The Cotswold Chase (2.15), run over 3 miles 1 furlong and 56 yards, has been a poor race for favourites, with no market leader successful in the last 10 years. However, not too many of them could be mentioned in the same breath as this year’s favourite, Thistlecrack, a facile winner of all four starts over fences, including the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, and officially the highest-rated chaser in training in Great Britain. Although available at prohibitive odds (4/9), the former World Hurdle winner is confidently expected to take care of last year’s winner and runner-up, Smad Place and Many Clouds, as he continues his preparation for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Selection: Cheltenham 2.35 Thistlecrack (4/9 with Bet Stars or Betway) to win
The Lanzarote Hurdle (2.40) at Kempton on Saturday hasn’t been a bad race for favourites in recent years, with four, including one joint-favourite, successful since distance was increased to 2 miles 5 furlongs ten years ago. This year, Jonjo O’Neill’s unbeaten five-year-old Doesyourdogbite (6/1, in a place, but generally shorter) heads the market and looks an exciting prospect.
The Notnowcato gelding has improved with each starts over obstacles and made a successful handicap debut in a 0-140 contest over course and distance on Boxing Day. He’s been raised 6lb for that success, but won readily and still looks feasibly weighted. The going at Kempton is currently good to soft and although rain, heavy in places, is forecast on Thursday, the outlook for Friday and Saturday is drier and brighter, so he should have underfoot conditions to suit.
Selection: Kempton 2.40 Doesyourdogbite (6/1 with Coral) to win
He may not be averse to the odd controversial soundbite and many people, including your correspondent, may wish that he simply let his snooker do the talking, but there’s no doubt that Ronnie O’Sullivan is in typical imperious form approaching the latter stages of the UK Championship. The “Rocket” has lost just three frames en route to the quarter finals and with Mark Williams or Liam Highfield his next opponent, now looks like the time to lump on the five times former winner at 2.1 with Stan James. Victory in Friday’s quarter final will see O’Sullivan come up against Jamie Jones, David Gilbert or Marco Fu, while the other half of the draw still features former world champions John Higgins – who plays Mark Allen, ranked 10 in the world – Mark Selby and Sean Murphy. The Essex man has, by far, the easier route to the final and may well arrive there fresher than whichever opponent he faces.
Selection: Ronnie O’Sullivan (2.1 with Stan James)
Mystifyingly, the PGA Tour season for 2017 is already underway and Justin Thomas is already $1,502,168 to the good after winning the CIMB Classic in Malaysia for the second year running and finishing tied eighth in the Safeway Open in California. This week, the 23-year-old tees in up in the Dunlop Phoenix Tournament in Miyazaki on the Japan Golf Tour and looks worthy of support at 11/2 with bet365. His PGA Tour record of 16 top-ten finishes in his first 71 starts makes excellent reading in this less competitive, limited field event and he can add his name to an impressive roll of honour that includes Seve Ballesteros, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods, to name but a few.
Selection: Justin Thomas to win (11/2 with bet365)
In the Bet365 West Yorkshire Hurdle (2.45) at Wetherby on Saturday, former winning point-to-pointer Ballyoptic made excellent progress over hurdles last season, culminating win a game win from subsequent Grade One winner Bellshill in the Doom Bar Sefton Novices’ Hurdle, over an extended 3 miles, at Aintree last April. The King’s Theatre gelding demonstrated his well being with another game win in the Totepool Silver Trophy Handicap Hurdle, over 2 miles 3½ furlongs, at Chepstow three weeks ago and, stepping back up in distance, must take all the beating. The going at Wetherby is currently good but, with an unsettled forecast for the rest of the week, some easing of the ground is a distinct possibility. Any rain that falls is in his favour, but he should run his race regardless of the weather in West Yorkshire and he looks a worthy favourite.
Selection: Wetherby 2.45 Ballyoptic (3/1 with Betfred or Totesport) to win