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Terry Biddlecombe National Hunt Chase preview

Let the Festival previews begin! For the third year in a row, I am enlisting the help of NH racing enthusiasts and shrewd punters to provide previews of this week;'s action from the Cheltenham Festival. Some are professional, some have been blessed with more ability in the writing category than identifying value or winners, and most fit somewhere in between. Above all else, this assembly of writing talent should inspire you to think for yourself rather than encourage blindly following any tips - after all.... it's your money!

First off the mark, analysing a rather tricky four-mile chase with amateur riders aboard, this time contested in the memory of the recently departed Terry Biddlecombe, is Mark Rogerson, making his blog debut. You can follow him via @markyrodge

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Terry Biddlecombe National Hunt Chase

The penultimate race on the opening day is the National Hunt Chase, named in memory of Terry Biddlecombe. The race is open to novices and the horses are to be amateur ridden over a stamina sapping four miles trip.

The likely favourite will be the Irish raider Foxrock. Trained by Ted Walsh and ridden by daughter Katie, the six year old will no doubt be popular with the punters from The Emerald Isle.

Foxrock had won three times from four starts this term, with his only defeat coming in the Grade 1, Topaz Novices Chase when he only found the smart Carlingford Lough and Morning Assembly too much that day. Two wins in Grade 2 events followed at Naas and Navan both over three miles and on heavy ground. It looks as if the step up in trip to four miles should suit, however his jumping has been far from perfect from what I've seen and I can see this anchoring his chances if he's not foot perfect at the fences. Although Katie Walsh appears a good booking on paper, personally I'm not a huge fan. She's only had two winners from her last forty rides and the last of those wins was back on Boxing Day.

At the prices the skinny odds of around 3/1 that's floating around make no appeal to me.

Shutthefrontdoor has had three starts over fences since last year's Festival. He opened his account in a four runner event at Aintree before two disappointing efforts at this track.

The first of those course defeats happened at The Open Meeting in November. Despite going down just under a length to Le Bec he was well held and never really looked like winning. Le Bec and Shutthefrontdoor took each other on again a month later in a four runner event with the last named finishing last of the quartet and beaten 35 lengths at odds of 11/8. There has been money ante-post for this one, though and being owned by legendary gambler JP McManus you have to take note of that. I'm happy to pass it over on the basis there's too many questions to be answered to warrant betting it at cramped odds.

Willie Mullins saddles Suntiep here. He's had two chase starts to date and hasn't achieved an awful lot if I'm honest. He finished a moderate fifth on his debut over the larger obstacles and was seemingly beaten and toiling in second until his main rival tipped up at the last in a race lacking quality at Fairyhouse.

Hard to recommend despite top connections.

To win a race of this nature, you need a horse that has a touch of class, one that jumps well, stays strongly and has as much assistance from the saddle as possible. The one that fits the bill and gets the vote is SHOTGUN PADDY. The Emma Lavelle inmate has all the key attributes. He's one of the top rated on official figures and is economical at his fences.

Paddy's last run in the Grade 3 Betfred Classic at Warwick shows he's got stamina in abundance, when he routed a strong field of seasoned campaigners by six lengths over 3m5f with a lot of his best work being done at the finish. Connections were quick to snap up top Irish amateur jockey Derek O'Connor who won this race in the past when partnering Chicago Grey to victory in 2011. A big run looks on the cards.

One that caught the eye at bigger prices is Alan King's Midnight Prayer. The switch to fences has seen a big improvement from his hurdles form. I find it interesting that he won the same prep race that Godsmejudge won before running well in defeat in last years renewal. He does have a bit to find strictly on ratings but he's improving and could chase the selection home.

Merlin's Wish is a confirmed stayer having already won over four miles and will be running on when the others have cried enough but I'll be surprised if he's good enough to trouble the principals.

Verdict
1st - Shotgun Paddy
2nd - Midnight Prayer
3rd - Foxrock

Thanks for reading and best of luck with your bets at the festival.
Mark @markyrodge

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