14:40 Cheltenham – Alfie looks the real McCoy
Owner JP McManus has won this race three times in the last 11 years, and from an original entry of seven, he relies on Alfie Sherrin and Cantlow in a bid to enhance his record further.
The former landed a huge overnight gamble in this contest in 2012 and has again been heavily backed in recent days. The 11-year-old also ran well at last year’s Festival to finish fourth in the Kim Muir and has clearly been trained specifically with this race in mind by Jonjo O’Neill.
This is also the same O’Neill who has provided McManus with two winners in this contest and has also saddled two runners-up in the race since 2002. It also looks significant that 18-time champion jockey Tony McCoy has sided with Alfie Sherrin.
Cantlow also has Festival form to his name having finished third over hurdles in the 2012 running of the Pertemps Final and has since developed into a useful handicap chaser. He scored in good style on his penultimate start at Newbury and then lost little in defeat last time out when chasing home Double Ross at this venue.
Conditions for him are ideal, but he does have a career-high mark of 151 to overcome.
Green Flag looks to holding leading claims of bagging the prize for the north. Trained in Scotland by Lucinda Russell, the gelding was a decent hurdler who has taken his form to a new level since tackling fences. He won his first three starts over the larger obstacles in good style, jumping well and staying on strongly at the end of each.
The seven-year-old then put in a cracking effort over 3m at Kempton in the Feltham Chase when staying on to finish a 10-length runner-up to Annacotty at a track which didn’t play to his strengths. The gelding will be far better suited by a return to a galloping track and the stiff uphill finish will certainly be more to his liking. His accurate jumping is also a major asset, as is his ability to act on any ground.
As well as Alfie Sherrin, Jonjo O’Neill has another fascinating contender in the shape of Holywell. The seven-year-old has already landed one notable success at Prestbury Park’s showpiece meeting when securing a cosy triumph under Richie McLernon in last season’s Pertemps Final over hurdles.
He followed up that effort by finishing second to Solwhit in the Grade 1 Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree, but has taken time to get his act together over fences this season. He got turned over in his first three outings over the larger obstacles when sent off favourite, but has won his last two starts in good style. Holywell goes into the race off a rating of 145 – 12lb lower than the 157 he is rated over hurdles – and is clearly on a very dangerous handicap mark.