Saturday’s racing hosts some serious National Hunt action for us to enjoy. Ante post markets for the Festival could face their first busy weekend with Down Royal playing host to some very classy prospects. A couple to note is early favourite for the Champion Bumper Sir Gerhard of Gordon Elliott’s plus his pair in the Champion Chase on the same card who will be Gold Cup contenders. At Wetherby we have a good staying hurdle as last years Festival winner Lisnaggar Oscar begins his road to defend his crown and prove his big price win was no fluke and the small matter of the Charlie Hall Chase.
Sometimes the Charlie Hall Chase can flatter to deceive as a curtain-raiser for the top staying chasers. But this year, we have some brilliant contenders.
The betting is headed by Paul Nicholls brilliant horse Cyrname. I still think that he is best suited to the shorter trip but his connections deserve praise for persisting and trying the extended trip once again. At Kempton in the King George, his only start over the trip, he ran well behind his stablemate and I think is going to be vulnerable again to those that look a more traditional stayer.
The horse I am more than willing to back over Cyrname is the seven year old Vinndication. He gets just two pounds and, on ratings, he needs to take another big step forward. But I think he looks tailor made to be a top class stayer. The yard are flying and his fourth at the Festival carrying top weight in the Ultima was a big run. If you flick back over his hurdles form he got the better of RSA winner Champ in his younger days. At now a price of 9/4, he is a bit skinny, but I am going to back him today and take the 50/1 for the Gold Cup prior to today’s race and add him to our ante post list as a horse that may well put his name firmly into contention for the blue riband chase event come March.