Ex Patriot (1.30 – JCB Triumph Hurdle)
The betting reflects the view that the UK juveniles are well clear of their Irish rivals; that seems premature as we simply don't know how their form stacks up yet. There is an argument to be made that all the Irish are overpriced with Mega Fortune the solid one though it is possible he peaked last time. That is hardly the case with Ex Patriot whose trainer Ellmarie Holden seems to have improved everything in her yard this season. A relative late starter compared to most of these – he only made his hurdles debut on January 15th – there could be a bigger performance in him on decent ground.
Sizing John (3.30 – Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase)
Cue Card and Djakadam are the proven horses but the Gold Cup often goes the way of the improver with Sizing John in that mould this year. He still seems judged on his defeats to Douvan rather than his victories this season but is a much better model now for step up in distance and the switch to Jessica Harrington. Well-suited by the track, his stamina remains unproven but that's been the case with many past winners going into the race.
Verni (4.50 – Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle)
Often the festival handicap markets are framed around horses towards the top of the weights that are sure of a run with those at the bottom ignored despite obvious form claims; Verni is a case in point and just creeps into Martin Pipe. The argument for him is simple – he has won three of his last four starts, the sole defeat coming against Clyne under that one's optimum conditions. Clyne is now rated sixteen pounds higher, suggesting 135 could be lenient for Verni.
Tony Keenan writes a weekly Irish racing tipping column for Betfair as well as data-driven racing analysis on Geegeez.co.uk. He is a guest tipster for The Irish Times during Cheltenham