What a sight it was on Ladies Day to see Sprinter Sacre powering clear of Un De Sceaux in the Champion Chase.
It showed what a masterful trainer Nicky Henderson is. He has worked miracles with this horse and did similarly with My Tent Or Yours in the Champion Hurdle.
Unfortunately there was no return win for Balthazar King after his unseating of Richard Johnson. There was a good story in that race as local trainer Martin Keighley recorded his first Festival winner with 13-year-old Any Currency.
The Grade 1 RSA Chase gave Nigel Twiston-Davies the first of two winners on the day, as Blaklion sprung a bit of a surprise. Shaneshill followed him up the hill with favourite More Of That only third. No More Heroes picked up a tendon injury in the race and was recovering in the equine hospital.
The blog got off to a great start as Yorkhill got the right pocket of space to get a run down the inside to bound clear of strong favourite Yanworth in the Neptune.
In the handicaps the preview good thing Diego Du Charmil claimed the Fred Winter in a dramatic finish. He held on from fast finishing stablemate Romain De Senam but would they have won if it were not for the last flight falls of Campeador and Voix Du Reve?
Diamond King recorded a winner on the day for Gordon Elliot giving him some cheery news after what happened in the RSA Chase, so a bittersweet day for the County Meath handler.
The Twiston-Davies double was completed in the concluding Champion Bumper as Ballyhandy held off Battleford to win by a nostril. It was a slowly ran affair and the Irish horses at the top of the market failed to make an impact in the race.
13:30 JLT Novices’ Chase
The opening race of St Patricks Day is one where Irish trainers have done well. They have won four of the five renewals of this race but today the English have a strong hand.
Bristol De Mai is the top rated runner coming into this race and has plenty of race experience. He was defeated by Garde La Victoire in October but that was on his seasonal debut, so will have required that run. He did get a weight allowance in that race but pulled hard early on and he also was in the receipt of weight when beaten by the front-running Ar Mad. However he’s gone from strength to strength in the last three. At Sandown he got an easy lead and was able to find a good rhythm, which helped his jumping. If able to dictate proceedings he could have the class to hold this field at bay. Nigel Twiston-Davies recorded a double yesterday and this could make his Festival even better.
Garde La Victoire as stated above has beaten Bristol De Mai this season but that came with excuses on the part of the selection. Philip Hobbs’ charge has excelled over fences and made it three from three when winning at Ludlow on heavy ground beating Doctor Harper, who is the favourite in the final race of the day. He won a Grade 2 here in November beating subsequent Arkle third Fox Norton but I wouldn’t take that Arkle form literally. He is likely to feature but this is the strongest race he has had to encounter.
Last time out fallers don’t have a good record in this race and that would be a worry for Black Hercules. The ground would also be a negative for him too. L’Ami Serge ran disappointingly when beaten at 1/5F at Warwick last time. He’ll need to find more on the back of that but he was fourth in last year’s Supreme. Zabana was a close second in the Coral Cup last year and won on chase debut. He was put in his place at Leopardstown in the Grade 1 Flogas Novice Chase won by Outlander.
Outlander is the one I fear the most for the main win selection. He is another unbeaten in fences and could give Willie Mullins a third winner in this race. He is a smart jumper and rarely makes an error. No eight-year-old has won this race but he could well break that duck. The son of Stowaway sees out his races really well and he is likely to sit in behind, tracking Bristol De Mai.
The one to chance at an each-way price would be Three Musketeers. He is a useful in his own right and didn’t look particularly comfortable on the heavy ground when fifth in the Dipper Chase around here on New Year’s Day. We saw Blaklion advertising that form nicely despite the winner disappointing and with the fact he is lightly race could have more to offer. There was plenty to like about the way he won at Newbury and could improve back on better ground plus he has course experience.
Advice: Bristol De Mai (5/1 Win)
Three Musketeers (11/1 Each-Way)
14:10 Pertemps Network Final
The Pertemps Network Final sees 24-runners and my original fancy hasn’t got in while another one of particular interest wasn’t declared.
Leave At Dawn was a really good-looking specimen when I saw him at Cheltenham in November. He was the standout in the paddock that day and he proved to be his worth when travelling smoothly before showing a useful turn of foot. That was at a time the stable was out of form, so he could be useful. The ground was probably against him at Leopardstown last time out, so he still has something to prove at this trip. Hood on first time and the better ground mean he has to be considered.
Our Kaempfer was brought down in the Fixed Brush Hurdle at Haydock last time. He was settled at the rear of the field and was making stealthy progress through the field before coming to unfortunate grief. Many have pointed out the form of Charlie Longsdon’s string but in the first two months of this year he has equalled the same amount of winners (4). The Fixed Brush form is working out strongly with the likes of Yala Enki and Tea For Two. The handicapper has given him a pound back and appeals at his price.
This is the sort of race that could well suit Taglietelle. He scooped the Grade 3 Handicap Hurdle at Aintree last April and does run here off a nine-pound higher mark. He has faced a mixed season with racing on the flat and over hurdles. He was behind Cup Final at Musselburgh but he could well have been laid out for this race. He was one-length fourth in the Coral Cup last year and Jack Kennedy’s five-pound claim makes him a live prospect in a race that should be run to suit.
Flintham is well related being a brother to Carruthers and half-brother to last year’s Gold Cup winner Coneygree. He is bred to stay and was a game winner at Warwick. Charlie Deutsch is booked to ride, which is a smart move from the Bradstock’s to claim 5lb. Missed Approach could have more to offer and Warren Greatrex rates him highly. The son of Golan has a good future ahead of him over fences. The other to mention is Cup Final for Nicky Henderson, who won this race last year. They ran him at Musselburgh to test his stamina and he proved he had it with the way he kept on. He has some good Novice Hurdle form, so entered the equation.
Advice: Our Kaempfer (10/1 Each-Way)
Taglietelle (16/1 Each-Way)
14:50 Ryanair Chase
This Grade 1 race looks one where we’ll be seeing a certain trio claim the £178k prize for first place.
Vautour is 11lb clear on ratings and by far and away the best horse in this race. He was narrowly defeated by Cue Card in the King George on Boxing Day and maybe would have won if Paddy Brennan hadn’t overused the whip on the eventual winner, who looking back won this race in 2013. There has been talk about his homework not being all that good for the reason placing him here rather than the Gold Cup but he will have had to shown some sparkle to still be running. A two-time Festival winner and it is hard to look past him making it three but I’m not going to put him forward at his price.
Al Ferof has place claims but not much else. They went off far too quickly in the Peterborough Chase he won at Huntingdon two starts ago and that played right into his hands. He was 13l behind in the King George. Valseur Lido and Road To Riches contested the Irish Gold Cup that saw the former unseating Ruby Walsh at the last leaving many wondering if he’d have won. The latter benefited from that by placing one place higher than otherwise he would have done. Valseur Lido drops in tri, which won’t be a worry but his jumping has to be a worry on the back of his last two performances. If anything were to happen to Vautour then Road To Riches looks most likely as the one to capitalise.
I’m a Smashing fan. He’s won all three starts this season and last time he beat Morning Assembly by 11l and he has subsequently ran fourth in the Ultima, with the long-term target likely to be the Grand National. He was fourth in the 2014 Coral Cup and has previously won at Fairyhouse on good ground but vibes are negative about him on quicker ground from what I’ve read from Henry De Bromhead.
The one at a big price looks to be Taquin Du Seuil. His penultimate race came at last year’s Festival when well beaten in this race by Uxizandre. He was being aimed at the Paddy Power but injury ruled him out. The nine-year-old returned 33-days ago at Warwick and looked in fine fettle like Jonjo O’Neill was hoping he’d go well before giving him a crack at this race. He beat a horse in that Warwick handicap I’ll mention later. This son of Voix Du Nord shouldered top weight and did performance very well despite lacking the fitness edge that some of his rivals had. This previous JLT Chase winner could be the one at a big price to hit the frame.
Advice: Taquin Du Seuil (20/1 Each-Way)
15:30 World Hurdle
The World Hurdle is the feature race on St Patricks Day and the race does look to revolve around Thistlecrack. He has won four of his last five with the only blemish a small one when beaten by Killultagh Vic at Punchestown in April.
Colin Tizzard’s eight-year-old stormed up the hill on the bridle at the end of January dispelling many theories that he wouldn’t see out the trip fully. The other murmur from many is about the drying ground. He is a son of Kayf Tara whose progeny do like to get their toe in however it shouldn’t matter to a horse of his quality. You have to say if Mullins trained him or Nicholls he’ll have been odds-on.
Mouse Morris saddles Alpha Des Obeaux who does look his main rival. He has run in plenty of Grade 1 contests in Ireland and is apparently going to improve for better ground. He is the one that has got the closest to Douvan in his time at Willie Mullins and looks to be a danger.
Cole Harden won this last year from the front and if he makes this a strong test then it’ll play into the hands of Thistlecrack. If they go slow and turn it into a sprint then that’s where Tizzard’s runner could be found out but I don’t envisage that happening here. Saphir Du Rheu’s chasing career has been shelved and this grey was second last year. The drying ground will suit him and he has solid form around here previously. He does have plenty to find to reverse form and beat Thistlecrack, but he’d be the play in the without the favourite market.
Advice: Thistlecrack (5/4 Win)
Saphir Du Rheu w/o the favourite (11/2 – Bet365)
16:10 Stable Plate
This is slightly different in terms of trends when it comes to the handicap. In this it seems a wide-open contest where lower weights have been to the fore rather than those higher in the ratings. As one of the preview books says – this is a lottery.
I’ll nail my colours to the mast with my first selection, which relates back to the Ryanair. Niceonefrankie followed Taquin Du Seuil home at Warwick and he was also returning from a three-month break that quite him fresh. He was a winner of the Grade 3 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup in 2014 and he won that off 142. With Charlie Deutsch taking the ride and able to claim 5lb he is down to 140 here. Plus he has been lightly campaigned since that win at Aintree. Venetia Williams has a good record in this race having had three winners in nine renewals, which have returned 12/1, 33/1 and 50/1. This is one of four she has in this race, so I wouldn’t discount any too easily.
One of those is Tenor Nivernais, who was pulled up when stepped up to 3m at Kempton last time, so you can forgive him that. His last three efforts have been all here and they have seen him place. Those have been on deep ground and the quicker going is an unknown with him. The last two year’s previous winners return to face off in this race as Darna and Ballynagour take part but neither makes appeal.
David Pipe is another trainer that has a good record in this race following on from his father Martin. His has plenty of chances to with the penalised La Vaticane taking her chance and she could still be well in off a low weight. I have reservations about Kings Palace, who was pulled up over hurdles at Chepstow last time. He does have previous course form and if that run 19-days ago has blown the cobwebs away he is another that looks on an enticing mark.
The better ground will definitely boost the chances of Art Mauresque. On ground described as good or better he has four wins from nine starts. He is a course winner having won here as a novice back in Ocotber when he beat Double Shuffle, who was 3rd in the Listed Novices’ Handicap Chase on Day 1, also in that race was Long House Hall, who was pulled up and he was second in the Coral Cup yesterday. The handicapper has dropped him back to that mark after a disappointing run 12-days ago. This race could does tend to suit a prominently ridden sort, so has strong claims.
Others noteworthy of mentions are current favourite Johns Spirit, who is a three-time course winner. The nine-year-old’s mark has slipped to a useful on that could see him capitalise with conditions to suit. Ballycasey represents top connections and was third to Smashing when last seen. Another falling in the weights and is in first-time cheekpieces, which he could benefit from. Salubrious won the Martin Pipe back in 2013 and is now 1lb lower. If retaining any ability then he could be a key player. Philip Hobbs’ hasn’t found the winners mark just yet and I don’t think Fingal Bay will change that. He has reached for the tongue-tie and blinkers for the first time on this ten-year-old. For me he doesn’t see out his races well enough and was beaten in a Graduation Chase.
Advice: Niceonefrankie (20/1 Each-Way)
Art Mauresque (14/1 Each-Way)
16:50 Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle
The first time this race has featured at the Festival and it could prove fruitful for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh, who have dominated the Mares race on the opening day.
Limini has won her two starts over hurdles since her move from France. She has looked a very smart prospect going forward and many believe she is a certainty. Her last start was in a Grade 3 where she strolled to an eleven-length success. She will have had to tidy up her jumping when they go at a quicker gallop but she does look hard to look past.
Smart Talk is next in the betting and she has won her last two on differing grounds. She is still improving and has the scope to progress further with her holding the strongest form to boot. She won the Mares’ Hurdle at Doncaster beating the likeable Lily Waugh and Rock On The Moor was fifth in that race before she followed Vroum Vroum Mag home on Tuesday.
Bloody Mary has only tasted defeat on her flat debut. She has done well but will need to find more from her Taunton win. That was her first run for a while, so could improve for that. The better ground looks likely to benefit her. The other one to mention is Chocca Wocca who has been targeted at this race. She went down to a good horse at Aintree in the bumper when never really on terms with Hollies Pearl. On her hurdles debut she did well to win in the end because she didn’t settle to well and eventually saw off the penalised Awesome Rosie. That race may have taken the fizz out of her plus the quicker gallop could help her settle. She is still an unknown in this sphere, so made the shortlist.
Advice: Limini (4/5 Win)
Smart Talk (7/1 Each-Way)
17:30 Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase
The second race of the week for Amateur Riders and this is one where Jamie Codd has a good record. He takes the ride on the second favourite Cause Of Causes for Gordon Elliot, who had a mixed bag yesterday.
He won the 4m National Hunt Chase at the Festival last year under this jockey and he is running off a 4lb lower mark here making him look enticingly handicapped. He nearly won this race in 2014 but for a mistake at the last, so he is bang in contention despite a disappointing showing in three runs this season.
Doctor Harper has been the talking horse from David Pipe, who claimed he was his best chance in this race. Runners towards the fore in the market do have a good record in this race. His last win came in a three-runner Novice Chase and will need more in this race. He won a Grade 3 Handicap Hurdle over 3m at Aintree in April, so being stepped back up in trip for this contest isn’t a worry. He is only 3lb higher than said win, so definitely has the scope to have a good future in this sphere. He was a 5l second to JLT joint favourite Garde La Victoire, so has to be respected.
Silvergrove has won his last two and was unfortunate to unseat this jockey, Tom David, when he encountered saddle problems before unshipping at Sandown in December. He is a solid jumper and he ran them into the ground at Kempton last time out. The handicapper has reacted by putting him up 8lb but he does look good enough to handle that hike. One concern would be the ground with him running poorly twice on this type of ground. His sire Old Vic has a fair record with his progeny, so it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
Three on the shortlist that haven’t made it were Upswing, who was second to Sausalito Sunrise in November and is only 3lb higher. A Good Skin followed Silvergrove home last time and is still lightly raced enough to get involved. He is one that has form on this quicker ground and looks to have each-way claims. Grandads Horse has ability on a going day. He was second to Saint Are when in a Veterans’ Race at Doncaster. This is more difficult and he only ran eighth in this last year. However he is 9lb lower than a year ago and does attract off this mark. He is ridden by one of the top amateurs Sam Waley-Cohen.
Another dart I’m throwing in this race at a bigger price is Midnight Prayer. He claimed the 4m race in 2014 under this jockey Joshua Newman, who is able to claim 5lb, which does make he nicely handicapped. He returned from a year off in November and showed he retained ability when finishing fourth at Newbury to Aloomomo, who found nothing under pressure on Tuesday. He chased home Russe Blanc in desperate conditions in the Betfred Classic before being the only finisher at Exeter in a Veterans’ race last time out. If he has recovered from that run that he could be overpriced. He has had three previous runs on good ground, winning two.
Advice: Silvergrove (14/1 Each-Way)
Midnight Prayer (25/1 Each-Way)