A select and high quality field of six will head to post for the 2.25pm BetBright Trial Cotswolds Chase at Cheltenham on Saturday afternoon, where the Paul Nicholls trained Frodon looks to add to a remarkable performance off top weight in the Caspian Caviar here before Christmas. This brilliant little 7yo heads the market, but I can’t help feel he is vulnerable over an extended 3m1f trip…
There is a significant conflict here, because in Frodon I’ll be deserting one of my favourite horses in training. But with the very best will in the world, he has an extra five furlongs to travel this time and I can’t help but feel it is a big ask now he’s stepping back into Graded company. There’s no doubt that the rating he ran up to here last time out is the best piece of form on offer, but this doesn’t mean it will be easy to repeat under vastly different conditions in terms of trip and opposition.
It is hoped that Elegant Escape will prove himself worthy of a Gold Cup bid here and Colin Tizzard’s 7yo has both class and stamina in considerable abundance. He looked very nicely weighted in the Welsh Grand National, but he still had a job to do in what is one of the most demanding races around and he rose to the occasion in no uncertain terms. If he carries on progressing and shows no ill-effects of that hard race here, he’d have an obvious chance. But he’s been beaten in all three career starts at Prestbury Park and this is no mean race in which to break that chain.
Even though he was thoroughly disappointing on seasonal debut at Sandown Park, I can’t help but feel TERREFORT is going to run a big race after a break. He thrashed Elegant Escape by 13 lengths at Aintree last season and that performance is hard to forget. There is a danger that he won’t train on, or that the hamstring strain he suffered will take the edge off his progression at this level. But we can only be hopeful he’ll return in top form and continue to be a top act over 3m+. He ran a cracker to be second in the JLT at the Festival last year and I’m really excited to see how he takes to Cheltenham this time, with the emphasis firmly on stamina. He does handle soft ground well, so a passing shower or two around the area wouldn’t go amiss, but he should be fine…I’m mostly worried about the feeling I’ll inevitably get if Frodon manages to hold on.
Valtor is a bit of an enigma. He’s been running to a fair but unremarkable level in France for some years now. He joins Nicky Henderson at the age of 9 (now 10) and absolutely dots up in an Ascot Handicap Chase in the style of a serious weapon, posting a clear career best Racing Post Rating of 161. To put that into perspective, Elegant Escape ran to 163 in winning at Chepstow. He doesn’t have the kind of profile we see very often, which makes his participation in the race all the more interesting under James Bowen, for whom this is a great opportunity in a Grade 2 race.
It would be nice to think Minella Rocco could show some spark of old here. Jonjo O’Neill’s 9yo has had a wind operation and a tongue tie is also fitted, so connections will be hopeful he can hint at the form that saw him finish 2nd to Sizing John in the 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup. It is hard to see him winning, though.
Allysson Monterg is a big outsider here and looks to have precious little chance of troubling the judge.
It does pain me to desert Frodon, but I think something will outstay him. If he wins, I’ll duly tip my hat and look forward to seeing him in the Gold Cup in March. However, Terrefort was a top novice and has a great opportunity to stick his oar into the staying division. He is still only six and his jumping is usually immaculate. In Daryl Jacob, he has one of the most potently talented jockeys in the country on his side and I think they’ll bounce back on the scene on Saturday.
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