It is a new year at Cheltenham racecourse but some things will never change at the home of jump racing, among them the respect that must be given to well-backed Irish raiders. Ex Patriot (2.00) was attracting support soon after betting began on today’s Paddy Power Handicap Chase and there is a lot to like about Ellmarie Holden’s runner.
This is only his second chance in a handicap chase and he won the first, comfortably beating 10 rivals at Gowran in March. He was well treated at the weights that day but he still looks on a fair mark, judging by two efforts in quality novice contests in November. He did not get home on his last visit here, in the Cleeve, but this should be much less of a stamina test.
Poker Play, who did not stay three miles last time, is a real threat and offers each-way value at double-figure odds.
1.25 Cheltenham The Dipper Novice Chase is the original race that is not always to the swift, Defi Du Seuil and Clan Des Obeaux both having managed to get beaten in it within the last three years. Those memories inspire caution about Champ, who is no bigger than 4-7 at time of writing. After all he tested several potential avenues of defeat before consenting to pass the post first at Newbury last time, when he misjudged fences, lost his footing and almost took the wrong course. But he will know more on this third run over fences and none of his rivals pose a very obvious threat, Deyrann De Carjac having been behind him last time. Matfog is an interesting, young French raider but his form seems to leave him with a lot to find.
2.35 Cheltenham This is proving a bounce-back season for Richard Hobson, operating at a 29% strike-rate since May and a winner with five of his seven runners in December. Who’s My Jockey is a very interesting addition to his yard, having scored for Philip Hobbs when last seen in June. He goes well fresh and is unexposed in staying handicap hurdles such as this one. A tongue tie is tried for the first time on the selection and Ben Jones looks an encouraging booking.
3.10 Cheltenham It is surprising to see Janika returned to hurdles after running a good fourth in the Tingle Creek, behind three established top-class talents. But Nicky Henderson has a fair record at spotting hurdling opportunities for his chasers and this six-year-old looks the pick of the six runners in this Relkeel. Summerville Boy would be a threat on his best hurdles form but he has become unreliable. Roksana and Quel Destin were disappointing last time while William Henry and Emitom are likely to need this.