Maskada set for repeat glory

Cheltenham Festival selections Wednesday 13th March

There could be a distinct case of deja vu about today’s racing. El Fabiolo can upgrade his Arkle win of 2023 to land the featured Champion Chase. I would have fancied Delta Work to take a third consecutive Cross Country until that race was abandoned. However both of today’s handicaps can go to the winner of the same race last year. In total I have selections for three races on the card. We got off to a very strong start yesterday with wins for Slade Steel (advised 5/1) and Lark in the Mornin (SP 9/1) plus places each-way for Meetingofthewaters (13/2) and Il Etait Temps (advised 6/1).

Cheltenham 2.50: Langer Dan & Jigoro

Fairly skilfully campaigned by trainer Dan Skelton throughout his career, LANGER DAN comes to a fifth consecutive Festival, looking to add to an already impressive record.

Clearly this horse has been trained with spring campaigns in mind, so he has done very little in the early part of the season. Therefore I am not worried that he has looked off the pace in four races this term – all coming over distances too short or tracks too sharp. Sixth as a juvenile here in the Fred Winter, he then beat all bar a certain Galopin Des Champs in the Martin Pipe in 2021. Unlucky to be brought down in the same race the following year, he gained compensation by winning at Aintree instead.

Last year he had a similar steady start to the year, only to suddenly come alive and edge home in game fashion over An Epic Song. His moderate performances this season mean he comes into this race off the very same mark of 141 and I trust the Skelton team to have got him prepared with this day alone in mind.

Of the up and coming novices in the field, JIGORO makes most appeal. Whilst he has only won one of his four starts over obstacles, he did chase home Supreme second Mystical Power and then Supreme favourite Tullyhill in those last two runs. Rather than finish in mid-division in that race, the option to go handicapping seems to make total sense.

All his runs have been on testing going, so today’s conditions should be no issue, and his running style has been that of a horse finishing well over 2m, so I think he should be up to the longer trip today.

Cheltenham 4.50: Maskada & Madara

This year’s Grand Annual looks weaker in depth than usual – certainly a smaller field size has assembled. As a result I don’t think it will take as much winning and therefore why not follow MASKADA to back up her win last year.

A stiff 2m suits her ideally and she came right away from a good field, notably Dinoblue last year. Of course she does have 8lbs extra to carry today, but I think she would have won off 150 last year and there is no Dinoblue in opposition here. Her three runs this season have all been in conditions races and whilst she has not shone in them, a fast run handicap is likely to be more her type of race.

MADARA is a fast improving colt who already has a Cheltenham win over course and distance to his name this season. This French import is likely to need further than 2m soon, but on a stiff track, soft going and a likely strong pace, his stamina will need to come into play this afternoon.

Since winning here, he has gone on to win impressively at the Dublin Racing Festival in a similar race and whilst he has an additional 10lbs on his back to carry today, he could well be up to the task.

Cheltenham 5.30: The Yellow Clay

One horse has impressed me more than the rest in the build up to this contest and that is THE YELLOW CLAY who had a very unlucky passage through the race in the big Leopardstown bumper last month.

This gelding won two bumpers in the spring last season, including the valuable one at Limerick and was making his reappearance at Leopardstown last month, probably with a view to then peaking here. Held up on the inside, he was first shuffled back several positions on the run to the home straight, then badly snatched up as Barry O’Neill searched in vain for a run until it was too late.

It was to the horse’s credit that he rallied for fourth, but I liked the way he battled. He quickened up well when winning his two races last season and will be more battle hardened than most coming into this.

Recommended bets:

1pt each-way – Langer Dan – 2.50 Cheltenham – 15/2 general (most bookies 1/5 odds 1st 6)

1pt each-way – Jigoro – 2.50 Cheltenham – 12/1 general (most bookies 1/5 odds 1st 6)

1pt each-way – Maskada – 4.50 Cheltenham – 9/1 general (most bookies 1/5 odds 1st 5)

1pt each-way – Madara – 4.50 Cheltenham – 11/2 Coral, Ladbrokes (1/5 odds 1st 5)

1pt each-way – The Yellow Clay – 5.30 Cheltenham – 13/2 Betfred (1/5 odds 1st 5)

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