Tag Archives: World Hurdle

Cheltenham Festival 2018: Day Three Fancies

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What an unpleasant day. Raining cats and dogs – at least here in Ireland; Ruby Walsh most likely broke his leg (the same!) again and Douvan took a bad fall…. oh, and I shall mention that none of my selection got close to smelling success. I won’t dwell on it, though….. onwards and upwards.

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13:30 Cheltenham – JLT Novices Chase:

Graham Wylie says he’s his best chance at the Festival this year, so you have to take Invitation Only very seriously in the JLT. Even more so as his one lengths third behind Monalee has been franked in a fine way in the RSA Chase on Wednesday.

This piece of Grade 1 form is certainly the best on offer in this field, I feel, and there is no reason why the seven year old can’t improve again, for what is only his fifth start over fences.

He’s a rock solid favourite and a bigger price than I would have expected.

Selection:
10pts win – Invitation Only @ 3.5/1 Matchbook

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14:10 Cheltenham – Pertemps Final:

Davy Russell won this last year on board of Presenting Percy, he can do the same this time on Delta Work. This five year old Gigginstown inmate looks open to further improvement after a season full of promising performances – without winning, that says.

Key piece of form is his 4th behind Total Recall at Leopardstown last month. Turning for home his progress was stopped for a brief but decisive moment thanks to a shifting rival, he still finished well.

Ground and trip is fine. The emphasis on stamina will suit. Top rider on board and a handicap mark that offers opportunity.

Selection:
10pts win – Delta Work @ 12/1 VC

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14:50 Cheltenham – Ryanair Chase:

Un De Sceaux deserves to be the favourite – what a superstar he’s been over the years. He proved twelve months ago that the Ryanair trip is certainly within his range.

Yet, I feel he is a skinny price in a race that looks potentially stronger than last year. Also ground conditions are totally different and will put much more emphasis on stamina. In my book Un De Sceaux is vulnerable here and I’m happily to look elsewhere.

You don’t need to look far: Cue Card will be a massive threat. His recent Ascot run puts him right there, the drop to the Ryanair trip is rather a positive than a negative and given he still looks nearly as good as ever with all the spark retained, he’s got to go very close.

Still, he’s not my selection. Indeed, I am sweet on the perfect bridesmaid: Cloudy Dream. Second in hist last four starts, eight times filling the runner-up spot over fences so far, while winning three of them.

In fact, Cloudy Dream was never outside the first three in any of his 18 career starts, and even more impressive: never outside the the first two in his eleven chase starts.

Yes, he doesn’t win many of these. However, he ran with plenty of credit in hot races behind classy opposition, so he did in last years Arkle when second behind Altior.

He tried to stretch out to three miles this season, finishing second – although a good deal beaten – behind Native River and Definitely Red. Nonetheless, pretty solid efforts, given these two are leading lights for the Gold Cup on Friday.

Cloudy Dream didn’t stay three miles, however. Certainly not at Cheltenham and certainly not on soft ground. Nonetheless, his record with considerable cut in the ground is quite excellent, so I don’t worry about that part, at least.

In truth, I love the fact he drops in trip, to what could easily turn out to be his optimum. Given, for long enough he travelled incredibly strongly in both his last races over further, may suggest that 2.5 miles on soft ground is an ideal scenario.

As a seven year old he can still improve. Particularly over this trip. He is not yet the finished article, whereas the two market principles very much are what they are.

Selection:
10pts win – Cloudy Dream @ 14/1 Matchbook

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15:30 Cheltenham – Stayers Hurdle:

Two fancies in the race: the major one is Yanworth. Here’s hoping he can make up for his disappointing performance in last years Champion Hurdle.

That says he clearly can stretch out to 3 miles. He beat Superdandae in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Aintree last year what was hist first and only try over this sort of trip. So there is potential improvement yet to come. He’s had a good preparation, He won the Dipper on New Years Day in heavy ground here.

So ground, course and trip aren’t holding any fears to Yanworth. of course 3 miles on rain softened ground around Cheltenham is an unknown, in fairness. At given odds, I’m prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.

The other one I like at a massive price is Let’s Dance. She hasn’t sparked this year as Willie Mullins said, though has shown some signs of finding back to her form. She won a Grade 3 at Loeopardstown over Christmas but dropped away tamely in the Gowran Park race mentioned before.

It was her first try over three miles and she was most likely nowhere near her best that day anyway. It’s highly speculative if she ever will again and if she can get home over this trip on this type ground. At a massive price I feel she has, pretty much like Augusta Kate, a better chance to go close than the market suggests.

Selections:
10pts win – Yanworth @ 8/1 Matchbook
1pt win – Let’s Dance @ 99/1 Matchbook
2pts Place – Let’s Dance @ 20/1 Matchbook

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16:10 Cheltenham – Brown Advisory Handicap Chase:

Whether the ground is too soft remains to be seen, however his record suggests Oldgrangewood can act on it. This second season chaser has progressed nicely through the ranks, was a fine Novice and has also been in the winnres circtle this season.

After his Newbury success at the beginning of December he was put away with this race in mind as the goal for his campaign. Only 2lb higher in his handicap mark, he should be competitive off 147.

This is obviously a highly competitive race in nature and a bit of in-running luck is needed too. I see it as a vote of confidence, nonetheless, that Dan Skelton has given Oldgrangewood positive mentions leading up to the Festival as one of his main hopes.

Selection:
10pts win – Oldgrangewood @ 26/1 Matchbook

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Cheltenham Festival 2017 – Thursday Preview

It’s day three of the Festival – it’s nearly over again…. how time’s flying! So let’s enjoy it as long as it lasts, with Yorkhill the class act of the day to shine…. or not? Some say he’s the best horse in training. He might well be. We soon find out.

The Stayers Hurdle (formerly World Hurdle) is the feature of the day. A red hot favourite who is probably backed into odds-on on Thursday itself – can he been beaten or may he kick-start a dominance over the stayers division as Big Buck’s did not all too long ago?

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1.30: JLT Novices’ Chase

A race that’ll evolve around the jumping of Yorkhill. With a clear round he’s very hard to beat. But I’m not sure if he will get this clear round. His first start over fences was a Mickey Mouse contest where he didn’t learn much, his second and most recent start was one that didn’t impress many and clearly left me wondering too.

Jumping is the game, the saying goes – particularly at Cheltenham. That brings Disko very much into the equation. Noel Meade’s inmate was impressive at Leopardstown when last seen, he’s still improving and has the distance and ground in him.

Officially rated only one pound below Yorkhill you have to take him serious. Whether the big performance at Leopardstown in February has taken too much out him is a question mark. But he is a super jumper who may put the pressure on Yorkhill’s potentially weak point.

Selection:
5pts win – Disko @ 5/1 Paddy Power

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2.10: Pertemps Finale

A big field handicap but one that can be easily broken down to a good handful of serious contenders. Favourite Tobefair looks a big chance. So does El Bandit and Impulsive Star together with Jury Duty from the other side of the Irish Sea.

In the end I’m nailing my colours to Impulsive Star and Jury Duty. Neil Mulholland’s lightly raced seven year old has been progressive throughout the season resulting in three wins out of four runs, while the one time he was beaten he encountered some excellent opposition.

He won’t mind the decent ground and stays really well. One who should relish the test of a big field where he can battle up the hill. A career highest mark he has to overcome, but this serious talent could easily be better than his current mark.

Ireland’s Jury Duty is equally lightly raced, though his win record isn’t as good. He’s encountered some strong opposition, though, and was slightly unlucky here and there in the past.

He picked up a niggle in his preparation and had to be rushed in order to qualify, which he did at Chepstow eventually.

The quick ground is a slight concern but this lad may have still some serious improvement left in him. It’s probably fair to say we didn’t see the best yet and that gives me hope for a big run here.

Selection:
5pts win – Impulsive Star @ 10/1 Betfair SB
5pts win – Jury Duty @ 10/1 Betfair SB

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2.50: Ryanair Chase

A bit a surprise to see Empire of Dirt declared given I thought he’d be the ideal candidate for the Gold Cup, even more so after Don Poli’s absence. He’s here though and rates a major chance.

A festival winner last year, runner-up in the Irish Gold Cup this year – he’s got stamina in abundance as well as class. Ground and trip are not necessarily a worry but I do wonder if the big race from last month left a mark? He also produced some of his finest performances as a fresh horse.

That’s like complaining on a high level, of course, yet I feel he’s not the ideal candidate that I want to lump on in this race.

Speedier Un De Sceaux is favoured in the betting. The former Arkle winner and Champion Chase runner-up has had a perfect preparation with two wins from two starts this season. He can be a bit edgy jumping wise, might not quite appreciate the quick ground and the trip is one that may stretch him with others surely making this a test of stamina.

He’s the most likely winner but nothing more than a fair price. The one I do like is Empire Of Dirt stablemate Sub Lieutenant.

Far from a sexy selection, but a value price in my book. He’s proven on good ground and still only an eight year old. He’s had an ideal preparation and put a string of fine performances together this season, including a success over subsequent Lexus Chase winner Outlander.

With that in mind and more than double the price of UDC and EOD I feel he can give those two something to think about on Thursday.

Selection:
10pts Win – Sub Lieutenant @ 8/1 Bet365

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3.30: World Hurdle

On all evidence Unowhatimeanharry is very hard to beat here. He’s a machine who’s proven class over course and distance. But he’s also a very short price. Too short for me.

Looking for alternatives I can see previous World Hurdle winner Cole Harden going close, but the one intriguing me most is quite clearly Ballyoptic.

He finished a couple of times behind the favourite this season and probably the same fate awaits here. But fact is he’s a Grade 1 winning novice himself who’s still a relatively young horse on the upward who was only 6l behind in second Unowhatimeanharry at Newbury in November.

After a disappointing performance over course and distance in the Cleeve Hurdle he got a bit of a break and his wind done – he’ll try a tongue tie for the first time here too – that in combination might bring out further improvement.

If it does and if he can get back to his early season form then he’ll be able to outrun his price tag and should be in the shake-up which is enough for a healthy place part of an each-way bet to pay.

Selection:
5pts E/W – Ballyoptic @ 16/1 Bet365

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4.10: Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap 

Update: my original selection Le Prezien is out and instead runs in the Grand Annual tomorrow – so I re-evaluated the race and come to the conclusion at given prices, now that he made it into the race, Katachenko of a feather weight must have a decent chance to be in the shake-up.

He had a light enough campaign to date after finishing last season on a high thanks to Graded success over two miles at Aintree. His most recent run over a little more than 3 miles at Catterick, which is quite an undulating track, was a fine prep.

Stamina questions were answered that say in my mind. He finished a fine runner-up in soft conditions, but has proven himself on better ground in the past. Given he has form over much shorter too, he should be fine with conditions today.

At 40s with six places to pay with Skybet, I give him a chance.

Selection:
5pts E/W – Katachenko @ 40/1 Skybet

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I strongly fancied Let’s Dance for the Supreme and I believe she’s going to be very tough to beat now in the Mares’ Novices’, but she is not a price for me, so I let her run and hopefully win without the burden of my money.

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5.30: Kim Mur Amateur Riders’ Chase

Plain and simple Potters Legend is the one I want. While I also quite like Southfield Royale, I find it hard to trust him at a shortish price. Potters Legend, a lightly raced novice, will find this a tough assignment against seasoned handicappers but he could be one who has the talent to relish the challenge,

He produced fair performances this season and the last two times in Handicaps off his current mark. The step up in trip is intriguing and may or may not suit. But if he has to have a chance then because of improvement coming for the stamina test.

The good ground should definitely help to stay the distance. At a price he’s a decent bet in this race I feel.

Selection:
5pts win – Potters Legend @ 16/1 William Hill

Sprinter Emotions

“Unbelievable! That’s un…be…lievable!!!” My words sitting in front of a screen in an open space office located on the outskirts of Dublin; Racing UK stream on, headphones on, sound up to the maximum… apparently emotions got the better of me. Co-workers made clear gestures:”Pssssssssssssssst!!”. The race was over anyway.

It was a funny thought beforehand, a joke told with a bit of a cynical undertone – but here it was: REALITY!  Nicky approaching the parade ring, emotional, close to tears. And there he was, the hero, returning to the winners enclosure, accompanied by the loudest cheers imaginable. A euphoric crowd trying to get a glimpse of the horse they call Sprinter Sacre. You have to see it to believe it. I mean: he REALLY did it. Unbelievable!!!

Look, I’m the first to stand up and say I got it wrong. 12 month ago I sure said “retire him”.  I’m sure I wasn’t the only one, was I?. And surely I can’t have been the only one entirely dismissing Sprinter’s chance in today’s Champion Hurdle. I certainly did. And I got it spectacularly wrong.How wonderful!

Let’s enjoy the day but at the same time let’s not get too carried away. This wasn’t the Sprinter Sacre of the old, glory days which were days of pure brilliance. However today was one closer to it than ever since all the injury problems started to emerge.

What I really want is: take my hat off to Nicky Henderson! What an unbelievable job you’ve done with this horse. Fit and ready to go to war at the moment when it mattered most.

And Sprinter delivered! I loved how he found more and more once under pressure. He’s not a bridle horse. He’s a fighter! Admittedly there was a moment when he was rather too early off the bridle for my taste and I thought “that’s it”. But here came the surprise. He kept going, embraced the fight and won duly. Stuff dreams are made of!

Any Currency – Consistency pays off

Placed twice before, now he got one better – finally! Any Currency, at the grand age of 13, out battled the younger legs of favourite Josies Hill. He was prominent throughout the race, jumped well and clearly knew what was asked of him. Still, turning for home I would have put my money on rival Bless The Wings, who were there coming with a very strong ride.

But experience prevailed. Any Currency, throughout his career, was a model of consistency, excelling particularly in this discipline. Ten starts in cross-county races, five times placed, two times a winner, both victories at Cheltenham, including this one today, the biggest day of his long lasting career. Well done!

Novices’ Upsets

Blacklion caused a bit of a shock in the RSA. He outstayed the strong travelling Shaneshill, who – that’s probably fair to say – is not quite a 3 mile chaser. But neither of the well fancied No More Heroes and More Of That where involved in the finish, although the Gigginstown horse has a good excuse, was found lame afterwards and is lucky to have survived, if Twitter is to be believed. On a personal note I’m happy here, given Blacklion provided me with a first Festival winner (13/1).

Slightly surprising, albeit not quite as shocking, was how how easily Yorkhill disposed red hot favourite Yanworth in the Neptune. Yanworth looked a superstar in the making when winning the Neptune Trial here at this very same venue back in January but was clearly only second best today.

Yorkhill, who won the Tolworth hurdle on his way to Cheltenham, didn’t mind the better ground and looks a super exciting prospect. How good he can be, we have to find out. But he’s been quoted 10/1 for next years Champions Hurdle.

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Thursday: What’s on the tab? *Updated Wed. 11am*

First race, the JLT; I have had a proper look through this race but still feel it’s some kind of lottery race. Ground, trip, form – question marks everywhere, none of the better fancied ones really stands out.

So I like to go with a horse that could be anything: Three Musketeers. Still available at 12/1 which could look big later one. Had excuses for his last bad run but is pretty much unexposed, an excellent jumper, was brilliant before when winning a Grade 2 at Newbury – plenty to like about, though the ground is a bit of an unknown.

But he was far from disgraced on fast ground at the Aintree festival last season, when an excellent third in a Grade 1 hurdle behind Nichols Canyon.

If the JLT is a lottery, what would you call the Pertemps Final then? Madness! It’s funny though that after having a proper look I feel quite strong about the value of some in the field. There’s the dramatically improved Kilfinichen Bay. Maybe too high in the mark now? We’ll see, but sure to act on the ground and stays the trip. 50/1 is a huge price.

The same can be said about Broxbourne. He’s only had eight starts over hurdles and could still improve a bit, particularly in today’s conditions. I like the 28/1 for him. I also feel 18’s for Saddlers Encore  is slightly over the top. He’s got the right profile. Progressive, fair mark, ground, trip all what he wants.

And I also feel 50/1 shot Rolling Maul is massively overpriced if he can find back to his past hurdling form. Back over timber off a competitive mark gives him a chance to run well. I’ll be on all four individuals each-way; a rarity for me, but five places and 1/4 of the odds is too good to leave alone.

The Ryanair Chase and back to the “Vautour Saga”. It’s not the Gold Cup for him as we know now. Anyway, my evens wager looks a “good thing”. Go Vautour go! Nothing else to add. Except: While Road To Riches is probably to slow to beat a fit Vautour, he could make this a true test of stamina and should be at least in the money. If I’d be an each-way backer I lump on the 8/1.

World Hurdle, and here I have an ante-post stake as well. Cole Harden. Though the closer the race, the more I feel Thistlecrack is near impossible to beat. Although my 8/1 looks a steel of a bet with the good ground sure to bring out the best of the reigning champ. Still, the more often I watch the reply of the favourites last race, the better it looks.

The beautifully named Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate is a race I want to be involved in. Because I fancy one of Willies’s! Doesn’t happen often, I have to say, which is more for price reasons than anything else. But Ballycasey in this grade, trip on ground he acts on, makes plenty off appeal from his current mark. He’s not as good as he used to be but still has some decent form in the book. At 20’s he looks a big price.

The Mares Hurdle looks a sure thing for Limini… according to the bookies. The mare has done really well since joining Willie Mullins but her price is over is plain wrong and only as short because she is trained by the Irish Master.

I seriously like Smart Talk at 8/1 as the value. There is a bit of concern about her jumping, she has to improve in that department, has to be slicker and more efficient over her hurdles, but her record is hugely impressive and the way she put away decent opposition the last time at Doncaster, despite almost coming down at the second last demonstrated the enormous engine this mare has.

The Amateurs race is dominated by some familiar names. An equally familiar name makes plenty of appeal with his mount. Grandads House and Sam Waley-Cohen must be a good chance to go close I feel. The horse stays the trip, acts on the ground and ran a blinder in the very same race last year but is getting in this time off a much better mark. At 33/1 it’s a nice each-way shout with 5 places, 1/4 odds.

Cheltenham Thoughts – Part I

Three more nights to sleep…. clearly I’m in danger of running late with the articles I want to have up before the almighty roar of the crowd signals the start of the Cheltenham Festival. But it’s not my fault! A nasty viral infection made life miserable the last ten days or so. Truth told, I was halfway through the draft of this post before falling ill – so better finish now before it’s really too late!

So here it is, a couple of lose thoughts and bets on a handful of races with some ante-post taken before last week. I reckon some of those prices quote will change soon enough if they haven’t already at the time of posting.

 

Tuesday: Supreme Novices Hurdle (Grade 1)

Visually I loved what I saw from Min so far. He’s such a in impressive individual! But hey, this is Cheltenham, this is a different ball game! Clearly he’s the weakest of the bunch of “Mullins banker” next week and it’s rather easy to pick holes and take him.

Looking for a bigger price, for the potential of x amount improvement as well as proven Festival form: I look no further than Dermot Weld’s Silver Concorde. I was lucky enough to see him close up cruising past the winning post at the Cheltenham Festival this day two years ago in the Champion Bumper. A lasting impression – this lad ticks plenty of the right boxes.

Truth told, there are some of cons too. There always are. He’s yet to get off the mark over hurdles – however remains frighteningly unexposed over timber nonetheless  and I give him the benefit of the doubt as his jumping is not that bad at all. It’s more like in his three starts over hurdles he was beaten by either heavy ground or a trip beyond his stamina.

Silver Concorde goes two miles but not any yard more and he does it only on decent ground. That’s how he won the bumper. With the mild weather settling in, Cheltenham on Tuesday’s likely to be in and around good to soft – here’s hoping it’s going to be slightly better, given it’s dry and all the rain that was there last week should be well absorbed by a track that drains so well.

Look, that’s the risk. Will it be good enough for Silver Concorde? No clue! We’ll find out. But the fact that Dermot Weld has kept faith in him, brings him here again and has spoken very positively in recent weeks, gives me some confidence.

Previous Festival form is so vital in my mind; he stays the two miles, has it proven here, he jumps a hurdle and can only get better in the jumping game anyway – I got 25/1 ante-post (without the NRNB insurance though), but he’s now as short as 16/1. So if you want to follow me on this lad, you might be better off waiting till Tuesday, then fully aware of the ground and bookies maybe offering mad prices.

Selection: Silver Concorde

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Tuesday: Champion Hurdle (Grade 1)

Maybe not quite as good a race as it was in the last couple of years, still an intriguing contest. The addition of Annie Power adds some sparkle and I actually think she’s got a great chance. Sure, there is plenty for and against her. Biggest negative is her lack of form over two miles. But she always looked a keen, pacey individual and there’s no doubt that she operates well at Cheltenham, despite the absence of that elusive W missing the respective CD column.

In a vintage Champion Hurdle of the past she might well have been found out for speed, but in this years edition I can easily see a scenario where she uses her stamina to her advantage. She could dominate from the front, setting freakish fractions in the hope of outstaying everyone in the end rather than outpacing them.

Says I’m not too keen on the price because I don’t feel she has such a big edge on the field, nonetheless. Stable mate Nicholas Canyon is probably not quite as his best around Cheltenham, and has some doubts after a tremendously hard race in the Irish Champion Hurdle. Though he’s got to be a key contender if he can bounce back. He won at Leopardstown at Christmas, slogging it out on horrible ground when caught flat footed at the run-in behind exciting Identity Thief.He just found the bit more under pressure in the end, against a less experiences rival.

The Gigginstown runner seems a bit a hyped up horse I thought. So many have been quite vocal about Identity Thief’s chances. Though I have to come to the conclusion: they are right. I loved the efforts of this lad when winning the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle and when second in the Ryanair Hurde behind Nicolas Canyon at Leopardstown. He’s still learning the game, doing so while competing against the best and is getting better each time.

He jumps well enough, although has still room for improvement in that department, but most importantly has plenty of scope. Still generally lightly raced, we don’t know yet how good he can be. Also he could be better on better ground , which he did get only on his successful seasonal reappearance at Down Royal.

It’s quite surprising that this lad is still offered at 6/1 which looks something like two full points over the top in my mind. Identity Thief clearly has a great shout in this race if he continues to improve.

Selection: Identity Thief

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Wednesday: Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1)

No real need to talk about who’s going to win this. Un De Sceaux has it all to take if he only gets round clear and safe. He did that last year and I don’t like to bet against a horse where the only hope of him not winning is him being a faller.

Some others can run well here. Stable mate Felix Younger most likely is one to be chasing the money. He’ll appreciate the better ground. That should be very much the same for Gods Own who has excellent festival from from last year when runner-up behind UDS. Though it’s hard to see him turning the form around even running the race thirty times.

Special Tiara should go well but his best chance to land this may have passed. Never underestimate reigning Champion Chaser Dodging Bullets if he can find back to something close of his best.

Whether Sprinters Sacre still has it in his locker or not is hard to say, but I doubt it Right, he’s two from two this season, but let’s not forget that a) the form is hardly Champion Chase form and b) he’s had as hard a race as not all too often before in his career when running it out on the line against Sire De Grugy at Kempton. It’s even more evident that Sire has not the legs any more required to perform at the top level too.

Saying that the “Without the Favourite” market is intriguing. For a moment I felt the urge to back old hero Somersby who looks a tasty price here. But he is probably over the edge by now and will be retired right after the race. More interesting is Colm Murphy new inmate Sizing Granite who has been rather disappointing in two starts this season but remains open to improvement.

He won a big Grade 1 Novice Hurdle at Aintree last season, crowning an excellent 2014/15 but couldn’t quite fulfil the promise shown back then this season. But there are fair excuses: he was only beaten by a head on his season reappearance, probably not fully wound up that day, and got completely stuck in the mud at Leopardstown – conditions totally detrimental to his chances.

Sizing Granite is a different horse on decent ground, so it’s easy to assume that we’ll see a different horse at Cheltenham. He has changed yards in the meantime, something that may help galvanise him too. Not to forget he is still a relatively unexposed horse, open for further improvement. You can have 12/1 without the favourite, which looks generous.

Selection: Sizing Granite (w/o UDS)

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Thursday: World Hurdle (Grade 1)

Reading plenty of Festival Guides one could get the feeling it might be a wise move t put the mortgage on World Hurdle favourite Thistlecrack – it’s the “surest thing ever”! And I fully get that. He’s been nothing but impressive since last year. And boy, there was this almighty performance in January when he bolted up in the Cleeve Hurdle. Totally get that.

But wait! Do people realize that the ground was horrific that day? Do people realize that Cheltenham come Thursday will be closer to good than to soft? Bottomless ground often throws up those impressive looking wide margin wins – that sort of form is hardly one to trust! Not that I doubt the class of this lad – not all all. But it’s worth mentioning, isn’t it?! Ah well, it’s only me trying to pick holes into this “sure thing”.

However, honestly, I understand all the hype, and sure thing we find out soon if it’s all justified – but let’s not forget that this is still the hardest test to date for Thistlecrack – shall we run the race first before we crown him?

Saying that because in my mind many people seem to make a big mistake ruling out reigning World Hurdle Champ Cole Harden. A wind op and good ground transformed this horse 100% last season. He looked like the world beater most assume Thistlecrack to be. With the exception: we already know Cole Harden is it! He has proven it!

Point I wanna make: Cole Harden has been beaten in all starts this season, but I’ve no doubt we’ll see a different Cole Harden this time around again. It’s easy to see why. He’s trained only with the defence of the World Hurdle in mind this season. He’ll be primed for the big day.

Drying ground is going to be a big plus for him. Says Thistlecrack is by no means a bad horse on better ground. But surely a much better horse with cut in the ground whereas Cole Harden is a completely different animal on decent ground. So backing the reigning champ at 8/1 makes perfect sense for me under these circumstances.

Selection: Cole Harden

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Friday: Grand Annual Chase (Grade 3)

Big field, open race, through a needle, make your pick….. but I do really like the prospects of Velvet Maker here. He gets this into with a pretty fair handicap mark and showed plenty of promise in his first starts over fences. Still lightly raced, he’s bound to improve for his recent experiences I feel.

Velvet Maker was a fine Novice Hurdler, although found out for class in the Supreme at least years Festival. He got off the mark on his first start over fences at Naas, showing plenty of potential, dispatching a subsequent handicap chase winner easily.

Upped in class significantly, he bumped into the almighty Douvan the last two times, but again there were plenty of positives particularly about his performance in the Leopardstown Arkle. He travelled well for a very long time, was there in touch with Douvan until the last and finished a clear second in front of the third placed Doomesday Book, a decent individual in his own right.

If Velvet Maker runs in the Grand Annual he drops back into Grade 3 and against opposition much closer to his own rating. I wouldn’t read too much into his sole Cheltenham start, he was out of his depth last year. But the likely better ground should certainly suit him here.

In addition to that, owner Barry Connell has called Velvet Maker out as his banker of the meeting. Nothing special, I know,  those sort of remarks have to be taken with a pinch of salt. Nonetheless it adds to the already impressive list of good arguments for Velvert Maker to be a leading candidate to the win the Grand Annual.

I don’t think he’ll be as big a price on the day as he is right now in the ante-post market. I got 16/1, again without insurance, but he currently still available at around 14/1 NRNB, which is a bit on the generous side I’d say.

Selection: Velvert Maker

Cheltenham Festival Preview – Day 3 / Part I

Vautour

Tuesday was great, Wednesday even better – thanks to two winners on this second day of the Cheltenham Festival! Don Poli obliged in the style of a future Gold Cup star, while Rivage D’or went in @ 20/1 in the Cross-Country Chase. Under a patient ride by Davy Russell, he was all over jumping the last, though may have also profited from a crashing fall of two strongly travelling rivals. Don Poli is a very lazy sort and didn’t look too interested halfway through, but once set alive there was no stopping. That makes it another whopping 62.5pts profit for the day and now 100pts+ for the Festival overall! 

JLT Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)

Vautor is the clear favourite but I feel this is more down to his hurdling form than what he has shown over fences. You can pick holes into the form and his jumping can be slightly worrying. He may well be the star everyone thinks he is and he promised over hurdles at the Festival last year, but this game is about jumping and not every top class hurdler is a top class chaser.

Looking elsewhere, Ptit Zig is a very talented individual and if fully recovered from a recent fall he can run big but I don’t like backing lto fallers. Valseur Lido has a touch of class but not too many excuses the last time at Leopardstown. May need softer ground to be seen at his best anyway. Apache Stronghold chased Don Poli home over 3m, so clearly has class and loads of stamina. I liked the way he won at Leopardstown over 2m5 the last time. He should relish Cheltenham and the good ground and is a better chance than his current price tag suggests.

Apache Stronghold @ 11/2 PP – 5pts win

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Ryanair Chase (Grade 1)

Competitive renewal but Taquin Du Seuil looks hugely overpriced if you can forgive him some below part efforts over 3m in tough conditions. He didn’t seem to relish those stamina tests, so the drop in trip and good ground should help. His record over 2m5f speaks for itself, so does his love for Cheltenham. He won the JLT last year, and another win in addition to a close runner-up effort in four starts here means it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him bounce back at the venue of his biggest success.

Taquin Du Seuil @ 12/1 VC – 2.5pts EW

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World Hurdle (Grade 1)

No Big Buck’s in here this time and last years winner hasn’t made it to the Festival either. That opens up the way for improving Saphir Du Rheu who looks the new bright star in the staying division. A tough winner at Cheltenham in January, he could have still more to offer on what is only his third start over three miles. He’s also  rather low mileage for a jumps horse in general. Says he could be still on the up.

Dark horse for me is Dedigout. He remains in the World Hurdle despite the good ground potentially against him. He is hugely progressive as well and has won two nice races this season. He was once quick enough to win over 2m4f in graded company on yielding going, so that gives hope that the ground is not as big a deal as some may thing it will be. He looks certainly a huge price and is worth a nibble.

Saphir Du Rheu @ 6/1 PP – 5pts win
Dedigout @ 25/1 PP – 5pts win