1pt win Blue Hell @11/1, 1pt win Starchitect @14/1, 1pt win Modus @16/1, 14:10 Cheltenham

The Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle looks an incredibly difficult race to unpick. It is set to be run at a devilish pace with the ground now strictly classified as ‘Good’ at Cheltenham.

Great Field sits near the top of the market for this one, but surely has to be taken on having only had the one run over hurdles. His connections of Mullins and JP McManus ensure that he goes off a short price, but the handicapper has not taken a chance for his success in a minor event with a mark of 147. He is relatively inexperienced, and with form only on soft ground does not make huge appeal on the bear figures.

Likewise, Superb Story seems short, on the basis of his opening performances and with a 9lb rise to contend with. Albeit he does race off a low mark (138) and his second to Old Guard is clearly good form. However, the 6/1 on offer represents no value at all, and it’s not as if his juvenile form screams that he will hose up here despite switching to the Skelton’s yard.

STARCHITECT made an impressive reappearance after 310 days off in the Betfair Hurdle to finish second to Agrapart – his first start since switching from Donald McCain to David Pipe – who had previously finished behind Yorkhill in the Tolworth. He would have finished much closer than his eleven length defeat, if he hadn’t blundered at the last, yet he still managed to regain enough speed to hold on to second. A 6lb rise in the weights may fall short of the true uplift that would have been required had he not slipped up.

That forms looks rock solid with the third – Flying Angel – having now won the Imperial Cup, with Affaire D’Honneur back in fourth place. The fifth (Waxies Dargle) and ninth (Blazer) placed horses finished around two lengths behind Diamond King on Wednesday to further frank the form.

His juvenile form looks good also with two wins on good ground followed by two runner up performances to Peace And Co and Hargam respectively. He then finished fourth in the Fred Winter to Qualando on good ground before falling at the last when still travelling ok in a Grade 1 off level-weights at Aintree to round off a strong juvenile campaign.

He sits 3lbs above bottom-weight in a compressed handicap, but looks like he will come on substantially for his opening run of the season on his preferred ground.

One horse that was down the field in the Betfair Hurdle was MODUS, who had been highly progressive up until that point over hurdles. That run did not do him justice, and he has not had his favoured quick ground all season.

A mark of 139 could massively underestimate his true class based on his second in the Champion Bumper on similar ground last year – a race that had Yanworth back in fourth – as he looks a sound jumper.

Nicholls has said that “he has the right profile for a County Hurdle because he stays 2.5 miles and that this strongly run race should  just be the ticket”. The 16/1 on offer could be generous as he probably could have run in a strong novice event off level-weights at The Festival, but instead he receives weight from most of the field, and I fancy him to bounce back to form on this ground.

It is also hard to get away from the Diamond King form in the Coral Cup who won off a mark of 149. BLUE HELL is running off a mark of 146, and on his previous start in November, he beat the Coral Cup winner, easily, by three lengths.

That was a first start after his switch of yards, and although he is lightly raced, he must be feared for Irish jockey Adrian Heskin, who has a Cheltenham Festival winner on Martello Tower on his CV from last year.

The ground may possibly be too quick for him, but he does hold a third over gd-yld in Ireland providing encouragement. He remains unexposed on fast ground in any case, and is worth siding with on the basis of his form-line with Diamond King and opening UK handicap alone at a price of 11/1.

1pt win Blue Hell @11/1, 14:10 Cheltenham
1pt win Starchitect @14/1, 14:10 Cheltenham
1pt win Modus @16/1, 14:10 Cheltenham

(Early morning prices with William Hill)


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