Thursday, 17 March 2022

Cheltenham Festival Day Four: 18th March 2022 - Skelton Horse Our Protektor on Gold Cup Day

The Festival flies by in the blink of an eye. Here we are, hurtling towards the Gold Cup already and we think this year’s event will be an absolute stunner.

Last year’s 1-2-3 all challenge again, along with another 2021 Festival winner and a new kid on the block we reckon will have a big say.

1.30 (Triumph Hurdle – Grade 1) – VAUBAN 

One way or another, the opening race revolves around Vauban.

Today’s challengers Fil Dor, Il Etair Temps and Icare Allen were all in behind him when he won his Grade 1 at Leopardstown last time, while he and Pied Piper fought out the finish on their respective debuts.

That collective form seems stronger than that of the British challengers Porticello and Knight Salute, though the former won easily last time and the latter remains unbeaten to this point.

On their second starts, Vauban and Pied Piper once again ran to very similar levels. Though Pied Piper won easily at Cheltenham, Vauban was impressive in beating Grade 1 performers and despite being beaten half a length on debut by his main rival, he was hampered all the way down the straight and is probably, overall, just the better horse.

2.10 (County Handicap Hurdle – Grade 3) – WEST CORK

State Man is all the rage and could be anything in handicap company, while Bloomfield Burg didn’t settle well enough last time and remains of serious interest.

We do love the Greatwood form from last November though and the winner of that contest, West Cork, can go in here.

Adagio, Camprond, Tritonic, Glory And Fortune and Marie’s Rock were all in behind that day and it’s obvious Dan Skelton’s runner has more to give. I Like To Move It may also have a strong each-way chance.

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

Ginto is an incredibly strong contender after his three hurdle wins so far, including one in a Grade 1 race.

He had to pull out his best to win that though and it often means there isn’t as much improvement left as we’d like, while the form of Hillcrest is equally as impressive anyway, maybe even better.

Henry Daly’s seven-year-old won the Prestige Novices’ Hurdle with some ease last month and has been primed for this contest. The Nice Guy, Minella Cocooner and Bardenstown Lad may also have a say.

3.30 (Cheltenham Gold Cup – Grade 1) – PROTEKTORAT 

A cracker of a renewal. It may be safe to rule out Santini, Aye Right, Asterion Forlonge and Chantry House, while Royale Pagaille will have supporters but also has it all to do. Tornado Flyer is interesting, but again might prove to be just not quite good enough.

Al Boum Photo has won this race twice, was an admirable third last year and is back for another go, while A Plus Tard suffered a heart-breaking close defeat to Minello Indo in 2021 and all are back to challenge.

Many believe this race comes down to A Plus Tard and Galvin after the two fought out a tight finish in the Savills Chase in December, and it just might work out that way too. Galvin and A Plus Tard are at strikingly similar points in their respective careers as well.

Al Boum Photo was the first horse to win the Gold Cup back-to-back since Best Mate and it’s notoriously difficult for Gold Cup winners to come back and do it again. After what they went through last year, can we treat both Minella Indo and A Plus Tard like winners? That’s an interesting thought.

With that in mind and remembering that it is so often a fresher, younger and improving horse that nabs the established runners in this race, Protektorat is brought into the equation in a big way.

Dan Skelton’s runner hacked up by 25 lengths in the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree and it could have been a lot more. He stays incredibly well, can handle deep ground if it turns out that way and has had just seven chase starts which include four wins, two defeats in unsatisfactory small fields and a great second off top weight in the Paddy Power Gold Cup.

Galvin will stay all day as well, but it strikes us that Protektorat was at a better level on his debut chase, his second chase and after seven races than both A Plus Tard and Galvin and he may be the answer to this at a nice price for Dan and Harry Skelton.

4.10 (Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase – Class 2) – WINGED LEADER 

Much like the Cross Country race, the Hunters’ Chase is often a hard one to predict. We are often dealing with older horses and their public form can read a little in and out.

For varying reasons, it was hard for us to split Bob And Co, Pont Aven and Billaway, the latter having run second in this race twice over.

David Christie’s Winged Leader on the other hand is younger, in terrific form and is indeed improving all the time unlike the others. He beat Billaway by 12 lengths last time and may repeat the trick.

4.50 (Mares’ Chase – Grade 2) – ZAMBELLA 

Elimay is favourite for the Mares’ Chase, just as she was last year when she was beaten by only a half-length.

She hasn’t been in the best of form since though and it may be that, even under a 3lb penalty, Concertista is the better-fancied of the two Willie Mullins runners. Mount Ida is interesting but can jump out to the right, but Zambrella looks very solid to us.

Nigel Twiston-Davies’ mare won a Listed race very easily two runs ago and faced nothing but a public piece of work last time. We don’t know where her ceiling is, but it is certainly likely to make her competitive here.

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

We backed Langer Dan in this race last year after his Imperial Cup win and he only just missed out.

He’s had a quieter time of things this season, taking in the same prep race as he did last year but missing out on the Sandown spectacular to stay fresh for today. He can round off what might be a great day for the Skeltons in style.

The challengers are many and include Earlofthecotswolds, Cobblers Dream, Banbridge and I A Connect.

Wednesday, 16 March 2022

Cheltenham Festival Day Three: Thursday 17th March 2022 - Hill’s Thyme Has Come in the Stayers’ Hurdle

We’re used to the veritable “unbeatable” market leaders and great match-ups, but Thursday at Cheltenham may not be about that at all.

We have Allaho as being a little vulnerable in the Ryanair Chase on day three, while the feature Stayers’ Hurdle is an absolute cracker with at least five in contention. 

1.30 (Turner’s Novices’ Chase – Grade 1) – GALOPIN DES CHAMPS

Bob Olinger has been trading at odds-on in the lead-up to this race and some big bets rely on him winning at the Festival for the second year in a row.

Henry De Bromhead’s Ballymore Novices’ winner comes into this unbeaten over fences in two goes and he’s on a six-timer overall. There is no doubt he is a proper horse, but he’s not the only one in the line-up.

Willie Mullins’ Galopin Des Champs is his main rival in what is a disappointing four-runner field overall and he may just be the one to be on.

By our reckoning at least, Galopin Des Champs has run to a mark around 8lbs better than Bob Olinger did on their respective chase debuts and again another 3lbs better on their second starts.

It could be that the favourite is catching up and is about to overtake, but we can’t ignore that there was little between them in the hurdle ranks either and the Mullins horse may just be a touch of value.

2.10 (Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle – Grade 3) – ALAPHILIPPE 

One of the best personalities in the game is local trainer Fergal O’Brien and he’d be a very popular winner of any race at this meeting.

As yet, he perhaps still isn’t getting the top-class types he deserves to train, but in the handicaps, he may be very dangerous and could win one or even two of them today.

Alaphilippe is the one representing him in the Pertemps Final and we should be about to see a career best. The eight-year-old has a first-time tongue tie to help him out and he has the form in the bag.

A runaway winner of the Grade 2 Prestige Hurdle at Haydock last season as a novice, he finished a fair fifth in the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Hurdle last year and is more than capable off this current handicap mark.

He went off at 7/2 on his reappearance at Warwick and was expected to go well, indeed leading at the last before understandably tiring out. With that under his belt he can run to the level we expected that day, perhaps even higher, and has an outstanding chance.

Dunboyne looks well handicapped and maybe needs a bit of luck, while Winter Fog, Ballyandy and Sire Du Berlais will all be popular too.

2.50 (Ryanair Chase – Grade 1) – SHAN BLUE 

A fascinating renewal of this 2½-mile race. The betting is dominated by last year’s runaway winner Allaho and he has not let himself down since.

Most think that if Allaho is at his best then he has to win this, but it’s hard to keep churning those performances out and this time around he has a couple of real “what if” types up against him.

Conflated has improved no end and could have gone to the Gold Cup after winning the Irish equivalent last month, while Shan Blue is a real unknown at the top level but has very serious potential.

We’re not a huge fan of keeping horses off the track for too long, unlike Shan Blue’s trainer Dan Skelton, though we cannot ignore the fact he could be anything over fences.

He had previously shown steady improvement in chases as a novice, but went to a new level in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in late October. Well, sort of.

He didn’t win that day owing to his fall three from home, but he had increased his lead comfortably to 20 lengths by that point and could have won by any margin you care to name. He might just be at Allaho’s level or at least within a few pounds and yet is a very big price to beat him.

3.30 (Stayers’ Hurdle – Grade 1) – THYME HILL

Make no bones about it, we think that Klassical Dream and last year’s winner Flooring Porter are proper types while Champ, Royal Kahala and former winner Paisley Park are all still dangerous too.

Despite the competition, we are happy to back Thyme Hill. We thought he was the best staying novice around a couple of years ago and but for bad luck he’d have proved it at the Festival when a close fourth to Monkfish.

He beat Paisley Park last season before missing this meeting, but was tough as he continued to climb the ladder when he took the Liverpool Hurdle afterwards.

This season he had a quiet start before a decent second behind Champ in the Long Walk Hurdle, but with all roads leading here we should see him at his best this time around.

4.10 (Plate Handicap Chase – Grade 3) – IMPERIAL ALCAZAR 

Another handicap tip for a Fergal O’Brien horse here, this time Imperial Alcazar. The eight-year-old was a good hurdler and he is just three runs into his chase career now.

In a notoriously good novices’ handicap chase over this very course and distance in January, Imperial Alcazar ran his field ragged for a 10-length success and will no doubt have improved plenty since.

True, he’s gone up 8lbs since then but his win was worth that at the very least so any further progress has to see him go close.

In a tough race the likes of Celebre D’Allen, The Glancing Queen and Fusil Raffles can all have a say too.

4.50 (Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – DINOBLUE 

Despite there being plenty in with chances in this race, it’s only around 5/2 the field overnight but we agree with that given that we think the market leader could just be a cut above the rest.

Willie Mullins’ Dinoblue is the mare in question and she represents owner JP McManus here. On her debut ten weeks ago she looked absolutely spectacular, clocking a rating better than the rest in this field right from the off.

That was a 15-length success but it was easy. How well she could have run is anyone’s guess and the runner-up has run to a mark around 7lbs better since then.

Brandy Love and Grangee, also for Mullins and Party Central for Gordon Elliott can all improve plenty.

5.30 (Kim Muir Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys’ Handicap Chase – Class 2) – MISTER COFFEY

The closing handicap chase for the amateurs is another tough betting race. That said, there is plenty to like about Nicky Henderson’s Mister Coffey. He is lightly raced, was second in a Grade 1 last time and has the assistance of Sam Waley-Cohen up top.

Other likely types are Omar Maretti, Smoking Gun, Cat Tiger and at a huge price, The Mighty Don.

Cheltenham Festival Day Two: Wednesday 16th March 2022 - It’s a Bravemansgame on Day Two

After wonderful start to the Festival featuring some lightning times on the drying ground, the action doesn’t exactly take a downturn on Wednesday as we look for more betting success.

1.30 (Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 1) – SIR GERHARD

We’re loathe to actually tip too many odds-on shots, but in the hope that Sir Gerhard drifts towards being backable and with multiples in mind, he remains our selection for the opener.

Henry De Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore were at it again on Tuesday as they trained and partnered Honeysuckle to another fantastic Champion Hurdle success and their Journey With Me has a shout here. Like Honeysuckle this gelding is unbeaten thus far, doing things ever so easily in two hurdle runs to date.

Sir Gerard however could just be a cut above. Willie Mullins’ seven-year-old has a bit of experience now which could come in handy, he turned over the well-fancied Kilcruit in last year’s Champion Bumper (third in the Arkle on Tuesday) and was mightily impressive in Grade 1 company last time.

2.10 (Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase – Grade 1) – BRAVEMANSGAME 

This extended three-mile chase is a terrific trial for the Gold Cup so whatever happens, keep the result in mind when next year rolls around.

There are plenty of shrewd punters getting on Lucinda Russell’s Ahoy Senor and Venetia Williams’ L’Homme Presse and we can see why.

Ahoy Senor was a very good winner of the Towton Novices’ at Wetherby and should appreciate this event for the Corach Rambler trainer/jockey combo, while L’Homme Presse is unbeaten in four chases including a Grade 1.

Paul Nicholls, let’s not forget, is making deliberate strides at the Festival now to go with quality over quantity and he me be rewarded with a win for Bravemansgame.

The Ditcheat trainer knows his onions and has always been very, very keen on this horse, even comparing him to Denman.

He too is four from four over fences, beating Ahoy Senor along the way, and will have been trained to peak right now and not a moment before.

2.50 (Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle – Grade 3) – CAMPROND 

Another cracking renewal of the Coral Cup. This is the classic cavalry charge over 2m5f, fully 26 runners taking on these ten hurdles.

There are plenty in with chances then with the likes of McFabulous, The Shunter and Unexpected Party expected to play some part.

The two we take against the field however are Saint Felicien and Camprond. The former, trained by Gordon Elliott, was beaten last time but remains on the upgrade and may be well handicapped.

Camprond represents JP McManus, Philip Hobbs, Aidan Coleman and the best form line and is our selection.

The form line we refer to is November’s Greatwood Hurdle in which Camprond was fourth, though he was also an easy winner on good ground before that on the Old Course over 2½ miles.

He’ll appreciate going back up in trip here, he remains unchanged on a mark of 140 and yet has no doubt improved plenty since he last took to the track.

3.30 (Queen Mother Champion Chase – Grade 1) – SHISHKIN

The big championship race of the day is seen as a match between Shishkin and Energumene and it may just play out that way.

Put The Kettle On has won this twice and Politologue once, yet they are around 33/1 and 66/1 respectively which shows you how full of quality the event is.

Chacun Pour Soi remains one of the best in the business and went off 8/13 favourite for this last year, but he is ten years old now and may have been overtaken despite his own good recent form.

Energumene has been imperious and went off 5/4 against Shishkin in the Clarence House in January. He was once again at his best in that ding-dong battle but ultimately lost his unbeaten chase record after the big dog wore him down late on.

In staying on as he did up what is factually a tougher hill than that at Cheltenham, and having won the Arkle in wonderful style last year, Shishkin has shown more toughness and more class than anything in the division.

Using all variables including speed, we get Shishkin around 4lbs ahead of Energumene which is what he may have been at Ascot had he not pecked on landing at one fence and he deserves to be favourite in a hot race.

4.10 (Cross Country Chase – Class 2) – EASYSLAND 

Headline-wise this is all about Tiger Roll. The dual Grand National and five-time Cheltenham Festival winner is a short price to score yet again after returning to form in this very race last year.

He will have been prepared to give his all before retiring and trainer Gordon Elliott was said to be very pleased with him after a recent workout, but the fact is that you can’t stop them regressing and he remains vulnerable.

Easysland, his conqueror back in 2020, has switched from France to Jonjo O’Neill’s yard and they may have just produced something here.

He’s been sent over hurdles twice, pulling up each time, but this is really his game and at just eight years old it’s safe to say he has plenty more to give yet.

Delta Work is going backwards too but still remains capable at this level, while Brahma Bull may also go well.

4.50 (Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase – Grade 3) – THYME WHITE 

We mentioned earlier Paul Nicholls’ change of tactics for this meeting and he has another outstanding chance in this two-mile handicap chase.

There are plenty of others in contention, not least Editeur Du Gite and Elixir De Nutz, but there is plenty to like about Nicholls’ Thyme Whyte and he gets the vote.

5.30 (Weatherbys Champion Bumper – Grade 1) – REDEMPTION DAY

Don’t be forced to have a bet, and we wouldn’t place a serious one in this race. Facile Vega is all the rage while some fancy American Mike against him and both are short prices.

If we were pricing this up, we’d go 9/4 Facile Vega (around 13/8 actually), 3/1 American Mike (5/2) and 4/1 Redemption Day (6/1).

Based on those numbers and purely on the grounds of value, we recommend a very small wager on Willie Mullins’ Redemption Day.

Should the Mullins second string improve from race one to race two as they often can, then he could easily have a better than one in four chance, making his price of around 6/1 fair to have just a tickle on him in the last race of the day.

Monday, 14 March 2022

Cheltenham Festival Day One: Tuesday 15th March 2022 - Hill to Show Constitution in Cracking Festival Opener

It has finally come back around! Day one of the 2022 Cheltenham Festival looks to be a real belter, fully befitting its status within the game.

In terms of sheer quality, the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle has provided a wonderful opening to the meeting, while there may be a mini shock on the cards in the feature Champion Hurdle at 3.30.

1.30 (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 1) – CONSTITUTION HILL 

A tremendous start to the proceedings. The ‘Cheltenham Roar’ at the beginning of the curtain-raiser may be matched for volume by the roar at the end of the race, especially if Constitution Hill gets the job done which we believe he will.

Nicky Henderson has a very strong hand here, being responsible not only for Constitution Hill but also for JP McManus’ unbeaten expensive purchase Jonbon.

The first-named has been excellent this season. Only a five-year-old and with just the two hurdle starts under his belt, you could claim he lacks experience but we also know he has not shown us his very best form yet which we expect on Tuesday.

Both his debut win in December and his Tolworth Hurdle success in January were spectacular. What’s more interesting is that he has clocked some impressive speed figures, despite winning on heavy ground.

Constitution Hill appears then to have the speed and the strength for this race and it’s easy to see him powering up the hill to victory.

Willie Mullins’ Dysart Dynamo may well go off favourite in the end and he was also impressive at Punchestown, a horse we think is the biggest danger to the selection ahead of Jonbon with Mighty Potter further down the list.

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

An excellent turnout for the Arkle and this renewal is sure to be a competitive one.

The major pleasure here is the lack of the current trend of keeping Cheltenham hopes off the track for months, with none of the big five in the betting having been away from the course for more than 38 days.

In the case of Alan King’s Edwardstone, he is eight years old and has run 18 times under rules so is very experienced, he is also very much race fit having gone in four weeks ago.

Despite all of this, he still looks like a big improver and we can certainly mark up his latest success at Warwick ahead of Third Time Lucki.

Since falling and being brought down in his first two chases, Edwardstone has won four times in a row and has been rarely troubled against some good types.

He looks a proper horse and can get the job done here, perhaps ahead chiefly of Blue Lord (Willie Mullins) and Riviere D’Etel (Gordon Elliott).

2.50 (Ultima Handicap Chase – Grade 3) – TEA CLIPPER 

A 3m1f handicap chase at Cheltenham is always a tough event to try to solve, but the tentative vote goes to Tea Clipper for the Tom Lacey yard.

Going on recent form, he wouldn’t have a chance and that is reflected in his price. However, the form of his debut chase win from last October makes him very well handicapped here and it’s important to note that he has now had a wind operation and wears first-time headgear.

The admirable Corach Rambler should also go well. Over on the New Course we backed him to win in December and he went off favourite for a Grade 2 last time.

Fantastikas is another horse who could prove to be well treated, while Floueur is attracting plenty of bets and can also go well.

3.30 (Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy – Grade 1) – APPRECIATE IT 

It goes without saying that it would be no surprise whatsoever to see the wonderful mare Honeysuckle win this again. She would become the first mare to win the race twice and would be unbeaten in 15 career runs.

She is not infallible however and purely from a betting value point of view, it could prove fruitful to trust the expert training techniques of Willie Mullins and go for his Appreciate It instead.

Also unbeaten over hurdles, last year’s utterly imperious Supreme Novices’ Hurdle hasn’t run since that day but is reportedly fighting fit.

Going on the numbers based on the form of the horses in behind Appreciate It last year, even at the weights, it is easy to see a scenario in which Appreciate It reaches a level now he has matured that is too much even for Honeysuckle to handle and he is priced well enough for us to have a little wager.

Teahuppo is clear dangerous, Tommy’s Oscar can go well at a big price, former champ Epatante is in with a shout and her Fighting Fifth joint-winner Not So Sleepy should not be a 100/1 shot.

4.10 (Mares’ Hurdle – Grade 1) – TELLMESOMETHINGGIRL 

Rarely does it work out this easily, but on our own ratings Tellmesomethinggirl is just about the best bet of the day. Henry De Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore were excellent last year and they have a proper contender here too.

Tellmesomethinggirl is moving in the right direction, quite quickly too, and despite being beaten the last three times looks to us as though she is at a higher level than Stormy Ireland, Queen’s Brook and Indefatigable.

4.50 (Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle – Grade 3) – GAELIC WARRIOR 

Another proper running of the Fred Winter, or the Boodles as it is now known officially, with 22 four-year-olds charging over an extended two miles.

Gaelic Warrior hasn’t run for 283 days and never outside of France. Backing him seems risky, but frankly he is in the best of hands (Willie Mullins) and if he runs to the level he did Auteuil, let alone improves, then he looks very well handicapped off just 129.

There are plenty of challengers, The Tide Turns being the main one for us ahead of HMS Seahorse and Champion Green.

5.30 (National Hunt Challenge Cup – Grade 2) – RUN WILD FRED 

The closing race over 3m6f is a potentially tough one to call, though if last year’s Albert Bartlett Hurdle run is anything to go by leading light Stattler may not be at his very best around Cheltenham, opening the door for Run Wild Fred.

Both horses have leading amateur jockeys on board and both are solid, but Run Wild Fred gets the vote having won nicely at Navan in November before chasing home Fury Road in a Grade 1 last time. Vanillier was another on the shortlist.