Hoping for a Strong start to 2024


FINE CASTING gets a narrow vote in a very tight race for the TV opener of 2024 at Cheltenham (12.55pm) at 4/1. A pretty smart bumper horse, he perhaps didn’t quite meet the standards expected of him as a hurdler, but his chasing debut was solid and suggested there’s more to come off this sort of mark. Although a couple of smart ones are in opposition, his good fourth in the Imperial Cup suggests he’s not overmatched in good company, while the most compelling evidence is his excellent record on heavy ground.

ANGELS BREATH is a risky proposition at 9/2, but might have been found a suitable opportunity at last (1.30pm). Clearly he’ll never quite be the force of old, but a good trawl through all his good back form suggests he’s essentially a high cruising one pacer with an aptitude for bad ground and who is probably crying out for this trip. A smallish field should suit quite well, and there must be a suspicion that Inch House won’t love the ground, while Cloudy Glen is best fresh and Stumptown needs the headgear to work some magic.

SHAKEM UP’ARRY is racing off the same mark as when an excellent third over course and distance at the Festival (2.05pm), and there is every chance he could run even better in this small field affair at 5/1. His record in midwinter on testing ground is very good, while his bold showing in the Coral Gold Cup strongly suggested he was in extremely good heart. Given it was simply his stamina that gave out, a drop in the weights looks generous.

COME ON TEDDY shaped well enough on his comeback to think there’s still a bit of gas in the tank (2.40pm) at 10/1. Habitually effective both at Cheltenham and on deep ground, he’ll furthermore appreciate a return to the more stamina sapping New Course over hurdles, and shouldn’t find the race getting away from him as was the case last time.

STRONG LEADER has possibilities at 9/2 in the Relkeel (3.15pm). He’s significantly less exposed than the others, and looked to be coming right back to form upped in trip at Ascot. The ground is a bit of an unknown, but it’s not ideal for the front pair either. It’s hard to think Bob Olinger achieved an enormous amount beating Zanahiyr the other day, while Marie’s Rock was good in this last year but has been a bit hit-and-miss since, even allowing for three miles stretching her.


IN THIS WORLD ought to build on his promising effort last time in the first of two televised races from Musselburgh (1.10pm) at 2/1. That was in a race of more depth at Cheltenham, and I liked the way he finished off there, suggesting that two and a half miles on an easy track should be fine.

CRACKING DESTINY has quite sound claims of following up his recent win in the Auld Reekie (2.20pm) at 11/2. Although the handicapper has taken action, that was a cosy success and – most crucially – he should get a very similar pace set-up here with Fidelio Vallis and Corrigeen Rock in the line-up.