Saturday Selections

1pt win Achille in the 12.40 Haydock at 11/2

1.5pt win Good Risk At All in the 2.25 Haydock at 5/1

2pt win Edwardstone in the 3.15 Ascot at 11/4

1.5pt win Lord Du Mesnil in the 3.35 Haydock at 11/2

Achille has posted form figures of 225 on his seasonal reappearance since 2018 and he will start this season off his lowest mark since 2019.

Venetia Williams’ grey was only narrowly touched off by course specialist Lord Du Mesnil over this course and distance in February of last year and he will compete from a 10lbs lower mark on this occasion.

The soft ground will be to his liking and he should close if age isn’t catching up with him.

Good Risk At All chased home subsequent Grade 1 winner Jonbon as a novice last season and finally got off the mark at the fourth time of asking when stepping up in trip to two and a half miles.

Grade 1 company at Aintree proved a step too far in the spring, however, he returned to action with a smart handicap success at Carlisle and stepping up to 3 miles could unlock further potential.

The Sam Thomas trained six-year-old was a smart bumper horse in 2020/21 and has always looked as though he would be suited by a trip, and the manner in which he ploughed through the heavy ground at Carlisle suggested that tomorrow’s conditions will present no issues.

Indeed, three of his four career victories have been achieved on ground officially described as soft or heavy and a 6lbs rise for his latest success seems fair.

He could easily develop into a graded horse over staying trips this winter and that makes a rating of 143 look potentially very lenient.

Edwardstone swept all before him en route to victory in the Grade 1 Arkle Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March and he should have too much class for his rivals if fit enough on his seasonal reappearance.

Alan King’s upwardly mobile eight-year-old went from strength to strength last season and can easily be forgiven his defeat at Aintree when failing to reel in the front running Gentlemen De Mee.

Edwardstone was supposed to make his seasonal bow at Cheltenham last week and should therefore be pretty straight for this contest, which should make him tough to beat in spite of conceding lumps of weight to his rivals.

Ground conditions should be ideal and his regular partner Tom Cannon will be in charge of the steering.

This race should help connections figure out whether they have a genuine Champion Chase contender, or not.

The final horse I will be supporting tomorrow is the aforementioned Lord Du Mesnil, who boasts form figures of 11216 at Haydock.

Richard Hobson’s nine-year-old made an eye-catching seasonal reappearance at Bangor 10 days ago when running on into second place as an unfancied 33/1 chance, and he should be well suited by the extra yardage tomorrow at a track at which he thrives.

He will compete off a 1lb higher mark tomorrow, which is still 6lbs lower than the mark from which he placed sixth in the much more competitive Grade 2 Peter Marsh Handicap Chase in January.

Lord Du Mesnil could prove tough to peg back if finding his rhythm towards the head of affairs and any further rainfall would certainly be in his favour.

Best of luck.

Antepost Selections: Cheltenham Festival 2023

This list will be updated every time a new selection is added.

TUESDAY:

2pt win Gaillard Du Mesnil to win the National Hunt Chase at 9/2

WEDNESDAY:

1pt each-way Prengarde to win the Cross Country Chase at 14/1

THURSDAY:

2pt win Bob Olinger to win the Stayers Hurdle at 12/1

1pt each-way Magical Zoe to win the Mares Novices’ Hurdle at 25/

FRIDAY:

1pt win Lossiemouth to win the Triumph Hurdle at 12/1

1pt each-way L’Homme Presse to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup at 16/1

Cheltenham Festival Antepost 2023 (Part 3)

2pt win Bob Olinger to win the Stayers Hurdle at 12/1

It’s somewhat strange to argue that a horse whom won his first three starts over fences including the Grade 1 Turners Novices’ Chase may be better suited to hurdling. However, Bob Olinger would not have that Grade 1 accolade next to his name had Galopin Des Champs found a leg at the back of the final fence, leaving Henry De Bromhead’s charge clear for victory.

The Robcour owned seven-year-old was a top novice chasing prospect at this time last year following a novice hurdling campaign that featured Grade 1 victories in the Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle and Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, the latter of which being a deeply impressive performance that suggested he could well be top class.

It was always going to be tough to keep tabs on the hugely exciting Galopin Des Champs and there would certainly have been no shame in defeat. However, connections felt that he wasn’t right in spite of scooping the prize and he was pulled-up on his only subsequent outing at Punchestown, which resulted in further head scratching.

It’s entirely possible that the imposing son of Sholokhov feels more comfortable over hurdles and that is the plan according to Henry De Bromhead, who has earmarked the Lismullen Hurdle as an early target.

The dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winning trainer also confirmed that he is working like a high class horse at home and could go either way in terms of trip. However, he ended last season in a 3 mile novice chase and the Stayers Hurdle looks a far more temping proposition than the Champion Hurdle at this stage, where stablemate Honeysuckle will hopefully bid for a third successive victory.

I am therefore going to strike a wager on him lining up in the Stayers Hurdle as his current price of 12/1 could look huge should he indeed face the starter in March.

Bob’s solitary defeat over hurdles came against the high class Ferny Hollow over the minimum distance and he comfortably dispatched Blue Lord, Bravemansgame and Gaillard Du Mesnil during his near faultless novice hurdling career.

While they may have questions about his ability to jump fences, clearly connections remain convinced about his ability and want to send him down a path that will allow him to fulfil his undoubted potential.

Bob Olinger is, after all, a dual Cheltenham Festival scorer whom has few miles on the clock after just 9 career starts, and he boasts an official rating of 159 after four starts over hurdles which puts him just 5lbs shy of dual Stayers Hurdle hero Flooring Porter.

Victory in the Lismullen Hurdle would undoubtedly see his price for the Stayers Hurdle tumble and there’s every chance that he could cross swords with reigning champion Flooring Porter in Ireland this winter, which would again make his price contract were he to come out on top.

It therefore makes sense to get in early and snare what will hopefully be terrific value.

Cheltenham Festival Antepost 2023 (Part 2)

1pt each-way Prengarde to win the Cross Country Chase at 14/1

1pt each-way Magical Zoe to win the Mares Novices’ Hurdle at 25/1

PRENGARDE:

JP McManus and Enda Bolger have teamed up with many Cross Country greats over the years such as Spot Thedifference and Garde Champetre and they could easily have a star of the future on their hands in the form of Prengarde, who was purchased in January after winning four Cross Country contests at Compiegne last year.

The Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham was inevitably his target, however, it was never going to be easy given his late arrival and connections were forced to find a suitable prep race that, in hindsight, was probably too close to the Festival (27th February).

The Kapgarde gelding had little time to acclimatise when arriving from France and it was always going to be a less than ideal preparation, which is far from ideal with a relatively young horse (6yo) in this sphere.

Prengarde was sent off a 9/2 shot in March but was pulled-up following a mistake at the 21st obstacle, which was obviously disappointing at the time but perhaps understandable when you look at the whole picture.

Enda Bolger’s Cross Country facilities are unparalleled and it’s fair to assume that Prengarde will be a different proposition this season now that he’s had sufficient time to acclimatise and be educated in such an environment.

Prengarde should also be a stonger horse this year as he turns seven and will enjoy a proper preparation for his main target in March, which will hopefully yield a much better result.

Delta Work ran out a good winner of the race last March and will undoubtedly be tough nut to crack, but if any horse can beat him it may well be Prengarde.

MAGICAL ZOE:

The Mares Novices’ Hurdle is a tricky puzzle to solve at this time of year as the final field is quite frankly anyone’s guess. However, Henry De Bromhead landed the spoils with Telmesomethinggirl in 2021 and he could have another serious contender in the form of Magical Zoe.

Magical Zoe was purchased for £140,000 following a deeply impressive bumper debut at Cork in March, where she was anchored in rear for the majority of the contest before effortlessly breezing to the front and cantering clear.

The well built daughter of Shantou deployed similar tactics and won in equally impressive style on her stable/hurdling debut at Wexford last month. However, she was beating the boys on this occasion and did so with ease.

The exciting four-year-old clearly possesses a high cruising speed and plenty of class, while her breading would suggest that she has stamina too, which is always advantageous given the demands of the new course at Cheltenham.

De Bromhead has enjoyed plenty of success with mares in recent years, obviously most notably with dual Champion heroine Honeysuckle, and he looks to have unearthed another potential star in the form of Magical Zoe.

I was surprised to see that she was available at 25/1 given the impressive nature of her victories as I’m convinced that she would be a single figure price if trained by a certain Willie Mullins. I am therefore taking that price now and keeping my fingers crossed that she will prove to be the talent that her two victories to date suggest.

Cheltenham Antepost 2023

2pt win Gaillard Du Mesnil to win the National Hunt Chase at 9/2

1pt win Lossiemouth to win the Triumph Hurdle at 12/1

1pt each-way L’Homme Presse to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup at 16/1

National Hunt Chase: Gaillard Du Mesnil

The first horse I want to add to the 2023 Cheltenham Festival portfolio isn’t a big price now but could certainly look that way come March, as Gaillard Du Mesnil could easily develop into a day 1 hot-pot if aimed at the National Hunt Chase.

The Saint Des Saints gelding was only beaten by the 172 rated Galopin Des Champs, 164 rated L’Homme Presse, 161 rated Ahoy Senor, 160 rated Bob Olinger, 159 rated Capodanno and the 157 rated Master McShee in novice company last season before placing third in the Irish Grand National, when attempting to concede 24lbs to the winner and 15lbs to the runner-up.

It’s crazy to think that he will be completing against novices this season with such form in the book and the National Hunt Chase is a race that rewards experience.

He certainly shaped as through a true test of stamina would suit when placing third in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase in March and his impressive subsequent effort at Fairyhouse only rubber-stamped that theory.

Willie and Patrick Mullins have teamed up to land the National Hunt Chase three times in the last 10 years courtesy of Back In Focus in 2013, subsequent Grand National third Rathvinden in 2018 and, of course, Stattler who triumphed earlier this year.

All three of those horses possessed a touch of class and Gaillard Du Mesnil, who also chased home Bob Olinger in the 2021 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle before scoring in Grade 1 company at Punchestown, has always been held in high regard.

Triumph Hurdle: Lossiemouth

The Triumph Hurdle isn’t traditionally a race that I like to get involved with too far out as juvenile hurdlers tend to progress a different rates throughout the year. However, I definitely want to take some of the 12/1 currently available about Lossiemouth.

Rich Ricci and Willie Mullins teamed up to land the Triumph Hurdle with Vauban in March and they look to have another leading candidate this year judged only what Lossiemouth achieved on her solitary start in France.

The grey daughter of Great Pretender ran out an impressive 10 lengths winner at Auteuil in April in spite of a final hurdle error that temporarily stunted her momentum. There was plenty to like about the way in which she put her head down and ran through the line and the form of that race looks reasonable.

Willie Mullins also landed the Triumph Hurdle with Burning Victory in 2020 and is well renowned for his ability to identify and indeed train top class fillies/mares.

Indeed, Mullins and Ricci have enjoyed plenty of Cheltenham Festival success with top class mares such as Annie Power, whom won the Champion Hurdle, Vroum Vroum Mag and Benie Des Dieux, whom won the Mares’ Hurdle, and Let’s Dance and Limini, whom both triumphed in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.

Obviously it’s far too early to mention Lossiemouth’s name in that company. However, there’s plenty to be excited about judged on her solitary outing to date and I’m happy to make a small wager at this point.

Cheltenham Gold Cup: L’Homme Presse

I know we say this every year, but the 2023 Cheltenham Gold really could be a race to savour if last year’s novices can progress to the level of previous winners Minella Indo and A Plus Tard.

The handicapper is certainly optimistic as Galopin Des Champs, L’Homme Presse, Ahoy Senor and Bravemansgame already boast ratings of 172, 164, 161 and 161 respectively, suggesting they could be up to Gold Cup standard granted natural progression.

2021 Martin Pipe winner Galopin Des Champs was electric over his fences last winter and would be undefeated had he found a leg at the back of the final fence in the Turners Novices’ Chase.

Ahoy Senor demonstrated his class when landing the Grade 1 Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree and he should find the demands of the new course much more favourable than the old course, which is a positive sign as he was far from disgraced when a staying on second in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.

Bravemansgame was set to be sent off a short priced favourite for that Grade 1 contest at Cheltenham until connections decided to pull stumps on account of the rain.

The impressive Kauto Star Novices’ Chase scorer was beaten 30 lengths at Aintree and has the King George pencilled in as his primary objective this year. However, the slick-jumping seven-year-old could still develop into a Gold Cup contender come March.

Easy Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase scorer L’Homme Presse completes the quartet and he’s the one I wish to focus on at this stage.

Venetia Williams’ deeply progressive seven-year-old opened his campaign with a facile handicap success from a mark of 128 and he ended the season as a dual Grade 1 winner with an official rating of 164.

L’Homme Presse took a step forwards every outing last season and it should be noted that he ran out a fairly comfortable winner at the Cheltenham Festival, where he had his rivals on the stretch turning for home and only needed gentle persuasion to put the race to bed.

That was a second success at Cheltenham (2-2) following on from his 10 lengths romp in the Grade 2 Dipper Novices’ Chase and those victories came either side of a 21 length demolition job in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown.

L’Homme Presse’s solitary defeat came in the Grade 1 Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree, however, that was his seventh start of the season and came just three weeks after his Prestbury Park triumph, I am therefore minded to forgive him and focus on what he achieved prior to April.

Like reigning Gold Cup hero A Plus Tard, Venetia Williams’ charge has proven that he has the gears to win over intermediate trips and the stamina to be successful over further, which gives him tactical versatility that can prove crucial at the top level.

L’Homme Presse can currently be backed at 16/1 for the blue riband contest which looks very fair value at this stage. Indeed, he would likely be half the price if he were trained by Willie Mullins given the manner of his victory in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase and he is now entering his prime years – rising eight in January – with few miles on the clock, which suggests further progression is likely.

2022 Cheltenham Festival: Friday Selections

2pt win State Man in the 2.10 Cheltenham at 7/2

0.5pts each-way West Cork in the 2.10 Cheltenham at 10/1 (7 Places)

2pt win Ginto in the 2.50 Cheltenham at 3/1

0.5pts each-way Minella Cocooner in the 2.50 Cheltenham at 10/1

2pt win Galvin in the 3.30 Cheltenham at 10/3

1.5pts each-way Hollow Games in the 5.30 Cheltenham at 15/2 (6 Places)

1.5pts each-way Adamantly Chosen in the 5.30 at 8/1 (5 Places)

PREVIEW: 2022 Cheltenham Festival – Wednesday

Bravemansgame placed third in the Ballymore Novices Hurdle last year and connections will be hopeful that he go can two places better in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.

WEDNESDAY SELECTIONS:

3pt win double Sir Gerhard in the 1.30 Cheltenham at 8/11 and Tiger Roll in the 4.10 Cheltenham at 7/4

1.5pts each-way Camprond in the Coral Cup at 9/1 (8 Places)

0.5pts each-way Mars Harper in the Coral Cup at 20/1 (8 Places)

0.5pts each-way Tronador in the Coral Cup at 33/1 (7 Places)

2pt win Energumene in the 3.30 Cheltenham at 7/2

1.5pts each-way Thyme White in the 4.50 Cheltenham at 10/1 (5 Places)

1pt each-way Editeur Du Gite in the 4.50 Cheltenham at 14/1 (6 Places)

2pt win American Mike in the 5.30 Cheltenham at 5/2

ANTEPOST SELECTIONS:

1pt each-way Whatdeawant in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at 20/1 (3 Places)

2pt win Bravemansgame in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at 14/1

1pt each-way Gowel Road in the Coral Cup at 33/1 (4 Places)

1.5pts each-way Buddy Rich in the Grand Annual at 14/1 (4 Places)

1pt each-way Joyeux Machin in the Champion Bumper at 40/1

1.30 – BALLYMORE NOVICES’ HURDLE (GRADE 1) 2m5f

Sir Gerhard has already demonstrated what he is capable of at Prestbury Park having defeated stablemate Kilcruit in the Champion Bumper last March, and the Cheveley Park Stud owned seven-year-old more than earned his ticket to this contest when landing the Grade 1 Tattersalls Ireland Novice Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival last month.

While some were perhaps initially underwhelmed by the visual performance, which wasn’t helped by some less than fluent hurdling, those whom hold the stopwatches were mightily impressed and the runner-up gave the form a solid enough luck given that he was a close up second in Grade 1 company at Christmas.

The speedy son of Jeremy displayed a far greater aptitude for hurdling on his debut in December and would seemingly be better suited by taking a lead in a strongly run race. However, his turn of foot could easily prove decisive if this race is slowly run.

This race has become weaker following the defection of Dysart Dynamo and Ginto and it certainly looks as though it’s Sir Gerhard’s race to lose.

Former stablemate Three Stripe Life could join him in this contest and it should be noted that he himself pulled 6 lengths clear of the third when chasing home Sir Gerhard last month.

The third home on that occasion, namely Colonel Mustard, finished two-and-three-quarter-lengths behind Jonbon in the Grade 2 Howden Kennel Gate Novices’ Hurdle at Ascot and is no slouch, and the manner in which the three of them pulled clear of the field was savagely impressive.

Three Stripe Life displayed his ability to handle the undulations of Prestbury Park when placing fourth in the Champion Bumper last March and he obviously warrants respect as a dual Grade 1 runner-up over timber.

He could the chief danger to Sir Garhard once again.

Journey With Me has been riding the hype train from the very moment that he landed the same bumper in which Bob Olinger made a successful racecourse debut 12 months earlier, with many predicting that he could emulate his stablemates success in this very contest.

It’s fair to say that there were less fireworks at Naas last month, however, the striking son of Mahler got the job done and will head to Cheltenham with an unbeaten record to defend.

An impressive hurdling debut a Leopardstown further fanned those flames as Journey With Me comfortably dispatched the smart Minella Crooner and Supreme contender Kilcruit in the manner of a very classy horse.

Connections of Journey With Me will be hoping for plenty of pace in this race as Henry De Bromhead himself has expressed the opinion that he doesn’t possess the same gears as Bob Olinger and is already shaping-up as a staying chaser in the making.

The form of his Leopardstown success puts him firmly in the mix and the De Bromhead yard have begun to rediscover their form in recent times.

Stage Star will carry the torch for Britain in this contest and the Challow Hurdle winner should not be completely overlooked.

The promising son of Fame And Glory placed third in the Grade 2 bumper at Aintree last spring and he hasn’t put a foot wrong in three starts over hurdles this season, easily scoring at Chepstow and Newbury before returning to the Berkshire track to land the same Grade 1 contest that stablemate Bravemansgame claimed 12 months earlier.

The manner of that success will have had connections dreaming of Cheltenham Festival success, however, there will have undoubtedly been the occasional nightmare involving Irish trained horses!

An official rating of 143 puts Stage Star firmly in this mix and he is 2/2 on left-handed, undulating tracks courtesy of two wins at Chepstow. So why not dare to dream.

I Am Maximus defeated subsequent Aintree Grace 1 scorer My Drogo when making a successful bumper debut at Cheltenham in October 2020 and he has accumulated some reasonable form over hurdles this season.

Third behind JPR One and Luttrell Lad on debut, I Am Maximus got off the mark at the second time of asking before placing second behind Henry Daly’s exciting Albert Bartlett favourite Hillcrest in Listed company at Cheltenham on New Year’s day, which clearly looks like smart form now.

A mark of 134 must have been temping for connections, therefore it may be significant they that have elected to run in Grade 1 company. However, he will need to improve significantly to match strides with the likes of Sir Gerhard and Three Stripe Life, who set a much higher standard at this stage.

Whatdeawant will try to emulate City Island, who carried the race sponsors colours to success in this race in 2020. He has shown flashes of serious ability in his short career to to date, beating Grade 1 novice hurdle winner Ginto in a Fairyhouse bumper on debut before placing third behind Kilcruit in the Grade 2 Dublin Racing Festival bumper last year.

The Aizavoski gelding displayed a good attitude when making a successful hurdling debut at Navan in December and he was well punted into 2/1 for the Grade 1 Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle, but it’s fair to say that things didn’t go to plan and he is much better than he showed on that occasion.

Sir Gerhard is going to be very hard to beat, but Whatdeawant could easily hit the frame and therefore makes sufficient each-way appeal.

Scarface, Haxo and Hemlock all placed second on their latest outings but will likely struggle to make their mark in this grade.

VERDICT:

The defection of Ginto to the Albert Bartlett and Dysart Dynamo to the Supreme leaves this open for SIR GERHARD, who looks a cut above his remaining rivals. This race often develops into a sprint and last season’s Champion Bumper hero is by far the quickest horse in this race, yet he still possessed the stamina to land an Irish point-to-point and is therefore prepared for anything that his opposition throws at him. Three Stripe Life followed him home at the Dublin Racing Festival last month and may do so once again. While Whatdeawant is better than he showed in the Grade 1 Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle and could represent good each-way value.

1. Sir Gerhard 2. Three Stripe Life 3. Whatdeawant

2.10 – BROWN ADVISORY NOVICES’ CHASE (GRADE 1) 3m80y

Bravemansgame began to fulfil his undoubted potential when landing the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle at Newbury last season and although he came up short at both Cheltenham and Aintree, when tackling Grade 1 company over two-and-a-half-miles and three miles respectively, he was always going to take another step forwards when being sent over fences.

That has most certainly proved to be the case as Paul Nicholls imposing seven-year-old defeated experienced rivals on his first two outings over fences before defeating Ahoy Senor in the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton, when displaying that he is more than happy to take a lead should a rival wish to make the running.

Bravemansgame further enhanced his growing reputation when defying a mark of 159 in handicap company at Newbury and he will arrive at Cheltenham with the benefit of four runs under his belt, which is clearly advantageous in such a competitive novice heat.

I wouldn’t hesitate in suggesting that Bravemansgame is the best jumping novice we have seen this season as he is more than capable on a long stride, equally adept when getting in tight and, importantly, he is smart enough to know when it’s time to take off.

The turn of foot that he displayed in the closing stages at Kempton was particularly impressive and confirmed that he can track a rival whom wants to make the race a real test of stamina, yet still have enough left in the tank to put the race bed.

Bravemansgame paid the price for trying to take on Bob Olinger in Ballymore last year and he was likely feeling the effects of that effort when chasing home Ahoy Senor at Aintree.

This could be his time to shine.

Ahoy Senor shot to prominence when defeating Bravemansgame in the Grade 1 Doom Bar Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree last April and, like his Aintree victim, he was deemed good enough to tackle more experienced rivals on his chasing debut in October.

Lucinda Russell’s exciting seven-year-old was sent-off a 5/2 shot for the Listed Colin Parker Memorial Intermediate Chase and was a length down when sprawling on loading and unseating his jockey at the penultimate fence.

The powerful son of Dylan Thomas atoned for that mishap with an impressive Grade 2 success at Newbury, where he displayed a high cruising speed and simply jumped his three rivals into submission. He was seemingly unsuited by going right-handed and the tight nature of Kempton when proving no match for Bravemansgame in the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase, but he comfortably bounced back to winning ways in the Grade 2 William Hill Towton Novices’ Chase at Warwick in February.

Connections saw fit to hand Ahoy Senor a Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup entry, which is a clear indication of the regard in which they hold their Grade 1 winning novice hurdler. There is certainly an argument to be made that he would be much better suited by the Gold Cup trip and track and it does appear to be a fairly open year, however, it certainly makes sense to keep him in novice company this year.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we were talking about Ahoy Senor as a genuine contender for the Blue Ribband contest this time next year and he is therefore clearly a big player in this race. However, I do feel that he could prove vulnerable to speedier rivals tomorrow.

L’Homme Presse failed to trouble the judge in two starts in France but did manage to win one of his two starts over hurdles in Britain, earning a rating of 130. However, it’s safe to say that he has taken his form to a whole new level this season, winning all four of his starts over fences achieving a rating of 159.

Venetia Williams’ up-and-coming seven-year-old took advantage of his lowly handicap mark when scoring at Exeter in December and was equally impressive when following up at Ascot two weeks later.

The Diamond Boy gelding took yet another giant leap forwards when recording a 10 lengths victory over the 141 rated The Glamcing Queen – whom was in receipt of 5lbs – in the Grade 2 Dipper Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham on New Years Day, and he merely cantered to an effortless 21 lengths success in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown last month, which naturally caught the attention of many.

The form of his debut success was boosted by the runner-up next time out. While Fantastikas, whom placed third behind L’Homme Presse at Cheltenham, was also successful on his only subsequent start. However, it is probably worth nothing that the runner-up at Sandown, namely Mister Coffey, destroyed a fence on the first circuit and is now being aimed at the Kim Muir over three-miles-and-two-furlongs.

Venetia Williams revealed that there are no concerns about stepping-up in trip and tackling this race on better ground, however, it is clearly a slight question mark heading into a competitive Grade 1 contest.

That said, we know that he handles the track, likes decent ground and he does boast an upwardly mobile profile. He is therefore an intriguing proposition.

Capodanno kept a relatively low profile over hurdles last season until readily justifying favouritism in competitive handicap company at the Punchestown Festival, making a mockery of a mark of 132 when scooting clear to win by an easy 12 lengths.

The JP McManus owned six-year-old had his attentions switched to chasing during the autumn and he made no mistake on his debut at Naas in December. His second outing offered even more encouragement in spite of defeat given that he seemingly had last season’s Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle hero Bob Olinger off the bridle turning for home, and there is certainly no shame in finishing within four-and-three-quarter-lengths of Henry De Bromhead’s potential superstar.

The Manduro gelding did blot his copybook when taking on stablemate Galopin Des Champs in the Grade 1 Novice Ladbrokes Novice Chase at the Dublin Racing last month, as he made a mistake and unseated Mark Walsh at the fifth fence.

It’s obviously less than ideal to be heading into a Grade 1 novice chase at Cheltenham on the back of such an incident, however, it clearly could have been much worse and going marginally slower over this trip should help.

It is also worth noting that he jumped some fences during a recent racecourse gallop at Navan, which should help with his confidence.

Capodanno does seem to possess a touch of class and, given that his impressive Punchestown success came over 3 miles, he should be well suited by stepping back-up in trip.

Threeunderthrufive was far from disgraced when placing sixth in last year’s Albert Bartlett following four victories from as many starts in novice company. However, he always looked to have the size and scope to develop into an even better chaser and connections will undoubtedly be delighted by what their charge has already achieved this season.

Paul Nicholls’ smart stayer chased home the 152 rated Does He Know on his chasing debut in October and hasn’t looked back since, winning all four of his subsequent starts including avenging his defeat over the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase course and distance in November.

The promising son of Shantou readily defeated subsequent scorer Fantastikas in Grade 2 company at Doncaster and was equally impressive when landing the Grade 2 Hampton Novices’ Chase at Warwick in January, where he jumped well and made all while conceding 5lbs to all of his rivals.

His form looks rock-solid and connections were toying with the idea of giving him an entry in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, which is a ringing endorsement of his ability.

Fury Road’s solitary success over fences came on his solitary start over 3 miles, when getting the better of his 158 rated stablemate Run Wild Fred in the Grade 1 Neville Hotels Novice Chase at Leopardstown in December.

Third in the Grade 1 Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse, the Gigginstown House Stud owned eight-year-old could only finish fifth, beaten 55 lengths, behind Galopin Des Champs at the Dublin Racing Festival last month and connections were eyeing a tilt at handicap company until the British handicapper dished out an unfavourable mark.

It is perhaps worth noting that Fury Road placed third in a red-hot renewal of the Albert Bartlett in 2020 – won by Monkfish with Latest Exhibition second and Thyme Hill back in fourth – and he was supported into 4/1 for the Stayers Hurdle last season, demonstrating that those whom know him best still have significant faith in his ability.

That said, the fact that connections were even considering handicaps provides precious insight, and he may ultimately prove to be slightly below this level.

Beacon Edge landed the Grade 1 Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse in November and was only narrowly touched off in the Grade 2 Ten Up Novice Chase when conceding 7lbs to the winner.

Clearly smart on his day, Noel Meade’s charge may ultimately prove best over trips just shy of 3 miles. However, he is clearly a capable performer and should not be entirely dismissed.

Gaillard Du Mesnil landed the Grade 1 Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors Novice Hurdle prior to chasing home Bob Olinger in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle last March, and he was well touted ahead of his novice chasing campaign following another Grade 1 success at the Punchestown Festival.

However, things haven’t gone as planned thus far, as the talented great remains a maiden after three starts in this sphere.

The Saint Des Saints gelding failed to land the odds on debut, placing third behind his aforementioned stablemate Capodanno. He filled the same position behind Bob Olinger at Punchestown next time out and again claimed the bronze medal behind Galopin Des Champs at the Dublin Racing Festival last month.

Gaillard Du Mesnil has clearly come up against some talented rivals and I would say that his latest effort was certainly an improvement on the two prior, which does offer encouragement.

He looks sure to be suited by a sterner test of stamina and we know that he acts on the track.

Dusart is 2-2 over fences but has yet to truly convince with his jumping. While Farouk D’alene was a short head away from landing the Grade 1 Faugheen Novice Chase at Limerick on Boxing Day and will be suited by a real test of stamina.

The former clearly possesses plenty of ability but his lack of experience is a concern. While the latter defeated the aforementioned Beacon Edge in the Grade 2 Ten Up Novice Chase at Navan three weeks ago and could easily outperform market expectations.

Streets Of Doyen placed third in the Albert Bartlett last year and made a successful chasing debut at Galway in July. However, he refused at the third last fence at Cheltenham in November and was well held over 2 miles at Navan 11 days ago. He therefore makes little appeal.

VERDICT:

L’Homme Presse would be a intriguing addition to this contest as it’s impossible to know where his limitations lie. While Capodanno would likely find improvement over this trip and should not be underestimated. The British trained duo of Ahoy Senor and Threeunderthrufive are exciting prospects whom are clearly well regarded by connections, however, they may lack a gear or two over this course and distance. The one horse with seemingly few questions to answer is BRAVEMANSGAME, whom boasts a very solid profile having twice triumphed over vastly more experienced opposition in addition to scoring at Grade 1 level and in handicap company from a mark of 159. Paul Nicholls’ super-exciting seven-year-old is blessed with both speed and stamina and his ability to take lengths out of his rivals at every fence only further strengthens his prospects.

1. Bravemansgame 2. L’Homme Presse 3. Capodanno

2.50 – CORAL CUP HANDICAP HURDLE (GRADE 3) 2m5f

Gowel Road was successful over the Coral Cup course and distance in November when running a final circuit time that was slightly quicker than both the 2 mile juvenile hurdle and 3 mile handicap hurdle on the same card, whilst only being marginally slower than the concluding Listed Mares’ bumper (winner carried 10lbs less than Gowel Road).

That was Gowel Road’s second start over a trip in excess of 2 miles and he therefore remains unexposed over intermediate trips. He flew up the hill under a virtual hands and heels ride on that occasion, shaping as though he may have plenty more come.

A half-brother to Grade 1 Challow Hurdle scorer Captain Cutter, the Flemensfirth gelding was far from disgraced when dropping back to 2 miles and placing third behind two progressive rivals – whom received 8lbs and 10lbs respectively – at Newbury subsequently, and a 7lbs rise for his Prestbury Park success looks fair given the authority of his victory.

He is clearly effective over this course and distance and, like in that occasion, he will encounter decent ground.

Nigel Twiston-Davies saddled the popular Ballyandy – who was also owned by the Options O Syndicate – to place third in the Coral Cup in 2019, hopefully they can go two places better this year.

Fellow British contender Camprond also makes plenty of appeal.

The JP McManus owned six-year-old hasn’t been seen since placing fourth in the Grade 3 Greatwood Handicap Hurdle in November, and that race has worked out really well with the fifth placed Tritonic landing the Grade 3 Betfair Exchange Handicap Hurdle at Ascot and the sixth placed Glory And Fortune placing second in the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle before landing the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury, while the seventh placed Marie’s Rock has won two of her three subsequent starts.

Camprond had won his two previous starts over two-and-a-half-miles, defeating stablemate Luttrell Lad in the Grade 2 Persian War Novices’ Hurdle at Chepstow, before mastering Mars Harper over a trip just shy of this at Cheltenham in October. The Lope De Vega gelding remains unexposed over intermediate trips and the handicapper did him a favour by leaving him on a mark of 140 following his fourth placed effort at in the Greatwood, which could well prove lenient given the way in which the form is working out.

All four of his victories in Britain have been achieved on decent ground, therefore conditions will suit tomorrow, and the fact that he hasn’t been seen since November suggests that connections may have had this race in mind. Indeed, the JP McManus owned Dame De Compgnie wasn’t seen between December and March when triumphing in this race in 2020. Interestingly, she too had run in the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle that November, placing fifth.

Aidan Coleman has ridden Camprond in his last four races and clearly gets on with him well, therefore all of the boxes are ticked and a big run is expected.

I certainly don’t mind throwing a few darts in these big Cheltenham handicaps when there’s and up to 8 places on offer, so I’m going to suggest small wagers on the Gordon Elliott trained pair of Mars Harper and Tronador

The former was given a sighter around Cheltenham when chasing home the aforementioned Camprond in October, and he has run respectively in competitive Irish handicaps since.

He was only denied by a well handicapped rival whom followed-up at the Dublin Racing Festival on his penultimate outing at Leopardstown and he certainly wasn’t knocked around when placing seventh at Navan last time out.

Both were eye-catching runs and his trip to Prestbury Park in the autumn suggests that connections have had Cheltenham on their minds.

The latter placed ninth in the 2020 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle and has been lightly raced since.

However, I can’t let him go unsupported after his impressive performance over this trip at Aintree last April, when quickening-up smarty to see off subsequent easy Grade 3 scorer Dans Le Vent (second) and Arkle contender Edwardstone (third).

Tronador hasn’t been seen since pulling-up at Galway last July. However, the fact that he is coming over for this contest suggests that connections feel that he can do himself justice. He is therefore worthy of small support at a big price.

1. Gowel Road 2. Camprond 3. Mars Harper

3.30 – BETWAY QUEEN MOTHER CHAMPION CHASE (GRADE 1) 1m7f99y

Shishkin will be looking to secure a Cheltenham Festival hat-trick following victories in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Arkle Novices’ Chase, and his defeat of Energumene in the Clarence House Chase suggests that he is very much the one to beat.

Nicky Henderson’s star eight-year-old could harshly have been more impressive in winning the Arkle 12 months ago and the guts that he displayed at Ascot demonstrate that he has the tools for every job.

While his trainer will understandably want to dodge comparisons with those whom have gone before him, Shishkin does seem to possess similar traits to Altior, who could also look uncomfortable and even hit flat-spots before clicking into gear and charging clear of his rivals.

Shishkin showed how well be can come up the hill when landing the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and if he is indeed in contention when turning for home, which is almost guaranteed barring mishaps, he should prove very tough to beat.

Energumene was an eleventh hour absentee from the Arkle last March and therefore missed his first clash with Shishkin. But now, following his narrow defeat at Ascot, he will bid to level up the score and show the Cheltenham faithful what he is capable of.

Willie Mullins’ impressive eight-year-old won two Grade 1’s as a novice and kick-started his first campaign in open company with a smooth eight-and-a-half-lengths success in the Grade 2 Hilly Way Chase.

I think most would agree that Energumene lost nothing in defeat at Ascot following a bold front-running performance and many will find solace in the fact that he actually held the led at the Champion Chase trip, with Shishkin only taking over in the additional furlong.

Paul Townend has chosen to ride Energumene over Chancun Pour Soi and he will have learned plenty about Shishkin at Ascot, which could aid him tomorrow.

Chacun Pour Soi failed to justify odds-on favouritism in this contest last year and his subsequent no-show in the Tingle Creek Chase in December has certainly thrown into question his ability to travel.

That said, the multiple Grade 1 winner was found to be lame after his underwhelming effort in Esher and seemingly bounced back to form in the Grade 1 Ladbrokes Dublin Chase at last month’s Dublin Racing Festival.

While the opposition may have been somewhat inferior, the manner of that success confirmed that the fire still burns brightly and it should not be forgotten that he has few miles on the clock for a horse of his age.

While the issue of travelling does undoubtedly play a factor in my assessment of Chacun Pour Soi, my chief concern this year is the level of opposition as Shishkin and Energumene are, respectfully, in a different stratosphere to what Rich Ricci’s ten-year-old faced last year.

He does, however, warrant respect and connections affection for his is very revealing.

Nube Negra placed second in this race last year after claiming the scalp of the mighty Altior in the Grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase, and can’t help but feel that he may have taken home the spoils had he enjoyed a clear passage up the hill.

Dan Skelton’s pacy eight-year-old got caught up in traffic and ultimately failed by just half-a-length, beating the aforementioned Chacun Pour Soi by a length with this season’s Tingle Creek hero Greaneteen back in fourth.

Nube Negra has a fantastic record when fresh and it’s therefore no surprise that we haven’t seen the eight-year-old since a disappointing run behind Greaneteen in the Tingle Creek Chase, which probably came too soon after an impressive 6 lengths victory over the last two Champion Chase winners, namely Politologue and Put The Kettle On, in the Grade 2 Shloer Chase on his seasonal reappearance.

Being fresh will undoubtedly aid his prospects it the Cotswolds next week and, given his preference for decent ground, the weather may also be in his favour.

Envoi Allen seemingly had the world at his feet this time last year with many already prepared to crown him the winner of the Turners Novices’ Chase, myself included! However, a third fence fall led to a fall from grace and, although he won a Grade 1 last time out, there are still question marks surrounding him.

The Cheveley Park Stud owned eight-year-old underwent surgery after being pulled-up at Punchestown last April and he seemed to be returning to something like his best when landing the Grade 2 Join Racing TV Chase by 22 lengths at Down Royal in October.

However, Envoi Allen was well held when sent off a 7/4 favourite for the Grade 1 John Durkan Chase and although he bounced back to winning ways in the Grade 1 Paddy’s Reward Club Chase over Christmas, the manner of his victory was hardly authoritative.

Indeed, that workmanlike victory over Battleoverdoyen and Sizing Pottsie certainly provided more questions than answers as you’d like to think that a prime Envoi Allen would have won doing handstands. He will need to step-forwards significantly in order to feature in this race.

Reigning Champion Chase heroine Put The Kettle On is two from three over this course and distance having also landed the Arkle in 2020, and she will likely run a bold race in defence of her crown.

Henry De Bromhead’s star mare was game in victory 12 months ago and obviously warrants respect. However, it is slightly concerning that her three subsequent outings have provided form-figures of 435 in the bet365 Celebration Chase, Shloer Chase and a Grade 3 Mares’ Chase respectively.

That said, history tells us this Put The Kettle On saves her best for Cheltenham and it’s fair to say that her yard haven’t been firing on all cylinders this season.

Happily, Henry De Bromhead’s representatives have started to rediscover their form in recent times and a much improved performance is likely, especially on better ground.

Funambule Sivola bumped into Shishkin at Aintree last season and perhaps paid the price for trying to beat him.

That could of course happen again tomorrow, however, he does possess the ability to sneak into the frame if ridden with that intention.

2020 champion Politologue always wears his heart on his sleeve will also hold place aspirations.

VERDICT:

If everything goes to plan Shishkin could prove very hard to beat. The dual Cheltenham Festival winner has beat all put before him up to this point and his Ascot defeat of leading contender Energumene is undoubtedly the best piece of form in this race. Nube Negra should not be ignored given his record when fresh and with the weather looking favourable. While it’s hard to ignore Willie Mullins’ regard for Chacun Pour Soi in spite of the question marks against him. However, this may be the day for his stablemate ENERGUMENE, who could perhaps avenge the aforementioned Ascot defeat over this slightly shorter trip and on better ground. The bold-jumping eight-year-old has only had nine career starts and he will have learned plenty from his battle with Shishkin.

1. Energumene 2. Shishkin 3. Nube Negra

4.10 – GLENFARCLAS CHASE 3m6f37y

The six-year-old Premgarde could be a regular in this contest over the next few years and should not be underestimated. While multiple Grade 1 winner Delta Work could well take over the mantle from his stablemate Tiger Roll if really taking to the banks. However, TIGER ROLL is the undisputed king of this discipline and a reproduction of his victory 12 months ago would make him very hard to beat. The dual Grand National winner has reportedly been pleasing in his work and the ground conditions should be ideal. A fourth victory in this race would represent a remarkable sixth Cheltenham Festival success overall, and it would undoubtedly be the most celebrated victory of the entire week.

1. Tiger Roll 2. Prengarde 3. Delta Work

4.50 – JOHNNY HENDERSON GRAND ANNUAL CHALLENGE CUP HANDICAP CHASE (GRADE 3) 1m7f199y

Buddy Rich chased home the 153 rated Third Time Lucki over the Grand Annual course and distance in October and that effort was arguably a much better run than the bare form would suggest as, although he was beaten eight-and-a-half-lengths, it was clear that Dan Skelton’s charge had been given far too much rope when hitting the front and was not for catching thereafter.

Gordon Elliott’s nine-year-old was the only horse whom could go in pursuit of the winner that day and he certainly stuck to his task well, pulling 16 lengths clear of the now 137 rated Any News (third). It should be noted that he displayed a high head-carriage early on and did have a look around when coming up the hill, and may therefore be better suited by a stronger pace and more company – something that is virtually guaranteed in the Grand Annual.

The son of Rock Of Gibraltar chased home the 143 rated Bleu Berry on his chasing debut at Listowel and again placed second at Killarney next time out. He brought-up a hat-trick of runner-up efforts when finding only Cape Gentleman – who has since won a Grade 3, placed second in a Grade 2 and fell when still in contention in the Grade 1 Drinmore Novice Chase – too good at Punchestown in October, which preceded his fine run at Cheltenham.

Buddy Rich got off the mark when defeating last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle runner-up Ballyadam at Navan in November, before disappointing when sent off a 5/2 favourite at Fairyhouse – finishing fourth.

Gordon Elliott is well known for getting early experience into his novices for whom he has a plan in mind, and the fact that Buddy Rich squeezed in six runs between the 20th of September and the 27th of November before being put away for a winter break is noteworthy. As is the fact that connections allowed him to get some match practise in the Cotswolds.

I feel it’s also worth noting that Davy Russell has been on board for his last four starts, and there is perhaps no better jockey – and indeed trainer and jockey combination – when it comes to Cheltenham Festival handicaps, and the pair teamed up to land the Grand Annual with Chosen Mate in 2020.

Buddy Rich jumped well when visiting Cheltenham and it’s clearly advantageous having experience over the course and distance of the Grand Annual.

The decent ground will be to his liking as all three of his previous career victories have been achieved on good ground, and a mark of 144 is arguably firm but fair.

Paul Nicholls has landed this race twice in the last six years and he looks to have a leading contender this year in the form of Thyme White.

Thyme White displayed flashes of real ability in two seasons over hurdles and he could easily develop into a smart chaser for his 12 time champion trainer, who has a fine record with this type of horse.

The Anodin gelding chased home subsequent scorer Amarillo Sky, whom received 6lbs, on his chasing debut at Wincanton and he will enjoy a 7lbs pull at the weights tomorrow for a one-and-a-half-length defeat.

Thyme White blotted his copybook when falling at the first fence at Ascot in December, but he bounced by in fine style at Doncaster 12 days later and has been kept for this race ever since.

The promising six-year-old jumped well and cantered to victory on Town Moor in spite of conceding upwards of 7lbs to all of his rivals. The manner of his victory was indicative of a well handicapped horse and the fact that connections have waited patiently for this race suggests that they too feel that he is fairly treated.

The other horse that warrants support is Editeur Du Gite, who certainly hasn’t hidden from the handicapper this season but may still be capable of victory.

Gary Moore’s progressive eight-year-old has won his last four completed starts, including a Grand Annual course and distance success at Prestbury Park in November and an even more decisive success at the International Meeting in December.

There was talk of the Champion Chase following those impressive performances, however, it appears to be a strong renewal of that 2 mile prize and connections have understandably decided to tackle handicap company instead.

His last two victories have been achieved under talented conditional jockey Niall Houlihan, however, Joshua Moore will take over in the saddle tomorrow, which is no negative as he partnered Editeur Du Gite when when he landed the Grade 3 Red Rum Handicap Chase at Aintree last spring.

Josh Moore was also on board when the eight-year-old won at Newbury last season and all four of his victories have been achieved on decent ground, which he will encounter again tomorrow.

The third and fourth placed horses from his December success have won since and the manner of that victory suggested that he was still on the upgrade.

The front-running son of Saddex jumps really well and will undoubtedly make a bold bid from the outset.

He is sure to give us a run for our money.

1. Buddy Rich 2. Thyme White 3. Editeur Du Gite

5.30 – WEATHERBYS CHAMPION BUMPER (GRADE 1) 2m87y

Facile Vega has been very impressive on both starts to date and is already a Grade 2 winner. Factor in that he is trained by Willie Mullins and is the son of six-time Cheltenham Festival winner Quevega and you can see why he odds-on for this race in many places.

Indeed, his official rating marks him out as being well above average and in any normal year he could arguably he even shorter in the betting. However, the handicapper has another challenger on exactly the same mark, and the price differential makes him a much more attractive proposition.

There was plenty of hype surrounding American Mike heading into the autumn and he certainly didn’t disappoint on his debut at Down Royal, defeating a subsequent winner in a common canter on soft ground.

The talented son of Mahler was even more impressive when landing the same Listed contest at Navan that both Envoi Allen and Sir Gerhard won en route to success in the Champion Bumper, and we haven’t seen him since that 17 lengths success, which means that he will arrive here fresh and well.

American Mike had the time gurus purring well before Facile Vega made his impressive debut at Christmas and I can only assume that the price differential is party due to recency bias and partly because of his connections/breeding.

The ground was quicker at Navan and it clearly suited him well, therefore tomorrow’s conditions hold no fears.

Gordon Elliott certainly knows what it takes to land this prize having triumphed twice in the last five years – while also preparing Sir Gerhard 12 months ago – and American Mike has been his number one contender since day one.

Jamie Codd was the successful jockey on both of those occasions and he has been effusive in his praise for American Mike in recent weeks. I am therefore happy to oppose the favourite with the latest potential superstar out of Cullentra.

Joyeux Machin chased home odds-on favourite Facile Vega at Leopardstown in December and looks a big price tomorrow.

Joyeux Machin was no match for the winner on that occasion in spite of receiving 7lbs. However, he did pull 13 lengths clear of the third, who was a close second next time out, and he was entitled to improve for the experience having fell in his solitary point-to-point.

The son of Saddler Maker went one place better next time out and it was a victory that was made more impressive by the fact that he was stopped in his tracks twice up the gruelling Navan hill before finally finding a gap, and he quickly put the race to bed when out in the open.

The runner-up on that occasion was beaten a short head at Navan today and he would have been beaten more comprehensively by Joyeux Machin but for the traffic problems.

I’m certainly not saying that he can reverse the form with Facile Vega, whom is clearly a top class prospect. However, he is far too big a price at 40/1 and I’m happy to back him now with the NRNB concession.

1. American Mike 2. Facile Vega 3. Joyeux Machin

PREVIEW: 2022 Cheltenham Festival – Tuesday

Jonbon will bid to emulate his brother Douvan by landing the Grade 1 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

TUESDAY SELECTIONS:

1.5pt win Riviere D’etel in the 2.10 Cheltenham at 4/1

1pt each-way Frodon in the 2.50 Cheltenham at 14/1 (7 Places)

1pt each-way Tea Clipper in the 2.50 Cheltenham at 16/1 (7 Places)

1pt each-way Teahupoo in the 3.30 Cheltenham at 10/1 (3 Places)

2pt win The Tide Turns in the 4.50 Cheltenham at 6/1

0.5pts each-way Ebasari in the 4.50 Cheltenham at 16/1 (6 Places)

0.5pts each-way Too Friendly in the 4.50 Cheltenham at 20/1 (6 Places)

2pt win Vanillier in the 5.30 Cheltenham at 9/2

ANTEPOST SELECTIONS:

2pt win Dysart Dynamo to win ‘any race’ at 10/1 (Supreme)

1.5pts each-way Does He Know in the Ultima Handicap Chase at 20/1 (4 Places)

2pt win Queens Brook in the Mares’ Hurdle at 5/1

1.5pts each-way Too Friendly in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at 16/1 (5 Places)

1.30 – SKY BET SUPREME NOVICES’ HURDLE (GRADE 1) 2m87f

Nicky Henderson has landed this prize twice in the last six years courtesy of the mighty Altior and the equally exciting Shishkin, and many are understandably keen keen to see whether Constitution Hill or Jonbon can follow in their footsteps.

The former announced himself on the scene with a deeply impressive success at Sandown in December and further enhanced his reputation when returning to the Esher track to land the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle in facile fashion.

The Blue Bresil gelding has impressed the clock watchers and clearly remains open to vast improvement, which is a scary proposition for his opposition given the raw ability he has displayed thus far.

The latter fetched €570,000 when going through the ring following an impressive 15 lengths success at Dromahane in November 2020 – with the fact that he is a full brother to 2015 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle hero – and 2016 Arkle Novices’ Chase winner – Douvan undoubtedly contributing to his price-tag.

The well-touted six-year-old is yet to put a foot wrong on the track, running out a comfortable winner of his solitary bumper start last spring before adding 3 successful hurdle runs to his resume this winter.

Jonbon displayed a real aptitude for hurdling on his debut at Newbury – advertising the raw speed that he possesses and a low, slick jumping technique that will certainly stand to him in a contest of this nature. While his subsequent victories in the Grade 2 Howden Kennel Gate Novices’ Hurdle at Ascot and the Grade 2 Sky Bet Supreme Trial Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle have further enhanced his reputation.

The master of Seven Barrows has run many future superstars in this contest over the years, with subsequent Arkle winner – and dual Champion Chaser – Sprinter Sacre and dual champion hurdler Buveur D’Air two examples of those whom were beaten on the day but still went on to greatness.

Both of his representatives this year command the utmost respect.

While Nicky Henderson knows what it takes to be successful in this race, it’s worth noting that no trainer has topped Willie Mullins’ seven previous victories in the Cheltenham Festival curtain-raiser and the Irish champion trainer will be well represented tomorrow.

Dysart Dynamo won a brace of bumpers last spring and came to the attention of many at the Punchestown Festival, when easily kicking aside a 10 rivals, including subsequent Grade 1 Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle runner-up Grand Jury, in spite of pulling Patrick Mullins’ arms out for the majority of the contest.

Willie Mullins had expressed the opinion that Dysart Dynamo could go straight over fences given his power, size and scope. However, connections decided to stick to the more traditional route and it may well pay dividends, as the striking son of Westerner built upon a facile 19 lengths success on his hurdling debut at Cork with an even more impressive 19 lengths victory in the Grade 2 Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown – a race that both Vautour and Douvan used as a springboard to success in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

The imposing six-year-old seemingly possesses the traits of those whom have won this race previously for the Irish champion trainer, as he likes to race prominently, has a high cruising speed and appears to possess a potent blend of speed and stamina.

Given the body of evidence that we have currently, he could prove very tough to pass if granted an easy lead.

The Irish champion trainer will also be represented by last year’s Champion Bumper runner-up Kilcruit, whom has seen his price contract significantly in recent weeks.

The well-regarded son of Stowaway turned the tables on Sir Gerhard at Punchestown last spring and was considered a top class novice hurdle prospect heading into this season. However, his reputation was dented by maiden hurdle defeats at Cork and Leopardstown respectively.

The latter of those two defeats was probably a fair effort given that he was beaten by the exciting Journey With Me and the smart Minella Crooner over two-and-a-half-miles, and he certainly took a step forwards following the application of a tongue-tie at Punchestown in January.

Dropping back to two miles, Kilcruit readily kicked aside nineteen rivals and booked his ticket on the ferry. He is certainly a leading player in this red-hot renewal.

If there’s a horse that is perhaps creeping into this contest under the radar then it’s probably Mighty Potter, who landed the Grade 1 Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown when last sighted in December.

Gordon Elliott’s well-built five-year-old defeated stablemate Three Stripe Life, whom has since placed second behind Sir Gerhard at the Dublin Racing Festival, in that festive Grade 1 contest and he may well have scooped the Grade 1 Royal Bond Novice Hurdle had he enjoyed a clearer passage.

Had he done so, we would be looking at an unbeaten, dual Grade 1 winning novice whom hails from a top yard and whom possesses significant room for physical improvement given that he only turned five at the start of the year.

I do feel that this impressive son Martaline will be suited by further in time and he may lack the turn of foot should this develop into a sprint. However, i also suspect that Mighty Potter is one of the most talented horses in this race and i expect him to be dining at the top table over the years to come.

Bring On The Night ran out an easy winner on his hurdling debut at Naas last month and really could be anything at this stage. While Silent Revolution defeated Broomfield Burg on his solitary start over hurdles in November and fits into the same category.

Both clearly possess potential, but face a stern test tomorrow.

Shallwehaveonemore got off the mark on his penultimate outing at Sandown and was only beaten a length when favourite for the Grade 2 Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle at Kempton. While JPR One defeated Luttrell Lad and I Am Maximus on his hurdling debut at Exeter before being headed in a solid looking novice hurdle at Cheltenham in December.

Both have shown flashes of ability, but may struggle in this grade.

VERDICT:

There are at least three horses engaged in this contest whom could easily be a red-hot favourite in an ordinary year. This, however, is no such year. Jonbon’s slick hurdling will help him to a hold a handy position throughout and his form is sticking up well. While his stablemate Constitution Hill has received high praise from his clearly adoring trainer and remains somewhat of an unknown quantity in spite of his Tolworth Hurdle success. Mighty Potter should not be underestimated, but may ultimately lack the gears of one of two of his rivals over this trip. While it would be foolish not to factor last year’s Champion Bumper runner-up Kilcruit into calculations. However, preference is for DYSART DYNAMO, who seemingly possesses many of the traits that former Closutton winners have utilised. The imposing son of Westerner likes to race handily and possesses a potent blend of speed and stamina. He also landed the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer Novices’ Hurdle at Punchestown in January – the same race that both Vautour and Douvan landed en route to success in this race. Dysart Dynamo clearly has a huge engine and has reportedly been settling better in-behind horses during his Cheltenham Festival preparations, which gives him greater tactical versatility and will help him to preserve his energy for the finish.

1. Dysart Dynamo 2. Jonbon 3. Constitution Hill

2.10 – RACING POST ARKLE NOVICES’ CHASE (GRADE 1) 1m7f199y

The Sporting Life Arkle looks a wide open heat with the Edwardstone leading the British charge ahead of a host of Irish challengers. Willie Mullins three-pronged attack of Blue Lord, Haut En Couleurs and Saint Sam will undoubtedly attract support, however, I want to be with Gordon Elliott’s talented mate Riviere D’etel.

Riviere D’etel has blossomed as a novice chaser this season, making light work of subsequent dual scorer Jeremys Flame on her chasing debut at Punchestown before proving 21 lengths too good for Cape Gentleman, who had easily won a Grade 3 on his previous start, in Grade 2 company.

The smart daughter of Martaline easily won a Grade 3 next time out before giving the high-class Ferny Hollow something to think about in the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, where she displayed both class and guts to get within one-and-a-half-lengths of the 2020 Champion Bumper winner.

I think it’s fair to say that Riviere D’etel was unlucky not to land the Grade 1 Irish Arkle at the Dublin Racing Festival last month as an uncustomary poor jump at the last, probably cost her victory, especially when Blue Lord took advantage of that error by sweeping across the track.

There was a lot to like about the way in which she stuck her head down and came back at Blue Lord in the shadows of the post – closing the gap significantly in the final 100 yards, which suggested that she won’t mind a battle up the gruelling Cheltenham hill.

Riviere D’etel will be 2lb worse off tomorrow, however, Put The Kettle On took advantage of the 7lbs mares allowance when winning a similarly open renewal in 2020 and Gordon Elliott’s mare has arguably displayed a higher level of form than she had coming into this contest.

All three of her victories this season have been achieved on decent ground and her high cruising speed and slick jumping will be big assets around Cheltenham.

1. Riviere D’etel 2. Edwardstone 3. Blue Lord

2.50 – ULTIMA HANDICAP CHASE (GRADE 3) 3m1f

Kim Bailey went close to landing this contest with subsequent Aintree handicap scorer Happygoluck last year, and I’m hopeful that Andoversford based handler can go one place better courtesy of Does He Know.

The Alkaased gelding defeated subsequent three-time scorer Threeunderthrufive on his chasing debut at Chepstow and gave that same rival a race when chasing him home over the Ultima Handicap Chase course and distance in November.

Paul Nicholls’ charge, who will run in the Grade 1 Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase on Wednesday, has twice scored in Grade 2 company since and connections considered giving him an entry in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, which is a clear indication of the regard in which he is held.

Does He Know slotted in an Ultima Handicap Chase course and distance success in between those two runs when successfully conceding 8lbs to the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Undersupervision, who threw away his chance when attempting to jump a rail on the run-in.

Although close at the time, I feel that Kim Bailey’s charge was getting the better of that argument regardless and the fact that he has both winning and good placed form over the Ultima Handicap Chase course and distance is clearly a huge positive. It is also worth noting that he won at Prestbury Park twice over hurdles – including at Grade 2 level – and boasts overall form figures of 11512 in the Cotswolds.

The fifth placed effort was achieved in the Grade 1 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle and the fact that connections saw fit to run him in such a contest demonstrates the regard in which they hold him.

It seems significant that connections elected to get Does He Know out early to gain valuable experience both in this sphere and over this course and distance before giving him a winter break, and he ran out an impressive winner of the Grade 2 Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Ascot last month, earning a 5lbs rise to a mark of 152.

Does He Know clocked a final circuit time just 2 seconds slower than the 3m1f handicap chase run earlier on the card when successful in October, in spite of carrying 21lbs more than the winner of that contest. While he was only 3 seconds slower than the final circuit time clocked by the hugely progressive Before Midnight, whom carried 19lbs less, in the 2 mile handicap chase.

It’s fair to say that Does He Know hasn’t always been fluent at his fences and the atmosphere at Cheltenham is a concern given how worked-up he can get in the preliminaries. However, he is clearly open to further improvement after just four starts over fences and he looks sure to run a big race tomorrow.

Novices’ have a fantastic recent record in Cheltenham Festival handicaps and I also want to support Tea Clipper, who could be ahead of his mark.

Tom Lacey’s seven-year-old was a progressive handicap hurdler last season, landing the Grade 3 Silver Trophy on his reappearance at Chepstow before placing third at both Cheltenham and Aintree during the spring.

His third placed effort in the Coral Cup is a handy piece of Cheltenham Festival form the manner in which he won on his chasing debut at Chepstow suggested that he could take even higher rank over fences.

Tea Clipper was soundly beaten by Nassalam, whom was in receipt of 14lbs, on his second chase start at Newbury and was last of the four to finish in the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton. However, he has since undergone wind surgery and connections have decided to apply cheekpieces tomorrow, both of which could lead to an improved performance.

The Stowaway gelding is completely unexposed over staying trips and all six of his previous victories – including his point-to-point – have been achieved on good to soft ground or quicker, therefore the ground tomorrow should be ideal.

It goes without saying that he is entitled to improve after just three starts in this sphere and we know that he is capable of competing in competitive handicaps – both in general and at Cheltenham. While his record following break of 60 days or more (hasn’t run for 79 days) reads 112151, including his point-to-point.

The presence of Frodon means that he will only have to carry 10-7 and Tom Lacey has his horses in red-hot form at present. He therefore makes plenty of appeal at a double figures price with 7 places up for grabs.

While I don’t like to tip three horses in one race, I can most certainly make an exception for the legend that is Frodon, who would be an incredibly popular winner.

The 2019 Ryanair Chase winner defied his current rating of 164 when making a successful seasonal reappearance over this course and distance last season, and he demonstrated that he retains all of his ability when defeating Cheltenham Gold Cup contenders Galvin and Minella Indo in the Grade 1 Ladbrokes Champion Chase at Down Royal in October.

Frodon boasts form-figures of 011502111415 over fences at Cheltenham and, in spite of carrying top-weight, he makes plenty of appeal with 7 places up for grabs, especially as he will have ideal ground conditions and will keep out of trouble at the head of affairs.

He paid the price for getting into a heated battle with Minella Indo in the King George and the Nicholls yard was out of form when he ran disappointingly at Leopardstown last month. I’m therefore happy to put a line through those two outings and I’m sure that connections wouldn’t run him unless they felt that he could win.

The 2020 King George winner has surprised us all before, and I certainly wouldn’t bet against him doing it once again.

1. Does He Know 2. Tea Clipper 3. Frodon

3.30 – UNIBET CHAMPION HURDLE CHALLENGE TROPHY (GRADE 1) 2m87y

Rachael Blackmore broke new ground when becoming the first female jockey to win the Champion Hurdle last March and her trusty partner Honeysuckle will bid to make further history tomorrow as she is odds-on to become the first mare to win two Champion Hurdles.

The unmistaken queen of National Hunt racing stretched her unbeaten sequence to 14 when landing a third consecutive Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown last month, reaching the milestone of a tenth Grade 1 success and also surpassing Bula, who had triumphed on his first 13 starts.

Honeysuckle looked as good as ever when landing her third consecutive Grade 1 Hattons Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse in November and again blew her rivals away at the Dublin Racing Festival last month.

Henry De Bromhead’s mare remains the one to beat on official ratings when factoring in her 7lbs mares allowance and, barring incidents, she is by far the most likely winner given her devastating blend of speed and stamina.

Appreciate It chased home his high-class stablemate Ferny Hollow in the 2020 Champion Bumper and is yet to taste defeat since, winning all four of his outings over hurdles last season including the Grade 1 Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle and the Grade 1 Chanelle Pharma Novices’ Hurdle at Leopardstown, in addition to the Grade 1 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last March.

The imposing son of Jeremy hasn’t been seen since his 24 lengths victory in last year’s festival curtain-raiser, with a set-back prompting connections to put a novice chasing campaign on hold and instead take aim at Honeysuckle’s crown.

The lack of a recent run is clearly less than ideal, however, history tells us that Willie Mullins can get one ready at home and he is the one of the only runners in this field whom already boasts a rating that puts him firmly in contention and still has significant scope for improvement.

It’s perhaps fair to say that his novice form doesn’t look too strong in hindsight. However, the manner of his victories were impressive and we don’t know where his ceiling is.

Teahupoo has emerged as a fascinating contender following three wins from as many starts this season, having claimed the scalp of last season’s Triumph Hurdle hero Quilixios on his first two outings before accounting for the 153 rated Darasso, and Quilixios once again, in the Grade 3 Red Mills Trial Hurdle at Gowran Park.

The progressive five-year-old boasts five victories from just six career starts, with his solitary defeat coming in Grade 2 juvenile company at Fairyhouse last April.

The Masked Marvel gelding reversed the form of that defeat when landing the Grade 3 BetVictor Fishery Lane Hurdle at Naas in November, before displaying guts and stamina when defeating the aforementioned Quilixios in the Grade 2 BoyleSports Sporting Limerick Hurdle in December.

Teahupoo has trodden a similar path to 2019 Champion Hurdle hero Espoir D’Allen, who was also a five-year-old and whom also arrived at Prestbury Park with just a single career defeat to his name, demonstrating that, while five-year-old’s don’t have the greatest of records in this contest, smart juvenile hurdlers can develop into genuine Champion Hurdle contenders.

This will naturally be the sternest test that Teahupoo has faced thus far and he will almost certainly require a career best effort in order to reign supreme. However, he is clearly on a steep upward curve and he seemingly possesses the requisite blend of speed and stamina to make his presence felt.

2020 Champion Hurdle heroine Epatante could only place third in defence of her crown 12 months ago and filled the same position behind Honeysuckle in the Grade 1 Paddy Power Champion Hurdle at Punchestown last April.

The JP McManus owned mare dead-heated with the 159 rated Not So Sleepy on her seasonal reappearance in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle before heading to Kempton at Christmas to land a second Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle, banishing the memory of her odds-on defeat at the hands of the sadly ill-fated Silver Streak 12 months earlier.

It is clearly encouraging that Epatante is back to winning ways and she could easily feature prominently given the lack of depth in this race. However, she is rated 12lbs inferior to Honeysuckle on official ratings and would need to bounce back to her very best – which may still fall short of what is required – in order to launch a serious challenge.

There was plenty of talk about Zanahiyr as a juvenile last season and he kick-started his first campaign in open company with an 8 lengths success in the Grade 2 WKD Hurdle at Down Royal in October.

The Nathaniel gelding has continued to run well in the highest grade this winter, chasing home dual Champion Hurdle runner-up Sharjah in the Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown and the Grade 1 Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown, before finding Honeysuckle too good in the Grade 1 Irish Champion Hurdle.

Zanahiyr was only beaten a neck by Sharjah at Christmas and he will be getting stronger by the day having only turned five at the beginning of the year. While the application of first-time cheekpieces could also aid his prospects.

While it’s hard to see Gordon Elliott’s charge turning the tables on Honeysuckle tomorrow, he boasts a solid enough resume in a division that perhaps lacks depth, and he could represent good each-way value.

The aforementioned Adagio improved with each start last season and ran a huge race to place second in a good renewal of the Grade 3 Greatwood Hurdle in November – only giving way to a well handicapped rival in the care of Dan Skelton.

David Pipe’s charge carried top-weight on that occasion and earned a 5lbs rise to a mark of 152. It goes without saying that further improvement will be necessary in order to feature prominently in this contest. However, his course form is solid and he is going in the right direction.

Tommy’s Oscar also boasts a progressive profile having won his last four starts, culminating in a smooth 5 lengths success in the Grade 2 ‘The New One’ Unibet Hurdle.

Ann Hamilton’s stable star has climbed 18lbs in the ratings to a mark of 156 and clearly deserves to take his chance at this level. However, it is worth noting that the horses he beat at Haydock were rated 136, 143, 137, 133 and 124 respectively, therefore he was entitled to win that contest in such a manner off level weights.

2020 County Hurdle winner Saint Roi has failed to live up to expectations since and could only place third in the Grade 1 Matheson Hurdle at Christmas and fourth in the Grade 1 Irish Champion Hurdle last month. While No So Sleepy, who dead-heated with the aforementioned Epatante in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, is clearly smart on his day, but boasts form-figures of P5 in the last two runnings of this race.

Both appear to have place claims at most.

Betfair Hurdle winner Glory And Fortune placed second in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton and is certainly no slouch. However, it’s hard to see him troubling the judge tomorrow.

VERDICT:

Honeysuckle is the undisputed queen of National Hunt Racing and she is undoubtedly the one to beat if everything goes to plan. Appreciate It rates a fascinating proposition based on both his bumper and novice hurdle exploits, however, the form of his Grade 1 victories last season are questionable. Zanahiyr has been running consistently all season and holds place claims. While Epatante could also hit the frame if returning to the peak of her powers. However, it may be worth taking a chance the deeply progressive TEAHUPOO given that he is likely to be suited by the strong pace and gruelling climb to the line. The talented son of Masked Marvel arrives fit and well following three wins from as many starts this season and he could easily take another huge step forwards.

1. Teahupoo 2. Honeysuckle 3. Appreciate It

4.10 – CLOSE BROTHERS MARES’ HURDLE (GRADE 1) 2m3f200y

This looks like a fairly open contest this year and I want to side with Queens Brook, who may finally be ready to truly fulfil the potential that she displayed in bumpers.

Gordon Elliott’s mare comfortably beat solid yardstick Ciel De Neige on her penultimate outing at Fairyhouse and I’m confident that she can reverse the Punchestown form with Burning Victory on 4lbs better terms, as that was likely a prep-run with this contest in mind.

The smart daughter of Shirocco displayed her class and, indeed, her ability to perform at Cheltenham when placing third behind Ferny Hollow and Appreciate It in the 2020 Champion Bumper, and the vibes about her heading into the festival are certainly encouraging.

A strongly run two-and-a-half-miles, which looks likely given the presence of Stormy Ireland, Heaven Help Us, Western Victory and Echoes In Rain, should really play to her strengths.

1. Queens Brook 2. Telmesomethinggirl 3. Mrs Milner

4.50 – BOODLES JUVENILE HANDICAP HURDLE (GRADE 3) 2m87y

Gordon Elliott has a fine record in this race and The Tide Turns looks an obvious contender for the master of Cullentra.

The gelded son of Sea The Moon comfortably dispatched HMS Seahorse and Brazil on his hurdling debut at Punchestown and was deemed good enough to contest the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown last month, where he finished fourth, beaten a shade over 8 lengths.T

The fifth, Icare Allen, has already boosted that form and will be heading to the Grade 1 Triumph Hurdle on Friday. While The Tide Turns ran a huge race to place fourth behind Champion Hurdle hopeful Teahupoo in the Grade 3 Red Mills Trial Hurdle, which was a third, and therefore qualifying, outing over hurdles

That was a hot contest for such an inexperienced horse, with the 162 rated Teahupoo, 153 rated Darasso and 150 rated Quilixios finishing ahead of him, while the 161 rated Saldier and 140 rated Felix Desjy were in-behind.

He simply has to be a very big player back in handicap company against his own age group after such an effort and he will be fitted with a tongue-tie tomorrow, indicating that connections don’t want to leave anything to chance.

There’s been plenty of talk about the Irish trained horses in this race and if Gaelic Warrior is as well handicapped as everyone seems to believe then the rest might as well stay in their boxes. However, this race often goes the way of a big priced runner and I want to be with Too Friendly.

Dan Skelton’s four-year-old comfortably won his first two starts over hurdles before placing fourth in the Grade 2 Summit Juvenile Hurdle at Doncaster. That was a slowly run race and Too Friendly was far too keen as a result, yet he still displayed a good attitude and ran all the way to the line.

That race has worked out really well as the the winner Knight Salute is now rated 140 after landing the Grade 2 Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton, the runner-up Porticello is also rated 140 after landing the Grade 1 Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow and the Victor Ludorum at Haydock, and the third placed Impulsive One is rated 130 after landing the Listed Scottish Triumph Hurdle at Musselburgh.

Too Friendly has a mark of 125 and the fact that he hasn’t been since that run at Doncaster suggests that connections may have had this race in mind, especially given that Dan Skelton is such a shrewd target trainer.

All three of his hurdle runs came on good to soft ground and his solitary success on the flat – when defeating the 99-rated Dhushan – came on good ground, which is a positive given the dry forecast. The Camelot gelding boasts a rating of 85 on the flat and he could easily prove better than a mark of 125 over hurdles.

It’s also worth noting that Too Friendly has undergone wind surgery since his run at Doncaster and this race should be run to suit as there will be plenty of pace to help him settle. He jumps well and will only have 10-7 on his back, so there is clearly plenty to like.

It’s also worth having a small saver on Ebasari, who looks to have been laid out for this race from the moment that he defeated the well regarded, Willie Mullins trained Adamantly Chosen on his hurdling debut at Cork.

Ebasari was in receipt of 13lbs on that occasion, however, Adamantly Chosen boasts a rating of 142 and is well fancied for a the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle on Friday, which provides a clear indication of the regard in which he is held.

Ebasari was well beaten on his second outing at Navan and wasn’t knocked about when placing third behind Brazil at Naas last month, which was the all important third run that was required to qualify for this race.

Davy Russell, who is superb in big-field handicaps, was on board at both Cork and Naas and he will maintain the partnership tomorrow. And it’s noteworthy that connections have reached for the cheekpieces, which is something that they often do when they have targeted a big handicap.

1. The Tide Turns 2. Too Friendly 3. Ebasari

5.30 – UKRAINE APPEAL NATIONAL HUNT CHALLENGE CUP AMATEUR JOCKEYS’ NOVICES’ CHASE (GRADE 2) 3m5f201y

It’s fair to say that Vanillier is yet to scale the heights expected of him as a novice this season with just one victory from four starts. However, it’s hard to get away from how impressive he was in the Albert Bartlett last March and a return to the Cotswolds could see him bounce back to his best.

Gavin Cromwell’s talented grey has seemingly struggled to keep pace with some smart novices’ in graded company this winter, which has left him unable to dominate, with his jumping suffering as a result. However, this race could present Vanillier with a perfect set of circumstances, as there doesn’t appear to be any out-and-out front-runners in opposition and he may be able to dominate with just six rivals going to post.

I’m convinced that such a scenario would help him with his jumping and he could take some pegging back if really finding his rhythm, just as he did in the aforementioned Albert Bartlett.

This race has been the plan since he placed third in Grade 1 company at Christmas and top amateur jockey Derek O’Conner has been booked to ride, which is clearly a huge positive.

The ground will be almost identical to what he triumphed on last year and Gavin Cromwell is superb at preparing a horse for a long term target. Recent reports have been encouraging and he is worth chancing in a open looking race.

1. Vanillier 2. Run Wild Fred 3. Pat’s Fancy


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Late Cheltenham Festival Fancies

2pt win Queens Brook in the Mares’ Hurdle at 5/1 NRNB

1.5pts each-way Too Friendly in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at 16/1 NRNB (5 Places)

1pt each-way Whatdeawant in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at 20/1 NRNB (3 Places)

1pt each-way Joyeux Machin in the Champion Bumper at 40/1 NRNB (3 Places)

I want to back Queens Brook now as I can see her being closer to 3/1 following declarations with Concertista, Royal Kahala and Echoes In Rain likely to come out.

Gordon Elliott’s mare comfortably beat solid yardstick Ciel De Neige on her penultimate outing at Fairyhouse and I feel that she can reverse the Punchestown form with Burning Victory on 4lbs better terms.

The smart daughter of Shirocco displayed her class and ability to perform at Cheltenham when placing third behind Ferny Hollow and Appreciate It in the 2020 Champion Bumper and the vibes about her heading into the festival are certainly encouraging.

This is far from the strongest renewal of this race and it could be Queens Brook’s time to shine.

The first seven in the betting for the Boodles are all trained in Ireland and if Gaelic Warrior is a well handicapped as everyone seems to believe then the rest might as well stay in their boxes. However, this race often goes the way of a big priced runner and I want to be with Too Friendly.

Dan Skelton’s four-year-old comfortably won his first two starts over hurdles before placing fourth in the Grade 2 Summit Juvenile Hurdle at Doncaster. That was a slowly run race and Too Friendly was far too keen as a result, yet he still displayed a good attitude and ran all the way to the line.

That race has worked out really well as the the winner Knight Salute is now rated 140 after landing the Grade 2 Adonis Juvenile Hurdle, the runner-up Porticello is also rated 140 after landing the Grade 1 Finale Juvenile Hurdle and the Victor Ludorum, and the third placed Impulsive One is rated 130 after landing the Listed Scottish Triumph Hurdle at Musselburgh.

Too Friendly has a mark of 125 and the fact that he hasn’t been since that run at Doncaster suggests that connections may have had this race in mind, especially given that Dan Skelton is such a shrewd target trainer.

All three of his hurdle runs came on good to soft ground and his solitary success on the flat came on good ground, which is a positive given the dry forecast. The Camelot gelding boasts a rating of 85 on the flat and he could easily prove better than a mark of 125 over hurdles.

Harry Skelton has already been jocked-up and this race should be run to suit as there will be plenty of pace to help him settle. He jumps well and will only have 10-7 on his back, so there is clearly plenty to like.

I want to back Whatdeawant for the same reasons as Queen’s Brook, as I think his price will tumble following declarations.

Whatdeawant will try to emulate City Island, who carried the race sponsors colours to success in this race in 2020. He has shown flashes of serious ability in his short career to to date, beating Grade 1 novice hurdle winner Ginto in a Fairyhouse bumper on debut before placing third behind Kilcruit in the Grade 2 Dublin Racing Festival bumper last year.

The Aizavoski gelding displayed a good attitude when making a successful hurdling debut at Navan in December and he was well punted into 2/1 for the Grade 1 Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle, but it’s fair to say that things didn’t go to plan and he is much better than he showed on that occasion.

Sir Gerhard is going to be very hard to beat, but Whatdeawant could easily hit the frame and looks good value at 20/1.

The last horse I want to back is Joyeux Machin, who chased home odds-on favourite Facile Vega at Leopardstown in December.

Joyeux Machin was no match for the winner on that occasion in spite of receiving 7lbs. However, he did pull 13 lengths clear of the third, who was a close second next time out, and he was entitled to improve for the experience having fell in his solitary point-to-point.

The son of Saddler Maker went one place better next time out and it was a victory that was made more impressive by the fact that he was stopped in his tracks twice up the gruelling Navan hill before finally finding a gap, and he quickly put the race to bed when out in the open.

The runner-up on that occasion was beaten a short head at Navan today and he would have been beaten more comprehensively by Joyeux Machin but for the traffic problems.

I’m certainly not saying that he can reverse the form with Facile Vega, whom is clearly a top class prospect. However, he is far too big a price at 40/1 and I’m happy to back him now with the NRNB concession.