Cheltenham. Whilst I marvel every year at how time flies en route to the Festival, most of this season has passed me by. As you all know; my beautiful daughter Daisy arrived in September. What is lesser known is that since then, I have been fighting Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Post Natal Depression. Thankfully, I am on the long road back to full health. One in four of us will suffer with some kind of mental health related illness at some stage of our lives and yet is still very much a taboo subject. I admired Mark Enright for recently speaking about his battle with depression. Shortly afterwards Leo Powell wrote an excellent article about depression in the Irish Field. Several people have enquired as to why I have taken so long to get back to work so I thought I would make the reason widely known. I cannot thank my family and friends enough for their unwavering support. I plummeted depths that I never want to revisit. Days and weeks flew past where I didn’t even recognise myself. There were times that I thought that I wouldn’t get back on a Racecourse again, let alone back to work. I’m not fully there yet but I’m hunting around out the back and popping away slowly. My Festival Portfolio is nearly complete. The first two days are listed below. Updates along with Thursday and Friday’s selections will be added over the course of the next few days. For now my battle plans are as follows: Tuesday Champion Hurdle: My thoughts on last years race are that Jezki was a fortunate winner. With poor Our Conor’s fall and the hampering of The New One and Hurricane Fly not being on his A game, it only left My Tent Or Yours to fight and let’s face it that mercurial individual couldn’t fight his way out of a paper bag. We all know where my heart is but whatever happens I just want Fly back safe and sound. Heard a lot of people say he can’t win it, granted it’s tough but of course he could win it. A bit of rain would help enormously and I’m not sure how much I buy into Cheltenham doesn’t suit, alright Leopardstown is more to his tastes but two Champion Hurdles, and a third and fourth isn’t pure disdain for the place. Have heard a lot said about Faugheen not beating much, I don’t think that’s the case at all. His record so far speaks for itself. I watched last years Neptune again this morning and there is something about him that reminds me of Istabraq. The New One gets unfairly crabbed left right and centre which is unjust, you’re looking at a Cheltenham specialist and what could have been the Champion Hurdler of 2014. The New One isn’t slow, the speed he shows from jumping the last to up the hill is a joy to watch. National Hunt Chase: Cause Of Causes. Let’s hope the ghosts of last years Kim Muir are layed to rest. Jamie Codd reportedly takes the mount. I also have my eye on Cogry in this contest as I truly believe we are looking at a future Grand National winner. He will have the assistance of Steven Clements in the saddle who is no stranger to Festival success. Wednesday Neptune: I have had Windsor Park backed since the beginning of time. I first clapped eyes on this beautifully bred gelding at Fairyhouse in December 2013 and thought immediately that he was a future Neptune prospect. He’ll come up a hill, his two wins at Galway have proved that. The only worry I have is his jumping. Beast Of Burden catches the eye but I just wonder if the ground may have gone against him. RSA: Southfield Theatre, he’ll stay, he’ll jump and has a Cheltenham record of 4, 1, 3, 4, 2 – that will do for me. Coral Cup: Watching to see where Goodwood Mirage and Dell Arca line up. Update – as they both line up, I cannot split them. Dell Arca has the happy hat on. QMCC: Champagne Fever. Having thought of him always as a Gold Cup winner, I’ve done a 360 and backed him for this race. Festival record speaks for itself. Bumper: Bellshill is my pick of the Mullins battalions. Thursday JLT: Currently caught between Splash Of Ginge and The Tullow Tank. This tussle normally invades my mind at around 4am, when/if I reach a conclusion, I’ll post. – Update: at the prices, I’ll back them both! Pertemps: Yes, we all know the call with Edeymi. He’s an obvious for the shortlist but I am also currently looking at Regal Encore and Trustan Times. The former relished the step up last time out and let’s face it, we’ve all expected him to pop up in a big handicap for a while now. Trustan Times races of 2lb lower than his 1/2 length fourth last year. Again, hopefully I will have decided by Thursday morning. Update: I’m with Regal Encore Ryan Air: I backed Johns Spirit for this a while ago, I know the new course hasn’t been as kind to him as the old course but I’ve wanted him to run in this since his Paddy Power win. If Boston Bob re routes here from the Gold Cup then he becomes of interest too. World Hurdle: After his run in this last year and his run at Aintree, I started to think that Zarkandar had got a bit cute. I edited all chance of a World Hurdle victory for him out of my mind. After seeing him take the Grand Prix D’Automne, I reconsidered his chances. Alright, he idled at Ascot but the new course at Cheltenham has always played to his strengths. Paul Nicholls is very bullish about his chances and for me he is the likely winner of a very open race. His main danger in my eyes is Lieutenant Colonel. Brown And Merribelle: Rawnaq, he runs on the level, over timber and over fences. He’s versatile with regard to the ground which is great as nobody seems to know what the true going actually is. Rawnaq took the notable scalp of Gilgamboa last time out. He has placed form at Cheltenham (third in the 2013 Greatwood). With wins at Navan in the bag, you can be assured the hill will pose no problems. Friday Triumph: I am opposing Peace And Co, not because I am dismissing his obvious talent, I just think he’s fragile in the mind. He wore earplugs on Trials Day and still got worked up by proceedings. It will be a lot noisier on March 13th. I’m currently toying between Beltor and Petite Parisienne; that 7lb allowance is handy. Albert Bartlett: I actually backed Killultagh Vic for this race a while ago as I’m convinced he’s crying out for three miles. He’s by no means a certain starter so my alternate selection is the battle hardened Blaklion. He’ll stay and we know he acts over course and distance. Have done a bit of a rewind here and have actually backed Black Hercules. Gold Cup: Today has seen a U turn on my thoughts for this race which are still under investigation. I will update. No time to explain but as the rain falls I am pointed further towards Many Clouds. Martin Pipe: Rain will help Killutagh Vic’s cause. Grand Annual: Eastlake – with or without AP’s assistance!
Faugheen’s unbeaten career has seen him rise to a Timeform Rating 171p. His jumps well, travels easily through his races, putting his rivals to the sword when quickening two or three hurdles from home. This will be his toughest assignment to date; however, track suitability, jumping, and stamina are proven. In addition, he has shown his versatility ground wise, winning on good through to heavy. One thing worth noting; nineteen of the last twenty winners ran in the same calendar year (Rock On Ruby 2012 the exception). Last run Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park). Jezki TR 170 shows his best form the spring. He battled on well to win last year’s renewal under the guidance of Mr Geraghty, who is a perfect five from five in the saddle. Good or good to soft suits him best and he looks sure to put a stern defence of his crown. The New One TR 169 finished third last year when arguably unlucky. Hampered by a fall at the third hurdle, it should be noted the pace dropped after that mishap, allowing The New One to make up the ground. The New One has not always been foot perfect. Mistakes at this level are difficult to overcome, particularly in the second half of the race. The remarkable Hurricane Fly TR 168 is unbeaten at Leopardstown; he has two Champion Hurdles and five consecutive Irish Champion Hurdles to his name. Whilst he handles good to soft, his overall profile suggests he is at his very best on soft/heavy ground. Purple Bay TR 160 looks held on Christmas Hurdle form while Irving TR 159 is yet to prove himself as effective on undulating. Arctic Fire TR 158 ran well when second to Hurricane Fly at the end of January. He will appreciate better ground and is one that will love a fast pace. One imagines genuine soft ground would improve Hurricane Fly’s chances while Jezki’s connections will be looking for good ground. Faugheen appears to handle any ground underhoof. Faugheen will race on or close to the pace, with The New One and Jezki being delivered late. Despite having something to prove on ratings, Faugheen looks to have everything one looks for in a Champion Hurdle winner. An uncomplicated ride, his only weakness appears to be the odd jumping mistake. On good ground Jezki will likely be the main danger with The New One sure to be in the mix when it matters. Off a fast pace on good ground, Arctic Fire will not be far away. grahamrichardsonline.co.uk – CHELTENHAM PREVIEW
Un De Sceaux put in a stunning performance at Leopardstown last weekend, proving to be far too good for both Clarcam and Gilgamboa. He was immediately cut to a short-priced favourite for the Arkle Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. The race was billed as a true test for Mullins’ chaser, a tough encounter that would prove just how good he really is. As it turned out, it appears he really is quite good. The time confirmed that the race was run at a decent clip. Un De Sceaux set the pace as always and was slick and measured over his fences. Clarcam was produced to challenge at the second last fence, but was swiftly swept aside. Ruby Walsh had a yawning 15 lengths to spare by the time they hit the line. He’s not a particularly big horse, but that appears to have little effect as he jumps effortlessly, seemingly without breaking stride. It was also impressive how he galloped relentlessly to the finish, never once looking like folding off the strong pace. It was a performance that is difficult to knock, but I will try my best to do so in an attempt to give realistic hope to the other contenders. It’s fair to say that the horse can only thrash the opponents set before him, but for me the quality of that opposition has to be questioned. This may seem a strange comment after Leopardstown, which saw him take on two highly thought of novice chasers. My problem is this. Clarcam is only a five-year-old and as such is still very much a raw individual at the embryonic stage of his career. He only achieved a mark of 140 over hurdles and that was gained in a particularly weak juvenile division. None of last year’s young hurdlers have progressed with the likes of Plinth and Tiger Roll absolutely thrashed in Grade 1 hurdles this winter. Gilgamboa also achieved a mark of 140 over hurdles and although he’d looked impressive so far over fences, his breeding suggests he will be better over further. He also appears to be ground dependant and was clearly outpaced on Sunday. In his previous run, Mullins’ exciting chaser had thrashed Smashing at Fairyhouse. Again it was a visually stunning performance, but once more he was beating a five-year-old who certainly needs a trip to be seen at his best. True the horse won well next time out, but in a very poor contest. Of course it may sound as if I’m desperately searching for reasons why this outstanding looking chaser could be beaten at Cheltenham. And it may well prove that he is by far the best two mile novice chaser around. But nothing is certain at the Cheltenham Festival and many a ‘sure thing’ has hit the buffers over the years. Indeed only three favourites have won the Arkle Chase since 2000 though Simonsig, Sprinter Sacre and Azertyuiop were the shortest priced at 8/15, 8/11 and 5/4 respectively. So who could possibly beat this latest short-priced cert? Or maybe the question should be; is there a better value bet in a race for novice chasers? Josses Hill appears to be the obvious place to start. Second in last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, he was always thought of as a top-class chaser in waiting. He is trained by Nicky Henderson who has won the Arkle on five occasions, most recently with Sprinter Sacre and Simonsig. The horse is also partnered by Barry Geraghty, who happens to be the most successful jockey in the race’s history with four wins to his name. Josses seasonal debut was delayed and he has only had two runs over fences to date. It’s fair to say that his jumping has been patchy and this will need to improve if he is to land a blow on Un De Sceaux at Cheltenham. But he is a huge stamp of a beast, who if in range turning for home is sure to charge up the famous hill. He is set to get further race experience before March and his odds of 9/1 seem fair. He looks a decent each-way proposition. Vibrato Valtat is likely to be Ditcheat’s main hope. It’s surprising that we have to go back to 2003 for the last Nicholls’ Arkle Chase success. Azertyuiop was guided home to victory by Ruby Walsh on that occasion. This latest contender appeared something of a monkey last season but has shown plenty of resolution in winning three of his four starts over fences this winter. He’s a strong traveller who’s pretty slick over his obstacles. Whether he has the class to win this is questionable, and a nagging doubt still remains over whether he would relish a battle up the Cheltenham hill. The famous silks of Mrs T P Radford were almost carried to victory in 2010 when Somersby just failed to overhaul Sizing Europe. This time round it’s Sgt Reckless who looks to go one place better for connections. He is another imposing horse that appears well suited to fences. One of the better novice hurdlers, he chased home Josses Hill at both Cheltenham and Aintree last season.His preparation for the Arkle in March has been rather unorthodox. Only once tried over fences, he then had an outing over hurdles and then a spin on the flat. He surely needs more practice if he is to beat the likes of Un De Sceaux, though Western Warhorse won last year’s renewal on just his second attempt over fences. I’ll mention just two more that have an each-way chance if making the start. Court Minstrel is as big as 40’s though is by no means a definite starter. He needs decent ground to have any chance and is thought by his trainer to prefer Aintree and Ayr. He has won at Cheltenham twice before though, one of those being impressively over fences back in October. He’s a classy type who often travels like a dream. Should the ground be suitable and should he take his chance he could certainly run into a place. Finally, a horse I’ve already backed at 33’s. John Ferguson’s Three Kingdoms was a whisker behind Vibrato Valtat at Kempton in December. He has since won at Doncaster and is proving to be a consistent performer. A son of Street Cry, I’m sure he’ll perform even better on the sounder surface that he’s likely to get at Cheltenham. He quickened clear of Thomas Crapper and Deep Trouble up Leicester’s hill in November. I fancy he could run a huge race at the festival. Of course they could all be chasing shadows on the ‘big day’. Willie Mullins came so close to winning his first Arkle Chase last year and he has another terrific chance this time round. But I’ll look for better value and hope for an upset. Should Un De Sceaux scorch the Cheltenham turf on his way to a stunning victory, I’ll happily cheer along with the masses. Truly great horses don’t come around that often. For more Cheltenham build-up, visit our Cheltenham Festival 2015 category.
Run over 2 miles on the new course, the Triumph Hurdle is traditionally won by a future stayer with the exception of Katchit and the ill-fated Our Conor who turned out to be speed horses and therefore Champion Hurdle material. The betting for this year’s race has Nicky Henderson’s unbeaten Peace and Co in the colours of Simon Munir and Isaac Souede as the red hot ante-post favourite with the same owners Bristol De Mai trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies the second favourite. The owners seem to have a real stranglehold over this race as they’re also responsible for Vercingetorix, who won today in Meydan, and Top Notch further down the betting list. . Let’s take a look at the main contenders: Peace and Co – Nicky Henderson This flashy looking son of Falco has made a big impression on his UK debut when bolting up with the Summit Junior hurdle at Doncaster by 19 lengths. Although he was very keen in the race, Daryl Jacob bided his time and the horse readily drew clear of Starchitect. On his next start he was long odds-on favourite for the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial at Cheltenham. Everything that could go wrong did, as he very extremely keen and the race was run at a crawl, but despite these factors he overcame them to score by a comfortable 3 lengths from reliable yardstick Karezak. Peace and Co looks the one to beat. Bristol De Mai – Nigel Twiston-Davies Having already won in France on very soft going when in the care of top French handler Guillaume Macaire this athletic grey was sent to the shrewd Naunton trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies for the Finale Juvenile hurdle at Chepstow. Ridden by retained rider Daryl Jacob, the grey cruised through the race that was run on heavy going and slammed Karezak by 6 lengths going away. The key to this horse is the going as he seems to want some cut in the ground. Kalkir – Willie Mullins This French import was already being heavily backed for the race before he made his Irish debut in a grade 3 at Fairyhouse. That race showed why he was fancied for the Triumph Hurdle as he easily disposed of albeit a lesser calibre of opponent when beating Dai Bando by 8 lengths. Starting at 4/7 on his next start at Leopardstown, the wheels came off as he was struggling some way out before plugging on to be beaten 2 lengths by the unraced Fiscal Focus which has to go down as disappointing. The one thing in his favour is that he looks a stayer and the stiff finish should suit him at Cheltenham. Hargam – Nicky Henderson Flat bred and showed smart form on the Flat in France including a 2nd in a listed race which was not too dissimilar to the stable/connections of former high class hurdler Binocular. He made his debut at Cheltenham and travelled like the winner until fitness found him out against the durable Golden Doyen. Back at the same venue a month later but on softer ground, he again travelled with zest but found it hard work on the ground to narrowly beat Karezak, who may have won if jumping the last more fluently. Surely the key to this horse is better ground and he should find that in the Triumph Hurdle. Karezak – Alan King A very likeable horse who has been in against the best all season gaining one victory on his debut. His form ties him in with best juveniles this season, though his jumping has let him down on occasion but he keeps running his race and that experience will definitely help him in a rough race like the Triumph. Connections might run him in the Supreme as he would be getting weight, but he is a great each way bet if running in the Triumph. Bristol De Mai Would need soft conditions which are unlikely to turn up in the race. Verdict: Despite lacking the experience of others in the race Peace and Co has the most natural speed and ability, but the Triumph is usually run at a great tempo and although he will still be travelling on the bridle coming down the hill, will his natural exuberance get the better of him against a stouter stayer? Hargam is a similar type to his stable mate and may lack the experience for a battle. If this is the case then I feel that KALKIR is the one best suited to take advantage presuming he doesn’t get too far back in the field. I can see him staying on better than anything up the hill and the better ground may be to his liking. Last time on softer ground he came under pressure earlier which didn’t happen on debut when the ground was good to soft. For our exclusive Community Members only preview of the RSA Chase, JOIN US for just £6 per month. You’ll also get £10 off admission to our Cheltenham Festival Preview Evening in Cheltenham on Friday 6 March, tips every day and much more – learn more about Free and Community Membership.
With the days counting down until the Cheltenham Festival 2015 – there are now less than 9 weeks until the Supreme Novices Hurdle – many of the leading contenders will either be in their box waiting for the big day or approaching their last runs (as I write, this is Monday the 12 January, just less than two weeks away from Trials Day). This is an ideal time to start looking at the Festival ante-post lists, with the bookmakers and punters on a fairly even footing as far as evidence goes. Of course, there’s the question of who goes where, and with nearly every Willie Mullins novice that must come into the equation, but he looks to have two very strong contenders for the Arkle. Un De Seacux is unbeaten when staying on his feet and has looked nothing apart from a monster, winning twice in France to increase a burgeoning reputation that has been kept intact since going over fences, despite his fall at Thurles on debut. His claims are obvious and he will take a good deal of catching here, but there are questions for him to answer. While it is understandable that he missed Punchestown and Cheltenham last year for the prize money available in France, he has never run on anything better than soft ground – a massive question mark considering that he’s unlikely to get it in Ireland before the Festival where the going is of course likely to be more good than soft. While his victory against Smashing was very impressive – as you’d expect – going from the front in the pressure cooker situation of the Arkle is going to be a very different situation for him and it remains to be seen if he does get the lead he wants. Being a short priced favourite at this stage and with the ground doubts, he can be avoided. The value may actually be coming from inside his own stable, with last year’s Supreme Novice Hurdle winner Vautour as big as 8/1. He was far shorter before a Leopardstown blowout at Christmas when 1/4, where he ended up 17 lengths behind Clarcam – but there are plenty of reasons to forgive that. While the big mistake that ended his challenge was worrying, poor movement through the race – something highlighted by Mullins recently – suggested that he wasn’t 100% right and that was most likely compounded by the deluge that Leopardstown suffered on St Stephens Day which left him floundering in soft ground before he ended his chances 5 out. While it’s true that he did beat Clarcam in soft ground on both their chasing debuts, the ground that day was far easier to cope with than at Leopardstown, and if anything the bloodless nature of that victory shows just how off form he was there. Vautour has run twice on good ground under rules – and in those two runs he slaughtered the Supreme Novice field and then won easily enough at Punchestown afterwards. While his jumping obviously will need to be up to scratch, there will have been plenty of work done at Closutton and we should hopefully see a better round if he does go in the Irish Arkle or a smaller chase before the Festival. The same connections had Champagne Fever beaten under similar circumstances before being beaten in the Arkle in the very last stride. It is no new phenomenon for Arkle winners to have had setbacks on their way to the title and at 8/1, he appeals as the value in the race. Clarcam has to be hugely respected following his impressive win at Leopardstown. Gordon Elliot’s charge has clearly improved hand over fist and has looked a natural chaser, although the lack of a weight for age allowance is a significant negative come the day. Gilgamboa was a disappointment in the Supreme Novices, having travelled menacingly into the race before a mistake ended his chances, but in just two runs as a chaser he has already shown his accomplishment and has to be strongly considered. His debut win was followed by a deeply impressive performance at Limerick, when having Adrian Des Mottes – giving no small amount of weight to the previous winner in a strong field for the Grade – on toast before she fell at the last. An extremely strong traveller, his jumping has convinced more than most at the top of the market and while he’s also entered in the JLT, an entry into the Irish Arkle would suggest that he will remain at the minimum trip. A previous ante-post bet of mine, Josses Hill looked a ready made chaser last season and actually made a very promising debut – more so than many would have imagined – at Ascot behind Ptit Zig, but the lack of improvement in his jumping at Doncaster last week was worrying with no fluent jumping until the last, which he jumped well before being pushed strongly out to beat the 145 rated Solar Impulse. It is entirely possible that he can improve with experience – which he simply must have more of – but the long amount of time spent in the air and poor technique are both worrying for such a test and he can only be left out of calculations. Vibrato Valtat and Sam Twiston Davies got some stick after being beaten at Cheltenham in November but under Noel Fehily he has shown no end of resolution and speed in winning the Henry VIII and Wayward Lad Novices Chases. He will love the strong gallop on good ground and prices close to 20’s are probably too big. For all that he still needs to improve (something that’s not out of the question). A big price contender of real interest would be Sgt Reckless, who has been strangely campaigned since winning well on his chasing debut at Uttoxeter and who was in the wrong place at the wrong time in last year’s Supreme. He appears overpriced, but time is running out for him to gain experience. Ptit Zig would have been of serious interest but will go the JLT after his impressive New Year’s Day win, and Valseur Lido is surely going to there or the RSA Chase as Willie Mullins has hinted. Advice 1 pt each/way Vatour (8/1 Paddy Power, Stan James, Winner, Spreadex) 1 pt each/way Gilgamboa (12/1 Totesport, Betfred, Ladbrokes) For our exclusive Community Members only preview of the RSA Chase, JOIN US for just £6 per month. You’ll also get £10 off admission to our Cheltenham Festival Preview Evening in Cheltenham on Friday 6 March, tips every day and much more – learn more about Free and Community Membership.
Only 12 months ago, champion trainer Nicky Henderson was celebrating a wonderfully successful Cheltenham Festival. Simonsig looked set to become a stable star after landing the Arkle. Bobs Worth proved himself the best staying chaser in the land when winning the Gold Cup. And the incredible Sprinter Sacre had soared to even greater heights. So as the new season arrived we all sat back in anticipation of jump racing domination, Henderson style. Yet if there’s one thing you quickly learn about this great sport, it’s just how fragile the stars of the show can be. Before the season’s action even began, Simonsig was struck down by injury. Then jump racing fans were stunned to see Henderson’s stable superstar Sprinter Sacre sidelined with a heart condition. Both are set to return next year, but such losses were certain to have a major impact on the stables fortunes. Fast forward to this year’s Cheltenham Festival, and is it such a surprise that Nicky Henderson’s team could only produce one winner? A surprise maybe that his only winner was not Festival specialist Bobs Worth. The Gold Cup favourite looked set for a repeat victory two out, but appeared to lack gears up the famous hill. Against popular opinion, it appears the quicker ground did not suit. Henderson’s only winner came in the Coral Cup, when Whisper got the better of the perpetual Festival runner-up Get Me Out Of Here. It was a terrific win for a horse rated 153 in such a competitive handicap. The horse could easily have been sent chasing this season, but the decision to embark on another hurdles campaign could prove a master-stroke. He looks to have strengthened considerably during the season and could be something special when finally sent over fences next winter, still only a six-year-old. But Whisper wasn’t the only eye-catching Henderson performer. He looks set to have several top-class novice chasers next season. Two potential stars ran oustanding races in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. The enormous Josses Hill ran a blinder to finish second behind Mullins’ Vautour. He is every inch a chaser in the making. His breeding suggests he’ll stay much further than two miles. It would be no surprise to see him back at Cheltenham Festival 2015 as a fancied runner in the RSA Chase. Vaniteux was third in the Supreme just half a length behind his stablemate. A year younger than Josses Hill, this was only his fourth career start. It was a terrific performance from such a raw inexperienced horse. Thought by his trainer to have “plenty of speed”, he has the size and scope to make into a serious Arkle contender. Sprinter Sacre himself was similarly third as a raw inexperienced five-year-old back in the Supreme of 2011. Willie Mullins may have a potential superstar in Vautour, but Nicky Henderson could have one of his own in Vaniteux. My Tent Or Yours is the undoubted flag-bearer for Nicky Henderson over hurdles, but it’s in the chasing division that Henderson could hold a plethora of firepower. This year’s Cheltenham Festival may have failed to deliver the number of victories the Lambourn trainer would have hoped for, but there was no shortage of classy performances. If Nicky Henderson can get all of his stars fit for battle, the Cheltenham Festival of 2015 has the potential of being one of his greatest.