Given that he has the best form in the book and runs the track well, Defi Du Seuil looks value to land the 2m 4f Grade 1 JLT Novices’ Chase that gets proceedings underway on a sensational card at the Cheltenham Festival on Thursday (13:30).
Trained by Philip Hobbs, this six-year-old was a top class juvenile hurdler in 2017 when unbeaten in seven starts.
Those successes included victory in the Grade 1 Triumph Hurdle at this meeting and Defi Du Seuil has won won four of his six starts at the home of jumps racing.
After failing to shine on chasing debut in the Arkle Trial here in November when a distant last of five to Lalor, he showed the benefit of that experience when scoring in good style next time up at Exeter.
Defi Du Seuil then ran a blinder in the Grade 2 Dipper at this venue when getting beat just over a length by Lostintranslation to whom he had to give 3lb.
He has since gained his revenge on that rival in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown when staying on strongly to score by three-quarters of a length.
With Vinndication a further 2 1/2 lengths behind in third, there is no real reason why Defi Du Seuil should not confirm the form with that re-opposing pair.
The JP McManus owned gelding also has proven winning form on soft/heavy ground, so taking everything into account has lots going for him and looks well worth a wager at 3/1 with betway.
First Assignment the Pertemps punt
In the ultra-competitive 3m Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle (14:10), the Ian Williams trained First Assignment looks worth an each-way wager at 11/1 with Unibet, who are going a quarter of the odds for five places.
This six-year-old looked a horse going places when winning his first two starts this season at this venue.
After showing tremendous battling qualities to beat Viva Le Roi in a 22-runner contest over 2m 5f, he followed-up in impressive fashion over the trip of this when slamming Boyhood by nine lengths.
First Assignment was then turned out quickly by connections under a 5lb penalty and ran a stormer when a 1 3/4 lengths third to Paisley Park in a valuable Grade 3 handicap at Haydock off a rating of 136.
The winner is a very smart sort who has since won a Grade 1 at Ascot and a Grade 2 here to be rated 168. He is also favourite for the Grade 1 Stayers’ Hurdle on this card.
Shades Of Midnight, who came second, has gone on to win his next two starts. That gives the form a rock solid look and suggests that First Assignment is potentially well-treated off his current mark of 142.
He has also been given a break since finishing third last time out at Warwick and has a good record fresh.
Road To Respect fancied to win Ryanair for owners
In the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase over an extended 2m 4f (14:50), Road To Respect appeals now dropping back in trip at 5/1 with Unibet.
Trained by Noel Meade, the eight-year-old was a fine fourth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup at this meeting last season. Prior to that, he also landed the Grade 3 Brown Advisory Stable Plate on this card two years ago.
Road To Respect scored by six lengths in that ultra competitive handicap and followed-up with Grade 1 success in another race sponsored by Ryanair – the Gold Cup at Fairyhouse.
As his form is arguably better over shorter trips like this, that gives him a big chance in this. Road To Respect has twice scored over 3m at the highest level, however, including the Champion Chase at Down Royal on reappearance.
He was just denied a short-head by Bellshill in the Irish Gold Cup last time out, improving almost eight lengths from their last meeting in the Punchestown equivalent last April.
Taking all that into account, his form claims are strong. If the emphasis is on stamina, then Road To Respect shouldn’t be found wanting and everything looks in place for him to have a huge say in the finish for owners Gigginstown House Stud.
Paisley Park worthy favourite for Stayers
The aforementioned Paisley Park looks a worthy favourite to land the Grade 1 Stayers’ Hurdle (15:30).
This Emma Lavelle trained seven-year-old has won all four of his starts this season and shot to the head of the market when landing the Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle over course and distance back in January in impressive fashion.
After being held-up as usual, the son of Oscar looked to be in trouble for a moment when coming under ride three from home.
However, Paisley Park then picked up well in the hands of Aidan Coleman and, after jumping two out, forged clear approaching the last.
Coleman then had to keep him up to his work to beat West Approach by 12 lengths as Paisley Park idles when in front.
He got to the front much too soon that day, so despite being a sensational performance it can be upgraded. That race was the strongest staying race of the season so far and the form sets a clear standard for others to aim at.
Paisley Park is also officially the highest rated in the line-up and has proven form on the forecast ground.
So, with regular pilot Coleman – who is a perfect four from four on him – once again in the saddle, his current odds of 15/8 with Betfair look fully justified and Paisley Park is fully expected to make it five on the bounce.
Kalondra a tasty each-way play in Plate
Kalondra has a good record fresh and looks weighted to run a huge race in the extended 2m 4f Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap (16:00).
This eight-year-old hails from the in-form yard of Neil Mulholland, and has a good record over course and distance having won once and been placed once in three starts.
The win came back in December 2017 where he readily beat Coo Star Sivola, who went on to land the Ultima Handicap Chase at this meeting 12 months later, by 3 3/4 lengths off an official rating of 147.
Kalondra was also in the process of running a huge race two starts later at Galway when coming to grief three from home. He had cruised into contention under Tom Scudamore and yet to be asked any serious question.
This son of Spadoun has only had two starts this season and failed to shine on each occasion – unseating here and then finishing a well-beaten fourth of six to Activial at Haydock.
Connections have since given him a break to freshen-up and Kalondra is able to race in this off a mark of 147. It makes him a big player from a handicapping perspective on the pick of his form granted a clear round.
So, with the yard operating at a strike rate of 23 per cent at the time of writing, Kalondra has more going for him than his odds of 14/1 with Paddy Power would suggest.
He looks worth an each-way wager with that firm who are paying a fifth of the odds for five places.
Epatante taken to collect for Henderson
Epatante is a seriously exciting prospect and a strong fancy at the 2/1 on offer with Ladbrokes to land the spoils in the Grade 2 Dawn Run Hurdle for novice mares run over 2m (16:50).
This daughter of No Risk At All had some smart form in France and, after being bought by leading Irish owner JP McManus, has been ultra-impressive in winning both her starts for champion trainer Nicky Henderson.
In the first of those at Kempton back in November, Epatante travelled ominously well throughout before quickening clear on the run-in to easily beat Ey Up Rocky by 3 1/2 lengths.
She won with tons in hand and it was a performance which suggested she had a huge future. Epatante has since registered a facile 3 1/2 lengths success at Exeter where, despite racing very keenly, she won hard-held.
Connections now fit her with the hood for the first time and that should enable her to settle better. Those wins have earned Epatante a rating of 143.
That is the highest in the line-up and she is far less exposed than the majority of her rivals and open to any amount of progression.
This does represent a big step up in class, but the way inn which Epatante travels and quickens suggest she can take it in her stride and Henderson has made no secret of the high regard in which she is held at Seven Barrows.
Any Second Now appeals in finale
The final race on the card is the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase (17:30) and Irish raider Any Second Now looks to have been laid out for the 3m 2f contest by his shrewd handler Ted Walsh.
This McManus owned seven-year-old is yet to get his head in front in nine starts over the larger obstacles, but has posted some solid efforts in defeat which suggest he is potentially well-treated at present
They include when beaten six lengths into second by the now 161-rated Monalee at Punchestown and a 4 1/2 lengths third to Invitation Only, who is now rated 152, in a seven runner affair at Navan.
Any Second Now also caught the eye last time out when a not knocked about third to Chris’s Dream in the Grade 2 Ten Up Novices Chase when beaten just four lengths having travelled well for much of the contest.
The form of those races give him solid claims in this off a mark of just 143. McManus has also won two of the last six runnings of this contest and Any Second Now has the services of Derek O’Connor in the saddle, who is one of the best amateur riders in the business.
He can be backed at 10/1 with William Hill who are paying a fifth of the odds for five places for each-way purposes.