Sportsman Racing: Wishfull Thinking For Punters at Cheltenham

Welcome to our latest column from Scott Armstrong of The Sportsman tipster service.

Each Friday, Scott provides us with a rundown of all the best weekend racing action – including the key  horses to follow and those to oppose. You can also find a recap from him each Monday on the SBC Blog with his reaction to the weekend’s events. Thorough, frank and not afraid to take a contrary view, Scott Armstrong is a racing man whose opinion you can’t afford to be without.

It’s a cracker of a weekend with plenty of big names to enjoy, and Scott highlights his best value for 2 of the big races – the Paddy Power Gold Cup and the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial. He expects big things of Wishfull Thinking at 15/2 in the former, whilst Paul Nicholls runner ‘Hinterland’ is expected to make an impact in the latter. Also keep an eye out for Chicago Grey to take the 3m, 3f Handicap Chase and Fingal Bay in Saturday’s Grade 2 Novice Hurdle.

Racing has returned to Cheltenham with the three-day Open meeting and with it brings many big names from the jumping sphere to savour. On Saturday, jumping action also comes from Wincanton and Uttoxeter, whilst Lingfield hosts a fine card with two Listed races but the key meeting is of course at the home of the National Hunt.

The Paddy Power Gold Cup is invariably one of the best-quality handicaps of the season and this year’s renewal is another cracker.

“The Guvnor” Paul Nicholls has a lousy record in the race but holds a big chance this time around with Mon Parrain heading the bookies lists at a best-priced 7-2 and the suspicion is he could be a handicap blot. Purchased from France, he has run twice in Britain and made an immediate impression. The five-year old bolted up at Sandown with impeccable jumping and subsequently finished runner-up in the Topham where he ran out of gas after the last (traded at 1.01 on Betfair) allowing Always Waining to ease past him and that would be a concern for backers with the Cheltenham hill to negotiate. The two-mile-four-furlong trip should play to his strengths and he could be on a very decent mark with the added bonus of having strengthened up over the summer break. A solid jumper not short of speed he is a deserving favourite but the best way to get involved in the race may be to seek each-way alternatives at bigger prices.

Wishfull Thinking offers each-way value at odds of 15-2 with Paddy Power. The Philip Hobbs team have high hopes for the eight-year old this season with the King George and the Gold Cup potential targets. To validate those hopes Wishfull Thinking has to go close in this race off a rating of 164. A fluent jumper, Wishfull Thinking had a fantastic season over fences last term winning four times, including at Aintree and a resplendent win at Punchestown when giving weight to a good field yet thrashing them off a mark of 159. The Hobbs horses have made a flying start to the new campaign and Wishfull Thinking likes the course having won a handicap at Cheltenham in January. With a good turn of foot allied to his accurate jumping Wishfull Thinking may not be seen in handicap company for long.

It’s advantageous for a horse to have shown a liking for the Cheltenham track and The Giant Bolster is a course winner, who is bidding to give in-form trainer David Bridgewater the biggest victory of his career. The Giant Bolster’s achilles heel has been his jumping which has let him down in good company. Jumping guru Yogi Breisner has worked his magic on many horses over the years and Bridgewater brought him in to school his six-year old and his rider on Saturday, Tom Scudamore states The Giant Bolster is all the better for those schooling sessions and provided that rings true then a best priced 14-1 with Boylesports could offer some value.

From the rest of the field Loosen My Load should benefit from a step back up in trip and has done well over two and a half miles at Cheltenham before though ultimately he may find reversing festival form with Wishfull Thinking difficult.

Quantitativeeasing put up a great performance when second behind Divers in the Centenary Novices Chase over 2m 4f and that looks his preferred distance having failed to stay the 3m 5f in the Irish Grand National.

Nick Gifford’s Tullimore Dew has a good record at Cheltenham, having finished second in the Coral Cup in 2010 and third behind Divers in the Centenary Novices handicap in March this year and you can rely on him to put in a solid performance.

It would also be disrepectful to disregard the chances of Dave’s Dream who runs well fresh and Divers though Ferdy Murphy’s charge would need to step up on his mediocre last outing.

The supporting card at Cheltenham on Saturday is tremendous and the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial looks set to be one of the best juvenile hurdles of the season with horses of real potential. My interest lies with Hinterland from the Paul Nicholls yard. I put up last season’s Triumph Hurdle winner Zarkandar for my members and Hinterland has the same owners – Chris Giles and Jared Sullivan who again harbour high hopes for Hinterland. The juvenile romped home in the Listed Prix Wild Monarch at Auteuil in May and although he looks a chaser at heart he can make an impact at juvenile hurdle level.

In the Rewards4racing Handicap Chase, I fancy Chicago Grey can go well. Gordon Elliotts eight-year old loves Cheltenham winning the four-miler at the festival last season. The 3m 3f will therefore prove no problem and his pipe-opener in the Charlie Hall showed him to be in fine fettle.

The Sunday meeting is another mouth-watering occasion with the feature race being The Greatwood Handicap Hurdle which can be a decent pointer to the Champion Hurdle. On the supporting card the likes of Al Ferof are on show in the Grade 2 Novices Chase and in the 3.30 Grade 2 Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle, Fingal Bay is one to keep on side.



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