It won’t be long until the roar of the crowd signals the start of the 2017 Cheltenham Festival, as the tapes rise on yet another eagerly anticipated 4 days of triumph and drama played out in the atmospheric amphitheater that has long provided the stage for A-listers of the turf to strut their stuff, Presbury Park.
Come 1.30 tomorrow, the time for talking will be over and the debating will be done on the track. Here’s an in depth look at each of the 7 races to tickle your tastebuds for the Festival feast ahead.
1.30 SKYBET SUPREME NOVICES’ HURDLE 2m87y (Grade 1)
Altior lowered the pale pink and green silks of leading owner Rich Ricci’s talented Min.
Nicky Henderson broke the Willie Mullins stranglehold on the the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last March, as
12 months on and the master of Closutton is once again responsible for the favourite in the Festival curtain raiser, with Melon leading the way having been the subject of steady support in the antepost market all season long before satisfying many with an easy maiden Hurdle success on his debut over timber at Leopardstown in January.
It’s hard to weigh up what the gelding achieved that day, with the form taking a fair few knocks since. But the manor in which the son of Medicean went about his business was fairly impressive, and proved enough to propell the 5-year-old to Festival favouritism.
The major concern would be his lack of experience, as Ruby Walsh himself remarked that he’d want another run before heading across the Irish Sea. However the right opportunity has not availed itself and Willie Mullins’ gelding will have to overcome his inexperience in his quest for Festival success.
Ballyandy landed the Champion Bumper 12 months ago and looks the pick of the British trainers contenders here, arriving on the back of Betfair Hurdle success where the Kayf Tara gelding made a mockery of an opening hadicap mark of 135.
The Nigel Twiston-Davies trained 6-year-old looks to have plenty in his favour, with both the decent underfoot conditions and tempo of the race suiting his strong galloping style.
There has been plenty of money for Ballyandy in the last week, and he would prove a very popular winner for his locally based trainer. Sam Twiston-Davies will once again be on board, and the youngster holds rock solid each way claims in such an open renewal.
Bunk Off Early travelled like the best horse throughout the Grade 1 Deloitte Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown last month, before being out battled close home by stablemate Bacardys, who is a strong second favourite for the Neptune on Wednesday.
Willie Mullins’ grey looks a very nice prospect, but the way he finished at Leopardstown doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence, especially as he’ll need to climb the long, gruelling Cheltenham hill tomorrow.
That said, this contest is, of course, 2 furlongs shorter the the Deloitte trip of 2m2f, and the better ground should also assist the son of Zebedee tomorrow.
Crack Mome, who should improve for the better ground, Cilaos Emery, who finished second to County Hurdle fancy Mick Jazz last time out, and Riven Light, who would be the best novice in Mullins’ yard if he could jump according to his owner Rich Ricci, complete the Irish Champion Trainer’s entries.
Nicky Henderson runs River Wylde and Beyond Conceit here, who should both enjoy the decent ground and end to end gallop the they’ll encounter tomorrow.
At bigger prices, Ben Pauling’s High Bridge has been impressive in recording a hat-trick over hurdles this season, and has Festival experience on his side having finished sixth in last season’s Champion Bumper when trained by John Ferguson.
Gordon Elliott could run the extremely quirky, but clearly talented Labaik, who has shown a fair engine when concenting to race, with his strike rate of 2 wins from 5 starts tarnished by 2 refusals and a virtual refusal when last seen on the track.
The grey landed a Punchestown maiden hurdle with the minimum of fuss before showing a determined attitude and impressive turn of foot to make up ground after the last at Navan to win going away at the line, recording a cosy 1 and three quarter length success over stablemate and County Hurdle fancy Mick Jazz.
Capital Force, Elgin, who finished second to Neon Wolf last time out, Glaring, Magnor Cartor and Pingshou complete the field.
Melon could be anything, and despite Mullins’ apparent confidence, his price doesn’t reflect his form.
Betfair Hurdle winner BALLYANDY is a strong contender for local trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, and looks rock solid each way material. Therefore he is the selection.
However I’ll also be throwing a token each way bet on Gordon Elliott’s LABAIK, who comes with obvious risks attached, but could easily out run his huge price if he puts his best foot forward tomorrow. Often it’s the quirky one’s who possess the most talent, and if he does jump off here, he could easily run a huge race in a wide open renewal.
2.10 RACING POST ARKLE CHALLENGE TROPHY 1m7f199y (Grade 1)
The Arkle Challenge Trophy has been somewhat of a happy hunting ground for odds on favourites in recent years, with Sprinter Sacre, Simonsig, Un De Sceaux and Douvan all landing the odds since 2012. And that trend looks extremely likely to continue this year, as Altior looks to make it 3 wins in 6 years for Nicky Henderson’s Seven Barrows yard.
Last year’s imperious Supreme Novice Hurdle victor is already well ahead of his rivals on official ratings, and barring a fall, looks absolute banker material in the hands of Nico De Boinville.
Whilst I’m a big fan of Charbel, he looks to be running for place money at best. And could easily pay the price for taking Altior on here.
If looking for a bet in the without the favourite market, you could certainly do worse than backing Ben Pauling’s A Hare Breath each way, as the gelding will enjoy the decent ground and could pick up the pieces when others are crying for mercy. Richard Johnson rides.
2.50 ULTIMA HANDICAP CHASE 3m1f (Grade 3)
This race is always extremely competitive, and often goes to an up and coming novice who gets in to the race off a handy looking mark.
That said, this year features 3 previous winners of the staying contest, with 2014 winner Holywell, 2015 victor The Druids Nephew, and the reining champ Un Temps Pour Tout all looking to double up in Grade 3 event.
Holywell has become somewhat of a fan favourite over the years, and runs of a mark 3lbs higher than the 145 rating he defied in 2014. But more crucially, the 10-year-old is 5lbs lower than his second placed effort last term, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him go well once again.
The Druids Nephew runs off the exact same mark he won the race off 2 years ago, and can rely on the services of top Jockey Noel Fehily tomorrow. Whilst his recent form isn’t overly inspiring, the 10-year-old is likely to have been campaigned with this race in mind all season, and will relish the decent ground he’ll encounter tomorrow.
It looks as though Gordon Elliott’s Paddy Power Chase winner Noble Endeavor will be sent off a well supported favourite, with Davy Russell, who is absolutely mustard when it comes to big field Festival Handicaps, charged with doing the steering.
The 9-year-old boasts some fair Festival form having finished second to the classy Killultagh Vic in the 2015 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle, before departing the scene at the second last when running a big race in the National Hunt Chase 12 months ago.
A fourth placed effort behind the classy Empire Of Dirt in the Troytown Handicap Chase preceded his fine Paddy Power Chase success, and Noble Endeavor must have every chance here.
The Tom George trained Singlefarmpayment will likely prove popular here, fitting the profile of a novice chaser that could well have been let in lightly by the handicapper after showing an aptitude for Prestbury Park in November.
The 7-year-old travelled supremely well that day, before being ridden out to secure a 2 and a half length victory from Paul Nicholls’ National Hunt Chase contender Arpege D’Alene.
Sent off a well supported favourite on Cheltenham’s Trials Day card, the Milan gelding was brought down at the 12th fence when making steady progress through the field. And no doubt Tom George and Adrian Heskin will be hoping Singlefarmpayment can gain some serious compensation here.
Alan King landed this prize with Bensalem in 2011, and is responsible for another contender who fits the novice profile, in the form of progressive young stayer Label Des Obeaux.
The 6-year-old son of Saddler Maker also had the also had the option of the National Hunt Chase, but King has elected to send the youngster here, presumably with the aim of exploiting a potentially lenient handicap mark.
Third to Singlefarmpayment at Cheltenham in November, Label Des Obeaux has won his last 2 starts, with the latter success at coming at Exeter where the emphasis is always on stamina. Wayne Hutchinson will ride the promising young stayer, and Alan King seems fairly sweet on the geldings chances.
Last year’s winner Un Temps Pour Tout is, as previously mentioned, another contender looking to double up in contest off a 7lbs higher mark. And will once again lock horns with last year’s third, The Young Master, who bids to go 2 places better 12 months on.
Colin Tizzard’s Viconte De Noyer won over 3m3f here in November, and could run well again with the talented Harry Cobden maintaining the partnership.
Measureofmydreams finished third in the National Hunt Chase last term, and could go well once again. Whilst experienced Festival campaigner Buywise could prove a popular placepot selection.
Betbright Chase first and third Pilgrims Bay and Theatre Guide re-oppose. And both could go well in this strongly run contest.
Former Betvictor Gold Cup winners Annacotty and Caid Du Berlais are big priced contenders for Alan King and Paul Nichols respectively, and both will have there stamina severely tested over the extra half a mile.
Henri Parry Morgan has suffered a hugely frustrating season thus far, and could run well if putting in a clear round under talented young jockey Sean Bowen. The 9-year-old was a huge improver for Peter Bowen last year, and certainly looks to have a big one in him at some stage.
Ibis Du Rheu, who landed the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle last season, could run a big race for Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls, and like Singlefarmpayment and Label Des Obeaux, looks a novice with great potential.
Charlie Longsdon has an interesting outsider in the form of Coologue, who looks a very generous price given the performance he put up at the Showcase Meeting in October where he spreadeaged the field before battling on bravely to see off the gallant grey Keltus who came to challenge on the climb to the line.
Brian Hughes has been booked for the ride, with the northern based Jockey enjoying an extremely successful season. And a Cheltenham Festival winner would really be the cherry on the cake.
Clarcam, Junction Fourteen, Go Conquer, Antony, A Good Skin, Vinatage Clouds and Vic De Touzaine complete the 24 strong field.
Ibis Du Rheu, Label Des Obeaux and Singlefarmpayment would fit the profile of potentially well treated novices’, whilst Holywell and The Druids Nephew look potentially well handicapped once again.
SINGLEFARMPAYMENT would be my idea of the best treated horse in the race, and is therefore the selection. However it may be worth having a small each way investment of the Charlie Longsdon trained COOLOGUE, who could run a big race if running up to the form of his October victory.
3.30 STAN JAMES CHAMPION HURDLE 2m87y (Grade 1)
This year’s Champion Hurdle looks a very open affair, with both the 2015 and 2016 Champions, Faugheen and Annie Power, sadly on the sidelines having suffered set back on top of set back in an injury plagued campaign for the all conquering Closutton operation of Irish Champion Trainer Willie Mullins.
However the open nature of the race does present us with an intriguing Day 1 puzzle, as strong cases can be made both for and against each of the 12 runners set to face the starter at 3.30 tomorrow afternoon.
JP McManus looks to hold a very strong hand in the 2 mile Championship, with Alan King’s classy contender Yanworth heading the market from Buveur D’Air, who has reverted to timber after landing a brace of novice chase victories this winter.
Yanworth’s only defeat over hurdles came at the hooves of Yorkhill in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle last March. And the gelding boasts further Cheltenham Festival form with a fine fourth placed effort in the 2015 Champion Bumper.
The the orange machine won the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day, and has also picked up Grade 2 events at Ascot and Wincanton on route to the Day 1 showpiece this season.
This will be the first time the son of Norse Dancer jumps a hurdle in public without the assistance of Barry Geraghty, as Mark Walsh takes the reins having schooled the 7-year-old at King’s Barbury Castle base last week. On form, he’s the one they all have to beat.
Buveur D’Air was a notable purchase by leading owner JP McManus last summer, after the talented son of Crillon finished third in what now looks a red hot Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 12 months ago, won by his potential superstar stablemate Altior, with Min in second, Tombstone in fourth, Charbel finishing fifth and fellow Champion Hurdle contender Petit Mouchoir back in eighth.
Nicky Henderson’s 6-year-old landed Grade 1 honours at Aintree subsequently, beating the re-opposing Petit Mouchoir in a ding dong battle after the last, with fellow Champion Hurdle contender Limini 8 lengths further back in third. Fourth placed North Hill Harvey, winner of the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham in November, and sixth place Agrapart, winner of the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Years Day add further substance to the form.
His hurdling form looks strong, and Henderson loves a Champion Hurdler. Noel Fehily steps in to take the ride with McManus’ retained rider Barry Geraghty currently on the sidelines, which is no negative as the Jockey who won this race on Rock On Ruby in 2012 knows the horse well having been the retained rider for Buveur D’Air’s previous owner.
Connections will be hoping there is enough give in the ground for Buveur D’Air to be seen to best effect. And if there is, he would be rate a very strong contender here.
Henry De Bromhead’s Petit Mouchoir is the shortest priced Irish trained contender for the 2m Championship event, having confirmed the promise of his Aintree Grade 1 second last spring by becoming a dual Grade 1 winner this winter. With the Irish Champion Hurdle forming the second part of his top flight double.
The Gigginstown House Stud owned grey has lowered the colours of multiple Grade 1 winner Nichols Canyon, last season’s Triumph Hurdle victor Ivanovic Gorbatov and Willie Mullins Grade 1 winner Footpad already this term, and will be looking to add to that list when he enters Prestbury Park next month .
Petit Mouchoir went some clip when successful in the Irish Champion Hurdle, and may try to execute similar tactics here. However the 6-year-old will need to improve vastly upon his eighth placed finish in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 12 months ago.
That said, the son of Al Namix is clearly on the upgrade, and looks to have every chance in a very open looking year.
Nicky Henderson’s second Champion Hurdle hopeful brings top class 2 mile handicap hurdle form to the party, having landed the Listed Jumeirah Hotels And Resorts December Handicap Hurdle at Sandown, before following up in the Wessex Youth Trust Handicap Hurdle at Ascot 2 weeks later.
Nicky Henderson’s second Champion Hurdle contender is the rapidly improving Brain Power, who brings top class 2 mile handicap hurdle form to the table having landed the Listed Jumeirah Hotels And Resorts December Handicap Hurdle at Sandown, before following up in the Wessex Youth Trust Handicap Hurdle at Ascot 2 weeks later.
Owned by Henderson’s great personal friend Michael Buckley, Brain Power has improved for each experience over obstacles and arrives here boasting a fairly impressive resume, with 4 wins achieved from just 7 starts since embarking on a career over hurdles in November 2015.
Although the son of Kalanisi doesn’t possess graded form in open company, to win 2 highly competitive handicaps in such impressive fashion just 2 weeks apart is no mean feat, and he certainly commands respect as it’s impossible to know where the 6-year-old’s progression will stop.
Brain Power has more speed than fancied stablemate Buveur D’Air according to Nicky Henderson, which adds further weight the youngsters claims, especially as he’ll be able to make good use of his horsepower on the sound racing surface Prestbury Park is likely to be offering up on Tuesday.
It’s some statement to the regard in which theMoon Racer is held by connections that David Pipe has given the green light for the unbeaten novice to contest the main event on Day 1, especially considering the 8-year-old would have been short order for the Festival curtain raiser, The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, had connections decided to stick to the novice route.
The former Champion Bumper winner is clearly fragile, having only made it to the track 3 times since his Festival success in 2015. And although he’s only had 2 starts over timber, he does boast 2 victories over the impressive Betfair Hurdle winner Ballyandy, including a course and distance Grade 2 success in November.
Unbeaten in 3 starts at Prestbury Park, the Saffron Walden gelding goes particularly well fresh, which is bonus considering he hasn’t been seen on the track since that Grade 2 victory at Cheltenham’s Open Meeting. That said, it’s still some ask to win a Champion Hurdle after the best part of 4 months off the track, but as we all know, the Pipes can ready one at home, and the gelding did have a school over hurdles at Wincanton last week.
The New One lines up for a staggering fourth attempt at landing the day 1 main event, arriving in fine form after 2 victories this season achieved either side of a second placed effort behind Yanworth in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton. Could this finally be his year?
Sceau Royal r ates one of the more lively outsiders for the 2m crown, having bolted up over course and distance at the Showcase Meeting in October.
Alan King’s 5-year-old landed the Grade 2 Elite Hurdle at Wincanton on his next start, before finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle in November. The gelding then placed third in the Grade 2 Kingwell Hurdle on his return from a mid season break back at Wincanton in February, coming home 2 and a quarter lengths adrift of his stablemate, and current Champion Hurdle favourite, Yanworth.
Daryl Jacob has elected to ride Sceau Royal over the same owners Footpad. And the strong traveling, slick jumping youngster will relish the decent ground he’ll encounter tomorrow.
Ch’Tibello, who split Yanworth and Sceau Royal at Wincanton, could represent the burgeoning operation of Dan Skelton.
The Sageburg gelding beat the talented Cloudy Dream (second) and subsequent Galway Hurdle winner Clondaw Warrior (third) at Ayr, and has posted 3 decent efforts over timber this term. He landed the Class 2 Betfair Price Rush Hurdle at Haydock in November, before recording placed efforts behind Yanworth in both the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton and Grade 2 Betway Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton, form which justifies his inclusion here.
Skelton has often pointed to Ch’Tibello’s fluent hurdling technique and impressive turn of foot as major assets, with both seen to best effect when the gelding encounters his preferred decent ground. In such an open year, the 6-year-old could run a big race for team Skelton.
Irish Champion Hurdle runner up Footpad, 2015 County Hurdle winner Wicklow Brave and 2015 Aintree Grade 2 scorer Cyrus Darius complete the 12 strong field.
JP McManus obviously holds a very strong hand in the race, with both Buveur D’Air and Yanworth boasting extremely solid form in such a wide open renewal.
Nicky Henderson must also fancy his chances with Brain Power and My Tent Or Yours (also owned by McManus) providing further ammunition to current second favourite Buveur D’Air. Cases can be made for each arrow the Seven Barrows handler throws at the race, and you could bet your last tenner that all will be trained to the minute for this prestigious assignment.
Leading Irish fancy Petit Mouchoir and the aforementioned Brain Power look the most progressive hurdlers in the field. And both could run big races here.
The fact that David Pipe is allowing Moon Racer to take his chance here should certainly be taken seriously. With his form at the course and the Ballyandy formline suggesting it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that he could bely his relative inexperience in such an open year.
YANWORTH would have to be the main selection as he boasts the stongest form achieved this season.
However given the open nature of the race, SCEAU ROYAL could be worth chancing at a very big price. It’s a well known fact that 5-year-old’s don’t have the greatest of records in Champion Hurdles, but Alan King’s youngster does possess pace to burn and is lightening quick over his obstacles, which are important traits in a Champion Hurdler.
His course and distance win in October was mightily impressive, and he should bounce off the sound surface he’ll encounter tomorrow.
4.10 OLBG MARES’ HURDLE 2m3f200y (Grade 1)
Vroum Vroum Mag landed this contest with the minimum of fuss 12 months ago, and returns in a bid to defend her Festival crown tomorrow.
However she faces a far from straightforward task this year following the surprise decision of connections to run their other star mare, recent impressive Punchestown Listed scorer Limini, against Vroum Vroum Mag in the Grade 1 event.
Limini, who landed the inaugural running of the Dawn Run Mare’s Novice Hurdle 12 months ago, was deeply impressive at Punchestown, and it was a surprise to many that Willie Mullins and Rich Ricci decided not to supplement the daughter of Peintre Celebre for the Stan James Champion Hurdle.
The high class 6-year-old beat the talented Apples Jade at Punchestown, and if running to the same level here, could prove extremely hard to beat.
Apples Jade will of course re-oppose, however it’s hard to see her reversing the form of that Punchestown contest as Limini beat her with any amount to in hand.
The Gigginstown House Stud owned 5-year-old finished second in the Triumph Hurdle last March, before recording impressive victories at both Aintree and Punchestown subsequently.
Those performances were enough to have connections thinking of her as a Champion Hurdle prospect at the start of the campaign, and in a normal year she would be considered banker material herself in this contest.
Ruby Walsh has elected to ride Limini ahead of last year’s winner, who tasted defeat for the first time since arriving from France at the hooves of Apples Jade at Fairyhouse in December.
Vroum Vroum Mag also looked laboured when making hard work of a Mare’s event at Doncaster last time out, and will have to rediscover her A-Game if harbouring any dreams of successfully defending her title here.
Jer’s Girl represents the small but shrewd operation of Irish trainer Gavin Cromwell, and looked a very talented mare when easily landing back to back Grade 1 contests at the end of last season.
This race been the plan all season long for the 5-year-old, who can improve vastly upon her 2 starts in Grade 1 contests this term with a return to 2m4f and decent ground in her favour. Factors that could help the daughter of Jeremy run a very big race here.
Paul Nicholls’ Lifeboat Mona has performed with great credit all season and deserves to take her chance. Whilst Rock On The Moor, who finished second to Vroum Vroum Mag last year, could run another big race for Jessica Harrington.
Vroum Vroum Mag won this contest with some authority last term, however her poor Doncaster effort and the defection of Ruby Walsh can only be considered negatives this year.
If Limini has come out her Punchestown performance in rude health she should prove extremely though to beat. And she will, of course, have the assistance of Ruby Walsh.
However at the prices, JER’S GIRL looks a superb each way proposition for Gavin Cromwell and Mark Walsh, with the decent ground and extra yardage definitely in her favour.
The JP McManus owned mare looked very smart last spring, demonstrating a thoroughly professional attitude and an impressive turn of foot. 12/1 is simply too generous to turn down.
4.50 JT McNAMARA NATIONAL HUNT CHALLENGE CUP 3m7f170y (Grade 2)
It’s very fitting that the National Hunt Chase is run in honour of the late, great, and sadly much missed JT McNamara this year, who won this event twice during an extremely distinguished career as an amateur Jockey.
The race has become a much classier event in recent years, and will carry Grade 2 status for the very first time this year.
As we all know, Jockey bookings are the first port of call in amateur events, with the best in the business in great demand for a trainer who thinks they have a horse with a serious chance in the 4m marathon contest.
Jamie Codd looks to have a smart book of rides at the Festival this year, and partners the favourite here for trainer Noel Meade. The horse, A Genie In Abottle, looks a very strong contender, boasting some solid looking form in Irish novice events this winter.
The stamina laden 6-year-old finished behind Nambour and Free Expression on his first attempt over fences, before chasing home the re-opposing Martello Tower over 2m5f at Fairyhouse in December.
A Genie In Abottle returned to Fairyhouse 2 weeks later to shed his maiden tag with a nice performance over a trip of 3 miles, beating Willie Mullins smart handicapper Blazer, and last season Pertemps Final winner Mall Dini under gutsy front running ride.
Second to Anibale Fly in a Grade 3 event last time out, this has been the plan for son of Beneficial for quite some time, and Noel Meade wasted no time in securing the services of leading amateur Jockey Jamie Codd.
Derek O’Connor landed the spoils on the JP McManus owned Minella Rocco last year, and the top class amateur will once again carry the green and gold bands of the leading owner into battle, this time teaming up with the Joseph O’Brien trained Edwulf, who fell in the Grade 2 Ten Up Novice Chase before recording a smooth success at Navan last time out, conceding lumps of weight his rivals in the process.
The geldings best piece of form looks to be a victory over Willie Mullins’ smart performer Bachasson and the aforementioned Mall Dini in a 2m4f contest at Punchestown in January, where the 8-year-old jumped well and won a shade cosily under a smart ride from the much underrated Mark Walsh
The only concerns look to be his tendency to make a mistake (unseated and fell at Navan this season) and his ability to perform on decent ground, as his high knee action and previous form suggesting he’s more at home on a softer surface.
But if anyone can guide the horse home it would be Derek O’Connor. And it wouldn’t surprise me if he deployed similar tactics to those he used to great effect 12 months ago.
Champers On Ice lines up here after weeks of deliberation about whether he should tackle the 4 mile marathon or go down the handicap route in an attempt to exploit a lenient looking mark of 143 after recording a facile debut success at Uttoxeter in December, before posting a fine second placed effort behind the talented American at Warwick.
The 7-year-old son of top class jumps Sire Robin Des Champs looks a standout contender for David Pipe’s Pond House operation, and showed he was crying out for the trip when seriously outpaced over 2m5f at Prestbury Park in January.
Many have looked to crab the grey’s jumping, which admittedly hasn’t always been completely fluent. But you don’t get around and courses like Cheltenham and Warwick if you can’t jump, so I certainly wouldn’t hold that against him. And the 4 mile trip should allow the promising young stayer to find a nice rhythm.
Experienced amateur Roger Quinlan rides the imposing grey, which must give him a leading chance.
Nicky Henderson doesn’t run many in this race, so the fact he’s allowing Beware The Bear to take his chance shouldn’t be underestimated.
The 7-year-old beat Singlefarmpayment at Ascot in November, before making it 2-2 over fences at Newbury a month later. Sam Waley-Cohen takes the ride, and the stamina laden son of Shantou could run a very big race here.
2015 Albert Bartlett winner Martello Tower should enjoy this extreme test of stamina. Whilst the same can be said about Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls’ contender Arpege D’Alene, who looks like he’ll benefit for every yard of the 4 mile trip.
2014 Triumph Hurdle winner Tiger Roll represents 2015 winning trainer Gordon Elliott. Whilst Zak Baker will ride the Simon Munir and Isaac Soude owned Calett Mad, who could run well at a big price.
Both A Genie In Abottle and Edwulf are likely to prove extremely popular here with leading amateurs Jamie Codd and Derek O’Connor riding respectively.
Of the two, i’d have a slight preference for A GENIE IN ABOTTLE, with his form looking solid and the gelding giving the impression he’ll relish the 4 mile trip.
Elsewhere, David Pipe must have been extremely tempted to run CHAMPERS ON ICE in a handicap off a favourable looking mark of 143. So the fact he runs here should not be overlooked.
The imposing grey looks tailor made for this marathon test of stamina, and should go well under experienced amateur Roger Quinlan.
5.30 CLOSE BROTHERS NOVICES’ HANDICAP CHASE 2m4f78y (Listed)
On paper this race is a 0-140 handicap. However when there’s just 5lbs covering the field, it’s barely worth treating it as such when thumbing through the formbook looking for the winner.
This is always the target for novices’ that fall into the 135-140 ratings bracket, with this year’s favourite Foxtail Hill getting in to the race off the maximum mark of 140 for local trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies.
The experienced 8-year-old made the most of bottom weight when landing a Grade 3 event on Cheltenham’s Trails’ Day card in January, beating subsequent winners Saphir Du Rheu (second) and Tenor Nivernais (third) in the process. And the son of Dr Massini returns with the aim of landing Festival glory here.
Dan Skelton runs two nice horses, with both Its’afreebe and Two Taffs going in search of further Cheltenham Festival success for their burgeoning young trainer.
Cases can be made for both, with Its’afreebee, who finished third in the Neptune Investment Management Novices Hurdle last term, the choice of stable jockey Harry Skelton. With a mark of 139 possibly underestimating the 7-year-olds ability.
Double W’s represents the powerful northern partnership of Malcolm Jefferson and Brain Hughes, and wouldn’t it be fantastic to see an exciting northern trained winner.
Tom George sent out Double Shuffle to be second in the race last year, and relies on the same owners Bun Doran this time around.
The 6-year-old looks a nice prospect, and victory here would really put the cherry on the cake for George and his stable jockey Adrian Heskin, with the pair having enjoyed a superb season thus far.
Seven Barrows send out Hammersly Lake, who finished second to the smart Le Prezien in a Grade 2 event at Prestbury Park in November.
David Mullins will take the ride on the Michael Buckley owned 9-year-old, and he could be well treated based both his Cheltenham effort and a close up third placed finish behind stablemate Top Notch over 2m5f at Ascot in December.
Henderson’s second runner, Gold Present, could be an interesting contender having finished a close second to Paul Nicholls’ prolific novice Frodon last time out at Kempton. And like many Seven Barrows inmates, the Presenting gelding should relish the decent ground Prestbury Park has to offer.
Keith Dalgleish and Brian Harding team up with unbeaten novice chaser Mixboy, who hasn’t been troubled in 3 starts over fences and therefore rates an unknown quantity in this competitive looking handicap.
Killiney Court, Captain Redbeard and top weight Zamdy Man arrive in search of landing a hat-trick of victories for Henry De Bromhead, Stuart Coltherd and Venetia Williams respectively. However this will no doubt be their hardest assignment to date.
Venetia Williams also runs Burtons Well, who finished fourth behind Grade 1 winner Royal Vacation at Cheltenham last time out, with the gelding open to further improvement on just his fourth start the larger obstacles.
Brother Tedd, who finished seventh in the Coral Cup off a mark of 150 last March, runs off a mark of 136 on his fifth start over fences for Phillip Hobbs and Richard Johnson. And he could go well having picked up experience over the Prestbury Park fences at the Showcase Meeting in October.
Tully East is and Irish raider who could go very well, having finished fourth in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle last season.
He represents the same connections, trainer Alan Fleming and prominent Irish owner Barry Connell, as last season’s fourth placed finisher Bridget’s Pet. And they can rely the services of experienced retained rider Denis O’Regan, who can put his vast experience to good use in the hurly burly of this novice handicap.
Last Goodbye, Templehills, Powersbomb, Relentless Dreamer, Deans Road, Sizing Tennessee and All Hell Let Loose complete the field.
Brother Tedd could go very well here given his favourable looking mark over fences. However TULLY EAST travelled very well for a long way in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle last year, and could run a big race at a double figure price with a very experienced Jockey doing the steering.
Win: Ballyandy 7/2
Each Way: Labaik 50/1
A Hare Breath w/o Altior 14/1
Win: Singlefarmpayment 8/1
Each Way: Coologue 50/1
Win: Yanworth 3/1
Each Way: Sceau Royal 33/1
Win: Limini 13/8
Each Way: Jer’s Girl 12/1
Win: A Genie In Abottle 11/2
Each Way: Champers On Ice 8/1
Each Way: Tully East 16/1