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Put it on the Slate

Put it on the Slate

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Cheltenham Trials Day is centre stage on Saturday as the great amphitheatre in the Cotswolds stages it final day of racing before the Cheltenham Festival in March.

This day often provides plenty of pointers towards March and, with some luck, we’ll see a Festival winner or two in what appears a good card.

Colin Tizzard’s string are just starting to come out a slow spell and he’s got an interesting runner in the Ballymore Classic Novices’ Hurdle (15:00) in the shape of Slate House.

Having won his first two starts over timber for the Dorset handler, he was prominent in the betting for a hot Ascot race just before Christmas won by Claimantakinforgan for Nicky Henderson.

Slate House was keen in front and his race was run a fair way out but he’s well worth a try over this longer journey. A price of 9/1 is maybe overestimating that defeat and the fact he concedes weight to the majority in this line-up.

Henderson fires a couple of lesser experienced sorts in Pacific De Baune and Santini but his Claimantakinforgan is expected to have a big say in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle back here in March, by which time Slate House’s effort behind him may look much better than it did at the time.

Earlier on the card in the Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase (13:15), Mister Whitaker gets the vote to go one better than his Kempton second over Christmas.

Mick Channon’s charge is very lightly-raced – this will be ninth run – and has impressed so far this term over fences. He wasn’t far behind Adrien Du Pont at Fontwell on his first outing before winning a novice handicap at Carlisle over two-and-a-half miles. At Kempton, he pushed the front-running Hell’s Kitchen closest last time and the pair were miles clear of the remainder.

He’s up 4lb but that effort strongly suggests he can prove better than a mark of 129 and, with scope for improvement, he’s fancied at 9/2 just as long as Adrian Heskin keeps close tabs on likely pace-setter Sizing Tennessee, the 5/2 favourite.

With it being Trials Day, it’s worth sticking at Cheltenham and the big race on the card is the Cotswold Chase (14:25). This was a contest so memorable 12 months ago for bittersweet reasons, with Many Clouds producing a powerful finish before his ill-fated demise.

This time around Bristol De Mai is favourite at 13/8 after the grey romped to victory in the Betfair Chase in November on bottomless ground at Haydock. He was not as good at Kempton on Boxing Day when getting into a scrap with Might Bite from the get-go. Back on soft ground, he’s respected but might just be worth taking on all the same.

American was a mightily impressive novice last season and carried significant expectations when he reappeared in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury. He just didn’t fire there but it was to be noted that Harry Fry felt confident of starting his season in such a competitive contest.

Djakadam was once in a similar position, having gone off a strong favourite in what then the Hennessy before underperforming, leading Willie Mullins no less to admit he’d underestimated the Newbury challenge. Next time out, Djakadam sluiced up in the competitive Thyestes Chase in Ireland.

American is 5/1 for the Cotswold Chase and remains an eight-year-old with enormous promise. Fry’s team are in super form right now, with a 31% strike rate lately, and he could leave his Newbury run well behind at an each-way price as long as all eight stand their ground.

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Enda McElhinney Our racing expert, Enda studies cards in both England and Ireland on a daily basis and knows all the details you need to know when trying to select a winner. He is also a regular football writer and has strong knowledge of the Scottish game, with golf another specialised sport on his CV.