Paul Nicholls is one of the finest trainers that National Hunt racing has seen, but even he cannot edit what is written into a horse’s genes and it is a slight surprise to see his six-year-old Il Ridoto challenging for favouritism in the valuable two-and-a-half mile handicap chase on Saturday at Cheltenham, which will need to pass an inspection at 7.30am to get the go-ahead to race.
Il Ridoto has run near-identical races over track and trip on his last two starts, travelling well and making a strong move into contention before fading on the run to the line. The going is, if anything, a little more testing on Saturday and his price of around 6-1 is easy to resist, not least with the progressive Fugitif (1.50) in the field and on offer at similar odds.
Richard Hobson’s gelding had a mercurial first season over fences last term but already looks much more consistent in his second chasing campaign, and took his form to a new level with an easy win at Chepstow on Welsh National day.
He was in command from two out and heavily eased before crossing the line five lengths to the good, and could well take a subsequent 10lb hike in the weights in his stride.
Cheltenham 1.20 Energumene was a worthy winner of last year’s Champion Chase for all that a few of his rivals underperformed and he should underline his strong claims for a repeat success in March with a defeat of Edwardstone here.
Doncaster 2.05 It is tough to assess what Epatante has achieved in two crushing defeats by Constitution Hill this term and the ultra-consistent Martello Sky may have been underestimated by the market.
Cheltenham 2.25 The rapid improvement that saw Noble Yeats win the Grand National in his first season over fences has continued this term and a repeat of his emphatic winning form should be enough to see off Protektorat and confirm Emmet Mullins’s eight-year-old as a legitimate Gold Cup contender.
Doncaster 2.40 John McConnell took this Grade Two back to Ireland with Mahler Mission 12 months ago and Grand Soir, who completed a hat-trick last time, could well extend his trainer’s excellent form in Britain over recent seasons.
Cheltenham 3.00 The hugely popular Paisley Park has won the last three runnings of this race and a repeat of his winning form at Kempton over Christmas should be enough to make it four-from-four.
Doncaster 3.15 Tea For Free is unbeaten since the excellent Lilly Pinchin took the reins last May and her 3lb claim could prove invaluable as they bid to extend their winning sequence to five.
Cheltenham 3.35 Plenty of unexposed staying novices in opposition but Pembroke clocked a useful time when pulling 16 lengths clear of his field at Ludlow in December and will take plenty of beating if his race-to-race improvement continues.