It is the season of goodwill to all - and that, it seems, includes racehorses. How else to explain the fact that Pridwell, who has probably been the subject of more betting shop curses than any other horse in training, seems sure to start favourite for the Bula Hurdle at Cheltenham this afternoon?
This is the same Pridwell who was the 7-2 second-favourite for this very race 12 months ago. When the tapes went up, he planted his feet and refused to move, before finally setting off a hopeless 40 lengths adrift of the field. It only made things worse when he actually managed to pass a couple of rivals on the final circuit, making it quite clear that, with any sort of a proper run, he would have gone very close indeed.
That sort for performance takes a great deal of forgiving, but perhaps the time has now arrived. In his three outings so far this season, Pridwell has yet to come off the bridle in winning by an aggregate of 20 lengths, and perhaps most significantly of all, he has now lost the squiggle by his name in Timeform which is the recognised mark of a mule.
"We try to give them as many chances as we can to keep the squiggle," Martin Greenwood, Timeform's hurdles handicapper, said yesterday, "but he does seem like a reformed character this year so we had no option but to take it off. If there was a physical problem that we've not yet got to hear about, then he could well be fine for the rest of his career, and when Mr Pipe irons horses out, they usually stay ironed out. But now I've said that, he'll probably go and do nothing again tomorrow."
Certainly, for all his apparent improvement this year, the idea of Pridwell starting favourite for the Bula takes a bit of getting used to. Large Action, last year's winner, is again in the field, so too Collier Bay, the champion of 1996, not to mention four more very worthy opponents. It is a fascinating race, but since only Pridwell (next best, 3.05) arrives with impeccable winning form to his name so far this season, he (probably) deserves one more chance.
The Tripleprint Gold Cup half an hour later is just as intriguing, with all nine of the runners now in the handicap proper following the removal of Coulton at the final declaration stage. Much attention will be directed at Simply Dashing, and quite rightly following his impressive performance at Ascot recently, but while he is a worthy favourite, a top-priced 5- 2 is very short for such a competitive race.
A value alternative is MAJOR BELL (3.40), an 8-1 chance with Hills, who showed excellent form over course and distance when runner-up to Sparky Gayle in the Cathcart Chase in March. He has clearly been laid out for this race, and will not be deterred if the ground has eased further overnight.
The remaining televised events at Cheltenham make little betting appeal, since one is a novice chase and the other - a novice hurdle for stayers - has at least seven credible winners in its nine-runner field. Over at Haydock, though, there is plenty to keep punters interested, with Nigel's Lad (1.45) worthy of support in the handicap hurdle, and The Grey Monk (2.15) third-favourite for the Gold Cup without so much as a run to his name this season, looking to establish himself among the elite in the Tommy Whittle Chase. Rough Quest, the 1996 Grand National winner, is a tough opponent for Gordon Richards' grey, but one that The Grey Monk should overcome on the way to far better things.Reuse content