CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL THURSDAY (DAY 3) – WORLD HURDLE DAY
13:30 JLT Novices Chase
It’s hard to believe that we have reached the first race on Day Three of the Festival.
We start with yet another Willie Mullins Hotpot in the form of Vautour. Last years supreme novices winner has a couple of wins under his belt but they sandwiched a below par run over Christmas when he was beaten by Clarcam, who went on to run below par in the Arkle on Tuesday.
He is too short in the betting for me and as such I’m avoiding him.
Ptit Zig is another who was a very good hurdler and looked a smart chaser in the making. However he took a fall last time out which would really worry me and for that he is not the selection.
Off the outsiders The Tullow Tank could be value in his price. He put in a much improved performance last time out when getting a lot closer and showing much more enthusiasm for racing. He still has plenty too find but was a top hurdler and may still improve.
The key form too look at is the Drinmore and the Flo Gas from Ireland. The former has Valseur Lido ahead of Apache Stronghold, Noel Meade’s horse overturned that form next time under a classic Carberry ride.
In my opinion Apache Stronghold should confirm the form from the Flo Gas given he was consistently hampered in the Drinmore. He looks the most likely winner for me.
Apache Stronghold (WIN)
The Tullow Tank (E/W)
14:05 Pertemps Network Final
An extremely difficult race to pick out a confident winning selection with the average winner returning odds of around 20/1 and only one favourite winning in the last twelve years.
Edeymi looks likely to head the market and has seen his price plummet over the last few days. He has a strike rate of 37% for top three finishes but has only managed one win in sixteen attempts so at the current price I am happy to look elsewhere.
Run Ructions Run has only failed to finish in the top three in two of his thirteen career runs over hurdles. He has warmed up for this race with a respectable second at Haydock over three miles and was third over twenty five furlongs at Musselburgh two weeks before that. He looks to be arriving here in good form and with two wins in a row around this time last year could be primed for a great run here.
Last years’ Grand National winner Pineau De Re warmed up for that race by finishing third here and will no doubt prove popular with punters if he takes his place this time round. He has had a disappointing season so far but could show improvement here with a view to defending his Aintree crown.
Regal Encore won a qualifier at Exeter at the beginning of February so will arrive here in good form. He had the beating of a number of potential re-opposes including The Tourard Man, Big Easy and the aforementioned Pineau De Re but with the competitiveness of this race it would be no surprise to see any of them reverse the places here.
Big Easy is perhaps the biggest danger of these three. He is a previous course and distance winner and has placed in three of his last four races including a close second in the Fixed Brush Hurdle at Haydock in November, a race where three from the last six winners have placed previously.
Big Easy (E/W)
Run Ructions Run (E/W)
14:40 Ryanair Chase
The Ryanair has been called plenty of names in the past and is something of a marmite race with racing aficionado’s, there have been a couple of extremely high class winners though and although this renewal is undeniably a weak one, it will still take some winning. Don Cossack arrives here on the back of a solid effort when seemingly beginning to master final fence faller Champagne Fever at Thurles the last day. Before that he had readily beaten the likes of Wonderful Charm and Boston Bob and arrives here in tremendous form, surprisingly he can still be had at around 4/1 and many will be tempted to lump on. Taking on Gordon Elliot’s charge is extremely difficult but his fall here last season is a worry and whether he will have the race run to suit is open to question. Balder Succes has always struck me as a small field bully and has a Cheltenham record of two falls from two runs, the track aside he has only ever won once from eight attempts when taking on ten or more rivals. Ma Filluele has three and a bit lengths to find with Balder Succes on her last run, a reversal of form looks likely though and she has some good form around here. Nicky Henderson’s festival string have so far proved very disappointing but the ground will suit his mare here and she is feared tremendously if on song. Tarquin Du Seuil nailed Uxizandre late on in last seasons 2m 4f novice chase last season and both deserve respect, both arrive here out of sorts though and couldn’t be confidently selected. Hidden Cylone chased home the top class Dynaste in last seasons renewal and arrives here having trounced a decent field at Punchestown last time, he has every chance of going one better and is respected despite looking something of a hare for them all to chase. Johns Spirit loves Cheltenham and was desperately unlucky to be nailed on the line in the Paddy Power when last seen here, his run in the King George was a decent effort however and he can improve enough to run into the places late on. Foxrock only faded late on behind Gold Cup hopeful Carlingford Lough the last day and a reproduction could well be enough to take this. The concern for Ted Wash’s challenger is that a lot of the Irish staying chasers take turns at beating each other and whilst he must be respected, his usual tendency to clout one and his suspect form are enough to take him on. Wishful Thinking is another with suspect form, he is priced accordingly at a best priced 33/1 right now however and will relish the drying ground. Phillip Hobbs challenger generally jumps well and although a speculative selection, he has run some terrific races here and has a touch of class on his day.
Wishful Thinking (E/W)
Johns Spirit (E/W)
15:20 World Hurdle
The fourth race of the day, as with all four days at the festival, is the showpiece race. Today’s feature is the Ladbrokes World Hurdle.
In the past we have been spoilt with the likes of Big Bucks, Annie Power and More Of That and although it may seem cruel it’s fair enough to say that most people know this years renewal is very weak in comparison. Never the less the fact it is so open makes it a very good prospect indeed.
Cases can easily be made for half the field if not more.
I have been championing the case for David Pipe’s Un Temps Pour Tout since its last run here behind todays favourite Saphir Du Rheu. The horses form reads pretty well with wins over UK based horses even when it was running back in its native France. I was hoping the ground would be softer for the six year old French import but with the ground currently Good I fear it just won’t be happy on the quicker surface.
Touching on the favourite it has had a very mixed season with its foray into chasing not being too fruitful. If you were to tell me at the start of the season the horse would be lining up as favourite for the World Hurdle I’d have shook my head and thought you were crazy. However this is the situation we’re in and despite it being a very unlikely situation I think it has a good chance. The Nicholls team were flying yesterday and if that form continues then the six year old is bound to be up there. My only slight concern however is that most of the horses wins have come on soft or heavy ground with the exception of one that came on good to soft. I don’t think that is too big a negative and am pretty confident this one can at least place.
Of the remaining runners you can just throw a blanket over them and will blindly pick something and it’d still have a decent chance.
If Cheltenham regular At Fishers Cross was to recapture its best form then it would likely be near the head of the betting but I can’t be with a horse who had such a lacklustre run last time out and hasn’t won for a while.
Zarkandar is a consisten enough type but I think a current price of 6/1 is far too short.
I tipped up Whisper in our podcast and think it has a great each way chance but after seeing how poorly the Henderson yard’s runners have been the first few days I couldn’t be confident.
I’m opting for one of the Irish raiders as an each way selection and a case could easily be made for both Monksland and Dedigout but I am going to hope for a bit of a fairytale.
Lieutenant Colonel comes to Cheltenham with the hopes of a legend resting on its shoulders. The great Dessie Hughes trained this horse before unfortunately passing away and what a reception it’d get if the horse was to go out and win the big race today. Despite the great sentiment I still feel the youngster has a great chance. The jockey, Bryan Cooper is flying this week and will be full of confidence as are the owners Gigginstown. It’s finished in the top three in nine of its ten starts and finishes behind Faugheen and Vautour is nothing to worry about. The horse may have wanted softer ground but for once a small part of me is letting my heart rule my head and hope for an emotional win in this.
Saphir Du Rheu (E/W if 4/1+)
Lieutenant Colonel (E/W)
16:00 Festival Plate
With only one winning favourite in twenty eight years and five 25/1+ winners in the last twelve years this is an extremely tough nut to crack in terms of finding a confident winning selection.
Monetaire could be the one who bucks the trend in terms of stats. Seemingly a worthy favourite with a 50% strike rate over jumps, his last run was at the end of November but that was a confident win and he has proven to go well after a break so a three month absence holds no concerns. The Pipe yard have had great success in this race over the years which can only be seen as a positive too.
Buywise is a winner of two hurdle races this season but his only attempt over fences resulted in an awkward run and an unplaced finish. He is a proven winner over track and trip and has a strike rate in excess of 50% over fences so cannot be discounted but has looked more at home over hurdles this season so far and his likely price presents little value.
At a larger price Filbert is of interest, showing great determination to outbattle Tango De Juilley at Wincanton in January. He has never followed up on any of his other three career wins but has won on good, soft and heavy ground so can take advantage of any change in the conditions.
Nicky Henderson has won this race twice in the last ten years and sends course and distance winners Hunt Ball and Rajdhani Express to try to add to that record. Hunt Ball has perhaps the stronger profile with a 46% win record over twenty one furlongs and ran a respectable second over course and distance on New Years’ Day. A big concern would be that most of his wins came early in his career and he has now gone almost two years since his last win.
16:40 Kim Muir Challenge Cup
This race is for amateur jockeys and has proved to be another puzzle for punters to try and find a winner, although the bigger yards have had most success in recent years.
Gold Bullet is the early favourite and has won three from seven over jumps. The jockey booking of Derek O’Connor catches the eye but has so far failed to win over fences and this is a big step up in trip for the horse so there appears to be better alternatives.
Standing Ovation has only finished one of three races entered this season but managed a respectable second here at Cheltenham in the race he did finish. With a 50% win ratio over today’s trip he has to enter calculations.
Benbane Head is one of only two previous course and distance winners in the field, having won twice from four attempts here. Like Standing Ovation he has a bit of a point to prove having only finishing two from five races this season but has won and placed in the two races he finished so could be a major player if he makes it round.
Masters Hill contested the Albert Bartlett last year (finishing fifth) and arrives here on the back of a win and two seconds from his last three runs. He finished nine lengths clear of Just A Par in that last win although Just A Par is now 11lbs better off today.
Guess Again also has to enter the fray with a 100% win rate over today’s trip. He has won three from seven over fences and could prove to be a value punt at odds of around 20/1.
Benbane Head (E/W)
Guess Again (E/W)
todays selections from