Friday 17th March 2017: Day 4
Friday see’s the long awaited blue riband event of National Hunt Racing, the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup. A race in which Colin Tizzard holds a strong hand with both Cue Card and Native River set to face the starter in the Dorset based handler’s quest to land a first Gold Cup success.
But it’s not all about the Gold Cup of course, with the Triumph Hurdle and Albert Bartlett providing further Garde 1 entertainment on the action packed card. Topped up further by highly competitive graded handicaps and the thoroughly enjoyable Foxhunters Chase in which Enda Bolger’s Hunter Chasing star On The Fringe will be bidding for a fantastic Festival hat-trick. All looks set for a most enjoyable Festival finale.
So let’s take a look at race’s 22 to 28 and hopefully end the week on a high!
1.30 JCB TRIUMPH HURDLE 2m179y (Grade 1)
Defi Du Seuil has long been favourite for this Grade 1 contest, with 3 course and distance victories already to his name.
The 4-year-old is unbeaten (5/5) since arriving from France, gaining plenty of experience along the way, including when landing the Grade 1 Future Champions Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow over Christmas.
The talented son of Voix Du Nord didn’t jump particularly well up the home straight on that occasion, but personally I’d put that down to the youngster getting lonely out in front, as he’d jumped proficiently in each of his previous racecourse outings.
Phillip Hobbs charge looks a very solid favourite with his unbeaten record, course form and vast experience adding to weight to his claims.
Gordon Elliott trains second favourite Mega Fortune, who has progressed with each run in Ireland this season prior to landing the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown in February. The son of Soldier Of Fortune fell on his hurdling debut before making amends next out, landing a 3-Y-O Hurdle in facile fashion.
A brace of third placed efforts in Grade 3 and Grade 2 company behind Landofhopeandglory and Bapaume followed, however Mega Fortune gained revenge on the latter at Leopardstown last month.
Elliott won this race in 2014 with Tiger Roll, and could easily repeat the feat with this progressive looking youngster.
The aforementioned Bapaume is set to represent the formidable trio of Ricci, Mullins and Walsh in the day 4 opener, having achieved Grade 2 success in December, before having the tables turned on him last time out. The son of Turtle Bowl has looked very professional in his 3 starts this term and comes into the contest as the apparent first string for the master of Closutton.
Landofhopeandglory takes the final seat on the Irish Juvenile Hurdle merry-go-round, having defeated both Mega Fortune and Bapaume in a Grade 3 contest in November.
Landofhopeandglory was transferred to Joseph from his father Aiden, having achieved a fair level of form on the flat, including a fourth placed effort in the Queens Vase at Royal Ascot in June. It’s hard to know quite how to rate the Irish form this season, as they all appear to be beating each other. Which of course is never ideal as a guide as to the pecking order.
Master Blueyes shot on to the Triumph Hurdle scene with a decisive victory in the Grade 2 Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton late last month, and looks one of 2 contenders for trainer Alan King, who always does well with his Juvenile Hurdlers.
The 4-year-old has progressed throughout the season, finishing second to Nicky Henderson’s highly regarded Charli Parcs on his penultimate start. If the youngster can take another step forwards here it would be right in the shake up.
Having looked likely to take his chance in the Supreme, Charli Parcs has been rerouted to this contest following his mishap in the Adonis Hurdle last time out. And given the performance he put in a Kempton over Christmas, he has to be of significant interest here.
Nicky Henderson has made some bold statements about the son of Anabaa Blue, and his optimism is certainly infectious, and should be respected coming from a trainer who boasts such a good record in the race. You can’t write a horse off after one questionable run, and he could prove very good value against a strong looking favourite.
His stablemate Coeur De Lion also rates an interesting contender here, and boasts solid form having beat a subsequent dual winner on his debut over timber before finishing second to Don Bersy at Sandown, who recived 6lbs and won again next time out.
The son of 2011 Derby winner Pour Moi also finished second to favourite Defi Du Seuil at Cheltenham in November, and prepared for this assignment with a Sandown success early last month.
There’s no doubting Defi Du Seuil looks a very solid favourite on paper, and hasn’t been overly stretched in 5 starts this term. However i’m prepared to give CHARLI PARCS a second chance here, as he looked to be brimming with potential on his first start at Kempton and represents a bullish trainer who is peerless when it comes to training Juvenile Hurdlers.
2.10 VINCENT O’BRIEN COUNTY HANDICAP HURDLE 2m179y (Grade 3)
The County Hurdle is always a hugely competitive heat, and this year looks no different. Dan Skelton notched his first Cheltenham Festival success in this contest 12 months ago, sending out Superb Story to get the job done in style. This year the burgeoning young trainer is responsible the well supported favourite, as November’s Greatwood Hurdle victor North Hill Harvey returns to the scene of his biggest win to date.
The imposing 6-year-old was in process of running a big race in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 12 months ago, before a shuddering error coming down the hill shot the Kafka Tara gelding back through the field, eventually plugging on to finish ninth.
Fourth behind Buveur D’Dair, Petit Mouchoir and Limini on his final start last term, Skelton wisely saved his charge for the ultra competitive Greatwood Hurdle in November, where the gelding showed he was very well treated off a mark of 141, charging up the hill and out batting the talented Modus, who has since won the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton, giving the Greatwood Hurdle form a very solid boost.
Again Skelton has showed great patience in waiting for this Grade 3 prize off an 8lbs higher mark, with the way in which North Hill Harvey picked up again after Modus came to challenge suggesting the youngster had plenty left in the tank that day.
However stern opposition will await the favourite here, with horses of the calibre of 2015 Champion Hurdle runner up Arctic Fire, joined by potentially well treated improvers such as Winter Escape, who was sent off a strong favourite for the Grade 3 prize North Hill Harvey scooped in November.
Alan King has long held Winter Escape in very high regard, sentiments echoed by the decision of connections to bypass the Cheltenham Festival last year with the 6-year-old, electing to give him time mature both mentally and physically.
The Robin Des Pres gelding was sent off a warm 3/1 favourite for the ultra competitive Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at Prestbury Park in November, but disappointed on the day and returned home sick.
Alan King issued a positive bulletin on the youngster earlier this week, and there’s been plenty of support for Winter Escape in recent weeks.
Last year’s Triumph Hurdle winner Ivanovich Gorbatov is another contender who will don the famous green and gold bands of JP McManus, with many believing he has been plotted up for this race all season long.
The form of his Festival victory last year reads well, with Tuesday’s Mares’ Hurdle winner Apples Jade back in second, and yesterday’s Novice Mares’ Hurdle victor Let’s Dance coming home fourth.
Joseph O’Brien’s charge runs off a mark of 150 here, and could go well if the return to his happy hunting ground has a positive effect on the 5-year-old.
Mick Jazz is another to have significantly shortened since Tuesday afternoon, with Supreme Novice Hurdle winner of Labaik providing his stablemate with a strong and timely form boost, as the extremely quirky but equally talented grey beat Mick Jazz by a mere 1 and three quarter lengths at Navan in November.
Gordon’s Elliot’s charge progressed from that performance to beat subsequent Supreme Novice Hurdle fifth Cialos Emery at Punchestown last month, and the 6-year-old could easily well treated off a mark of 143 for his powerful and in form stable.
Last year’s fourth Wait For Me returns for a crack at this competitive contest. Whilst last season’s Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle winner Diego Du Charmil represent Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls and stable Jockey Sam Twiston-Davies.
2014 runner up Artic Fire will attempt to condede weight to all of his rivals under Jockey Paul Townend, with the gelding having his first run since chasing home Faugheen in the 2016 Irish Champion Hurdle.
L’Ami Serge is the mount of 2014 winning Jockey Daryl Jacob, and could go well for the in form yard of Nicky Henderson. The imposing son of King’s Theatre was out battled by Argapart in the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Years Day, and should appreciate the better ground and drop in trip today.
The hugely progressive Air Horse One, solid yardstick Joey Sasa and the Rich Ricci owned Renneti, who may prove popular for the red hot combination of Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh, are further interesting contenders.
In a typically competitive heat, NORTH HILL HARVEY stands out as a solid contender, having shown a liking for the course and given the fact that he’s been put away for this race by last year’s winning trainer Dan Skelton.
The other interesting one for me is IVANOVICH GORBATOV, who has been campaigned against good horses all season long, and now returns to the place of his greatest succes 12 months off a potentially lenient mark of 150. Especially given how well the Triump Hurdle form has worked out, with second, Apples Jade, landing the Grade 1 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle on Tuesday.
2.50 ALBERT BARTLETT NOVICES’ HURDLE 2m7f (Grade 1)
This year’s Albert Bartlett looks a very good renewal, with the impressive, unbeaten hurdler Death Duty leading the way for his adoring trainer Gordon Elliott. Indeed Elliott could wax lyrical about the imposing son Shantou for hours, and has done in multiple Cheltenham Preview’s throughout Britain and Ireland in the build up to the Festival.
The 6-year-old hasn’t really been troubled in 4 starts over timber, for all that Augusta Kate looked to be coming will a challenge at the last when falling at Naas in January.
Easy victories over horses such as Invitation Only, Monalee, Turcagua and Blood Crazed Tuger only bolster Death Duty’s profile, and Gordon Elliott has already stated on more than one occasion that he’s better the Don Cossack and No More Heroes at this stage of his career.
However the Gigginstown runner won’t have it all his own way as Augusta Kate will be aiming for revenge tomorrow with connections feeling that she had the measure of the favourite before her unfortunate exit at the last in Naas.
The impeccably bred daughter of classy racemare Feathard Lady ran seventh in the Champion Bumper 12 months ago, before a fine second placed effort in the Grade 2 contest confined solely to Mares at Aintree.
A facile maiden hurdle victory preceded her encounter at Naas, and she looks sure to run a big race with a handy 7lbs mares allowance.
On the home front, Wholestone and West Approach have butted heads on no fewer then 3 occasions already this season, with each of those encounters coming around the undulations of Prestbury Park. The score is currently 3-0 to Wholestone, which is surprising when you consider he’s rated 145, which is a full 12lbs lower than Colin Tizzard’s experienced novice.
Although that rating is achieved due to his exploits in open company, it does highlight the ability of Wholestone, who rates a serious contender for Nigel Twiston-Davies.
Ami Debois finished just a length behind Wholestone at Cheltenham in December, and could run a good race for Graeme McPherson and Kielan Woods.
The aforementioned Monalee looks a very smart prospect for top Irish trainer Henry De Bromhead having claimed the scalps of The Storyteller, who we’ll come back to later, Turcagua and Battleford among others either side of his second placed effort behind Death Duty at Navan.
It was a toss up between this race and the Neptune for the well put together son of Milan, and he certainly warrants respect given the level he has performed too across the Irish Sea.
The Worlds End look a very exciting horse for the future, and could run a very big race for Tom George and Adrian Heskin based on his impressive 9 length victory in a Grade 2 contest at Haydock last month. Whilst Paul Townend could easily get a nice tune out of Penhill if the gelding puts his best foot forward in the jumping stakes.
Gordon Elliott’s confidence in DEATH DUTY is hugely infectious, and therefore he is the selection. However Wholestone looks in danger of being underrated here and mustn’t be overlooked lightly given his superb course form and his record over the re-opposing West Approach.
3.30 TIMICO CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP CHASE 3m2f70y (Grade 1)
It’ll be some party in Dorset if Colin Tizzard can land the most cherished prize there is in National Hunt Racing, and the dairy farmer turned training supremo looks to have an outstanding chance of doing just that with both Cue Card and Native River in his armoury in twin assault on the Blue Ribband event.
Cue Card, who departed the contest at 3 out last year as Paddy Brennan appeared to be making his move on the multiple Grade 1 winner, would certainly represent a victory for the National Huny faithful, having become a firm fan favourite since landing a shock 40/1 surprise in the Champion Bumper all the way back in 2010!
Jean Bishops’s admirable 11-year-old enjoyed a fantastic season last year, landing the Charlie Hall Chase before recording a Grade 1 hat-trick with Betfair Chase, King George and Betfred Bowl success.
Only third in the Charlie Hall Chase this season, the son of King’s Theatre looked as good as ever when defending his Betfair Chase crown at Haydock before taking on Thistlecrack a long way out in the King George at Kempton, finally finishing second to his power packed stablemate.
Cue Card landed the Grade 1 Ascot Chase last month in preparation for the Cheltenham showpiece. And connections will be hoping he can make anends for last seasons unfortunate demise.
Native River looks a tailor made Gold Cup contender having lifted the Hennessy Gold Cup in November before turning the Welsh Grand National into a procession at Chepstow over Christmas. The rapidly improving 7-year-old simply hasn’t looked back since finishing second in the National Hunt Chase at the Festival last March, landing Grade 1 spoils at Aintree before putting up a career best performance over timber on his reappearance this term.
A killer combination of spring loaded legs and a jumbo jet tank make Native River a formidable weapon wherever he lines up, forcing any potential opponent to live with his breakneck gallop before facing the unenviable task of going past the chestnut horse who doesn’t know when, or indeed how, to quit.
The son of Indian River landed the Grade 2 Denman Chase in preparation for this contest, where he showed us that he possessed speed as well as stamina, confirming that the gelding is progressing all the time.
Champion Jockey Richard Johnson could only watch on that day due to illness. And while Aiden Coleman gave the Chestnut a good ride at Newbury, Native River and Richard Johnson have developed quite a bromance, with the pair appearing to be made for each other both in attitude and ability.
The Brocade Racing owned stayer is a very worthy second favourite and ticks all the relevant boxes a Gold Cup contender must.
Another contender coming back for more is dual runner up Djakadam, who is set to represent the powerful trio of Rich Ricci, Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh for the third a third successive year.
Many will write off the 8-year-old who has been to the wedding twice and returned as the bridesmaid on each occasion. But on the flip side you could argue that the horse is now in his prime and possess solid Gold Cup form which can only be a bonus.
The vibes behind the son of Saint De Saint are extremely positive, with Djakadam enjoying an ideal preparation in the run up to this year’s race, which is something that has potentially cost the gelding in the last two years. Confidence is certainly very high within the camp.
Lexus Chase winner Outlander is set carry the hopes of Gigginstown House Stud, however Gordon Elliott has mentioned more than once that he has concerns over the 9-year-olds stamina. Brian Cooper will of course be in the saddle, and the form of the Cullentra besed squad has to be a considered a positive.
Sizing John is set to represent Jessica Harrington at the Potts after confirming his stamina for 3 miles last month when landing the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown.
After being bullied by Douvan over 2 miles for the last 2 seasons, it’s great to see that connections have decided to take a different route with the talented 7-year-old, who is finally starting to hit the heights he’s always promised were possible.
The Midnight Legend gelding gelding landed the Grade 3 Kinloch Brae in January, so heads to Cheltenham in fine form for his biggest assignment to date.
The only real question mark is Sizing John’s stamina for 3m2f70 around Prestbury Park. But if the distance is within his radar, he couldn’t be ruled out.
Sizing John‘s former trainer Henry De Bromhead is set to field impressive Thyestes Chase winner Champagne West, who has always threatened to a classy performer before his striking performance at Gowran Park in January.
The 9-year-old son of Westerner has scored over the Cheltenham fences twice before, when landing back to back novice contests in 2014. He was, however, pulled up in the Ryanair Chase last term, so only time will tell.
Bristol De Mai shot on to the Gold Cup scene when routing a field of established and experienced opponents in the Grade 2 Peter Marsh Handicap Chase at Haydock in January, before running well below form when finishing a lacklustre third of 3 behind Native River in the Grade 2 Denman Chase at Newbury.
Simon Munir and Isaac Souede’s imposing grey had been the model of consistency prior to that disappointing effort, having finished in the first 2 in each of his 11 previous starts over the larger obstacles.
Daryl Jocob was quick to confirm that the 6-year-old hadn’t pleased him at any stage of the race, feeling flat, with no hint of the brilliance he had shown at Haydock.
You have to forgive a horse one bad run, especially at the tender age of 6. And you can guarantee Nigel Twiston-Davies will have Bristol De Mai spot on for the day.
JP McManus and Jonjo O’Neill have a brace of runners, with former World Hurdle winner More Of That and last year’s National Hunt Chase victor Minella Rocco set to carry the famous green and gold bands in to battle.
Both travelled to Ireland to contest the Irish Gold Cup in preparation for the Gold Cup, however both failed to complete the course, as Minella Rocco ejected Aiden Coleman at the 5th before More Of That, who had run a promising race, came down when still in contention at the last.
Aiden Coleman will ride More Of That, with Noel Fehily getting the leg up of Minella Rocco. It’s fair to say their prices’ relflect their chances on this season’s form, but if either could run to the level of form of their previous Festival exploits, they could easily be considered lively outsiders.
The vibes about Djakadam have grown increasingly strong in recent weeks, with Willie Mullins’ dual runner up reportedly receiving a perfect preparation for the contest this year. Cue Card comes out top on official figures, but has the dreaded age stat to overcome. However it would be some party if the fan favourite could make amends for his unfortunate exit 12 months ago. However the selection is NATIVE RIVER, who has progressed for every start this season. The Hennessy Gold Cup and Welsh Grand National hero looks to have a lot in his favour, with ground to suit, stamina to burn, pinpoint jumping and the assistance of Champion Jockey Richard Johnson, who knows the horse like the back of his hand.
4.10 St JAMES’S PLACE FOXHUNTER CHASE CHALLENGE CUP 3m2f70y
Once again all eyes will be on the much loved On The Fringe, who returns to Prestbury Park for a third successive year in search of a fantastic Foxhunters Festival hat-trick.
Enda Bolger’s classy performer ran a stormer on his return to the track at Leopardstown in February, going down by just 2.75 lengths to the formerly smart performer Foxrock. The Exit To Knowhere gelding then enjoyed a racecourse gallop at the course 2 weeks ago where the finishing touches were applied to the 12-year-olds preparation.
It’s going to take a smart performance to deny On The Fringe his terrific Festival treble, but as always, there will be plenty lining up to try and take advantage of any chinks there may be in the old boys armour.
Paul Nicholls’ Wonderful Charm has often shown glimpses of being a classy sort, and rates exactly that in the context of this race. The 9-year-old has recorded too facile victories to qualify for this contest, and Nicholls’ wasted no time in acquiring the services of to amateur Katie Walsh to do the steering.
The Poliglote gelding has shown a definite preference for decent ground, so connections with be hoping and praying that the rain stays away. And if it does, he could easily be the biggest danger On The Fringe faces in the defence of his crown.
Ask The Weatherman looks the other standout contender in the field, having notched up a sequence in Points and Hunter Chases’ this term. Jack Barber trains the 8-year-old, who will have proven amateur Will Biddick on board.
The experienced stayer beat Paul Nicholls’ seasoned campaigner Rebel Rebellion at Wincanton in February, and carries great stable confidence into the race tomorrow. He definitely has a chance.
The dark horse in the field is prolific Irish Pointer Anseanachai Cliste, who has been granted a wildcard entry by the chief of British handicapping Phil Smith.
The 9-year-old has rattled up a sequence of 8 straight wins in Irish points over the last 12 months, and has been mentioned by a few shrewd Irish judges in recent weeks.
His presence here adds a fascinating twist to the race, and any significant support for Stephen McConville’s charge must be taken seriously.
There are many familiar names in the line up, with Paint The Clouds, Pacha Du Polder, Aupcharlie, Grand Vision, Buckers Bridge and Dolatulo to name just a few. But in all likelihood, it’ll be one of the top 3 in the betting that comes home in front.
This looks the toughest test ON THE FRINGE has faced in this contest, with Ask The Weatherman and Wonderful Charm serious threats to the Champions Crown.
However his prep run at Leopardstown was extremely pleasing, and I’m backing the old boy to raise the roof and make it a fantastic Festival hat-trick.
4.50 MARTIN PIPE CONDITIONAL JOCKEYS’ HANDICAP HURDLE 2m4f56y (Class 2)
Like with amateur races, you’re eyes are naturally drawn to the top conditionals the sport has to offer here, especially those riding for trainers like Gordon Elliott, Willie Mullins and last year’s winner Paul Nicholls.
Each of those powerful handlers have horses in top 5 of the betting, with Battleford representing Mullins, Runfordave lining up for Gordon Elliott and one of a couple of possible chances for the British Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls.
Battleford came in to this season will the aim of running in graded races for his powerful connections, however the Graham Wylie owned youngster now pitches up for a handicap off a mark of 135.
The gelding has finished behind the likes of Brelade, Joey Sasa, The Storyteller and Monalee over hurdles, as well as picking up a maiden hurdle at Leopardstown in December. He could easily be thrown in here.
Runfordave will undoubtedly be well supported for the in-form Gordon Elliott stable, with the trainer enjoying an incredible week already, and boasting further strong chances on the day.
The Stowaway gelding won an egg and spoon race last time out, but had previously finished third behind Any Second Now and Supreme runner Crack Mome in a Grade 2 event at Punchestown in January.
The 5-year-old also won a 20 runner maiden at Fairyhouse in December, with smart types Capital Force (second) and Castillo Sforza (third) in behind. He should go well here.
As mentioned previously, Nicholls’ landed this year with the well treated Ibis Du Rheu, and the champ, who also won this race with Salubrious in 2013, looks to have another strong contender in the form of Tommy Silver this year.
Tommy Silver should go well under Nicholls crack Conditional Stan Sheppard, having finished seventh in a decent looking Triumph Hurdle last year.
The gelding returned to form with a decent handicap win at Taunton last time out, and should go well for a yard who know how to win the race.
Nicholls also runs 2014 County Hurdle winner Lac Fontana here off a mark of 139, the exact mark he won off 3 years ago.
The talented gelding missed last season through injury, but has made it to the track twice already his term which should have blown the cobwebs away. He’s one for the contingent who like previous Festival form.
The Phillip Hobbs trained to No Comment currently heads the betting, and is starting to get the hang of things now after unseating early on in the Grade 2 Persian War Novices’ Hurdle earlier this season.
Second to the hugely exciting Robin Roe next time out, the Kayf Tara gelding has won all 3 subsequent starts, appearing to progress each time he hit the track.
He lines up here off a mark of 137, which could be very lenient for 6-year-old who landed a Punchestown Festival bumper last spring. Ciaran Gethings takes the ride.
Dan Skelton runs Born Survivor here, who has always been highly regarded and was in the process of giving Champion Hurdle runner Cyrus Darius a race when darting at the second last in the Morbattle Hurdle at Kelso last month.
The scopey 6-year-old was sent off an 8/11 favourite for that contest, and was traveling extremely well before crashing out to the great annoyance of Jockey Harry Skelton. Bridget Andrews takes the ride.
Willie Mullins won this 2 years with the classy Killultagh Vic, and runs the JP McManus owned Castello Sforza who ran a big race to finish fourth in the Champion Bumper at the Festival last year.
After finishing third to Runfordave hurdling debut, the talented gelding filled the same position behind the well regarded Joey Sasa and smart mate Barra, which looks very solid form.
Second behind Mossbank at Punchestown last month, the return to Prestbury Park and, in particular, back on decent ground providing there isn’t too much rain, could see the Milan gelding leave that form behind tomorrow.
Coo Star Sivola could run well in the hands of Lizzie Kelly, with the pair successful at Prestbury Park on New Year’s Day. Whilst Thomas Campbell, who has also tasted victory at Cheltenham this term, could go well for the In-from yard of Nicky Henderson.
Rather Be is another contender who looks rather interesting for the Seven Barrows team, boasting a record of 2-3 over hurdles, and putting up a bold effort when failing to concede 9lbs to smart Juvenile hurdler Coeur De Lion at Sandown last month. Charlie Deutsch take the ride.
Doesyourdogbite could prove popular for Jonjo O’Neill, having been sent off favourite for the competitive Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton. Whilst David Pipe would dearly love to land the race run in the name of his farther, and sends out stable stalwart Dell’Arca in search of glory.
This, as always, looks a very tricky puzzle to solve. My 2 against the field are BATTLEFORD and CASTELLO SFORZA, who both look potentially well treated, and have proven that they act around the track.
5.30 JOHNNY HENDERSON GRAND ANNUAL CHASE CHALLENGE CUP 2m62y (Grade 3)
The Festival closer is possibly the fastest race ran under National Hunt rules! The breakneck gallop puts an emphasis on both jumping and stamina, as you need to jump to stay in touch and require stamina to keep going up the long Cheltenham Hill when others are gasping for breath!
Last year’s runner up Dandridge leads the way for trainer Arthur Moore and jockey Davy Russell, having enjoyed a nice pipe opened over hurdles at Leopardstown last month.
The Irish raider stayed on strongly 12 months ago, and connections will have spent the last year plotting and planning how to get him here fit and well for another crack at the Grade 3 prize.
Third placed Rock The World also returns for a second crack at the Festival closer, having been a plunge horse on the big day last year. Jessica Harrington doesn’t travel her horses if she doesn’t think they have a good chance, and the Michael Buckley owned 2 miler runs off a mark just 1lb higher than last year. He could easily go well again.
Last year’s winning Trainer Paul Nicholls has a solid looking contender in the form of Grade 2 winning novice chaser Le Prezien, who could be well treated off a mark of 146 on his first start in handicap company. The 6-year-old won a Grade 2 event over 2 miles at Cheltenham’s Open Meeting in November, and further enhanced his reputation with victory over last seasons JLT third L’Ami Serge in a 2m1f contest at Exeter in December.
Le Prezien then finished third behind Top Notch in the 2m4f Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown last time out, comfirming both the youngsters ability to jump at pace and his stamina, which as previously mentioned, is advantageous here.
The Champion Trainer also runs 2015 Champion Chaser Dodging Bullets, who has failed to get his head in front since that super success and as a result has fallen through the handicap to a mark of 151, which is a full 20lbs below his peak rating of 2015.
There’s no disputing the Frankie Dettori bred gelding is well handicapped on his Championship winning form, however the son of Dubawi has struggled in Graded contests this term and will need to up his game significantly in the rough and tough environment of a hugely competitive big field Cheltenham handicap.
Nicky Henderson would dearly love to win the race run in honour of his father Johnny again, having last won the race with the quirky JP McManus owned Bellvano in 2012, who received a typically cheeky and patient Paul Carberry ride. This year Henderson looks to have an interesting contender in the form of Theinval, who has run to a reasonable level of form in novice chases’ this term, lowering the colours of Theo’s Charm at Plumpton when last seen in December.
This race has a habit of being won by slightly quirky types, and Theinval certainly shows signs of not being the most straightforward of sorts despite his obvious ability. A mark of 141 looks fair, and the 7-year-old could well benefit from the lightening quick gallop he’ll encounter here. Stable jockey Nico De Boinville gets the leg up.
The highly unpredictable Eastlake is set to represent Jonjo O’Neill and JP McManus for a fourth straight year, having finished sixth in 2014, second in 2015 and ninth 12 months ago.
Heart problems make the likeable Topham Chase winner impossible to read, however he does have an engine and when everything is right he knows just how to use it.
Another contender with past experience of this race is Croco Bay, who Ben Case trained to finish third in the race in 2015, before bringing him back last year when the 10-year-old exited the race prematurely at the sixth.
The gelding is now rated 8lbs lower than his third placed effort in 2015, and carries a lbs less in to the race. He could go very well again.
The Game Changer should enjoy the end to end gallop for Gordon Elliott and Bryan Cooper. Whilst Quite By Chance, who has performed creditably at the course twice already this season, and Sizing Platinum, who chased home Fox Norton at Prestbury Park in October, could both run well for Colin Tizzard.
Irish raiders Velvet Maker and Pairofbrowneyes could go well for Alan Fleming and Barry John Murphy respectively, with both potentially having been laid out for a crack at this Grade 3 prize.
It’s quite possible that LE PREZIEN is well treated on his first start in Handicap company with form lines including Charbel and Top Notch suggesting a mark of 146 is workable. He should enjoy the frenetic gallop and therefore he it’s the main selection.
However I can’t resist an each way flutter on CALIPTO on his first start for Venetia Williams, as a mark of 139 could be exploitable, especially based on his close up finish behind Garde La Victoire and Champion Chase runner up Fox Norton at Prestbury Park in November 2015.
1.30 CHARLI PARCS 7/2
2.10 NORTH HILL HARVEY 8/1
IVANOVICH GORBATOV 12/1
2.50 DEATH DUTY 9/4
3.30 NATIVE RIVER 5/1
4.10 ON THE FRINGE 15/8
4.50 BATTLEFORD 9/1
CASTELLO SFORZA 14/1
5.30 LE PREZIEN 15/2