WITH the Cheltenham Festival only two weeks away, let us look at the leading Welsh-trained entries. Evan Williams has the best chances in the championship races according to the betting, with Silver Streak and Esprit Du Large.

Silver Streak finished third at 80/1 in last year’s Champion Hurdle. He was fortunate that there was a small field of ten. On official ratings he should have finished tenth of the ten runners, but quite early in the race one fell and brought down another. Gradually it became apparent that some of the others weren’t running up to their best and although the grey never threatened to win, he stayed on well to pass the likes of the two market leaders, Apple’s Jade and Laurina.

The Williams horse was beaten five lengths by Epatante in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, whose performance there was impressive enough to make him favourite for the Champion Hurdle. Before that he was rated inferior to Silver Streak and now he is one pound higher, yet their odds for Cheltenham’s opening day feature are 100/30 and 25/1 respectively!

Everything went the grey’s way last year, but because next month’s renewal looks such an open race a big field is likely. The standard is below average and everything is going to have an each way chance. For betting purposes Silver Streak is best left alone unless you hunt down a bookmaker offering four or five places.

Esprit Du Large is underrated for the Arkle Trophy, the race for the top two mile novice chasers. He shot to prominence with victory in Sandown’s Henry VIII Novices Chase in December, a first Grade 1 for jockey Adam Wedge and for owners William and Angela Rucker. He is only two or three pounds behind the best horses on official handicap ratings (Gigginstown’s Notebook and J P McManus’ Fakir D’Oudairies). The big stables and owners attract more publicity and if the Williams yard was more high-profile their horse would probably be less than 16/1 currently quoted.

The horse is also entered in the Marsh Novices Chase, a lower grade contest over two and a half miles. In view of his odds for that one (33/1), that appears to be connections’ second choice.

Lisnagar Oscar and Tobefair are set to line up in the Stayers’ Hurdle. The former, available at 33/1, came back to form for Rebecca Curtis last time out by finishing third behind Paisley Park in the Cleeve Hurdle. The trainer suggested he was favoured by small fields and better ground.

On the other hand, Debra Hamer’s Tobefair needs a strong pace and a big field is therefore desirable. He’s been in great form this last year. Most recently he was fourth in the Cleeve, despite it being relatively slowly-run. Some bookmakers are offering 66/1 and an each way bet is worth chancing for patriotic Welsh punters. Nearer the time seek out those offering more than the bare three places.

Chepstow racecourse has had a charmed life for most of the winter, avoiding the worst of the weather, but it came to an end last week when Saturday’s fixture was abandoned due to waterlogging. Assuming it dries up, they will race next on Monday 2nd, a fixture for which two tickets can be bought in advance for a total of £20. At least we’re not having the same problems as the South Korean racing authorities, who abandoned two race meetings on Sunday because of the spread of coronavirus.