Cheltenham Festival – Day One Preview

Cheltenham Day One Preview – By Will Kedjanyi

The day is here! This is an updated day 1 preview, changed to account for prices and final fields. Best of luck to all.

 

13:30, Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) (Class 1)

 

Ante Post Position: 1 pt each/way Al Dancer, Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (10/1 general), February 15th

 

Really competitive – there are at least six strong contenders one would count there – and for regular readers, the ante-post position on Al Dancer is very strong after his win in the Betfair Hurdle. 11/4 feels about right for his position now given that there’s nothing not to like about him, but should he get shorter, beware; eleven of the last 14 favourites to be sent off at 2/1 or shorter in the Supreme were beaten. Get Me Out Of Here, My Tent Or Yours and Kalashnikov all finished second after winning the Betfair Hurdle.

 

 

Four year olds are quite rare runners in the Supreme but Joseph O’Brien’s huge strength in depth means we’re likely to see Fakir D’oudaries here. The wide margin winner of the Triumph Hurdle Trial here on Trials Day won by 13 lengths and still had more in hand, and with Sir Erec and Gardens of Babylon for the Supreme, it’s obvious to send him here.

 

Binocular and Rippling Ring both ran big races in the 2008 Supreme but Torpichen couldn’t cut it a year later. Only two have even tried since; Marsh Warbler, a 22/1 shot who was 11th in 2011, and Kudha, a 200/1 shot who ran like one when 13th last year. Fakir is old enough if he’s good enough, but he’s also short enough at 7/2 for my liking.

 

 

The market has curved its overreaction to the defeat of Angel’s Breath at Kempton in the Dovecote, and he looks to be the right price now. It has been a long time since we’ve seen one, let alone two, Willie Mullins horses as big as 10/1, but that is the case for Klassical Dream and Aramon, who had a tremendous battle in what used to be called the Delolitte at Leopardstown last time out.

 

The pair were six and a half lengths clear of Vision D’honneur, who is a solid yardstick based on his Punchestown win, and both look to be strong stayers at the trip, like Mullins’ other winners here. There’s literally nothing not to like about either of them although it’s interesting to note that they’ve done their running on fast ground by jumping standards, much like the rest of the field. Klassical Dream has perhaps looked to be the stronger stayer of the two, but there’s precious little between them.

 

 

It is fairly rare that you can get novice form tested against all aged contenders, but that is the case with Elixir De Nutz’ Tolworth win. Colin Tizzard’s five year old has been a different horse since moving from Philip Hobbs, finishing second on his debut here in October before winning his next three, including the Tolowrth Hurdle. There he beat Grand Sancy, who has since beaten Secau Royal and Vision Des Flos in the Elite Hurdle, and Southfield Stone, who went onto beat Angel’s Breath in the Dovecote.

 

That was also not a fluke; Elixir had previously given nearly a stone and a beating to Jarvey’s Plate, a wide margin listed winner after that, and even his November win has produced two different winners in behind.

 

There is very little not to like about him, but he is a noted front runner and whilst racing prominently is helpful in the Supreme, there is sure to be a ton of pace on at the front end. That is not an issue for Grand Sancy, who was fourth in what used to be the The Ladbroke at Christmas, following up a good listed win with that eye-catching effort there, and he battled brilliantly to take the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton.

 

 

He is rather experienced for a Supreme winner, although a huge amount of his improvement has come after a wind surgery in the offseason, and most Supreme winners of recent times have had plenty of racing beforehand. The last ten winners had run 4+ times over hurdles before they lined up for the Supreme.

 

 

Mister Fisher has been highly rated for a long time – he was well backed to win a bumper at Kempton in the week of the Festival – and he has really begun to come of age recently, taking a traditional trial for this at Kempton over Christmas. He won the Haydock trial in good style, showing a bright turn of foot to get the better of Bright Forecast, although the runner up did lose ground when they turned into the back straight.

 

Whilst Mister Fisher has done some of his best work late, there are questions for him to answer; Namely those of how he would handle this track and hill combined, although the ground ought to be no issue.

 

 

Thomas Darby was third to Mister Fisher at Kempton when giving 5lbs – having been beaten by just five lengths – and the rest of his form stacks up very well, including a defeat of Elixir De Nutz here in October. A strongly run race ought to suit him too.

 

 

Advice: 1 pt each/way Grand Sancy (12/1 general)

 

 

 

14:10, Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)

 

Ante Post Position: 1 pt each/way Kalashnikov, Arkle (14/1 Betfair, Paddy Power) 25th August, 1 pt each/way Paloma Blue, Arkle (14/1 general)

 

 

Competitive, to say the least. Lalor’s debut back in November over course and distance was one of the most impressive performances of the season, so it was a surprise when he was so baly beaten in the Henry VII Chase at Sandown. He’s not had a race since – unseasonably fast ground has kept him off the track – but has pleased trainer Kayley Woolacott at home and in a racecourse gallop at Exeter too. Dynamite Dollars, since a winner against Kalashnikov in the Wayward Lad, has given that form a strong look and perhaps the favorite is happier going left handed in ground conditions that don’t represent a slog, as Sandown did that day.

 

After the desperately disappointing injury to Le Richebourg, there’s now a choice for JP McManus. His Defi Du Seuil has come right back to form, winning a strong novice chase at Exeter in fine style before then taking the Scilly Isles Chase, with a narrow defeat in the Dipper in between. All of that form has come over further than 2 miles, but that tends to be a positive when it comes to the Arkle and he’s improved his jumping tenfold – but will he run?

26 days ago it looked as if Glen Forsa was going for the Close Brothers’ Handicap Chase. Four minutes later he now comes here as a leading contender, following his brilliant defat of Kalashnikov in the rescheduled Kingmaker. In a tour de force from the front, he had Amy Murphy’s charge struggling from the back straight before sealing the deal around the pond fence and winning by a remarkable 19 lengths.

 

 

The key to weighing up his chance lies in how trustworthy one thinks his Kingmaker victory is; If you are taking a 19 length defeat of Kalashnikov at its merit, then he has probably the best chaser performance this season; However, given the lame performance of Kalashnikov there, that is impossible to take at face value; However his previous defeat of Glen Rocco at Kempton was that of a horse pushing graded status and his extra stamina dna bality to handle soft ground give him two big advantages.

 

Duc Des Genievres is not a horse that many would have had as an Arkle type, but a couple of defeats and one impressive Gowran Park win later, he’s now as short as 5/1. And it’s understandable why – he’s improved with every chase start and his stable’s leading contender Cliaos Emery won’t be there anymore.

 

Stamina is not a bad thing for the Arkle, but it remains to be seen where a horse who has so obviously improved going back up in trip finds the speed, especially as he was fifth in the Ballymore last year.

 

 

We have two ante post positions here, but neither are anything to be overly excited about; The form of the Supreme has worked out poorly, and Kalashnikov and Paloma Blue haven’t necessarily impressed over fences so far. A deluge of rain would be good for Kalashikov would be helpful, and a dry week would be good news for Paloma Blue, but neither looks good enough at this stage.

 

 

Hardline won the Matchbook Betting Exchange Novice Chase at Limerick with the better jump at the last before finishing third in the Flogas Novice Chase. The rain that has arrived is good news for him and his 10 length defeat of Us And Them doesn’t look too bad now here. With the pace of th likely race and his running style, he has become a strong contender in the markets and will not be far away. Ornua has suddenly found himself as a contender through Dynamite Dollars but must improve still.

 

Knockanauss will be a bold sight out in front if he puts in a clean round but he could be forced to go too fast too early.

 

Advice: 1 pt win Hardline (5/1 general)

 

 

14:50, Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3)

 

 

It’s hardly difficult to spot that last year’s winner Coo Star Sivola is only 3lbs higher following a less successful campaign, and that this has probably been the aim. His festival record is a fine one and Paul Nicholls has been in flying form coming upto the Festival and Give Me A Copper was very eye-catching in Masters’ Handicap Chase at Sandown. However, the market has more than discovered him already and he is essentially making value for others.

 

 

 

Minella Rocco is extremely well handicapped on the basis of his best form from last season, a fourth in Leopardstown’s Savils Chase. A former Gold Cup winner up, his runs in the Costswold Chase and an Exeter Handicap Hurdle were clear sighters, and the argument for him is very clear. The biggest issue? His jumping, which has let him down on many an occasion.

 

 

A fascinating contender here would be Magic Of Light, the rapidly progressive eight year old mare who unseated before the going got serious in the Bobbyjo Chase. She has previously just been outsped by the very consistent mare Happy Diva over a trip which was more than inadequate, as shown by impressive wins in a Listed Mares chase and also the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle. She should love the course here and is versatile regarding ground, so has to be of major interest.

 

Vintage Clouds has really good form apart from the Welsh National – after which he was given a wind op – and if he’s at peak fitness then he is well overpriced too.

 

 

Mister Whitaker’s impressive early season return seemed to have him set for good things and whilst two runs in competitive handicaps might have disappointed some, a step up in trip could do him good. One wonders if he’s used his best mark, though.

 

General Principle ran an eye-catching race in the Grand National trial, which was his fourth and best run of the season. He didn’t go too badly in the Thyestes the time before and whilst the Grand National might be the choice for last season’s Irish National winner, he will be suited by the rain that’s hit the course.

 

Singlefarmpayment, fifth in this last year, has frustrated more punters than Betbright in the last week but he hasn’t run a bad race since last January and he might well get better ground than he did last year. Trusting him to win another battle is a different matter.

 

 

Advice: 1 pt each/way Magic Of Light (20/1 general), 1 pt each/way Coo Star Sivola (9/1 general)

 

 

 

 

15:30, Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1) 

 

Ante Post Position: N/A

 

 

 

Potentially one of the races of the festival if the leading contenders run to their best. Last year’s winner Buveur D’Air was surprisingly outsped by Verdana Blue in the Christmas Hurdle but has been flawless otherwise – he was made to work very hard by Melon in what seemed to be a weaker renewal last year. His versatility regarding tactics and ground

 

 

Apple’s Jade has been taking all before her since a below par third in both Mares’ races at last year’s Festival and Punchestown. It’s impossible to find a fault in her front running romp in either of her three Grade 1 wins, and the time of those successes checks out too. The questions for her to answer relate to the pace, as she will be pressured from the front – some might also pick  on her course record as she’s just 1/3 at the festival, and was flat according to many last year.

 

 

Laurina is the unknown factor in the race. Last year’s Mares’ Novices Hurdle winner frequently looks good enough to run at this level, but has faced nothing of the sort – because connections haven’t let her step up to that very level, either through choice or convenience. Many readers here may well have bigger prices about her, and some will fancy her on the strength of her stable’s obvious affection for her, but the form of the leading pair is too compelling to ignore.

 

 

Verdana Blue has been improving hand over fist and her defeat of Buveur D’air in the Christmas Hurdle looked fair and square at the time (and appears to be since). A nice tune up at Kempton should have her spot on for here, but quick ground appears to be vital to her chances and there’s been rain about recently.

 

 

Sharjah might have benefited from a mad gallop in the Morgiana but there was no fluke about his impressive win in the Ryanair Hurdle at Christmas. He will get a strong pace to run at, that form gives him a reasonable place prospect, and he appears to be improving, so an each/way case can be made. He handles cut but the quicker the round the better for him too.

 

 

Melon pushed Buveur D’Air to the limit in this last season after a bad run and he has taken the same sort of route this time around, running poorly in the Irish Champion Hurdle after what looked to be a promising return in the Ryanair Hurdle. If one takes the view that last season’s contest is the best form on offer, then he is big at 14/1 each/way.

 

Supasundae has finished second in the Hattons’ Grace, Ryanair, and Irish Champion Hurdle, and just like last season, he is improving through the campaign. He looks a solid each/way contender, although it’s interesting to note that he ended up winning at Punchestown in the Champion Hurdle after runner up finishes in the Champion and Aintree Hurdles.

 

 

Nico De Boinville’s choice of the seemingly back to form Brain Power raised an eyebrow or two when declared but the way he travelled and jumped when taking the International Hurdle suggested that he wasn’t that far from taking a hand in a Champion of this nature. He’s a talented horse, but that International Hurdle form did not look the strongest and other contenders here have produced stronger finishes. Silver Streak was second there but would probably want quicker ground whilst Global Citizen, who won the Haydock trial, is probably going to be asked to go too fast here.

 

Espoir D’Allen has disappointed just once since arriving from France and has impressed with his turn of foot for each of his seven hurdling wins, but the juvenile form – bar Stormy Ireland, and even then that’s a stretch, has not really worked out. A strongly run race ought to bring out the best in him, but he must still make a big leap on his best form. Farclas has gone to pot.

 

Advice: No bet.

 

 

 

16.10, OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Registered As The David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle) (Grade 1) 

 

 

If, as the market suggests, Apple’s Jade and Laurina both head to the Champion Hurdle, then Benie Des Dieux, who thought so hard to beat Midnight Tour here a year ago, will become of the most popular selections of the week. The case for her is obvious and Willie Mullins has prepared Quevega for this without a run standing on their head, but she is very short at 5/6, priced as if she is a winner already.

 

 

Limini, who was back to form when fourth in the Galmoy Hurdle, apparently hadn’t been letting herself down on the ground since the summer and a tough flat season, but that shouldn’t be an issue her and she is a major each/way contender at her best, which includes a close third in 2017 behind Apple’s Jade.

 

 

Stormy Ireland, second to Laurina at Punchestown last time, has also bumped into Espoir D’Allen before and had previously been a really impressive winner over Good Thyne Tara at Punchestown. She’s got a lot of raw ability and now jumps better, but one worries if she’s not better at shorter than this trip and she will do her best running early.

 

 

The first British trained contender in the betting is Roskana, who has had just the one run this season, a sighter at Sandown which was presumably to get her ready for this race. Dan Skelton’s seven-year-old was extremely progressive last season, ending the season with a  second to Santini in the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle. Before that she had taken a competitive handicap novices’ final at Newbury in her first graded outing and there’s little not to like about her claims on that evidence, especially if this turns into a slog as can be rather common. She had horses with strong staying novice form behind her last year and the recent rain also isn’t going to be an issue for her either.

 

 

Cap Soleli, second by a distance to the brilliant Laurina here last year, will have her chances enhanced by more rain although she’s not been seen since. Mia’s Storm has already seen the ground become too slow for her. Jester Jet has done all her racing on good ground this season but handles it softer.

 

Lady Buttons hasn’t been able to stop winning this season and the versatile nine-year-old, who has been both chasing and hurdling this season. The last time she was at Grade 1 level, she was a creditable fourth in the Maghull but this looks more her bag – have we seen the best of her?

 

 

Elimay made a good Irish debut when second to Good Thyne Tara but will need to improve a great deal on that if she’s to make an impact here. Apple’s Shakira didn’t show much on her comeback after disappointing at both spring festival, and she’s hard to trust. The winner of the Jane Seymour Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, Queenohearts, will be hoping for lots more rain after another victory over Danse Idol, this time giving 5lbs more than in December when she also ground out victory at Haydock. She has lots of admirable qualities, but also more than 20lbs to find.

 

 

Advice: 2.5 pts each/way Roskana (9/1 Paddy Power, Bet365, Hills)

 

 

16:50 Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase (Listed Race)

 

 

A Plus Tard jumps out here. A very young import – just five – from France, he has put his experience to good use, finishing a close second on his debut, and he then gave a good beating to the very smart Duc Des Genieveres, who has since won impressively at Gowran, and he caught a tartar in the shape of Winter Escape last time. A mark of 144 feels fair and the weather shouldn’t bother him.

 

 

Towards the bottom, Shady Operator’s form catches the eye and a mark of 139 doesn’t look unfair at all. Joseph O’Brien already has Tower Bridge here too, who might be better suited to a step up in trip. Highway One O One ought to go well from the front.

 

 

Riders On The Storm is the current favorite after running in some strong races, and he managed to get the better of the subsequent dual winner Impact Factor at Punchestown. Movewiththetimes was a disappointment at the last festival and hasn’t completed since, but a mark of 140 just dangerously underestimated his chances, so watch the market.

 

Advice: 1 pt each/way A Plus Tard (8/1 on Sunday, now 6’s)

 

 

 

17:30, National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase (Grade 2)(Class 1)

 

 

Perhaps not the best race to play in now. The market is dominated by OK Corral, the impressive winner of the Hampton Novices’ Chase at Warwick, and Ballyward, who won the Naas Racecourse Business Club Novice Chase when left in front by the fall of Discorama.

 

Both ought to go well, although that is reflected in their prices already and if pushed one might say that Ballyward would make a little more appeal in a slog. Discorama is the right price now, having been a couple of points too big after Naas, but there are other contenders such as Mortal, who has been running over trips too short on ground too fast for Joesph O’Brien, and last year’s fourth Impulsive Star.

 

 

He was behind OK Corral at Plumpton but that was a woefully inadequate test and he proved it with a gutsy win in the Classic Chase at Warwick last time out, and even his fourth from last year now looks a lot better; Rathvinden won the Bobbyjo Chase and is going for the National with a leading chance whilst Sizing Tennessee (third there) bolted up in the Hennessy afterwards. Second Ms Parfois was then a runner up in a Grade 1 at Aintree, underlining the form. He looks to have a solid each/way chance again.

 

Chef Des Obeaux disappointed at the spring festivals last season when thrown into bigger fields and a poor round of jumping at Chepstow last time doesn’t do much to reassure one about his claims.

 

Also, an each/way chance is taken on Jerrysback lasting the trip. Phllip Hobbs’s seven year old surprised the market when getting the better of Mulcahys’ Hill at Bangor on December with a huge amount in hand, and he has since finished second in two Graded contests, the first behind JLT contender Vinndication, and the second when perhaps tapped for toe a bit behind Casatafirore at Haydock over 2 and a half miles. He had Le Breuil well behind that day and this step up in trip and softer ground will definitely suit – it’s simply a matter of how far.

 

Advice: 1 pt each/way Impulsive Star (14/1 Coral, Ladbrokes, Hills)