It was a day for the bookies yesterday as the short favourites and those heavily backed were turned over.
None more so than Douvan, who ran no sort of race in the Champion Chase and I’m sure we’ll learn more about why that was. Special Tiara took the honours giving Noel Fehily his second big-race win in as many days. He gave Henry De Bromhead’s charge a peach of a ride making the running unchallenged at a decent gallop and held off the late attentions of Fox Norton.
In the Coral Cup the well-touted Tombstone never really landed a blow while the talking horse of the Champion Bumper Cause Toujours never got out of midfield. The winner of that race put in an incredible performance giving Gordon Elliott another victory and a second on the day for pilot Jamie Codd. Fayonagh gave ground away at the standing start but came strong and late to prevail.
13:30 – Neon Wolf (2nd – 2/1)
14:10 – Whisper (2nd – 9/2)
14:50 – Peregrine Run & Mister Miyagi (Unplaced)
15:30 – God’s Own (Unplaced)
16:10 – NO BET
16:50 – Dolos & Dreamcatching (Unplaced)
17:30 – Western Ryder (5th – 9/1)
Things start like Tuesday with two places but after that it went downhill. Here’s hoping for better with these!
13:30 – JLT Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)
Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins are still yet to find their way to the winners enclosure at the festival but they have a decent chance in the opening contest today with Yorkhill. A high-class hurdler, who won last season’s Neptune, has won on both chase starts to date but hasn’t been entirely convincing with his jumping. He is a head strong type who races keenly, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Walsh take him to the front here to give him a sight of his fences but he wasn’t too fluent at Leopardstown despite scoring in a Grade 3 Novices’ Chase. There is an argument that despite not being the best over his fences he is a clever sort whether he sees a stride or gets in tight but in a race of this nature he can’t afford too many mistakes.
I’ll hold my hands up here. I was against Top Notch when he won the Scilly Isles but he made me sit up and respect him. He has been brought along steadily over fences and made his debut in that excellent race at Uttoxeter when third to Charbel, who would have gone close to Altior if remaining upright. He won his next two with his head in his chest before looking even better at Ascot and Sandown when upped in trip. He was a classy hurdler and if getting close to the performance he put in to win the Scilly Isles then he could win this equally as well. Nick Henderson is having a good week and these silks were carried to second and third in this race last year.
On ratings Disko is second in behind Yorkhill. He was beaten by Our Duke by one length in December over three miles but reversed that form last month over a furlong further than today’s trip when he seemed to put everything together and just clicked. He comes into this as the danger and tactically it’ll be intriguing to see how he’s ridden. This grey has been ridden close to the pace, so is likely to track Yorkhill but if they go off side-by-side early on then they could light each other up and not get home.
Politologue is a very tidy jumper and did what he had to last time in a match race at Kempton when racing in the hood for the first-time. Prior to that he was beaten by the smart Waiting Patiently, who misses the festival, in what was a creditable effort. He is another that can be a free going sort and could go to the front. The only question is whether the ground if it turned to genuine good would suit him.
Top Notch (4/1)
14:10 – Pertemps Network Final
The hardest race of the week to decipher and one where there is plenty of interlinking form clues.
Mall Dini took the spoils last year and Presenting Percy represents his connections this time around. He won very easily wearing a first-time tongue-tie at Fairyhouse over 2m4f on heavy ground. His two runs over this trip have been solid and if the tongue-tie helps him to see out his race then he’d have claims off a 6lb higher mark. That said only one horse in the last ten renewals, Fingal Bay, has won carrying 11st 5lb or more.
For Good Measure looks to have been campaigned with this race in mind. All three runs this season have been around this course and he narrowly went down to stablemate Golden Doyen on his reappearance. He’ll relish the spring ground and could still be well treated. He’s a brother to Balthazar King and Philip Hobbs knew how to get the best out of him. This could prove to be a JP McManus plot job.
As stated above Golden Doyen got the better of For Good Measure in the final strides last time and this six year old could have more to offer at this trip. That was his first attempt and he saw it out strongly. Only up 3lb on this ground makes him a big player.
It would be a heartwarming story if Tobefair went home with the prize. Debra Hamer only trains a small string and this seven year old has put her on the map after recording a seven-timer since moving to her. He won over 3m2f on soft ground at Warwick, so if these go the expected gallop then it could suit this game gutsy type. He’s handled everything that has been thrown at him so far and a bold showing is likely once more.
I like the look of the ultra consistent Rocklander for Tom George. He hasn’t been outside the first two since moving to his current handler and the step-up to three miles has seemed to suit him the last twice. He had a sighter over course and distance when going down by a neck to Cogry before running a nice race at Exeter behind Impulsive Star, who is also in the line-up. This son of Oscar should relish this ground and he is a strong traveller, so the good gallop is one that should see him run another nice race.
Impulsive Star won that Exeter race on what was his handicap debut and he was well punted in the market. Neil Mulholland did say afterwards he hoped to get in to this contest but could have gone for the Albert Bartlett, which shows there is some class about this seven year old who is getting his act together. He’s gone up 10lb for that success at Exeter but the concern would be the way he dealt with Cheltenham last time. It was a good performance to finish fourth in the Bristol Novices’ Hurdle but he did jump and wander right-handed, so it might prove that Exeter suited him last time out.
Gayebury has to cope with top weight and a 15lb rise after his romp at Chepstow where he beat Jury Duty. He is unexposed but it is a big asking carrying this sort of weight. The other to mention is Theo’s Charm who ran well from the front at Haydock last time after reverting back to hurdles. He was second in the Fixed Brush Hurdle back in November and that form can carry significance into this race and at around 40/1 Nick Gifford’s charge cannot be taken lightly.
14:50 – Ryanair Chase (Grade 1)
Empire Of Dirt looks likely to give his owner his first winner in the race he’s sponsored for some time now. This ten year old won the Stable Plate here last year in pretty taking fashion. He’s only had two starts this season and his first saw him prove he is a nice type after winning a handicap by four lengths against a horse that subsequently won and the fourth that day was Noble Endeavor, who gave his running when third in the Ultima. Last seen finishing second in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown and that sets the standard here after being given a patient ride but was held in the closing stages. Held potentially Gold Cup claims, so a big contender here.
There are eight runners and I cannot see a way that Uxizandre is out of the first three. He won this race in 2015 giving Sir Anthony McCoy a final festival winner when getting a well-judged ride from the front. The chestnut was then off for 688-days before reappearing over 2m in the re-arranged Clarence House Chase when no match for Un De Sceaux. However the return to 2m5f will suit, as he’s proven and the way he shaped last time suggested he retained plenty of ability after such a long lay-off. Alan King puts the cheekpieces on this son of Fragrant Mix, which will hopefully get him to settle better than he did when racing keenly in the Clarence House. If that’s the case then he has a huge chance here.
Un De Sceaux cracked in the Champion Chase last year when under pressure from Sprinter Sacre and was arguably softened up by the winner of it yesterday Special Tiara in that race last year. He comes here with the hopes of recording another Grade 1 success as his role honour has continually grew after having taken the Tingle Creek and Clarence House. Most of his British form is over 2m but he has won at Auteuil when winning the Prix la Barka over hurdles in May. There are reasons to oppose despite being the top rated runner in the field. It’s his first time over this trip over fences, the drying ground has to be a concern and he could get softened up by a couple of these.
Josses Hill will be suited by the return to this trip but shouldn’t be good enough. Alary has failed to live up to his lofty reputation since joining the Colin Tizzard yard and has failed to complete on both starts for the yard. Sub Lieutenant has to be given a squeak. He disposed of Gold Cup hope Outlander in the Belfast Chase but that form was reversed when he was behind Djakdam and Outlander in the John Durkan. It was another good effort in the Kinloch Brae last time going down to Sizing John, who went on to win the Irish Gold Cup, so his form looks strong coming into this. He is likely to go from the front and that could suit the new course with Henry De Bromhead having a strong chance of taking another Grade 1 victory.
15:30 – Stayers Hurdle (Grade 1)
The World Hurdle has reverted to its old name under new sponsors SunBets and Unowhatimeanharry ticks all of the boxes for the race, so is a worthy favourite.
We know he handles the course and distance after winning last season’s Albert Bartlett when powering home under Noel Fehily.
He’s gone from strength to strength this winter and fits all the trends for winners of this race. He won two of the key trials in the Long Distance Hurdle and Cleeve Hurdle by a combined total of over seven lengths and those who he beat re-oppose here.
Noel Fehily has already taken the first two championship races at the festival and this could be a historic third on what is likely to be a red hot favourite.
However I’m attracted to Snow Falcon for Noel Meade, who would have gone close in the Long Distance Hurdle if not falling three out. He cruised into contention that day in a slow gallop and if they go at a decent clip that should help his jumping.
He was second to Shaneshill in the Galmoy Hurdle in January and was staying on under pressure after the last but wasn’t going to pass the Mullins horse. In a bigger field with a stronger pace it’ll see him travel much better and the Cheltenham track will arguably suit him after winning at Navan and Listowel in the past.
This son of Presenting would have pushed Unowhatimeanharry close at Newbury and with plenty of factors likely to suit his running style in this race he seems to be a forgotten horse in this race.
Cole Harden won this race in 2015 and he could be somewhere back to his best after two placed efforts in the Relkeel and Cleeve Hurdle both run here respectively.
Warren Greatrex’s charge is likely to go from the front and it’s just a question of whether he’ll last home against some of these opponents but there is plenty of positive vibes from his yard regarding his chances.
Ballyoptic could be another one at a big price but he comes with a health warning. This seven year old is likely to belt at least a couple on his way round, which will check valuable momentum, plus his trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies has been out of form of late. The tongue-tie is on for the first-time and that might help him to see out his race.
It’s also worth noting that Colin Tizzard has spoken about his preference for West Approach in this race. For me he’d have a better chance in the Albert Bartlett but this half-brother to Thistlecrack looks to have been campaigned with a festival run in mind with the amount of visits to the course, so he has plenty of experience around here. He’s run some nice races and has place claims.
Snow Falcon (20/1)
16:10 – Brown Advisory Stable Plate (Grade 3)
This has been a bookies race in the last ten renewals with just one horse winning at odds shorter than 10/1. Last season saw a 16/1 winner and in 2015 Darna returned at 33/1.
Henryville is a spring ground horse and looks to have been laid out for this race. He hasn’t raced for 103-days but that won’t be a concern because he generally goes well fresh having won off 106-day, 165-day and 174-day breaks in the past. He finished fourth in the Pertemps Hurdle at the 2015 festival and has placed on two of three visits to Prestbury Park. Harry Fry’s charge comes here after running a decent race in the Grand Sefton over the national fences. Noel Fehily is having an excellent festival having won the two Grade one’s and could make it a hat-trick when teaming up with Fry’s Unowhatimeanharry in the race before. This nine year old ticks plenty of boxes and with five of the last six winners carrying between 10st 9lb – 10st 11lb he fits the mould on that as well.
Last season’s Coral Cup winner Diamond King is in the field and Gordon Elliott can do no wrong, bar swearing live on RUK. This nine year old has only had three starts over fences winning well on debut for being pitched in deep against some useful types. That said he has jumped well for the large part and more should be expected on handicap debut off a mark of 150; he won the Coral Cup off 149 last year, so may not be badly treated.
Katchenko bumped into a progressive rival at Catterick over 3m1f last time and off a low weight is very interesting. He seems to come good at this time of year and was a winner at Aintree in April. The eight year old isn’t one to discount, as I think he’ll enjoy this sort of trip. Baron Alco holds claims on his chase form. He was second to Whisper in a Novices’ Chase over C&D and Gary Moore’s inmate put in a good showing in the Scilly Isles and we could see that form franked earlier in the day. He’s got a likeable attitude and in an open handicap is one that could be place.
Tango De Juilley has to be feared in this after his run here last season. He finished second on what was his seasonal debut to Empire Of Dirt and the Gigginstown winner is the Ryanair favourite and could take the spoils in that. Venetia Williams’ stable has been flying and she can get one ready first time. He won after a 632-day absence back in 2014 and ran a blinder here last year after 348-days off, so the break shouldn’t be a concern. He’s only 1lb higher than last year and she claims off him with Charlie Deutsch taking 3lb off in the saddle.
Tango De Juilley (25/1)
16:50 – Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2)
Willie Mullins holds a strong hand here with the two top rated mares in Let’s Dance and Airlie Beach. The former gets the vote and is on a four-race winning streak.
She was behind Apple’s Jade in April and we saw that mare win the Mares Hurdle on Tuesday. She has course experience after finishing fourth in last year’s Triumph Hurdle as well. She stays further so the new course should suit and she looks quite versatile over trip. This daughter of Poliglote is a slick jumper of the hurdles and at five could have more to come.
Airlie Beach is unbeaten in seven after taking the Royal Bond Novices’ Hurdle in good style. The drying ground will suit and she also has won over further. She was kept busy in the backend of the year but hasn’t been seen for 102-days but there is no doubt Willie Mullins will have her fit and ready to go. All seven wins have been on right-handed tracks but that shouldn’t concern because she jumped out to her left at Fairyhouse last time, so the track should suit.
La Bague Au Roi was a useful mare in bumper and has taken well to hurdles having won all three starts. She impressed once more when winning a Listed event at Newbury last time when making all and she is likely to be a pace angle into this contest, so the New Course could suit her running style. I do like her and she does keep progressing but if she has the class of the Mullins pair I’m not sure. It would take another big step forward after that Newbury win to be victorious here.
The oldest runner in the field Toe The Line can’t be discounted. She was a useful type on the flat winning a Listed race over two miles. She has come late over hurdles but John E Kiely’s mare should be suited by Cheltenham. A narrow second at Leopardstown last time when travelling nicely and just coming up short after a small error at the last. The drop back a furlong is likely to help. She has plenty to find on ratings but there is some potential there.
Let’s Dance (6/4)
17:30 – Kim Muir Challenge Cup
A wide-open handicap for the Amateur jockeys where plenty have chances. Hadrian’s Approach showed he was coming back to form when fourth in the Hennessy off this mark. The ten year old hasn’t been seen since that fine effort 110-days ago and I’d have liked to have seen him run in this calendar year. He does have the assistance of Will Biddick in the saddle as a positive.
Potters Cross is one that is likely to stay after winning at Newbury over this trip but didn’t back that fine jumping display up when pulled up at Doncaster last time. He is back in a handicap now, which should help. Mall Dini won last season’s Pertemps Hurdle and has Katy Walsh on board, so is shortlisted. His Irish form looks fairly solid with consistent efforts behind types that ran well on the opening day of the festival.
The vote goes to Doctor Harper for David Pipe, who has twice trained the winner of this race. The cheekpieces and tongue-tie are on first-time plus Lisa O’Neill gets the leg up after her win in the four-miler on Tuesday, so confidence will be high. This nine year old was second over course and distance in January and is a leading contender. He was well backed in this last year but unseated, so off the same mark can go well.
Premier Bond makes his handicap debut in this and the seven year old has won his last two novice chases. He trailed home 14 lengths behind RSA Chase winner Might Bite on chasing debut. The way he finished off at Doncaster to win suggests he has stamina in abundance. The Nicky Henderson yard is in red-hot form and Sam Waley-Cohen on board is an eye-catching jockey booking for the Middleham Park runner. Whats Happening has won on both starts at this course and shaped well after an absence of 477-days when second at Exeter. The return to Cheltenham on good ground and off just a 1lb higher mark then he is one to look out for.
Doctor Harper (14/1)