Day two of the Cheltenham Festival features the Champion Chase, the race that brought tears to so many grown man (and women) twelve month ago when the magnificent Sprinter Sacre turned back the clock to produce a stunning display that will live long in our memories.
Who’ll be his predecessor? That’s probably the most straightforward question to ask on a day where big fields with cloudy deceleration lists pose a nightmare for punters. Nonetheless I’ll try my best to solve the puzzle once more.
1.30: Neptune Novices’ Hurdle
Neon Wolf could be the real deal. There weren’t many more impressive novices this season. However he’s by no means a banker. Given his relative inexperience and rawness I’m happy to let him run without my money.
Plenty others are interesting – though most of them are unlikely to run. That makes this race hard to evaluate.
If she runs, then Let’s Dance is my pick. With a handy weight allowance, strong form and experience, she ticks plenty of the right boxes for me. I love her improvement this season and particularly her last Grade 2 success at Leopardstown.
She is versatile, ground independent and has already won over 2m 4f – the right traits for a big performance. With NRNB I select her – if she does not run I watch the race in the hope of a big performance by Neon Wolf.
10pts Win – Let’s Dance @ 7/1 VC (NRNB)
2.10: RSA Novices’ Chase
With plenty of talented horses likely to pull out before Wednesday, the RSA could be left with a slightly lukewarm lineup. That doesn’t mean it won’t be an intriguing contest, but it certainly does not shape as one of the stronger renewals.
Favourite Might Bight has been on the drift for a while and there is the question whether Cheltenham is his track. We’ll find out soon. His Kempton performance (until the fall) was huge, so one should not underestimate him and his price goes in a direction where it becomes tempting.
Alpha Des Obeaux’s bleeding issues when last seen put me off, whereas I feel Royal Vacation is a very decent each-way shout here. But the one I’m most excited about is recent 32 lengths Navan winner Acapella Bourgeois.
Yes, you can argue he got it easy in front that day, the other jockeys were caught napping and the heavy ground had a role to play too. But the way he jumped, the way he pricked ears while jumping the final fence clear by a mile, still only in second gear – you got to be impressed with this still generally lightly raced seven year old.
The faster ground is a question mark, though he was a Grade 2 winner over hurdles on yielding ground. I feel he’s the right type for this race, one who’ll be suited to Cheltenham and its demands, one who won’t go away when it starts to hurt and one who’ll be able to pull out more when the others stop.
10pts Win – Acapella Bourgeois @ 7/1 Skybet
2.50: Coral Cup
Another of those races where you can’t be certain at all who’s going to line up on Wednesday afternoon. Though fairly certain is the start of Peregrine Run.
A really nice progressive sort who was denied a five-timer back in January at Warwick probably by unsuited soft ground. With decent ground looming and course and distance form in the book, this race should suit down to the grounds with a fair handicap mark to leverage.
Dan Skelton’s Mister Miyagi is another one i do like quite a bit. Finished sixth behind Altior in last years Supreme, not far behind Tombstone, who incidentally is favourite for the Coral.
Things did not go right for MM afterwards, he needed a wind op suffering from the same issues Cue Card did before his legendary revival. Skelton feels he’s a big runner and he’s probably right: if the wind op helped to solve the underlying issue then he’s got a huge chance to to be in the shake-up in this compressed handicap.
Highly speculative my third selection: Bleu Et Rouge goes back hurdling. He never seemed happy over fences, his jumping letting him down badly, though his debut run was quite promising, actually.
The smaller obstacles (either here or in the county hurdle) will be a big help nonetheless, he was a Grade 1 winning novice who could easily be well handicapped if the spark is back. With NRNB insurance, it’s worth a risk at a value price in case he lines up in the Coral.
5pts win – Peregrine Run @ 10/1 Bet365
5pts win – Bleu Et Rouge @ 16/1 Bet365
5pts win – Mister Miyagi @ 20/1 Skybet
3.30: Queen Mother Champion Chase
An empty netter from five yards out for Douvan this is, he won’t be beaten. So I focus more on what’s finishing behind him in second and third. Fox Norton, God’s Own and Special Tiara is the trio most likely to fill places left on the podium – all three rated within a pound, in and around with the same sort of chance.
Though the betting does not reflect this. That says I get why the not fully exposed seven year old Fox Norton is slightly better fancied, nonetheless I think 16/1 for Special Tiara with 1/4 of the odds looks big in comparison.
The win part of the bet hinges on luck or misfortune of Douvan, but the place part looks to have a better chance than the odds suggest in my mind. He mightn’t be quite as good as he used to be, but fact remains that he finished 3rd in the Champion Chase last year and won this season the one time he encountered the ground he needs.
with decent ground likely here on Wednesday, Special Tiara should prove hard to pass for most rivals in this race, bar the near unbeatable favourite.
5pts E/W – Special Tiara @ 16/1 Bet365
4.10: Cross-Country Chase
Any Currency won this race last year but lost it in the courtroom afterwards. Nonetheless he is a Cheltenham specialist and even more specialist for this specific race. He seems to find his form again and should be ripped in order to put up a huge performance once more.
Now 14 years of age, there will come a point where younger legs do get the better of him him but the Cross Country is a race for specialists. A specialist Any Currency is and therefore it looks near impossible to keep this guy out of the money.
5pts E/W – Any Currency @ 14/1 PP
4.50: Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
A big field and one where you wouldn’t like to be on a short price but the word is out that Divin Bere is the one to beat and well fancied by the stable. He could have gone down the Triumph route but he’s here in a handicap off a reasonable mark.
In fact it’s probably closer to the truth that the Henderson inmate is well handicapped taken his sole run in Britain into account.
He is a French recruit who made a big impression on his UK debut at Huntingdon with form that works out incredibly well through the runner-up. Connections didn’t leave a stone untouched it seems as Divin Bere also got a wind op since then.
10pts win – Divin Bere @ 6/1 Skybet
5.30: Champion Bumper
Exciting favourite Carter Mckay might be too good but at bigger prices I fancy two other Irish horses to outrun their price tag: that is Robbie McNamara’s Quick Grabim. A visually super impressive winner of a bumper at the Leopardstown Christmas festival, he was disappointing the next time at Exter but probably had excuses that day.
Better ground should suit and it’s telling that Noel Fehily was extremely keen to get the leg up on this boy.
Davy Russell will ride Joseph O’Brien’s interesting West Coast Time. Impressive on debut, he was hampered in the mud when runner-up – yet convincingly beaten – behind Carter Kckay. Drop back to two miles on decent ground could easily bring out further improvement though.
5pts win – Quick Grabim @ 25/1 WH
5pts win – West Coast Time @ 16/1 Skybet