Unusually heavy going on the opening day of The Festival with the first handicap, the Ultima Handicap Chase, failing to attract its full compliment of runners with just 18 lining up.
It has been a graveyard for favourite backers with just one winner in the last ten runnings. I really like Gold Present’s form and if the ground wasn’t going to be this heavy, we might have been inclined to get on the top weight.
The other reality is that his main aim is a tilt at the Grand National. This is his prep run and was by no means the preferred choice.
Singlefarmpayment will be popular again having been touched off by a nose in this Iast year. He is on a 3lb higher mark, but he pulled up last time out on heavy going over course and distance and is arguably more exposed these days.
Novice or second season chasers normally have the edge in this and I like the chances of VINTAGE CLOUDS at 12/1 for Trevor Hemmings and Sue Smith. He gets in off a mark of 141 and is 7lbs higher than when he came down in this last year with two fences to jump and still in the leading group. That performance at The Festival was encouraging and his campaign this season has been highly consistent.
He isn’t necessarily the slickest jumper, but he should cope well in these conditions and is a dour stayer. His record of 1/11 successes over fences probably doesn’t do him justice.
He won on his seasonal reappearance, and has twice finished second this season with defeats to Clan Des Obeaux, and RSA contender Ballyoptic. A fourth place finish in the Welsh National was no mean feat either, having been hampered in the latter stages of the race, and the chances are this race could be a slog of similar proportions.
Despite those performances he is only 1lb higher and has a live each-way chance at the bottom of the weights.
0.75pts each-way Vintage Clouds @12/1, 14:50 Cheltenham, Tuesday (1/4 odds, first four places)