Our shortlist for this popular betting heat include a very nicely priced contender:
Trainer Willie Mullins has a couple of better-fancied runners in this contest, but his Dysart Diamond should absolutely not be ignored.
Kept busy, the six-year-old mare has been on the go more or less since last July, winning a bumper and a couple of hurdle races since.
She was underwhelming last time, but she makes this list based on her win in a 20-runner field two outings ago and she may yet prove to be fairly well handicapped.
One of the horses representing Cullentra House, Grand Roi looked pretty classy in winning a Grade 2 at Limerick before finishing runner-up in a Grade 3 at Naas in January.
There is more potential in him for sure and he’s not on a bad mark, while he may also be better off at this longer 2m5f trip.
There are plenty of positives then, though carrying 11-6 in a tough environment may require something new, especially on a track he has no experience of.
Guard Your Dreams
Nigel Twiston-Davies must be the best trainer to have been given almost no great press heading into this year’s Cheltenham Festival. It’s hard to say how successful a meeting he’ll have, however we know his horses will be prepped superbly and they will include this one, Guard Your Dreams.
His easy novice hurdle win at Bangor and subsequent handicap hurdle success in January at Sandown give him a chance here, though some improvement is needed from his sixth at this level in the Betfair Hurdle last month.
Willie Mullins’ nine-year-old has had a couple of extended periods off the track, but came back this time around in January with a win at Cork before arguably bouncing next time.
Assuming he’s in top nick this time around, we can expect his hurdle mark of 144 to be no anchor, though it doesn’t scream “well in” either so improvement is needed. He has a chance for sure, but is shorter than ideal in the market owing to his yard.
Nicky Henderson comes to the party now, his Monte Cristo having attracted plenty of attention since winning a Class 3 handicap hurdle in taking style back in December.
His Boxing Day win, achieved over this 2m5f trip, was very good on the eye and it represented a huge improvement in his form.
However, this modern training trend of keeping Cheltenham contenders off the track for the best part of three months doesn’t always work, while his one underwhelming run around here in the past may just suggest he wouldn’t be at his best on these contours.
This is a hugely interesting contender to us. Emma Lavelle’s runner has a lovely profile. A seven-year-old, he has plenty of improvement to come but also some valuable experience.
Despite having ten hurdle runs under his belt, Shang Tang’s best run was last time out in a two-and-a-half-mile novice hurdle at Fakenham which has put him spot-on for this, and a closer look at the race reveals how well handicapped he may be.
On the numbers, he ran to a mark of around 135 that day, his new handicap rating. However, he raced wide, did it easily with plenty in hand, and off a pace slower than ideal without ever really being extended.
That is already good enough for us to think he’s nicely handicapped, but more evidence is added by the subsequent performance of Gericault Roque.
Third at Fakenham, beaten 14½ lengths (which could have been a lot more), he ran to a level at least 20lbs lower than Shang Tang that day, but has since come out and won easily himself and is now rated another 9lbs higher in the handicap.
While Shang Tang didn’t take a step forward in his one run around Cheltenham back in December 2019, he didn’t take a backward step either and so if the track itself doesn’t blunt his performance then he could have plenty in hand at a very attractive price.
Regular readers will know that we never force big price tips, but always what we consider “value”. In this case however, SHANG TANG is not only our number one contender on merit but is also a crazy price at the time of writing, with 25/1 and bigger being offered around.
Monte Cristo and Koshari are interesting and represent top yards, however Emma Lavelle’s horse is too good to ignore at the prices.