All eyes on Saturday are on Cheltenham. The card at jump racing’s HQ has been dubbed “Trials Day” and for once this is not a triumph of marketing over substance. The day’s big race is The Letherby & Christopher Chase. A roll call of the winners in the last decade includes such top-notch chasers as One Man, Cyfor Malta, Looks Like Trouble, and See More Business. For once, believe the hype.
The winner on Saturday will have all the credentials to be a serious competitor to red-hot Gold Cup ante-post favourite Kauto Star at the Festival in just seven weeks time. Only two horses in the field are prominent in the betting for the main event in March, Halcon Genelardais at around 20/1 and Our Vic, generally 12/1. That reflects their form to date. But, on the basis of potential the former is the one to back on Saturday.
Halcon Genelardais was a highly progressive novice last term, but it was his performance in the Welsh Grand National just after Christmas that has marked him out as a rising star. Connections clearly knew they had a special charge as that race was always his early season target and he was confidently backed ante-post and on the day. He could not have won that race more easily, barely blowing despite lumping a fair weight over a marathon distance in poor ground.
Our Vic is good. But, form of PU/I/PU/1/9/1/1 shows he can also be bad and sometimes horrid. He may run a big race in the Gold Cup on good ground, but on heavy going is best swerved. In the other big trials race of the day, the Byrne Bros Cleeve Hurdle, Black Jack Ketchum puts his unbeaten record on the line. He’s odds on for the Stayers’ Hurdle crown and won’t get beat on Saturday, though Mighty Man, who ducked this because of the ground, may give him a race come March.
Given the likely cramped odds on Black Jack, it might be worth doubling him with Brave Inca who runs in Ireland. He has conditions to suit and it will take a horse with rare measures of guts and talent to get past the tough as teak reigning two-mile hurdling champ.
2:10 Cheltenham Black Jack Ketchum (win)
2:45 Cheltenham Halcon Genelardais (win)
2:55 Leopardstown Brave Inca (win)