To be, or not to be, that is indeed the question. It seems safe to assume Billy Shakespeare wasn’t thinking about the 2018 renewal of the BetVictor Gold Cup, the highlight of the Cheltenham November Meeting, when he penned this famous line in Hamlet.
However, if he was around today, and if he was of a gambling persuasion, the dilemma that is Rather Be would surely be at the forefront of his mind.
The seven-year-old has been all the rage for this ultra-competitive handicap since Monday when trainer Nicky Henderson opted to take his three other BetVictor Gold Cup entries out of the equation.
Henderson’s decision to put all his eggs in the Rather Be basket is undoubtedly significant and he deserves to head the market.
After all, he has a 9lb swing at the weights with the re-opposing Mister Whitaker, to whom he was beaten just a head in the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, is reported to have thrived in recent weeks, and boasts a tremendous record fresh.
Against that, at 5-1, his price is short enough now, Henderson has a poor record in this race, and this is a contest of real depth, with the likes of JLT third Benatar and Neil Mulholland’s Kalondra, to name but two, serious threats.
However, on balance, the positives outweigh the negatives and (pun very much intended) I’d Rather Be with him than against him.
An each-way saver on Guitar Pete might not prove the worst move.
He only managed ninth to Splash Of Ginge in this race last year but that doesn’t tell half the story as his chance disappeared as early as the first fence when he was badly hampered.
A month later, he bounced back to win the Caspian Gold Cup and odds of 25-1 look too big for a horse who generally reserves his best form for Cheltenham.
The BetVictor.com Handicap Chase sees the latest return of Coneygree.
The 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero has been plagued with problems since that success and, while 18-1 looks a big price for a horse with such back-class, recent history suggests he’s best swerved.
Cogry looks a safer option. The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained nine-year-old was just touched off by Relentless Dreamer over a slightly shorter trip on this course last month and this thorough stayer may be able to go one better this afternoon.
First Assignment is set to tackle three miles for the first time when he contests the Regulatory Finance Solutions Handicap Hurdle today and the way he plugged on to just get up to win at Cheltenham last month suggests he should thrive for this three-furlong step up in trip.
If that proves the case, he must surely go close.
Christmas In April was third to First Assignment in that Cheltenham race last month and with the Colin Tizzard team in rude health, he gets the nod in the BetVictor Intermediate Handicap Hurdle.
Tomorrow’s Cheltenham feature is the Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle and Verdana Blue is the right favourite.
This classy mare loves fast ground, is in cracking form at the minute, and a repeat of her brilliant display in last Saturday’s Elite Hurdle would make hard to beat here.
However, this represents a quick turnaround and while she was getting weight at Wincanton, this time she will be giving away chunks of it to her rivals. On that basis, she’s worth opposing.
Last season’s Scottish Champion Hurdle winner Midnight Shadow is a big player, County Hurdle winner Mohaayed looks a big price at 22-1, but the one who makes most appeal is Storm Rising.
The five-year-old is two from two since joining the Dr Richard Newland team and the ease with which he won a 16-runner handicap over course and distance last month bodes well for his prospects here. Odds of 10-1 look a fair-each-way price.
Injury ruled Sceau Royal out of the Cheltenham Festival last season but he looked a terrific prospect before that, winning four of his five starts, including the Grade One Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown last December.
Alan King’s charge returns to action in the Shloer Chase and the expectation is he’ll make a winning return.
The Racing Post Arkle Trophy Trial Novices’ Chase looks a cracker and could signal a return to form from Defi Du Seuil. Philip Hobbs’ charge carried all before him as a juvenile two seasons ago, his six wins including three at the highest level.
Things unravelled spectacularly last season, Defi Du Seuil finishing well down the field in his only two starts.
However, the Hobbs team were badly out of sorts all last season and are in far better order now.
There’s several unexposed sorts in the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle and Anytime Will Do gets the vote for the Skelton team.
Cheltenham 1.50: Cogry
Cheltenham 2.25: Rather Be
Cheltenham 2.25: Guitar Pete (Each-way)
Cheltenham 3.00: First Assignment (NB)
Cheltenham 3.30: Christmas In April
Cheltenham 1.50: Defi Du Seuil
Cheltenham 2.25: Sceau Royal (Nap)
Cheltenham 3.00: Storm Rising (Each-way)
Cheltenham 3.30: Anytime Will Do