Thursday, 20 July 2017

Cheltenham Festival 2018: Tuesday's Early Favourites

Our man James Stevens believes day one of the Cheltenham Festival is the best, and he's run us through the early favourites. His antepost selections, and more previews are coming throughout the build up to Cheltenham.

Supreme Novices Hurdle - Fayonagh (14-1)

Gordon Elliott's Fayonagh has been priced at 14-1 for the curtain raiser at the Festival, after picking up two Grade One prizes last season. He came far from the back to land the Champion Bumper, before adding more top level glory at Punchestown. He has looked head and shoulders above the rest, and should stack him up well. His victory at the Cotswold was mightly impressive, and rarely do you get a Champion Bumper winner that doesn't go on to win more top level honours.

Debuchet is a second favourite (16-1) for the curtain raiser, he finished second behind Gordon Elliot's star before going on to add listed glory by just over five lengths. Willie Mullins' Getabird (20-1), Gigginstown's unbeaten Samcro (20-1) and Nicky Henderson's Daphne Du Clos (25-1) all outside chances.

Arke Novices' Chase - Defi Du Seuil (10-1)

Another impressive Cheltenham winner was Defi Du Seuil (10-1), who is a three-time Grade One winner at the age of four. He won Chepstow's Future Champions Finale Juvenile Hurdle, before enjoying a convincingly five length success in the Triumph Hurdle. He completed an unbeaten season at Aintree, when winning the 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle. He hasn't been tested over fenced, but he looks a remarkable prospect especially if he remains a novice.

Neon Wolf (14-1), who was narrowly defeated in the Neptune, is expected to go the the Arkle with a chance. Whilst the bookmakers aren't ruling out Supreme first and second Labaik (14-1) and Melon (16-1), popular top class hurdler Yanworth (16-1), and Irish Champion Hurdle winning Petit Mouchoir (16-1).

Champion Hurdle - Buveur D'Air (4-1)

Nicky Henderson's star hurdler Buveur D'Air is best priced at 4-1 to reclaim his Champion Hurdle prize, making him the first to do so since Hardy Eustace twelve years ago. He was impressive when winning the prize last season, beating stable rival My Tent Or Yours in an impressive manner before beating the same rival easily at Aintree a fortnight later. Rightly so, he is the one to beat at this stage of the season.

Faugheen (10-1) won the Champion Hurdle in 2015, but has missed out on a chance to retain his prize in the previous two renewals. Arkle favourite Defi Du Seuil (8-1) may stay over hurdles, and if so would be fancied in Tuesday's feature contest.

Mares Hurdle - Apples Jade (3-1)

Last year's Mares Hurdle was an absolute thriller with Apples Jade (3-1) battling hardest up the hill to deny hot favourite Limini and Vroum Vroum Mag. She is currently the bookmakers favourite to reclaim the Grade One prize, but she may have some other options available against the boys.

Limini is priced at 8-1 to turn the form around in the Cotswolds, whilst stable companion Vroum Vroum Mag is 10-1 for Willie Mullins. Another Mullins and Rich Ricci star mare Let's Dance is priced at 12-1, whilst former Champion Hurdle winner Annie Power is 8-1.

National Hunt Chase - Ballyoptic (16-1)

Nigel Twiston-Davies' former Sefton winner Ballyoptic (16-1) is an early favourite in what looks a very open National Hunt Chase. He hasn't shown much since winning at Aintree, with his best run coming second behind the Unowhatimeanharry in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury. The seven-year-old was last seen finishing seven lengths behind Yanworth in the Liverpool Hurdle. A switch over fences and a longer trip should benefit him this season.

Gordon Elliott's Fagan (20-1) couldn't have done much more when winning by 95 lengths on his chasing debut; in the 2016 Festival he finished second in the Stayers' Hurdle. Nicky Henderson's Constantine Bay (20-1),  Henry De Bromhead's Monalee (20-1) and Gordon Elliott's Sutton Place (20-1) are all in with chances. Ben Pauling's Barters Hill is a 25-1 chance to earn a Festival victory.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Bradstocks aim for Hennessy over King George as Coneygree targets second Cheltenham Gold Cup

Sara Bradstock insists Coneygree is 'unlikely' to head to the King George VI Chase, as he hopes to retain the Cheltenham Gold Cup three years on.

He has been plagued with injury ever since landing the Festival’s highlight race in 2015, but returned to his best when finishing third in the Punchestown Gold Cup.

Most likely he may target Newbury’s Ladbroke Chase (formerly known as the Hennessy) where the likes of Bob’s Worth, Native River and stable superstar Carruthers have all won in recent years.

He had come back from a lengthy absence that day, and may well be set for another big year this season.

"Coneygree proved at Punchestown that he is still, despite his advancing years and fractures in three legs, arguably the best staying chaser in Britain and Ireland,” Bradstock wrote on the team’s website.

"With everything against him, he approached the second last going much better than Sizing John and Djakadam. Then momentarily, it all went wrong when he decided that the ground was a little too fast to jump off the long stride that would be so natural to him on winter ground.

Coneygree was only beaten a length and a half by Irish, English and Punchestown Gold Cup winning Sizing John on return from a five month break 

"He hit the fence hard and was momentarily brought to a standstill, before picking himself up and regaining his position alongside Djackadam and Sizing John at the last. Only then did the lack of a recent run begin to tell and he was beaten into third.

"He is back in training after a short break and we will have him ready to run early in the autumn 2017 if there is some suitable ground either here or in Ireland.”

Last year Coneygree made his return in Betfair Chase at Haydock, but he was second best when fifteen lengths behind Colin Tizzard’s Cue Card.

Another venture to Ireland could be the plan for the dual Grade One winner, but he will want to go where he gets ideal soft ground.

“The possibilities are the Guinness Kerry National Handicap Chase at Listowel in September, the JN Champion Chase at Down Royal in early November, the open handicap at Chepstow or the Bet365 Charlie Hall at Wetherby,” she added.

"After an initial run, he will probably be aimed at the Ladbrokes (previously the Hennessy) Gold Cup at Newbury, unless we discover at Listowel that his superior stamina is not suited to giving away weight in a handicap race. In which case he may go back to the Betfair Chase at Haydock.

Coneygree made history when becoming the first novice to win the Gold Cup since Captain Christy in 1974.

Yet Bradstock is unlikely to take the ten-year-old to the King George on Boxing Day, where the chaser won the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase by thirty lengths on the same card.

“He would only run in the King George VI at Kempton Park if he came out of the Ladbrokes (Hennessy) or Betfair Chase completely fresh,” she added.

“We are thinking that he may skip that and head for the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham in January or the Denman Chase at Newbury in February, to prepare for the Gold Cup at Cheltenham in March.

“He is, and will always be, our massive and miraculous hero who owes us nothing.”

Bookmakers are pricing as high as 25-1 to retain his Gold Cup prize, a market headed by King George winner Thistlecrack and last year’s winner Sizing John.

Daryl Jacob set for partnership with leading Gloucestershire trainer Ben Pauling

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Ben Pauling, who saddled Willoughby Court to Neptune glory last season, has announced Daryl Jacob will become first choice jockey for the yard.

Pauling who also trains Barters Hill, is responsible for a growing yard in Gloucestershire as he picked up a record 32 wins.

The Bourton-On-The-Water handler has already enjoyed four wins this season, and is looking forward to his partnership with Jacob.

"We have had a fantastic few years with the yard growing season after season and I am not somebody who wanted to go down the route of using the best available," Pauling told the Racing Post.

"With Nico de Boinville being kept busy by Nicky Henderson and David Bass now being first choice at Kim Bailey's, I felt the yard needed some continuity and a jockey who would be available for much of the time.

Willoughby Court gave Ben Pauling his first Cheltenham Festival success, denying hot favourite Neon Wolf in the Neptune.

"The matter has been discussed with Simon Munir, Isaac Souede and their racing manager Anthony Bromley and an agreement has been reached, they will come first as far as Daryl is concerned but that means he is free to ride for us for the rest of the time."
"If there is a clash on big days like Saturdays we will cross that bridge when we get to it but for the most part Daryl will be fully available and I am looking forward to building on what the yard has already achieved in just a few seasons."
Jacob will still work for reigning champion trainer Nicky Henderson, and has ridden the likes of Bristol De Mai, Top Notch and L'Ami Serge in Simon Munir & Isaac Souede's famous green colours.
He hasn't tasted Cheltenham Festival glory since riding Lac Fontana to County Hurdle glory in 2014, and was narrowly beaten on two occasions last March.
Last season the man who saddled Neptune Collonges to Grand National success, enjoyed two Grade One successes with Top Notch in Scilly Isles Novices' Chase and Messire Des Obeaux in Newbury's Challow Hurdle.
The pair will team up with Calva D'Honore at Worcester tomorrow evening.

Willie Mullins expecting dazzling performance from Sapphire Lady at Killarney

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Legendary trainer Willie Mullins insists he'll be 'disappointed' if exciting mare Sapphire Lady fails to win the closing race at Killarney this evening.

A half-sister to lively stable star Westerner Lady, she looked a great horse in the making when winning her debut in both encouraging fashion.

She's a short price favourite for only her second start, but should be too good in the Killarney Racegoers Club Mares Flat Race (9:00).

The five-year-old justified odds-on favoritism on debut, when clearing the field in impressive style to record a five and a half length victory.

Patrick Mullins didn't have to press too hard on the debutant, as she beat The Princetonian in second. Jessica Harrington's four-year-old is a good measure of form, having finished second in a similar event only a fortnight before.

She is from a good family, and Mullins is expecting another good performance from this exciting mare.

"Sapphire Lady goes for the mares' bumper over 2m1f," Mullins told his website.

"She won easily on debut at Ballinrobe, and it will be disappointing if she fails to follow up here."

Sapphire Lady may be aimed to the 2018 Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival, her trainer Willie Mullins has won the race eight times.

With her exciting record on the flat, the Champion Bumper may be a principal long term target for Sapphire Lady.

Yet if her County Carlow handler wants to attempt her over hurdles, the Mares' Novice Hurdle may be an option, where Mullins already has a live early chance with Ainsi Va La Vie.

The 2m1f race was introduced in 2015, and Mullins has won both runnings of the race with Limini and Let's Dance.

Anthony Butler owned and bred the promising prospect, just as he does with Westerner Lady, a half-sister to today's hot favourite.

Westerner Lady has a prolific record winning ten times from just seventeen starts, picking up a Grade Two Mares Novice Chase at Thurles.

She hasn't yet raced outside of Ireland, but could be a contender in big chase prizes next March.

Sapphire Lady is priced at 11/10 to win the closing mares bumper at Killarney tonight.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Triumph winning Peace And Co targets second chase success at Hexham

Popular Cheltenham Festival winner Peace And Co will aim to make it two out of two over fences in Southwell’s Vertu Vw Mansfield Novices' Chase (2:20).

Nicky Henderson’s six-year-old justified favouritism in the 2015 Triumph Hurdle, to land the Grade One prize by a neck ahead of stable companion Top Notch.

Plauged by injury, he has only had four starts over hurdles since his Cheltenham win where he failed to fire in the Champion Hurdle, Scottish Champion Hurdle and Swinton.

His chasing debut was very straightforward, as his neat jumping earnt him an eight length success at Hexham, and he’s fancied to follow up in this similar novice contest.

“We’re happy with him, and we were happy with how he ran over fences,” said the champion trainer.

“He jumped pretty well round there so everything’s been great. It wasn’t the hardest of races but neither is this one to be honest, we know what he is capable of.

“He’s been schooling pretty well since. Everything’s been good and all the signs are positive.

“We’re looking forward to taking him there, and hopefully seeing him jump well.”
Barry Geraghty rode Peace And Co to Triumph victory, but Daryl Jacob takes the ride this afternoon.

His principal target for the 2018 Cheltenham Festival will be the Arkle, which trainer Nicky 
Henderson won with the brilliant Altior this year.

But Peace And Co’s biggest danger of three rivals this afternoon, is Dan Skelton’s Azzuri, who makes his chasing debut.

The five-year-old was last seen struggling on the flat, but finished third in Aintree’s Juvenile Hurdle last season.

Kevin Frost’s Chieftain's Choice and Michael Chapman’s The Society Man complete the field.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Festival favourite Richard Johnson and Warren Greatrex announce riding partnership

Champion jockey Richard Johnson will become first choice jockey for Festival winning trainer Warren Greatrex.

Johnson, who also on hand for Phillip Hobbs, has rode 22 winners at the Cheltenham Festival but will have a wider book of rides for the rest of the NH season.

Greatrex’s sole Cheltenham Festival success when Cole Harden landed the World Hurdle in 2015, but the Lambourn based trainer has also saddled pattern winning Dolatulo and One Track Mind.

"I've come to an arrangement with Richard that he is going to have first call on anything he can ride when he's not riding for Philip Hobbs," Greatrex told the Racing Post.

"It's huge for the yard for Richard to agree to this, his record speaks for itself.

“There might be owners who want to keep Gavin (Sheehan) on, which is fine, but to have Richard available can only be a good thing.

“He's not going to be around forever, but things weren't quite working and I needed to do something about it. I think this will help everybody.

Richard Johnson enjoyed successes aboard Flying Tiger and Triumph glory with the prolific Defi Du Seuil on Gold Cup day, whilst Greatrex failed to saddle a winner.

But the trainer’s Festival fleet is strengthened by the likes of champion bumper fifth Western Ryder, mares novice hurdle seventh La Bague Au Roi, and Cheltenham runner-up Missed Approach.

Gavin Sheehan was formerly retained by Greatrex, but the two-time Grade One winning trainer insists the pair will still work with each other.

"There are going to be plenty of rides for Gavin, who will have the opportunity to spread his wings and ride out for other people.

“It can be hard for young lads when things aren't going as well as they'd like, but the experienced lads know to deal with it.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Festival hero Byrony Frost out to add Summer Cup to growing record at Uttoxeter

Byrony Frost, who partnered Pacha Du Polder to Cheltenham Festival glory, could be set for another big race victory aboard Southfield Vic in Uttoxeter's valuable Summer Cup.

Twenty runners contest the handicap, which is one of the highlight Summer races in the National Hunt season.

Her mount Southfield Vic has won two of his last three starts, but was last seen finishing fourth at Aintree.

“He’s high enough in the weights and Byrony (Frost) takes a valuable five off him,” said Harry Derham, assistant to Nicholls.

“He seems in good form and the drier ground will suit him better. I’m hoping he can go well.”

Frost has enjoyed a brilliant start to the season, winning six races from just twenty rides; yet her most memorable moment came when winning the Foxhunters Chase.

Nicholls also runs Keltus, who was last seen finishing second at Fontwell.

“He got a bit stuck in the mud at Fontwell last time,” Derham added.

“It’s a tough competitive race and he’s a very consistent horse. Whether he is good enough to go and win, maybe not, but he always gives his best.”

Jamie Snowden's Fact Of The Matter is a 11-1 chance for the Summer Cup

Jamie Snowden believes progressive Fact Of Matter can sustain his improvement in Uttoxeter’s feature race.

He won a competitive novice prize at Cheltenham, before running well when third at Aintree.

“He’s an unexposed chaser but he’s progressing up the ranks nicely,” said the Berkshire-based trainer.

“He came out of the novice ranks and ran a lovely race up at Aintree first time out, in a good race beating Southfield Vic.

“He was third, but he probably didn’t have the run of the race. He stayed on very well in the closing stages.

“The step up in trip should suit, providing the ground isn’t soft. He’s got a lovely racing weight, and looks to have every chance.”

Henllan Harri picked up £1,431 when third at Ffos Las, but picked up £84,405 when winning at Sandown on his next start.

Peter Bowen is expecting another big performance from Henllan Harri after a shock victory in the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown.

The nine-year-old was a 40-1 shot when a narrow winner in the competitive handicap, and is fancied to follow up.

“He’s in good form,” said Bowen.

“Henllan Harri went up a bit after winning his last run, but it was a good win and I think he should go well again.

“His win at Sandown was amazing, but I did always think he could run well. It would be great if he could follow it up.”

JP McManus is represented by In The Rough, Upswing and Join The Clan, meanwhile Colin Tizzard has plenty of top three mile chasers and saddles Tempetstatefloresco.

Optimistic Bias hopes for a fourth straight win for James Evans, whilst Dan Skelton’s Shelford, Rebecca Curtis’ Vintage Vinnie and Henry Oliver’s Ozzy Thomas all have strong claims.