Champion Day lived up to its potential as we all expected with plenty of top performances from those we expected to shine.
Annie Power was the stand out and was part of a ordinary cast that made a special production. It was some performance from My Tent Or Yours from his absence to claim second but he only just held on from Nichols Canyon, who made a few errors or else he would have been closer.
Altior streaked clear in the Supreme with a great turn of foot beating the hype horse Min meaning it wasn’t the four-timer Willie Mullins, Ruby Walsh and Rich Ricci.
But they did have success with Vroum Vroum Mag in the Mares race and Douvan claimed the Arkle, who was foot perfect. Luckily Sizing John followed him home meaning the he landed our without the favourite bet on that race.
Minella Rocco showed exceptional talent to see out the 4m National Hunt Challenge while Ballyalton bounced back from a fall last time to take the closing Novices’ Handicap.
The Ultima Handicap Chase had a controversial start that saw all the jockeys in the race pick up a one-day ban for ‘anticipating the start.’ When it got underway it saw a winner for Tom Scudamore aboard the David Pipe trained Un Temps Pour Tout.
Lets take a look at Day Two and there is a going change to note, it is now – good to soft, good in places.
13:30 Neptune Novices’ Hurdle
The complexion of this race changed dramatically yesterday when Willie Mullins didn’t declare Yorkhill for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. That decision adds another dimension to what previously seemed to be a one-horse contest.
It looked to be all about Yanworth who seemed for some as one of the bankers in Novices’ races. He is four from four over hurdles and has beat some good yardsticks, including Le Prezien and Charbel, who ran a bold race from the front to finish fifth in the Supreme yesterday. He was very impressive when winning here in January on heavy ground when seeing off Albert Bartlett contender Shantou Village by 7l. This six-year-old shouldn’t mind the change in the going after he ran on good ground when a close fourth in last years Champion Bumper. Alan King’s charge has recorded good speed figures all through the season and has been mightily impressive. He is the right favourite for the race but I’m now tending to fancy another.
Yorkhill is the one for me as he is a son of Presenting meaning he is bred to be better on good ground compared to the desperately heavy turf he has previously encountered. The form of his last run in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown stands alone as a strong piece of form with O O Seven winning an Albert Bartlett trial while the third was Agrapart who claimed the Betfair Hurdle. On that day he jumped precisely and travelled strongly, so shouldn’t have any problems here. He won his Maiden Hurdle over 2m4f on heavy ground plus was a winner in the point-to-point sphere back in December 2014. For me he ticks plenty of boxes and is the one to serve it up to the Alan King favourite.
Don’t discount A Toi Phil. He is the Gigginstown runner trained by Willie Mullins and he looked to have a good future ahead of him when doubling up at Leopardstown in a Grade 2 Novice Hurdle, which produced the winner of this last year. In that race he stayed on strongly and forged 7l clear of Acapella Bourgeois. He is one that is lesser exposed in this field but does face a tough task up against the two already mentioned runners.
O O Seven faces off against Yorkhill again but needs to find something more, as does Thomas Hobson, who is one that should handle the better ground.
With the SkyBet offer in the opening race every day you can’t lose. Money back as a free bet if your selection loses.
Advice: Yorkhill (5/2 Win)
14:10 RSA Chase
If you’ve read my pieces recently then you’ll have seen I put one up ante-post in this race and I still feel he is overpriced.
Seeyouatmidnight was the one I gave to you all 18-days ago prior to its Newcastle prep run. It won that race in workmanlike fashion however at one of the preview evenings Brian Hughes said he had an interrupted build-up prior to that race meaning we didn’t see him at his best. That meant his price has changed following that 6l success over a Cheltenham handicap winner in January.
Sandy Thomson’s charge is being overlooked by many considering, he handled the track well when claiming the Grade 2 Dipper Novices’ Chase here on New Year’s Day. He beat Blaklion, who is two-points shorter in the market, and Le Mercurey was in third that day and he will make a bold bid from the front, in a race that seems to lack obvious pace.
No More Heroes is the top-rated horse in the race and is unbeaten in three starts over fences to which he has taken to like a duck to water. He looked very comfortable in his latest Grade 1 Novice Chase he claimed back in December when beating Rule The World but that possibly wasn’t the strongest renewal of that contest. He handled the step up in trip well and is very much a future Gold Cup contender. This seven-year-old was third in last years Albert Bartlett, so does have some course experience and that is a route plenty of winners of this race have taken. He is yet to run on ground better than soft or yielding meaning there is a doubt about that but he is a son of Presenting, so should handle that.
Vyta Du Roc is the one that could take Seeyouatmidnight on for the lead meaning they could in theory light each other up and set it up for something else. That one could be More Of That, who has been highly spoke of in the build up to the Festival and has been well supported as a consequence. Two starts over fences and he has looked every ounce a top horse in the making. Eight career starts with seven wins, four of which have been here at Prestbury Park, so he is one that knows the course like the back of his hand. Back in 2014 he claimed the scalp of yesterday’s Champion Hurdle winner Annie Power when scooping the World Hurdle, so that reflects well. The step back up to 3m shouldn’t worry too much and the better ground is definitely a positive for him. He is shorter than I was hoping but that is because he has been strongly backed.
Advice: More Of That (15/8 Win)
Seeyouatmidnight (12/1 Each-Way – Already Advised)
14:50 Coral Cup
Paul Nicholls saddled the well-backed Aux Ptit Soins to victory in this contest and as ever it is a wide-open renewal.
The champion trainer has a couple going again in this race. Politologue was a facile 59l winner of a Listed race at Exeter just 17-days ago, which goes against a trend that has seen the last 11 winners not having had a run in the last 32-days. However this grey five-year-old fits a similar profile to Aux Ptit Soins and could prove to be ahead of his mark. Of his pair Baoulet Delaroque is the one I’d prefer. He has kept progressing this season, which has seen him go from winning a Maiden Hurdle to an OK race at Huntingdon where he stayed on quite well. On the basis of that run you have to fancy him staying this extra trip plus he has kept progressing, so despite the 9lb rise he can’t be ruled out.
Hunters Hoof sneaks into this race off bottom weight and looks one with a perfect profile. A progressive seven-year-old who has only had seven career starts winning three – all on good ground. The yard thinks he could stay further in time and they are likely to be able to test that theory as they are tend to go at a fair clip here. He hasn’t been seen since November when disappointing at Haydock but that was on ground that didn’t suit. He ticks a few boxes and this looks to have been laid out for this race. One slight worry would be the tracks that he has raced at haven’t been as undulating or testing as what he’ll encounter here.
The other I quite like is the winner of the Grade 3 Holloway’s Handicap Hurdle at Ascot. Rock The Kasbah saw off the free-going Baron Alco that day and can help to get Philip Hobbs off the mark at the Festival. This son of Shirocco is in his second season over hurdles, something that fits one trend. He has gone up another 8lb for that win at Ascot but comes here in good heart with his sequence of wins. Connections have said he wouldn’t want the ground too quick but he has previously run solid races in good conditions.
Diamond King won last time in heavy conditions for Gordon Elliot and has done well sine his switch from Donald McCain. He’ll need a career best off this mark and this does seem a race for younger horses these days. If fully tuned up after a 144-day absence then Long House Hall could have his say. He unseated around here in October over fences and makes his return to hurdles. He won over these obstacles by 16l, which has seen his mark rise 15lb to 140. He could still be a smart prospect despite being eight years old and he is another that would welcome the drying ground.
Blood Cotil is interesting resuming his career over hurdles. Arbre De Vie is lightly raced and could improve. In France back in 2014 he was a 1l third behind Aux Ptits Soins prior to winning two races for Willie Mullins. He was fourth in last year’s Albert Bartlett, so is on the shortlist. One I’m not keen on is Blazer. I like the Betfair Hurdle form but I couldn’t have him that day and it’s similar here. This five-year-old is upped in trip, something to which he might not stay when looking at pedigree, the drying conditions may not be ideal plus the track may not suit.
It is an open contest, where those towards the head of the weights are starting to prove fruitful. Volnay De Thaix carries top weight and was fifth in the race last year off the same mark. This time around he has 5lb claimer Freddie Mitchell on board and does have place chances. I’m going to put a third up and take a flyer. This would be small stakes but Call The Cops is one that could thrive off this end-to-end gallop. He won the Pertemps Hurdle over 3m at last year’s Festival before going on to finish second in the Grade 3 Handicap Hurdle at Aintree, which could be his aim this time around. Form comes on good ground, has form around here and I don’t think the drop back in trip is as big a concern as some are making out. He could spring a surprise at a nice price.
Race sponsors Coral are paying out SIX places on this race at ¼ the odds, which is a great offer.
Advice: Hunters Hoof (20/1 Each-Way)
Rock The Kasbah (12/1 Each-Way)
Call The Cops (33/1 Each-Way)
15:30 Queen Mother Champion Chase
The feature race on the second day of the Festival and it is one where we have another Mullins and Walsh hotpot.
Un De Sceaux is odds on already for this contest and is 14 from 14 when remaining upright because he has had two falls in his career to this point. Looking at this race from a pace angle and he could be joined by Special Tiara but I feel he’ll be tracking meaning Un De Sceaux is likely to get an uncontested lead, which is likely to suit him and he’ll be able to bowl along merrily in-front. At Ascot in the Clarence House he showed his gears and is the one they all have to beat.
We saw yesterday that Nicky Henderson got My Tent Or Yours somewhere back to his best for the Champion Hurdle and he has managed a simple feat with Sprinter Sacre. Luckily this ten-year-old has had two runs this season and has looked majestic. His return saw him beat Somersby, last year’s Champion Chase second, by 14l. In the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton in December we saw he still has his battling qualities too. The return to a stiffer track is one the trainer thinks should suit him. If age and his problems haven’t got to him then, the 2014 winner could be re-writing his name on the Champion Chase Honours Board.
Last year’s winner Dodging Bullets was off for longer than expected after suffering setbacks. It was disappointing by how quickly he seemed to stop at Warwick on his return. With the two mentioned above in this renewal it makes it stronger than the one he won, so he’ll have to find some more. Special Tiara is the obvious one at a double figure price that could hit the frame. He could go forward with Un De Sceaux, which would be a brave move. Third in this last and you wouldn’t be surprised to him fill that position once more. He was unlucky in the Tingle Creek last time out when finishing second when seemingly going better come the last but a mid-air collision with Sire De Grugy meant he landed sideways and lost ground. I’m expecting to see that form reversed and will be interested to see if there is a match bet for him to do that.
Advice: Sprinter Sacre (11/2 Each-Way)
Note: If available – Special Tiara to beat Sire De Grugy
16:10 Cross Country Chase
The changes to the conditions of this race have changed meaning all the horses run off level weights.
With that in mind it has to bring two-time winner Balthazar King in to contention. This is his first run since when many held their breath after his fall at the Canal Turn in the Grand National that left him with a punctured lung and broken ribs. This is his first run for 340-days but he does have a good record fresh and if said fall hasn’t left its mark he could prove to be a good each-way bet considering he is a four-time course and distance winner. If he does end up winning there may not be a dry eye at Cheltenham.
Josies Orders runs for top connections in this sphere and heads the market. His last run can be forgiven as it was a Handicap Hurdle over an inadequate trip and more than likely will have been for fine tuning ahead of this. He has won twice on the cross-country track and has been highly touted for this race. The eight-year-old does have a top record when completing but with his rivals now priced up nearly double his price, others can be considered.
The unlucky one last year was Quantitativeeasing, who was carried out by French runner Toutancarmount. He was making smooth progress into the race when that occurred and despite Nina Carberry switching to Josies Orders, Mark Walsh isn’t a bad replacement. He was eased to victory two starts ago over fences and has narrowly went down at the Cross Country at the Punchestown Festival.
Patrick McCann captured this image as Quantitativeeasing was carried out last year. Source: Racing Post
Perennial runners in this race see the return of 15-year-old Uncle Junior and 13-year-old Any Currency. The former hasn’t completed on three starts this season, which would be a worry but was unlucky in November when slipping up but Any Currency is another to consider for this race. Martin Keighley has ditched the hood for this run but leaves the cheekpieces on. As stated at the start this is run off level weights meaning he is 23lb better off with Josies Orders than when following him home here in November.
Advice: Balthazar King (13/2 Each-Way)
Quantativeeasing (8/1 Each-Way)
16:50 Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle
This field of 22 four-year-old’s are have different levels of experience under their belt. When you see the last four winners have returned at prices of 40/1, 25/1, 33/1 and 25/1 last year with Qualando.
It may be worth looking at the bigger prices in a race like this. I’ll start with a tracker horse that I’m going to be backing. Kasakh Noir has looked useful since his switch from France to the care of Dan Skelton. He has two wins and a third on his runs for the yard and there has been plenty to like from what he has shown. He was a convincing winner on his debut for the stable before being beaten by Fixe Le Kap. He was proven to be the stronger stayer last time when running on well to beat Wolfcatcher by a short head, so a strongly run race could suit him very nicely at a big price. The son of Redback won a staying race over 2m1f in France before the move and that was on good ground, so underfoot conditions won’t faze him.
The preview evenings in the build-up flagged up Diego Du Charmil and Paul Nicholls hasn’t sent him to the racecourse prior to this to protect his handicap mark, which the team do feel is lenient. Not the greatest of form based on what he achieved in France but Nicholls has put the tongue-tie on to help his breathing and air flow during the race. Another at the top of the market Is Campeador, who pulled hard on debut at Leopardstown. Gordon Elliot has reached for the hood to settle that problem but in a big-field race like this he should be able to settle better. He was 2l behind Footpad on debut when finishing fourth and that Mullins runner has since won a Grade 1, so you can’t discount him.
Duke Of Medina is a pace angle into the race for Harry Whittington. He didn’t handle the heavy ground here in the JCB Triumph trial in January, so the return to better ground should suit and he is likely to make a bold bid. Our Thomas is consistent for Tim Easterby and Brian Hughes but will have to find plenty here after being beaten by Ardamir and Jaleo previously. The Alan King pair of Ardamir and Messire Des Obeaux are given respect, especially the latter who ran a good race on his UK racecourse debut at Haydock 25-days ago when only beaten by just over 2l by Frodon. He is a lively on closer towards the head of the betting.
Pillard (left of image) is one you have to give a chance too. He is another that could prove well handicapped on the basis of his French form where he seemed better on drying ground. He has finished second on both occasions when running for Jonjo O’Neill but the handicapper has left his mark untouched. Despite them only being four year’s old headgear has played its part in this race previously, so I wouldn’t be worried too much by the use of the hood. This is his handicap debut and could have the profile to take a race like this.
Advice: Kasakh Noir (16/1 Each-Way)
Pillard (25/1 Each-Way)
17:30 Champion Bumper
The Champion Bumper produced a winner for this blog last year with Moon Racer, as he completed a tide little double with Dodging Bullets in the Champion Chase for myself.
There isn’t something that stands out as much as Moon Racer did last year but it’s worth noting that 14 of the 15 winners this century made their debut on an Irish racecourse with three of the last seven winners have come from the top two of the ratings.
Ballyandy is the top rated for this race for the Twiston-Davies operation. It is hard to get away from him with his three wins from four starts making him on of the more experienced in this big field. He also is a course winner when he beat Potters Legend, who has acquitted himself well over hurdles since. His one defeat came at the hands of Coeur Bllimey, who re-opposes here, so has to try and reverse that form. He won a Listed bumper when last seen and did it well in deep ground, which may have suited him. If there remains juice in the ground he’ll be fine. Overall he looks a good favourite and is 5lb clear on the BHA ratings.
The first of two in this race for me is New To This Town, who has won both starts over in Ireland. Both starts have been on heavy ground and he has seemed to labour through the conditions but has hinted at a useful turn of foot in the business end of his races when you watch them back. He beat the slightly more experienced Avenir D’Une Vie at Gowran Park in January; the second has won impressively since. He is a son of Milan, so again the drying ground may prove to bring the best out of him. He won a 17-runner race on debut meaning the big field shouldn’t faze him plus since his last win he has been purchased by Alan & Ann Potts. After looking at the race I kept coming back to him at his current double-figure price.
Avenir D’Une Vie has had four starts, winning twice. His last win at Naas 24-days ago was by 15l meaning he is now rated higher than New To This Town but has to reverse form. Looking at pedigree his sire Lavirco then the drying ground would be a concern because his progeny seem to like to get their toe into deeper ground. Augusta Kate is the only other in a single figure price. She has justified favouritism on her two starts with good reports about her prior to those races. She has done what she has had to in those races and pulverised the field on debut. She beat Cashelard Lady last time and she has since gone over hurdles finishing second to Mares Novices’ Hurdle prospect Limini putting some depth in that form. Her two starts have seen her encounter her own sex, so taking on the males here could be slightly different.
The other that interested me was First Figaro. Dermot Weld’s charge has had four starts and only managed to get his head in front once. The race that should out was the narrow defeat to Champers On Ice at Punchestown in April and if he runs up to that level then he has to be a player considering that winner has placed in a Grade 2 plus is now rated 143 over hurdles and has a live chance in the Albert Bartlett at a big price. He was beaten by the unbeaten Mullins charge Lucky Pass last time when the heavy ground was less than ideal, so I’m hoping that this German bred will be better suited to conditions today.
Coeur Blimey did beat Ballyandy in December yet the disparity in price has shocked me. The only reason it is currently the price it is is purely down to connections rather than that performance because he looked a useful prospect at Ascot last time. He can’t be too easily discounted. Compadre is a son of Yeats, so a win here would boost his stallion credentials but this five-year-old has looked tricky and lairy at times. With Yeats in the pedigree he should have the speed for a race like this and was a comfortable winner at Bangor on debut. He was withdrawn on his intended debut but if he is on a going day then the Magnier, Smith and Tabor colours could be seen going close.
One other worthy of a mention is John Ferguson’s High Bridge. He has won his last two bumpers and by the fact he ran at Catterick last time suggests that could have been a test to see how he handles a left-handed undulating track. He was a comfortable winner in a weak race but has recorded one of the quicker speed figures of runners in this race.
Advice: New To This Town (11/1 Each-Way)
First Figaro (16/1 Each-Way)