Another cracking day in store at Cheltenham, with the Queen Mother Champion Chase the highlight on an action-packed Wednesday at Prestbury Park.

Our man Nick Luck is back with his thoughts and fancies.

Cheltenham

BOB OLINGER faces a couple of formidable opponents in the Ballymore (1.20pm), but he can prove well up to the task at 15/8. I have huge respect for Gaillard Du Mesnil and, in particular, Bravemansgame, and have no doubt the latter will be a real top notcher. My fear is that they both have similar grinding running styles that may compromise one another and feel that Bob Olinger not only has more in the way of a gear change, but also could get the perfect trip through this race.

MONKFISH is just very, very hard to oppose at 4/9 in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase (1.55pm) and – believe me – I’ve tried every way possible to put up a selection against him. I simply cannot see the flaw here, save for the likelihood that this might end up the best ground he’s raced on, and that’s clutching at straws. Unless he runs significantly below par, he just wins. Sporting John (10/1) might be the one to make it interesting should there be a joker in the pack, as he remains open to great improvement over this trip.

THOMAS DARBY might be top weight here, but I reckon he’s pretty well handicapped and can win the Coral Cup (2.30pm) at 12/1. Second in a Supreme Novices’ two years ago, he’s been pretty lightly campaigned since and I’m as sure as I can be that he gets his optimum conditions here for a stable that continues to go pretty well. First time cheekpieces can help him (he has sometimes looked a little gawky under pressure) and his last (and only) previous run in handicap company was a win. I’ll be saving on CRAIGNEICHE: he has gone up a chunk for his Ascot win, but he was impressive in a good race and has more to offer at 10/1.

ROUGE VIF is an each-way play at 22/1 in the Queen Mother Champion Chase (3.05pm). Clearly, this is Chacun Pour Soi’s race to lose, and he is a supreme talent. He has not run here before, however, and his light career overall will always suggest that there is a hint of fallibility there. The rest of this field is very good, but of comparable ability, and Harry Whittington’s gelding appeals most at the prices. In three starts over fences on good or good to soft ground, he is undefeated, including a romp here earlier in the season and a thrashing of Nube Negra last winter. There may not be a more ground dependant chaser in training and his yard is now in much better form than when he tasted heavy defeats earlier in the season.

HOGAN’S HEIGHTS is a token choice in a Cross Country (3.40pm) that I find very difficult this year. Neither Easysland nor Tiger Roll has shown any form since this race last year (and what was that form worth?), so I am reluctant to get carried away with either. Meanwhile, there is a whole slew of horses that would be interesting on old form, but it’s anyone’s guess which one will spark back to life. Hogan’s Heights is a very solid jumper, as shown by winning the Sefton at Aintree in 2019, and although he was pulled up at Wincanton last time, that appeared very much a pipe-opener for bigger tests further down the line. He’s never run of these fences, but he might just take to them at 33/1.

SIZING POTTSIE and my old friend ON THE SLOPES are my two against the field in the Grand Annual (4.15pm). The fact that this race returns to the Old Course will place more of an emphasis on speed and I’m looking for horses that can press the pace and get into a good early rhythm. Sizing Pottsie (22/1) has only run in one handicap chase in which he tonked Entoucas by six lengths making a lot of the running. He’s been hit and miss since, but this is the right spot and his stable is in nice form. On The Slopes (22/1) is running second time after a breathing-op (had a spin in a jumpers’ bumper), and is in with a big shout off this mark on last spring’s progressive form.

SIR GERHARD (5/2) can get the better of his new stablemate Kilcruit in the Champion Bumper (4.50pm). They are both clearly well out of the ordinary, but the ex-Elliott inmate appeals as having slightly the more convincing profile. At big odds, I am tempted to invest each-way in another Mullins runner, COOL JET, whose dam is a half-sister to a previous winner of this race in Cousin Vinny, and who can show himself off to even better effect if he can settle off a strong pace at 33/1.

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