Thursday, 14 March 2019

Cheltenham Festival Day Four: Join the Clan on Gold Cup Day

It’s a fittingly brilliant card on Friday to end the Festival, the Gold Cup being the obvious highlight at 3.30 and we have a great value selection for the big one who should confirm today that he is the real deal.

1.30 (JCB Triumph Hurdle – Grade 1) – SIR ERIC

Joseph O’Brien once more holds a strong hand in the opening race, his Gardens Of Babylon making the shortlist for this at a very pleasing each-way price but really they should all be chasing home Sir Eric.

His standout run was last time when he took a Grade 1 easily, and while that was on a flatter track and on good ground, we don’t have to go back too far to find him staying on well over 2 miles at Ascot on soft ground on the flat behind none other than Stradivarius so if anything he’ll relish this and should put in a huge performance.

2.10 (County Handicap Hurdle – Grade 3) – CROOKS PEAK

Given that he beat Danny Kirwan when giving him 6lbs before that horse went on to run a great second to Angel’s Breath, now rated 150, this Crook’s Peak looks potentially very well handicapped for this and he has been progressing nicely between races.

Willie Mullins has a terrific recent record in this race also and his Whiskey Sour is our next best, though it looks as though his price may be a little skinny come race time.

2.50 (Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 1) – DINONS

Gordon Elliott could be on for a very good afternoon on the final day of the festival and this Dinons has an outstanding chance of landing the Albert Bartlett.

Off the track since November after a poor run at Navan, he will have improved some since then giving the passing of time and before all that he was showing an aptitude for a trip and for softer going which means he should handle conditions just fine.

He gets the nod at a big price ahead of Birchdale for JP McManus and Nicky Henderson while Philip Dempsey’s Derrinross may also make his presence felt.

3.30 (Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase – Grade 1) – CLAN DES OBEAUX

This is a fantastic renewal on paper, highly competitive and full of quality.  We could mention even more horses, but beginning with Kemboy there are a number in contention and this chap jumped extremely well back in December when taking the Grade 1 Savills Chase.

He has been put away for this and can improve again, whether Cheltenham is his forte though remains to be seen.  Ruby Walsh has instead chosen to ride Bellshill and he is finally becoming the horse Willie Mullins knew he could be after battling to an Irish Gold Cup win February.

He’ll be even better this time and is a great each-way shout, though whether even now he is a true top notch Gold Cup horse is open to doubt.

Presenting Percy has been favourite for this for some time after his impressive RSA win at last year’s festival.  He’s undoubtedly good, but his extreme wrapping in cotton wool and his one race over hurdles since may not work to his advantage though as this race requires a horse to be battle-hardened and not just classy.

That brings Thistlecrack into things after his good second in the King George back in December.  Some say this test will suit more, but arguably both of his two highlight runs over fences have come at Kempton and as an 11-year-old now we can’t be confident he’ll take the step or two forward needed to land this race.

Last year’s winner Native River will have welcomed the rain and he has to be our second best here, but despite conditions being reasonably in his favour it may not be as testing as last year and you could debate that he went into last year’s renewal in slightly better form although he wasn’t ideally suited by Haydock and Kempton this season.

The one who seems to have everything now that he has fully matured is Paul Nicholls’ Clan Des Obeaux though and he is the definite selection for the Gold Cup.

Previous seconds in the Dipper and the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, as well as his effortless staying performance at Ascot in advance of this race point to the fact that neither underfoot conditions or the track will be of any hindrance, while he has easily the best recent form on offer after a stunning display to take a good King George on Boxing Day.

When there are many contenders for a big race, it’s so seldom the case that they are all top notch so while it’s a competitive field and he will have many comers to beat off, he is the standout right now and should be able to confirm his current superiority in this division with a big win under Harry Cobden.

4.10 (Foxhunter Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase) – HAZEL HILL

Philip Rowley’s 11yo has remarkable form figures and has been improving while doing things ever so easily.  He should have no trouble getting around here under Alex Edwards and is liable to have too much for challengers Stand Up And Fight and Ucello Conti.

4.50 (Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase – Grade 3) – MAGIC SAINT

If we’re right then Paul Nicholls will have already had a fantastic Friday by the time this race is run, but his Magic Saint can make it even better.

A comfortable winner last time at Wincanton, the French-bred will prefer these conditions and with higher rated horses now doing well in this race he should give a very good account of himself.

5.30 (Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle) – DALLAS DES PICTONS

Gordon Elliott has a very strong hand in the last race of this year’s festival and he should end things on a bright note.  His Dallas Des Pictons has plenty in the locker and should pull out some more improvement in this, possibly at the expense of team mates Cartwright and Defi Bleu.

Cheltenham Festival Day Three: Frodon to Fly in Ryanair Chase

There have been some hard luck stories at this festival so far for sure and not least for us!  The trick is to keep the faith though and day three brings another seven chances to beat the bookmakers with some cracking value bets on offer.

The highlights are the Grade 1 Ryaniar Chase and the Stayers’ Hurdle where Frodon and Paisley Park are looking to prove they are genuine top level performers, doing it when it really matters against quality opposition.  We start with another top grade race, the JLT Novices’ and a chance for Willie Mullins to hit the board again.

1.30 (JLT Novices’ Chase – Grade 1) – REAL STEEL

The key form line here seems to involve the closely matched Lostintranslation and Defi Du Seuil, while on a similar level given this ground we should not rule out Castafiore either, though they may all have had the edge taken off them slightly which cannot be said of the selection.

Willie Mullins’ Real Steel has essentially cantered to two wins at Fairyhouse and Thurles and while that isn’t the sort of form you’d expect of a leading light in this sort of race, his trainer knows what he’s doing and it’s even possible those performances have been underestimated slightly.

2.10 (Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle – Grade 3) – WALK TO FREEDOM

Once more there is a very strong form line, this time involving the Pertemps qualifier at Leopardstown including the likes of Cuneo and likely favourite for this race Sire Du Berlais who caught the eye that day, but the overpriced one to come out of that race is definitely Jessica Harrington’s Walk To Freedom and he gets the nod.

Having finished second that day he’s been given time to recover and with more expected now he should be handicapped well enough to go one better at a very attractive price.  Robbie Power as usual takes the ride.

2.50 (Ryanair Chase – Grade 1) – FRODON

Although things rarely work so out so simply in horse racing and especially at a major festival such as this, the course form shown by Frodon and his rare liking for these fences may just edge him ahead of what is a deep and high quality field for this year’s renewal.

Under Bryony Frost the Paul Nicholls-trained grey has won three of his four races this season, only losing out to the very well-handicapped Baron Alco in the BetVictor Gold Cup when the ground was too quick for him, and he is expected to put on another jumping master class in this race perhaps proving he is a proper Grade 1 type.

Old Ryanair favourite Un De Sceaux is next on the list though the chances of Monalee and Road To Respect are obvious too in what looks a fabulous race.

3.30 (Stayers’ Hurdle – Grade 1) – PAISLEY PARK

Supasundae is no mug at this distance and in fact was runner-up in this race a year ago, while the ageing Faugheen still provides a huge threat but while his best would be good enough for sure, he is far from guaranteed to produce that at this stage of his career.

That all perhaps leaves the race at the mercy of Paisley Park, the seven-year-old of Emma Lavelle’s who improved so much from winning a handicap hurdle at Haydock in November, albeit at Grade 3 level, to scoring in the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle and the Cleeve Hurdle at this course under a penalty on Trials Day by 12 lengths no less.

Should no problems befall Aidan Coleman’s mount en route to the final couple of flights then he possesses the class and the stamina to see this lot off and score.

4.10 (Stable Plate Handicap Chase – Grade 3) – AZZERTI (each-way) 

The key race to note in the lead-up to this contest is the race Kildisart won round this track in January, where Spiritofthegames was third making him a leading player here.

Our selection however, Azzerti, was fairly well fancied on the day too.  He was close up with the field when he was hampered and fell, and is one pound better off with Spiritofthegames today.

He’s had an easy spin and a confidence booster in a novice race at Ludlow since then and looks handicapped well enough to make a big impact in the race, very much at a backable each-way price too.

4.50 (National Hunt Breeders Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – EPATANTE

There could be a clash here between two mares with very different profiles; the proven Posh Trish and the one with abundant potential in the form of Epatante.

The former has won four out of 5 over the smaller obstacles and is herself getting better all the time.  Two Listed wins at Newbury and Taunton give her just about the best form on offer in the field, but it doesn’t scream world class and she could be vulnerable giving weight to the new girl on the block.

Epatante has won two small races at Kempton and Exeter very easily and as well as having a ton more to give, she hasn’t had her ground yet being a French-bred who excelled in her early Gallic career on very soft going and it seems she will love conditions here.

5.30 (Kim Muir Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase) – ANY SECOND NOW

JP McManus holds a very strong hand in this race with more than just us likely to take No Comment and Any Second Now against the field, the latter in our case preferred to the former given that connections feel he’s just about their number one contender.

Ted Walsh’s charge hasn’t won yet over fences but has some very strong form and is crying out for this sort of test.  His jockey Derek O’Connor is definitely among the very best amateur riders too meaning he may even gain a little something from the saddle.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Cheltenham Festival Day Two: Santini to Prove His Worth in RSA

Day one at Prestbury Park was a cracker as expected, and although there is the spectre of Storm Gareth lurking on the horizon, as long as the card gets the go-ahead we should see another seven belters with plenty of great value horses looking extremely backable on Queen Mother Champion Chase day.

Superstar Altior returns to defend his crown at 3.30 while stable companion Santini looks to prove he’s the real at Grade 1 level in the RSA Chase at 2.10, but we start with the competitive Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle where there could be a big priced winner to get us going on day two of the 2019 Festival.

1.30 (Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 1) – BREWIN’UPASTORM

Olly Murphy had a great start to the festival with a second and third at big prices in the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle but he may go one better with his cracking value runner Brewin’upastorm in race one.

Richard Johnson takes the ride as he did when the horse should have won the Grade 2 Ballymore Novices’ on Trials Day here and he may well get the better of City Island, Challow Hurdle winner Champ and Battleoverdoyen.

2.10 (RSA Novices’ Chase – Grade 1) – SANTINI

Don’t get us wrong here, there would be precisely zero surprise should Delta Work win this but all good things have to come to an end so his perfect record over fences could be about to be stopped on the biggest stage of all.

Step forward Nicky Henderson, whose Santini was masterful on his chase debut at Grade 2 level at Newbury back in December before finding Kempton a little too sharp when a staying on third that day.

He can show his true potential now and if running the sort of race we expect him to, he should be too good for the aforementioned Gordon Elliott runner as well as Paul Nicholls’ Topofthegame.

2.50 (Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle – Grade 3) – HIGHEST SUN

There are plenty in with chances as always in the Coral Cup, but the one who may have been a little underestimated here is Colin Tizzard and Tom O’Brien’s Highest Sun after his cushy Chepstow win last time on the track.

He was fourth to Al Dancer round this course over the winter and looks set to appreciate the step up in trip here to 2m5f, as such he should improve and may have enough to beat the likes of Ballyandy and old favourite Lil Rockerfeller who looks a huge price.

3.30 (Queen Mother Champion Chase – Grade 1) – SCEAU ROYAL (each-way)

The racing world is all pretty much agreed that Altior should win this, probably at a canter too, so the race is on for second place in the Queen Mother Champion Chase and therefore the hunt for each-way value begins.

Old rival Min looks well set to give another good account of himself of course, but in Sceau Royal of Alan King’s we have a horse set to give a career best and that may be good enough to land us some money in the feature race.

At around the 16/1 mark and having shown a liking for this ground as well as for Cheltenham, you can get on him each way, for a place, or without the favourite at nice odds with Daryl Jacob expecting a nice ride up top.

4.10 (Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase – Class 2) – ULTRAGOLD (each-way)

The recommendation is Ultragold each-way as, while it’s possible that good old Tiger Roll is still a step ahead of these rivals, it is not 100% guaranteed and so at a general 12/1 Ultragold represents value as the one horse who loves the Grand National fences at Aintree and could show a big liking for the cross country course.

At those odds, even a second or third place finish would bring a nice profit but Colin Tizzard’s horse is also the one who looks to have the best credentials to step up if Tiger Roll is not on his game and so he rates a fair bet to small stakes.  Auvergnat is the other one to note on the card.

4.50 (Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle – Grade 3) – FANFAN DU SEUIL

Hugely undervalued going into this race, Tom George’s runner is the one who on balance looks to be improving the most between his runs so with that in mind, a new career best here may well be enough to edge him ahead of the likes of Fine Brunello and Band Of Outlaws for the Joseph O’Brien yard.

Fanfan was a good second round here back in December and will have come on a ton since back then, the added bonus of that strong form being that he achieved his second place in the Triumph Hurdle Trial on ground not really suitable, so now that the rain has arrived we should see an even better display under jockey Paddy Brennan.

5.30 (Champion Bumper – Grade 1) – BLUE SARI

Despite not having a lot of form to go on, which is of course often the case in this race, it seems some have close form ties while others on the book are round about them making it generally a close call between many of the older horses but with an allowance to take off, four-year-old Blue Sari seems well placed to challenge.

The level of form he reached when cantering home at Gowran Park in January already gives him a good shout here, so the 8lb pull and the fact he has already shown a liking for very soft ground all goes very much in his favour.

Given that this is the “lucky last”, he carries the JP McManus colours and is trained by Willie Mullins, we can probably expect a betting deluge on this horse but he should reward backers at the main expense perhaps of the overpriced Ask For Glory from the Paul Nicholls yard.

Monday, 11 March 2019

Cheltenam Festival Day One: Kalashnikov Has All the Ammunition in the Arkle

With the talking all done we can finally get down to the serious business of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival and day one promises to get us off to a terrific start, seven fantastic races being scheduled to take place in front of an expected 70,000 crowd at Prestbury Park.

New champions are always crowned of course but it could be a returning title-holder who lights up day one as Buveur D’Air attempts to win a third Champion Hurdle at 3.30 while many a punter’s banker of the week, Benie Des Dieux, tries to win the Mares’ Hurdle for a second time at 4.10.

Last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle runner-up Kalashnikov attempts to go one better in the Arkle Chase at 2.10 but we start with the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and a horse that could get JP McManus’s festival off to a flyer.

1.30 (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 1) – FAKIR D’OUDAIRIES

Although on the books it looks a tough ask for a 4yo to win this, Joseph O’Brien seems confident and strictly speaking on form this one seems the one to beat for us following his comfortable win here on Trials Day in January.

Although most of the money will be going the way of Klassical Dream and Al Dancer, it’s probably more likely that Angels Breath will be the biggest danger to the selection while we should not forget about Tolworth Hurdle winner Elixir Du Nutz who retains potential.

Joseph O’Brien has already proven himself with an unofficial Festival win as well as successes in the Melbourne Cup and Irish Derby on the flat and we’ll back his judgement that this is the right race for Fakir D’oudairies.

2.10 (Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase – Grade 1) – KALASHNIKOV

There are some negatives at a glance with Amy Murphy’s challenger, but a closer look at his profile reveals him to be arguably the number one contender here on the book.

His bloodless win on his chasing debut was achieved on soft ground, which he likes, with things coming a bit quick for him when putting in a decent performance behind Dynamite Dollars next time.  He was way off his game when well behind Glen Forsa in the three-runner Kingmaker Novices’ Chase but even a repeat of his Wayward Lad second should have been enough to beat a horse that is now favourite for this race.

Many think he needs more of a test, but given the prevailing conditions and the layout of this track he’ll essentially get that here even over two miles and he can prove his worth ahead of Lalor, who may want things a little quicker, and the aforementioned Mick Channon horse Glen Forsa.

2.50 (Ultima Handicap Chase – Grade 3) – MAGIC OF LIGHT

Jessica Harrington’s versatile and improving mare may have enough at these weights to come out on top having won well at Newbury and Ascot already this season over both fences and hurdles.

Nicky Henderson’s Beware The Bear can perhaps give her most to do but at a very acceptable price it’s the proven stayer who can wear them down and take the £61,000 first prize.

3.30 (Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy – Grade 1) – BUVEUR D’AIR

The fantastic double Champion Hurdle winner could become the awesome triple Champion Hurdle winner on Tuesday and at much better odds than we’d foreseen when the season started.

Having taken this race on good-to-soft ground in 2017 and on heavy in 2018, he’s beaten all comers including the elements on his journey and we’re taking him to do so once again.

Nicky Henderson’s star began his season at Newcastle with a stunning display in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle before cantering to his usual easy prep wins ahead of Cheltenham and with a career best performance on the cards today, he should still have too much for the popular Apple’s Jade while the constantly underrated Sharjah may well be overpriced to grab a place.

4.10 (Mares’ Hurdle – Grade 1) – BENIE DES DIEUX

Ordinarily we’d look for an alternative to a mare who could go off at odds-on in a festival race having her first outing of the season, but she only needs to be at around 90% of her best to win this and she remains first choice for connections ahead of main danger Limini with jockey Ruby Walsh reporting her to be giving him a great feel at home.

Willie Mullins may well be going to bed on Monday night dreaming of a 1-2-3 in this race with his Stormy Ireland probably next in all things considered, though nobody will begrudge Benie Des Dieux a second win in this race.

4.50 (Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase – Listed Race) – SPRINGTOWN LAKE

He’ll need to leave some rather questionable Cheltenham hurdle form behind, but Philip Hobbs’s Springtown Lake is a classy individual and looks potentially very well handicapped for this and so gets the vote.

His chase debut form in particular has held up very well and he looks to have everything needed to see this race out right to the line at the probable expense of Highway One O One and Good Man Pat.

5.30 (National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase – Grade 2) – JERRYSBACK

We have to take a slight leap of faith here in as much as we wouldn’t usually second guess such eminent connections, so while Ok Corral is JP McManus’s first choice it’s possible he could be outgunned by apparent second choice Jerrysback.

Philip Hobbs’s 7-year-old is improving all the time and should relish these conditions and extreme distance, so as long as he sees out the trip he may well get the better of the Nicky Henderson runner who rates as the main danger in the last.

Ballyward has some pretty strong form and has been well punted in the last few days, but while he’s competitive there’s nothing in his profile to say he is a level above this field and so his price is very skinny indeed.