2.10 Cheltenham – MONALEE (nap)
The selection, trained by Henry de Bromhead, quickly made up into a smart performer over hurdles last season, winning first time out and following up in a 3m Grade 3 contest at Clonmel prior to finishing second to Penhill in the Albert Bartlett here last March, travelling strongly but perhaps doing a bit too much too soon. He was likely feeling the effects of that when fourth in the Irish equivalent at Punchestown the following month but made the perfect start to his chasing career when landing a 2m 4f novice event on his return back there last November, making all and jumping supremely well as he eased to a 6-length victory over Any Second Now. He fell in a 3m Grade 1 event at the same course the following month but wasted no time in getting back on track with victory in the 2m 5f Grade 1 Flogas Novice Chase back there last month, turning in another excellent round of jumping and finding plenty once pressed on the flat to run out a ¾-length winner from Al Boum Photo. He has long appealed as the sort to take very high rank over fences and, as well as proving an excellent jumper (barring a mishap the time before last), he also showed a good attitude once pressed last time out in what looked a strong race; both qualities will stand him in good stead for this type of test, and no surprise whatsoever to see this gelding prove more than equal to the task.
5.30 Cheltenham – THE BIG BITE (nb)
The selection, trained by Tom George, is a nicely-bred son of Scorpion who made a winning start to his career (for Tom Lacey) in a polytrack bumper at Lingfield last March (14/1 chance), waited with and shaken up over two furlongs out, having plenty on at the top of the straight but coming with a strong run down the outer approaching the final furlong which carried him into the lead 100 yards out, scoring by 3½ lengths from Polly’s Pursuit. He made a winning return/start for this stable under a penalty in a bumper at Huntingdon on Boxing Day (13/2 chance), waited with in touch in midfield until making smooth progress on the outer approaching the straight, still on the bit approaching the final furlong and shaken up to lead soon after, driven clear to score by 2½ lengths from Shaughnessy. Unsurprisingly for a son of Scorpion, he hasn’t looked entirely straightforward, exhibiting an awkward head carriage and tending to edge either way off the bridle, but he also has latent talent as evidenced with the manner in which he has travelled and put a seal on matters both starts. This will obviously demand his biggest performance yet and also prove a test of whatever temperament is lurking, but, should he keep a lid on things, it wouldn’t at all surprise to see this gelding cause an upset and maintain his 100 per cent record here.