Cheltenham Day 4

Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1)

STORMY IRELAND is held in high regard by connections and looks the each way play here.  Apple’s Shakira could be hard to beat if she is as good as she has looked, but she has a big test here and is very short in the betting.

VERDICT : Back Stormy Ireland @ 11/2


County Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3)

FLYING TIGER won the Fred Winter here last season and looks well handicapped on this season’s performances behind the likes of Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’Air.  He should be able to run a big race under Noel Fehily in a tough contest.

VERDICT : Back Flying Tiger @ 12/1


Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)

CHRIS’S DREAM was an impressive winner on his debut for Henry De Bromhead and has been well supported in the market leading into this contest.

VERDICT : Back Chris’s Dream @ 8/1


Gold Cup (Grade 1)

KILLULTAGH VIC is the each way selection in what looks like a very open Gold Cup.  He has had his issues, but this season has come storming back for Willie Mullins and can land the ultimate prize for a trainer who has remarkably never won the contest.

VERDICT : Back Killultagh Vic Each-way @ 10/1


Foxhunter’s Chase (Class 2)

BALNASLOW ran well here last year despite losing a shoe and looks a big price with the assistance of Derek O’Connor in the saddle.  His form suggests he would prefer a sounder surface, but he is worth chancing at current prices.

VERDICT : Back Balnaslow Each-way @ 20/1


Martin Pipe Conditional Jockey’s Handicap Hurdle (Class 2)

BLOW BY BLOW looked a bumper horse of huge potential when trained by Willie Mullins.  He had some time off the track before he made his hurdling debut for Gordon Elliott and things didn’t quite happen for him, but he was a very good winner last time out and it looks like things might be starting to click.  Even off top weight he could be well handicapped here.

VERDICT : Back Blow By Blow @ 12/1


Grand Annual Handicap Chase (Grade 3)

THE GAME CHANGER’S chance is not the most obvious on current form, but he was well fancied for this last year and showed some much improved form over the summer.  He has had a wind op since his last run and it could bring about some improvement.  He looks fairly handicapped on old form and the yard are flying at the festival.

VERDICT : Back The Game Changer Each-way @ 20/1


Cheltenham Day 3

JLT Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)

SHATTERED LOVE has some great form at Grade 1 level this season, her mares’ allowance is a bonus and she is one who will be happy on the ground.

VERDICT : Back Shattered Love @ 6/1


Pertemps Networks Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3)

GLENLOE has been laid out for this all season and can land a competitive handicap for Gordon Elliott.

VERDICT : Back @ 11/2


Ryanair Chase (Grade 1)

UN DE SCEAUX looks unopposable in these conditions and it doesn’t look a good betting race with only the six runners.  If you wanted an each way play, then Balko Des Flos looks too big a price, despite the ground being against him.



Stayers’ Hurdle (Grade 1)

SUPASUNDAE has drifted in the betting due to the soft ground conditions.  However, he has won around here and looks to hold a class advantage over some of these.  At the current prices he is a bet.

VERDICT : Back @ 8/1


Stable Plate Handicap Chase (Grade 3)

THE STORYTELLER got off to a winning start over fences and has been running well in graded company since.  The ground will be fine for him and he looks well enough handicapped off 147.

VERDICT : Back The Storyteller @ 7/1


Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2)

LAURINA is a big talking horse in this and with Willie Mullins’ record in the race, she is not easy to oppose.  Cap Soleil could be the each way play if you wanted a bet at bigger prices.



Kim Muir Amateur Riders Handicap Chase (Class 2)

MALL DINI’s connections won the RSA yesterday with Presenting Percy and can double up with Mall Dini, who was unlucky not to go close in this race last season when he finished fifth.  Patrick Mullins has already landed a race here this week and confidence will be high.

VERDICT : Back Mall Dini @ 5/1

Cheltenham Festival Day 2

Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)

Samcro will be a hot favourite here and rightly sits at the top of the market.  I’m happy to take on any novice at odds on and will be doing so here too.

NEXT DESTINATION has done nothing wrong all season and is three from three for Willie Mullins.  His two defeats of Cracking Smart look like top form and he will have no problems with the ground.

VERDICT : Back Next Destination @ 3/1


RSA Chase (Grade 1)

The selection here is MONALEE, who was second in last season’s Albert Bartlett and was a good winner of the Flogas Novice Chase at Leopardstown last month.  Henry De Bromhead usually improves a horse for fences and he looks like no exception.

Presenting Percy could give him the most to do, but at the prices I would be siding with the former.  The recent run on testing ground behind Our Duke doesn’t look like the ideal prep for another test here.

Black Corton has done nothing wrong all season and will have his supporters, but he may just come up short here.  Dounikos and Elegant Escape could be the each way plays in the race.

VERDICT : Back Monalee @ 7/2


Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3)

A race you could easily back ten horses and come nowhere near to winning.  It would not be an overly bullish selection, but RED INDIAN went off favourite for a race over this trip here in November and ran well that day. Ben Pauling has a few in this and he looks the number one choice on jockey bookings with David Bass taking the ride.  He looks a big price with the stables more fancied Le Breuil being ridden by Aidan Coleman.

VERDICT : Back Red Indian @ 33/1 Each Way


Champion Chase (Grade 1)

Altior is a more than worthy favourite and will be tough to beat.  However, he hasn’t had the ideal prep and it’s enough for me to happy to take him on.  He won this last year ultimately in comfortable enough fashion, but he looked under pressure before Charbel came down and certainly didn’t look bomb proof.

Douvan has not been seen all season, but is still the choice of ride for Ruby Walsh.  While he has to be respected, it’s a big leap of faith to suggest he can win this.  Min has been deserted by Ruby and i’m not as convinced as some about his claims.

POLITOLOGUE  has won three times this season, including twice at Grade 1 level and although he was no match for Altior in the Game Spirit, he will be much better prepared for this and will be happy on the ground.  I am happy to take him each way for this contest and would be fairly confident of a place, with the possibility of going even better.

VERDICT : Back Politologue @ 14/1 Each-Way


Cross Country Chase (Class 2)

Keep it simple here.  CAUSE OF CAUSES has won at the last three festivals (unlucky not to be four from four), including this race last term and can repeat the trick again here.

Tiger Roll has been subject of increased support recently, but the ground has to be a negative and may have dented his hopes considerably.  The French challenger Urgent De Gregaine is the interesting each way alternative and has won around here before.

VERDICT : Back Cause Of Causes @ 11/4


Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3)

Paul Nicholls has a top record in this race and ACT OF VALOUR looks to fit the profile perfectly.  He looked good on his first start for the yard, but disappointed next time out when the trainer felt he turned him out again too soon.  His most recent second to Triumph Hurdle candidate We Have A Dream is solid and he could be well handicapped off 136.

VERDICT : Back Act Of Valour @ 8/1


Champion Bumper (Grade 1)

The ground holds no worries for the Anthony Honeyball trained ACEY MILAN, who has looked impressive on soft and heavy ground on his last two starts.  He won here on New Year’s Day and followed up in another listed race at Ascot last month by a wide margin.  He looks sure to go very well.

VERDICT : Back Acey Milan @ 8/1

Cheltenham Festival 2018 – Day 1


Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)

Getabird will be a warm order favourite here and with the stable having won the race in 3 of the last 5 renewals (2nd in the other 2).  The ground will be another positive, having won on testing ground on both starts this season, where as some of his rivals will be inconvenienced.  He has some slight doubts surrounding him going left handed, but it’s hard to say if that will be a factor or not.

I couldn’t really put you off the favourite, but this will be his toughest test and i’m always happy to take on a shortie in a novice.  Of the remainder Mengli Khan would be better on decent ground according to Gordon Elliott and he is well held by Getabird on their last run.  Kalashnikov was impressive in the Betfair hurdle and won’t mind the ground.  However, he has hit a flat spot in some of his races and he might struggle to pick them up if that happens here.  First Flow is another that won’t mind the conditions and is 3 from 3 over hurdles, but connections sounded keen to look after him for next season and it is a surprise he is turning up here after a change of heart.

The one i’d take is PALOMA BLUE.  He can be very keen in his races, which he won’t get away with here, but it’s hard to imagine they won’t go a significant amount faster from the off in this and that may help him settle.  He was travelling well the last day before the challenges of Samcro and Duc De Genievres proved too much, but they are very good horses and i’d be encouraged by that effort.

VERDICT : Back Paloma Blue Each-way @ 12/1 or better


Arkle Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)

This looks a race to watch and enjoy.  Footpad has looked superb, Petit Mouchoir has room to improve on his last effort and better form over hurdles and Saint Calvados will be happy the rain has come.  Brain Power would need to show more than he has recently to figure and Robinshill looks outclassed.



Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3)

A tough one to call as you’d expect from a big field Cheltenham handicap.  Of the horses at the top of the market, Coo Star Sivola will favour the softer conditions more than Gold Present or Singlefarmpayment will.  The step up in trip may suit him, but he has been beaten enough times at Cheltenham for me to think 6/1 is a little too short.

One horse who will love the course and the conditions is the Richard Hobson trained SHANTOU FLYER.  He doesn’t look the most unexposed by any means, but James Bowen will take off a handy three pounds and he was second here twice in January, most recently to Frodon off a pound higher.  He looks a thorough stayer and I don’t think the extra distance will be an issue at all.

VERDICT : Back Shantou Flyer Each-way @ 20/1


Champion Hurdle (Grade 1)

Buveur D’Air will be very hard to beat if he shows his true form and is not one i’d be keen to oppose.

In the without the favourite market, i’d be happy to take the 7/1 about the Alan King trained ELGIN.  He won the Greatwood Hurdle here on soft ground and was a good winner of the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton last time.  Following that win he has been supplemented for this at a cost of £20,000.  He’ll be held up and I can see him picking up the pieces when others are falling away.

VERDICT : Back Elgin (w/o Buveur D’Air) @ 7/1


OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Grade 1)

Apple’s Jade is another favourite I don’t have a huge interest in being against on day 1.

In the without the favourite market I would side with JER’S GIRL.  She was travelling well in the race when coming down three out last season and her form behind the favourite this season is pretty solid.  She was beaten by La Bague Au Roi last time out at Kempton, but this drop back in trip should be in her favour.

VERDICT : Back Jer’s Girl (w/o Apples Jade) @ 13/2


National Hunt Chase (Grade 1)

A tough race to call, but one in which it may pay to concentrate on the top amateurs.  With Jury Duty having some doubts about whether he will stay and No Comment being trained by Philip Hobbs, who has had a torrid year, the one who could come out on top is MOSSBACK.  Lisa O’Neill won this race last year for the same stable/owners on Tiger Roll and Mossback could be the one to get her the double.  He was unlucky two starts back when falling at the last, but put the winner that day well in his place when second to Monbeg Notorius at Navan.  That horse would have been warmly fancied if he had been able to make the festival.

Of the others, Pylonthepressure is interesting stepping up massively in trip at a big price for the ever shrewd Willie Mullins.

VERDICT : Back Mossback @ 6/1


Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase (Listed)

A very tightly compressed handicap with only 8 pounds from top to bottom.

One horse who has impressed me all season and is a decent price for this is the Donald McCain trained TESTIFY.  He has racked up a hat trick of wins at Bangor and twice at Haydock and will take the testing conditions in his stride.  He has fair each way claims at a big price.

VERDICT : Back TESTIFY Each-Way @ 16/1

A few at double-figure prices for Cheltenham

Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

The opening race of four exciting days of national hunt racing is the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Getabird has been all the rage in the markets and is already a short priced favourite to enhance Willie Mullins’ excellent record in the contest.  However, he is far too short in the betting for a horse who has done his winning on heavy ground and only had the two starts over hurdles.  He has looked impressive and he looks to have a huge chance, but not to the extent that he looks worth backing at 13/8.

The two I am keen on at the prices would be Claimantakinforgan and Sharjah.  Sharjah looked like being a comfortable winner of the Grade 1 Future Champions Novices Hurdle at Christmas before he came down at the last and the ground went against him last time.  On the expected better ground we usually get at the festival he looks a big price at 20/1.

Claimantakinforgan won his first two starts over hurdles in fine style, including a decent renewal of the Grade 2 Supreme trial at Ascot.  He was also third in last season’s Champion Bumper, which is always a good indicator for this race and shows the course holds no fears for him.  He was beaten at odds on a few weeks ago at Musselburgh and while that is disappointing, his trainer believes there are excuses and it is factored into his price.  Had he won that day i’d imagine he would be second favourite for this, so 16/1 looks a good price.

Verdict : Back Sharjah at 20/1 and Claimantakinforgan at 16/1


The Brown Advisory and Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase

Something unusual has happened in the handicaps in recent years.  Gone are the days where you would look at the bottom of the weights and work your way up.  The trend is more towards these races going to classier types, who are often future graded race winners and higher in the weights than they would have traditionally been.  Last season’s winner of this race Road To Respect, went on to beat Yorkhill in a Grade 1 at Fairyhouse a month later and is now well fancied for the Gold Cup.

One horse I think has had a good prep for this year is Gordon Elliott’s The Storyteller.  He was heavily fancied for last year’s festival, but unfortunately didn’t make it.  This season he made a winning start over fences in a good beginner’s chase with Sutton Manor and Livelovelaugh in behind.  He then had two very satisfactory runs behind Invitation Only and Monalee.  At his current price he is well worth backing in what is admittedly a very tough race with many chances.

Verdict : Back The Storyteller at 14/1 with NRNB firm


Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle

Paul Nicholls has an excellent record in this contest and has another real live chance with Act Of Valour.  He was a 97-rated horse on the flat in Ireland when trained by Michael O’Callaghan and made a winning debut over hurdles for his new yard.  He wasn’t right according to his trainer on his next start and that view was vindicated when he finished a much closer second to the same horse at Musselburgh last month.  That horse was We Have A Dream, who is well fancied by many for the Triumph Hurdle.

Verdict : Back Act Of Valour at 12/1 with NRNB firm

Cheltenham New Year’s Day

There’s a nice card at Cheltenham to see in the New Year, featuring the Dipper Novices’ Chase and Relkeel Hurdle.  We have a brief look at the main races.

12:15 – Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Listed) 2m4f56y (Heavy)

The Philip Hobbs yard are not in the best of form at the moment and that is a concern, but preference is for Springtown Lake (currently available at 11/4), who brings the best form on offer to the table.  Although beaten 9 lengths in the end, his second behind On The Blind Side last time reads very well in what was a very good contest.  He was also due to win readily when falling at the last on his previous start.  That was on soft ground so it bodes well in tomorrows testing conditions.

Of the others Ainchea made a winning hurdling debut and was second here in a bumper.  Onefortheroadtom was third last time out when massively odds on, but the second and fourth that day have run since and not boosted that form.  Tikkanbar was a heavy ground bumper winner and an easy winner of a novice event on hurdling debut.  He could have more to come.

13:25 – Dipper Novices’ Chase (Grade 2) 2m4f166y (Heavy)

Willoughby Court and Yanworth set the standard and both look to have solid chances.  The former won the last meeting between the pair at Newbury, but this time shoulders a five pound penalty, which should make things closer.

The suggestion though is the overpriced Ami Desbois, who can be backed at 16/1 currently.  He isn’t far behind on ratings, is two from two over fences and will love the heavy ground.  He was only beaten a length by Wholestone over hurdles here last season and was a good fifth in the Albert Bartlett in March, when the ground would not have been so favourable.

Ballyandy holds solid claims and has decent Cheltenham form, including his Champion Bumper win.  However, he has had a few issues recently and has been kept off the track a while, which stunts the enthusiasm at current odds.

14:00 – Betbright Best For Festival Betting Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 2m4f166y (Heavy)

Competitive stuff again, but preference here is for the Venetia Williams trained Burtons Well (currently available at 4/1), who is another that will like the ground and looks primed for a big run.  He is lightly raced for a nine year old, but his only win over fences came on heavy ground and his reappearance neck second to Romain De Senam was a good effort.  The stable have had a few winners in recent weeks, which is a promising sign.

Sametegal is the obvious danger and should also go well.  Last year’s winner Shantou Flyer could be a big price if he came back to form, but nothing we have seen recently suggests that is about to happen.  Ground would be a worry for Theinval, but he goes well here and always seems to run his race.

15:10 – Relkeel Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m4f56y (Heavy)

Favourite Colin’s Sister has really stepped up her form this season and was an excellent winner of the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby in November.  She was fourth in better company last time behind Beer Goggles and Unowhatimeanharry, form which looks ok.

Wholestone goes well here and maybe Cheltenham will make a difference, but he is held by Colin’s Sister on both Wetherby and Newbury form.

Agrapart won the race last season and will relish the conditions, but the form this season has been average and is worth opposing at the prices.

The one to be on could be Old Guard (currently a best price 11/4).  He clearly loves the track and although this trip will test his stamina, he has won this season over 2m4f on soft ground.  He wasn’t beaten far behind My Tent Or Yours and The New One last time and wasn’t beaten far in the Greatwood either.  This race looks very winnable and he would be the selection to provide another big win for Bryony Frost.

This weekend in racing

Ballymore shaping into a festival treat

On Friday at Sandown we saw an exciting renewal of the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle Trial.  A number of horses with big reputations coming into the race had their colours lowered due to an exceptional performance from the Nicky Henderson trained On The Blind Side.

Before the race most people could be forgiven for thinking this trip might be a little sharp for him, as he had looked outpaced over a furlong further when winning at Cheltenham previously.  However, he showed he had pace and a decent turn of foot when powering away from his rivals on Friday for a nine length success.

The biggest reputation to take a hit during the race was the Colin Tizzard trained White Moon, who was toiling before the race really got going and finished a well beaten last of seven.  It could be a case that he never gave his true running, but he will have plenty to prove when he returns to the racecourse.  Springtown Lake and Red River ran nice races and come out with plenty of credit, but neither were a match for the impressive winner.

After the race Nicky Henderson confirmed the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle was going to be the likely target at the festival, a market which is currently headed by the short priced Samcro, who looks like another star of the future.  He still needs to prove himself against the best, but you can’t help but be taken with what he has done so far.

Plans can change nearer the time and the Challow Hurdle over 2m5f was nominated as the next target at Christmas.  It’s a race which usually goes to a future stayer.  Previous winners include Denman, Diamond Harry, Reve De Sivola, Taquin Du Seuil and Barters Hill.


Blaklion shines over the national fences

Blaklion ran out an impressive winner of the Becher chase at Aintree on Saturday, having been well backed following his 4th in the Grand National in April and a close 2nd to Betfair Chase winner Bristol De Mai in the Charlie Hall last month.  Given a patient ride by Gavin Sheehan, he travelled strongly through the race before taking it up before the last and going away in the closing stages.  Top weight The Last Samurai chased him home, in what was an exceptional performance from him too!

The handicapper had given Blaklion a two pound drop in the handicap on the back of his second to Bristol De Mai in the Charlie Hall, which seemed a gift considering he was only denied by half a length and the winner has since demolished a field of grade one winners in the Betfair chase.  While you can make a case with Bristol De Mai being rated 159 at the time of the race and giving the runner up six pounds for a half length win, not many horses are treated so kindly when running so well.

He will go up for this and will be towards the top of the weights come the big day in April, but he deserves to be at the head of the market on this evidence.  The Grand National trial at Haydock was nominated by Nigel Twiston-Davies as his next race before the big day itself.


Tizzard to step up his chasers

Colin Tizzard came to Sandown on Saturday with two strong fancies in the two grade one chases on the card.  Finian’s Oscar was expected to back up his recent novice win over two and a half miles at Cheltenham, but looked horribly outpaced before running on for a well beaten third.

It was a similar story for Fox Norton in the Tingle Creek, although perhaps not to the same extent.  He only just failed to overhaul the very game Politologue, but he is another due to step up in trip, with the King George over three miles on Boxing Day a possibility.

The winners of both races deserve plenty of credit and can have a big say this season in the two mile divisions.  Sceau Royal came into the race relatively unfancied and on the balance of his previous form looked to have plenty to find. He tanked into the race and flew away from his rivals for an impressive success.  We will see whether the form stands up and i’d like to see him again before i’d be backing him for an Arkle.

Politologue deserves to be the clear alternative to Douvan and Altior on the back of this.  We are yet to see either of those horses, who at their best would more than likely have far too much for the Paul Nicholls trained gelding.  The step back from intermediate trips to the minimum distance has clearly had a positive effect and as a six year old, he has potential to improve further.


John silences his doubters

Winner of three Gold cups last season, you’d think Sizing John would be all the rage to land back to back Cheltenham victories.  However, he has plenty of doubters and many believe the Gold Cup he won was substandard.

Even if that is the case, his victory at Punchestown on Sunday over two and a half miles advertised his well being and he more than deserves to head the market.  He comfortably accounted for the well backed Djakadam and there are plenty of holes you can knock into his Cheltenham rivals.  He looks as good as ever.

Chief amongst them could be last season’s RSA winner Might Bite.  He easily accounted for a fair field of chasers on his reappearance, but he still has to do it at the top level in open company and you would always have his RSA antics in your mind when he returns to that venue again.

Yorkhill is many ideas thoughts as a potential winner, but he needs to show his effectiveness at three miles plus and his tendency to race keenly won’t be helped by the slower pace demanded of that trip.  He is a tantalising proposition if they do take that route with him, but we need him to go out and do it first.

Our Duke was disappointing on his first run of the season and he will need to come back from his back injury and show his well being before he becomes a strong contender.  Hopefully he can do that.