Thursday, 18 March 2021

Cheltenham Festival Day Four: 19th March 2021 - Champ to Be Crowned in Gold Cup Thriller

It’s Gold Cup day finally, and we think there may be heartbreak for hat-trick seeking Willie Mullins.

1.20 (Triumph Hurdle – Grade 1) – TRITONIC

It goes without saying that there is always precious little form to go on in a juvenile race such as this, but this year’s race has turned into a long-awaited dual between Alan King’s Tritonic and Zanahiyr, formerly trained by Gordon Elliott.

Now under the care of Denise Foster, Zanahiyr has looked brilliant so far in this three-race unbeaten hurdle career but hasn’t been seen since Boxing Day. He may well have improved a lot further since then and that would make him hard to beat, however it’s also difficult for us to know.

Tritonic has had just the two outings over hurdles; a very nice win at Ascot in January and a runaway win in a Grade 2 at Kempton last month.

His speed between flights has been outstanding and he is most definitely race fit, and given that there’s at least as much improvement to come from him as there is from his rival, he is the smart bet here. Quilixios also makes the shortlist.

1.55 (County Handicap Hurdle – Grade 3) – THYME WHITE

The County Hurdle is traditionally a huge betting race and this year’s will be no different, but with that comes a very tricky puzzle to solve!

When there is a standout horse, we would never be afraid to put it up but at the higher end of the market nothing really jumps out as particularly well handicapped and so we look instead for some value.

That value may come from Paul Nicholls’ Thyme Hill. He was midfield recently in the Betfair Hurdle, but was looking very good in that race for most of the way before tiring late on and he will definitely be fitter this time.

He gets the nod then but the challengers come from every conceivable angle, including Ganapathi, Third Time Lucki and the overpriced Strong Glance.

2.30 (Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 1) – BARBADOS BUCK’S

This week has been mostly about the two extremes of one-sided races featuring odds-on jollies, and races that on the face of it look impossible to solve.

This one shifts almost into the latter category, with five or six major contenders all within a few pounds of each other on ratings.

Even when digging deeper, we still found at least three of them to hold almost identical chances on paper, with Barbados Buck’s, Adrimel and Alaphilippe being our favoured trio.

The first-named is the one we recommend to small stakes, with Paul Nicholls perhaps belatedly coming to the Cheltenham party courtesy of two Stewart Family-owned horses in Thyme White and now Barbados Buck’s.

This chap comes into the race on a four-timer, is improving in leaps and bounds, is a proper stayer and should cope easily with the step up to Grade 1 level.

3.05 (Cheltenham Gold Cup – Grade 1) – CHAMP

This is a fantastic renewal of National Hunt racing’s biggest and best race. Willie Mullins is looking to enter Gold Cup legend, his Al Boum Photo chasing a third win which would make him the first triple winner since Best Mate in 2004.

There’s no doubt that, having followed the same path as before, Al Boum Photo is considered to be in top form. After an impressive 2019 win, he just about got home last year ahead of Santini, who reopposes, and this is a hotter renewal for sure.

As for Santini, he doesn’t seem to be in the same nick. He does little but stay though and so in such a competitive race with potentially a fast pace, he may be staying on towards the end once again.

Even if Santini does stay on, he’ll be doing so no better than old-timer Native River. The winner of this back in 2018, Native River is 11 now but is remarkably in the form of his life and jockey Richard Johnson has been extremely bullish of late.

Royal Pagaille had various engagements this week but connections have chosen to throw him “in at the deep end”, and while he was impressive last time the bottom line is that it was still a handicap win and he’ll need to produce plenty more to be involved here.

2019 Ryanair winner Frodon stepped up to three miles to great effect when winning the King George at Kempton, but if he’s once again up with the pace in the hottest race he’s ever been involved in it is easy to envisage him being swamped late on.

A Plus Tard has promised plenty. Improvement is needed from Henry De Bromhead’s runner, but he’s been in wicked form this week and that progression may well come.

The one we like this year however is Champ. Nicky Henderson’s horse has the perfect background for this race, being the winner of last year’s RSA Chase here over three miles. He made a belated return to the track last month in the Game Spirit Chase, the two-mile trip being way too short for him and yet he put in a terrific display to finish second behind Sceau Royal.

His form is superb, he is bound to improve, and if the yard thinks Santini still has a chance then it is pertinent that this is easily their first choice with Nico de Boinville on board.

3.40 (St. James’s Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase – Class 2) – BOB AND CO

It may yet be a great day for Paul Nicholls, his Bob And Co looking ahead of his competition in the Hunters’ Chase.

His form entitles him to hold a major chance in this race, with Willie Mullins’ Billaway, Red Indian and Hazel Hill next on the list.

4.15 (Mares’ Chase – Grade 2) – ELIMAY

Elimay has been on many a punter’s lips for a long time in the run-up to the Festival, and now she gets to prove why.

Representing Willie Mullins and JP McManus, she has the form in the bag, possesses enough speed and stamina and looks set to show us a career best. Stablemate Colreevy may provide her biggest opposition.

4.50 (Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle – Class 2) – LANGER DAN

There has been a move for the unknown quantity that is Gentleman De Ree, but seeking a big bonus after his Imperial Cup win is Langer Dan and he has everything needed to go ahead and land it for the Skelton’s.

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Cheltenham Festival Day Three: 18th March 2021 - Aura to Fly in Ryanair Chase

Day three of the Festival is Ryanair Chase and Stayers’ Hurdle day, stamina beginning to come to the fore as we move now onto the tougher New Course.

Once more there’ll be some short-priced favourites trained in Ireland, but there are some mightily competitive events on the card too and we have a tip in all seven races.

1.20 (Marsh Novices’ Chase – Grade 1) – ENVOI ALLEN

All the talk is about Willie Mullins, but Henry De Bromhead is having a brilliant Cheltenham Festival and it can continue with another Grade 1 win in this 2½-mile event.

His Envoi Allen is unbeaten in eleven career starts, including last year’s Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, has been faultless over fences so far and there’s just nothing in his profile to suggest he won’t be at his best in this race. If he is, he wins, with Jack Kennedy this time on board and probably ready to accept the plaudits.

In behind, the standout challenger is Nicky Henderson’s Chantry House whose easy win at Wetherby will have put him spot-on for a crack at the big one, while both Chatham Street Lad and Shan Blue appear to be at a very similar level to this point.

1.55 (Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle – Grade 3) – IMPERIAL ALCAZAR

This is a fantastic betting race, one in which a full field of 20-odd runners will be charging at their 12 flights of hurdles over a trip of three miles.

There are lots at big prices who are in which chances, but the standout horse is Fergal O’Brien’s Imperial Alcazar after his win in the qualifier at Warwick two months ago.

He was excellent that day under Paddy Brennan and it looks as though an 8lb rise won’t be enough to stop him, third-placed horse Come On Teddy being considered as his main opposition today.

2.30 (Ryanair Chase – Grade 1) – IMPERIAL AURA

This is such a tough race to call. On official ratings there is barely anything to choose between them, with Melon, Kalashnikov, likely favourite Allaho, Saint Calvados, Fakir D’oudairies and Mister Fisher being very close by our reckoning.

Last year’s winner Min should go well once again and can challenge at the top of a competitive market, but a small chance can be taken on Imperial Aura for the Kim Bailey yard.

Imperial Aura was a well-backed winner of the Listed handicap chase at last year’s meeting, beating Galvin in the process. He clearly loves it round here, while Galvin has already come out this week and won his own Festival race.

Kim Bailey’s star was brilliant at Ascot over the winter and looks as though he’s joined the top rank now, while he unseated early when an even-money favourite in the Grade 2 Silviniaco Conti Chase in January.

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

It’s a great shame we won’t see Thyme Hill running in this race as we definitely had him down as the one to be on, though a small injury has put paid to his chances.

2019 champion Paisley Park had two great battles with Thyme Hill this season, and while we feel it may have been time for the younger horse to take over this division, in his absence one of the most loved horses in training can regain his crown.

He was beaten surprisingly by 50/1 shot Lisnagar Oscar last year, but simply put in a poor round and is back to near his best now which should be enough.

Sire Du Berlais loves it here and can make his presence felt, while the one to surprise a few could be Gavin Cromwell’s runner Flooring Porter who is a decent price for a place.

3.40 (Stable Plate Handicap Chase – Grade 3) – MAYPOLE CLASS

We’ve gone tentatively with one of the big outsiders here in the shape of Maypole Class. Trained by Jonjo O’Neill, this seven-year-old improved hugely from his debut race to win at Bangor and then even more impressively at Fakenham.

He did pull up last time out, but was found to be lame afterwards and it seems he is back to full fighting fitness now and may well prove to be well handicapped.

Emmet Mullins’ The Shunter has been a real market mover having won nicely over hurdles recently, while both Sully D’Oc AA and Fils D’oudairies could prove to be overpriced in the market and can make challenges also.

4.15 (Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – ROYAL KAHALA

Royal Kahala have away weight when beaten two lengths last time out by her rival here, Roseys Hollow, but is now in receipt of 5lbs and should turn that form around.

Her old rival should be there or thereabouts ounce again, although getting closer may well be Willie Mullins’ Hook Up and Henry De Bromhead’s Tellmesomethinggirl.

4.50 (Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase – Class 2) – BOB MAHLER

This should prove to be a proper stayer’s race and with that we’ll need a horse with plenty of guts and plenty of stamina to win it.

While at 3¼ miles this isn’t the longest race of the week, it’ll take some getting around the New Course and there are plenty of horses in the race who could perhaps be aimed at Grand Nationals in the future.

In fact, our horse Bob Mahler got back to something like his better form in the Edinburgh National at Musselburgh over four miles and one furlong having pulled up three times in a row.

He’s actually pulled up five times in total, but you can usually sense when this chap is ready to go and he should be spot-on for a tilt at this race and should go off at a nice price.

Philip Hobbs will be full of hope for Deise Aba and he rates a shout for Grand National specialist owner Trevor Hemmings, while Hold The Note and the mare Mount Ida can also make their presence felt.

Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Cheltenham Festival Day Two: 17th March 2021 - Nube Negra to Pour It on in the Champion Chase

It’s Queen Mother Champion Chase day at Cheltenham, and we have a great value pick in the big race.

1.20 (Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 1) – BRAVEMANSGAME

We kick off day two with this 2m5f novice event, one in which we have another strangely small field of seven. That affects our odds of course, but we may just have found a betting gem here.

There’s little we don’t like about Bravemansgame. His form is excellent and the conditions won’t be a problem, so the basics are in the bag.

More pertinently though; trainer Paul Nicholls is top-class and he has always said this horse is potentially brilliant. Furthermore, he has spoken about how he is no longer interested in sending horses to the Festival just to challenge, that they should only go there with a big chance and that he’s more than happy to wait for Aintree.

This one coming in with a major shout then is a big hint, and we reckon he’s the best of this bunch. The likes of Gaillard Du Mesnil and likely favourite Bob Olinger are no slouches either and will provide stiff competition, but Bravemansgame is a future chasing star and can take this race under Harry Cobden who is in good form.

1.55 (Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase – Grade 1) – MONKFISH

Monkfish, representing the all-powerful Willie Mullins yard, has been backed by many for next year’s Gold Cup before he even takes part in this particular three-mile chase and you can honestly see why.

He has been brilliant in his short chasing career thus far, and while his price is very prohibitive you’d have to be scratching around for reasons why he shouldn’t be a short-priced favourite, and he is one.

On the balance of things, it’s hard to see him being beaten but at 10/1+ in this sort of race Sporting John is too big a price against him and so should also be carefully considered.

Philip Hobbs’ horse has only had two starts over fences and is bound to improve plenty, while he was detached at one stage after a slow start last time and still came away to win nicely. Eklat De Rire and The Big Breakaway make up our shortlist.

2.30 (Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle – Grade 3) – SHANG TANG

We’re hoping for a big result in the Coral Cup, our horse Shang Tang being offered out at some outrageous prices overnight.

Emma Lavelle’s runner improved nicely to win a small race last time out at Fakenham, a success that has to be significantly upgraded.

The handicapper has taken it literally, giving him a mark of 135, but having raced wide, never been extended and winning it comfortably Shang Tang was much, much better than the bare result suggests.

Furthermore, the third-placed horse (beaten 14½ lengths) has since come out and won by a good margin to frank the form brilliantly.

Koshari and Dysart Diamond have plenty of good form and can both run well, while Grand Roi is attracting most of the money.

3.05 (Queen Mother Champion Chase – Grade 1) – NUBE NEGRA

You go against a Willie Mullins hotpot at your peril. They can make you look silly. However, you have to stand by your own reading of the game and we get no pats on the back for tipping up a winning odds-on shot!

With all of that in mind, we’re really looking forward to seeing Nube Negra in this championship race and he is vastly overpriced to win it.

Having progressed nicely in his four novice chase races, he went into December’s Desert Orchid Chase a 20/1 shot up against Altior and even considering Nicky Henderson’s horse was a few pounds below his best, he impressed greatly in landing that race.

He’s been off the track since then, but with nothing more than natural improvement he can put himself right up to the sort of level required to win this race and is a around an 8/1 shot at the time of writing.

Chacun Pour Soi has been excellent so far, but he’s not miles ahead of these unless he improves again, which is possible, and is just too short a price.

First Flow is another overpriced runner who can step up for Kim Bailey, while last year’s winner Politologue is admirable but faces a much stiffer test twelve months on.

3.40 (Cross Country Chase – Class 2) – EASYSLAND

While still at short odds, Easysland is not as restrictive a price for this race as he might be based on two factors; Tiger Roll is in the field and will still garner support, and he was beaten around the Cross Country Course over the winter when favourite to win.

The truth however is though that on the numbers, the French raider ran to about the same level this season as he did last in that November event, and last year he peaked to monster this race and could well do so again.

Tiger Roll and Some Neck are fancied for places if both are well, while Le Breuil can challenge also.

4.15 (Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase – Grade 3) – ZANZA

We have a full field and a competitive race for the Grand Annual, one that could go the way of Zanza. In a good race at Cheltenham back in December, Zanza was crawling all over Ibleo and Sky Pirate before falling three from home, and both of those horses reoppose.

Had he won, Zanza would have been much higher in the handicap now and so with the rest having done him good, he is taken to prove how well handicapped he is.

4.50 (Weatherbys Champion Bumper – Grade 1) – KILCRUIT

After Sir Gerhard was moved by Cheveley Park from Gordon Elliott’s yard to Willie Mullins’, the master was left with the top two in the market.

The chances are however that he’ll win this with his original favourite Kilcruit, who looks to be ahead of the others. Three Stripe Life is the one who may challenge the big two.

Monday, 15 March 2021

Cheltenham Festival Day One: 16th March 2021 - Goshen Aiming for Redemption in Champion Hurdle

It’s finally here! Day one of the 2021 Cheltenham Festival looks like a cracker, and we have strong tips in all seven races on the card.

1.20 (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 1) – METIER

We should still get the same rip-roaring start to the Festival in the Supreme Novices’ – on the track at least. There will be no ‘Cheltenham Roar’ and a reduced field of only eight runners, but the quality is there for all to see.

For us, this came down to trying to accurately evaluate Metier and long-time short-priced favourite Appreciate It. The latter, of Willie Mullins’ yard, has beaten the likes of Ballyadam, Blue Lord and Irascible and in some cases more than once, so deserves his reputation.

That said, those three rivals didn’t rate too highly on our numbers while Metier’s form read very differently. It seems awfully prevalent that those in behind when Metier has won ever so impressively this season seemed to always be running seasonal highs they couldn’t replicate, which is a nod to them being dragged along by what might be a very high-class horse.

Harry Fry’s Meter it is then for us, who looks to be the real deal and can take care of the favourite as well as Soaring Glory who seems a fair place shout.

1.55 (Arkle Challenge Trophy – Grade 1) – SHISHKIN

Again, we have a smaller than ideal field for the Arkle, though it’s hardly a surprise given that so many have been scared off by the presence of Shishkin.

With no doubts about his class, this track, the trip or, basically, anything else, it should only be a mistake that stops him winning this and confirming him as the top novice chaser in the world.

Shishkin came into last year’s Festival as a 6/1 shout for the Supreme Novices’ but won that too, while he’s been simply imperious in his three very easy chase wins this term. Allmankind looks next best to us, while Willie Mullins’ Franco De Port has an outside shout at around 9/1.

2.30 (Ultima Handicap Chase – Grade 3) – HAPPYGOLUCKY

The Ultima is our first really competitive event – a 16-runner handicap chase over 3m1f which should be fiercely contested.

Some of the money has gone in the wrong places by our reckoning, with the likes of Nietzsche and The Wolf holding great each-way chances, but the strength of feeling behind Happygolucky should prove to be very well placed indeed.

Kim Bailey’s runner was impressive when landing a novice event around here in December, and now on the Old Course he can prove how well handicapped he is with a valuable win under David Bass.

3.05 (Champion Hurdle – Grade 1) – GOSHEN

It was said before last year’s Triumph Hurdle that Goshen was the real deal, and he was on the way to destroying his field before famously coming to grief at the last flight.

He handles Cheltenham very well and came right back to form when landing the Kingwell Hurdle last time, again completely taking apart his field. He remains good value as second or third favourite in the market and may well prove to be a brilliant Champion Hurdle winner.

The two mares have attracted most money; last year’s winner Epatante of Nicky Henderson’s and Willie Mullins’ Honeysuckle who is unbeaten in her entire 10-race career thus far.

They each get 7lbs from Goshen which may count for plenty, but for our money neither has met a horse of Gary Moore’s runner’s class and so while they remain second and third on our list, in no particular order since they are so close on ability, they may be heading for defeat.

Among the long shots last year’s second Sharjah may make his presence felt once again, while Aspire Tower looks overpriced, however considering how far ahead of him Goshen was last season before falling he only adds confidence to the overall selection.

3.40 (Mares’ Hurdle – Grade 1) – ROKSANA

Another Cheltenham race, and another short-priced Willie Mullins favourite. Concertista is the mare in question and she is rock-solid to be fair. Her own form is not in question, we simply believe that the improvement Roksana has shown for the Dan Skelton yard has been overlooked and she’s the value in this race.

In fact, Roksana won this race two years ago, albeit luckily, and she’s a much better racehorse now. Given that her form at least stands up with that of Concertista’s and we know she can handle this event, she gets the nod to land the race under Harry Skelton.

Black Tears is next on our list while Cheltenham Festival winner Indefatigable may outrun her price too.

4.15 (Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle – Grade 3) – SAGE ADVICE

The market for this four-year-old event has centred around Paul Nicholls’ Gallic recruit Houx Gris in the run-up to the meeting, but if he is indeed to run well then that also brings in Oliver Greenall’s Homme Public.

Homme Public was only a neck behind Houx Gris in France last October off level weights and now gets 3lbs from his rival, making him a big price at around 14/1.

That form line is important, however at an even bigger price we like the look of Sage Advice. Dr Richard Newland’s runner ran well enough when winning on his hurdling debut in January to be considered well-handicapped here, so with natural improvement he looks very solid indeed.

He’s been beaten twice since winning, but that was on much heavier ground than he’ll get here and so now can show his very best form at big odds. Busselton and Saint Sam are also worth considering.

4.50 (National Hunt Challenge Cup – Grade 2) – GALVIN

Most of the money last week was for Paul Nicholls’ Next Destination, and he has a solid chance along with Remastered with whom we get his form and ability very close by our reckoning.

Galvin on the other hand may just be at a higher level. Formerly under the care of Gordon Elliott who reportedly had a strong Cheltenham Festival team together, Galvin can peak today which would be something considering he comes into this on the back of four successive chase wins.

A three-mile winner at Cheltenham in October, Galvin was also second at last year’s Festival behind Imperial Aura and it seems nothing here holds any fears for him. Escaria Ten also made the shortlist.