CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL TUESDAY (DAY 1) – CHAMPION HURDLE DAY
13:30 Supreme Novices Hurdle
It’s finally time, the build up is finally over and the almighty roar is upon us as The Supreme Novices Hurdle kicks of the 2015 Cheltenham Festival.
As with a huge proportion of today’s races the field is headed by a Willie Mullins trained favourite. Douvan is a horse that has received nothing but praise which in itself is on another level considering the yard it represents. The horse is being talked as a potential Champion Hurdle winner for next year and it’s done nothing wrong in its last two winning outings. The Mullins stable have farmed this race for fun winning it the last two years. Everything points to this as a likely winner but I do have a few doubts. It could be argued that the horse hasn’t really beaten that much and despite the big amount of praise from connections it’s from the yard that also stated Kalkir was the horse that excited them most this year. Although the team have an unbelievable charge they do sometimes get it wrong and despite the favourite being the one to beat its price is far too short to back.
The second favourite is the horse I’m much more keen on and after a slow start to the season Nicky Henderson now has his team flying with a 45% strike rate in the last two weeks. He sends L’Ami Serge into battle here and with three impressive wins out of its last three starts it has to be taken seriously. My slight concern would be wether or not the horse can handle the quicker ground but it’s breeding suggests it shouldn’t be a concern and is definitely worth a punt.
Of the remaining runners I was a huge Jollyallan fan but was really disappointed with its last run and it cemented my choice to opt for L’Ami Serge.
Shaneshill is a classy horse and has festival form with a second placed finish in the bumper last season. Despite it not being the number one choice in its yard it’s certainly going to run it’s race and is the rival I fear the most.
I am going to opt for a second selection in the opening race as I was really taken with Qewy when it won last time out. It still looked very green that day but to me that just means it has far more room for improvement than most of its rivals. Despite its immaturity in its last run it still dominated a decent field on ground that probably didn’t suit. The better ground is a huge positive and the former John Oxx trained five year old may have slipped under the radar.
L’Ami Serge (E/W if 4/1+)
14.05 Arkle Challenge Trophy
The Racing Post Arkle over two miles sees the highly impressive and exciting Un De Sceaux make his first trip to Prestbury Park. Since he destroyed two very high regarded two mile chasers in Gilgamboa and Clarcam. The question with Willie Mullins horse is will he get too excited in the preliminaries and will he stand on his feet. He fell on chase debut at Thurles which was unsatisfactory but given he was out of shot at the time we can only really go on connections suggesting it was more a slip. I tend to agree with this thought process and the jockey was also suggesting it could be the best thing to happen to him. Un De Sceaux will have learned a lot from this experience and was nothing short of magic at Leopardstown in the Irish Arkle. However he is not really a betting prospect and the value lies in what will finish second/third to him.
Clarcam ticks a lot of these boxes given he may well have won, but at least have been involved in the Fred Winter last year, travelling strongly only to come down two out and break Coopers leg in the process. He does not get the weight allowances he received when handing an underperforming Vautour a beating over Christmas. Cooper has been on record as saying he was travelling and jumping well against the jolly until he quickened when Clarcam then emptied straight away, just holding on from Gilgamboa for second. Saying that he is a horse who has the class to quicken from a quick pace if ridden more conservatively and should be involved.
Gods Own is another Grade One winner and could be overpriced back on good ground but his last run was completely unsatisfactory and it’s hard to see how he will reverse form with Vibrato Valtat on that running.
The latter is a reformed figure this year and will be coming late hoping Un De Sceaux will have fallen in a hole. He has a live chance but his price is fair and while his attitude has improved recently is another who may get buzzy in the prelims.
Three Kingdoms form also ties in with Vibrato Valtat and he should confirm these places again.
Sail By The Sea comes from the same winning connections of last year but really shouldn’t be getting involved in the race with Sgt Reckless not really having the profile that would scream Arkle winner with his most recent run being a win on the All Weather at Lingfield.
Court Minstrel will love the quicker ground and was impressive in his win around Cheltenham in a novices chase. The form of that has not worked out and he was slammed by Vibrato Valtat.
Dunraven Storm is a ten year old and would be a big surprise if he could prove good enough.
Josses Hill would have been an early favourite for this race last year and has finished second in a Supreme Novices. However he has not impressed in his jumping and while highly regarded, I could not have him at the prices without seeing a much improved performance.
The second selection is Smashing. He finished closer to the favourite in a beginners chase than Clarcam and also is another with good course form, finishing fourth in the Coral Cup in 2014. While his run next time out was not against this level of horse, he thrashed Upsie on heavy ground. A return to good ground should see him build on that run and I can see him running a massive race. He races prominently and stays two miles very well so could be well there if the favourite takes a tumble.
14:40 Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase
The first handicap of the Cheltenham Festival is the Ultima Business Solutions Grade Three Chase.
Scene of a great AP McCoy winning ride in the form of Wichita Lineman. He has another ride for boss JP McManus here in the form of Charlie Longsdon’s Pendra. He finished third over a shorter trip at the festival last year and based on his form with Grand National Favourite Shutthefrontdoor in the Irish National. The weight of money in support of him in recent weeks suggests he has a good chance but in a handicap of this size there is very little value in his price.
Ned Stark also has a progressive profile and is still lightly raced, regular jockey Dennis O’Regan continues to take the ride and he must have a big chance.
While The Druids Nephew is another well fancied runner, my problem with him is the Old Course. All his top class form comes on the New Track which does ride significantly different.
There are two I want to be with in this race and both are from the bottom of the weight scales, while not required to win this race. Eight of the last Ten have carried less than eleven stone.
The first one is Barrakilla, who in my opinion is crying out for a step up to three miles. He has finished second in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup when just not getting to the leader and been able to live with his pace. The other eye-catching run came behind Sound Investment at Sandown, that horse has since gone on to advertise that form. He is a point to point winner over three miles and this really shouldn’t cause any issues stamina wise. Plus he jumps and travels well enough to get involved.
My other selection for this race will be Gallant Oscar. He looks overpriced on initial viewing and presumably with Ruby not able to do the weight, Bryan Cooper takes over. He has won over three miles previously winning the Leinster National last year. Tony Martin has protected his handicap mark over fences this year by campaigning him over hurdles prior to running him in Gold Cup Challengers, Djakadam’s Thystes where he was backed into favouritism before fading out of it. The winner could be special and off a rating of 134, he could be well treated.
Gallant Oscar (E/W)
15:20 Champion Hurdle
The 2015 renewal of the Stan James Champion Hurdle over an electric two miles features a small and select field of eight runners. Faugheen the much touted Willie Mullins horse, the young pretender, looks to take on the big boys at this level for really the first time. While he clearly has bags and bags of potential and has won over the course previously, there have to be questions asked re his form this season. Yes he is unbeaten and has hardly come off the bridle on any occasion but he hasn’t needed too. I would worry what he will find and will he find it quickly enough over this sharper trip. Remember as a novice he won over three miles around Limerick on bottomless ground. These doubts and a short price are enough for me to take him on, but with what you may ask.
The New One has serious jumping issues, Nigel and Sam Twiston Davies can publicise as the good news stories they want about ground and about schooling but the fact is in my opinion he is not a consistent enough jumper. People will reference last years renewal but he was outpaced at the bottom of the hill turning for home and his stamina brought him up the hill. There is no reason for this not to happen again.
The amazing Hurricane Fly and Jezki have been battling around Ireland all year with the former getting the better on all three occasions. Hurricane Fly has been deserted by Ruby Walsh in favour of Faugheen but Paul Townend rides every day and is not really a disadvantage to him. This comes in the form of his record away from Irish tracks. Yes he is a two time Champion Hurdler and world record holder for amount of winning grade ones and will I have sentimental bet. YES, but the truth is with ground conditions quickening by the day, I can see him being run out of it on the day.
Now Jezki is a horse who finished third in a classic renewal of the Supreme Novices, winner went on to finish second (by a whisker) in the Arkle and My Tent Or Yours finished second in last years Champion Hurdle. Many people point to the fact that AP McCoy doesn’t get on with the current Champ but he has never faced The Fly around Leopardstown. The form of last years renewal is rock solid with a time set faster than Istabraq’s best and a reproduction of that form should see him go very close. Connections have made no secret of the fact Cheltenham has been the goal and bar a mistake at the last in the Irish Champion he would have finished second again. This season he has been a lot closer to the great Fly in unfavourable conditions. JP McManus’s horse will be the Champs last ride in the great hurdle race and what a send off it will be to see him win it, Jezki may not but he will not be outside the first three.
Arctic Fire is another big talking horse from Willie Mullins and has improved with each run. However I can’t shake his run behind Irving in the Fighting Fifth, a horse I would give no chance too and Little King Robin. He is an improving horse but he might be for another year. Bertimont, Vanteux and Kitten Rock all need to improve massively to get involved here and should not make the frame barring mishaps.
Jezki (E/W if 8+ runners)
16:00 Mares Hurdle
This grade one mares’ hurdle was won last year by the Walsh and Mullins partnership and they pair up again today with Annie Power; She has only been beaten once in twelve starts and that was over three miles and has impressed before over this distance so looks the one to beat today.
Glen’s Melody is probably her biggest threat as she was only just beaten by the great Quevega in this race last year and can race off that same mark again today; she also comes here off the back of a convincing win last time out.
Carole’s Spirit is another that looks very interesting; she is improving with every race and was unlucky not to catch Bitofapuzzle last time out where her jumping was not at the quality she has shown in the past but comes here better in the weights and should reverse that form here today,
The Pirate’s Queen should be another to note as she beat Bitofapuzzle last time out by a neck and it would be no surprise if she was finishing strongly in the closing stages.
Carole’s Spirit (E/W)
The Pirate’s Queen (E/W)
16:40 National Hunt Chase
This novices’ chase looks a wide open affair with a few of these in with a good chance. Alan King won this race last year and brings Sego Success for this today; he has already been backed in quite heavily but hasn’t been treated very well by the handicapper after his last two wins and could get found out at this new weight.
Very Wood is another that has been backed in well after his win 23 days ago where he had The Job Is Right behind, even though the latter is now better off in the weights he doesn’t look like he will reverse that today.
The one that looks interesting to me is Cogry; he is usually ridden by either Sam Twiston-Davies or Ryan Hatch but as this is for amateur riders Stephen Clements takes the reigns and he looks a very positive jockey for the future. Cogry seems to improve more the further he goes and seems to have a very good engine inside him and looks one that will relish this four mile trip.
17:15 CHAPS Restaurants Barbados Novices Handicap Chase
We end the first day of the festival with another novices’ chase. A huge field of twenty line up for this with Thomas Crapper and Generous Ransom heading the betting. The former had been knocking at the door till he was completely tailed off on his latest outing but that was his first run back after a break and may of just needed that to get race fit for today, the latter won over course and distance last time out but has been beaten previously by Stellar Notion who looks a very good bet for the E/W places currently at 14/1.
Gores Island is another to note if he handles the step up in grade after a very good win last time out where he stayed on very well to win.
Rebecca Curtis brings both Monkey Kingdom and Irish Cavalier with the latter looking the best of the two, Irish Cavalier has been very convincing this year and has improved with every race; he was beaten by Generous Ransom last time out but is better treated today and is one that looks like taking this today.
Irish Cavalier (E/W)
Stellar Notion (E/W)
todays selections come from: