A record Day One crowd of 63,249 saw four Willie Mullins winners. Three expected and one less so with Glens Melody taking the Mares Hurdle after a fall at the last hurdle.
Ruby Walsh leads the way in the jockeys table thanks to those three winners while Paul Townend got two winners yesterday after having previously only ridden one winner.
Yesterday there was relative success with Un De Sceaux (8/11) winning the Arkle, Gallant Oscar (12/1) third in the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase, Faugheen (5/4) winning the Champion Hurdle, Bitofapuzzle (28/1) third in the Mares Hurdle, The Job Is Right (10/1) third in the four-miler and with Thomas Crapper (15/2) second and Horizontal Speed (16/1) fourth in the CHAPS Novices Chase.
A pair of Willie Mullins quad winning for this blog with some bigger priced placings.
1:30 Neptune Hurdle
In the last two years this race has been won by Faugheen and The New One, so could it produce another star?
John Ferguson’s Parlour Games (6/1) was rated 99 on the flat and has taken very well to hurdling after winning a Neptune trial in November. On that day it was he beat Blaklion who had yet to taste defeat over hurdles, the Twiston-Davies horse is now off to the Albert Bartlett. He comes into this race after winning the Challow Hurdle at Newbury in December and he dug-in well to win by a neck from Vyta Du Roc, who is lining up for this too. Even though horses bred for the flat don’t tend to win this race that could change here with this promising John Ferguson chestnut gelding.
Willie Mullins has favourite Nichols Canyon and the trainer has a good record in this race with three winners and five placed horses in the last ten years. However the Supreme may have been a better target. Last time out he beat Windsor Park, trained by Dermot Weld, but the Weld horse can reverse the form here as he is running a distance that should suit.
At a bigger price Ordo Ab Chao could tempt me with some each-way money. He has won at Cheltenham previously and was fourth at Sandown to Vyta Du Roc. A progressive sort, so this could be one to keep an eye on in the markets.
2:05 RSA Chase
I’m gutted that Coneygree goes for the Gold Cup instead of this. If he has ran here for me he was the winner.
This race in recent years has seen a number of seven-year-olds take the glory however I feel like that can change today.
The Young Master (11/2) is my pick now. At six-years old he is still progressive but has been impressive when winning the Badger Ales Trophy (before being demoted due to admin errors) and the Silver Cup at Ascot before Christmas. He was also a course and distance winner in an Amateur Riders Handicap Chase in October and has the quality to replicate that here today. His trainer Neil Mulholland had his first Festival winner yesterday with The Druids Nephew and this would make it two winners in two days.
Southfield Theatre is the main danger as he has probably had the perfect preparation for this race. He has won three of his four Novice Chases and in one of them he beat Broadway Buffalo, who finished second in the four-miler yesterday. He also beat Polly Peachum who was second in the Mares Hurdle yesterday, so the form is there that he has beaten some useful horses.
Don Poli has done what he has had to, to win his races. One of his defeats came against last years World Hurdle winner Beat That at the Punchestown Festival last April. The main negative for me is that he hasn’t ran since December and all 51 winners of the race have had a run in the year of the race (January or February.)
Kings Palace could have been tempting however his last run, where he nearly lost against only one rival put me off. He jumped steadily and at times clumsily that day at Newbury. However he does have form over course and distance, which is the biggest positive.
2:40 Coral Cup
I had initially wrote a piece putting up Garde La Victoire however he hasn’t been declared and that has left a dilemma. There had been some trends to follow up until the last two years where the top rated horse has ended up winning.
Aux Ptits Soins for Paul Nicholls is currently favourite and will be making his British racecourse debut. I can’t say I know a lot about this French five-year-old, who had won both starts over hurdles in France. At 8/1 in a wide open race he looks too short and one that I would rather watch. He may be one being lined up for a chasing career.
Blackmail (18/1) each-way would attract some money. Tony Martin has a good record in this race when he has had runners; where he has had a winner and a place from his five runners. This bay gelding looks to prefer good ground and that is something he will get here today. A mark of 147 seems fair after two victories from three over hurdles. A hood has been applied for the first time for this, so hopefully that should help him settle early on and concentrate on getting the job done.
Dell Arca (25/1) each-way wouldn’t have attracted me on previous runs but he has ran in some really competitive races. He was fifth in the Lanzorate Hurdle at Kempton, second here in January and he was fifth in this race last year. He is a six-year-old that hasn’t shown his promise from his French form and his debut run in the UK. Trainer David Pipe has put blinkers on for the first time and that tempts me at this price.
There is likely to be support for Activial, who was third in the Betfair Hurdle and the Ladbroke Hurdle. He is a promising five-year-old who could be progressive enough to in a battle towards the business end of the race. Gordon Elliot had a winner on Day One and Taglietelle could make it two. A horse that prefers good ground and looks set to make the step-up in trip quite nicely. On the evidence of the last two renewals Volnay De Thaix is worth a mention being the top rated and has 3lb claimer Peter Carberry on board. Second to Rock On Ruby here last time out, but in a small field, and he was fourth in the Fixed Brush Hurdle at Haydock in November.
3:20 Champion Chase
The feature of the day where most of the question marks surrounding this race come around the last two winners Sire De Grugy and Sprinter Sacre. Both have faced lay-offs with injuries and Sire De Grugy has arguably shown he was back to near his best when winning at Chepstow last time out. Nicky Henderson didn’t think that Sprinter Sacre would ever to find the top level he was at but Barry Geraghty believes he can win this race despite bleeding after his second to Dodging Bullets (11/2) at Ascot in the Clarence House Stakes.
Dodging Bullets was fourth in last year’s Arkle and is very much a contender for this despite the pair coming back from injury heading the markets. Paul Nicholls has said that this progressive horse will probably require soft ground but is a staying two-miler. The tongue-tie seems to have done the trick so is definitely where my money would be going.
Mr Mole took advantage of Sire De Grugy unseating at Sandown. However the mount of AP McCoy does have his quirks and on that day he fluffed the start losing ground, which he made up in something of a slow start. If he has one of those days today he won’t have much of a chance. If he settles at the start he is definitely in with a chance, two from two this season, and Paul Nicholls has sent him down the same route as Master Minded prior to this race.
Champagne Fever got back to winning ways at Gowran Park last time out against very little over 2m4f. He was fourth in the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day after weakening but that trip was 3m, which didn’t seem to suit. He has his chances but personally this 2m trip may be a little too sharp for this Mullins horse. Yes he has won two Cheltenham festival races over this trip and will settle behind front-runner Special Tiara but this may be too much to ask in what is however an open renewal.
Sentimentally it would be nice to see Sizing Europe, who won this race in 2011, complete in a place. A solid and good horse who does his work well. At the age of 13 it would be a shock if he were to win.
4:00 Cross Country Handicap Chase
Last year’s winner and Grand National second Balthazar King is heading straight to Aintree, aiming to go one better in the National.
Enda Bolger the winner or runner-up in five of the last seven runnings and his Quantitativeeasing (8/1) looks a solid each-way bet after his second here in December over these obstacles. He is off the same mark of 140 as he was when beaten by Any Currency, who is likely to go off favourite today for Martin Keighley. While jockey Nina Carberry has won this three times in the last eight. The P.P Hogan Memorial Cross Country Chase tends to be a good yardstick for this and Quantitativeeasing was fourth.
Three of the last four runs for Any Currency have been over course and distance. His form reads 2-4-1. The second was behind Balthazar King at last year’s festival and after he won here in December he is the one to beat. 14-year-old Uncle Junior has been second to Balthazar King in the November runs over this course and distance but his age could mean weary limbs see him struggle.
Duke Of Lucca is seeing some support and is currently the second favourite. Trained by Phil Hobbs and ridden by Richard Johnson, the pair who team up for Balthazar King, is the likely reason he is being backed. His fourth at the Festival in this race last year shows he has the potential to go better after his experience. However his jumping hasn’t always been the best, so if those mistakes can be avoided he’ll be bang up there.
Sire Collonges was third to Balthazar King in November and has been aimed at this race in the last couple of seasons. He beat Any Currency over course and distance in December 2013. He went well fresh in his younger days but that can’t be said on recent form. He has a claim if he can find his third in November and win in 2013.
4:40 Fred Winter
French bred/imported horses tend to go well in this race having won or placed 17 times in 28. Another trend from recent winners suggests that horses who meet the minimum requirement of three runs over hurdles tend to fair well plus horses that have won at Sandown earlier in the season.
Arabian Revolution (12/1) has won two of his three starts and was only beaten by a progressive Beltor, who heads to the Triumph Hurdle. One of those victories came at Sandown on debut where he won by 8l beating a horse that tends to place and won after that defeat. He is another John Ferguson horse that should go well and be suited to Cheltenham. Last years winner Hawk High had started on the flat and did very little and Arabian Revolution follows that and looks suited to this test.
Souriyan (25/1) was a beaten favourite last time out at Ffos Las on heavy ground. It was a narrowly defeat and no something I would take too much consideration of. This French import caught my eye when stylishly winning a Novice Hurdle at Exeter on New Year’s Day and the better ground should suit. That day he beat Sebastian Beach by 9l and that form should be consolidated today.
Gordon Elliot won this race in 2013 with Flaxen Flare and has Hostile Fire. A horse that was top rated 81 on the flat and is one that will prefer the quicker ground that makes him dangerous today. From three starts never been out of the top two. Thunder Zone could be interesting at a bigger price.
Paul Nicholls has a record of five French bred horses placing from eleven in this race and sends Bouvreuil. He was fourth to Qewy at Newbury and could come on for the run. The hood stays on and a tongue-strap is also applied, which could benefit his performance. Last year Nicholls was unlucky with French imports when Katgary (second, making British debut) and Keltus (fourth)
5:15 Champion Bumper
The last three winners of this race are Silver Concorde, Champagne Fever and Briar Hill. Three very good horses so this race provides a winner to watch for the future.
This race tends to treat the Irish well with them winning 17 of the 22 renewals and it is the same for Irish bred horses.
Moon Racer (9/1) each-way won impressively at Cheltenham in October and beat off his rivals impressively when winning by 12l. The fact he has won at the course and did it well suggests he is worth some money. This Irish bred horse trained by David Pipe won from the front when winning last time out and the same tactics are likely to be employed here to take victory. I asked one of the owners Harry Drew on Twitter what their best hope of a Cheltenham winner was and he said this horse. He previous runs show that!
Willie Mullins is likely to saddle favourite Bordini who is unbeaten from three starts however hasn’t worked as impressively as Moon Racer in my view. Rich Ricci thinks his best chance in this race is Pylonthepressure. He easily dismissed of Space Cadet at Naas when second favourite and the extra distance that day suggests he has the stamina to get up the Cheltenham hill.
Supasundae won a listed flat race at Ascot last time out. From that race the fourth Final Nudge won on his next appearance while the fifth Thistlecrack has won twice since and was fifth in the Imperial Cup on Saturday.