RARELY has there been a better New Year’s Day Cheltenham meeting. The Dipper Novices’ Chase is probably the best race of its kind so far this season and would not be out of place at the Festival itself. CHAMPAGNE WEST is a horse I adore and is unbeaten in his two chases. He will need 3m in time but for now a stiff 2m 5f looks ideal. I fancy him to outstay Ptit Zig. The latter has won over 2m 3f in France but he didn’t look to get home in the Aintree Hurdle over 2m 4f.
But he jumped like a natural at Ascot and should run very well. Ned Stark is interesting. I’m surprised Alan King has pitched him into such a hot contest after winning two small-ish races but he looks full of scope although he is likely to want further. He may find one or two too good here but he is one for the future. Urban Hymn has a bit to find with Champagne West but should also run well while Clondaw Kaempfer is another fascinating runner who would be bang there if producing his very best hurdles form. Champagne West is as high as 3/1. That is value.
Other Cheltenham fancies…
12.10: DIFFERENT GRAVEY: Any horse with gravy in the title has to be backed, albeit it’s spelt a little differently. You feel Geraghty/Henderson are really going to catch fire soon and this fella looks like being the first winner of 2015.
12.45: SAINT ARE: Does not win very often but he is still well handicapped (once rated 145) and Paddy Brennan, who is riding as well as ever, always inspires confidence in the saddle.
1.20: TENOR NIVERNAIS: Was given a brilliant ride by Aidan Coleman to win at Kempton and is only up 3lb. If he doesn’t “bounce”, then he looks a very well handicapped horse.
1.55: ULZANA’S RAID: Is highly progressive but up another 4lb for his win over course and distance a few weeks ago. Southfield Vic and Be Bop Boru are getting shed loads of weight but if Ulzana’s Raid can win this off 147 he might well be worth stepping up in class.
2.30: COLE HARDEN could be the value here. The trip is on the short side so he is sure to set a strong gallop and I fancy him to take some pegging back. Rock On Ruby will go very close if the ground is not too soft while the weights of the race suit Vaniteux. A cracking contest.
3.05: WISHFULL DREAMING is a full brother to Wishfull Thinking and he can take this after hitting the crossbar on his bumper debut. A race to keep a close eye on for future winners.
Finally, WHISPER makes his eagerly-awaited chasing debut at Exeter in the 3.30pm. Winner of the Coral Cup and Long Distance Hurdle at Aintree, he really could have the world at his feet if he takes to jumping fences…