CHELTENHAM IS BACK!

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The grass is lush and green, the fences are trimmed and sturdy, and the buzz of excitement can not only be heard, but felt as Cheltenham Racecourse host their Showcase Meeting. Welcoming in the new season with a typically enthralling card!

A trip to the parade ring is a must. The views on the walkway sublime. An amphitheatre like no other.

And then off down the shute and away we go, the tapes are up and so is the wait!

The opening card, as you’d expect, features many exciting prospects, with quality novice events, as well as the usual highly competitive handicaps. I’m going start by taking a look at the novice events, before highlighting a few horses in the handicaps that may be worth a second look.
The Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle gets the day underway, and boasts a plethora of interesting contenders.

Recent Grade 2 scorer El Bandit lead the charge for Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls, and he certainly has good credentials.

Winner of the Grade 2 Persian War Novices’ Hurdle at Chepstow 2 weeks ago (9th Oct), El Bandit has improved with every run for Nicholls, winning his last 4 races.

A novice until the end of October, this could well be his last run over hurdles, with novice chasing a possibility. But if he were to win here, he could easily be tried in hotter waters prior to the switch.

The in form Nigel Twiston Davies runs Templeross, who achieved a fair level of form in bumpers last season before making a successful debut over timber at Newton Abbot in September on seasonal debut, beating the Nicholls trained Rainy City in the process. He should improve for his reappearance.

Trained by Fergal O’Brien, Colin’s Sister showed an above average level of form in bumpers last season, culminating in a fine second to the Warren Greatrex trained The Nipper in a Listed Mares event at Sandown in March.

Her successful hurdling debut at Chepstow will have set her up nicely for this. It will certainly be interesting to see how she gets on against the boys, but she does look an exciting prospect over hurdles this season. She certainly has the potential to land blow here.

It would be careless to merely overlook the Charles Byrnes trained Black Water. An extremely shrewd trainer, as he proved when masterminding the infamous Roscommon coup in August, he has a reputation for being a fine target trainer.

Last year he brought Leave At Dawn over for the Paddy Power Meeting, and set sail back to Ireland with the prize in safe keeping.

His wins have all come in the summer months (May, June and August) and therefore not in the most competitive of waters. However any runner he brings to Britain has to be respected.

Pickamix, the winner of a bumper last season, and maiden hurdle on seasonal debut earlier this month, provides Charlie Mann with an interesting contender.

Noel Fehily looks a good jockey booking and Pickamix certainly shouldn’t be underestimated.

 

Next on the card is the squareintheair.com Novices’ Chase, run over a trip of 1m7f199y. And once again, the entires look very interesting.

Marracudja made a successful chasing debut for Paul Nicholls and the newly formed Ditcheat Thoroughbreds syndicate at Newton Abbott in September, and looks a nice prospect for the season ahead.

Likened to former classy Ditcheat performer Sanctuaire by his trainer, Marracudja has clearly been impressing his onlookers at home.

James Ewart could have a smart novice on his hands in the form of Aristo Du Plessis.

A highly progressive horse, Aristo Du Plessis won 6 of his last 8 races over hurdles, rising through the handicap at a rate of knots. He’s certainly an interesting prospect over fences this season.

The Irish contingent comes courtesy of Jessica Harrington, who has runs two, Neverushacon and Gambling Girl, and Henry De Bromhead, who has Ridestan in the mix, the winner of his last two starts in Emerald Isle.

Neil Mulholland has Pinkie Brown engaged here, who won well at Towcester on his most recent outing in earlier this month. While Harry Fry has the well campaigned, recent Market Rasen runner up, Presenting Arms as a possible.

The field is completed by the likeable Gary Moore trained Baron Alco, who rattled up a fine hat-trick over hurdles last season, before finishing a half length second to the exciting Rock The Kasbah in a Class 1 event at Ascot. A consistent, hardy horse, he’s not one to rule out lightly.

 

The second novice chase on the card, the Class 2 Ryman Stationary Cheltenham Business Club Novice Chase, run over 3m80y, also looks an interesting contest.

Gordon Elliott has runs recent Munster National winner Tiger Roll who, of course, landed the 2014 Triumph Hurdle for owners Gigginstown House Stud.

Tiger Roll has gained plenty of experience through the summer months, and as mentioned earlier when discussing Charles Byrnes, Gordon Elliott is another trainer that you have to take serious notice of when travelling horses. Rule him out at your peril.

Henry De Bromhead has 2 contenders here, choosing to run both both Full Cry and Heron Heights. While Jessica Harrington has Duckweed as a possible.

Heron Heights has won 3 of his 5 starts over fences, but one of his 2 defeats did come at the hands of current favourite Tiger Roll at Kilbeggan in August.

He did however slam another of today rivals, Duckweed, by 8L on his latest start at Clonmel in late September. He could be interesting here.

Full Cry has won 2 of his 8 outings over fences, with both wins coming before a third place finish when last seen on the track at Tipperary earlier this month.

All 3 boast mainly summer form, but still have to be respected with the ground sound underfoot.

Martin Keighley has an interesting novice chaser lined up for this race, in the form of Cottersrock.

The winner of a Down Royal bumper and Kempton handicap hurdle last season, he made a successful chasing debut at Uttoxeter earlier this month (Oct 2nd). Given that he’s trained locally, Cottersrock may prove popular here.

Tempestatefloresco represents Colin Tizzard, and boats an unusual profile given that he only made his debut under rules in August, at the age of 8.

A winner on that occasion, he fell when in contention at the penultimate fence on his next start, before finishing second, and then third, to Paul Nicholls smart performer Frodon (who should most definitely be noted if taking up either of his two engagements at Cheltenham on Saturday) in two subsequent runs. He’s hard to access.

 

The Harrison James & Hardie Maiden Hurdle is the fourth novice event on the card. Contested over a trip of 2m87y, the race has attracted some interesting prospects.

The field is headed by the David Bridgwater trained Accord, who finished runner up to Neil Mulholland’s exciting Peter The Mayo Man on hurdling debut at Warwick in late September.

They think a lot of Accord at home, and his promising performance at Warwick means that his presence should be respected.

Next in is Dan Skelton’s Ckalco Des Loges. This is one of 3 entries held by Skelton’s charge over the next few days. However if turning up here, he would rate an interesting contender.

Ian Williams has the superbly names Thehossbehind in the mix. He finished second on his only run to date in a bumper at Worcester in June 2015, beaten 9L by an inmate of former trainer John Ferguson, namely London Prize. He does, however, have a 16 month layoff to overcome.

Phillip Hobbs has Casper King entered here, whose record under rules reads; 5 starts, 5 second place finishes. He does however boast a fair level of form in both bumpers & Maiden/Novice hurdles.

His latest runner up effort came at Chepstow 2 weeks ago, when beaten by the promising Geordie Des Champs, with the highly regarded Capeland, who got off the mark over hurdles at Newton Abbot this afternoon, back in third. It won’t be long before this son of Scorpion gets off the mark.

Garo De Juilley is set to make his eagerly anticipated stable debut for Paul Nicholls, after attracting the praise of those that look after him every day.

Winner of his last 4 starts on the flat in France, the word is that the son of Ungaro has schooled well over hurdles at home. He could well be one of the more exciting young French exports for team Ditcheat this season.

Nicky Henderson runs 2 in the the race, namely Khezerabad, the current favourite, who finished a respectable third behing Paul Nicholls smart Zubayr in the Grade 2 Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton last season, and Thomas Campbell, who left an average bumper debut behind him when bolting up next time out in a Kelso bumber, winning by 14L. They both clearly have chances.

Tom George’s Bigpipenotobacee and the he Nigel Twiston Davies trained Gulshanigans completed the field. But it’s fair to say that both will need to step up on what they have previously shown to be a factor here.

 

Now for a quick look at horses that might be worth a second look in the handicaps.

 

3.20 CHELTENHAM

FLORRIE BAY:

Nigel Twiston Davies could hardly be in better form, currently operating at an impressive strike rate of 42% (11-26) in the last 14 days.

I like the look of Florrie Boy in this hotly contested handicap, in which the son of Milan is set to carry 10-2, taking in to account Jamie Bargary’s 5lbs claim.

Twice a winner last season, Florrie Boy rose through the ranks, scoring in two Class 4 events before finishing a respectable second to an improving horse of Phillip Hobbs, Braavos, in a Class 3 event at Perth.

He then turned up at Haydock to contest a Class 2 event, where he ran with credit, coming home a 15L sixth to Harry Fry’s consistent Whataknight. Recent novice chase winner Minella Daddy came second, David’s Pipe’s smart Dell’Arca was fourth, Phillip Hobbs grey Brother Tedd was fifth and Paul Nicholls multiple winner Southfield Vic finished one place behind Florrie Boy, to give you an idea of the form.

Both his wins last season came on good ground, and with the Twiston Davies yard in such good form, Florrie Boy could easily outrun his price here.

CURRENT PRICE: 10/1
ARCTIC GOLD:

Twiston Davies also runs Artic Gold, who enjoyed a successful season over hurdles last term, winning 4 times, including twice in Class 3 events.

Perhaps outclassed in two Class 2 outings, first behind Flintham, and then when finding himself unfortunate enough to bump into the hugely exciting Nicky Henderson trained Different Gravey at Ascot, he still ran credibility, finishing sixth on each occasion.

An impressive winner at Ffos Las when last sighted, he forfeited weight to all of his rivals and still won nicely by upwards of 3 1/2L.

Most of his racing has come on ground with plenty of cut, however he did win his maiden hurdle on good ground at Stratford last term, so he should handle conditions.

10lbs claimer Tom Humphries will be doing the steering, which more than counteracts the 7lbs rise the son of Gold Well incurred for his Ffos Las victory. Only a 5yo, there’s every chance that he will be bigger and stronger this year after another summer at grass.

CURRENT PRICE: 16/1
5.05 CHELTENHAM

Neil Mulholland runs the interesting Fingerontheswitch here, who must be better than the 2 attempts he has put up so far over fences.

A smart novice hurdler last season, Fingerontheswitch beat reliable yardstick Ballydine at Worcester, before finishing fourth to future Albert Bartlett winner Unowhatimeanharry at Cheltenham in November.

Since switched to fences Fingerontheswitch has finished fourth, behind Tempestatefloresco (who runs in the 3.55) at Newton Abbot, before finishing second of 2 at Cartmel in late August.

A winner of his third PTP, Fingerontheswitch finished second to the very talented Shantou Village on his second start between the flags, beaten just 4L. Running off a mark of 123, he has to be worth another chance here.

It’s also worth nothing that the yard won this race in 2014 with The Young Master.

CURRENT PRICE: 10/1
5.40 CHELTENHAM:

WISHFULL DREAMING:

Connections have always held Wishfull Dreaming in some regard, and he showed 2 weeks ago, when bolting up at Chepstow, just why they do.

The winner of a Listed bumper at Cheltenham on his second start under rules, The son of Alflora has always promised to be above average, and now he looks to be confirming it.

He travelled and jumped supremely well at Chepstow. And when Richard Johnson said go, the race was put to bed in a matter of strides.

Raised 8lbs for that romp, Phillip Hobbs has reduced that penalty by 3lbs, by putting up conditional jockey Ciaran Gethings. If in the same form, he could be very tough to beat.

CURRENT PRICE: 7/2
CLIFFS OF DOVER:

Paul Nicholls looks to have found a smart recruit to the jumping game in the form of the 3yo, Cliffs Of Dover.

Winner of 3 of his 4 starts over timer, the progeny of Canford Cliffs has won twice in the last week alone, seeing off Moonday Sun at Wincanton last Friday, before taking the scalp of previous easy scorer, and odds on favourite, Lord Huntingdon at Kempton on Sunday.

A slick, quick hurdler, he could be very well in here, and the talented Harry Cobden will once again be claiming his 3lbs allowance. The only real question marks being whether his busy schedule will catch up with him, and whether taking on his elders will prove to much at his tender age.

CURRENT PRICE: 7/1

 

All that’s left to say is good luck!

Have a great 2 days!image

Thank You

I’d just like to say a huge, sincere thank you to everyone who took the time to read, retweet, quote retweet, like and respond/give feedback to my Cheltenham previews this week. It really is much appreciated. 

I hope they proved useful, even if winners were thin on the ground, as they were written primarily as guides to the races’ and runners, and not as tipping pieces. That said we did finish the week on +£43.00 thanks to the 50/1 success of Labaik in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, 16/1 success of Tully East (also advised at 20/1 antepost) in the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase and the victory of Yorkhill in the JLT Novices’ Chase at 6/4.

There were also two agonising second placed finishes at 7/1 and 6/1, as well as 4 third placed efforts. 

It was certainly a tough week, highlighted by the fact that only 6 favourites won, resulting in a loss of £11.12 for favourite backers across all 28 races. Which shines a positive light on the £43.00 profit we managed to escape with!

The previews consisted of 5688, 4080, 4955 and 5557 words respectively, so as you can imagine, they took a fair bit of time to put together! So apologies for any minor typing errors, but I do work full time as well!

I penned these pieces because I truly love the sport and enjoy nothing more than writing/talking about it, whilst hopefully helping people to find an angle they like on a race, or perhaps occasionally, giving them a shove in the right direction. I did say occasionally!

My work received 7644 views over the 4 days, and I’d like to thank everyone who thanked me or offered kind words on the content of each piece (some of which you can see below). 

I would dearly love to work within the sport one day, and the support I’ve received from many Twitter followers has been extremely helpful and shows what a friendly and passionate racing community we are lucky to be part of. 

Good luck to all, no doubt you’ll be hearing from me again soon! 

Regards,

Stuart Williams. 

The 2017 Cheltenham Festival: Day 4 Preview 

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. 


SUMMARY:

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. 


SUMMARY:

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. 

SUMMARY:

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 Johns 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. 


SUMMARY:

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. 


SUMMARY:

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. 


SUMMARY:

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. 


SUMMARY:

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. 


SELECTIONS:


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

          CALIPTO    33/1

The 2017 Cheltenham Festival: Day 2 Preview 

Douvan is undoubtedly the main dish on Day 2 of the the 2017 Cheltenham Festival, with Rich Ricci’s unbeaten chaser extremely warm order for the day’s feature race, the Champion Chase. 

However that particular contest is just one of 4 Grade 1 events on the day, which kicks off with a brace of Novice Grade 1’s,  the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle and the RSA Chase, before closing with the Champion Bumper which carries the same status.

Hopefully you’ll have some winnings to play with after yesterday’s 50/1 winner, so let’s have a look at where you’re money should be going on Day 2. 


1.30  NEPTUNE INVESTMENT MANAGEMENT NOVICES’ HURDLE  2m5f26y  (Grade 1)

The Neptune looks a fair old contest this year, with the duo heading the market perhaps looking a cut above the rest. 

Neon Wolf is perhaps the most exciting novice around, and connections must be counting down the the days until imposing 6-year-old has his attentions switched to the larger obstacles later this year. However this race comes first, and the gelding looks a very strong favourite with solid looking form and a straightforward attitude. If the ground isn’t too quick, he could take some beating. 

Harry Fry’s super exciting youngster has been very well touted in Cheltenham Festival previews on both sides of the Irish Sea, which has seen his price collapse rapidly, and is considered by many to be the banker of the week. If the talk is right, this could be the first of many visits to jump racing’s top table for the imposing son of Vinnie Roe.

Bacardys looks the chief threat to Neon Wolf, and arrives on the back of Grade 1 Deloitte Novice Hurdle success having out battled stablemate Bunk Off Early close home. The son of Coastal Path, who finished third in the Champion Bumper 12 months ago, showed a pleasing attitude and ample stamina for the 2m5f test of the Neptune that day, which can only aid the Willie Mullins trained contender here. 

Perhaps slightly underrated by some as he doesn’t don the pink and green silks of Rich Ricci or black and beige of Graham Wylie, the 6-year-old has done little wrong in his career to date, and you’d imagine Ruby Walsh will look to make the most his stamina tomorrow. 

Messire Des Obeaux has enjoyed an extremely productive winter, winning 3 of his 4 starts, including the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle at Newbury in December. 

Alan King’s 5-year-old put up a gutsy performance in defeat last time out, attempting to concede 6lbs to Warren Greatrex’s smart performer Keepers Hill, battling on gamely in the finish and losing out by just a neck at the line. Clearly progressive, there have been positive vibes from the camp in recent weeks. 

Ben Pauling runs the smart Willoughby Court here, who put up a very smart performance last time out, beating subsequent impressive winner Gayebury at Warwick in the Grade 2 Leamington Hurdle. 

The form is further enchanced by the third placed Peregrine Run, who arrived on the back of a smooth Grade 2 success at Cheltenham, where the raider took the scalps of Wholestone and West Approach.

The Court Cave gelding is very nice long term prospect, and certainly warrants his inclusion in the race. However his form suggests he’s better with some give in the ground, and therefore he may not be seen to best effect on the decent ground he’ll encounter tomorrow. 

William Henry is set to represent Nicky Henderson in the Neptune this year, and ran a very good race when finishing second to Albert Bartlett contender Wholestone in a Grade 2 event at Prestbury Park in January. 

The talented 7-Seven-year old travelled supremely well on that occasion, and was possibly unsuited by the bypassed hurdles in the home straight which inevitably put more emphasis on stamina. Something that would have really suited the winner. 

Returned to a sound surface tomorrow, you could argue William Henry is overpriced given his sound piece of Cheltenham form. Especially with the brilliant Davy Russell on board. 

It’s interesting that Gordon Elliott has elected to run Shattered Love here, instead of keeping the talented mare back for the Grade 2 Mare’s Novice Hurdle on Thursday. 

Clearly connections think she’s pretty smart, and placed form behind graded winners Airlie Beach and Let’s Dance would appear to confirm it. 

The 6-year-old easily accounted for the smart Forge Meadow last time out, who has advertised the form well since. She’ll receive a 7lbs Mares allowance tomorrow, and as Elliott’s decided to run, you’d be foolish not to respect her. 

Bon Papa and Kemboy, both Willie Mullins inmates could be anything. Whilst Keeper Hill, who beat Messire Des Obeaux last time out should run well for Warren Greatrex.

Its interesting that Consul De Thaix runs here after looking set to contest the Coral Cup, and boasts strong form having finished second to stablemate Brain Power twice in hugely competitive handicaps this season. 

Brelade, Burbank, De Dollar Man, Livelovelaugh, Poetic Rhythm and Skipthecuddles complete the field. 


SUMMARY:

The top 2 in the betting look to have hugely promising futures, and it could simply be a case of who gets the run of the race on the day. But for me BACARDYS is the one to be on at the current prices, with his Cheltenham Festival experience a bonus, representing Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh who have teamed up to win 4 of the last 9 renewals of the race. His stamina and attitude are further beneficial assets. 


2.10  RSA NOVICES’ CHASE              3m80y  (Grade 1)

The RSA Chase has proven a minefield for antepost punters this year, with many horses flirting with favouritism either disappointing, side stepping the race completely, or being ruled out through injury. 

Might Bite currently leads the way for the 3m contest, but looks woefully short based on a piece of form that puts an F next to his name.

Yes, visually he looked mightily impressive before coming down at Kempton, with the stopwatch confirming so, and Royal Vacation, who took advantage of Might Bite’s misfortune, subsequently bolting up over a reduced trip at Cheltenham on Trails Day. 

However I’m far from convinced, and at that price I’d much rather look elsewhere. 

Second favourite Alpha Des Obeaux is very hard to weigh up, having finished second to the mighty Thistlecrack in the World Hurdle (Stayers Hurdle) last season, but rating as one of the contenders to have flirted with favouritism before bleeding badly at Leopardardstown over Christmas. And he hasn’t been seen on the track since. 

There’s no doubting the obvious talent of the Gigginstown owned 7-year-old, and there’s no better man than Mouse Morris for producing a horse in prime condition for a specific target on a given day. 

Whislt you couldn’t rule out the second favourite, that bleed has to be in the back of your mind with a gruelling 3 mile Grade 1 at Cheltenham at stake.

Nicky Henderson has elected to re-route Whisper here, with the gelding originally been pencilled in for the JLT following 2 pleasing victories at Prestbury Park this season. 

In an open renewal you couldn’t rule the former Coral Cup and dual Aintree Grade 1 winner here, especially as he appears to get on extremely well with his new jockey Davy Russell. However whether he wants 3 miles over fences does remain an unknown. 

However connections seem positive and the 9-year-old does appear to have turned a corner this season. 

Henderson’s third and final contender embarks on his biggest mission to date, with the master of Seven Barrows sending O O Seven in to battle with a license to thrill in the 3 mile Grade 1 contest. 

O O Seven made a very impressive fencing debut at Prestbury Park in November, before being surprisingly turned over when odds on a Doncaster next time out. However the imposing Flemenfirth gelding got back on track with a smart weight carrying performance at Huntingdon last time out, and will have the assistance of Aiden Coleman when being deployed behind enemy lines tomorrow.

The aforementioned Royal Vacation commands respect here as a Grade 1 winner, especially after confirming that win was no fluke with a smart performance on Cheltenham’s Trials Day card at the end of January. 

Jean Bishop’s son of King’s Theatre has experience on his side, which is a huge bonus in a race such as the RSA, where the boys are mos certainly separated from the men.  

Acapella Bourgeois is a very interesting contender on the back of a 32 length Grade 2 victory at Navan last month. Whether he was simply given far too much rope that day remains to be seen, but the gelding jumped and travelled with consummate ease and clearly has some engine deep inside his imposing Chestnut frame. 

Possibly seen to best effect with plenty of give underfoot, the decent ground here could be slightly against the 7-year-old son of Network. But he certainly can’t be ruled out, with many shrewd judges of believing he could be a Gold Cup horse in time. 

Bellshill, who has never been seen to best effect at Cheltenham and fell last time out as well as in a schooling session at Leopardstown recently represents leading owner Graham Wylie. And whilst he’s classy on his day, he seems a bit too short here. 

Perhaps one of the more interesting outsiders here is Our Kaempfer, after connections decided this would be the target despite featuring prominently in the betting for the Ultima Handicap Chase on Day 1. 

The son of Oscar looks a solid contender for the upwardly mobile yard of Charlie Longsdon, who is long overdue a success on the biggest 4 days in the National Hunt calendar. 

The 8-year-old already has Cheltenham Festival form to his name, having finished fifth in the Pertemps Final 12 months ago, and has always been held in high regard by connections who have planned his campaign around the Festival this season, something demonstrated by the decision to sidestep the Grade 1 Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Ascot last month, a contest for which he was a short priced favourite in the week, as Longsdon didn’t want to give his charge a hard race too close to the big day.

Our Kaempfer relishes a bit of decent ground and will enjoy the small field and good gallop he’ll get in the RSA. Rated 148, he’s only 4lbs adrift of Might Bite on official figures, and judged on his facile handicap win last time out, he looks well up to this level. 

Aurillac, Heron Heights, Marinero and Briery Belle complete the field. 


SUMMARY:

Whilst Might Bite could be the real deal, I’m prepared to take him on at the price. And the one that appeals most to me is Charlie Longsdon’s OUR KAEMPFER, who looks a solid contender with previous Festival form and who should relish the decent ground he’ll encounter here.  


2.50  CORAL CUP  2m5f26  (Grade 3)

The Coral Cup is, as always, a very tricky looking contest this year. With many contenders, including warm favourite Tombstone, looking particularly well treated for this Grade 3 contest. 

All the talk was that Tombstone would be supplemented for the Champion Hurdle following his Grade 3 victory over Jezki at Gowran Park last month. However after the weights were revealed for the Festival  handicaps, Gordon Elliott and the O’Leary’s couldn’t resist taking the handicap route, with the gelding only having to carry 1lb more than he would in Ireland. 

Of course that means we could have a Champion Hurdle class horse running off a mark of 149 in a handicap, and given his extremely powerful connections it wouldn’t be a shock if Gordon Elliott bagged this contest for a second successive year following the triumph of Diamond King 12 months ago. 

However as previously mentioned, there are plenty of potentially well treated contenders in opposition here, starting with fellow Irish raider Peregrine Run, who holds a course and distance success over the 145 rated Wholestone and 157 rated West Approach in a Grade 2 contest in November. 

Peter Fahey’s 7-year-old looks very well treated off a mark of 142, and will relish the nice underfoot conditions he’ll encounter here.

Hopefully Roger Loughran will have got his eye in with a nice spin around Prestbury Park on RSA fancy Acapella Bourgeois, which would fill him with confidence coming into this Grade 3 prize. 

Dan Skelton runs last season’s Supreme Novice Hurdle sixth Mister Miyagi, who has had a wind op since last seen on the track. Whilst Gordon Elliott has two more interesting contenders in the form of Automated and Runfordave

All 3 could be interesting, with Mister Miyagi running off the same mark as Tombstone having finished 2 places behind him in that red hot Supreme Novice Hurdle last year. 

Taking a change of tack, one horse that has dropped through the handicap like a stone in the last 12 months is Hargam, who will represent 2014 winning Trainer Nicky Henderson and will be one of many sporting the green and gold hoops of JP McManus. 

Rated 157 this time last year when running tenth in the Champion Hurdle, the grey tackles handicap company off a mark of 140 this time around. 

The terrier like 6-year-old will be trying this trip for the very first time tomorrow, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if he improved for the extra yardage having looked fairly one paced when asked for an effort in the past. At a huge price, he could go very well here. 
SUMMARY:

Tombstone could easily be absolutely chucked in here, however he’s short enough in the betting for such a competitive Cheltenham Handicap. 

PEREGRINE RUN simply has to be backed off a mark of 142, with his strong piece of Cheltenham form and the ground in his favour, making him a leading candidate at a double figure price. 

Whilst at a bigger price, HARGAM makes great each way appeal based on his decreasing mark and the potential improvement he may find taking a step up in trip. Mark Walsh takes the ride. 


3.30  QUEEN MOTHER BETWAY CHAMPION CHASE  1m7f199f  (Grade 1)

We’ve been blessed with a succession of top class 2 milers since the turn of the century, with greats such as Moscow Flyer, Master Minded and Sprinter Sacre all dual winners of the Championship race on the second day of the Festival. 

This year Douvan is a short priced favourite to write his name into the history books, and barring mistakes, Rich Ricci imposing 7-year-old looks unbeatable and therefore impossible to oppose. 

Enjoy the show. 


4.10  GLENFARCLAS CROSS COUNTRY CHASE  3m6f37f  (Class 2)

I always refer to the Cross Country Chase as a marmite contest, as some people love it, however some treat it as extra time to get a drink and go to the toilet! 

Personally I’m a big fan of the race, and love to see horses rediscover their love for the game by jumping banks, hedges and whatever else is put in their way!

JP McManus always has a strong hand in these events, and this year is no exception. Enda Bolger’s Cantlow leads the green and gold brigade this time, with dual Festival winner Cause Of Causes in hot pursuit, and Auvergnat, who looks a promising youngster in these races, also catching the eye. 

Experience is always key in this discipline, which is a big positive for Cantlow who hails from the all conquering yard of Cross Country King Enda Bolger, and boasts a bloodless success over course and distance in December. 

The evergreen 12-year-old then ran another big race at the course in January, going down by 3 lengths when attempting to concede 15lbs to the French raider Urgent De Gregaine on Trials Day.

Disappointingly the winner won’t line up in main event tomorrow, but it must be considered highly likely Cantlow would have reversed the form off level weights, however unfortunately we’ll never know for sure. 

Cause Of Causes is a firm Cheltenham favourite with 2 Festival wins to his name already. He landed the National Hunt Chase in 2015, before making a mockery of the Kim Muir Handicap Chase 12 months ago, and you certainly wouldn’t rule out a fantastic Festival hat-trick. 

The 9-year-old got some valuable match practice in at Prestbury Park in January, and has returned to the course to gain further experience since. 

Gordon Elliott has been very optimistic about the geldings chances whenever the race has been discussed in Festival previews, and he can count on the assistance of top class Amateur Jamie Codd, who has ridden the gelding to both of his previous Festival wins. 

Auvengnat is a relative spring chicken in this event, which normally attracts horses in the twilight of their careers. This will represent the 7-year-old’s fourth start in this discipline, following a third placed effort in the Risk Of Thunder Chase at Punchestown with an unfortunate unseating at Cheltenham in January, before notching up a first win back at Punchestown when last seen on the track. 

Apparently Mark Walsh took his time to decide whether to ride Auvergnat or favourite Cantlow tomorrow, which gives you an idea of how much they rate the young pretender. He’s certainly one for the future. 

Phillip Hobbs and Richard Johnson enjoyed great success in this discipline with fan favourite Balthazar King, landing the main prize at the Festival in both 2012 and 2014. 

This year they team up with the classy performer Sausalito Sunrise, who boasts an official rating of 152 and would be of great interest if taking to the unquite obstacles the Cross Country course has to offer. 

His lack of experience would certainly be a negative here, but given his connections, he has to be respected at a double figure price. 

Gordon Elliott has an experienced second string in the form of Bless The Wings, who’s a regular in these events. Whilst the same can be said about gallant grey Valadom, who could probably find his own way around the course after running well on many occasions in these contests. 

Any Currency deserves a mention after taking the prize 12 months ago only to have the race taken away under hugely unfortunate circumstances. He’s another that would have to come under consideration for his local trainer Martin Keighley. 


SUMMARY:

Whilst I have huge respect for the Festival form of Cause Of Causes, as mentioned previously, experience is of the utmost importance when it comes to this unique discipline. 

With that in mind, CANTLOW is the selection for his powerful Cross Country connections following his impressive December success and subsequent sound effort when attempting to concede weight to the French trained winner in January. Hopefully he can provide Mark Walsh with further Cheltenham Festival success. 


4.50  FRED WINTER JUVENILE HANDICAP HURDLE  2m87y  (Grade 3)

Divin Bere heads the betting for the 4-year-old handicap this year, with his victory over Triumph hope Master Blueyes marking him out as a potentially very well treated horse. 

Nicky Henderson’s Juvenile conceded 4lbs the the subsequent Grade 2 Adonis winner that day, and despite having to shoulder the burden of top weight, must have a standout chance under Noel Fehily, who spoken in glowing terms about the horse on the ever growing Cheltenham Preview circuit. 

The Seven Barrows team also have Domperignon Du Lys engaged, who ran fourth behind red hot Triumph Hurdle favourite Defi Du Seuil at Prestbury Park in December. Henderson seems fairly sweet on his pair this year, and both have to be taken seriously. 

However Paul Nicholls has been the trainer to follow in this contest in recent years, having won the prize 3 times in the last 7 years, as well as, rather remarkably, sending out the runner up in each of the last 4 seasons. 

The Champion Trainer relies on recent Wincanton scorer Dreamcatching, Grade 1 Future Champions Juvenile Hurdle third Dolos and the Ditcheat Thouroughbreds owned Volpone Jelois this year, and you couldn’t rule any out with a degree of confidence given the Champion’s record in the race.

Dreamcatching is the one punters have latched on to in the build up to the race, having been available at 16/1 in the immediate aftermath of his Wincanton success. Whether a mark of 131 underestimates the ability of the Al Namix gelding remains to be seen. 

Dolos looked smart when landing a Juvenile Hurdle hard on the steel in early October, before filling the third place berth in Grade 1 contests at both Auteuil and Chepstow. 

The 4-year-old filled the same position when finishing behind the hugely progressive Air Horse One last time out at Taunton, and could have more to give off a mark of 134. He’s pick of stable Jockey Sam Twiston-Davies, which can only be a positive sign. 

Tony Martin’s Long Call has been the subject of steady support following a succession of whispers in Cheltenham Festival previews in recent weeks. 

The Authorized gelding won easily at Hereford in January before being blown out of the water by Master Blueyes at Ludlow last month. And as we all know, it doesn’t take much to persuade people that Martin has a well handicapped horse. 

The JP McManus owned Project Bluebook could be interesting for trainer John Quinn, whilst David Pipe seems to have an interesting contender in he form of Poker Play, who finished second to Triumph Hurdle contender Charli Parcs on his first start over timber in France. 

Alan King always does well with his Juvenile Hurdlers and runs Dino Velvet here. The Naaqoos gelding finished 3 lengths behind the talented Don Bersy at Warwick in January, and would command respect for a trainer who is peerless when it comes to 4-year-old hurdlers. 

Ruby Walsh takes the ride on the Gavin Cromwell trained Prospectus, who is 2-3 for his capable handler who trained Jer’s Girl to finish …


SUMMARY:

DIVIN BERE must have a good chance based on the form of his sole start in the UK, and has undergone a breathing operation since his debut on these shores. He would certainly be at the top of my list here. 

However this race does have a history of producing big priced winners, and with that in mind I’ll also throw a small each way bet on the Alan King trainer DINO VELVET, who was highly thought of at the start of the season and could be nicely handicapped off a lowly mark of 125. 


5.30  WEATHERBYS CHAMPION BUMPER  2m87y  (Grade 1)

As with the Cross Country Chase, the Champion Bumper isn’t for everyone. Just ask Michael O’Leary if you don’t believe me!

I have to admit, I’m not too keen on bumpers for betting purposes myself, but having put up a selection at 20/1 in January, I’m not going to desert my charge now he’s taken over the mantle of favouritism. 

We all know that Willie Mullins trained runners invariably prove popular here, with the master of Closutton taking home the prize on no fewer than 8 previous occasions. The last of which came via Briar Hill in 2013. 

Mullins, of course, trains the warm favourite for this year’s renewal, in the form of the Pearl Bloodstock owned by Carter McKay, who made a very pleasing debut under rules at Leopardstown over Christmas. 

Willie Mullins often unleashes his most promising prospects at that particular Leopardstown meeting, and the way Carter McKay travelled before being ridden out to land the the spoils gave the impression he could be another Closutton trained contender brimming with potential. 

The son of Martaline defeated a horse called Bakmaj (second) that day, who was subsequently purchased by prominent Irish owner Barry Connell prior to landing a bumper in impressive fashion at Leopardstown in January, giving the form of Carter McKay an encouraging boost in the process. Especially when you factor in that Bakmaj received 3lbs when the pair met over the Festive period. 

If Leopardstown was good, Naas was deeply impressive, as the grey simply kicked through the gears with barely any encouragement required, making a decent field look ordinary on his way to recording a comfortable 2 and a quarter length victory. 

Carter McKay ran out an impressive 10 length winner of a 3m maiden PTP at Ballynoe last April, having finished second on his first outing between the flags at Boulta 3 months previously. 

That performance was enough to persuade David Redvers to bid £160,000 to secure the services of Carter McKay on behalf of Sheikh Fahad Al Thani’s Pearl Bloodstock operation at the Aintree April Sale. And judged on his efforts so far, it looks money well spent. 

The imposing 5-year-old demonstrated a high cruising speed in the pointing field, which should stand the French bred in good stead in the Champion Bumper as the race is always run at a fair old clip.

If you’ve had a desperate day 2, Carter McKay could be the one to send you home smiling. 


SELECTIONS:


1.30  Bacardys    10/3


2.10  Our Kaempfer    16/1


2.50  Peregrine Run    10/1

          Hargam    18/1


3.30  No Bet


4.10  Cantlow    11/4


4.50  Divin Bere    6/1

         Dino Velvet     33/1


5.30  Carter McKay    9/2

The 2017 Cheltenham Festival: Day 1 Preview 

It won’t be long until the roar of the crowd signals the start of the 2017 Cheltenham Festival, as the tapes rise on yet another eagerly anticipated 4 days of triumph and drama played out in the atmospheric amphitheater that has long provided the stage for A-listers of the turf to strut their stuff, Presbury Park.

Come 1.30 tomorrow, the time for talking will be over and the debating will be done on the track. Here’s an in depth look at each of the 7 races to tickle your tastebuds for the Festival feast ahead. 


1.30  SKYBET SUPREME NOVICES’ HURDLE  2m87y  (Grade 1)

Nicky Henderson broke the Willie Mullins stranglehold on the the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last March, as Altior lowered the pale pink and green silks of leading owner Rich Ricci’s talented Min.

12 months on and the master of Closutton is once again responsible for the favourite in the Festival curtain raiser, with Melon leading the way having been the subject of steady support in the antepost market all season long before satisfying many with an easy maiden Hurdle success on his debut over timber at Leopardstown in January. 

It’s hard to weigh up what the gelding achieved that day, with the form taking a fair few knocks since. But the manor in which the son of Medicean went about his business was fairly impressive, and proved enough to propell the 5-year-old to Festival favouritism.

The major concern would be his lack of experience, as Ruby Walsh himself remarked that he’d want another run before heading across the Irish Sea. However the right opportunity has not availed itself and Willie Mullins’ gelding will have to overcome his inexperience in his quest for Festival success. 

Ballyandy landed the Champion Bumper 12 months ago and looks the pick of the British trainers contenders here, arriving on the back of Betfair Hurdle success where the Kayf Tara gelding made a mockery of an opening hadicap mark of 135. 

The Nigel Twiston-Davies trained 6-year-old looks to have plenty in his favour, with both the decent underfoot conditions and tempo of the race suiting his strong galloping style. 

There has been plenty of money for Ballyandy in the last week, and he would prove a very popular winner for his locally based trainer. Sam Twiston-Davies will once again be on board, and the youngster holds rock solid each way claims in such an open renewal. 

Bunk Off Early travelled like the best horse throughout the Grade 1 Deloitte Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown last month, before being out battled close home by stablemate Bacardys, who is a strong second favourite for the Neptune on Wednesday. 

Willie Mullins’ grey looks a very nice prospect, but the way he finished at Leopardstown doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence, especially as he’ll need to climb the long, gruelling Cheltenham hill tomorrow. 

That said, this contest is, of course, 2 furlongs shorter the the Deloitte trip of 2m2f, and the better ground should also assist the son of Zebedee tomorrow. 

Crack Mome, who should improve for the better ground, Cilaos Emery, who finished second to County Hurdle fancy Mick Jazz last time out, and Riven Light, who would be the best novice in Mullins’ yard if he could jump according to his owner Rich Ricci, complete the Irish Champion Trainer’s entries. 

Nicky Henderson runs River Wylde and Beyond Conceit here, who should both  enjoy the decent ground and end to end gallop the they’ll encounter tomorrow.

At bigger prices, Ben Pauling’s High Bridge has been impressive in recording a hat-trick over hurdles this season, and has Festival experience on his side having finished sixth in last season’s Champion Bumper when trained by John Ferguson. 

Gordon Elliott could run the extremely quirky, but clearly talented Labaik, who has shown a fair engine when concenting to race, with his strike rate of 2 wins from 5 starts tarnished by 2 refusals and a virtual refusal when last seen on the track.

The grey landed a Punchestown maiden hurdle with the minimum of fuss before showing a determined attitude and impressive turn of foot to make up ground after the last at Navan to win going away at the line, recording a cosy 1 and three quarter length success over stablemate and County Hurdle fancy Mick Jazz.

Capital Force, Elgin, who finished second to Neon Wolf last time out, Glaring, Magnor Cartor and Pingshou complete the field. 


SUMMARY:

Melon could be anything, and despite Mullins’ apparent confidence, his price doesn’t reflect his form. 

Betfair Hurdle winner BALLYANDY is a strong contender for local trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, and looks rock solid each way material. Therefore he is the selection.

However I’ll also be throwing a token each way bet on Gordon Elliott’s LABAIK, who comes with obvious risks attached, but could easily out run his huge price if he puts his best foot forward tomorrow. Often it’s the quirky one’s who possess the most talent, and if he does jump off here, he could easily run a huge race in a wide open renewal. 


2.10  RACING POST ARKLE CHALLENGE TROPHY  1m7f199y  (Grade 1)

The Arkle Challenge Trophy has been somewhat of a happy hunting ground for odds on favourites in recent years, with Sprinter Sacre, Simonsig, Un De Sceaux and Douvan all landing the odds since 2012. And that trend looks extremely likely to continue this year, as Altior looks to make it 3 wins in 6 years for Nicky Henderson’s Seven Barrows yard. 

Last year’s imperious Supreme Novice Hurdle victor is already well ahead of his rivals on official ratings, and barring a fall, looks absolute banker material in the hands of Nico De Boinville. 

Whilst I’m a big fan of Charbel, he looks to be running for place money at best. And could easily pay the price for taking Altior on here. 

If looking for a bet in the without the favourite market, you could certainly do worse than backing Ben Pauling’s A Hare Breath each way, as the gelding will enjoy the decent ground and could pick up the pieces when others are crying for mercy. Richard Johnson rides. 


2.50  ULTIMA HANDICAP CHASE       3m1f  (Grade 3)

This race is always extremely competitive, and often goes to an up and coming novice who gets in to the race off a handy looking mark. 

That said, this year features 3 previous winners of the staying contest, with 2014 winner Holywell, 2015 victor The Druids Nephew, and the reining champ Un Temps Pour Tout all looking to double up in Grade 3 event. 

Holywell has become somewhat of a fan favourite over the years, and runs of a mark 3lbs higher than the 145 rating he defied in 2014. But more crucially, the 10-year-old is 5lbs lower than his second placed effort last term, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him go well once again. 

The Druids Nephew runs off the exact same mark he won the race off 2 years ago, and can rely on the services of top Jockey Noel Fehily tomorrow. Whilst his recent form isn’t overly inspiring, the 10-year-old is likely to have been campaigned with this race in mind all season, and will relish the decent ground he’ll encounter tomorrow. 

It looks as though Gordon Elliott’s Paddy Power Chase winner Noble Endeavor will be sent off a well supported favourite, with Davy Russell, who is absolutely mustard when it comes to big field Festival Handicaps, charged with doing the steering. 

The 9-year-old boasts some fair Festival form having finished second to the classy Killultagh Vic in the 2015 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle, before departing the scene at the second last when running a big race in the National Hunt Chase 12 months ago. 

A fourth placed effort behind the classy Empire Of Dirt in the Troytown Handicap Chase preceded his fine Paddy Power Chase success, and Noble Endeavor must have every chance here. 

The Tom George trained Singlefarmpayment will likely prove popular here, fitting the profile of a novice chaser that could well have been let in lightly by the handicapper after showing an aptitude for Prestbury Park in November. 

The 7-year-old travelled supremely well that day, before being ridden out to secure a 2 and a half length victory from Paul Nicholls’ National Hunt Chase contender Arpege D’Alene.

Sent off a well supported favourite on Cheltenham’s Trials Day card, the Milan gelding was brought down at the 12th fence when making steady progress through the field. And no doubt Tom George and Adrian Heskin will be hoping Singlefarmpayment can gain some serious compensation here.

Alan King landed this prize with Bensalem in 2011, and is responsible for another contender who fits the novice profile, in the form of progressive young stayer Label Des Obeaux

The 6-year-old son of Saddler Maker also had the also had the option of the National Hunt Chase, but King has elected to send the youngster here, presumably with the aim of exploiting a potentially lenient handicap mark. 

Third to Singlefarmpayment at Cheltenham in November, Label Des Obeaux has won his last 2 starts, with the latter success at coming at Exeter where the emphasis is always on stamina. Wayne Hutchinson will ride the promising young stayer, and Alan King seems fairly sweet on the geldings chances. 

Last year’s winner Un Temps Pour Tout is, as previously mentioned, another contender looking to double up in contest off a 7lbs higher mark. And will once again lock horns with last year’s third, The Young Master, who bids to go 2 places better 12 months on. 

Colin Tizzard’s Viconte De Noyer won over 3m3f here in November, and could run well again with the talented Harry Cobden maintaining the partnership. 

Measureofmydreams finished third in the National Hunt Chase last term, and could go well once again. Whilst experienced Festival campaigner Buywise could prove a popular placepot selection. 

Betbright Chase first and third Pilgrims Bay and Theatre Guide re-oppose. And both could go well in this strongly run contest. 

Former Betvictor Gold Cup winners Annacotty and Caid Du Berlais are big priced contenders for Alan King and Paul Nichols respectively, and both will have there stamina severely tested over the extra half a mile. 

Henri Parry Morgan has suffered a hugely frustrating season thus far, and could run well if putting in a clear round under talented young jockey Sean Bowen. The 9-year-old was a huge improver for Peter Bowen last year, and certainly looks to have a big one in him at some stage. 

Ibis Du Rheu, who landed the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle last season, could run a big race for Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls, and like Singlefarmpayment and Label Des Obeaux, looks a novice with great potential. 

Charlie Longsdon has an interesting outsider in the form of Coologue, who looks a very generous price given the performance he put up at the Showcase Meeting in October where he spreadeaged the field before battling on bravely to see off the gallant grey Keltus who came to challenge on the climb to the line. 

Brian Hughes has been booked for the ride, with the northern based Jockey enjoying an extremely successful season. And a Cheltenham Festival winner would really be the cherry on the cake. 

Clarcam, Junction Fourteen, Go Conquer, Antony, A Good Skin, Vinatage Clouds and Vic De Touzaine complete the 24 strong field. 


SUMMARY:

Ibis Du Rheu, Label Des Obeaux and Singlefarmpayment would fit the profile of potentially well treated novices’, whilst Holywell and The Druids Nephew look potentially well handicapped once again. 

SINGLEFARMPAYMENT would be my idea of the best treated horse in the race, and is therefore the selection. However it may be worth having a small each way investment of the Charlie Longsdon trained COOLOGUE, who could run a big race if running up to the form of his October victory. 


3.30  STAN JAMES CHAMPION HURDLE  2m87y  (Grade 1)

This year’s Champion Hurdle looks a very open affair, with both the 2015 and 2016 Champions, Faugheen and Annie Power, sadly on the sidelines having suffered set back on top of set back in an injury plagued campaign for the all conquering Closutton operation of Irish Champion Trainer Willie Mullins. 

However the open nature of the race does present us with an intriguing Day 1 puzzle, as strong cases can be made both for and against each of the 12 runners set to face the starter at 3.30 tomorrow afternoon. 

JP McManus looks to hold a very strong hand in the 2 mile Championship, with Alan King’s classy contender Yanworth heading the market from Buveur D’Air, who has reverted to timber after landing a brace of novice chase victories this winter. 

Yanworth’s only defeat over hurdles came at the hooves of Yorkhill in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle last March. And the gelding boasts further Cheltenham Festival form with a fine fourth placed effort in the 2015 Champion Bumper. 

The the orange machine won the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day, and has also picked up Grade 2 events at Ascot and Wincanton on route to the Day 1 showpiece this season. 

This will be the first time the son of Norse Dancer jumps a hurdle in public without the assistance of Barry Geraghty, as Mark Walsh takes the reins having schooled the 7-year-old at King’s Barbury Castle base last week. On form, he’s the one they all have to beat. 

Buveur D’Air was a notable purchase by leading owner JP McManus last summer, after the talented son of Crillon finished third in what now looks a red hot Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 12 months ago, won by his potential superstar stablemate Altior, with Min in second, Tombstone in fourth, Charbel finishing fifth and fellow Champion Hurdle contender Petit Mouchoir back in eighth. 

Nicky Henderson’s 6-year-old landed Grade 1 honours at Aintree subsequently, beating the re-opposing Petit Mouchoir in a ding dong battle after the last, with fellow Champion Hurdle contender Limini 8 lengths further back in third. Fourth placed North Hill Harvey, winner of the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham in November, and sixth place Agrapart, winner of the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Years Day add further substance to the form. 

His hurdling form looks strong, and Henderson loves a Champion Hurdler. Noel Fehily steps in to take the ride with McManus’ retained rider Barry Geraghty currently on the sidelines, which is no negative as the Jockey who won this race on Rock On Ruby in 2012 knows the horse well having been the retained rider for Buveur D’Air’s previous owner. 

Connections will be hoping there is enough give in the ground for Buveur D’Air to be seen to best effect. And if there is, he would be rate a very strong contender here. 

Henry De Bromhead’s Petit Mouchoir is the shortest priced Irish trained contender for the 2m Championship event, having confirmed the promise of his Aintree Grade 1 second last spring by becoming a dual Grade 1 winner this winter. With the Irish Champion Hurdle forming the second part of his top flight double. 

The Gigginstown House Stud owned grey has lowered the colours of multiple Grade 1 winner Nichols Canyon, last season’s Triumph Hurdle victor Ivanovic Gorbatov and Willie Mullins Grade 1 winner Footpad already this term, and will be looking to add to that list when he enters Prestbury Park next month.

Petit Mouchoir went some clip when successful in the Irish Champion Hurdle, and may try to execute similar tactics here. However the 6-year-old will need to improve vastly upon his eighth placed finish in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 12 months ago. 

That said, the son of Al Namix is clearly on the upgrade, and looks to have every chance in a very open looking year. 

Nicky Henderson’s second Champion Hurdle hopeful brings top class 2 mile handicap hurdle form to the party, having landed the Listed Jumeirah Hotels And Resorts December Handicap Hurdle at Sandown, before following up in the Wessex Youth Trust Handicap Hurdle at Ascot 2 weeks later.

Nicky Henderson’s second Champion Hurdle contender is the rapidly improving Brain Power, who brings top class 2 mile handicap hurdle form to the table having landed the Listed Jumeirah Hotels And Resorts December Handicap Hurdle at Sandown, before following up in the Wessex Youth Trust Handicap Hurdle at Ascot 2 weeks later.

Owned by Henderson’s great personal friend Michael Buckley, Brain Power has improved for each experience over obstacles and arrives here boasting a fairly impressive resume, with 4 wins achieved from just 7 starts since embarking on a career over hurdles in November 2015. 

Although the son of Kalanisi doesn’t possess graded form in open company, to win 2 highly competitive handicaps in such impressive fashion just 2 weeks apart is no mean feat, and he certainly commands respect as it’s impossible to know where the 6-year-old’s progression will stop. 

Brain Power has more speed than fancied stablemate Buveur D’Air according to Nicky Henderson, which adds further weight the youngsters claims, especially as he’ll be able to make good use of his horsepower on the sound racing surface Prestbury Park is likely to be offering up on Tuesday. 

It’s some statement to the regard in which theMoon Racer is held by connections that David Pipe has given the green light for the unbeaten novice to contest the main event on Day 1, especially considering the 8-year-old would have been short order for the Festival curtain raiser, The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, had connections decided to stick to the novice route. 

The former Champion Bumper winner is clearly fragile, having only made it to the track 3 times since his Festival success in 2015. And although he’s only had 2 starts over timber, he does boast 2 victories over the impressive Betfair Hurdle winner Ballyandy, including a course and distance Grade 2 success in November. 

Unbeaten in 3 starts at Prestbury Park, the Saffron Walden gelding goes particularly well fresh, which is bonus considering he hasn’t been seen on the track since that Grade 2 victory at Cheltenham’s Open Meeting. That said, it’s still some ask to win a Champion Hurdle after the best part of 4 months off the track, but as we all know, the Pipes can ready one at home, and the gelding did have a school over hurdles at Wincanton last week. 

The New One lines up for a staggering fourth attempt at landing the day 1 main event, arriving in fine form after 2 victories this season achieved either side of a second placed effort behind Yanworth in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton. Could this finally be his year? 

Sceau Royal rates one of the more lively outsiders for the 2m crown, having bolted up over course and distance at the Showcase Meeting in October. 

Alan King’s 5-year-old landed the Grade 2 Elite Hurdle at Wincanton on his next start, before finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle in November. The gelding then placed third in the Grade 2 Kingwell Hurdle on his return from a mid season break back at Wincanton in February, coming home 2 and a quarter lengths adrift of his stablemate, and current Champion Hurdle favourite, Yanworth.

Daryl Jacob has elected to ride Sceau Royal over the same owners Footpad. And the strong traveling, slick jumping youngster will relish the decent ground he’ll encounter tomorrow. 

Ch’Tibello, who split Yanworth and Sceau Royal at Wincanton, could represent the burgeoning operation of Dan Skelton. 

The Sageburg gelding beat the talented Cloudy Dream (second) and subsequent Galway Hurdle winner Clondaw Warrior (third) at Ayr, and has posted 3 decent efforts over timber this term. He landed the Class 2 Betfair Price Rush Hurdle at Haydock in November, before recording placed efforts behind Yanworth in both the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton and Grade 2 Betway Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton, form which justifies his inclusion here. 

Skelton has often pointed to Ch’Tibello’s fluent hurdling technique and impressive turn of foot as major assets, with both seen to best effect when the gelding encounters his preferred decent ground. In such an open year, the 6-year-old could run a big race for team Skelton. 

Irish Champion Hurdle runner up Footpad, 2015 County Hurdle winner Wicklow Brave and 2015 Aintree Grade 2 scorer Cyrus Darius complete the 12 strong field. 


SUMMARY:

JP McManus obviously holds a very strong hand in the race, with both Buveur D’Air and Yanworth boasting extremely solid form in such a wide open renewal. 

Nicky Henderson must also fancy his chances with Brain Power and My Tent Or Yours (also owned by McManus) providing further ammunition to current second favourite Buveur D’Air. Cases can be made for each arrow the Seven Barrows handler throws at the race, and you could bet your last tenner that all will be trained to the minute for this prestigious assignment. 

Leading Irish fancy Petit Mouchoir and the aforementioned Brain Power look the most progressive hurdlers in the field. And both could run big races here. 

The fact that David Pipe is allowing Moon Racer to take his chance here should certainly be taken seriously. With his form at the course and the Ballyandy formline suggesting it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that he could bely his relative inexperience in such an open year. 

YANWORTH would have to be the main selection as he boasts the stongest form achieved this season. 

However given the open nature of the race, SCEAU ROYAL could be worth chancing at a very big price. It’s a well known fact that 5-year-old’s don’t have the greatest of records in Champion Hurdles, but Alan King’s youngster does possess pace to burn and is lightening quick over his obstacles, which are important traits in a Champion Hurdler. 

His course and distance win in October was mightily impressive, and he should bounce off the sound surface he’ll encounter tomorrow. 


4.10  OLBG MARES’ HURDLE     2m3f200y  (Grade 1)

Vroum Vroum Mag landed this contest with the minimum of fuss 12 months ago, and returns in a bid to defend her Festival crown tomorrow. 

However she faces a far from straightforward task this year following the surprise decision of connections to run their other star mare, recent impressive Punchestown Listed scorer Limini, against Vroum Vroum Mag in the Grade 1 event. 

Limini, who landed the inaugural running of the Dawn Run Mare’s Novice Hurdle 12 months ago, was deeply impressive at Punchestown, and it was a surprise to many that Willie Mullins and Rich Ricci decided not to supplement the daughter of Peintre Celebre for the Stan James Champion Hurdle. 

The high class 6-year-old beat the talented Apples Jade at Punchestown, and if running to the same level here, could prove extremely hard to beat. 

Apples Jade will of course re-oppose, however it’s hard to see her reversing the form of that Punchestown contest as Limini beat her with any amount to in hand. 

The Gigginstown House Stud owned 5-year-old  finished second in the Triumph Hurdle last March, before recording impressive victories at both Aintree and Punchestown subsequently. 

Those performances were enough to have connections thinking of her as a Champion Hurdle prospect at the start of the campaign, and in a normal year she would be considered banker material herself in this contest. 

Ruby Walsh has elected to ride Limini ahead of last year’s winner, who tasted defeat for the first time since arriving from France at the hooves of Apples Jade at Fairyhouse in December. 

Vroum Vroum Mag also looked laboured when making hard work of a Mare’s event at Doncaster last time out, and will have to rediscover her A-Game if harbouring any dreams of successfully defending her title here. 

Jer’s Girl represents the small but shrewd operation of Irish trainer Gavin Cromwell, and looked a very talented mare when easily landing back to back Grade 1 contests at the end of last season.

This race been the plan all season long for the 5-year-old, who can improve vastly upon her 2 starts in Grade 1 contests this term with a return to 2m4f and decent ground in her favour. Factors that could help the daughter of Jeremy run a very big race here. 

Paul Nicholls’ Lifeboat Mona has performed with great credit all season and deserves to take her chance. Whilst Rock On The Moor, who finished second to Vroum Vroum Mag last year, could run another big race for Jessica Harrington. 


SUMMARY:

Vroum Vroum Mag won this contest with some authority last term, however her poor Doncaster effort and the defection of Ruby Walsh can only be considered negatives this year. 

If Limini has come out her Punchestown performance in rude health she should prove extremely though to beat. And she will, of course, have the assistance of Ruby Walsh. 

However at the prices, JER’S GIRL looks a superb each way proposition for Gavin Cromwell and Mark Walsh, with the decent ground and extra yardage definitely in her favour.

The JP McManus owned mare looked very smart last spring, demonstrating a thoroughly professional attitude and an impressive turn of foot. 12/1 is simply too generous to turn down. 


4.50  JT McNAMARA NATIONAL HUNT CHALLENGE CUP  3m7f170y  (Grade 2)

It’s very fitting that the National Hunt Chase is run in honour of the late, great, and sadly much missed JT McNamara this year, who won this event twice during an extremely distinguished career as an amateur Jockey. 

The race has become a much classier event in recent years, and will carry Grade 2 status for the very first time this year. 

As we all know, Jockey bookings are the first port of call in amateur events, with the best in the business in great demand for a trainer who thinks they have a horse with a serious chance in the 4m marathon contest. 

Jamie Codd looks to have a smart book of rides at the Festival this year, and partners the favourite here for trainer Noel Meade. The horse, A Genie In Abottle, looks a very strong contender,  boasting some solid looking form in Irish novice events this winter. 

The stamina laden 6-year-old finished behind Nambour and Free Expression on his first attempt over fences, before chasing home the re-opposing Martello Tower over 2m5f at Fairyhouse in December. 

A Genie In Abottle returned to Fairyhouse 2 weeks later to shed his maiden tag with a nice performance over a trip of 3 miles, beating Willie Mullins smart handicapper Blazer, and last season Pertemps Final winner Mall Dini under gutsy front running ride. 

Second to Anibale Fly in a Grade 3 event last time out, this has been the plan for son of Beneficial for quite some time, and Noel Meade wasted no time in securing the services of leading amateur Jockey Jamie Codd. 

Derek O’Connor landed the spoils on the JP McManus owned Minella Rocco last year, and the top class amateur will once again carry the green and gold bands of the leading owner into battle, this time teaming up with the Joseph O’Brien trained Edwulf, who fell in the Grade 2 Ten Up Novice Chase before recording a smooth success at Navan last time out, conceding lumps of weight his rivals in the process. 

The geldings best piece of form looks to be a victory over Willie Mullins’ smart performer Bachasson and the aforementioned Mall Dini in a 2m4f contest at Punchestown in January, where the 8-year-old jumped well and won a shade cosily under a smart ride from the much underrated Mark Walsh 

The only concerns look to be his tendency to make a mistake (unseated and fell at Navan this season) and his ability to perform on decent ground, as his high knee action and previous form suggesting he’s more at home on a softer surface.

But if anyone can guide the horse home it would be Derek O’Connor. And it wouldn’t surprise me if he deployed similar tactics to those he used to great effect 12 months ago. 

Champers On Ice lines up here after weeks of deliberation about whether he should tackle the 4 mile marathon or go down the handicap route in an attempt to exploit a lenient looking mark of 143 after recording a facile debut success at Uttoxeter in December, before posting a fine second placed effort behind the talented American at Warwick. 

The 7-year-old son of top class jumps Sire Robin Des Champs looks a standout contender for David Pipe’s Pond House operation, and showed he was crying out for the trip when seriously outpaced over 2m5f at Prestbury Park in January. 

Many have looked to crab the grey’s jumping, which admittedly hasn’t always been completely fluent. But you don’t get around and courses like Cheltenham and Warwick if you can’t jump, so I certainly wouldn’t hold that against him. And the 4 mile trip should allow the promising young stayer to find a nice rhythm. 

Experienced amateur Roger Quinlan rides the imposing grey, which must give him a leading chance. 

Nicky Henderson doesn’t run many in this race, so the fact he’s allowing Beware The Bear to take his chance shouldn’t be underestimated.

The 7-year-old beat Singlefarmpayment at Ascot in November, before making it 2-2 over fences at Newbury a month later. Sam Waley-Cohen takes the ride, and the stamina laden son of Shantou could run a very big race here. 

2015 Albert Bartlett winner Martello Tower should enjoy this extreme test of stamina. Whilst the same can be said about Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls’ contender Arpege D’Alene, who looks like he’ll benefit for every yard of the 4 mile trip. 

2014 Triumph Hurdle winner Tiger Roll represents 2015 winning trainer Gordon Elliott. Whilst Zak Baker will ride the Simon Munir and Isaac Soude owned Calett Mad, who could run well at a big price. 


SUMMARY:

Both A Genie In Abottle and Edwulf are likely to prove extremely popular here with leading amateurs Jamie Codd and Derek O’Connor riding respectively. 

Of the two, i’d have a slight preference for A GENIE IN ABOTTLE, with his form looking solid and the gelding giving the impression he’ll relish the 4 mile trip. 

Elsewhere, David Pipe must have been extremely tempted to run CHAMPERS ON ICE in a handicap off a favourable looking mark of 143. So the fact he runs here should not be overlooked. 

The imposing grey looks tailor made for this marathon test of stamina, and should go well under experienced amateur Roger Quinlan. 


5.30  CLOSE BROTHERS NOVICES’ HANDICAP CHASE  2m4f78y  (Listed)

On paper this race is a 0-140 handicap. However when there’s just 5lbs covering the field, it’s barely worth treating it as such when thumbing through the formbook looking for the winner. 

This is always the target for novices’ that fall into the 135-140 ratings bracket, with this year’s favourite Foxtail Hill getting in to the race off the maximum mark of 140 for local trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies. 

The experienced 8-year-old made the most of bottom weight when landing a Grade 3 event on Cheltenham’s Trails’ Day card in January, beating subsequent winners Saphir Du Rheu (second) and Tenor Nivernais (third) in the process. And the son of Dr Massini returns with the aim of landing Festival glory here. 

Dan Skelton runs two nice horses, with both Its’afreebe and Two Taffs going in search of further Cheltenham Festival success for their burgeoning young trainer. 

Cases can be made for both, with Its’afreebee, who finished third in the Neptune Investment Management Novices Hurdle last term, the choice of stable jockey Harry Skelton. With a mark of 139 possibly underestimating the 7-year-olds ability. 

Double W’s represents the powerful northern partnership of Malcolm Jefferson and Brain Hughes, and wouldn’t it be fantastic to see an exciting northern trained winner. 

Tom George sent out Double Shuffle to be second in the race last year, and relies on the same owners Bun Doran this time around. 

The 6-year-old looks a nice prospect, and victory here would really put the cherry on the cake for George and his stable jockey Adrian Heskin, with the pair having enjoyed a superb season thus far. 

Seven Barrows send out Hammersly Lake, who finished second to the smart Le Prezien in a Grade 2 event at Prestbury Park in November. 

David Mullins will take the ride on the Michael Buckley owned 9-year-old, and he could be well treated based both his Cheltenham effort and a close up third placed finish behind stablemate Top Notch over 2m5f at Ascot in December. 

Henderson’s second runner, Gold Present, could be an interesting contender having finished a close second to Paul Nicholls’ prolific novice Frodon last time out at Kempton. And like many Seven Barrows inmates, the Presenting gelding should relish the decent ground Prestbury Park has to offer. 

Keith Dalgleish and Brian Harding team up with unbeaten novice chaser Mixboy, who hasn’t been troubled in 3 starts over fences and therefore rates an unknown quantity in this competitive looking handicap. 

Killiney Court, Captain Redbeard and top weight Zamdy Man arrive in search of landing a hat-trick of victories for Henry De Bromhead, Stuart Coltherd and Venetia Williams respectively. However this will no doubt be their hardest assignment to date. 

Venetia Williams also runs Burtons Well, who finished fourth behind Grade 1 winner Royal Vacation at Cheltenham last time out, with the gelding open to further improvement on just his fourth start the larger obstacles. 

Brother Tedd, who finished seventh in the Coral Cup off a mark of 150 last March, runs off a mark of 136 on his fifth start over fences for Phillip Hobbs and Richard Johnson. And he could go well having picked up experience over the Prestbury Park fences at the Showcase Meeting in October. 

Tully East is and Irish raider who could go very well, having finished fourth in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle last season. 

He represents the same connections, trainer Alan Fleming and prominent Irish owner Barry Connell, as last season’s fourth placed finisher Bridget’s Pet. And they can rely the services of experienced retained rider Denis O’Regan, who can put his vast experience to good use in the hurly burly of this novice handicap. 

Last Goodbye, Templehills, Powersbomb, Relentless Dreamer, Deans Road, Sizing Tennessee and All Hell Let Loose complete the field. 


SUMMARY:

Brother Tedd could go very well here given his favourable looking mark over fences. However TULLY EAST travelled very well for a long way in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle last year, and could run a big race at a double figure price with a very experienced Jockey doing the steering. 


SELECTIONS:


1.30  

Win: Ballyandy   7/2

Each Way:  Labaik   50/1


2.10   

A Hare Breath  w/o  Altior   14/1


2.50   

Win: Singlefarmpayment    8/1

Each Way: Coologue    50/1


3.30   

Win: Yanworth    3/1

Each Way: Sceau Royal    33/1


4.10   

Win: Limini    13/8

Each Way: Jer’s Girl    12/1


4.50   

Win: A Genie In Abottle    11/2

Each Way: Champers On Ice    8/1


5.30   

Each Way: Tully East    16/1

       

       

Big Race Preview: The 2017 Stan James Champion Hurdle 


STAN JAMES CHAMPION HURDLE CHALLENGE TROPHY  2m87y  (Grade 1)


KEY TRENDS:

▪️7 of the last 10 winners were aged 6 or 7.
▪️Only 2 horses aged 9 or older have triumphed this century.

▪️Only 1 5-year-old has triumphed this century. 

▪️8 of the last 10 winners were rated 162 or higher.

▪️8 of the last 10 winners won at least one of their last 2 starts.

▪️10 of the last 12 winners won their prep race. 

▪️8 of the last of the last 10 winners had ran in the calendar year.

▪️ 9 of the last 13 winners ran in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton or Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown. 

▪️8 of the last 10 winners were previous Grade 1 scorers. 


Ideal Candidate:

▪️Aged 6 or 7

▪️Rated 162+

▪️Won at least 1 of their last 2 starts

▪️Ran in Christmas or Ryanair Hurdles’

▪️Ran this calendar year

▪️Grade 1 Winner


10 YEAR HISTORY:          TRAINER:

2016  Annie Power         W Mullins

2015  Faugheen              W Mullins

2014  Jezki                     J Harrington 

2013  Hurricane Fly       W Mullins

2012  Rock On Ruby       P Nicholls

2011  Hurricane Fly        W Mullins

2010  Binocular              N Henderson 

2009  Punjabi                 N Henderson 

2008  Katchit                 A King

2007  Sublimity             J Carr


OFFICIAL RATINGS:

164
 Yanworth 

163  The New One

162  Brain Power

  =    Petit Mouchoir 

158  Wicklow Brave

157  Buveur D’Air

  =    Ch’Tibello

155  Footpad

  =   Sceau Royal

154  My Tent Or Yours

148  Moon Racer

146  Cyrus Darius 

 

This year’s Champion Hurdle looks a very open affair, with both the 2015 and 2016 Champions, Faugheen and Annie Power, sadly on the sidelines having suffered set back on top of set back in an injury plagued campaign for the all conquering Closutton operation of Irish Champion Trainer Willie Mullins. 

However the open nature of the race does present us with an intriguing Day 1 puzzle, as strong cases can be made both for and against each of the 12 runners set to face the starter at 3.30 on Tuesday afternoon. 

So let’s take a closer look at each of the contenders aiming to be crowned king, or indeed queen, of the 2 mile hurdling division. 


BRAIN POWER:

Trainer: Nicky Henderson

Jockey: David Mullins

Nicky Henderson’s rapidly improving Champion Hurdle hopeful brings top class 2 mile handicap hurdle form to the party, having landed the Listed Jumeirah Hotels And Resorts December Handicap Hurdle at Sandown, before following up in the Wessex Youth Trust Handicap Hurdle at Ascot 2 weeks later.

Brain Power, owned by Henderson’s great personal friend Michael Buckley, has improved for each experience over obstacles and arrives here boasting a fairly impressive resume, with 4 wins achieved from just 7 starts since embarking on a career over hurdles in November 2015. 

Although the son of Kalanisi doesn’t possess graded form in open company, to win 2 highly competitive handicaps in such impressive fashion just 2 weeks apart is no mean feat, and he certainly commands respect as it’s impossible to know where the 6-year-old’s progression will stop. 

Brain Power has more speed than fancied stablemate Buveur D’Air according to Nicky Henderson, which adds further weight the youngsters claims, especially as he’ll be able to make good use of his horsepower on the sound racing surface Prestbury Park is likely to be offering up on Tuesday. 

The gelding has become quietly fancied by many shrewd judges in the build up to the Festival, and worked extremely well at Kempton recently, which should have left him absolutely spot on for his biggest assignment to date. 


BUVEUR D’AIR:

Trainer: Nicky Henderson 

Jockey: Noel Fehily 

Buveur D’Air is rather hard to weigh up in this contest having reverted to the smaller obstacles with a facile success in the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown having previously landed a brace of novice steeplechases’ this winter. 

Purchased by leading owner JP McManus last summer, the talented son of Crillon finished third in what now looks a red hot Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 12 months ago, won by his potential superstar stablemate Altior, with Min in second, Tombstone in fourth, Charbel finishing fifth and fellow Champion Hurdle contender Petit Mouchoir back in eighth. 

Nicky Henderson’s 6-year-old landed Grade 1 honours at Aintree subsequently, beating the re-opposing Petit Mouchoir in a ding dong battle after the last, with recent deeply impressive Punchestown Listed scorer Limini 8 lengths further back in third. Fourth placed North Hill Harvey, winner of the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham in November, and sixth place Agrapart, winner of the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Years Day add further substance to the form. 

It’s worth noting that Buveur D’Air has had his attentions switched to this contest despite the presence of Yanworth, who carries the same green and gold bands of JP McManus, who was already prominent in the betting for this valuable prize. An interesting decision, I’m sure you’d agree. 

According to Nicky Henderson the idea of aiming Buveur D’Air at this race was floated well before the news of Faugheen and Annie Power’s set-backs broke, with the master of Seven Barrows believing the youngster has unfinished business over timber. 

His hurdling form looks strong, and Henderson loves a Champion Hurdler. Noel Fehily steps in to take the ride with McManus’ retained rider Barry Geraghty currently on the sidelines, which is no negative as the Jockey who won this race on Rock On Ruby in 2012 knows the horse well having been the retained rider for Buveur D’Air’s previous owner. 

Connections will be hoping there is enough give in the ground for Buveur D’Air to be seen to best effect. And if there is, he would be rate a very strong contender here. 


CH’TIBELLO:

Trainer: Dan Skelton

Jockey: Harry Skelton

The Dan Skelton trained Ch’Tibello rates an interesting outsider, with last season’s Scottish Champion Hurdle winner likely to relish the decent underfoot conditions on Tuesday. 

The Sageburg gelding beat the talented Cloudy Dream (second) and subsequent Galway Hurdle winner Clondaw Warrior (third) at Ayr, and has posted 3 decent efforts over timber this term. He landed the Class 2 Betfair Price Rush Hurdle at Haydock in November, before recording placed efforts behind Yanworth in both the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton and Grade 2 Betway Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton, form which justifies his inclusion here. 

Skelton has often pointed to Ch’Tibello’s fluent hurdling technique and impressive turn of foot as major assets, with both seen to best effect when the gelding encounters his preferred decent ground. In such an open year, the 6-year-old could run a big race for team Skelton. 


CYRUS DARIUS:

Trainer: Malcolm Jefferson

Jockey: Brian Hughes

Malcolm Jefferson’s talented 8-year-old looked a potential star when storming to success in a Grade 2 contest at Aintree in April 2015. Indeed the shrewd northern trained saw the son of Overbury as a potential Champion Chase horse in time, before having his novice season curtailed after just one start, with a tendon injury keeping the gelding off the track for the best part of 14 months.

Cyrus Darius returned to the track with a distant fourth placed effort behind The New One in the Grade 2 Champion Hurdle Trail at Haydock in January, before showing the fire still burns with success in the Class 2 Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso last month.

Brian Hughes, who has enjoyed a superb season in the saddle thus far (130 winners at the time of writing), will take the reins, and it’s possible Malcolm Jefferson’s stable star will strip even fitter for his Kelso victory last month. 


FOOTPAD:

Trainer: Willie Mullins

Jockey: Ruby Walsh

Footpad is one of 2 runners for both trainer Willie Mullins and owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede. Mullins, of course, has won the last 2 renewals of this prestigious prize, and has elected to run last season’s Triumph Hurdle third here rather than wait for the 3 mile Championship, the Stayers Hurdle, on Thursday. 

The talented son of Creachadoir finished a close second to fellow Champion Hurdle contender Petit Mouchoir in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown in January, and Mullins clearly feels that piece of form warrants the 5-year-olds participation in the Day 1 showpiece. 

The French import returned to his native country to take Grade 1 honours in June last year, and confirmed his ability to act on decent ground at Leopardstown in January. 

Daryl Jacob has elected to ride the same owners Sceau Royal over Footpad, but im sure you’d agree, Ruby Walsh is a more than able deputy. 


MOON RACER:

Trainer: David Pipe

Jockey: Tom Scudamore 

It’s some statement to the regard in which Moon Racer is held by connections that David Pipe has given the green light for the unbeaten novice to contest the main event on Day 1, especially considering the 8-year-old would have been short order for the Festival curtain raiser, The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, had connections decided to stick to the novice route. 

The former Champion Bumper winner is clearly fragile, having only made it to the track 3 times since his Festival success in 2015. And although he’s only had 2 starts over timber, he does boast 2 victories over the impressive Betfair Hurdle winner Ballyandy, including a course and distance Grade 2 success in November. 

Unbeaten in 3 starts at Prestbury Park, the Saffron Walden gelding goes particularly well fresh, which is bonus considering he hasn’t been seen on the track since that Grade 2 victory at Cheltenham’s Open Meeting. That said, it’s still some ask to win a Champion Hurdle after the best part of 4 months off the track, but as we all know, the Pipes can ready one at home, and the gelding did have a school over hurdles at Wincanton last week. 

Some will no doubt disagree with the decision of connections to sidestep the novice event, however it rather mirrors the decision of the Bradstocks’ when they allowed Coneygree to tackle the Gold Cup in 2015. When you have a fragile horse, you have to run them while they’re fit. And with Moon Racer already an 8-year-old and the race appearing to be wide open, you can’t blame connections for going for gold while they have the chance. 


MY TENT OR YOURS:

Trainer: Nicky Henderson

Jockey: Aiden Coleman

Nicky Henderson’s third and final Champion Hurdle candidate is My Tent Or Yours, who will be hoping it’s a case of third time lucky after playing the bridesmaid to Jezki in 2015, and again to Annie Power 12 months ago when running a stormer after the best part of 2 years off the track. 

The JP McManus owned gelding has always been his own worst enemy, pulling out the arms of any jockey to ride him in a race and therefore emptying his tank before reaching the business end of the contest. 

However there have been signs that the Desert Prince gelding is learning to settle better in his races since his lengthy layoff, which would have to give him a small squeak here given the open nature of the race.

A second placed effort behind The New One in the International Hurdle preceded a third placed finish behind Yanworth in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, and the 10-year-old could easily run another big race if Aidan Coleman can settle the experienced campaigner in the early stages of the race. 


PETIT MOUCHOIR:

Trainer: Henry De Bromhead 

Jockey: Bryan Cooper

Henry De Bromhead’s Petit Mouchoir is the shortest priced Irish trained contender for the 2m Championship event, having confirmed the promise of his Aintree Grade 1 second last spring by becoming a dual Grade 1 winner this winter. With the Irish Champion Hurdle forming the second part of his top flight double. 

The Gigginstown House Stud owned grey has lowered the colours of multiple Grade 1 winner of Nichols Canyon, last season’s Triumph Hurdle victor Ivanovic Gorbatov and Willie Mullins’ Grade 1 winner Footpad already this term, and will be looking to add to that list when he enters Prestbury Park on Tuesday afternoon. 

Petit Mouchoir went some clip when successful in the Irish Champion Hurdle, and may try to execute similar tactics here. However the 6-year-old will need to improve vastly upon his eighth placed finish in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 12 months ago. 

That said, the son of Al Namix is clearly on the upgrade, and looks to have every chance in a very open looking year. 


SCEAU ROYAL:

Trainer: Alan King

Jockey: Daryl Jacob

Sceau Royal rates one of the more lively outsiders for the 2 mile crown, having bolted up over course and distance at the Showcase Meeting in October. 

Alan King’s 5-year-old landed the Grade 2 Elite Hurdle at Wincanton on his next start, before finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle in November. The gelding then placed third in the Grade 2 Kingwell Hurdle on his return from a mid season break back at Wincanton in February, coming home 2 and a quarter lengths adrift of his stablemate, and current Champion Hurdle favourite, Yanworth.

Sceau Royal is a very strong traveller, and wastes no time at his hurdles. Indeed the super slick youngster has all the tools required in a Champion Hurdle contender. 

His 2 defeats this term have come on soft ground, with the son of Doctor Dino showing his best form on a decent surface. He should therefore relish the underfoot conditions he’ll encounter at Prestbury Park on Tuesday, and could run a very big race in the hands of the owners retained rider, Daryl Jacob. 


THE NEW ONE:

Trainer: Nigel Twiston-Davies

Jockey: Sam Twiston-Davies

The New One lines up for a staggering fourth attempt at landing the day 1 showpiece, arriving here in fine form after 2 victories this season, achieved either side of a second placed effort behind Yanworth in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton. 

Nigel Twiston-Davies’ stable stalwart won the International Hurdle for a third time in December, and ran another good race on Boxing Day before getting the job done against progressive handicapper Clyne in the Grade 2 Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock last month. 

Regular rider Sam Twiston-Davies will be on board the thoroughly likeable 9-year-old, who has finished third, fifth and fourth respectively in this contest over the last 3 years. 

Victory for the son of King’s Theatre would threaten the foundations of Prestbury Park, and signal some serious celebrations inthe Hollow Bottom on Tuesday evening. 


WICKLOW BRAVE:

Trainer: Willie Mullins

Jockey: Paul Townend 

Easy 2015 County Hurdle winner Wicklow Brave completes the Irish Champion Trainer’s entries, and is hard to weigh up having not jumped a hurdle in public since finishing third in the 2015 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle. 

The talented flat performer finished sixth on his only other trip to Prestbury Park, when chasing home the brilliant, and sadly much missed, Vautour in the 2014 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. 

Paul Townend will partner the 8-year-old, who will be having his first start since competing in the race that stops a nation, the Melbourne Cup, where the Beat Hollow gelding finished twenty-second of the twenty-four runners. 


YANWORTH:

Trainer: Alan King

Jockey: Mark Walsh

Last, but certainly by no means least, is current favourite Yanworth, who like fellow JP McManus owned contender Buveur D’Air looked destined to contest a different Festival race at the start of the season before a certain stayer called Unowhatimeanharry carried all before him in the staying hurdle division this term. Alan King’s son of Norse Dancer has always looked a top level performer, finishing fourth in the 2015 Champion Bumper before developing into a high class novice hurdler last term. 

Indeed Yanworth found only the potentially top class Yorkhill too good in the Neptune Investment Management Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham last March, which remains the only occasion King’s charge has encountered defeat over hurdles, and in his defence, it’s fair to say he didn’t enjoy the greatest of passages through the 2m5f contest, missing the third last and getting caught wide on the top bend.

The 7-year-old comes into the race on the back of 3 graded victories this season, landing a brace of Grade 2’s, the Ascot Hurdle and the Kingwell Hurdle, with the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton sandwiched in between. 

Mark Walsh, who is set for a huge 4 days in the absence of Barry Geraghty, comes in for the ride on Yanworth, and made the trip to Barbury Castle last week to school the horse who takes some getting to know according to those closest to the him. 

The main concern people have for the otherwise standout contender is his ability to throw in some less that fluent leaps along the way, which is far from ideal when traveling at Championship pace on the big day in March. However there is no disputing the high performance tank that purrs inside his imposing orange frame. 

On ratings and form he’s the one they all have to beat. And he is a strong qualifier if trends are your bag. Mark Walsh has received much praise for his superb form in Ireland this term, and I’m sure I speak for many when I say it would be great to see the talented Irishman notch up at win of two on National Hunt Racing’s biggest stage. 


SUMMARY:

JP McManus obviously holds a very strong hand in the race, with both Buveur D’Air and Yanworth boasting extremely solid form in such a wide open renewal. 

Nicky Henderson must also fancy his chances with Brain Power and My Tent Or Yours (also owned by McManus) providing further ammunition to current second favourite Buveur D’Air. Cases can be made for each arrow the Seven Barrows handler throws at the race, and you could bet your last tenner that all will be trained to the minute for this prestigious assignment. 

Leading Irish fancy Petit Mouchoir and the aforementioned Brain Power look the most progressive hurdlers in the field. However Sceau Royal looks to be a horse open to significant improvement granted a strong gallop and decent ground. 

The fact that David Pipe is allowing Moon Racer to take his chance here should certainly be taken seriously. With his form at the course and the Ballyandy formline suggesting it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that he could bely his relative inexperience in such an open year. 

The elders of the parish, namely The New One and My Tent Or Yours, have it all to do according to the trends. However their consistency and experience are certainly factors in their favour. 

Finding the winner is no easy task, but all looks set for a truly intriguing Champion Hurdle. 

Good luck. 

Champions Will Be Crowned 

Recently I’ve heard people, albeit a minority, claiming that this year’s Cheltenham Festival is disappointing due to the absence of superstars such as wonder mare Annie Power, Faugheen the machine, and, of course, the mightily impressive King George victor Thistlecrack.

Whilst i get where they’re coming from on the treatment table issue, I could never accept the term ‘disappointing’ when talking about the biggest 4 days in the National Hunt calendar. Let’s face it, when has the Festival ever been, or indeed how could it ever be, described in such terms! 

Obviously we all love to witness breathtaking performances that require us to collect our jaw from the floor before joining the penguin rush to the winners enclosure to catch a glimpse of the talented beast that has just etched their name into the history books of the Cheltenham Festival. Victories that immortalise a horse, ensuring they are still remembered even when they’re enjoying a long and leisurely retirement picking grass!

However at this point, who’s to say there isn’t a gallant grey or a bruising bay preparing to give the performance of a lifetime at Prestbury Park on Tuesday week? How about Death Duty, Let’s Dance, Limini or Neon Wolf for example? Or if chasing is your game, how does Altior, Cue Card, Douvan or Native River float your boat? The possibilities are endless!

Then there’s the highly competitive handicaps to crack, which will keep even the most fearsome of form students occupied. They feature, of course, alongside the Champion Bumper, Fred Winter and Triumph Hurdles, which showcase the talented youngsters we currently have in the National Hunt game. And that’s before you even consider the seasoned competitors such as On The Fringe, who returns in search of a fantastic Festival Foxhunters hat-trick. 

When all is said and done, there will be 4 new Champions crowned, in addition to a plethora of potential stars of the future announcing their arrival on the biggest stage there is. What’s not to look forward too?!

It’s nigh impossible to take any silver lining from the absence of names that resonate through the sport as champions. But if looking really hard through a very strong magnifying glass you could point to the fact that it opens up both the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup pictures, which could lead to bigger fields and therefore more enthralling contests.

So let’s not worry about who won’t be there and start looking forward to who will be entertaining us on the 4 days of the year we look forward to above all others. After all, you simply can’t beat the Cheltenham Festival. 

Jockeyship at the Festival

With the Cheltenham Festival just around the corner the Twitter-sphere is predictably jam packed with Festival fancies found by die hard enthusiasts who have spent hours painstakingly thumbing through the formbook in search of a ‘graded gimme’ or a ‘handicap hotpot’ that will pay for the greatest 4 days in the National Hunt calendar. 

Everyday there’s a new name on the lips of the finest form students around, which will no doubt multiply when the weights are revealed for the ultra competitive handicaps the Festival has to offer on Wednesday. 

However as we’ve all learnt to our great personal expense over the years, it’s not just a favourable handicap mark that’s required to land a race at Prestbury Park in March, with other factors, of which we can all name many, playing a vital role in turning handicap sinner into handicap winner in the most atmospheric amphitheatre the sport has to offer. 

Now we all understand that in big field handicaps a single decision can make or break a horse’s chance in the blinking of an eye. And it’s the split second judgement of the person on top that can make all the difference, deciding which gaps to take, when to move up, when to take a pull and the perfect time to set sail for home.

Indeed Jockeyship is of the utmost importance in the heat of the battle around the unique undulations of Prestbury Park, with the more experienced heads of the weighing room often holding an advantage over their younger contemporaries when the pressure cooker reaches boiling point and it’s time to play your hand. If you’ve still got something up your sleeve, that is. 

Take leading Irish Jockey Davy Russell as a prime example, with the dual Irish Champion peerless when it comes to competing in the hurly burly environment of big field handicaps, as proven by his superb performances at Cheltenham last March when securing a top 4 finish on each of his 4 mounts in Festival handicaps. 

Russell got his eye in on Day 1 with a fourth placed effort on Morning Assembly in the Ultima Handicap Chase,  before getting off the mark on Day 2 with success on Diamond King in the Coral Cup under a typically well timed Davy Russell ride.

Further success followed when the County Cork man landed the Pertemps Final 24 hours later on the Patrick Kelly trained Mall Dini, before closing out the Festival with a fine second placed effort on Arthur Moore’s Dandridge, finishing up with form figures of 4112 in handicaps, with SP’s of 10/1, 12/1, 14/1 and 8/1 demonstrating they weren’t simply steering jobs. 

The canny rider seems to have a knack for placing his mount in exactly the right place at precisely the right time, before threading his way through the tiring field to make his challenge on the long climb for home. 

Russell looks to have another quality packed book of rides in the handicaps this year, with Mall Dini likely to run in the Ultima, Presenting Percy in the Pertemps, Diamond King in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate and Dandridge returning with the aim of going one better in the Festival closer, the Grand Annual. 

I’ve certainly seen worse Lucky 15 material!