Another top-class day of jumps racing is ahead of us on the rain-softened Old Course and once more we have dug out some good value bets as we look to take the bookmakers on during day two of the iconic Cheltenham Festival.
1.30 (Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 1) – SPORTING JOHN
All sorts of targets were mooted for the unbeaten Envoi Allen and, when a horse has never lost, it’s impossible for bookmakers to offer any sort of price.
Indeed, they haven’t as Gordon Elliott’s 2019 Champion Bumper winner is a best-priced 5/4 at the time of writing for this race and having beaten the likes of Abacadabras and Darver Star he kind of deserves it, however his form doesn’t make him unbeatable by any means.
Enter Sporting John, another unbeaten horse of Philip Hobbs’ who some couldn’t understand being so well supported at Ascot last time. He duly won easily though and has also taken care of the 144-rated Harry Senior in the past when still a very inexperienced horse, and we feel he has what’s needed to take the opener.
There isn’t much to choose for us between Longhouse Poet, Easywork and The Big Breakaway who may all challenge for place money.
2.10 (RSA Novices’ Chase – Grade 1) – ALLAHO
It seemed certain that Nicky Henderson’s Champ was heading for a win in the Dipper before crashing out, but even if he’d stayed on his feet his level of form while admittedly impressive, doesn’t automatically entitle him to win this race.
There are close form ties from their hurdling days between likely favourite Minella Indo and Allaho, with the latter seemingly having been the one to watch for the future over these trips when they met.
In fact, he has arguably shown a higher level of form in chases thus far and over 2m5f too, so now he’s up in trip we should see him reach a whole new level and that should be enough for him to take this race.
2.50 (Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle – Grade 3) – PROTEKTORAT
Nicky Henderson and JP McManus typically hold a strong hand here and they have two of the front three in the market in the shape of Birchdale and Dame De Compagnie, jockey Barry Geraghty favouring the latter.
Both of those horses have had their issues though and both have been held back a little while for this race, which isn’t always ideal, whereas the fitter Protektorat has rock solid form and a great profile for this race.
A winner here on New Year’s Day, he will have no issues with the track, is improving all the time and possesses the tactical speed needed to avoid the rather parlous situation many will find themselves in when the pace increases before the turn.
3.30 (Queen Mother Champion Chase – Grade 1) – CHACUN POUR SOI
This looks like a match-up at a glance, and to be honest even after a more careful look, between Clarence House Chase winner Defi Du Seuil and Dublin Chase scorer Chacun Pour Soi but we reckon the market has started to get it right with the latter who looks the better horse.
Defi has won twice at the festival already and is a fan favourite, but he’s far from infallible at the top level especially over this distance, while we have to remember that his main rival today has already beaten him and fairly comfortably so.
While that was on a flatter track, Willie Mullins’ runner could actually improve for this test and he looks the rightful market leader overnight and is backed to score.
Of the three outsiders with any sort of chance on the books, Dynamite Dollars looks the one to give the big two most to do.
4.10 (Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase) – EASYLAND
This race revolves around Tiger Roll of course, the four-time Cheltenham Festival and dual Grand National winner as well as defending champion, though he doesn’t have the luxury of coming into this year’s contest having had an uninterrupted preparation following injury.
Add to that the fact that he’s now 10 and it’s hard to see him getting back to last year’s level really so, while it remains possible, he doesn’t look an odds-on shot in all truth.
It would be utterly terrific to see him land this race again, after all he really is the people’s horse now, but it could just be that French raider and Cheltenham cross country winner Easyland is to be a party pooper.
Unbeaten now in six, David Cottin’s six-year-old can get up to the required level now and even came close to it when winning over the cross country course in December.
If reinvigorated, former Gold Cup runner-up Might Bite could run a place too.
4.50 (Fred Winter Juvenile Novices’ Handicap Hurdle – Grade 3) – GALAHAD QUEST
This is a typically open four-year-old handicap, but if we’re allowed to dare stick with proven form around here then Trials Day Grade 2 winner Galahad Quest looks hugely overpriced at around 20/1.
Proven in the conditions, Nick Williams’ runner has raced recently enough to be as fit as a flea and yet has had just enough time off the track to remain fresh, so given that more improvement is very likely he can outrun his current handicap mark.
Old rival Night Edition looks strong on paper too, as does big-priced Irish challenger Gealach.
5.30 (Weatherby’s Champion Bumper – Grade 1) – QUEENS BROOK
Willie Mullins’ Appreciate It has been dominating the market and may well prove to be a superstar in this sphere, however at the odds there is more than enough to like about Queens Brook and it’s Gordon Elliott’s mare who gets the nod instead.
A very easy winner at Gowran Park in February, her level of form is already not far away from what’s required and yet she has a year on the favourite and will be properly fit. Ferny Hollow is best of the rest in the lucky last.