2.25 Saturday Cheltenham
This two-and-a-half mile Grade 3 chase is an early season highlight with £90,000 up for grabs to the winner and no shortage of quality competition for the main prize.
Nicky Henderson’s Rather Be has been favourite in the run-up to the race but is not short of challengers and we have five against the field on our shortlist, the selection set to go off at a particularly inviting price for backers.
Having run a fine second here at the 2017 Festival Baron Alco had 19 months off before returning to action at Chepstow recently. Joshua Moore had the 7yo in a winning position on his return before he just tired late on and was caught, but now 5 weeks later he should strip much fitter.
This is only Gary Moore’s gelding’s 8th chase race and we should see a deal of improvement in him from race one to race two this season and he seems pretty solid value at these weights to perhaps land this race en route to another Festival appearance in March.
Strictly on the numbers this horse has to be bang in there with a chance after some more than solid efforts over the last twelve months, though I can’t help noticing that his best performances on the book have been either in defeat here or at other tracks in very small fields and so he may not quite be all he seems.
Another thing that has to happen for Benatar is that he has to improve significantly on his seasonal debut after he was sent off favourite at Newton Abbot before running fourth of five, beaten 11½ lengths. Jamie Moore’s mount does have some improvement to come though so all is not lost and he may yet be a place prospect.
I never worry about top weights these days as these horses are so well trained, especially when the ground is decent, and this Frodon is one many will latch onto.
A very easy winner at Prestbury Park on heavy ground in January and a scorer again on seasonal debut on good ground at Aintree recently, he comes here in good form and is expected to take a small step forward from his race at Liverpool though frankly he’ll need to as off 161 he’ll have his work cut out for him under Bryony Frost.
Kalondra’s best piece of form for me was when running third to Traffic Fluide at Grade 2 level in April, beaten just 2¾ lengths off 3lbs lower than today, and what’s more that was achieved on this track over 2m5f on good ground.
He was brought back out for a race at Galway in August and was closing nicely on the field when falling two from home so seemed to have come out of last season’s exertions well and now, after a similar break, it is hoped he can go well fresh once more.
Noel Fehily knows his way around this track and will attempt to get the 7yo nicely into contention at the top of the hill before mounting a challenge.
Nicky Henderson is the man and he’s started this season like most others with plenty of winners. Rather Be has been backed this week into favouritism and on the ratings is right in there with a serious chance and it is to be noticed that he has been straight at his best when running first time out in the last two seasons.
He finished last season second at the Festival and so is happy on this course, the trip and ground are fine and the stable is in good form so all looks set fair for a solid run from the seven-year-old.
There’s no doubt that Rather Be is at the head of the market on merit and should mount a serious challenge in this race, while Kalondra could be coming here having already taken another step up the chasing ladder had he not fallen when in contention at Galway in the summer.
For all that though the one to be on could be BARON ALCO at a nice price, Gary Moore’s French bred getting better all the time and showing himself to be in good nick after a long time off when scooting clear on his reappearance before just tiring late on.