Day 3 – Thursday 15th March
1.30 JLT Novices Chase
We don’t have many trends or stats about this race as it’s fairly new one. More emphasis is placed on speed rather than stamina. Five of the 7 JLT winners had won their previous start and the other 2 came close to doing so. You need to find a class horse with pure natural ability and one that can jump at speed too. In the last 3 years we have seen Vautour and Yorkhill jumping for fun to win this race. Festival form counts a lot for this race. All 7 winners so far ran at the previous festival and Yorkhill became the 3rd horse to have won at the Festival before when following up on the JLT a year after he won the Neptune( now Ballymore).
The Irish have a tremendous record having won 6 of the 7 renewals of this race. The only British trained winner was Taquin Du Seuil in 2014. Willie Mullins has won 4 of those with Sir Des Champs, Vautour, Black Hercukes and Yorkhill. At the time of writing there is confusion as which horses will run in this race due to uncertainty in the weather conditions.
Invitation Only might run here based on what Willie said last night. He was our Ante post selection for the Ballymore last year but he got injured and was put away. He fell on his chase debut at Punchestown in a race won by Monalee. He then went to Navan and won his beginners chase. He made all that day and jumped really well throughout. He was pressed 2 out but stayed on strongly to win going away. It was great to see him back to winning ways as he always had good potential.
Any Second Now was 2nd that day. He won the Grade 3 race at Punchestown and again made all that day. He was then sent to run in the Grade 1 Flogas and he was only beaten in a thrilling finish with Monalee and his stable mate Al Boum Photo. Like I mentioned previously this Flogas race has a solid look to it. He made a jumping mistake at the last which eventually cost him momentum but he showed a great atttitude that day to fight back.
Monalee won 2 of his 3 races this season. He won his beginners chase very easily by thrashing Any Second Now. He fell in the Neville Hotels over Xmas but made amends in the Flogas. It remains to be seen where he will run. Modus has won 3 of his 4 starts this season in weak fields at short odds everytime. His only mishap was when he fell at Exeter. He was visually impressive at Kempton last time and it looks to me he is more settled this season and has improved his jumping too. He represents decent each way value in race in my opinion. Barry gets a good tune out of him and he attacks his fences brilliantly. Other plus for him is he has course form too which will help.
If Finians Oscar runs here then he will be first name to cross out. He is a high class horse but I feel he has been wrongly campaigned this season. He won his first 2 races over fences against moderate horses but his flaws were exposed big time against better horses when he was floored by Sceau Royal and Benatar. He simply cannot jump a fence at speed and I will be surprised if he wins this.
The one that could cause an upset is Terrefort if he runs here.He comes over from France and is a Grade 1 winner having won the Scilly Isles at Sandown. It’s one I was told to keep an eye on before he ran at Huntingdon where he made mince meat of his rivals. He then beat a solid yardstick in Cyrname ( won a Grade 2 on his next start). He jumped nicely that day and showed a great attitude and determination to fight back when challenged. He can jump at speed too which we saw at Huntingdon. If the race cut up he will be much shorter in the betting.
Jonjo O’Neil has won this race on 4 occasions and 2 of those were owned by JP McManus and were priced at 50-1!! But he hasn’t won it for last 5 years. All his 17 runners in this race have been beaten but 6 have been placed. He has a nice horse in Forza Milan this year which has a similar profile to his winner Holywell few years ago. He was 6th to Holly Bush Henry on his seasonal debut but was then beaten by the rapidly improving Louis Van Pouch at Aintree. He was then beaten by The Organist in the Ladbrokes Handicap race st Newbury. He is nicely weighted too and can improve on his last run. At 14-1/16-1 I wouldn’t put anyone off backing him and he might shorten too. Keep an eye on Paul Nichols runners as he likes a handicap winner ( 7 of his 9 winners at the last 5 Festivals have come in handicaps).
I have been keeping an eye all season on a race which has delivered so many winners for me. It’s the Silver Trophy at Chepstow where Court Minstrel beat Sam Spinner( one of the Fave for Stayers Hurdle) by 1/2 length. Louis Van Pouch was 6th in the race and not beaten too far. He then went to Aintree and won his race. The likes of Beer Goggles ( winner of Long Distance Hurdle next time ) and Holly Bush Henry ( won next time out) were all behind that day. He hasn’t run since that day and I reckon he has been saved for the race by Philip Hobbs who won race with Fingal Bay few years ago. This could be a plot in my opinion.
Sort it Out is another one with solid claims. He has ran in some solid races this season. He was well beaten by Footpad, Petit Mouchoir and Al Boum Photo in his first three runs this season. On his last start in the Pertemps qualifier he was unfancied at 40-1 but he wasn’t beaten far in 3rd. It was an eye catching run fir shrewd connections. Who Dares Wins ran in another qualifier when he was 3rd behind Bags Groove and is another who could be well handicapped. Of the others I think Calett Mad and Le Breuil could be interesting if they run here at decent odds.
Selection – Louis Van Pouch 10-1 & Forza Milan 14-1
2.50 Ryanair Chase
The Ryanair is run over 2m4f and has always been a very competitive race. The nature of the race is changing these days as we see more and more too class horses running. It’s nsinly due to the fact of the prize money increasing and it’s akso the feature race on Thursday. Twelve of the last 13 winners had won at Cheltenham before as had seven runners-up so previous course form is a prerequisite. It’s noteworthy how well front runners have done in this race over the years.
This has been a race totally dominated by the big stables. Willie Mullins won it last 2 years with Un De Sceaux and Vautour. Paul Nichols, David Pipe, Nicky Henderson and Jonjo O’Neil have all won it twice too. The key trial of this race has been the King George Chase which has produced 7 of the last 10 Grade 1 winners. The Betvictor Gold Cup and Ascot Chase have also featured 4 winners each.
Un De Sceaux heads the betting and is the defending champion. He has only been beaten once in his last 6 starts and that was at Punchestown at the end of season when Fox Norton won the Champion Chase over in Ireland. He made his seasonal debut in the Grade 2 at Cork and it was just a warming up exercise that day. He then made history at Ascot when he won the Clarence House for the 3rd time. He was brilliant that day and tracked leader till 3 out to then win going away. He traveled supremely well throughout and we saw a more mature horse these days. He attacks his fences brilliantly and it will take a very good horse to beat him again this year. The ground conditions will suit him and the more rain the better.
Waiting Patiently is one of my favourite horses in training but so far we don’t know if connections decide to run him in this race. He is unbeaten in his last 7 races. He only had 3 races this season and everyone he had been a joy to watch jumping those fences. He won easily at Carlisle despite giving a lot of weight away. He then won the Listed race at Kempton in January. His finest hour came when he won the Grade 1 Betfair Ascot Chase. He was patiently ridden at the back but was always travelling well. He jumped brilliantly throughout bar one mistake at the 6th. He went to challenge at the last and won going away repelling the challenge of a vaillant Vhe Card. That was breathtaking to see and it was one of the best races we have seen this season. If he lives up here then he will be a big danger to Un De Sceaux. Only slight concern is that he doesn’t have course form but he is a classy animal. (Non Runner)
Cue Card wasn’t disgraced in race too as he was ridden prominently in race but beaten by a younger horse on the day. He fell on his seasonal debut in the Charlie Chase Hall that Bristol De Mai won. He lost his crown in the Betfair Chase when he was comprehensively beaten by Bristol De Mai. He was then given a break and a drop in trip at Ascot told us that there was still life in the old Champion at the age of 12. I can’t see him winning but at 8/10-1 he represents some each way value.
Balko Des Flos is another one in race with a decent chance. He won the Galway Plate in the summer. He was then second to A Toi Phil in the Grade 2 Champion Chase at Gowran Park. He made a mistake 3 out that day which eventually cost him the race. He then ran a mighty race over Xmas in the Christmas Chase over 3 Miles won by Road to Respect. He is a sound jumper but is prone to the odd mistake when under pressure. He stays on strongly in his races which could help him if the race becomes a tactical one.
Little Top Notch runs in this race too but he was disappointing on his last start at Ascot when he was soundly beaten. Before that he won the Peterborough Chase and the Grade 2 Christy 1965 race at Ascot. He was simply brilliant with his jumping at Ascot. He travelled powerfully throughout and jumped his rivals into submission. The 3rd that day Frodon is no slouch as he demolished a good fiend at Cheltenham in January. He did reverse the form in the Ascot Chase though. I can’t see Top Notch win this race but he had place claims if he puts his best foot forward and is 100% on the day. Of the others I can’t see Min, Douvan or Yorkhill run in this race so we might have a small field next week.(Non Runner)
For the winner I will stick with Un De Sceaux who I have backed at 7-2 to win any race Ante post.
Selection– Un De Sceaux (7-2 /4-1 Ante Post )
3.30 Sun Bets Stayers Hurdle
This is one of the four Championship races of the festival. You tend to get 2 types of winner in this race. The most common one is a horse that has a virtually unblemished record in the main graded 3m conditions hurdles. The second type is a class act at much shorter trips stepping up for the first time to 3m. Horses unbeaten over hurdles have a strong record. In the last decade,21 horses that were unbeaten have lined up on race and 7 have won. Eight of the last 14 runnings have seen the first five in the betting provide the 1-2-3. In recent years the Long Distance Hurdle over 3 m at Newbury has been the key trial producing 7 of the last 11 winners. Beer Goggles was the shock winner this year at 40-1. The Cleeve Hurdle ( Agrapart won this season) has produced 6 winners too.
Supasundae was 2nd to Apples Jade in the Christmas Hurdle over Xmas and this could be seen as the Irish trial for this race. He is at the top of the betting and he won the Irish Champion Hurdle over 2miles on his last start. It was a very good performance over that distance and he stayed on strongly at the end to repel the challenge of Faugheen. In the Hattons Grace he finished 3rd behind Nichols Canyon the defending champion and Apples Jade who destroyed the field. He won the Coral Cup at the festival last year and then got beat by a length by Yanworth in the Liverpool Hurdle. He travels well in most of his races and he is a good jumper too.
Yanworth is a fascinating entry as he has been campaigned over fences all season. He won 2 Mickey Mouse races at Exeter before he got well beaten by Willoughby Court at Newbury. He got his revenge at Cheltenham but he was receiving 5lb that day. He will be among one of the leading contenders but I don’t think I would want to back him at 4-1 right now. He has a touch of class about him when on song but he has been beaten twice at short odds at Cheltenham in last 2 years.
Sam Spinner has been a revelation this season and is the new kid on the block. He ran really well when second to Court Minstrel on his seasonal debut by going down by a neck in the Silver Trophy at Chepstow. He then destroyed the opposition in the Stayers Hurdle race at Haydock that was run on heavy ground. He jumped with enthusiasm that day on ground he relished. The 2nd that day The Dutchman went on to win the Peter Marsh at sane track later on.
He was then sent to Ascot and he won the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle. He showed a really good attitude that day and jumped fluently. He stayed on gamely to fend off L’Ami Serge with Unowhatimeanharry a further 10 lengths behind. I can’t see him out of the places and he is a serious contender in race. Only slight concern is he has no course form. But he will relish the conditions and the more rain the better for one of the horses that we followed this season.
Penhill hasn’t been since since last year when he finished 2nd to Champagne Classic at Pumchestown. Before that he won the Albert Bartlett race by beating Monalee and Wholestone. It will be another tremendous training performance if Willie can get him to win this. He represents decent value for each way backers.
The New One won the Welsh Champion Hurdle on his seasonal debut and was then beaten in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham. He then finished 2nd to My Tent or Yours and Buveur D’air over Xmas. But he won the Champion Hurdle trial once again at Haydock last time. They have decided to run him here and I think he could be competitive in a wide open race.
The same can be said about L’Ami Serge. He was 2nd behind Sam Spinner and Lil Rockerfeller at Ascot. On his last start he was 3rd to Wakanda in the Sky Bet Listed race. He seems to find one too good everyone and once headed he doesnt like to get past them for some reason. I will give him an each way chance in race.
Unowhatimeanharry has been a disappointment in his last 2 races when he was well beaten by Beer Goggles and Sam Spinner. He doesn’t seem to be like the cash machine he was for us last year. He doesn’t seem to find much under pressure and looks like his turn of foot has gone too. He was like 6-4 for this race last year and he is now around 12–1. He has small place claims.
The other horse in race that can get placed at big odds is one of our favourites in Wholestone. He is a bit of a Cheltenham specialist this horse and he won there on New Years Day by beating Agrapart and Colin’s sister in the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle. In the Cleeve Hurdle Agrapart reversed the form and he was 3 lengths behind but he ran his usual good race but was beaten by the better horse on the day. He didn’t fire in at Newbury in the Long Distance Hurdle. I think he is well overpriced at 16-1 in the race considering his Cheltenham course record. He could well cause a small upset it a few at the top of the market have an off day.
Selection – Sam Spinner 5-1 & Penhill 14-1
4.10 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase
This is one of the trickiest handicap races in the festival and one that hasn’t been too kind to punters in recent years. It’s a big lottery race and you need some luck in running too.14 winners have been sent off at 20-1 or bigger in the last 30 years. Of the 17 renewals, 6 have been won by horses in their 3rd season over fences,2 by horses in their 4th and one by a horse in its 5th. In other words the we need to look for an experienced horse over fences.
Look out for French bred horses in race as they have a great record having been successful on 7 occasions since 1999 and they had 11 runner up positions when they have not won. Five of the last 22 winners were novices as were seven of the last 16 runners up. This is a good race to follow some trainers as they like to target this race. David Pipe and Martin Pipe have won 7 of the last 2 renewals.
David Pipe’s three wins have been in the last eight years and he has saddled the 2nd and 3rd in the last three years too. Try to look at horses that have been off the track for a while.Venetia Williams also has an outstanding record in race. She won it three times and had 6 other places horses from 21 runners. Most of her winners tend to go off at big prices too so it’s worth paying attention to what she runs here. Henderson also does well in race having won it four times while Paul Nicholls had only 3 places horses from 28 runners so far. Few horses on my radar in this race – Tully East ( our Close Brothers winner last year) Kings Sock, Movewiththetimes,Mister Whittaker.
Selection – Tully East 8-1, Last Goodbye 12-1, Kings Odyssey 18-1
4.50 Trull House Stud Mares Novices Hurdle
This will be the 3rd time this race will be run at the festival and it could be another winner for Willie Mullins horses after Let’s Dance and Limini won in previous years. Laurina heads the betting this year and she has been so impressive. She won her maiden at Tranmore by 15 lengths. She was then sent to Fairyhouse and she bolted up in the Grade 3 Solerina. That’s when she catapulted herself into a very short priced Ante post favourite for this race. The 2nd that day Alletrix finished 12 lengths behind but went on to win a Graded race at Leopardstown during the Dublin Racing Festival. The 5th, Meri Devie won the Listed Quevega Mares Hurdle at Punchestown on her next start. The form is solid and Laurina has an outstanding chance to win next week. She is visually a strong mare and travels supremely well in her races. This is going to be one of the bankers of the festival and I can’t see her getting beat bar accident.
Her main challenger will be Maria’s Benefit. She has been a model of consistency this season and has won her last 5 races. She was beaten in her seasonal debut at Worcester but then racked up a sequence of victories. She won the Listed race for us at Taunton when landing a big gamble. She was sensational that day and won by 30 lengths. Her last win came at Doncaster in the Grade 2 Yorkshire Rose Mares Hurdle race. This is when she showed her battling qualities. She led all the way before being picked by Irish Roe at the final fence. She was headed but rallied gamely at the end to get on top. I like those type of horses with such attitude and she rages a good each way bet or one w/o.
I don’t know if Countister will run here for Henderson but she is another good mare. She has won 2 of her 3 races this season with her only defeat coming at the hands of Cap Soleil at Newbury. She will have deceht place claims if she takes her engagement here. For the winner though I will stick with Laurina and I think she is a good thing.
Selection – Laurina 6-5/5-4 ( few quid on Salsaretta 16-1 too)
5.30 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Amateur Riders Handicap Chase
This race is the only one reserved for amateurs riding in a handicap. It’s another lottery race with a big field. It pays to look out for the top amateurs who normally get on the best handicapped horses. Jamie Codd has an outstanding record in race having won 4 ( twice for David Pipe including the 16-1 for ya on The Package) of the last 9 renewals. Derek O’Connor ( 3 times runner up) and Nina Carberry( finished in first 5 in 8 of her 11 rides) have hit the crossbar a few times recently. It’s more a race won by jockeys rather than horse. In fact 30 of the last 34 win and place positions were filled by non claiming amateurs as were ten of the last 12 winners.
Headgear is also important as it is in the Ultima. 6 of the last 7 winners have spotted headgear. Festival form has little impact in this race at the beginning as 7 of the first 10 winners had never run at Cheltenham before. But 6 of the 9 New Course renewals had run at the festival before. David Pipe has won 2 of the last 7 renewals ( do take note of his horses coming here after a break of over 3 months) while Nicky Henderson has won 3 of them but last one was way back in 2005.
Gordon Elliot struck with his Cause Of Causes 2 years ago but he had 2 seconds and a third in the previous three years before he won it. It looks like Mall Dini will be running here instead of the 4 miler and if he does then he has a very good chance. He has been campaigned all season to peak at Cheltenham just like when he won the Pertemps here in 2016. Other horses on my radar are – Missed Approach, Barney Dwan.
Selection -Missed Approach 12-1 & Aubusson 25-1 (5 places with few bookies)