2021 Cheltenham Festival: Thursday

Envoi Allen will attempt to secure a third successive Cheltenham Festival success in the opening Grade 1 Marsh Novices’ Chase.

Thursday’s Bets:

1pt win Fusil Raffles w/o Envoi Allen in the 1.20 Cheltenham at 6/1

1pt win Mister Fisher in the 2.30 Cheltenham at 8/1

2pts each-way Sully D’Oc AA in the 3.40 Cheltenham at 14/1 (6 Places)

0.5pts each-way Huntsman Son in the 3.40 Cheltenham at 40/1 (6 Places)

1pt win Glens Of Antrim in the 4.15 Cheltenham at 7/1

1pt win Plan Of Attack in the 4.50 Cheltenham at 17/2

1pt each-way Sizing At Midnight in the 4.50 Cheltenham at 33/1 (6 Places)

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Live Antepost Bets:

1pt win Chantry House in the Marsh Novices’ Chase at 25/1 

1.5pts each-way The Bosses Oscar in the Pertemps Final at 20/1

1pt each-way The Storyteller in the Stayers Hurdle at 10/1

0.5pts each-way Fury Road in the Stayers Hurdle at 12/1

2pts each-way The Glancing Queen in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at 10/1 (NRNB)

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1.20 – Marsh Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) 2m3f168y

The unbeaten Envoi Allen is odds-on to land a third straight Cheltenham Festival success following on from victories in the 2019 Champion Bumper and 2020 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, and it will take a much improved performance from one of his rivals, and indeed an under par performance from the high-class seven-year-old, to see his colours lowered tomorrow.

The Cheveley Park Stud owned gelding is 3-3 over fences and simply oozed class when sauntering to a facile success in the Grade 1 Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse in November. His other two successes were little to write home about, however, you can only beat what is put before you and he has done so with consummate ease.

Envoi Allen displayed his professionalism when paying no attention whatsoever to the loose horses in the Grade 3 Killiney Novice Chase at Punchestown in January, and his effortless, accurate jumping is simply a joy to watch. A recent switch of yards is the only slight concern, however, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue given that 99% of the work would have already been done by that stage.

Shan Blue landed the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton in December and will arrive at Cheltenham on the back of a runner-up effort in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown last month.

The slick jumping seven-year-old did too much too soon on very testing ground in Esher last month, leaving himself vulnerable to the stout-staying Sporting John, whom was almost detached in the early exchanges as a result of the frantic pace at the front.

Shan Blue has undoubtedly improved dramatically for jumping fences this winter and he will likely get much closer to Envoi Allen this year than he did in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle 12 months ago.

It is likely that Harry Skelton will jump off prominently and attempt to draw the sting out of his potentially top-class rival. However, those tactics didn’t work at Sandown last month and he faces even sterner opposition tomorrow.

Chantry House was treated for kissing spines following a disappointing effort at Cheltenham in December, and he bounced back to form when easily scoring at Huntington four weeks ago.

The JP McManus owned seven-year-old was a good third behind stablemate Shishkin and subsequent Grade 1 winner Abacadabras in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 12 months ago, and he made a successful chasing debut at Ascot in November when powering clear to record a commanding 26 lengths success.

The promising son of Yeats has always been held in high regard and does boast some solid novice hurdle form on the New Course at Cheltenham. Last month’s confidence boosting success will have done Chantry House the world of good, and he could easily prove the biggest threat to Envoi Allen if on song.

Grade 1 winning juvenile hurdler Fusil Raffles made hay while the sun was shining during the autumn, landing three of his four starts over fences culminating in a course and (near) distance success at the International Meeting in December, when successfully conceding 8lbs to the 147 rated Lieutenant Rocco and 3lbs to stablemate Chantry House on unsuitably soft ground.

The Simon Munir and Isaac Souede owned six-year-old failed to progress following his reappearance success in the Grade 2 Elite Hurdle at Wincanton last season and was perhaps always going to make a better chaser. He hinted that he may be better suited by intermediate trips when getting up late on his chasing debut at Uttoxeter, and he confirmed that theory when pulling-up in Grade 2 company at Prestbury Park in November.

Five of his seven previous career victories were achieved on decent ground and his form-figures following a break of 70 days or more read 111101 (including his racecourse debut in France). Therefore he may be primed to run a very big race on his first start for 96 days.

Grade 1 winning novice hurdler Asterion Forlonges caused carnage when jumping out to the left in last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and it’s hardly been plain sailing since heading over fences – as indicated by form-figures of 1FF4.

The grey son of Coastal Path placed fourth behind his Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase winning stablemate Monkfish at the Dublin Racing Festival last month and connections will be hoping that he can build on that performance.

Chatham Street Lad ran out a facile winner of the Grade 3 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup over this course and distance in December and a rating of 156 puts him firmly in the mix.

Michael Winter’s nine-year-old could only place third in the competitive Dan & Joan Moore Memorial Handicap Chase on his only subsequent outing and he does seemingly have a preference for softer ground. However, it would be foolish to right him off given how impressive he was in December and he remains open to improvement in this sphere.

Darver Star paid the price for helping to push at an unsustainable gallop when chasing home Franco De Port at Leopardstown over Christmas, and he arguably did well to finish as close as he did under such circumstances.

Last year’s Champion Hurdle third only beat one rival home in the Grade 1 Irish Arkle Novice Chase at Leopardstown last month and looks ready for this step-up in trip. The decent ground will be to his liking.

Blackbow made a successful chasing debut at Navan in November before falling in Grade 1 company at Leopardstown over Christmas.

Willie Mullins’ talented, but inconsistent, eight-year-old was no match for Energumene and Captain Guinness at Naas in January, however, he did show slightly more promise when placing third behind Energumene and Franco De Port in Grade 1 company at the Dublin Racing Festival last month, which offers some encouragement.

This longer trip may suit.

VERDICT:

It’s incredibly difficult to oppose dual Cheltenham Festival scorer ENVOI ALLEN on all known form given that no horse has yet found a chink in his armour. He jumps well, travels strongly, possesses a turn of foot and has plenty of stamina, therefore it will take a very good performance to lower his colours. Chantry House made a successful return to action following a back operation last month and could easily run well judged on his third placed finish in last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Whole Grade 1 winner Shan Blue is a fine jumper and could also run well. However, course and distance winner Fusil Raffles will appreciate the decent ground and has a fine record when fresh. Therefore he may be able to follow the selection home.

1. Envoi Allen 2. Fusil Raffles 3. Chantry House

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1.55 – Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) 2m7f213y

THE BOSSES OSCAR has been trained with this race in mind and the presence of talented 7lbs claimer Jordan Gainford in the saddle will negate the 8lbs rise that the British handicapper saw fit to hand out.

Last year’s Martin Pipe fifth chased home subsequent Grade 1 scorer Flooring Porter on his penultimate outing at Navan and filled the same position when qualifying for this race at Leopardstown in December – in a Pertemps Qualifier that was run in a quicker time than Flooring Porter’s aforementioned course and distance Grade 1 success 35 minutes later.

The smart son of Oscar boasts form-figures of 32121 on decent ground and he remains unexposed over 3 miles. While his staying-on effort at this meeting last year confirms his ability to handle the track and his scope for improvement at the trip.

The presence of Jordon Gainford means that he will only have to concede 5lbs to Champagne Platinum and will receive 3lbs from Imperial Alcazar – whom have been his chief market rivals in this build up to this race. Therefore a big run looks likely.

1. The Bosses Oscar 2. Imperial Alcazar 3. Spiritofthegames

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2.30 – Ryanair Chase (Grade 1) 2m4f127y

Allaho placed third in both 2019 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and the 2020 Brown Advisory Novives’ Chase on his two previous visits to the Cotswolds, and he now gets his opportunity to compete over two-and-a-half-miles, which may prove ideal on this more stamina demanding new course.

The Cheveley Park Stud owned seven-year-old failed to land a blow on his seasonal reappearance in the Grade 1 John Durkan Chase at Punchestown, and he failed to truly see out the 3 mile trip in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas. However, he got back to winning ways in the Grade 2 Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase at Thurles in January, and the runner-up – current Mares’ Chase favourite Elimay – franked that form in the Listed Opera Hat Mares’ Chase at Naas.

It is perhaps worth nothing that Allaho boasts form figures of 243234 on left-handed tracks compared to 12161 on right-handed tracks. However, he has kept good company when going left-handed and that may not be the most damning of statistics.

Min earned a much deserved first Cheltenham Festival success in this contest 12 months ago, and he kick-started his 2020/21 campaign with a a third consecutive victory in the Grade 1 John Durkan Chase at Punchestown.

Rich Ricci’s top-class ten-year-old may have broken his duck sooner had he not bumped into a peak Altior on all three of his previous visits to the Cotswolds. However, for all of his exploits at the minimum trip, he has also proven himself to be top-class over two-and-half-miles, boasting form-figures of 1211111 over such distances.

The classy son of Walk In The Park has very few negatives and is clearly a big player in defence of his crown. However, he does need to bounce back from a below par outing in the Grade 1 Dublin Chase at Leopardstown last month when jumping uncharacteristically poorly and pulling-up mid race, which may have simply been a result of dropping back in trip against sharp two-milers, but does pose questions regarding his current form.

Imperial Aura landed the final running of the Listed Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase at this meeting last year and has continued his progression in open company this season.

Kim Bailey’s progressive eight-year-old made a successful seasonal reappearance in the Listed Colin Parker Memorial Intermediate Chase at Carlisle before announcing his arrival in this division with a smooth defeat of Itchy Feet and Real Steel in the Grade 2 Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase at Ascot in November.

A momentary lapse of concentration led to Imperial Aura unseating David Bass at the second fence in the Grade 2 Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton on his only subsequent outing, and connections were unable to find another suitable race that would have slotted in perfectly prior to Cheltenham. However, it was far from a bad mistake and should not have effected his confidence too much.

Imperial Commander carried the readily recognisable black and white silks of the Imperial Racing Partnership to success in this contest in 2009 before landing the Cheltenham Gold Cup 12 months later. Connections will be hoping and dreaming that lightening can strike twice!

Melon will bid to secure a first Cheltenham success following four consecutive runner-up efforts at the Festival.

The Joe Donnelly owned nine-year-old has gone close in Supreme Novices Hurdle (2017), two Champion Hurdles (2018 & 2019) and the Marsh Novices’ Chase over this course and distance 12 months ago, when coming out second best in a tight photo finish. It’s fair to say that he hasn’t won as much as his talent deserves, however, he’s spent a career competing at the highest level and clearly goes well in the Cotswolds.

Melon’s best run this season came in the Grade 1 Savills Chase at Leopardstown in December when being allowed to stride on and make the most of his fluent jumping. Those tactics could easily pay dividends tomorrow, especially with his stamina assured.

Saint Calvados split Min and Cheltenham Gold Cup contender A Plus Tard when placing second in this contest 12 months ago, and he could easily go close once again if none the worse for his unseat at Sandown last month.

Harry Whittington’s classy eight-year-old placed fourth in the Grade 1 King George VI Chase on his belated seasonal reappearance and was sent to the rescheduled Cotswolds Chase at Sandown to whether he would stay 3 miles. However, he unseated Gavin Sheehan at the seventeenth fence and connections have decided that they should stick to the trip over which he is proven at present.

Saint Calvados seemingly handled decent ground well in the King George but does have a preference for softer conditions. Therefore the quickening ground is perhaps a slight cause for concern ahead of this competitive contest.

Fakir D’Oudaries ran a big race to place second in the Arkle Challenge Trophy over 2 miles last March. However, his crowing success as a novice came over two-and-a-half-miles in the Grade 1 Drinmore Novice Chase, and he shaped as though this trip would be ideal when running a big race behind Champion Chase third Chacun Pour Soi at the Dublin Racing Festival last month.

The JP McManus owned six-year-old was pulled-up in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown in December and seeming lacks the gears to be truly competitive at the top level over 2 miles. Therefore this intermediate trip may see him to best effect and we know that he handles the track (form-figures of 142).

Fakir D’Oudaries jumps well and has scope for further improvement at the age of six. While it’s easy to make the case that many of his rivals have already reached, or indeed passed, their peak.

Mister Fisher is 2-3 over this course and distance (slightly shorter trip in the Peterborough Chase) with his solitary defeat coming in last year’s Marsh Novices’ Chase behind Samcro, Melon and the mighty Faugheen.

Nicky Henderson’s seven-year-old got stuck in the mud when pulling-up in the Paddy Power Gold Cup in November. However, he bounced back to winning ways when switched to the new course on slightly better ground one month later, and that success in the rescheduled Peterborough Chase suggested that he is a horse whom is still on the up.

Tomorrow’s decent ground will suit him ideally and he seemingly possesses the ideal blend of speed and stamina for this trip, which makes him a solid contender.

Samcro could only place third behind stablemate Battleoverdoyen on his seasonal reappearance before failing to stay in the Grade 1 Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.

The 2018 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle winner managed to chin the aforementioned Melon in the Marsh Novices’ Chase following a somewhat underwhelming preparation 12 months ago, therefore it would come as no surprise were he to bounce back to something like his best form tomorrow, which would be enough to make him a player.

Dashel Drasher has been a revelation this season and he earned a glorious Grade 1 victory in last months Betfair Ascot Chase, which naturally warrants his inclusion in this contest.

Jeremy Scott’s eight-year-old is clearly thriving at present and he boasts plenty of form on decent ground. He does perhaps need to prove that he is equally effective away from Ascot given that his last three victories – which are obviously career best efforts – have all come at the Berkshire track. However, he did win a novice hurdle at Cheltenham in 2019 and also boasts winning form elsewhere, which is obviously encouraging.

Real Steel turned for home full of running in last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup before the petrol tank ran empty when push came to shove. Therefore he is an intriguing contender over this distance.

Paul Nicholls’ eight-year-old again failed to stay 3 miles in the King George at Kempton and will arrive here fresh having not run since. He does have something to find with the aforementioned Imperial Aura on their running at Ascot in November. However, this has been the big target all season long and he could easily outperform market expectations.

Chris’s Dream was narrowly touched off in the Grade 1 Ladbrokes Champion Chase at Down Royal in October and goes particularly well when fresh. While Kalashnikov has something to find with the aforementioned Mister Fisher on their running in the Grade 2 Peterborough Chase over this course and distance in December.

Both possesses plenty of quality but may struggle in such a competitive renewal.

Fanion D’estruval, whom will represent the bang-in-form Venetia Williams, was still travelling well when falling at three from home in that same Peterborough Chase and is well worth another try at this trip. While Tornado Flyer was only beaten a length by Min in the Grade 1 John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase and could easily outperform market expectations if bouncing back to that form.

VERDICT:

This is a hugely competitive renewal in which many hold sound claims. Last year’s winner Min could run well once again if bouncing back to form following a below par effort at the Dublin Racing Festival last month. While four-time Cheltenham Festival runner-up Melon could go close if allowed to stride on and make use of his extremely fluent fencing. However, MISTER FISHER also boasts solid course form and will appreciate the drying ground. He arguably has more scope for progression than many in opposition and he could be good enough to plunder the main prize.

1. Mister Fisher 2. Melon 3. Min

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3.05 – Paddy Power Stayers Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m7f213y

This contest has a history of producing reoccurring winners having gone the way of the Francois Doumen trained Baracouda in 2003 and 2004, Inglis Drever three times between 2005 and 2008, and the mighty Big Bucks four times between 2009 and 2012.

Lisnagar Oscar, whom returned to form in the Grade 2 Rendlesham Hurdle at Haydock last month, and his predecessor on the thrown Paisley Park, whom suffered a fibrillating heart when placing seventh 12 months ago but bounced back to something like his best when landing the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December, have the opportunity to further strengthen those statistics tomorrow.

Much of the talk had revolved around Thyme Hill and Paisley Park following their respective victories at Newbury and Ascot prior to Christmas, and understandably so given that this race had been billed as the decider ever since the latter evened up the score. However, a minor setback for Thyme Hill has robbed us of that clash, leaving Paisley Park a short priced favourite in his absence.

The former champion clearly progressed from his seasonal reappearance at Newbury when gaining his revenge in jaw-dropping fashion at Ascot in December, and that power-packed finish confirmed that Andrew Gemmell’s nine-year-old still possesses the requisite guts and gritty will to win when embroiled in the heat of a battle.

Indeed, the manner in which he rolled-up his sleeves and ran down Thyme Hill from a less than ideal track position clearly indicates that his troubles of last March are well and truly behind him and that he still possesses all of the attributes that have made him nigh-on unbeatable since October 2018.

Paisley Park is 3-5 over this course and distance, is effective on all types of ground and has upwards of 3lbs in hand over all of his rivals, therefore it’s hard to find a negative in relation to his prospects. It is perhaps worth noting that he is also relatively lightly raced for his age, which counts for plenty in this division.

The only slight negative may be his lack of a ‘prep’ run following the abandonment of Cheltenham’s Trial’s Day card in January. However, Emma Lavelle mentioned that she was keen to go for a racecourse gallop last month, which should be a sufficient preparation.

No horse has regained this title since Inglis Drever wrestled back his crown in 2007 after missing the race 12 months earlier, and victory for Paisley Park would certainly cement his place in the history of this championship contest.

Stablemates Sire Du Berlais and The Storyteller placed first and second in a classy renewal of the Pertemps Final last year, and guru’s of the stopwatch will be quick to point out that Sire Du Berlais clocked a 3 seconds quicker time than Lisnagar Oscar over the same course and distance 80 minutes later, which certainly provides food for thought.

The former was doubling-up in the race off a mark of 152, and he actually carried 2lbs more than the Stayers’ Hurdle winner. His successful return to action in the Grade 2 Lismullen Hurdle at Navan demonstrated that he possesses the gears to hold a position at this level, and his rating isn’t too far shy of those ahead of him in the betting.

I wouldn’t be overly perturbed by his third placed finish in the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown given that Flooring Porter was allowed to dictate matters from the front at a pedestrian pace and simply slipped the field as a result. Sire Du Berlais’ victories at the last two Cheltenham Festival’s clearly demonstrate that he is seen to effect in a truly run race, and there was danger of him being fully tuned-up for a race at that time of the season.

The JP McManus owned nine-year-old is 2-2 over this course and distance and seemingly comes to the boil at this time of year. He therefore holds sound claims in spite of his exposed status.

However, the latter also boasts a wealth of Cheltenham Festival experience and has arguably taken his form to a whole new level this season, which makes him a tempting proposition at more than double the price of his stablemate.

Official ratings would certainly support that theory as The Storyteller currently boasts career high ratings over both hurdles and fences as a result of his exploits in both disciplines this season.

The 2018 Paddy Power Plate winner won over both hurdles and fences at Galway in the summer before plundering the Grade 3 Irish Daily Star Chase and Grade 1 Ladbrokes Champion Chase at Punchestown and Down Royal respectively. He then stayed on well to claim second place behind Flooring Porter at Leopardstown in December before switching back to fences and placing second, beaten just 2 lengths, in the Grade 1 Irish Gold Cup at the Dublin Racing Festival last month.

Keith Donoghue has struck up a fantastic relationship with The Storyteller, which may go some way to explaining why the likeable chestnut is still seemingly improving in spite of his age and exposed status.

Taking on a rejuvenated Paisley Park won’t be easy and it’s hard to envisage the popular ten-year-old improving further than he has already this winter. However, he is clearly thriving at present and can outrun his price.

Flooring Porter was beaten off a mark of 131 at Gowran Park in October before finding huge improvement on his last two starts at Navan and Leopardstown respectively.

Gavin Cromwell’s progressive six-year-old proved 12 lengths too good for long-time Pertemps Final favourite The Bossess Oscar in competitive handicap company at Navan, and he clearly took another giant leap forwards when tasting Grade 1 success at Leopardstown over Christmas, albeit he was given free reign at the head of affairs and received a very good ride from Jonathan Moore.

Dandy Mag, whom won the Pertemps Qualifier run over the same course and distance 35 minutes earlier, clocked a 2 seconds quicker time than Flooring Porter but did carry 13lbs less.

It’s entirely possible that Flooring Porter could have more to offer given his rate of progression and tender years. However, he has displayed a quirk or two and hung badly to his left after jumping the final flight of hurdles at Christmas, which does bring into question his maturity heading into the heat of a championship contest.

There are also question marks hanging over how he handle both the travelling and the track. However, they can’t necessarily be thrown at him as negatives given that they may have no bearing whatsoever.

There are obviously no such concerns over the reigning champion Lisnagar Oscar, whom bounced back from two underwhelming efforts during the autumn when chasing home Third Wind, whom received 6lbs, in the Grade 2 Rendlesham Hurdle at Haydock last month.

Sean Bowen was keen to ensure that it was a true test of stamina on that occasion and took up the running after the eighth flight of hurdles. It was encouraging to see battling-back all the way to the line, and he may well have got back up with another half-furlong.

Lisnagar Oscar underwent wind surgery prior to Haydock and that run would certainly suggest that it was a fruitful procedure. Therefore he could easily run a massive race in defence of his crown, providing that he didn’t leave his race behind on Merseyside last month.

Vinndication is a fascinating contender given that he is 3-3 over hurdles including a neck success over Cheltenham Gold Cup contender Champ, whom was in receipt of 6lbs.

There is plenty of a evidence to support the theory that Kim Bailey’s classy eight-year-old is a significantly better horse on right-handed tracks. However, that didn’t stop him from carrying top weight into fourth place in the Ultima Handicap Chase 12 months ago and he also ran well when chasing home Cyrname in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby – albeit that form is now slightly suspect.

Decent ground would not be an issue and, unlike last year, Vinndication has had a racecourse gallop in preparation for this content, which could easily make a massive difference.

Kim Bailey hasn’t hidden the fact they he considers the eight-year-old to be a Gold Cup horse, which is obviously high praise indeed. And although he’s seems to have been around forever, he remains lightly raced with just 12 career starts to his name.

Stablemate Younevercall was far from disgraced when placing fourth behind Paisley Park and Thyme Hill in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot, but he clearly needs to improve upon that effort now that he has the best of Ireland to contend with too.

Fury Road would have a good chance if rediscovering the level of form that saw him finish third behind Monkfish in last year’s Albert Bartlett, and he was only two-and-a-half-lengths behind second favourite Sire Du Berlais at Christmas.

Monkfish, Lastest Exhibition and Thyme Hill have advertised the Albert Bartlett form time and time again this winter and Fury Road has done little wrong given that he scoped badly after failing to justify favouritism at Christmas and was chinned by a 154 rated rival whom got within a length of Champion Hurdle heroine Honeysuckle in the Hattons Grace Hurdle when placing second in the Boyne Hurdle last month.

Stepping back-up to 3 miles could eke out improvement judged on his performance in the Cotswolds 12 months ago, and the last three winners of this race had all contested the previous year’s Albert Bartlett – suggesting that there may have been a power shift towards the less exposed horses in this division.

It is perhaps worth nothing that he landed his point-to-point and solitary bumper success on good ground, therefore conditions may prove favourable.

Fellow Gigginstown House Stud inmate Beacon Edge, whom got the better of Fury Road in the aforementioned Boyne Hurdle last month, could easily run a big race if seeing out this longer trip.

Noel Meade has always held the smart son of Doyen in high regard and he was beaten less than a length by Champiom Hurdle heroine Honeysuckle in the Grade 1 Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse in November, which demonstrates the ability that he possesses.

Decent ground hasn’t posed an issue in the past and he could conceivably improve for it given that he boasts form-figures of 14311 on ground officially described as yielding or quicker. Therefore he wouldn’t be without a chance if his stamina holds out.

Main Fact won nine consecutive races including the valuable Grade 3 Betfair Exchange Stayers Handicap Hurdle at Haydock before being found out in Grade 1 company at Ascot and Grade 2 company at Haydock. While If The Cap Fits defeated Roksana and Apple’s Jade in the 2019 Liverpool Hurdle and will return to hurdling after an indifferent spell over fences.

The former clearly needs to take another step forwards and may prefer softer ground than he will encounter. While the latter only has 7lbs to find with Paisley Park on official ratings and will appreciate some nice spring ground.

Sam Spinner chased home Paisley Park two years ago but has failed to beat a single rival home in two starts this season. While last year’s third Bacardys should not be ignored but does have a tendency to be the bridesmaid and not the bride, which makes little appeal from a win perspective.

The good ground loving Reserve Tank won a brace of Grade 1 novice hurdles in the spring of 2019. While the ever consistent Lil Rockerfeller placed second in this contest in 2017 and has run with credit twice this season.

Both possess the ability to outperform market expectations if rolling back the years.

VERDICT:

Paisley Park sets a very high standard and has few, if any, negatives heading into this contest. While dual Pertemps scorer Sire Du Berlais was impressive on the clock 12 months ago and a reproduction of that effort would put him firmly in the mix. His Christmastime conquerer Flooring Porter should not be readily passed aside given his scope for further improvement. While defending champion Lisnagar Oscar shaped encouragingly at Haydock last month and could easily run well on his second start since undergoing wind surgery. However, THE STORYTELLER has walked every walk and danced every dance yet still seems to have taken his form to a new level this winter. His last two runs over fences have seen him land the Grade 1 Ladbrokes Champion Chase at Down Royal and place second in the Grade 1 Irish Gold Cup last month, and he did well to claim second place behind Flooring Porter at Christmas given that he was settled in rear off a slow pace. The popular ten-year-old made up plenty of ground after the final flight of hurdles and clearly gets on well with Keith Donoghue. We know that he loves Cheltenham and his runner-up effort last year puts him on a par with Sire Du Berlais, whom is currently half the price of the The Storyteller. He therefore represents fantastic each-way value. FURY ROAD meets the recent trend of having run in the previous year’s Albert Bartlett and he could easily run well if rediscovering that form. Monkfish, Lastest Exhibition and Thyme Hill have advertised that form time and time again this winter and Fury Road has done little wrong given that he scoped badly after failing to justify favouritism at Christmas and was chinned by a 154 rated rival whom got within a length of Champion Hurdle favourite Honeysuckle in the Grade 1 Hattons Grace Hurdle when placing second over two-and-a-half-miles at Navan last month. He arguably ran a career best over this course and distance 12 months ago and he remains open to further improvement, which isn’t necessarily the case with some of those ahead of him in the betting.

1. Fury Road 2. The Storyteller 3. Paisley Park

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3.40 – Paddy Power Plate Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 2m4f127y

SULLY D’OC AA made a successful seasonal reappearance at Ascot in October beating no fewer than 6 subsequent scorers, and he may have followed-up at Newbury in November had he not made a momentum checking mistake at the final fence.

That too looked a decent contest given that the winner, Clondaw Castle, has since defied a mark of 154, and Anthony Honeyball’s seven-year-old looks fairly treated off a 2lbs higher mark.

Both of those efforts came on decent ground over trips just shy of today’s, and he remains open to further progress on just his seventh start in this sphere.

The fact that he hasn’t run since Newbury perhaps indicates that connections were keen to protect his mark with this contest in mind, and he will compete off a lovely racing weight of 10-9, which will only aid his prospects.

HUNTSMAN SON is also worthy of small each-way support at a huge double figure price.

It’s hard to argue that an eleven-year-old is capable of defying a career high mark in a Cheltenham Festival handicap. However, Alex Hales’ charge is lightly raced for his age and the form of his five-and-a-half-length triumph over subsequent scorer Two For Gold at Wetherby in October suggests that he may be capable of running well in this contest.

Huntsman Son boasts form-figures of 1321122121 on decent ground, and his record following a break of 60 days or more (including his PTP debut) reads 122121, which also bodes well.

The Millenary gelding placed ninth in the now defunct Novices’ Handicap Chase in 2019 and was pulled-up in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup over this course and distance in December. However, both of those efforts came on unsuitably soft ground and he did finish second at Prestbury Park over hurdles, which demonstrates his ability to handle the track.

Alex Hales saddled For Pleasure to place third in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at 40/1 and there are enough positives about Huntsman Son to believe that he too could outrun his price.

1. Sully D’Oc AA 2. Huntsman Son 3. Caribean Boy

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4.15 – Parnell Properties Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m179y

Roseys Hollow, Royal Kahala and Gauloise are closely matched on their running in the Grade Grade 3 Solerina Mares’ Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse last month. While Hook Up makes obvious appeal judged on her fifth placed finish behind Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Appreciate It in Grade 1 company at the Dublin Racing Festival last month, however, her jumping leaves much to be desired. Telmesomethinggirl will appreciate this better ground and had the form of her third placed effort at Leopardstown last month boosted by Coral Cup heroine Heaven Help Us yesterday. The Glancing Queen has run well in two red-hot Champion Bumpers and was deemed good enough to contest the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle in December. While Skyace displayed a progressive profile in the autumn and could easily step forwards once again. However, GLENS OF ANTRIM has run well against the boys this season and may be suited by dropping back on trip on better ground again her own sex. Willie Mullins has won 14 of the 18 mares races at run at the Cheltenham Festival including all five of the previous renewals of this race, and the JP McManus owned six-year-old, whom is a half-sister to the smart Minella Melody, could easily improve that record.

1. Glens Of Antrim 2. Hook Up 3. The Glancing Queen

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4.50 – Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase (Class 2) 3m2f

PLAN OF ATTACK is 2lbs lower than when placing fourth in this contest 12 months ago and he will be much more at home this sounder surface, therefore he makes of appeal for the bang-in-form partnership of Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore.

The Court Cave gelding placed third in the hugely competitive Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown last season and he was in the process of making up ground in that same contest in December prior to making a mistake and losing any small chance he had.

Clearly connections feel that he has unfinished business with this race and it doesn’t look to be the strongest contest on paper. He therefore makes sufficient appeal.

SIZING AT MIDNIGHT was pulled-up on heavy ground at Wincanton last month, however, he was dropped 2lbs for that outing and could easily bounce back on decent ground today.

Colin Tizzard’s nine-year-old was travelling ominously well when falling at three-out in the Listed Badger Beers Silver Trophy at Wincanton in November, and he will line-up off the very same mark of 133 tomorrow.

The form of his success at Ffos Las in October was boosted by the runner-up on his only subsequent start. While Bermeo, whom chased home Sizing At Midnight at Newton Abbot in August, was successfull at Cheltenham’s Showcase Meeting in October before placing second in the Cotswolds in November.

All four of Sizing At Midnight’s previous career victories have been achieved on decent ground and he remains relatively lightly raced for his age. While three of his four victories came in double-figure fields.

Colin Tizzard’s horses have been running well this week with Eldorado Allen placing second at 33/1 in the Arkle and Fiddlerontheroof filling the same position in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at 40/1, which indicates that the yard have turned a corner.

1. Plan Of Attack 2. Sizing At Midnight 3. Mount Ida

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2021 Cheltenham Festival: Wednesday

Grade 1 Challow Hurdle winner Bravemansgame will contest the opening Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.

Wednesday’s Bets:

1pt win The Big Breakaway w/o Monkfish in the 1.55 Cheltenham at 2/1

1.5pts each-way Grand Roi in the 2.30 Cheltenham at 13/2 (6 Places)

1pt each-way Birchdale in the 2.30 Cheltenham at 16/1 (7 places)

1.5pts each-way Chosen Mate in the 4.15 Cheltenham at 8/1 (6 Places)

NAP: Bob Olinger

NB: Sir Gerhard

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Live Antepost Bets:

0.5pt win Bob Olinger in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at 25/1

1pt win Bob Olinger to ‘Win Any Race’ at the 2021 Cheltenham a festival at 16/1

1pt win Nube Negra in the Champion Chase at 9/1

0.5pts each-way Rouge Vif in the Champion Chase at 25/1

1pt each-way Embittered in the Grand Annual at 16/1 (NRNB) + 1pt win at 25/1

1.5pt win Sir Gerhard in the Champion Bumper at 20/1

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1.20 – Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m5f

Willie Mullins plundered this Grade 1 prize four times between 2008 and 2016 courtesy of Fiveforthree, Mikael D’Haguenet, Faugheen and Yorkhill respectively, and he looks to have a good opportunity to bring up a milestone victory with Gaillard Du Mesnil, whom scored in this grade at the Dublin Racing Festival last month.

The Joe Donnelly owned five-year-old shed his maiden tag at the second time of asking when cantering to victory at Leopardstown in December. Both the second and third franked that form next time out and Gaillard Du Mesnil only further enhanced his growing reputation with a smooth success in Grade 1 Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors Novice Hurdle last month.

The Irish champion trainer elected to put a hood on the French-bred last month and will do so again tomorrow, which may indicate that they are slightly concerned about him doing too much too soon. However, it certainly didn’t inconvenience him at Leopardstown where travelled sweetly and jumped well, therefore it is clearly no negative and could easily be a positive.

The promising grey seemingly dismissed a bunch of stayers on that occasion and it remains to be seen whether he possesses the gears to match strides with some of the speedier rivals that he will encounter tomorrow. However, he is clearly a big player and warrants the utmost respect.

Grade 1 Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle scorer Bob Olinger is certainly not lacking for pace, as he demonstrated when narrowly beaten by last year’s Champion Bumper hero Ferny Hollow over 2 miles at Gowran Park in November, and again when hacking up on heavy ground at Naas in January.

Indeed, the Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle field covered 175 yards more than the 2m3f handicap hurdle later on the card, yet clocked just a 1 second slower time overall. While Bob Olinger was nearly 6 seconds quicker than handicap scorer Uisce Solas (both carried 11-12) from 3 out to the line.

Bob Olinger was also nearly 1 second quicker than On Eagles Wings (11-7) in the 2 mile maiden hurdle from three out to the line, and nearly 1 second quicker than easy bumper winner Belle Metal (10-9) from what would have been three out to the line. Therefore his gears are certainly not in question and could prove a huge asset in this contest.

Henry de Bromhead’s six-year-old defeated Supreme Novices’ Hurdle runner Blue Lord, whom looked booked for second place before falling at the last, on that occasion and did so with ease. The son of Sholokhov is clearly a high class horse in the making and his turn of foot could easily prove the difference maker tomorrow given that this race is traditionally run slowly and ends with a sprint finish.

Bravemansgame was beaten by subsequent Betfair Hurdle scorer Soaring Glory on his hurdling debut at Chepstow in October and hasn’t looked back since stepping-up in trip, winning each of his next three starts by a combined distance of twenty-eight-and-a-half-lengths, culminating in a 10 lengths romp in the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle at Newbury in December.

The impressive manner of that success drew comparisons to the mighty Denman from eleven time champion trainer Paul Nicholls, which should not be taken lightly given what ‘the tank’ achieved in his illustrious racing career. However, even he come unstuck in this contest in 2006, and there is a chance that Bravemansgame may lack the gears to make his obvious class tell at this trip over hurdles.

That said, the imposing son of Brave Mountain will handle conditions and Paul Nicholls rarely runs those whom he deems to be smart chasers in the making at this meeting unless he feels that they boast outstanding claims. Therefore he is clearly a very big player and could take some reeling in if travelling in a prominent position.

The unbeaten Bear Ghylls rates a fascinating contender given his high-performance engine and rock solid form. However, he will need to jump better than he has to this point in order to keep tabs on his Grade 1 winning opposition.

Nicky Martin’s Arcadio gelding comfortably defeated no fewer than 8 subsequent winners on his hurdling debut at Lingfield in October, before successfully conceding 6lbs to subsequent dual scorer Gowel Road at Ffos Las in November. Therefore, in hindsight, it was no surprise that he was able to defy a mark of 130 when making a successful handicap debut at Exeter in January.

Jumping is undoubtedly the exciting six-year-old’s achilles heel at present and there will be no room for error in a warm looking renewal of this Grade 1 prize. However, he could easily ruffle a few feathers if finding some fluency.

Keskonrisk, whom came with a £370,000 price-tag, made a successful hurdling debut at Fairyhouse in November and took a big step forwards when placing third behind today’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle hero Appreciate It in Grade 1 company at Christmas.

That effort can be slightly be upgraded given that Joseph O’Brien’s string weren’t firing on all cylinders at the time, and this step-up in trip could easily suit on the evidence of his outings thus far.

The son of No Risk At All has always been held in high regard and simply could be anything at this stage of his career. Therefore he could easily be a shade overpriced tomorrow – especially now that his yard is cranking into gear.

Dual course and distance winner Does You Know blotted his copy book when running out in the aforementioned Grade 1 Challow Hurdle at Newbury in December, and he was hugely disappointing when placing eighth in a Pertemps Qualifier at Exeter last month.

It’s possible that the 3 mile trip and heavy ground conspired against him on that occasion and a return to his happy hunting ground, where he landed a Grade 2 trial for this race in November, may spark a revival. The slightly better ground would also be a positive.

Optimise Prime won a brace of novice hurdles at Hereford before placing third in an average renewal of the Listed Sidney Banks Novices’ Hurdle at Huntington. He will need to improve markedly in order to feature at this grade.

VERDICT:

Bravemansgame has been hugely impressive this season and is undoubtedly a big player in this contest. His form with Soaring Glory at 2 miles looks solid and he hasn’t looked back since stepping up in trip. He ran out a easy winner of the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle at Newbury in December and has earned comparisons to the mighty Denman – whom placed second in this race for Paul Nicholls in 2006 – which is high praise indeed. Gaillard Du Mesnil was impressive and on the clock at Christmas and confirmed that promise when landing the Grade 1 Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors Novice Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival last month. Willie Mullins has won this race 4 times since 2008 and he has yet another solid chance tomorrow. However, BOB OLINGER appears to have the perfect skill set for this race given that he had the gears to give Ferny Hollow a race at Gowran Park in November and the stamina to run out a ready winner of the Grade 1 Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle in January. Henry de Bromhead’s six-year-old will appreciate the recent rainfall and could prove tough to beat if this race develops into a sprint, as is often the case.

1. Bob Olinger 2. Gaillard Du Mesnil 3. Bravemansgame

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1.55 – Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) 3m80y

Every so often a horse comes along whom looks destined to rise to the top of the sport, and that comment certainly applies to last season’s Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle victor Monkfish, whom is 3-3 over fences this winter and is already priced up as the 7/1 favourite for the 2022 Cheltenham Gold Cup, which is a clear indication for of how impressive Rich Ricci’s emerging star has been so far this season.

The scopey son of Stowaway readily kicked aside his old adversary Latest Exhibition in the Grade 1 Neville Hotel’s Novice Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, and he again showed that rival a clean pair of heels when sauntering to scintillating 11 lengths success in the Grade 1 Flogas Novice Chase at the Dublin Racing Festival last month.

Indeed, no horse to date (over fences) has been able to match the imposing chestnut gelding’s incredibly fluent fencing and high cruising speed, and his Albert Bartlett success was made even more impressive by the fact that he raced freely throughout the majority of the 3 mile contest, yet still had enough left in the tank to battle back after being headed after the final flight of hurdles.

Monkfish clearly possesses all of the attributes required for this contest and is undoubtedly the one to beat on all known form. It will therefore take a massive performance in order to lower his colours.

Eklat De Rire jumps well, possesses stamina and likes to travel prominently – three factors that could easily see him run well in this contest.

Henry De Bromhead’s seven-year-old is light on experience having only graced the racetrack on five previous occasions (including his solitary start between the flags). However, that does mean that he remains open to significant improvement and connections will be encouraged by the aptitude that he has displayed in two starts over fences this winter.

The smart son of Saddex made a successful chasing debut over a trip just shy of 3m2f at Punchestown in December, and he confirmed the promise of that success when accounting for the well regarded Escaria Ten and previous Grade 2 scorer – and indeed Grade 1 runner-up – Pencilfulloflead in Grade 3 company at Navan in January.

This contest will naturally demand more and he is yet to face a rival of the calibre of Monkfish. However, he has don’t nothing wrong to date and is worthy of his chance at this level.

The Big Breakaway has a reputation as tall as his imposing chestnut frame and came with a price-tag to match, therefore connections will be hopeful that he can begin to fulfil his early potential and indeed make his mark at Grade 1 level.

The promising son of Getaway placed fourth in a red-hot renewal of the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle 12 months ago on a week where the Tizzard horses struggled for form. However, he made a successful chasing debut over this course and distance in November and, following a blip over a trip too short at Exeter, ran well to place second in the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton in December.

The Big Breakaway did display quirks at both Cheltenham and Exeter and was far from tidy over the final few fences when chasing home Shan Blue at Christmas. Indeed, you wouldn’t be hard pushed to make at case that he would have landed that Grade 1 contest had his jumping held up in the latter stages of the race.

Colin Tizzard has endured a stop-start campaign and could easily have many horses in his yard whom are capable of better. This scopey six-year-old could easily fit into that category.

Sporting John was sent off a 5/1 second favourite for last year’s Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, but never looked happy and could only finish seventh under the now retired Barry Geraghty.

The previously unbeaten six-year-old again fluffed his lines when placing third as a 10/11 favourite on his chasing debut at Exeter in November. However, he rose from the doldrums to land the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown last month, and the manner of that success suggested that he may be well suited by this 3 mile trip.

Philip Hobbs’ charge was virtually detached in the early exchanges at Sandown and slowly warmed to his task as the race progressed. He will clearly need to jump more slickly in order to feature tomorrow, and he does have a question mark hanging over his ability to handle the track.

However, he clearly possesses significant ability when everything comes together, and he does warrant respect as a Grade 1 winner.

Dickie Diver placed fourth behind Minella Indo, Commander Of Fleet and Allaho in the 2019 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, and he made a promising start to his chasing career at Newbury in December.

Connections originally planned to run the stout-staying eight-year-old in the National Hunt Chase but ran out of time to get him qualified, therefore now he faces the unenviable task of taking on Monkfish on just his second start over fences.

The recent rainfall will be in his favour and we know that he handles the track. However, this is a very big ask given his lack of experience and he is likely to find one or two too good on the day.

Fiddlerontheroof beat the aforementioned Sporting John by 33 lengths at Exeter in November, and he has since placed second behind Caribean Boy, Allart and Next Destination in a trio of Grade 2 contests.

Colin Tizzard’s seven-year-old ran a good race when stepping-up to 3 miles at Warwick in January, and connections will be encouraged that there is more to come now that the yard is in better form.

However, there are question marks hanging over his ability to handle the track following a poor showing in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 12 months ago, and he has plenty to find with those towards he head of the betting.

VERDICT:

It’s incredibly hard to oppose MONKFISH following his brace of impressive Grade 1 victories at Leopardstown this winter. Last year’s Albert Bartlett winner is incredibly straightforward as he jumps for fun, travels powerfully and possesses a cruising speed that takes his rivals out of their comfort zone. Rich Ricci’s exciting seven-year-old looks a class apart tomorrow and can land this contest en route to the 2022 Cheltenham Gold Cup. The sound jumping Eklat De Rire and Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase runner-up The Big Breakaway can follow the selection home.

1. Monkfish 2. The Big Breakaway 3. Eklat De Rire

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2.30 – Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) 2m5f

Grand Roi was held in high regard when trained by Nicky Henderson in the 2019/20 campaign, and he cost his new connections the princely sum of £400,000 when going through the ring at Doncaster last July.

The smart son of Spanish Moon placed third behind the 154 rated Beacon Edge on his Irish debut at Galway in October before going two places better in Grade 2 company at Limerick next time out. He then placed second behind the classy Bachasson, whom received 7lbs, in the Grade 3 Limestone Lad a Naas in January, and the aforementioned Beacon Edge, who was back in third, boosted that form when landing the Grade 2 Boyne Hurdle at Navan.

Form of that nature makes a mark of 149 look reasonable and you get the impression that this has been the target all season long. Grand Roi remains open to improvement over this two-and-a-half-mile-trip and he won’t be inconvenienced by whatever the ground may be. Therefore he makes plenty of appeal.

Course and distance winner Birchdale is 2lbs lower than when placing eighth in this contest 12 months ago and he bounced back to form when placing third in a ‘jumpers bumper’ at Kempton last month – which followed two disappointing outings over fences.

The JP McManus owned eight-year-old was forced to travel wide throughout and ran into a wall of horses when coming down the hill last year, and he perhaps expended too much energy when making up his ground – something that he seemingly paid for after jumping the final flight of hurdles.

Nico De Boinville will be in the saddle tomorrow and Birchdale remains open to improvement after just four starts over hurdles. The drying ground will be in his favour given that he boasts form figures of 111PU (pulled-up in the 2019 Albert Bartlett and unseated over fences) on ground officially described as good to soft or quicker, and a more prominent ride – and indeed more luck in running – could easily see him run a well.

Guard Your Dreams stayed-on well in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury last month and he may be open to further improvement over this longer trip. He will compete from the same mark of 135 and will have the assistance of Sam Twiston-Davies.

1. Grand Roi 2. Birchdale 3. Guard Your Dreams

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3.05 – Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1) 1m7f199y

Chacun Pour Soi is a perfect 3-3 this season and is seemingly performing at the peak of his powers.

Rich Ricci’s top-class two-miler has only tasted defeat once since arriving from France and arguably posted a career best performance when landing a fourth Grade 1 success in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase at Leopardstown last month.

The french-bred nine-year-old possesses the ability to make lengths at his fences and often runs the sting out of his opposition courtesy of his high cruising speed through the middle stages of the race. This perhaps explains why he doesn’t appear to finish off his races as strongly as some would like. However, while it may not be pleasing on the eye it is clearly effective, and why would Paul Townend change a formula that works.

The biggest question mark currently hanging over Chacun Pour Soi is whether he will handle the track given that this will be his first run in the Cotswolds following his eleventh hour withdrawal last year. It is perhaps worth noting that 11 of the last 12 winners of this race had run at the Cheltenham Festival before, and you have to go back to Master Minded’s aforementioned success in 2008 to find the last winner whom had no previous Prestbury Park experience whatsoever.

This race hasn’t always been the kind to short-priced favourites with three biting the dust in the last five renewals – namely Un De Sceaux at 4/6 in 2016, Douvan at 2/9 in 2017 and Defi Du Seuil at 2/5 last year. Willie Mullins certainly won’t be taking anything for granted given that he saddled the first two in that sequence. However, those reverses can not be held against Chacun Pour Soi, who will bid to provide the Irish champion trainer with a maiden success in this contest.

Nube Negra travelled powerfully throughout the Desert Orchid Chase and readily scooted clear when Harry Skelton pushed the button, therefore he is an interesting proposition for the bang-in-form Skelton brothers.

It was a performance that simply oozed class and emphatically announced the seven-year-old’s arrival in this division, and it’s definitely worth noting that Harry Skelton ended his association with Politologue, whom he steered to success in both last year’s Champion Chase and this season’s Tingle Creek Chase, so that he was free to ride Nube Negra in this contest.

Obviously family ties were also a factor in that decision and he may also feel that Nube Negra is the up-and-coming horse in this division. However, it’s still some statement to get off the horse whom has provided you with two of your biggest career victories to date – especially for a mount whom has yet to make his presence felt at the highest level.

Being fresh is most certainly advantageous given that Nube Negra boasts form-figures of 318B121 following a break of 63 days or more, and the ground will be no worse than it was at Kempton. While those whom like stats may be interested to know that 6 winners from the 13 previous renewals of Kempton’s Grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase have gone on to land this prestigious prize that same season.

There is still a slight question mark over his ability to come up the hill given his tame finishing effort in the 2018 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle. However, it goes without saying that plenty of water has passed under the bridge since then and Nube Negra has now fully developed.

Nube Negra naturally remains open to improvement after just five starts over fences and his success at Kempton could hardly have been more authoritative. Therefore he may give Chacun Pour Soi the most to think about.

Last year’s Champion Chase fell apart with Altior and Chacun Pour Soi notable absentees and Defi Du Seuil failing to fire on the day. However, let that take nothing away from John Hales’ tough-as-teak grey Politologue, whom jumped for fun and slipped his rivals to earn a much deserved Cheltenham Festival success.

Politologue looked every bit as good on his seasonal reappearance in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown and, like at Cheltenham last March, Paul Nicholls was quick to attribute his success to the various changes that were made to his training regime and the significant gap between races.

With that in mind, it may be a negative that Politologue contested the Ascot Chase last month and he is definitely going to face a much sterner battle for the lead tomorrow – two factors that make him opposable.

Arkle winners have a fine record of running well in the following year’s Champion Chase and connections of Put The Kettle On clearly feel that it is worth chancing their arm at championship level as opposed to competing in the inaugural running of the Grade 2 Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase, for which she would have been a significantly shorter price.

It’s not hard to see why connections have come that conclusion when you factor in that last year’s Arkle heroine is 3-3 over this course and distance and will receive a handy 7lbs mares allowance, something that top class mares Annie Power and Epatante took full advantage of in the Champion Hurdle in 2016 and 2020 respectively.

The recent rainfall will be in her favour and Henry de Bromhead has a fine record in this race having has saddled two winners – namely Sizing Europe and Special Tiara – and four placed horses over the last decade.

Kim Bailey has enjoyed a fantastic season to date and the Grade 1 Clarence House Chase success of First Flow is undoubtedly the cherry on the top. However, that would naturally be demoted to second spot if the keen-going nine-year-old can crash the party once more.

The intriguing son of Primary has won his last six starts and is clearly progressing at a rate of knots. The recent rainfall is well and truly in his favour and David Bass will be keen to apply pressure from the front, which could get one or two of his rivals in trouble.

It is perhaps worth noting that First Flow’s most impressive performances to date have come on right-handed tracks, and he was pulled-up on his only previous visit to Cheltenham in the 2018 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, when hanging badly to his right for much of the contest.

First Flow has matured and strengthened since then and it may not be an issue this time, and it would undoubtedly be dangerous to rule out a horse whom is clearly at the peak of his powers.

Sceau Royal is enjoying a hugely productive season and he looked as good as ever when landing the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury last month.

Alan King’s terrier like nine-year-old boasts form-figures of 2135 over this course and distance and he gave a peak Altior a scare when hitting the front over the final fence in 2019. He will head to Festival on a high following his comfortable success over the Cheltenham Gold Cup bound Champ last month. However, it’s fair to say that the recent rainfall will not be in his favour.

Although Sceau Royal seems to have been around forever he is still only 9, and 7 of the last 11 winners of this contest were aged 9 or older (5 aged 9 and 2 aged 10). Therefore his age is of no concern and he is clearly in a very good place at present.

Rouge Vif demonstrated that he is more than a mere handicapper when bolting-up off a mark of 156 over this course and distance in October, and he boasts a decisive 7 lengths verdict over the aforementioned Nube Negra in the Grade 2 Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick 13 months ago.

That form was emphatically reversed on soft ground at Kempton over Christmas and Rouge Vif was no match for reigning champion chaser Politologue in the Tingle Creek Chase in December. Indeed, the scopey son of Sageburg is clearly a far superior horse when granted decent ground, which means that recent rainfall is far from ideal.

The keen-going Greaneteen placed second in the Tingle Creek Chase but proved no match for Sceau Royal and Champ in the Game Spirt Chase at Newbury. While Notebook, whom was sent off a 5/2 favourite for the Arkle last year, may be better suited by having no crowds at Cheltenham given his questionable temperament. However, he was soundly beaten by Chacun Pour Soi at the Dublin Racing Festival last month and Cheltenham may not play to his strengths.

Cilaos Emery finished fifth in the 2017 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and fourth behind Epatante in last year’s Champion Hurdle, therefore he could easily run well at a price.

Willie Mullins’ talented nine-year-old looked as good as ever when giving the 157 rated Daly Tiger 9lbs and an 11 lengths beating in the Grade 3 WhatOddsPaddy? Chase at Naas in February, and he will again arrive at Cheltenham on the back of a light campaign, which could easily see him run well once more.

VERDICT:

Chacun Pour Soi was robbed of his chance to land this contest 12 months ago when pulling out lame on the morning of the race. He has arguably been even more impressive this season and could take plenty of stopping if handling the track, which isn’t a concern for Willie Mullins. However, it may be worth opposing the four-time Grade 1 winner with Nube Negra, whom travelled and jumped like a dream when readily defeating Altior in the Grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton. Winners of that race have a good record in this contest (6-13) and Dan Skelton’s charge remains open to improvement after just five starts over fences. Harry Skelton has abandoned the reigning champion Politologue in favour of the Spanish bred son of Dink, and he may be able to give the favourite some form of race if jumping and travelling well tomorrow. The drying ground will suit Rouge Vif and he may be the one to fill the frame.

1. Nube Negra 2. Chacun Pour Soi 3. Rouge Vif

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3.40 – Glenfarclas Chase (A Cross County Chase) (Class 2) 3m6f37y

• NO OPINION •

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4.15 – Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 1m7f199y

Embittered has kept good company over fences and appears to have been trained with this race in mind following his third placed effort in the County Hurdle last season. While stablemate Entoucas boasts solid handicap experience and also has the hallmarks of a plot.

Sky Pirate has been a different proposition since dropping back to 2 miles but his mark has suffered as a result. While Ibleo, whom chased Jonjo O’Neill’s charge at Cheltenham in December, has won both of his subsequent starts and will represent the bang-in-form Venetia Williams.

Zanza was still travelling well when falling at three from home in that same Cheltenham contest and he will enjoy a 18lbs and 17lbs pull at the weights with Sky Pirate and Ibleo respectively, which makes him an intriguing contender.

Amoola Gold defeated Ibleo at Ascot in October before being narrowly denied by subsequent Grade 1 winner First Flow next time out. Dan Skelton’s consistent eight-year-old chased home Sky Pirate at Warwick in January, and will have a 4lbs pull at the weights tomorrow.

Stablemate Not That Fuisse is the choice of Harry Skelton and boasts plenty of respectable form at Cheltenham. While On The Slopes has failed to hit the heights this season but could easily bounce back if returning to the form that saw him run well behind Simply The Betts and Imperial Aura at Prestbury Park last season.

Chosen Mate and Us And Them placed first and third respectively in the corresponding contest 12 months ago and this race has a habit of throwing up winners whom have ran well in it previously. While Duc Des Genievres, whom defeated Us And Them in the 2019 Arkle, should appreciate this drop in class and could run well at a price.

Or Jaune De Somoza and Capuccimix placed sixth and seventh respectively in competitive handicap company at the Dublin Racing Festival last month, and they could both run respectably once more. While Bun Doran, whom placed second in this race off a 2lbs lower mark in 2019 and third in the Champion Chase 12 months ago, could easily outperform market expectations.

Glen Forsa is an interesting proposition on his first start since undergoing wind surgery. While Sizing Pottsie found Grade 1 company too hot to handle at the Dublin Racing Festival last month and should appreciate dropping back into handicap company – albeit off a tricky looking mark.

Moonlighter is 3lbs higher than when scoring at Sandown last month and may be well suited by the likely strong pace. While Theinval is a stalwart of this race and is 5lbs lower than when placing fifth last year. However, he isn’t getting any younger or faster.

Ashutor looks handicapped up to his best at present following a brace of victories last August. While Western Miller is 1lb below his last winning mark and placed second over this course and distance in October. However, he would prefer better ground.

VERDICT:

Zanza was travelling ominously well prior to falling at Cheltenham in December and he makes obvious appeal off the same mark tomorrow. Both Amoola Gold and Sky Pirate have been progressive this season but have shown their hand somewhat. While Us And Them, whom placed third in this race 12 months, looks interesting off a 2lbs lower mark and could easily go well once again. However, EMBITTERED has seemingly been aimed at this race following his third placed effort in the Country Hurdle last March, and he has spent the season gaining valuable experience in Grade 1 novice company. A mark of 146 looks fair and the booking of Racheal Blackmore is a positive, while the decent ground will also be in his favour. Last year’s victor Chosen Mate looks the chief danger with talented 7lbs claimer Jordan Gainford in the saddle. The Well Chosen gelding ran out a cosy winner 12 months ago and is effectively just 2lbs higher taking into account the 7lbs claim. Five of his six career victories have been achieved on decent ground and this looks to have been the target once again.

1. Embittered 2. Chosen Mate 3. Us And Them

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4.50 – Weatherbys Champion Bumper (A Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race) (Grade 1) 2m87y

Kilcruit ran out a breathtaking winner of the concluding Grade 2 Bumper on day one of the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown last month, and he understandably shot to the head of the betting for this contest as a result.

Any horse whom wins a quality bumper without breaking sweat is clearly a high class prospect, and there have been positive vibes emanating from Willie Mullins’ Closutton base ever since his smooth success at Navan in December.

However, even his most ardent supporter would have to admit that the significant pace collapse at Leopardstown slightly flattered Kilcruit and made his performance seem better than it actually was. Indeed, the time of that race was good without being spectacular and the horses in behind were bobbing up and down on the spot as Kilcruit cantered clear in the finish.

It’s impossible to what was left in the tank on that occasion and we won’t have a clue until he faces the infamous Cheltenham hill tomorrow.

Cheveley Park Stud have won the last two renewals of this Grade 1 contest and look to have a superb chance of securing the hat-trick with the incredibly exciting Sir Gerhard.

The speedy son of Jeremy proved 12 lengths too good for Donald McCain’s smart novice hurdler Minella Drama on his solitary start between the flags, and he has won both of his starts in bumpers in very taking fashion style – defeating solid yardstick Letsbeclearaboutit in Listed company at Navan in December.

Sir Gerhard will arrive here fresh after side-stepping the Dublin Racing Festival last month and this slightly better ground should allow him to utilise his impressive set of gears. Indeed, he is a similar type to last year’s Champion Bumper hero Ferny Hollow, and the pacy seven-year-old could prove tough to beat if rounding the turn for home hard on the bridle.

Three Stripe Life made an impressive racecourse debut at Navan in January when travelling powerfully throughout the 2 mile contest and readily quickening clear to record a comfortable 9 lengths success.

That performance was made even more impressive by the fact that he had no previous experience in either bumpers or points. Clearly the son of Leading Light possesses plenty of ability and he is naturally open to significant improvement with that debut experience under his belt.

Ramillies was one of those whom did far too much too soon when weakening into fifth place behind Kilcruit last month. However, it is worth noting that he was strong in the betting prior to that Grade 2 contest following an impressive success at Leopardstown in December, therefore he is potentially much better than he was able to show last month.

The Joe Donnelly owned grey has always been held in high regard and had seemingly improved for his time off the track when making light work of nine rivals at Christmas. The form of that contest hardly sets the pulse racing and he does have questions to answer after his disappointing run last month. However, Willie Mullins has a habit of winning this race with his bigger priced runners, therefore rule him out at your peril.

Stablemate Grangee made a successful racecourse debut at Galway in October, but could only place third behind Pam Sly’s classy filly Eileendover in Listed company at Market Rasen in January.

However, the daughter Great Pretender bounced back to winning ways in the Grade 2 Mares’ Bumper at the Dublin Racing Festival last month, and connections will be hopeful that she can emulate the victories of Fayonagh in 2017 and Relegate in 2018, both of whom took full advantage of the 7lbs mares allowance.

Elle Est Belle is lucky to head into this contest with an officially unbeaten record as bad light at Cheltenham’s November Meeting led to an unsatisfactory photo-finish in which she was awarded a dead-heat verdict in spite of being beaten a nose.

However, Dan Skelton’s mare clearly possesses a good deal of ability, as she displayed when impressively dispatching two previous scorers on her racecourse debut at Aintree. We know that she handles the track and she will receive the all important 7lbs mares allowance. While it is also interesting that connections have waited for this race, which may be a tip in itself.

Chemical Energy was impressive when victorious at Roscommon and Down Royal respectively and he was far from disgraced when placing fourth behind Kilcruit at Leopardstown last month. However, he will clearly need to step-forwards from that effort in order to reverse that form.

Cool Jet made it second time lucky at Thurles last month and warrants some level of respect given Willie Mullins record in this race with outsiders. While Shearer, whom placed second on his debut at Hereford in November, was an impressive 9 lengths winner at Warwick in December and could easily outperform market expectations.

I Like To Move It landed a brace of junior bumpers before finding only Good Risk At All, whom also scored in Listed company at Cheltenham in November, too good in Listed company at Newbury last month.

Nigel and Sam Twiston-Davies landed this race with Ballyandy in 2016 and this promising son of Trans Island, whom was very impressive at both Aintree and Wincanton, could easily outperform market expectations.

Stablemate Super Six is 2-2 in bumpers but is seemingly the second string on jockey bookings, and he will need to improve markedly on what he has achieved thus far in these much deeper waters.

Wonderwall made a successful racecourse debut at Ascot in November and was far from disgraced when placing third behind a pair of Paul Nicholls trained horses over the same course and distance in December.

It’s fair to say that the form of his debut success isn’t overly strong and this contest will clearly demand much more. However, Richard Spencer’s five-year-old remains open to improvement and connections clearly feel that he is worthy of his place in this field.

Fine Casting, whom made it third time lucky at Newbury in January, Jack’s A Legend, who is yet to taste victory, and Creggan White Hair, whom landed a weak jumpers bumper at Newcastle last month, complete the field.

All three look out of their depth.

VERDICT:

Kilcruit was visually breathtaking at the Dublin Racing Festival last month and could easily follow-up tomorrow. However, SIR GERHARD was savagely impressive on his solitary start between the flags and made light work of his opposition at Down Royal in October. The Cheveley Park Stud owned six-year-old showed a good turn of foot on testing ground at Navan next time out and he should relish these slightly quicker conditions. His impressive set of gears are not too dissimilar to those displayed by Ferny Hollow, whom triumphed in this race 12 months ago, and the exciting son of Jeremy may have too many gears for his opposition tomorrow. Three Stripe Life was impressive at Navan in January and he may follow the selection home following the recent rainfall.

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

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2021 Cheltenham Festival: Tuesday

Last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle hero Shishkin is warm order for the Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase.

Tuesday Bets:

2pt win Captain Guinness w/o Shishkin in the 1.55 Cheltenham at 5/2

2pt win Happygolucky in the 2.30 Cheltenham at 7/2

1.5pts each-way Aye Right in the 2.30 Cheltenham at 5/1 (7 places)

2pt win Honeysuckle in the 3.05 Cheltenham at 2/1

2pt win Concertista in the 3.40 Cheltenham at 6/5

1pt each-way Busselton in the 4.15 Cheltenham at 9/1 (6 Places)

1pt each-way Riviere D’etel in the 4.15 Cheltenham at 12/1 (6 places)

2pt win Next Destination in the 4.50 Cheltenham at 3/1

Live Antepost Bets:

1pt each-way Blue Lord in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at 33/1

1pt win Ballyadam to ‘Win Any Race’ at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival at 14/1

1pt win Captain Guinness in the Sporting Life Arkle at 25/1 

1.5pts each-way One For The Team in the Ultima Handicap Chase at 20/1 

1pt win Abacadabras in the Unibet Champion Hurdle at 10/1 (+ 1pt win at 7/1)

1.5pts each-way Busselton in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at 16/1

1.20 – Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m87y

There were just 7 lengths separating Appreciate It (first), Ballyadam (second) and Blue Lord (third) in the Grade 1 Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival last month and solid cases can be made for all three tomorrow.

Appreciate It chased home stablemate Ferny Hollow in the Champion Bumper 12 months ago and is yet to taste defeat in three starts over hurdles, with the latter two victories being achieved at Grade 1 level.

The scopey son of Jeremy is clearly a high-class operator and he is undoubtedly the rightful favourite on form. However, he does appear to be a staying chaser in the making and he will need a truly run race in order to be seen to best effect.

That said, this doesn’t appear to be an overly deep renewal of this race and a reproduction of his impressive success at Christmas would almost certainly be enough, while his opposition will undoubtedly require a career best effort in order to lower his colours.

Ballyadam had a tall reputation heading into this season and added further fuel to the fire when making an impressive hurdling debut at Down Royal in October. However, he arguably had more doubters than supporters following his Grade 1 Royal Bond success at Fairyhouse in November, and he disappointed many when placing fourth behind Appreciate It at Leopardstown over Christmas.

Thankfully connections found a reason for that poor showing as he – like many of his stablemates at the that time – scoped badly post Christmas, therefore it may be best to draw a line through that outing. Ballyadam certainly shaped with more promise at the Dublin Racing Festival last month and breifly looked as though he may pose a serious threat to the eventual winner after effortlessly making up ground upon turning for home.

It’s possible that the ground that he forfeited throughout and the testing conditions ultimately conspired against him that day, and the speedy six-year-old could easily find improvement on a slightly sounder surface, which may be enough to give the favourite something to think about.

The keen going Blue Lord was dropped-in when placing third last month after pulling like a train when chasing home Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle contender Bob Olinger in the Grade 1 Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle in January, and he could easily get closer to his stablemate if settling better in a more prominent position.

All three of his starts over hurdles have come on very testing ground, and he could easily improve for a decent surface given that he landed a good ground flat race on his final start in France.

The imposing son of Blue Bresil was given plenty of time to acclimatise after arriving in Ireland and he clearly possesses significant potential. An end-to-end gallop over the minimum distance should suit him well, and he makes fair each-way appeal given that he has form that ties in well with Appreciate It, Ballyadam and Bob Olinger, all of whom have won Grade 1 novice hurdles this season.

Connections elected to sidestep the rescheduled Betfair Hurdle with Metier and instead focus on this Grade 1 contest, which is a clear indication of their desire to win this race.

The son of Mastercraftsman was rated 88 on the flat and made a smooth transition to hurdling at Newton Abbot in October. He confirmed the promise of that debut success when bolting-up at Ascot in November and his subsequent Grade 1 success in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown puts him firmly in the mix tomorrow.

The form of that contest is nothing to shout about but Harry Fry’s five-year-old could hardly have done it easier. Decent ground would, however, pose a question given that all four of his previous career victories have been achieved on testing ground, and he will need to be equally as effective on this slightly quicker surface.

Soaring Glory readily defied a mark of 133 in the Betfair Hurdle last month and should find conditions suitable. However, he will have to overcome the ‘Betfair Hurdle hoodoo’ given that seven of the last eight novice winners of that race have all tasted defeat in this contest.

Jonjo O’Neill’s progressive six-year-old was smart in bumpers and defeated subsequent Grade 1 Challow Hurdle scorer Bravemansgame on his hurdling debut at Chepstow in October. He ran a fine race when chasing home the potentially smart Dusart, whom received 6lbs, at Newbury in November and the manner in which he jumped, travelled and came away from vastly more experienced rivals in hot-handicap company last month suggested that he may be capable of making his presence felt at this level.

Soaring Glory has had three weeks to recover from his Newbury exertions and will be well suited by the strong tempo at which this race is traditionally run.

Irascible stayed-on stoutly to chase home Appreciate It in the Grade 1 Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown in December, and he again ran well when placing fourth behind Willie Mullins talented seven-year-old at the Dublin Racing Festival last month.

Those two outings in Grade 1 company will certainly stand to him tomorrow and the form of his maiden hurdle success has been franked since. However, he may lack the gears of one or two in this contest and may ultimately be seen to best effect over further.

Grumpy Charley boasts a fairly similar profile and arrives here on the back of a quick-fire hat-trick at Chepstow. Chris Honour’s six-year-old is clearly improving with every start and could easily outperform market expectations in spite of the sizeable rise in class.

For Pleasure is probably slightly overpriced given that he is a Grade 2 winner over this course and distance, however, I’m sure he won’t be handed such a healthy lead on this occasion.

Alex Hales’ enthusiastic six-year-old ran well to a point in the Betfair Hurdle last month and he relishes decent ground. While his presence guarantees a strong gallop, which will definitely suit Appreciate It.

VERDICT:

The presence of Grade 2 course and distance scorer For Pleasure will guarantee pace in this race, which should suit the the short priced favourite Appreciate It given that he looks sure to want further in time. However, it may also suit the keen-going Blue Lord, whom pulled like a train when chasing home Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle favourite Bob Olinger in the Grade 1 Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle. Connections clearly wanted to educate the son of Blue Bresil him when dropping him in at the Dublin Racing Festival last month, and he could easily get much closer to the favourite under more prominent tactics tomorrow. Ballyadam split the Willie Mullins trained pair on that occasion and he should appreciate the slightly better ground that he will encounter tomorrow. Indeed, his turn of foot could prove decisive if he jumps well and travels into the race strongly.

1. Blue Lord 2. Appreciate It 3. Ballyadam

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1.55 – Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) 1m7f199y

This contest should be fast and furious given presence of Allmankind, whom will look to exploit any small chink in the armour of long time antepost favourite Shishkin.

Allmankind only has one style of running and is odds-on to cross the first fence in front tomorrow. Indeed, Dan Skelton’s Grade 1 winning juvenile hurdler has made every yard of the running on each of his three chase starts to date and has already bagged both the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown and the Grade 2 Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick – two leading trails for this contest.

It will be interesting to see how Allmankind deals with Shishkin breathing down his neck given the he arguably struggled when Goshen put it up to him in the Triumph Hurdle last year. However, he is another year older and stronger and may well have the tools to cope with such a situation this year, and he undoubtedly possesses the ability to stretch many of his rivals.

However, there’s a Shishkin shaped problem standing between Allmankind and success, and Nicky Henderson’s super exciting seven-year-old has been equally, if not more so, impressive in his three starts over fences this winter.

Last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle scorer made a sparkling chasing debut at Kempton in November and was equally impressive in the Grade 2 Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase at Christmas, when cantering clear of subsequent easy Grade 2 Pendil Novices’ Chase scorer Tamaroc Du Mathan in a 3 second quicker time than Nube Negra clocked in the Desert Orchid Chase later on the card.

Shishkin again impressed the clock watchers when landing the Grade 2 Lightning Novices’ Chase at Doncaster and we know that he is fully effective at Cheltenham by virtue of his battling success over subsequent Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle winner Abacadabras in the aforementioned Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Connections have understandably batted off questions concerning where Shishkin would rate in comparison to Altior or Sprinter Sacre, however, the smart son of Sholokhov does appear to have some similarities with the former given that he can look unconvincing on occasions during a race, yet soon kicks clear of his rivals when Nico De Boinville presses the button.

One would imagine that Shishkin will drop in behind Allmankind and look to pounce late on.

Captain Guinness was found to have a fibrilating heart when pulling-up on his chasing debut at Tipperary in October. However, he bounced back to form with an impressive display of jumping at Punchestown in December and he was far from disgraced when chasing home the high-class Enerugeme on hock deep ground at Naas in January.

Henry De Bromhead’s talented six-year-old had just moved upsides that same rival when falling at the penultimate fence in the Grade 1 Irish Arkle Novice Chase at Leopardstown last month and, although it’s impossible to say how that race would have panned out, it’s fair to presume that he may have been a very good runner-up at worst given the manner in which he had jumped and travelled to that point.

That form would make him an interesting proposition tomorrow, especially on this sounder racing surface, and it’s also worth noting that he handled this track perfectly well and indeed still held every chance when being brought down in last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Therefore, he makes sufficient each-way appeal for a trainer whom landed this race with Put The Kettle On (16/1) 12 months ago.

Franco De Port benefitted from a pace collapse when landing the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown in December, and he again finished well from off the pace when following home stablemate Energumene in the Grade 1 Irish Arkle Novice Chase at the Dublin Racing Festival last month.

Willie Mullins’ six-year-old has clearly improved considerably for fences, and he overcame a fairy significant error at the third fence when runner-up last month. The strong pace tomorrow will be right up his street and he will undoubtedly be ridden to come home well once again, making him a tempting each-way proposition.

Eldorado Allen was successful over this course and distance in Grade 2 company in November, however, he was no match for Allmankind when placing fourth in the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices Chase at Sandown December, and he failed to lay a finger on Shishkin when placing second in the Grade 2 Lightning Novices’ Chase at Doncaster in January.

Colin Tizzard’s grey jumps well and is clearly smart on his day. However, he is perhaps a tad unfortunate to find himself in such a hot renewal and it’s hard to envisage him reversing the form with the two market principles.

Numitor won his first two starts over fences by a combined distance of 20 lengths, however, he was well held off a mark of 128 at Sandown last month, which leaves him with plenty to find in this company.

VERDICT:

Allmankind only has one style of running and will undoubtedly ensure that this race is run at championship pace. That should set things up perfectly for last year’s Supreme Novices Hurdle winner SHISHKIN, whom can follow Dan Skelton’s charge around and attack when the time is right. Nicky Henderson’s exciting seven-year-old has been hugely impressive in three starts over fences and is hard to oppose given his rock solid profile. Grade 1 winner Franco De Port ran well behind stablemate Energumene at the Dublin Racing Festival last month and will be ridden to pick up the pieces if they go too fast in front. However, Captain Guinness looked as though he may give the winner something to think about prior to falling at the penultimate fence on that occasion and he may be the one to follow the selection home.

1. Shishkin 2. Captain Guinness 3. Franco De Port

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2.30 – Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 3m1f

Happygolucky has been well supported in the antepost markets for this contest and looks to hold leading claims based on his solid novice form this winter.

Kim Bailey’s seven-year-old placed fourth in the ultra-competitive Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle at this meeting 12 months ago, and he ran out a good winner of a 3m1f (new course) novice chase at Cheltenham in December. While his third placed effort behind Stayers Hurdle hopeful Thyme Hill in Grade 2 company at Cheltenham in November 2019 also demonstrates his liking for the track.

Happygolucky will appreciate the decent ground and looks fairly handicapped off a mark of 147, especially after Getaway Trump, whom is the only horse to beat Happygolucky over fences thus far, bolted-up at Doncaster two weeks ago earning a 9lbs rise to a mark of 149.

Further improvement looks almost guaranteed.

Aye Right has been the model of consistency this season having chased home subsequent Grade 2 Old Roan Chase scorer Nutz Well at Kelso, Grand National hot-pot Cloth Cap in the Grade 3 Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury, and Takingrisks in the Listed Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster in January.

Those solid efforts have seen Harriet Graham’s stable star climb 8lbs in the ratings to a mark of 154. However, this race has been kind to those towards the head of the weights in recent years, and his experience will stand him in good stead.

One For The Team looks fairly handicapped off a mark of 140 and rates a interesting contender for Nick Williams, whom saddled Coo Star Sivola to plunder this prize in 2018.

One For The Team chased home subsequent Grade 2 Hampton Novices’ Chase scorer Next Destination at Newbury in November, and there was no disgrace in placing fifth in the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton given the unsatisfactory demands of the Sunbury track.

The hardy son of Shirocco was sent off a well supported 5/1 chance for the Listed Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster in January but could only place fifth beaten 32 lengths. However, that experience will not be lost on Ian Williams’ promising stayer, and the better ground the better his chance.

Alnadam and Pym will represent Dan Skelton and Nicky Henderson respectively.

The former has won a brace of 2m4f handicaps at Sandown this season and remains open to further improvement in this sphere.

Both of those victories were achieved on testing ground and he is yet to stretch his stamina beyond 2m4f under rules. However, he won a decent ground point-to-point at Dromahane in May 2018 and could easily run well for his bang in-form yard.

The latter defeated Ryanair Chase contender Imperial Aura in novice company at Cheltenham last season (new course) and he successfully conceded 6lbs to Grade 1 winning hurdler If The Cap Fits on his seasonal reappearance at Sandown in November.

Pym disappointed when placing fifth in the Rehearsal Chase next time out, however, his subsequent absence may indicate that something was amiss. The smart son of Stowaway may remain fairly handicapped off a mark of 153 and he will appreciate the fairly decent ground that he will encounter tomorrow given that five of his six career victories have been achieved on a sound surface.

Milan Native readily defied a mark of 141 in the Kim Muir 12 months ago and could easily go well if rediscovering that form. While Cepage, whom placed seventh in this contest last year, boasts plenty of form at the track and is well accustomed to carrying welter-weight burdens, however, he is yet to truly prove his stamina over this trip.

Discordantly placed fourth, beaten 22 lengths, in the Troytown Handicap Chase off this mark in November and connections clearly feel that it is worth making the trip across the Irish Sea. However, he has failed to complete the course on his last two starts and would perhaps prefer more testing conditions.

Admiral’s Secret won three of his four starts in 2020 over trips ranging from 2m to 2m4f, and he is certainly an interesting proposition on his first start over a staying trip.

However, all three of those victories were achieved on soft ground and he will need to overcome a career high mark of 143, which won’t be easy in this higher grade.

Ok Corral landed the Listed Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster when last sighted 416 days ago, and this contest should put him spot-on for the Aintree Grand National next month. While Vintage Clouds, whom placed second in this race off a 1lb lower mark in 2019, is yet to hit top form this season but has dropped down to his last winning mark.

The Wolf has thus far failed to build upon his successful chasing debut at Chepstow in October, and he was well held off a mark of 144 on his penultimate outing over the same course and distance in January.

Olly Murphy’s seven-year-old placed third behind Chantry House and Coconut Splash at Wetherby last month and he will appreciate stepping back-up in trip tomorrow. However, a mark of 137 looks stern enough and softer ground may be preferable.

Delire D’estruval was dropped 3lbs after pulling-up on his belated seasonal reappearance at Kempton last month and is now just 4lbs above the mark from which he scored at the Sunbury venue last March. While Nietzsche, whom landed the 2018 Greatwood Handicap Hurdle, is without a victory in July 2019 and is yet to test his stamina beyond 2m3f, which is naturally a concern.

Both have something to prove.

Fingerontheswitch has failed to replicate the form that saw him place second behind OK Corral – beaten just half-a-length – in the 2020 Sky Bet Chase in three starts this season, and he was pulled-up in the Kim Muir Challenge Cup at this meeting 12 months ago which does little to inspire confidence.

Soupy Soups remains 2lbs above his last winning mark and has failed to fire in two starts this winter. He therefore makes little appeal in a contest of this nature.

VERDICT:

This contest undoubtedly lacks the class of recent years and its very hard to get away from the top two in the market. Novices have a good record in this race and HAPPYGOLUCKY makes obvious appeal. Kim Bailey’s charge won over 3m1f at Prestbury Park in December and remains unexposed over staying trips. A mark of 147 could easily underestimate the sound jumping seven-year-old, whom ran a huge race to place fourth in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle at this meeting 12 months ago. The chief danger is undoubtedly Aye Right, whom has been the model of consistency this season having chased home subsequent Grade 2 Old Roan Chase scorer Nutz Well at Kelso, Grand National hot-pot Cloth Cap in the Grade 3 Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury, and Takingrisks in the Listed Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster in January. He has climbed the weights as a result of those efforts, however, weight isn’t traditionally a barrier in this race and it’s very hard to see him finishing out of the places. Therefore it’s worth backing both tomorrow.

1. Happygolucky 2. Aye Right 3. Pym

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3.05 – Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1) 2m87y

Last year’s Mares’ Hurdle heroine Honeysuckle has won the last two renewals of the Irish Champion Hurdle and will now test her mettle against the best two milers that both Britain and Ireland have to offer.

Henry De Bromhead’s unbeaten mare served-up a five-star performance at the Dublin Racing Festival last month and her seemingly potent blend of speed and stamina will make her a formidable contender in this intriguing contest.

Honeysuckle appeared to jump lower and slicker than ever before when victorious last month and it’s impossible to know where the ceiling of her ability lies. Softer ground would perhaps be ideal, however, she will receive the incredibly generous 7lbs mares allowance and will be very well suited by the likely strong pace – two factors that are very much in her favour.

Reigning and indeed defending champion Epatante needs to bounce back from a shock defeat in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, however, she was an easy winner of this contest 12 months ago and looked as good as ever hear landing the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle in November.

Nicky Henderson recently confirmed that Epatante was suffering with a sore back following her shock defeat at Kempton and has undergone plenty of physio in the meantime. Her performance in both at race and indeed at this meeting last season clearly demonstrates that he is much better than she was able to show on that occasion, and history tells us that you should never doubt in the ability of Nicky Henderson and JP McManus to get a horse to the Champion Hurdle in prime condition following a mid-season setback.

Epatante defeated a bang in-form Sceau Royal with ease at Newcastle and her super-slick hurdling and impressive turn of foot undoubtedly make her a very big player in defence of her crown, especially with the all important 7lbs mares allowance.

There’s freak incidents and then there’s what happened to Goshen in last year’s Triumph Hurdle, when his hind shoe became locked into his fore shoe causing him to skid and send a luckless Jamie Moore flying to the turf in spite of his best efforts to maintain the partnership.

It was an incident that denied the father and son team of Gary and Jamie Moore a Grade 1 success on the biggest stage of all, and it also robbed the racing world of a performance that would likely have been spoken of for many years to come. However, it goes without saying that success in this contest would banish the bad memories of last March once and for all, and Goshen’s facile success in last month’s Grade 2 Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton suggested that he may be capable of landing this prestigious Grade 1 prize.

There were understandably concerns in the autumn following two below par efforts on the flat and a succession of absences over hurdles, which finally concluded with below par effort in the Grade 2 International Hurdle at Cheltenham, when found to be suffering with a fibrillating heart. However, he looked as good ever at Wincanton last month – albeit those in behind seemingly underperformed on the day – and could easily make his presence felt if in the same form tomorrow.

The strong travelling son of Authorized is yet to score at this level – albeit he should have won the Triumph Hurdle 12 months ago – and does have to overcame the unfavourable statistics concerning five-year-old’s in this race. However, Espoir D’Allen defied that statistic in style two years ago and Goshen’s relentless galloping style may get one or two of his rivals in trouble tomorrow.

Abacadabras boasts two very good pieces of Cheltenham Festival form having placed fourth behind the hugely exciting Envoi Allen and Stayers Hurdle hopeful Thyme Hill in the 2019 Champion Bumper before being beaten a nose by Shishkin in last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – when arguably left in front far too soon.

The Gigginstown House Stud owned seven-year-old found Aspire Tower too good on his seasonal reappearance at Down Royal in October, however, he had clearly improved for that outing when landing the Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown in November, and it’s best to write off his below par effort at Leopardstown over Christmas given that he, like many of his stablemates, scoped badly at the time.

Abacadabras bounced back to form when placing second behind the aforementioned Honeysuckle in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown last month and he could easily take another step forwards tomorrow on a track where he has twice run well. The decent ground and likely strong gallop rate ideal conditions – making the strong travelling son of Davidoff a temping each-way proposition.

Silver Streak boasts form-figures of 36 in this contest and will look to build upon his maiden Grade 1 success in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, where front-running tactics certainly paid dividends.

The Evan Williams trained grey jumped and travelled well in the hands of Adam Wedge it’s likely that connections will be keen to deploy the same tactics tomorrow. However, it’s hard to imagine that he will be able to dominate in such a manner given the presence of Goshen, Honeysuckle, Aspire Tower and Not So Sleepy, all of whom like to race prominently.

The form of that contest is also slightly questionable given that Epatante didn’t run up to form. However, he is experienced at this level and could easily run well if everything falls right on the day.

Last year’s runner-up Sharjah landed a third consecutive Grade 1 Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown in December, and it’s perhaps best to put a line through his disappointing outing last month, when third beaten 19 lengths by the aforementioned Honeysuckle, given his historically poor record at that time of year.

The Rich Ricci owned eight-year-old travelled powerfully to the final flight of hurdles 12 months ago and there was no shame in being out-sprinted by a high class mare whom was in receipt of 7lbs. The better ground tomorrow will be much more to his liking and a reproduction of that effort should see him run well.

However, it should be noted that Sharjah will not have the assistance of Patrick Mullins on this occasion given the current ban in place on amateur jockeys in Britain, which is perhaps a slight negative given the good relationship that they have formed in recent years.

Aspire Tower didn’t appear to bring his A-Game to the table when placing third in last season’s Triumph Hurdle, which may well have been a result of his fall at the Dublin Racing Festival the previous month. With that in mind, connections elected to sidestep the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown last month and will head to Prestbury Park with a fresh horse.

That certainly seems like a good idea given that the talented five-year-old defeated last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle runner-up, and indeed subsequent Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle scorer, Abacadabras on his seasonal reappearance in the Grade 2 WKD Hurdle at Down Royal in October, and he may have given Sharjah more to think about at Christmas had he jumped the final two flights of hurdles more fluently.

Henry De Bromhead’s charge remains open to further improvement over hurdles and could easily outperform market expectations.

James Du Berlais is 4-13 over hurdles in France and rates a fascinating contender on his debut for Irish Champion trainer Willie Mullins.

A dual Grade 3 winner across the channel – the intriguing son of Muhtathir will carry the readily recognisable two-toned green silks if leading owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, who will be hopeful of a bold showing given that their new recruit was only beaten a short-head in the Grade 1 Prix Renaud du Vivier when last sighted at Auteuil during November.

The fact that James Du Berlais is making his stable debut in such deep waters is a clear indication of the regard in which he is held. Therefore it would be no great surprise were he to outperform market expectations.

The talented but fragile Saldier landed the Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle in 2019, however, he could only place sixth of seven when reappearing from a 409 day absence at Leopardstown in December, and he failed to beat a solitary rival home in last month’s Irish Champion Hurdle.

Willie Mullins’ has stated that this race has been the target all season long and Saldier should not be written off as a lightly raced seven-year-old. However, it’s interesting to note that all three of his previous hurdling victories have been achieved on right-handed tracks, with his form figures on left-handed tracks reading 5F66 (over hurdles), including a fifth placed finish in the 2018 Triumph Hurdle on his only previous visit to Cheltenham.

Not So Sleepy has won the last two renewals of the ultra-competitive Grade 3 Betfair Exchange Trophy at Ascot in December, however, he was pulled-up in a weak renewal of this contest 12 months ago and may be something of an Ascot specialist.

VERDICT:

Reigning champion Epatante looked as good as ever when landing the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle in December, and she could easily run a big race in defence of her crown if fully recovered from the back issues that plagued her at Kempton. Goshen was impressive at Wincanton last month and will be keen to get on with things tomorrow. However, HONEYSUCKLE simply oozed class when landing a second Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown last month and she could take plenty of stopping following the recent rainfall. Henry de Bromhead’s unbeaten mare jumped more slickly than ever before on that occasion and she has clearly improved again this season, which is ominous for her rivals. Honeysuckle proved her ability to handle the undulations of Cheltenham when lowering the colours of Benie Des Dieux in the Mares’ Hurdle 12 months ago, and she should prove very hard to beat in receipt of the 7lbs mares allowance. The strong pace should allow her stamina to come into play. That strong pace will also really suit last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle runner-up Abacadabras, whom is already a Grade 1 winner this season and is yet to have a race run to suit this winter. This slightly better ground will also aid his prospects and he makes solid each-way appeal.

1. Honeysuckle 2. Abacadabras 3. Epatante

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3.40 – Close Brothers Mares’ Hurerdle (Grade 1) 2m3f200y

Last year’s Grade 2 Mares Novices’ Hurdle scorer Concertista is warm order for this Grade 1 contest following two smooth victories from as many starts this winter.

Willie Mullins’ seven-year-old, who also placed second in the 2019 Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, was a cosy winner in Grade 2 company at Fairyhouse in November before barely breaking sweat in Grade 3 company at Leopardstown over Christmas. Both of those races were contested over two-and-a-half-miles, and she is undoubtedly the one to beat on all known form this season.

Concertista clearly relishes the demands of Prestbury Park and her potent blend of speed and stamina will make her tough to beat tomorrow. She therefore rates a very solid favourite for a trainer whom has won 9 of the 13 previous renewals of this contest.

Roksana benefitted from the final hurdle fall of Benie De Dieux when landing this contest in 2019, and it’s fair to say that she has achieved her best form over further in the meantime.

Indeed, Dan Skelton’s mare placed second, beaten just a head, in Grade 1 company over 3 miles at Aintree that spring, and – after failing to get her head in front in four starts over 2m4f last season – she made a successful seasonal reappearance in the Grade 2 West Yorkshire Hurdle (3m) at Wetherby in October.

The talented daughter of Dubai Destination, followed-up that success with a fine third placed effort behind Stayers Hurdle contenders Paisley Park and Thyme Hill in the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December, and she bounced back to winning ways in the Grade 2 Matchbook Betting Podcast Mares’ Hurdle at Ascot in January – again over trip of 3 miles.

Roksana placed fourth, beaten a shade over 12 lengths, in this contest last March and may lack the gears of speedier types like Concertista. However, connections are keen to run in this race and any rainfall would certainly be a bonus.

Dame De Compagnie landed the Coral Cup over this course and distance 12 months ago and will revert to the smaller obstacles after unseating her rider due to interference in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown last month.

The JP McManus owned eight-year-old boasts overall form figures of 51511 at Prestbury Park and the manner of her success in last year’s Coral Cup provides reason for optimism that she can compete at this level.

Nico De Boinville, whom rode Dame De Compagnie to success in a 2 mile novice chase at Ayr in January – and whom was unseated at Sandown last month – will continue in the saddle and she looks to have solid place claims if none the worse for her experience in Esher.

Black Tears ran a huge race to chase home the aforementioned Dame De Compagnie, whom received 3lbs, over this course and distance in the Coral Cup 12 months ago, and she could easily go well once again following a confidence boosting success in the Grade 3 Quevega Mares’ Hurdle at Punchestown two weeks ago.

The smart daughter of Jeremy also displayed her liking for Prestbury Park when placing fourth in a good renewal of the Grade 2 Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle in 2019 over a trip short of her best, in a race that included Eglantine Du Seuil, Concertista, Tintangle, Indefatigable, Elfile, Epatante, Buildmeupbuttercup and Court Maid amongst others. Therefore another sound effort seems a distinct possibility and she may represent good each-way value.

Last year’s Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle third Great White Shark enjoyed a hugely productive summer/autumn campaign landing the Grade B Guinness Handicap Hurdle at Galway in July and the Cesarewitch Handicap at Newmarket in October.

The grey daughter of Le Havre clearly possesses a smart engine and, as alluded to earlier, her trainer boasts a fantastic record in this race (won 9 of the 13 previous renewals), including when successful with a second string – namely Glens Melody – following the fall of Annie Power in 2015.

Willie Mullins’ money spinning mare will enjoy the decent ground and could easily outperform market expectations if bouncing back from disappointing seventh placed finish in the Grade 2 Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park in January, when sent off a well supported 2/1 favourite.

Indefatigable landed the aforementioned Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle 12 months ago and will now try her luck in Grade 1 company.

Paul Webber’s smart mare is yet to truly fire in three starts this season and was well held when placing sixth of seven in the rescheduled Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle at Kempton in February. However, she does tend to save her best runs for Cheltenham (5121) having also placed fifth in the Grade 2 Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle in 2019, therefore she could easily bounce back tomorrow.

Minella Melody finished eighteenth when sent off an 11/4 favourite for the Grade 2 Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle 12 months ago, which casts doubts over her ability to handle the track.

Henry de Bromhead’s mare has placed second on all three of her outings this season, firstly behind the classy Beacon Edge at Galway and twice behind tomorrow’s short-priced favourite Concertista, whom well and truly had her measure at both Fairyhouse and Leopardstown.

A combination of those factors make her hard to fancy tomorrow. However, she is clearly a smart mare and could possibly hit the frame if handing the track.

Floressa made a successful seasonal reappearance in Listed company at Newbury before placing fourth behind Silver Streak in the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle.

Nicky Henderson’s mare failed to justify favouritism when placing second in Grade 2 company at Doncaster in January, and she was well held when placing ninth behind the aforementioned Concertista in the Grade 2 Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at this meeting 12 months ago. However, she is clearly a smart mare when at the peak of her powers and she could easily outperform market expectations.

Dolcita stayed-on well to chase home Concertista in the Grade 2 Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle last March and will be having just her second outing since undergoing win surgery.

Now trained by Fergal O’Brien – via Paul Nicholls – the daughter of Saint Des Saints remains lightly raced and is far from a lost cause. Therefore she could easily outperform market expectations if the wind operation has had the desired effect.

My Sister Sarah is held by Concertista, Minella Melody and Black Tears on their running at Leopardstown in December. However, she was only 7 lengths down when being brought down in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle 12 months ago, and she could easily outperform market expectations.

Whitehotchillifilli placed sixth Grade 2 Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle last March and ran out an impressive winner in Listed company at Sandown in January.

However, she was pulled-up when last sighted at Warwick four weeks ago and will need to bounce back to her best in order to stand any chance whatsoever.

VERDICT:

Dame De Compagnie and Black Tears bring last year’s Coral Cup form to the table and are both capable of running well for their respective yards. Connections have plumped for this race with 2019 heroine Roksana, whom has seemingly improved for the step up to 3 miles this season. Clearly connections feel that she is equally effective over this shorter distance, and the recent rainfall will be in her favour. However, CONCERTISTA was hugely impressive when bolting-up in the Grade 2 Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at this meeting 12 months ago and the manner of her two victories this season make her hard to oppose. The Simon Munir and Isaac Souede owned seven-year-old also placed second at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival – on her hurdling debut in the Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle – and she may have too many gears for her rivals in this contest. Willie Mullins has won 9 of the previous 13 renewals of this race and will have Concertista spot-on for this long-term target.

1. Concertista 2. Roksana 3. Black Tears

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4.15 – Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) 2m87y

Paul Nicholls has saddled the winner of this race 3 times in the last 10 years and the eleven time champion trainer has an intriguing contender in the form of Houx Gris, whom has been all the rage for this contest over the last few weeks and simply could be anything at this stage.

Twice a winner in France – the €200,000 purchase placed third, beaten 22 lengths, on his British debut in the Grade 1 Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow in January and hasn’t been sighted since, presumably with the intention of protecting what could prove to be a very lenient handicap mark of 128.

Houx Gris jumped and travelled well for a long way at Chepstow and a mistake at the penultimate flight of hurdles certainly cost him momentum. It’s fair to say that Sean Bowen didn’t knock the grey around when the front pair had flown, and a much improved performance tomorrow would come as no surprise.

The fact that Paul Nicholls saw fit to hand the french-import his British debut in Grade 1 company certainly reveals plenty about the regard in which he is held.

Saint Sam, whom will wear a first time hood, was sent off a 4/5 favourite to defeat the hugely exciting Zanahiyr on his Irish debut at Fairyhouse in November, which clearly demonstrates the reputation that he held upon arriving from France, where he won 2 of his 3 starts over hurdles.

Willie Mullins considered the Saints Des Saints gelding to be amongst his best juvenile hurdlers this season, and he has run respectively on both of his subsequent outings in spite of failing to get his head in front.

Saint Sam endured a luckless passage when placing fourth behind Zanahiyr in the Grade 2 Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas, and he made a bold bid from the front when following home Quilixios in the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival last month.

A mark of 139 could easily underestimate Saint San if he is indeed as good as connections first thought, and he certainly boasts form behind the right horses in this division. However, it is worth noting that Willie Mullins is yet to saddle the winner of this contest, and he is not the type of trainer whom typically campaigns horses around handicaps.

Busselton, whom will sport first time cheekpieces, brings an almost identical level of form to the table having placed second behind Zanahiyr at Leopardstown over Christmas and third behind Quilixios at the Dublin Racing Festival last month.

The promising son of Mastercraftsman ran out an impressive 2 lengths winner at Auteuil last May and the runner-up, namely State Man, was subsequently purchased by Joe Donnelly and now resides in Closutton with the Irish champion trainer, which is an interesting titbit.

Busselton displayed a slick hurdling technique and a good attitude when chasing home Zanahiyr at Christmas, and the market certainly suggested that he wouldn’t feature prominently in the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle, which perhaps suggests that connections were more concerned about a third run to qualify for this contest and a reasonable handicap mark from which to compete.

Joseph O’Brien knows exactly what it takes to land this race having successfully saddled Band Of Outlaws, whom scored off a mark of 139, in 2019. The strong pace of this race should really suit Busselton, and he looks attractively handicapped off a mark of 135.

Stablemate Druids Altar landed the same Naas race that Band Of Outlaws used as a springboard to success in the contest two years ago, and his experience should stand to him in the hurly-burly environment of a big field handicap.

The progressive son of Mastercraftsman placed a distant third behind Zanahiyr and Saint Sam at Fairyhouse in November and bumped into the potentially smart Teahupoo on his penultimate outing at the same track in January.

Clearly further improvement would be required to land this prize. However, he boasts decent form behind many of the leading juveniles in Ireland this season, which naturally puts him in the mix.

Riviere D’etel placed second in a Listed contest confined to three-year-old fillies on her hurdling debut at Auteuil in September, and she again displayed significant promise when cantering clear to record an impressive 12 lengths success on her Irish debut at Punchestown in December.

The speedy daughter of Martaline attempted to make all when reappearing at Navan in January, and she was far from disgraced in placing third behind the potentially classy Thedevilscoachman, whom has scored in Listed company since, and solid yardstick Visionarian after setting good fractions out in front.

Jack Kennedy will certainly need to harness her enthusiasm in the early exchanges of this contest and indeed attempt to find a rhythm with her jumping – which was slightly out to the right at Navan. However, she clearly possesses a great deal of potential and a mark of 134 could easily underestimate her ability.

Glorious Zoff defeated a subsequent scorer on his hurdling debut at Sligo in October before failing to land the odds at Sedgefield in November. That outing preceded a distant third placed finish behind Paul Nicholls’ exciting Aintree bound juvenile Momiral in the Grade 2 Summit Juvenile Hurdle at Doncaster in December, and the intriguing son of Zoffany hasn’t been sighted over hurdles since.

He did, however, land an all-weather contest at Dundalk in January, which may indicate that connections wanted to get a run into him without ruining an attractive handicap mark over hurdles – presumably with this race in mind.

Curios Bride defeated both Zoffanien (third) and Coltor (fourth) at Punchestown in January and could go very well from the foot of the weights.

Noel Meade’s mare was unsuited by the negative tactics and 2m5f trip when pulling-up in the Listed Apple’s Jade Mares’ Hurdle at Navan last month, and it’s possible that connections already had one eye on this race and simply needed to get a third run into their charge in order to meet the qualification criteria.

A mark of 123 looks very lenient judged her victory at Punchestown, and although her trainer is not renowned for having Cheltenham Festival winners (5 winners in 50 years with a license), he certainly looks to have a live chance with this intriguing daughter of Excelebration.

Zoffanien boosted that form when scooting clear to record an easy 9 lengths success at Naas two weeks ago. While Coltor did his part to enhance the form when landing his solitary subsequent start at Naas two weeks later – where Zoffanien (third) was amongst his 17 rivals.

The former boasts the requisite experience to run well in a contest of this nature. While the latter is arguably open to more improvement given his lightly raced profile. Therefore cases can be made for both.

Cabot Cliffs placed fourth behind the unbeaten Duffle Coat, Grade 1 Finale Juvenile Hurdle scorer Adagio and subsequent novice hurdle scorer Balko Saint over this course and distance in Grade 2 company in November, and he has won both of his subsequent starts in impressive fashion suggesting that he is more than capable of running well this hugely competitive contest.

Dan Skelton’s juvenile showed serious speed and a real aptitude for jumping when scoring a facile 17 lengths success over a well regarded rival at Warwick three weeks ago, and he could easily continue his progression tomorrow with conditions set to suit.

Balko Saint placed third behind the unbeaten Duffle Coat and subsequent Grade 1 Finale Juvenile Hurdle scorer Adagio in Grade 2 company over this course and distance in November. While Homme Public, whom finished just a neck behind the well fancied Houx Gris at Auteuil in October, ran out a ready six-and-a-half-lengths winner at Market Rasen last month and rates a fascinating contender for Oliver Greenall.

The former went two places better at Wincanton two weeks ago and is seemingly improving with experience. His solid course form and ability to handle decent ground make him an intriguing contender tomorrow.

The latter actually met Houx Gris twice across the channel and finished 4 lengths in advance of Paul Nicholls’ grey when placing second on his hurdling debut at Auteuil in September. Clearly the pair are closely matched on their form in France, which could make this intriguing son of Cokoriko look slightly overpriced.

Both possess form that would put them in the mix.

Youmdor and Nasalam will share the burden of top weight.

The former needs to bounce back from a lacklustre showing in the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown last month, which may have something to do with the crashing fall that he suffered on his penultimate outing at Fairyhouse.

The Willie Mullins trained four-year-old was still travelling powerfully when checking out at the final flight of hurdles, and the unbeaten, subsequent scorer Teahupoo has franked that form since. Therefore Youmdor could run well if returning to form.

The latter won his first two starts in Britain by a combined distance of 108 lengths before bumping into Triumph Hurdle contender Adagio in the Grade 1 Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow.

Gary Moore’s chestnut gelding filled the same position behind the Aintree bound Monmiral at Haydock last month, and he will line-up tomorrow off a mark of 141, which will not make life easy.

Sage Advice beat a subsequent scorer on his hurdling debut at Kempton in January and was only beaten half-a-length by the aforementioned Cabot Cliffs at Warwick in early February. While Tinnahalla, whom chased home Sage Advice at Kempton, could easily build upon his success last time out given that he has progressed with each start thus far.

The former is rated 79 on the flat and is almost certainly better than he showed when placing third of three on hock deep ground at Fontwell last month – a run that qualified him for this Grade 3 contest. A mark of 127 could well prove lenient, and we know that Dr Richard Newland is superb at placing those in his care.

The latter reached a mark of 75 on the level and readily defeated the aforementioned Homme Public at Catterick last month, which makes him an intriguing contender at a double figure price.

Jeff Kidder shed his maiden tag at Fairyhouse in November before placing seventh of seven behind Zanahiyr in the Grade 2 Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown in December. While Longclaw, whom won his first three starts over hurdles last summer, could only place fourth behind Duffle Coat and Cabot Cliffs at Wetherby in October, and more will be required in this hugely competitive contest.

Elham Valley defeated a subsequent scorer on his hurdling debut at Sandown in December and was only four-and-three-quarter-lengths behind the aforementioned Houx Gris when placing fourth in the Grade 1 Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow in January. While Her Indoors got off the mark at the third time of asking and remains open to improvement.

The former will represent local trainer Fergal O’Brien and could easily run well if fully recovered from his distant third placed finish behind the exciting Monmiral and well regarded Nassalam on soft ground at Haydock last month.

The latter chased home four-time hurdle scorer Talking About You on her debut at Aintree and bumped into a well regarded rival, whom has since disappointed, when filling the same position at Kempton over Christmas. Alan King is well renowned for his ability to train juvenile hurdlers and a mark of 127 looks fair.

Hell Red created a good impression when sprinting clear on his British debut at Chepstow in October, however, he disappointed badly when pulling-up in Grade 2 company over this course and distance next time out.

The grey son of Martaline underwent wind surgery prior to an odds-on defeat at Wincanton last month, and he could still improve for that procedure going forwards.

Soldier On Parade rattled-up a good ground hat-trick at Marten Rasen last summer and was last seen placing eighth in the Grade 2 Adonis Hurdle at Kempton. However, a mark of 128 looks stiff enough judged on the strength of his form.

Burgundy Man boasts form-figures of 2F8 over hurdles in France and simply could be anything on his British debut for the bang-in-form yard of Venetia Williams. Therefore a market check is advisable.

VERDICT:

Houx Gris and Homme Public are closely matched on their form in France. While Coltor and Zoffanien also boast form that ties in together and are also interesting contenders. However, both Saint Sam and BUSSELTON have been butting heads with the best juveniles in Ireland this winter and therefore make plenty of appeal. Preference would be for the latter, whom was an impressive winner at Auteuil last May and whom made an encouraging Irish debut when chasing home the hugely exciting Zanahiyr in Grade 2 company at Leopardstown. His third placed effort at the Dublin Racing Festival hinted that this race may be his ultimate target, and Joseph O’Brien knows what it takes to plunder this prize having successfully saddled Band Of Outlaws in 2019. The slightly better ground should suit and a mark of 135 looks lenient, while the introduction of first time cheekpieces also catches the eye. Riviere D’etel placed second in Listed company on her hurdling debut at Auteuil before cantering clear of 16 rivals at Punchestown in December. She was far from disgraced when taking on her elders and placing third at Navan last time out, and the winner has since gone on to score in Listed company. That experience should stand to her back in juvenile company and she could be much better than a mark of 134, therefore she too could go well if Jack Kennedy can get her to settle early doors – which may be possible given the likely strong pace.

1. Busselton 2. Riviere D’etel 3. Saint Sam

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4.50 – Sam Vestey National Hunt Challenge Cup Novices’ Chase (Grade 2) 3m5f201y

Galvin chased home a clearly well handicapped Imperial Aura in the now defunct Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase 12 month ago and been aimed at this race since the resumption of racing last year.

Ian Ferguson’s seven-year-old, whom also placed sixth in the 2019 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, qualified for this race when comfortably scoring over 3m80y at Cheltenham’s Showcase Meeting in October and has been put away since, as connections saw no point in tiring him out on unsuitably soft ground during the winter months.

Galvin will therefore arrive at Prestbury Park fit and well following his winter break and will be well suited by conditions. He boasts plenty of experience as a second season novice, which is always a big advantage in this race, and although it would obviously have been a big advantage to have Jamie Codd on his back in an amateur riders contest, it’s certainly no inconvenience to have the assistance of Jack Kennedy.

Next Destination placed second behind smart mare Roksana on his stable debut for Paul Nicholls following a mammoth 920 day absence, and he has since been successful on both of his starts in 3 mile novice chases – confirming that his talent remains intact in spite of his lengthy spell on the sidelines.

The fragile son of Dubai Destination placed third behind Samcro in the 2018 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle before defeating subsequent multiple Grade 1 winning chaser Delta Work in Grade 1 company at Punchestown that spring. However, he never made it back to the track for Willie Mullins, but is seemingly making up for lost time this season.

The Malcolm Denmark owned nine-year-old landed the Grade 2 John Francome Novices’ Chase on his debut in this sphere, and he successfully conceded 5lbs to his two rivals in the Grade 2 Hampton Novices’ Chase at Warwick in January, when demonstrating that what he lacks in tactical speed – he more than makes up for in stamina.

That performance suggested that this contest may prove ideal for Next Destination, and he looks just the type whom will stay on powerfully and pick off rivals whom are flagging up the hill.

Escaria Ten placed fifth behind the mighty Monkfish on his chasing debut at Fairyhouse in November before going four places better at Thurles in December, when stepping-up to 3m1f.

The McNeil Family owned seven-year-old built upon that success when chasing home the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase bound Eklat De Rire at Naas in January, with previous Grade 2 winner – and indeed Grade 1 runner-up – Pencilfulloflead six-and-a-half-lengths back in third.

This marathon trip looks sure to suit the scopey son of Maresca Sorrento, and he arguably shaped better than the bare form would suggest when placing fifteenth in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle 12 months ago. He therefore boasts solid claims.

Remastered is 3-3 over fences following his all-the-way victory in the Grade 2 Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Ascot last month, and is yet another candidate whom looks sure to be suited by this stern test of stamina.

David Pipe’s eight-year-old jumps well and remains open to improvement in this sphere, and he defeated a similarly smart prospect when triumphing at Ascot last month, with the front pair pulling 29 lengths clear of the third.

The ban on amateur riders allows Tom Scudamore to continue in the saddle, which is naturally a big bonus given that he has ridden the improving eight-year-old on all three of his outings this winter.

He is therefore another big player whom warrants his place on the shortlist.

Lord Royal hasn’t been able to scale the heights that where expected of him this season, however, he does appear to possesses plenty of stamina and could therefore be well suited by this marathon trip.

Willie Mullins’ six-year-old fell at the penultimate fence when travelling well on his chasing debut at Thurles in November, and he simply lacked to the gears to trouble subsequent Grade 2 Ten Up Novice Chase runner-up Espanito Bello, subsequent Thyestes Chase and Ten Up Novice Chase winner Coko Beach, and subsequent beginners chase scorer Longhouse Poet over 2m3f at Naas in December.

That race has clearly worked out well and Lord Royal’s only subsequent outing, when beaten three-quarters-of-a-length over 3 miles at Navan in January, is also a solid piece of form as the third placed The Big Dog landed the Grade B Punchestown Grand National Trial on his solitary outing since.

Clearly improvement will be required to land this Grade 2 contest. However, his form stacks up well and this trip may just eke out the requisite improvement.

Snow Leopardess has accumulated some solid form over fences with her solitary success to date coming at Haydock in November, when getting-up in the shadows of the post and displaying her abundant stamina.

Charlie Longsdon’s grey bumped in the progressive Canelo when placing second in the Grade 3 Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase on her only subsequent outing, and she will arrive here fresh and well following an 80 day absence.

The recent rainfall is certainly a bonus and she could easily run well in receipt of 7lbs (mares allowance).

Soldier Of Love chased home Galvin at Cheltenham in October following four consecutive victories over fences – including a two-and-a-quarter-lengths victory over subsequent Paddy Power Gold Cup hero Coole Cody at Newton Abbot in September.

All four of those successes were achieved on good ground, therefore connections will be hoping that the rain stays away.

The Mighty Don chased home Ultima Handicap Chase fancy Happygolucky at Cheltenham in December, and he enjoyed a pipe-opener in a ‘jumpers bumper’ at Kempton last month, which should have put him spot-on for this contest.

Nick Gifford’s nine-year-old landed a 3 mile handicap hurdle at Cheltenham in October 2018 and the form of his runner-up effort in December could look very solid should the winner justify strong market support earlier on the card.

Ofalltheginjoints got off the mark at the second time of asking before finishing fourth of four, beaten 87 lengths, in the Grade 2 December Novices’ Chase at Doncaster in December.

It has been well documented that the Tizzard yard has been under a cloud for much of this season, and that run was certainly too bad to be true. However, they do seem to have turned a corner in recent times, and a much improved performance is possible.

Nestor Park chased home the exciting Lieutenant Rocco at Ffos Las last month and looks worth trying over this marathon trip. While Lithic, whom placed fourth over 3m6f at Exeter in December, certainly has no concerns on the stamina front and will have the assistance of Jonjo O’Neill Jr.

Macgiloney broke his duck at Fairyhouse last month and will appreciate the likely conditions. While Eden Du Houx, whom has failed to live up to expectations thus far, will provide David Pipe with a second string to his bow.

VERDICT:

Galvin boasts solid Cheltenham Festival form and has been laid out for this contest, however, he isn’t certain to stay this marathon trip and is short enough in the betting. Escaria Ten looks a promising stayer in the making and it’s interesting that connections have taken up this option given that he was a single figure price for the Ultima Handicap Chase. However, NEXT DESTINATION has a touch of class and looks a thorough stayer, which makes him a tempting proposition. Malcolm Denmark’s nine-year-old has seemingly picked-up from where he left off in the spring of 2018, when placing third behind Samcro in the Ballymore Novives’ Hurdle and beating Delta Work in Grade 1 company at Punchestown. Next Destination won on good ground at Newbury and was equally impressive when successfully conceding 5lbs to his two rivals on soft ground at Warwick – where his stamina came to the fore. This race looks tailor made for the talented son of Dubai Destination.

1. Next Destination 2. Escaria Ten 3. Galvin

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Antepost Punting: The Coral Cup

1.5pts each-way Allart in the Coral Cup at 14/1 (NRNB – Sky Bet, BetVictor)

The Cheltenham Festival handicap entries were revealed on Tuesday and, as always, they proved revealing. Indeed, they are arguably even more revealing than ever this year given that trainers and owners are less inclined to make unnecessary entries that they don’t intend to take-up given the ongoing issues surrounding the coronavirus pandemic and post-brexit complications.

This naturally makes studying the handicaps less time consuming and indeed makes those whom may be of interest stand out like a sore thumb, one such horse being ALLART, whom has been given an entry in the Coral Cup after falling in a Grade 2 novice chase at Haydock in January.

Nicky Henderson has landed the Coral Cup 4 times in the last 11 years and will be looking to secure a third successive triumph in the race this year following the victories of William Henry and Dame De Compagnie in 2019 and 2020 respectively.

The British Champion trainer isn’t short of options having entered no fewer than 13 horses at this stage. However, while one or two look fairy well treated based on what they have achieved thus far, I’m confident that Allart is the best the handicapped amongst them, and indeed one of the best treated horses in the entire race.

The Ronnie Bartlett owned seven-year-old won two of his four starts as a novice last season and was far from disgraced when placing fifth in a good renewal of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last March – a race in which he shaped well prior to lacking the finishing kick of his rivals up the hill.

The form of that Grade 1 contest looks solid as the hugely exciting winner Shishkin is 3-3 over fences, runner-up Abacadabras landed the Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown, the third placed Chantry House is 2-3 over fences, the fourth placed Asterion Forlonges has won a beginners chase, the sixth placed Edwardstone ran a mighty race to place third off a mark of 146 in Sunday’s Betfair Hurdle, and the seventh placed Heaven Help Us landed a competitive mares handicap hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival two weeks ago.

It was no surprise to see Allart begin his chasing career over a trip just shy of two-miles-and-three-furlongs at Ascot in November, and the fact that connections decided to pitch him straight into Grade 2 company is clear indication of the regard in which they hold him.

The Shantou gelding defeated an experienced, race-fit rival in the form of Fiddlerontheroof on that occasion, and everything appeared to be going to plan at Haydock prior to his unfortunate departure at the eighth fence. As with Dame De Compagnie, Nicky Henderson seems keen to head straight back over hurdles and it’s not hard to see why given that Allart is currently rated 143 in this sphere – some 9lbs below the mark that he boasts over fences.

Allart naturally remains open to significant improvement following just four starts in this sphere, and he could easily improve further for the two-miles-and-five-furlong trip.

It is worth noting that Nicky Henderson sounded words of caution when discussing Allart yesterday, commenting; “Allart had a fall at Haydock which was very frustrating as he didn’t do a whole lot wrong. He would be interesting if he came in here (for the Coral Cup), but we’re not having the cleanest time with him at the moment. I’ll have to sit on the fence as far as his participation is concerned.”

Clearly that is a cause for concern, however, I would counter that risk by supporting Allart at 14/1 with the concession of NRNB, safe in the knowledge that he will only run if he is in the right condition to do so. After all, the master of Seven Barrows hardy needs to risk him otherwise given that he has 12 other entrants to fall back on!

If he does line-up fit and well I could easily see him being close to, if not contesting, favouritism on the day day. Therefore it’s worth taking some of the 14/1 currently available.

(Comments sourced from Sporting Life)

Antepost Punting: Kim Muir Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase

1.5pts each-way Time To Get Up in the Kim Muir Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase at 14/1 (NRNB Paddy Power, Betfair)

The handicap entries will be revealed later today and I’m going to sneak in one more selection prior to the big reveal, namely TIME TO GET UP in the Kim Muir Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase.

The JP McManus owned eight-year-old has clearly had his problems having missed 500 days following his racecourse debut at Tipperary in 2018 and a further 329 days following his third career outing, when chasing home subsequent Albert Bartlett winner – and current Brown Advisory Novice Chase favourite – Monkfish at Fairyhouse in December 2019.

Clearly it’s no surprise that Time To Get Up is lightly raced for his age and it’s interesting that team McManus elected to transfer the Presenting gelding to Jonjo O’Neill for his chasing career. Indeed, it wouldn’t take a huge stretch of imagination to believe that they may have had a plan in mind, and it could easily be this contest given that they have history with the race.

Indeed, O’Neill and McManus teamed-up to land the Kim Muir with subsequent Aintree Grand National runner-up Sunnyhillboy in 2012, and also combined with Alfie Sherrin, who placed fourth as a 9/1 shot in 2013, Upswing, who placed ninth as an 8/1 chance in 2016, and Another Hero, whom placed thirteenth at 9/1 in 2017, in the meantime. While the Cheltenham Gold Cup winning jockey and trainer also saddled Sky Pirate to place seventh in 2019 and this season’s Ladbrokes Trophy hero Cloth Cap to finish eighth on unsuitably soft ground last year.

JP McManus has enjoyed two further winners, two second places and one third place in that same time period. Therefore we know that both owner and trainer like to target this race, which adds further weight to the theory that this may have been the plan.

Time To Get Up made an eye-catching chasing debut at Aintree in October when jumping well and placing third, under a very tender ride, over an inadequate trip of two-and-a-half-miles. He then placed fourth over two-miles-and-three-furlongs at Wetherby before breaking his duck at Wincanton three weeks ago.

The scopey eight-year-old clearly relished the step-up to 3m1f on that occasion and could hardly have won much easier in the hands of Jonjo O’Neill jr. He again jumped well en route to an impressive 5 lengths success over a bang in-form rival (whom had won their last two starts) and an 8lbs rise in the weights looks far from harsh.

That victory was achieved on heavy ground. However, Time To Get Up placed second in a good ground maiden hurdle and handled decent ground perfectly well at Aintree in November. Indeed, he is by Presenting and could therefore improve for sound racing surface, which is a distinct possibility given the current long-term weather forecast in the Cotswolds.

A mark of 138 would (virtually) guarantee him a run and Jonjo O’Neill has enjoyed a fantastic season to date, as underlined by Soaring Glory’s impressive success in the Betfair Hurdle on Saturday. That was just the latest in a long line of well executed plans, and I am hopeful that this can prove another.

Antepost Punting: The Ultima Handicap Chase

1pt each-way Lieutenant Rocco in the Ultima Handicap Chase at 12/1 (NRNB – Skybet) + 1pt win at 18/1 (Bet365)

As I’ve shown in recent weeks I don’t mind backing two in a race if I feel that they both represent good value, therefore I am going to double up in the Ultima Handicap Chase and add Lieutenant Rocco to the portfolio.

When looking at the race last night I was drawn to both Lieutenant Rocco and Aye Right. The latter has been running well in quality handicaps all season long and could easily feature prominently if taking his chance in March. However, the former is lightly raced and has more scope for progression, and it was hard not he be impressed by his smooth success at Ffos Las earlier this month.

Indeed, Nick Mitchell’s six-year-old seemingly relished the step-up to 3 miles and fairly jumped for fun in the hands of Daryl Jocob. He defeated a 136 rated rival, whom received 5lbs (claim) and has twice been narrowly denied in competitive Newbury handicaps this season, by an eased down 8 lengths earning a rise of 7lbs to an official rating of 147.

Lieutenant Rocco was only beaten a shade over 6 lengths by smart novices Messire Des Obeaux and Protektorat in the rescheduled Grade 2 Dipper Novices’ Chase at Wincanton in January, and he very nearly caused at upset at Cheltenham in December when attempting to make all under Tom Scudamore and only giving way in the final 100 yards. Both of those races were contested over two-and-a-half-miles, and both efforts suggested that 3 miles would suit.

Obviously there are options aplenty as a novice, however, I can’t see connections wanting to take on Envoi Allen in the Marsh Novices’ Chase or Monkfish in the Brown Advisory, and I would imagine that connections may more inclined to stay at 3 miles following his Ffos Las success than drop back down on trip to contest the Paddy Power Plate. Therefore I would argue that the Ultima Handicap Chase is his most likely destination.

We know that he can operate at Cheltenham and his extremely fluent fencing, which has been a joy to watch thus far, will certainly stand to him in such a hotly-contested handicap. While a mark of 147 could easily underestimate the true level of his ability given his unexposed status over staying trips.

Escaria Ten, Remastered, Dickie Diver, Dashel Drasher, Alnadam, Coko Beach, Royal Pagaille and Secret Reprieve, who are currently the first eight horses quoted on Oddschecker, are all unlikely runners and the market could collapse at any stage – especially with the handicap entries being made this week. Therefore I intend to snare some of the 12/1 NRNB that is currently available with Sky Bet, and top that up with a small bet at 18/1 with Bet365.

Sunday Selections

Soaring Glory looks well handicapped off a mark of 133.

1pt win Es Perfecto in the 1.50 Newbury at 7/1

1pt win Lostintranslation in the 2.25 Newbury at 9/2

1pt win Sceau Royal in the 3.00 Newbury at 10/3

1pt win Soaring Glory in the 3.35 Newbury at 7/1

1pt win Edwardstone in the 3.35 Newbury at 12/1

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Es Perfecto displayed a good attitude when chasing home subsequent Grade 1 Challow Hurdle winner Bravemansgame at Newbury in November and he should be well suited by stepping-up trip.

Alan King’s six-year-old has some solid form in the book and will appreciate the decent ground. An opening handicap mark of 133 looks fair and Tom Bellamy’s confidence will be sky-high following a double at Sandown on Thursday.

Lostintranslation has something to prove following two disappointing efforts this season. However, he has undergone wind surgery since pulling-up in the King George and could easily bounce back at a track where he has performed well in the past.

Indeed, last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup third boasts form-figures of 2123 at the Berkshire venue and he will appreciate the decent ground. The Tizzard horses seem to have turned the corner in recent weeks and it is worth noting that the yard have won this prize with Native River three times in the last four years.

Lostintranslation is clearly a high class horse when on song and he could jump his rivals into submission if rediscovering his form tomorrow.

Sceau Royal chased home Altior in this contest 12 months ago and won’t have a 6lbs penalty to contend with this year.

Alan King’s speedy nine-year-old has already bagged the Listed Welsh Champion Hurdle and Grade 2 Unibet Elite Hurdle this season, as well as chasing home reigning champion hurdler Epatante in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, demonstrating that he is as good as ever this term.

Sceau Royal does have to bounce back from a fall in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton last time out, however, he will be suited by the decent ground and is the one to beat on official ratings. Therefore he should go very close if staying upright.

Jonjo O’Neill landed the Betfair Hurdle the novice Get Me Out Of Here in 2010, and Soaring Glory will attempt to emulate that success off an attractive looking mark of 133.

Soaring Glory claimed the scalp of subsequent Grade 1 Challow Hurdle winner Bravemansgame at Chepstow in October before bumping into the potentially useful Dusart, whom received 6lbs, at Newbury next time out. The promising six-year-old travelled powerfully prior to falling on his penultimate outing at Wetherby and was far from disgraced when placing third in the Grade 2 Sky Bet Supreme Trial at Ascot in December.

Form of that nature suggests that he could ply his trade in graded company come the spring, which would make his current rating look extremely exploitable. While the likely strong gallop and decent ground should prove ideal.

The enthusiastic Edwardstone achieved a confidence boosting success at Market Rasen last month and could still prove much better than a mark of 146.

Alan King’s seven-year-old placed fifth in the Grade 3 Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham in November and will well suited by an end-to-end gallop on a flat track.

Edwardstone claimed the scalps of Fiddlerontheroof, Flic Ou Voyou, First Lord De Cuet and Harry Senior on decent ground last season and was far from disgraced in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. He could therefore run well granted favourable conditions.

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Saturday Selections

1pt win Demachine in the 1.50 at Ascot at 7/2

1pt win Le Cameleon in the 2.13 Wincanton at 3/1

1pt win Jerrysback in the 2.25 Ascot at 7/2

1pt win Stolen Silver in the 3.00 Ascot at 9/1

1pt win Lord Du Mesnil in the 2.40 Haydock at 17/2

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Demachine won nicely over this course and distance in November and has undergone wind surgery since a slightly disappointing third placed effort at Newbury in December.

Kerry Lee’s seven-year-old jumps soundly, travels strongly and handles soft ground, and he remains open to improvement both in this sphere and over this trip.

The form of his debut success at Uttoxeter reads well and Kerry Lee’s horses seem to be in good heart at present. Therefore all looks set for a big run.

Le Cameleon won in the manner of an improving horse at Chepstow last month and doesn’t look badly treated off a 6lbs higher mark.

Nick Williams’ has a knack for improving horses when sent over fences and this promising six-year-old, whom is a half-brother to stablemate Moonlighter, is already rated 6lbs higher in this sphere than he was over hurdles.

Le Cameleon jumped well, albeit slightly right, at Chepstow, which clearly won’t be an issue tomorrow, and he more than handled the heavy conditions. Indeed, his record on ground officially described as heavy read 121, therefore the deeper the ground the better.

Bryony Frost will take over in the saddle and the pair should get on well as they both like to race prominently. Therefore a bold showing seems likely.

Jerrysback made a pleasing reappearance at Ascot last month following a 399 day absence, which will hopefully have put him spot on for this assignment. The step back-up to 3 miles will certainly be in his favour, and he clearly goes well as the track given his form-figures of 233.

The testing conditions will be to his liking and he looks fairly handicapped off a mark of 142 – the same mark from which he placed third against progressive rivals last month.

Philip Hobbs’ charge has often threatened to land a contest of this nature and tomorrow could easily be his day.

Stolen Silver achieved a good level of form as a novice hurdler last season including a Grade 2 success over the 146 rated Edwardstone at Haydock, when more than confirming his ability to handle heavy ground.

The Nigel Twiston-Davies trained six-year-old will revert to hurdling following three unsuccessful outings over fences, and he could easily prove better than a mark of 140, especially over this near two-and-a-half-mile trip.

It is worth remembering that Stolen Silver wasn’t beaten far when placing eighth in the Grade 3 Betfair Hurdle last season off a mark of 145, and he was only beaten one-and-three-quarter-lengths by subsequent Supreme Novices’ Hurdle third Chantry House, whom received 6lbs, at Cheltenham in December 2019, with the well regarded Pipesmoker and subsequent Cheltenham Festival runner-up Pileon, both of whom also received 6lbs, back in third and fourth.

This is clearly a very competitive contest that will take plenty of winning. However, Stolen Silver is open to improvement, handles bad ground and has some very solid form in the book. Therefore he makes obvious appeal.

Haydock lover Lord Du Mesnil placed second in this Grand National Trial last year and will bid to go one place better off a 2lbs higher mark.

Richard Hobson’s charge boasts form-figures of 112 at Haydock and will be well suited by every drop of rain that falls prior to 2.40, which will make this a real test of stamina and reward those whom can jump and travel economically.

Lord Du Mesnil is yet to spark in three starts this season. However, the first of those efforts came over hurdles, the second of those runs came over a trip too short, and the ground had dried out far too much by the time that they ran the rescheduled Welsh Grand National at Chepstow. Therefore I wouldn’t hold those efforts against him.

The stamina-laden eight-year-old could easily get a few of his rivals into trouble if jumping fluently at the head of affairs, and he could take plenty of passing if bouncing back to his best form of last season.

Antepost Punting: The County Hurdle

1.5pts each-way Thedevilscoachman in the County Handicap Hurdle at 16/1 (Paddy Power, Betfair – Both NRNB 5 Places)

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County Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) 2m179y

The County Hurdle went the way of a lightly raced novice whom carried the green and gold bands of leading owner JP McManus last year, and I am hopeful that lightening can strike twice with Noel Meade’s progressive five-year-old Thedevilscoachman next month.

Firstly I should state the obvious and point out that Thedevilscoachman is far from certain to line-up in this contest as connections may decide to go down the novice route and contest the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, or indeed they may enter him for the handicaps and receive an unfavourable mark from the British handicapper. However, I propose backing the improving youngster with the comfort blanket of NRNB, therefore there is no damage done if he does indeed head elsewhere.

That said, it is worth noting that Noel Meade was quick to mention the handicapper after the promising son of Elusive Pimpernel scored a comfortable success in Listed company at Punchestown on Sunday, commenting; “I’ll have to talk to JP and Frank (Berry, owner’s racing manager) about plans and see what they are thinking. We’ll see where the handicapper puts him in.”

The eight-time Irish Champion National Hunt Trainer further commented; He’s so laidback – he just does whatever you want him to do. He’s a nice horse to have. When you pick him up he has a great turn of foot, which is what you want in a real racehorse.”

Clearly Thedevilscoachman is held in high regard at Tu Va Stables and the Irish handicapper saw fit to dish out a 5lbs rise (to a mark of 142) for his cosy 2 lengths success over a rival whom weighed in 7lbs light.

It’s easy to crab that form as it was a slowly run race in which he picked-up best of all. However, his penultimate outing at Navan, which is often a good guide to Cheltenham given it’s undulations, stiff finish and galloping nature, was a truly run contest that also resulted in an impressive success. I was also very taken by his slick hurdling and swift turn of foot off a strong gallop on that occasion – two assets that would undoubtedly stand to him in a race such as the County Hurdle.

Thedevilscoachmen was pushed clear of previous scorers Visionarian and Riviere D’etel, whom received 5lbs and 11lbs respectively, at Navan and has only tasted defeat once in five career starts – when placing fifth behind Supreme Novices’ Hurdle favourite Appreciate It in Grade 1 company at Christmas. That in itself could be enough to tempt connections to go down the handicap route, and it’s fair to presume that he has benefitted from that experience given the manner of his two subsequent victories.

It is also worth noting that he was keen in the early states of that Leopardstown contest, and he appeared to get lit-up after making a slight mistake when jumping the first hurdle down the back, therefore he expended plenty of energy in the early and indeed middle parts of the race, which perhaps explains why he couldn’t make up his ground when the race began in earnest.

It’s fair to say that Noel Meade isn’t renowned for having Cheltenham Festival winners having saddled just 5 in his 50 years as a trainer. However, he certainly doesn’t send horses to Cheltenham for a day trip, and he proved that he he capable of plundering a Cheltenham Festival handicap when saddling subsequent multiple Grade 1 winner Road To Respect to land the 2017 Paddy Power Plate (formerly the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate).

The form of Thedevilscoachman’s easy maiden success at Cork was rubber-stamped when the runner-up went one place better next time out and he certainly wouldn’t look out of place in the Cheltenham Festival curtain raiser, especially given the apparent lack of depth this year and his scope for further progression. However, he does give the impression that he would flourish in a fiercely run handicap and we know that his owner is not adverse to ‘landing a touch’ in such contests.

(Source of quotes: Sporting Life)

Antepost Punting: The Cheltenham Gold Cup & The Paddy Power Plate

A Plus Tard after landing the 2019 Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase.

2.5pt win A Plus Tard in the Cheltenham Gold Cup at 7/1 (Generally)

1.5pts each-way Conflated in the Paddy Power Festival Plate at 14/1 (Paddy Power, Betfair – NRNB 5 Places)

Regular readers will be aware that I advised Minella Indo for the Cheltenham Gold Cup during the autumn and all seemed to be going well prior to his fall in the Savills Chase at Christmas.

One faux pas could easily be forgiven, however, it was undeniably disappointing that he could only place fourth in Irish Gold Cup last weekend, and while both his mistake at the penultimate fence and the drying ground did little to help his cause, I felt that he didn’t look overly confident at any stage of that race and you could also argue that last season’s Brown Advisory Chase form isn’t working out as well as many thought it would, as Allaho has been soundly beaten twice this season and hardly set the pulse racing when giving Elimay 2lbs and a 3 lengths beating at Thurles last month, albeit the current Mares’ Chase favourite has admittedly franked the form since.

That questionable form-line also casts doubt on Champ, who’s preparation for the blue riband contest consists of a ‘simulated 3m race’ and a spin in the 2m Game Spirit Chase should Newbury go ahead on Sunday.

Such a preparation can hardly be considered ideal and he makes even less appeal when you factor in his inconsistent fencing – something that clearly concerns connections whom saw fit to give him a back-up entry in the Stayers Hurdle.

The highly progressive Royal Pagaille is not yet a certain runner but would undoubtedly bring an aura of intrigue should he be given the green light. While last years runner-up Santini will be suited by the presence of Frodon and Native River, whom will ensure that this year’s renewal, unlike last year’s contest, will be a truly run race from start to finish.

That will also suit the hat-trick seeking Al Boum Photo, whom is again taking his tried and tested path to the Cotswolds and has few miles on the clock given how sparingly he is campaigned.

It’s easy to see why many are latching on to the reigning champ and he is clearly the horse to beat on all known form. However, I was convinced that Henry De Bromhead would land the Gold Cup after A PLUS TARD landed the Savills Chase at Christmas, and although I’m now lukewarm on the chances of Minella Indo, I’m growing increasingly confident about the prospects of last year’s Ryanair Chase third.

It was hard not to be impressed by how well A Plus Tard stayed-on to mow-down Kemboy and Melon in the shadows of the post at Leopardstown, and that form was franked when Kemboy landed the Irish Gold Cup last weekend. Obviously Melon didn’t run as well on that occasion, however, I would put that down to the more patient tactics as he’s a much better horse when allowed to stride on and attack his fences.

I was particularly impressed by hard the Cheveley Park stud owned seven-year-old hit the line, giving the impression that another 2 furlongs would be right up his street, which is very impressive when you consider that he had the gears to defeat red-hot Champion Chase favourite Chacun Pour Soi, who admittedly needed the run, over 2m1f at the corresponding meeting in 2019. And let’s not forget that he also ran out a 16 lengths winner of the now defunct Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase (2m4f) in 2019, demonstrating his class and ability from 2m to 3m.

Indeed, Henry De Bromhead’s charge has plenty in common with 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Sizing John, who was also accomplished over shorter trips before gaining his crowing glory over 3m2f in the Cotswolds. Like Sizing John, A Plus Tard has solid form at Cheltenham and is completely unexposed over staying trips, and he too could prove to be the new kid on the block in the staying division.

Like Al Boum Photo, A Plus Tard has been given plenty of time to recover from his exertions at Christmas and will arrive at Prestbury Park a fresh horse, which can only be positive. While his current rating is superior to many Gold Cup winners heading into Cheltenham’s main event.

Obviously he’s been found in the market and is no bigger than 7/1. However, I can him shortening further between now and the festival, and could even see him contesting favouritism with Al Boum Photo on the day. Therefore I’m more than happy to strike a wager at the current odds.

My second selection today is CONFLATED in the newly named Paddy Power Plate.

This is a race that Gordon Elliott hasn’t targeted too often over the years. Indeed, given how many horses he brings over for the meeting, and his impressive strike-rate in handicaps, it’s somewhat surprising that he has only had 4 runners in the last 5 renewals, and two of those 4 runners came last March, namey Ben Dundee, who placed fifth, and Death Duty, whom was backed into 8/1 from 16/1 before finishing tenth.

His other two runners were both sent off as 5/1 favourites but with very different fortunes, as Diamond King was pulled-up in 2017 before The Storyteller prevailed 12 months later. It is perhaps worth noting that the master of Cullentra House Stables has also saddled the aforementioned Ben Dundee and National Hunt Chase contender Galvin to place third and second respectively in the now defunct Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase in the last two years, which was also contested over two-and-a-half-miles and was perhaps the race that was given priority – although only for novices rated below 145, obviously.

Conflated found the 2m1f trip too sharp when placing third behind Champion Hurdle third Darver Star on his chasing debut at Punchestown in October, and shaped promisingly when chasing home the enigmatic Asterion Forlonges at the same venue next time out. He put that experience to good use when sauntering to a 17 lengths success at Navan in December, when comfortably defeating a decent looking field that included subsequent scorers The Big Getaway, Mr Hendricks and Dinney Lacey.

The Gigginstown House Stud owned seven-year-old failed to see out the 3m trip when clashing with star novices’ Monkfish and Latest Exhibition in the Grade 1 Neville Hotels Novice Chase at Leopardstown in December and has been handed a mark of 144 by the Irish Handicappers. That means that he is likely to run off a mark in the region of 147 should be indeed take in this contest next month, which is the exact mark from which the Storyteller was successful in 2018 and the mark from which Ben Dundee placed fifth last March.

Novices’ have won this race 3 times in the last 4 years and dropping back to two-and-a-half-miles on the more stamina demanding new course should prove ideal for Conflated, whom could easily be well treated off a mark in the mid-to-high 140’s. Therefore he is well worth supporting in the NRNB market at 14/1.