1.50pm Cheltenham Tips & Betting Preview 12/11/2016

Just the one favourite and one co favourite in the last ten years of this race with winners at odds up to 25/1 so it looks like all things are possible. Trainer Philip Hobbs took the race last season with Sausalito Sunrise (7/1) and he is back to defend his crown in 2016 carrying top weight here off a handicap rating of 158, a full stone higher than he carried to victory last year. Four wins from nine starts over hurdles marked him out as way above average and he has followed that with three wins from ten over fences as well as a third in the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown when last seen in April but good as he is, he will need a career best to win here and it may well be beyond him.

At the weights and the prices it looks more likely that Beg To Differ (14/1 Each Way) is the value call for Jonjo O’Neil with Noel Fehily booked to ride the six-year-old gelding. He deserves a change of luck after unseating Aidan Coleman in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival when looking to be going as well as any before clipping heels on the bend, but he had beaten Loose Chips the time before at Sandown by an easy four and a half lengths and if we judge him on that then he has a rock solid chance of success this afternoon at an each-way price.

Trainer of the moment Paul Nicholls has won this twice in the last ten years and he had a few entered here, but has decided to rely on the race-fit Unioniste (20/1) who was last seen in October when eleventh of sixteen at Chepstow when sent off a 33/1 shot and clearly not expected to run any better than he did. He has actually won off a higher mark than this as a novice but hasn’t been at his best for some time now, and even his master trainer could struggle to get him to win a race of this calibre again

Meanwhile, Jonjo O’Neill seems pretty bullish about all of his horses for this season and he has another entry here in Minella Rocco (7/1) who sits up near to the top of the weights despite just the five races over fences. As a novice he finished a good second to Vyta Du Roc at Ascot in the Reynoldstown chase at Ascot last February and followed that with a length and a quarter defeat of the decent Native River at the Cheltenham Festival in the four-mile National Hunt Chase for amateur riders. He clearly stays for ever and they still think he is better than we have seen so far based on his homework, though he does have so much weight that a good run around ahead of other targets may be the realistic wish for the afternoon.

Sticking with Jonjo (he clearly wants to win this race), and there has been plenty of early money for the first time blinkered Upswing (9/1) who was last seen pulling up at Chepstow when never really sighted off the same handicap rating of 137 that he faces now.  Second in the race last season off just a pound lower making him thirteen pounds better off with Sausalito Sunrise for less than four lengths so the confidence is understandable. Add the ownership pf legendary gambler J P McManus and you have to wonder whether he has had the money down or whether the bookmakers are running scared just in case.

Colin Tizzard is another trainer hitting the headlines for all the right reasons and he may well run Fourth Act (10/1) here who gets in nearer to the bottom of the weights than the top.  Last time out at Ascot he tired three miles for the first time and was perhaps left with too much to do as they looked to conserve his stamina, yet he ran on better than all of his rivals in to fourth and was nearest at the finish. They may well feel they can ride him a bit more positively now and off a proper racing weight he may well be able to put his fitness advantage to good use and make them all go a bit this afternoon.

Looking for a couple of other each way options and our friend and ally Nigel Twiston-Davies has entered Cogry (8/1) here as the seven-year-old looks to go three places better than his fourth in this race last year. Rated 135 in 2015 he is a pound lower now and Ryan Hatch rides again which is promising and although no good thing, he is a consistent staying chaser and he can run well and possibly get in to the frame.

Lastly for now and Lucy Wadham’s Le Reve (20/1) has often flattered to deceive over the years but has won four races over fences including the Masters Handicap Chase at Sandown last February. That was off a rating of 144and he only has two pounds more than that this afternoon suggesting that at his best he might have a chance, however slim.

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