him 6lb in the meantime, and he is undoubtedly weighted to play a leading role.

His two best efforts have come at Cheltenham, albeit on the Old Course, and he is 9lb lower than winning at the Festival in March 2015.

Obviously, this could be a tune-up for veteran races further down the line – and this has the potential to be a total blow-out tip (though I am used to those) – but he has run some excellent races first-time-up in the past and I’ll take my chances to small stakes at [12.0] or better.

Thoughts on the two televised races at Musselburgh

There are two ITV races at Musselburgh, and nothing stands out, to be honest.

That is particularly true of the five-runner handicap chase at 13:40 but to be fair the 1m7f127yd handicap hurdle at 14:15, https://btfr.co/153079659, has attracted a decent and competitive field of ten.

There are some progressive horses in here and some course favourites, too, though I suppose the most interesting runner in the line-up is Night Of Glory.

He won over hurdles at Fontwell for Andrew Balding and was also rated as high as 99 on the Flat at one point for him, so a mark of 121 is potentially lenient on his first start for Iain Jardine, who picked this horse up for a cheap-looking 22.000gns in October (the horse was sold for a jaw-dropping £340,000 at that mad, eve-of-Royal Ascot sale in 2017).

However, he may ideally prefer a bit more dig – the ground is currently good, with no rain forecast – and the race as a whole is a bit too tricky for my liking. It’s that kind of punting day.

Have a good one in 2019.

Tony’s P/L – April 14 2017 to Jan 31 2018 inclusive

+118.52

*all exchange bets settled at BSP



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