Here we go again…
Supreme Novices. The Cheltenham Roar goes up. And another Willie Mullins-trained, Rich Ricci hotpot primed for victory in the traditional curtain raiser at the Festival. Getabird might well follow in the footsteps of Vautour and Douvan yet hardly represents any kind of value at a best priced 13/8. One for the first day accumulators perhaps. That said, this doesn’t look a particularly strong renewal and the potential field has thinned out considerably, notably the absence of the Harry Fry trained If The Cap Fits. While Kalashnikov and Summerville Boy both have place claims in the interests of pursuing genuine each way value, I want to look at some longer priced alternatives.
Claimantakinforgan has Cheltenham form in the book and every chance of bouncing back from a surprise defeat at Musselburgh. At 16/1 I wouldn’t be deterred, yet by a similar benchmark, Slate House might be worth chancing at 33/1. A winner over course and distance earlier in the season on ground similar to what can be expected a week on Tuesday, he ran poorly in heavy going over further at a time when the Tizzard horses were firing blanks. He’s every chance of bouncing back from that and running into a place.
Recommend: Slate House 1pt EW 33/1
Arkle Chase. A strong renewal and a clear ‘big five’ to assess. In reverse order to the market, Brain Power threatens to continually underachieve over fences though Henderson remains ever optimistic reminding punters recently that his charge was the best of these over hurdles. He’s too unpredictable for me though if there’s 8 runners come the day, I’d suggest double figures would be fair value for an each-way punt. Sceau Royal has put some solid performances in but one senses he’s not really a horse for the Festival and though expected to run his race will find at least one too good. Saint Calvados is the enigma, visually impressive at Warwick and likely the main cause of concern for the Irish duo at the head of the market. I’m keen on this exciting prospect as a solid each-way option at 9/2. Footpad and Petit Mouchoir are clearly closely matched on all known form. The latter slightly the better hurdler has had an interrupted season and the Willie Mullins favourite edges the vote with his greater chasing experience expected to yield a slight advantage when jumping is put under the intense pressure of an Arkle contest. Footpad is a worthy favourite but on the drift as a I write and current advice is to sit tight on that front.
Recommend: Saint Calvados 3pts EW 9/2 (NAP)
Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase. Singlefarmpayment looks solid place material near the head of the market though a type that will always find one too good. In a race that has been won by increasingly classy sorts there’s no harm in looking to the top of the weights. American, if he follows this route, would have every chance on his Cotswold Chase performance but Gold Present looks highly progressive under Nicky Henderson and the likely favourite seems a good thing. Beyond this, Gordon Elliot’s The Storyteller is going to be a threat in whichever race turns up in though that still remains unclear. Nicely handicapped and one suspects has been primed for Festival handicapping duties. At bigger odds, The Young Master has dropped to a dangerous handicap mark but looks more likely to turn up in the Kim Muir.
Recommend: Gold Present 2pts EW 10/1 (NB)
Champion Hurdle. Buveur D’Air hasn’t broken sweat so far this season and looks set to retain his title in a poor 2m championship hurdle race. However, at 4/7 I wouldn’t be rushing to back a horse that hasn’t had to dig deep for a long time. Not when a return to top form from either Faugheen or Yorkhill would equate to some serious resistance. It’s unlikely, granted and Yorkhill has looked a finished horse this season but he’s been pretty imperious at the last two festivals and retains a serious engine. Melon has looked just short of top class, ever since finishing runner up in last year’s Supreme Novices but is probably worth an each-way bet at 16/1. It’s a bigger return than the odds-on available for Buveur D’Air and realistically, in a race that might yet cut up further, decent value if we put a line through his latest run.
Recommend: Melon 1pt EW 16/1
Mares’ Hurdle. Apple’s Jade would have every chance of winning either the Champion Hurdle or Stayer’s Hurdle if she turned up and can preserve her formidable reputation with another win here in the face of some stiff competition from Willie Mullins and Rich Ricci. Vroum Vroum Mag and Let’s Dance are both fine horses in their own right but will come up slightly short. However, the unexposed Benie Des Dieux could yet be anything and is worth putting up as a decent each-way alternative bet.
Recommend: Benie Des Dieux 2pts EW 8/1
National Hunt Chase. It’s still slightly unclear who might turn up in this race but it’s easy to see why Dounikos has been very popular in the market in recent weeks with his staying on fourth position behind Monalee at Leopardstown the best form on offer. We haven’t seen much of Fagan this season but his second place in the Albert Bartlett a couple of years ago validates credentials here and at 16/1 could represent value.
Recommend: Dounikos 2pts EW 7/1
Close Brothers Novice Handicap Chase
De Plotting Shed is a clear handicap blot but value-wise, that ship has sailed. A now best priced 6/1 in a big handicap field with so many variables involved, doesn’t immediately strike as being of particular value. Any Second Now also appears to have got in light and having ran well behind the likes of Footpad this season, feels much more like it at 14/1 to end the day with a win for the McManus colours.
Recommend: Any Second Now 2pts EW 14/1 (IWAC)
Day One Accumulator: Buveur D’Air & Apple’s Jade 10pts at 2.62
Ballymore Novices Hurdle
One word. Samcro.
This is the race where it’s time to bet like men. On The Blind Side has done little wrong and also has CD form to his name – and proven on the expected going but Gordon Elliott’s superstar in waiting is impossible to impose. A completed round will surely see him come home in front.
Recommend: Samcro 10pts WIN 4/5 (NAP)
This could be a difficult day for the bookmakers because Presenting Percy is another favourite I can get on board with here at a better price than might be expected of a horse who went toe to toe with Gold Cup contender, Our Duke, last time out. He could yet go off at less than 2/1 on the day. Monalee is a worthy adversary but at time of writing, could yet be rerouted to the JLT. Out of the other contenders, Al Boum Photo also has a similar question hanging over where he is heading. However, with 10/1 NRNB still available, this might represent a better punting alternative to Monalee who is short enough.
Recommend: Presenting Percy 5pts WIN 11/4 (NB)
What looked like potentially a damp squib earlier in the season could yet prove to be one of the races of the Festival. Altior’s impressive seasonal reappearance was a huge relief for lovers of the great game. We need the best horses at the Cheltenham Festival and Altior is one of, if not, the best horses in training right now. And a worthy favourite here at a best-priced 8/11.
However, if Douvan can make his long-awaited reappearance we could be in for a classic battle royale up the hill. His performance in last year’s renewal was nowhere near his running and punters shouldn’t forget that Douvan went into that Festival as the hottest horse in training. Make no mistake, a fully wound up Douvan – something we know Willie Mullins is capable of achieving next week – will be serving it up to Altior on the turn for home. However, that remains a significant if and on all known form this season, it’s actually Douvan’s stablemate, Min who represents the biggest challenge to Altior. The rest are racing for minor honours. Politologue has had a fine season but was put firmly in his place the last day. Given the doubts over Douvan even turning up, I prefer the value of backing Min in the without Altior market at 5/4.
Recommend: Min (w/o Altior) 5pts WIN – 5/4
Cross Country Chase
This should turn into a contest between last season’s National Hunt winner Tiger Roll and Festival lover, Cause Of Causes, who won this race last year and then went on to run a fine second in the Grand National. With no form in the book this year – though clearly laid out for this time of year – I’m opting for the former at current prices. With other Cross Country specialists like Josie’s Orders and Cantlow ready to pounce on any errors from the main protagonists, it looks like a small stakes affair.
Recommend: Tiger Roll 2pts EW 6/1 (IWAC)
Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
Mitchouka is a strong Irish contender and though likely to carry close to top weight comes to the Festival with more experience than most of his rivals, rarely runs a bad race and seems set to be competitive. Current favourite Act of Valour was a decent performer on the level and ran very well behind We Have A Dream last time out at Musselburgh. The best form on offer and I wouldn’t put anyone off backing this horse. His trainer, Paul Nicholls has a solid recent record in this race but five of the last six winners have been priced at 25/1 or more so that is where we shall go looking for better value. Having trained last year’s winner, Nick Williams has a strong hand again this time round. Esprit De Somoza is close to the head of the market and has every chance but I like the look of Mercenaire who doesn’t have much to find with the favourite on a form line through We Have A Dream. Hold on for five (or even six) places on the day and back this horse at treble the price, in receipt of 1lb.
Recommend: Mercenaire 1pt EW 25/1
A typically competitive renewal and Willie Mullins leads the Irish charge with the two at the top of the market. The last three winners have all been 7/1 or less so there’s no reason not to make this a straight choice between Hollowgraphic and Blackbow – the pair extremely difficult to split. Acey Milan has impressed this season and though the 4yo has a weight for age allowance to help matters, his age group have a poor record in this race. Only Cue Card has done so in the last 20 years. Felix Desjy has plenty to find but is unbeaten, represents last year’s winning trainer Gordon Elliott and can outrun his current odds of 20/1.
Recommend: Felix Desjy 1pt EW 20/1
JLT Novices Chase
A contest that has been blown wide open by absentees, most recently the favourite Willoughby Court. It leaves a relatively weak field, especially if Monalee and Al Boum Photo head for the RSA. Invitation Only heads the market but looks beatable and short enough to not even justify and each way play. Finians Oscar is hugely talented but appears to have been campaigned poorly by the Tizzards and is difficult to back with any confidence after a shocking return to hurdling last time out. One I’ve liked since his British debut is Terrefort who is a decent price at 12/1 for connections who’ve done well in this race in recent years with the likes of Top Notch and Bristol de Mai. The recent snow and predicted rainfall might yet play into his hands. One other horse that catches the eye from a value perspective is Kemboy who ran well at the Festival behind Willoughby Court 12 months ago and should outrun odds of 25/1
Recommend: Kemboy 1pt EW 25/1, Terrefort 2pts EW 12/1
Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle
A case could be made for many in this wide open contest yet I’m prepared to take the hint that Gigginstown run just one horse, the Gordon Elliott trained, Delta Work. Five year olds have a terrible record in this race often best suited to horses with more experience but Delta Work has been running behind the likes of Samcro and Total Recall with huge credit this season. He won a maiden hurdle in 2017 on good ground by 20 lengths so the ground holds no fears and expect vast improvement come next Thursday.
Recommend: Delta Work 2pts EW 16/1
Sadly, another race that promised so much only a few months ago but poor recent performances from Top Notch and Coney Island as well as Disko and Fox Norton being ruled out of the Festival have left it looking slightly threadbare. That said, there’s still some real quality on show. Un De Sceaux is quite rightly favourite – a couple of impressive performances this season have given no hint that the 10yo is past his peak. However, I’m not convinced that Cheltenham brings out his best and last year’s renewal was definitely sub-standard. It’s most likely he’ll need to do more to fend off the hugely talented Waiting Patiently who has come to prominence in the market after a destructive performance at Ascot where he took a high class field apart. He’s got form on good to soft and is the one to beat. Balko Des Flos can run into the places and betting aside the roof will come off the Guinness Grandstand if Cue Card can dig out one last famous victory.
Recommend: Waiting Patiently 5pts WIN 4/1 (NAP)
I think this looks a cracker of a race. Lots of different form lines coming together. Horses we haven’t seen for a while, others we’ve seen chasing and some we’ve seen racing over much shorter. A case could be made for any of Supasundae, Yanworth, Sam Spinner, Penhill, The New One, L’Ami Serge, Bacardys, Uknowhatimeanharry, Wholestone and The Worlds End to run into the three places but perhaps it’s the first five named who actually have a chance of winning here.
It would be a result to put smiles on faces if The New One does indeed stay 3m and runs them into the ground from a mile out. He’s always looked a hurdler that has got better the further he travelled and often got done for toe in his Champion Hurdle efforts earlier in his career. His form has been good this season and I’d be surprised if he didn’t offer value at 12/1. Yanworth has a similar profile in terms of his hurdling ability and looked better than ever when stepped upto 3m at Aintree last season where he saw off Supasundae (now favourite for this race). His chasing campaign this season complicates the plot and having never looked like he’s enjoyed jumping a fence, it’s the smart move to divert him here. Penhill is very much the unknown quantity having sprung a surprise 12 months ago in the Albert Bartlett. Not seen since but that course form is clearly a huge plus. Supasundae put Faugheen to the sword over much shorter last time out and is definitely a worthy favourite if he stays 3m at Cheltenham which clearly demands more than Aintree where he was outbattled. The one horse who comes into Cheltenham with less questions over form, recent experience and ability to stay is Sam Spinner. He’s never been out of the first two in his nine career starts and one suspects there is more to come. I think 5/1 is fair and he’s the one I’d pick out.
Recommend: Sam Spinner 3pts EW 5/1
Brown Advisory Plate
A typically competitive Festival handicap. David Pipe has won this race three times in the last eight years and appears to have another potential winner in the shape of Kings Socks who might have got in lightly here. He’s been well backed. Tully East was a winner at the Festival 12 months ago and will be a different animal on better ground than what he’s shown this season. The Paul Nicholls duo of Bouvreuil and Romain De Senam won’t be far away and represent value at 20/1 and 16/1 respectively. The former has finished 2-2-3 at the last three festivals and is 3lb better off than his run behind Road To Respect last year. That’s good enough for me to justify an each-way punt at such a price. But it’s Romain De Senam who catches the eye and has clearly been laid out for this by a trainer who is likely focussing efforts on the big handicaps given his lack of graded quality. He ran like a progressive horse on good ground in the Autumn but has dropped down the weights since. Expect a big run if the ground dries out. The Storyteller completes the shortlist if he heads here.
Recommend: Bouvreuil 1pts EW 20/1, Romain De Senam 2pts EW 16/1 (IWAC)
Mares’ Novice Hurdle
This race looks straightforward on paper and hot favourite, Laurina looks like she can maintain Willie Mullins dominance of this recent addition to the Festival, following in the footsteps of Limini and Let’s Dance. In terms of opposition, Maria’s Benefit has done little wrong notching up a five win sequence and was super gutsy last time out. The other Mullins mare, Salsaretta hasn’t been seen on these shores and despite some positive vibes can’t really be backed with any confidence. She’s not much value but I’d be backing Laurina with some confidence, perhaps in a multi-day accumulator.
Recommend: Laurina 10pts WIN Evens (NB)
Kim Muir Challenge Cup
Set to be another wide open handicap contest but if you ignore last year’s surprise 40/1 winner, the previous 10 renewals all saw winners priced sub-16/1 so I’ll focus on the head of the market and look at two others at slightly longer odds. Out of the two market principles, I much prefer the chances of Mall Dini who ran well in this race 12 months ago. With that experience under the belt a clear round should ensure he is there at the finish again. 7/1 is pretty miserly though and doesn’t strike me as particularly good value in a slog of a handicap with so many variables.
Sugar Baron for Nicky Henderson is a real stayer and having finished sixth beind Mall Dini in 2017 could find more this time round. At 16/1 he is comparatively good value though a few pounds worse off.
But it’s another Paul Nicholls horse, Braqueur D’Or who I fancy to run a huge race. It’s hard to ignore his Hennessy form, finishing 4th off a 2lb higher mark. He’s been freshened up and is good bet at 25/1
The Young Master has dropped to a dangerous mark of 139. Sixth in the Ultima 12 months ago off 150, he’s run well enough in defeat this season behind the likes of Fountains Windfall and Blaklion to think he has been prepped for this.
Recommend: Braqueur D’Or 1pt EW 25/1, The Young Master 1pt EW 25/1
Four of the last five winners have been 9/2 or shorter and it’s unlikely we need to look too far beyond those vying for favouritism at the head of the market. Apple’s Shakira is unbeaten, has winning course form and has looked good on and off the bridle, finding plenty last time. She is just about a worthy favourite but hasn’t beaten an awful lot so far and faces a stiff challenge here, especially from Ireland. Willie Mullins sends Mr Adjudicator who brings the leading Irish form to the table and the much vaunted Stormy Ireland, who quite frankly could be anything after a demolition job on her sole racecourse experience. Farclas wasn’t far behind Mr Adjudicator at Leopardstown and could easily reverse that on different going. Alan King’s Redicean has looked very speedy but having run all three races at Kempton, you’d have to hope he’ll adapt to going left handed and handling Cheltenham. He’s short enough – best priced 9/2 – to be worried about that but certainly has every chance. Unbeaten in four races over hurdles this season, We Have A Dream hasn’t been particularly popular in the market and might well be Nicky Henderson’s second best chance of winning here but the 10/1 does appeal as pound for pound the best value of the leading contenders. I’d suggest a small each way play in the opener of the final day. It’s a tough race to call as so many of these are open to considerable progress and have hardly been seen to best effect so far.
Recommend: We Have A Dream 1pt EW 10/1
The County Hurdle
An ultra-competitive, high class handicap hurdle, usually involving the best horses that aren’t quite upto Champion Hurdle standard. Last year, the classy Arctic Fire returned from 418 days off the track and stormed home under top weight. It’s unlikely we’ll see one as good this time round but do expect another strong showing from the Irish.
Rich Ricci has been bullish about the chances of favourite, Max Dynamite but 8/1 is short enough for Willie Mullins to follow up last year’s win. Flying Tiger won the Fred Winter in 2017 and has got in here off a nice weight. Recent money has seen him drop to 14/1 which still represents decent value. Divin Bere hasn’t had the best of campaigns but it’s extremely difficult to ignore last Spring’s form given his revised mark of 141. At 33/1, he’s worth giving another chance, especially if that prices holds out on the day of the race and bookies are offering upto 6 places. Good ground essential for the Nicholls runner.
However, one suspects that it could well be the colours of JP McManus coming home in first place here. Charli Parcs has yet to live upto a tall reputation since hosing up on his British debut and though one suspects he has a huge performance in the locker at some point, there’s no form in the book yet to suggest he can get competitive here. Unlike Tigris River and Ivanovich Gorbatov (Triumph Hurdle winner two years ago) who both head to the Festival on the back of a sequence of poor runs but with previous form that would ordinarily have them vying for favouritism. It would be no surprise if both hadn’t been targeted at this race for sometime. I’m advocating a small each way punt on the pair as their merits are hard to ignore, yet difficult to split.
Recommend: Tigris River 1pt EW 25/1 & Ivanovich Gorbatov 1pt EW 20/1
Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
This race suffered a blow a couple of days ago when favourite Cracking Smart was ruled out by trainer Gordon Elliott but there’s still a few nice horses expected to turn up and it should be an interesting betting heat. Bear in mind the last four winners have gone off 16/1, 11/1, 14/1 and 33/1. It’s always a tricky contest and can prove a demanding slog for these novice hurdlers. Next Destination is the obvious market leader, representing Willie Mullins, having run well in the Champion Bumper in 2017 and currently unbeaten over hurdles. Nothing unattractive about the 7/1 still available in a place. It’s unclear where his stablemate Duc Des Genievres is heading but at a similar price it looks like there is much more to come over this longer distance. Chriss Dream has been a massive market mover in recent days. Lightly raced but hacked up over 3m the last day by nearly 60 lengths in heavy going. Should stay and should go well. Nicky Henderson also has a strong hand with Santini, who’s looked a real horse so far on a couple of appearances and Chef Des Obeaux who will need to reverse form. The former might yet go off favourite with winning course form in the book and has beaten some useful yardsticks.
The race has further depth and the likes of Black Op, Red River, Poetic Rhythm and Vinndication could all pose a real threat if they run but if choosing one at the prices, we’ll go for the Henry De Bromhead trained Chriss Dream who made a couple of decent enough horses look ordinary at Clonmel.
Recommend: Chriss Dream 2pts EW 12/1
Cheltenham Gold Cup
It’s showtime. And what a race in store this year. Despite staying chasers losing some great horses over the past couple of seasons and others being restricted by injuries this is still a fascinating and potentially vintage renewal.
I’ll start with the reigning champ, Sizing John, who looked impregnable prior to his dismal run at Christmas. Put a line through that and he’s surely the one to beat. Proven over course and distance, followed up with two more victories and aside from the last performance, it’s only really trends that counts against him. It’s just very difficult to retain a Cheltenham Gold Cup. Unlike last year, Native River has been campaigned with this race solely in mind. It looked to have worked a treat on his seasonal reappearance when he bolted up. A fresher horse and a huge danger to everyone, especially if it turns into a slog. Our Duke has a similar profile and is all guts and stamina. Again, similar to his stablemate, he had a setback with a woeful seasonal debut but had some minor surgery and has gradually returned to form – beating Presenting Percy the last day and conceding weight. That looks good form and Our Duke looks to be coming good at the right time of year. Killultagh Vic undoubtedly possesses loads of ability but appears quite error-prone and there’ll be no such forgiveness in the quality of this heat. He is a class act though and a clear round will see him not too far away.
Definitely Red is the dark horse of the race having crept into the contenders spotlight courtesy of a fine performance in a muddy Cotswold Chase. Similar here and he’s in with a chance though potentially just lacks that bit of extra class and acceleration.
For all the arguments around the above, I think it’s going to boil down to two horses. One representing Gigginstown who has improved in leaps and bounds since winning the Brown Advisory Plate 12 months ago, when hardly fancied even for that handicap race. Road To Respect has since finished ahead of many of his rivals here, such as Sizing John, Our Duke and Minella Rocco. He seems to be still improving, clearly enjoys Cheltenham and rarely runs a bad race having finished in the first two places in each of his last seven races. He’s been kept fresh for this race since a fine win in the Leopardstown Christmas Chase.
But it takes a real class horse to win a Cheltenham Gold Cup and though sloggers and stayers like Our Duke and Native River might come into their own if there’s a bit of cut in the ground, Might Bite is the one they all have to fear and the King George winner is quite rightly favourite. He won the RSA 12 months ago so has two excellent trials wins to his name and if he can tame the quirkiness and last the extra 3 furlongs or so of a Gold Cup, his sheer cruising speed will likely have them all at turning for home. If De Boinville holds it together than we could see something really special next Friday.
Recommend: Might Bite 5pts 4/1
Paul Nicholls had a 1-2 in this race last year with Pacha Du Polder and Wonderful Charm who both reoppose this time round. He rates the latter his best bet of the festival. At 6/1 we can take the hint and bet each way. The favourite, Burning Ambition has been tearing up trees on the Irish PTP circuit but came unstuck against the classy Gilgamboa last time. He won’t face anything as tough here mind. On The Fringe won this race in 2015 and 2016 but dropped to 5th last year and at 13yo is likely on the decline. He shouldn’t be far away and is worth a punt at best-priced 20/1, though you have to go back to 2004 to find a winner at such an age. Foxrock was a classy chaser and on a formline through Gilgamboa is closely matched with the favourite. And good old Felix Yonger, who has won a couple of PTPs in Ireland certainly has the class here to be competitive if he can recapture the kind of form that saw him chase home Simonsig on his inaugural Cheltenham appearance – then go off favourite for the JLT two years later.
Recommend: Wonderful Charm 2pts EW 6/1
The finale of the Cheltenham Festival is always a fantastic race. Like the County earlier in the day, it suits the best 2m chasers not quite upto Champion Chase standard. Step forward this year, Vaniteux and Forest Bihan as two classy horses who both go on the shortlist but might just be anchored by too much weight. I’d expect at least one of them to run into the places. Theinval ran a cracker in this race 12 months and it’s hard to imagine he’ll be far away at the finish. Probably the most solid each way bet on offer at 11/1.
Don’t Touch It was a very good graded performer and makes a lot of appeal in this contest. Most likely laid out for the race all season, he could be another classic McManus plot job and I’d be getting involved at the best price 12/1
At bigger odds, Foxtail Hill appeals. He went off as a 6/1 favourite in the Novices Handicap Chase last year and has since run two really good races at Cheltenham, winning (beating Le Prezien) and finishing runner up on good ground. Some poorer runs since have kept his weight down and price up. Back to his best, he should prove a snip at 25/1 and is worth a small play indeed.
Recommend: Don’t Touch It 2pts EW 12/1 & Foxtail Hill 1pt EW 25/1