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.