It’s the week we’ve been waiting for. 6 months or more of waiting are over and hopefully you all have a fine week – most importantly let the horses and riders come back safe. This preview and all others are being written with a heavy (pun intended!) focus on the ground. Cheltenham Festival 2018 going is the most testing in 33 years.
1.30 – Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) (Class 1) (4yo+):
Getabird’s defeat of Mengli Khan in the Moscow Flyer was a deeply impressive performance and the deluge of rain has not hurt his chances at all, so he ought to go very close although he’s only 15/8 and there are better ways to start the week from a value perspective for all he is the likeliest winner. In any case, Kalshnikov’s win in an extremely well contested Betfair Hurdle was as impressive a performance from a novice as we’ve seen all season and he still looks to be in comparison with the favourite. 141 might have been a favourable mark but there’s no doubting that he enjoyed the deep ground and he burst he put in after the last was that of a class horse.
If you are a fan of his then you have to give serious chances t Summerville Boy, who won the Tolworth from Kalashnikov and did so in style at Sandown after a slightly disappointing effort on the New Course in December when Western Ryder himself was much the best horse in that race off a pace that didn’t really suit him.
First Flow’s form might leave something to be desired but the way he took the Rossington suggested his engine’s perfect for a test like the Supreme the ground has come just right for him too here. He’s got to be given respect too but the Irish contingent here look strong and it would not be a shock here if Mengli Khan got closer to Getabird than he previously had. He didn’t have the turn of foot that the favourite showed at Punchestown but he had been deeply impressive in the Royal Bond and a strong gallop will be music to the ears of Gordon Elliott, whose charge is 6lbs better off with the favourite.
Paloma Blue couldn’t land a blow behind either Samcro or Duc Des Geniveres in the Deloitte Hurdle but neither of them are ere and that was another career best for Henry De Bromhead’s six year old, who had impressed at Leopardstown the time before that. He could settle better today off a hot pace and there’s plenty to recommend about him if he does manage to race quietly.
Claimantakinforgan has improved since his third in the Champion Bumper, but he has been waiting or better ground all winter and the late rain could have gone against him badly. Debuchet’s Champion Bumper second looks like fantastic form now but he was a blowout in the Deloitte and he too might be one for better ground. Slate House is one who would make more appeal on a better surface too and if anyone is looking for an outsider then Western Ryder, last year’s Champion Bumper fifth who was unlucky in running and who beat key contender Summerville Boy when giving him plenty of weight. He bombed in the Tolworth but this will suit better and he caught a tartar in the shape of Vinndication over further at Huntingdon.
Sharjah is the last horse to get a mention here – and he is big at 20/1 if he bounced back to the form that saw him win his first two starts impressively before falling when he had the Future Champions’ at his mercy over Christmas, although he disappointed at Leopardstown latest.
Advice: 1 pt each/way Mengli Khan (14/1 general), 1 pt each/way (16/1 Paddy Power)
2.10 – Read my Arkle Chase preview
2.50 – Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3) (Class 1) (5yo+):
Trevor Hemmings has had plenty of memories at the Festival to relish and he has two extremely appealing chances in the shape of Vicente and Vintage Clouds. His Scottish National win is some of the best form in this race (and deeply impressive given that he retained it) whilst his brilliant second on reappearance here showed that soft ground was not going to be an issue for him, so it’s hard to find too much fault with him. Indeed, considering he’s 151 today, you could say that he’s actually very well handicapped still given that he took the Scottish National off 146 and he wasn’t finished when he fell in the Welsh National.
Vintage Clouds is interesting too, and shorter in the betting to boot. He was seventh in the Scottish National that Vicente won but that’s his worst effort of the past 12 months and several of his other long distance efforts are extremely taking. He was by no means beaten when falling in this race last year and since he has been in fine form. His 18 length demolition job at Aintree on his return was brilliant and he ran into a graded horse next time in the shape of Clan Des Obeaux at Haydock, finishing a respectable second on what was very testing ground. His fourth in the Welsh National reads well and he found only the SA contender Ballyoptic too good at Wetherby last time. 141 looks to be a really good mark and he ought to take the beating if he can put in another clear run.
Beware The Bear’s defeat of Bishops Road in the Rehearsal Chase was a remarkable effort considering the fact Sean Bowen ‘s sadly slipped to the horse’s hind, combined with what was a very shoddy round of jumping for the level. He didn’t get away with that in the Welsh National but a good round here will see him in contention.
Singlefarmpayment was the ante post choice but the ground has gone against him and Gold Present, who has won two good handicaps this season and deserves great respect. Co Star Sivola has a lot going for him although he is now short at 5/1 and Cogry, a winner on his last two course starts, is much more interesting. Watch out for Yala Enki too.
Advice: 1 pt each/way Vintage Clouds (8/1 general), 1 pt each/way Vicente (16/1 general)
3.30 – Read my Champion Hurdle preview
4.10 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Grade 1) (Registered As The David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle) (Class 1) (4yo+):
No enthusiasm to take on Apple’s Jade, the outstanding mare in training and a brilliant winner of the Christmas Hurdle ahead of one of the leading contenders for the stayers’ hurdle. Take what you can about her in the morning. Benie Des Dieux has looked a class chaser and we’ll see what she’s made of here, whilst the improvement that La Bague Au Roi has shown cannot be underestimated. Jer’s Girl was just behind her at Kempton when last seen and goes on heavy ground, especially at this trip, although she’s a little worse. She’s an interesting each/way contender.
Advice: Back Apple’s Jade at best morning price.
4.50 – National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase (Grade 2) (Class 1) (5yo+):
Gordon Elliott’s got a grip on the top of this market and Mossback makes a lot of appeal. His debut when over Snow Falcon and Mossback has worked out really well and whilst he hasn’t won since then, he was going to go very close in the Woodlands Park at Naas before he fell and there was no shame in losing out to the Thyestes Chase winner Monbeg Notorious in the Ten Up Novice Chase last time out. He will thrive for this test, should relish this ground, and appears a stronger stayer than Jury Duty all things considered so gets the verdict.
Ms Parfois was beaten by a high class horse in Black Corton at Ascot and had previously flourished over fences, beating Duel at Dawn by five lengths in the Hampton Novices’ Chase. That pair can go well again with Ms Parfois the preferred of the pair. Sixing Tennessee now jumps much better, is likely to stay, and handles heavy – he’s high on a shortlist which included Keeper Hill although he’s got issues with his fencing.
No Comment was second to a fine prospect at Aintree last year and then a close second at Punchestown in a big three mile handicap; He has had just the one start over fences but it wasn’t a bad effort in the Scilly Isles chase and this will be much more suitable. Whether he stays is a different question but he didn’t jump badly and he’s got the hands of Derek O’Connor to guide him.
Rathvinden has only had a handful of stats over 3 miles but on his one competed three mile start he was an impressive 11 length winner and in both his last starts he was going well before being brought down and then unseating his riders. Those were Grade 1 chases and he’d found only Death Duty too good in the Drinmore and he has to be given a serious chance.
Advice: 2 pts each/way Mossbank (6/1 general)
5.45 – (Old) Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase (Listed Race) (Class 1) (5yo+ 0-145):
This is essentially a conditions race with the field separated by 8lbs and Testify would have made a appeal even in a less compressed handicap. He has won his three chase starts so far, two of them on heavy, and he was never in trouble when he won the Alactar’ Novices’ Chase from Lake View Lad. That did become a two horse contest but he won by seven lengths and Lake View Lead then won a novices’ handicap off 136 and finished runner up after that, so 145 is probably air and he ought to relish this ground on all his form, so he gets the vote to give the North a winner.
Barney Dwan was runner up off this mark when hurdling to none other than Presenting Percy, and in his second season chasing, he has finally gotten the hang of things based on impressive wins at both Market Rasen and Musselburgh. They were on good ground but he is a winner on heavy and also the winner of the EBF Final on soft ground so there’s no too much worry.
Any Second Now has bumped into class horses all season and is a fascinating handicap debutants whilst De Plotting Shed is 7lbs lower over fences than hurdles and the two of them are rightful favourites for a very strong Irish challenge. Mister Whitaker has just snuck in at the bottom here and as the winner of the course and distance trial here in impressive fashion when he was extremely strong at the finish during a day when few were finishing at all, let alone finishing strongly. The time before he’d bumped into Hell’s Kitchen at Kempton in a race which was run quicker than the King George in some parts on Boxing Day and there’s nothing about his profile not to like.
Rather Be could find this a stiffer test at 2m4f than he ideally wants, for all that he looks well enough treated off 143. Le Rocher will love this ground and it’s hard not to catch the eye of Demi Sang, who came with a powerful late charge to won on his Irish debut before finding the Irish Arkle too quick for him and he’s seriously unexposed.
Advice: 1 pt each/way Testify (11/1), 1 pt each/way Mister Whitaker (8/1 general)
Finally, it was great fun being on the JPFestival.com Cheltenham Preview last night and you can watch using the link below: