Day One belonged to Gordon Elliott and Nicky Henderson in their own right. Elliott saddled three winners while Henderson re-wrote the record books after Buveur D’Air won the Champion Hurdle making him the most successful trainer in the races history with six wins – he also had the second in My Tent Or Yours.
The blog produced one winner at 7/2 yesterday but four other horses placed. Here is how they ended up:
13:30 – River Wylde (3rd – 8/1)
14:10 – Forest Bihan (Unplaced)
14:50 – Singlefarmpayment (2nd 5/1)
15:30 – Petit Mouchoir (3rd – 6/1)
16:10 – Apples Jade (WON – 7/2)
16:50 – Dancing Shadow (Unplaced)
17:30 – Two Taffs (3rd – 7/1)
13:30 – Neptune Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)
Neon Wolf has been one of the talking horses for the festival and this looks ready made for him. Harry Fry has put him in this race after the drying ground makes the test more suitable compared to what he would have faced in the Supreme. He was very impressive when remaining unbeaten at Haydock proving he could be a top-class novice. He jumped fluently and cleared away showing he has a decent engine. The son of Vinnie Roe beat Elgin that day and Alan King’s charge ran well for a long way in yesterday’s Supreme. He does look like a classy individual and is the one to beat.
Bacardys was third in last season’s Champion Bumper and leads the Irish charge here for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh, who drew a blank on Day 1. His win last month over stablemate Bunk Off Early probably helped decide the plans for both horses with the second running in the Supreme and this six year old stepping up in trip after the way he saw out the 2m2f trip when winning the Deloitte. Despite this distance likely to bring further improvement out of him he still rates as the second choice behind Neon Wolf.
Keeper Hill was a game winner of the Sidney Banks when heads then rallying to get back up to defeat Messire Des Obeaux. The market suggests that the form is likely to be reversed but Alan King is one from 90 in festival hurdle races since 2009. It’s Keeper Hill that could prove a big price here despite the pull in the weights with that rival because there is stamina in the pedigree and he has a lovely attitude.
Mentioning Keeper Hill brings me to a big outsider in Skipthecuddles. I gave the pair a decent write-up for picksfromthepaddock ahead of a Hereford maiden hurdle, which they were 1-2. Skipthecuddles was making his hurdling debut that day and was ridden quietly before eye-catchingly staying on to take second. He was stepped up in trip at Wetherby last time when he drew clear in good style. This is a big step-up in class but he has the size and scope to improve once more. Graeme McPherson is having a quiet spell and even if not today he is definitely on to look out for in the future.
Ben Pauling’s Willoughby Court won a trial that has thrown up a few winners in the past. He was able to dictate that day but proved his liking for the trip. That form received a major compliment when the second Gayebury won a handicap over three miles by 13 lengths. He’s a lovely stamp of a horse and can’t be discounted lightly.
Neon Wolf (15/8)
14:10 – RSA Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)
Nicky Henderson holds a strong hand in this Grade 1 with Might Bite after an excellent opening day. He sets the standard despite falling at the last when well clear at Kempton on Boxing Day when asked for a big jump, which wasn’t required. Daryl Jacob was on that day but it was Nico de Boinville in the saddle when he got a confidence-boosting win at Doncaster last time and it’s de Boinville who retains the ride here.
There is a stat that none of the last 19 winners of that Kempton race have gone on to win the RSA, which must be a concern for Royal Vacation, who was the beneficiary from that last fence fall.
Preference though is for stablemate Whisper who is two from two over fences with both wins coming at this track. He won the Dipper Novices Chase when giving weight to a good rival, so he could prove to be the one at a price here.
Those wins have been over shorter trips but he could improve for further considering he won two Stayers’ Hurdles at Aintree over this trip in the past. Despite being a nine year old he can re-write the trends about the age of the winner – no nine year old has won this since Miinnehoma in 1992.
Acapella Bourgeois could lead the Irish Challenge but his last run won’t surmount to much with the way the race panned out and how much of an easy time he got. The question mark is the ground with the majority of his best form coming of soft and if the dry weather continues it could catch him out.
If someone can get one right it is Mouse Morris and Alpha Des Obeaux represents him. The horse was well supported ahead of his previous start but he was sharply pulled up after bursting a blood vessel. He has solid form prior to that, especially his Cork win, and he was best of the rest behind Thistlecrack in the World Hurdle last year. However, once a horse bursts a blood vessel it has to be a concern how that will affect him mentally when he steps on to a racecourse again.
14:50 – Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3)
One of the bigger puzzles to solve during the festival is this Grade 3 Handicap with 26 going to post.
Gordon Elliott’s Tombstone has been rerouted into this handicap and he could be thrown in here off 149 after winning well last time in a Grade 3. If handling the better ground and the step up in trip he’d be on the shortlist after a fantastic start for the yard yesterday. The money has already started to come for this son of Robin Des Champs.
Peregine Run won a Grade 2 over course and distance in November and that form has been complimented by the fact the second horse Wholestone has since won two Grade races of his own. He handles good ground, the track and off 142 is potentially still well treated, so there is plenty to like about Peter Fahey’s runner.
A chance is also taken on Mister Miyagi (left of image), who ran no sort of race in a Grade 2 here in December, which prompted a wind operation. His Novice Hurdle form looks solid – sixth in the Supreme and a win here in April by a good distance. In a strongly run race he doesn’t look too badly treated.
JP McManus unsurprisingly holds a strong hand. Modus carries top weight and he seemed to relish the extra distance when winning the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton. Stan Sheppard takes 5lb off, so he could have more to offer.
Also in his colours is Scoir Mear and this seven year old has been a model of consistency. He gets in towards the bottom of the weights and looks like he is lurking on a mark he could win off.
Peregrine Run (10/1)
Mister Miyagi (16/1)
15:30 – Champion Chase (Grade 1)
This is all about Douvan and how far he wins it by with a clear round of jumping. He’s a class act and is nine from nine since coming over the larger obstacles. He’s 1/4 for a reason, so sit back and enjoy this beast in action.
It might be worth looking at the ‘Without Douvan’ market.
God’s Own is a consistent type and even lowered the colours of the ill-fated Vautour in April.
Tom George’s runner just looks the most solid up against Douvan and won’t have to worry about the two horses that finished in front of him in the Tingle Creek with Un De Sceaux likely to be Ryanair bound and Sire De Grugy ruled out.
That was a good effort for him because he hasn’t handled Sandown well in his few visits to the course before. Despite making a bad mistake in that contest he wasn’t beaten all too far and a replication of that effort should see him leading the field home once Douvan has romped up the hill.
Fox Norton has won three times over course and distance and one of them came after moving from Neil Mulholland to Colin Tizzard. He eased home in by a comfortable margin in the Shloer Chase and then had it all to do up against Altior in the Game Spirit Chase last time.
In races where he has faced Douvan they’ve tried a mixture of tactics. In last year’s Arkle they raced him prominently before being inconvenienced slightly and finishing third. At Aintree in the Maghull they held him up and he was never really on terms, so was a well-beaten third that day too.
This seven year old does enjoy is around here but my preference is for God’s Own.
Special Tiara is more miss than hit these days and Henry de Bromhead will have to wave his magic wand to see him finishing in the frame.
He’s now a ten year old and although he won a very weak Desert Orchid Chase, age does seem to be catching up with him. There are a few sprightly types in this and they could leave him behind.
God’s Own w/o Douvan (4/1)
16:10 – Cross Country
The Cross Country is one of the most fascinating races in the festival with the variety of challenges it offers. Enda Bolger is the leading trainer in this race with five wins and his Josies Orders was awarded this race after the winner tested positive for a banned substance.
The first past the post last year was Any Currency who generally targets this race for local trainer Martin Keighley. He’s now a 14 year old, so has something to prove but he ran well here in January when third giving weight away. Now off level weights it brings it back to his favour. In 2014 and 2015 he has been runner-up and can’t be dismissed.
It’s Cantlow who holds the strongest claims for Enda Bolger. He seemed to empty last on when second in January in a handicap and was giving the winner plenty of weight, so this will favour him. He looks the one they all have to beat for top connections.
Bless The Wings was behind Cantlow in December by nine lengths and has a pull at the weights. The Gordon Elliott factor is likely to play a part in how the market shapes up here but he’s a big player with plenty of solid form over course and distance. One who should give his running is Ballyboker Bridge for Peter Maher. He’s a consistent type and has placed in his last three races of this nature, all at Punchestown. The ten year old would arguably be a shorter price if trained by a bigger name plus he has beaten Cantlow in the past. He could prove a big price to hit the frame.
16:50 – Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3)
This is a race where it’s hard not to be attracted to the French-bred or French imports given their superb record in this race having won seven of the 12 renewals and Paul Nicholls made it two in a row with Diego Du Charmil last year making him the most successful trainer in this race.
Divin Bere is well touted on his second start for Nicky Henderson after getting the better of a smart type in Master Blueyes, who has won twice since including the Grade 2 Adonis at Kempton. It’s reported he’s had his wind tinkered with since then and he could have plenty more improvement to come. He has a flat pedigree, so should have plenty of speed, plus having he shouldn’t have a problem on quicker ground with being a son of Della Francesca.
David Pipe had a winner yesterday and he has Poker Play who went down at odds of 1/3 on British debut at Kempton. He had two runs in France and was only beaten a length by Charli Parcs, who may be Triumph bound, before winning well. Despite those coming on heavy ground he shouldn’t have any concerns about the ground being by Martaline, who was owned by Khalid Abdullah. This four year old cost £280,000 and was beaten a long way from home by Fidux. He may prove better suited to this test rather than one of speed at Kempton and the first-time tongue-tie should help his breathing. Despite the debut flop he’d be of interest to get his career back on track.
I’m sticking with the Paul Nicholls pair in this. Dolos won easily on debut for team Ditcheat and has raced three times since. He was a distant third in a Grade 1 Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow when beaten by Defi Du Seuil and lacked a change of gears when it mattered. Last time at Taunton he was third once more behind Air Horse One and The Unit, both of whom have franked the form since. The handicapper has dropped him 2lb since that run 47-days ago and he could be one to take from a pace angle in this.
His stablemate Dreamcatching has to be of interest off a similar weight to Diego Du Charmil when he won last season. He did an awful lot wrong on debut in December when finishing sixth at Kempton and Nicholls kept him off the track until last month when he showed his true ability. It probably wasn’t a strong race but he did what he had to do very nicely. In his Betfair blog Nicholls says he is hoping his mark of 131 is “on the generous side” plus he has Stan Sheppard on board taking a further 5lb off. With the trainers record in this race and the way he won last time he could be one with more improvement to come.
Diable De Sivola has to be worth a mention on his course and distance second to Defi Du Seuil in a Triumph Hurdle Trial back in November. Nick Williams charted a similar path with Coo Star Sivola last season who was second in that same trial before running in this race when finishing third. In that November race Lizzie Kelly was unable to claim and was giving the winner 4lb in weight. It wouldn’t have made much difference but a replication of that effort should be good enough to hit the frame in an open handicap
17:30 – Champion Bumper
Daphne Du Clos would have been the pick here but she has been ruled out because of a setback, so Aintree may be on the cards for her.
Attention turns to Western Ryder for Warren Greatrex, who followed Daphne Du Clos home at Newbury last time.
In that race he dug deep and considering he was conceding 21lb of weight to the winner shows how well he ran despite never really threatening.
He’ll be suited by going left-handed here and deserves to take his chance in this contest after that creditable effort against the progressive filly. The way he won at Ascot the time before proved he has a touch of class about him. His trainer had a runner yesterday and he ran a blinder when setting the pace in the four-miler and holding on for second.
Fergal O’Brien’s Imperial Eloquence was second to Western Ryder in that Ascot race and his trainer has had a decent record in bumpers around here of late. He trains locally and this five year old hasn’t raced since that run in December. There is a big price disparity between the pair on that form but it might take more from this son of Kalanisi to reverse it.
Carter McKay really took the eye with his success at Naas last month and he’s held in high regard by Willie Mullins. The Irish handler provided the second, third and fourth last season, so his runners are noted.
Dan Skelton holds Cause Toujours highly and he’s had a wind operation coming into the festival. He dotted up in a soft ground race at Warwick looking like a really nice type. If the form rates to much I’m not sure but he could have more to offer.
Fayonagh should be entitled to respect with the manner of his performance in a Listed bumper at Fairyhouse last time. If she’ll handle the drying ground is a big question with both of her wins coming on deep ground but you have to like the way she galloped through the line last time when able to put her rivals in trouble. With her being a mare she receives a weight allowance as well.
Alan King rates Perfect Harmony and he beat subsequent winner My Mate Mark on her debut under rules when conceding plenty of weight. He travelled nicely into the race and this big field should help to see him travel strongly once more. This five year old is one that comes into the race under the radar.
Western Ryder (10/1)