The Silver Trophy - a battle between Nicholls and Skelton?

A large amount of the focus in the Silver Trophy at Cheltenham on Wednesday is likely to be on the running battle between Paul Nicholls and Dan Skelton as they try to chase down Willie Mullins in the race for the British trainers' title. Il Ridoto and Sail Away are the focus.

That could well end up being the right approach, for imperfect reasons. Those two horses are the most interesting in the race from a handicapping perspective. They also represent the two main strands of Silver Trophy contenders. Il Ridoto is a course specialist coming back for one last go at a big pot before the autumn. Sail Away has waited all winter for a bit of better ground.

Il Ridoto is an appealing bet. He hardly ever runs a bad race here, even in the Plate last time he lost no ground on the principals from two out. When ridden more aggressively, as Harry Cobden should be able to manage in this smaller field, he is better. That was how it went when he was beaten a short head off this mark in the December Gold Cup.

The slight misgiving about Sail Away is that his best form is on flatter tracks. There is no doubt he is well enough treated to be a big player, though. 

There are plenty of others of interest. That is especially true of In Excelsis Deo, who has been put in as early favourite. He finished strongly into fifth in the Plate, but is becoming something of a professional eyecatcher. He is easy enough to skirt around in good races at shortish odds.

The progressive Scarface and Idalko Bihoue, who has presumably been saved for decent ground after winning here in October, are clearly interesting types. At bigger odds, consider Gemirande. His season started only 11 days before the Grand Annual, where he finished fifth and shaped better than the result. He is 4lb lower than when beaten four lengths in this race last year.
Race analysis by Keith Melrose

Fry: 'In Excelsis Deo hasn't had the rub of the green this season'
Not many horses have been as unlucky as In Excelsis Deo this season.

The Harry Fry-trained six-year-old paid the price for early mistakes when beaten here by subsequent Dublin Racing Festival winner Madara in December, then unseated when challenging at Sandown. The luckless run continued last time out when he endured a nightmare passage in the Plate, but still managed to finish fifth.

That Cheltenham Festival race was his first try at this trip and his chance completely went after being badly hampered by a faller. He looked destined to finish out of contention but motored up the hill, completing the final half-mile quicker than any other runner.

Off an unchanged mark, his trainer is hopeful he should be competitive if things fall in his favour.

Fry said: "I think it's fair to say he hasn't had the rub of the green this season. He was unlucky at Cheltenham and then unseated the time before when he was in with a chance. He showed a liking for the trip last time and I'm hoping he can build on that and go close.

"He ran well on good ground in October so that's fine, it's a competitive handicap, so we've got to go out an earn it, but he seems in good form at home. With a bit of luck in running he shouldn't be far away."

What they say
Paul Nicholls, trainer of Il Ridoto
He’s a standing dish at Cheltenham and usually runs very well in these two-and-a-half-mile handicaps. It didn’t quite happen for him last time at the festival when he was towards the rear in the early stages before staying on at the finish. He has his chance, but is probably still on a stiff enough handicap mark.

Dan Skelton, trainer of Sail Away and Our Jet
They're both fresh and in really good form. They'll like the ground and the track shouldn't be an issue.

Nigel Twiston-Davies, trainer of Idalko Bihoue and Torn And Frayed
Idalko Bihoue is in good form. He ran well at Cheltenham last time and we hope he can go well. He's been off the track for a bit and we've had some teething problems, but nothing serious. He should like the ground. Torn And Frayed is interesting at the weights. He's been doing really well and will improve massively for the better ground.