Welcome back to my annual foray into trying to pinpoint winners at the Cheltenham Festival.
Unfortunately, this years blog will be shorter with just conclusions listed for each race.
There is a lot going on in the world right now that has taken my focus away from the Festival to some degree. We can only hope things improve for the people of Ukraine soon. Cheltenham will be a welcome distraction but it won’t quite be at the forefront of my mind this week as it normally would.
Statistics for races can be found on my posts from previous years. Once more I must point to gaultstats.com as an invaluable resource for that – please don’t forget to donate if using that excellent site.
Onto the races, where after weekend rain and some course watering, proper Good to Soft ground is expected on day one
Day 1 – Tuesday 15th March
Possibly the most interesting of the 4 days for me after seeing declarations……
130 Supreme Novices Hurdle
A very good race to open the card with five runners at the front of the betting who all look to be proper Grade 1 performers. Nothing has impressed me more than CONSTITUTION HILL though this season and he has to be my selection. It would have been nice to see some form on the course from him but we can say that for all of them except Kilcruit.
The two caveats that prevent me from going all in are his lack of form on a left hand track – and the fact that this race isn’t always won by ultimately the best horse ( Al Ferof and Champagne Fever winning similar high class renewals from horses who later proved much better).The hill shouldn’t prove any issues though considering the way he powered away up the stiff Sandown finish.
210 Arkle Trophy
I’m counting four front runners here and the likely strong pace should test the jumping of these novices. This should suit EDWARDSTONE to a tee with his main rivals all showing more frailties over the obstacles this season.
I’m seeing a lot of quotes about Alan King’s horse in previews along the lines of ‘he’ s the right favourite…but I want to take him on…’. That seems a bot of an oxymoron to me but I won’t be complaining if firms want to push him out and compete to be the biggest. With this in mind I fully expect him to go over 3/1 on race day and the bigger he gets the more I like him as a bet
Additional an each way double on selections from first two races seems a sensible play here. Especially with some firms offering extra places on the 210. Having both placed should see a very small profit…but both winning with combined odds of over 12/1 seems very fair value
250 Ultima Hcap Chase
Perennial challenger Vintage Clouds is back to defend his crown from last year and appears to be reaching form at the right time once more. At the age of 12 he will be doing well to do that though and certainly won’t have his way up front this year with Frodon in the field.
With the Irish not having a great record in this race historically – and lower weights usually doing better on the stats my main selection is KILTEALY BRIGGS.
This horse really seems to have flourished this season and has been aimed at this for some time (owned by the sponsors – and picked ahead of Threeunderthrufive who was swerved to avoid him)
Whilst most of his form has been at shorter, he is closely related to Grand National winner Ballabriggs and promises to be suited to this trip now he has matured. His run against much higher rated novices at Kempton was also every encouraging considering how badly he was in against them.
Not far behind in my mind and secondary choice would be FANTASTIKAS – a novice who already has good course form and will appreciate the distance
His run here over Christmas was in a race I wouldn’t be surprised is a pointer for others this week. Take note of how he (and Oscar Elite) run here with others in mind
330 Champion Hurdle
If my analysis is right so far it will be 3-0 to the home side by now…but expect the Irish fightback to start here with HONEYSUCKLE who is hard to oppose defending her crown. With her odds very prohibitive I’d put up EPATANTE (2020 winner) as the each way selection at around 16/1 – and as the best bet in betting without the favourite markets. She shouldn’t beat the favourite on last years form but I think she still holds the nod over the rest of them
410 Mares Hurdle
A much more competitive look to this one than in previous years. STORMY IRELAND has run in it without success a few times but she comes here now as far less of a tearaway than she has been in past.
I don’t think being taken on for the lead by Heaven Help Us will be as much of a stumbling block now and think she has the best form coming into this. I might have been a bit happier if regular pilot Danny Mullins was still aboard but assume stable jockey Paul Townend had first call instead. He’s not that bad a replacement though!
At bigger odds I also have to put up MARTELLO SKY as an each way bet where extra places are available. The trip was far too short for her in the novices race last year where she made up a huge amount of ground up the hill after being out with the washing.
She’s much improved this year in terms of her level of form and her jumping technique
450 Boodles Juvenile Hcap
All the pre race talk is about how well in Gaelic Warrior could be in this. He might well be 10lb or more better than his mark – built into that though he is very short price for such a race.
There will be others who are also better than their marks. Several other Irish challengers fit into that but I’m also fairly sure that SAINT SEGAL is a good bit better than his mark of 126 (123 if counting Chester Williams’ claim)
He still looked immature when cruising to the front at Chepstow inly to be outmuscled by Triumph hurdle bound Porticello. I’m hoping that experience won’t be lost on him and a good pace here will also suit
530 Ukraine Appeal National Hunt Chase
6 runners for the finale is the lowest turnout since the 19th century doesn’t help its cause as a betting medium. Vanillier has the best previous course form but hasn’t impressed me too much over the larger obstacles. I don’t have a firm enough view on his two main rival to give a selection here and won’t be betting
Day 2 – Wednesday 16th March
Looks like the quietest day for me in terms of opinions….
130 Ballymore Novices Hurdle
SIR GERHARD has course winning form and looks a class above on form. It’s just a perceived stamina issue over this trip that holds me back at the prices and I won’t be betting (not sure there is anything that will be wanting to force such a pace that makes stamina an issue mind…)
For each way purposes at longer odds I’ll go with stablemate WHATDEAWANT who should have been trained to the minute for this as he is owned by race sponsors
210 Brown Advisory Novices Chase
Bravemansgame looks the one to beat coming in but I am a little concerned he may be best on flatter courses. His old foe Ahoy Senor aso goes into unknown territory on this undulating course. L’HOMME PRESSE does have the course experience and is marginal selection – he is unproven over this trip though and that diminishes confidence
Note he won the race I mentioned earlier in Ultima preview so there may be knock on effect from efforts there
250 Coral Cup
Very difficult handicap and likelihood has to be an Irish raider will improve from what we have seen this season to prevail. I don’t know which one though…maybe Drop the Anchor at a push!
DANS LE VENT is too exposed I think to win but is so consistent in this grade I can easily see him reaching top 6/7 with those firms who pay those places. Expect him to be delivered late up the hill under regular pilot Isobel Williams – the two have had a fine partnership this season and he could well be creeping into the frame again at a big price
330 Queen Mother Champion Chase
If Energumene couldnt beat SHISHKIN at Ascot, I cant see how he will here. Shishkin is unbeaten at the festival and rightly an odds on favourite. I’ll be shocked if he gets beat
410 Cross Country Chase
Never a race I get too involved in. It would be great to see Tiger Roll win on his swansong. SHADY OPERATOR has always performed well in a Punchestown race which was invariably a key trial for this and would be my each way pick with firms offering 4 places
450 Grand Annual Hcap
Another tough handicap. SKY PIRATE is 4lb higher than when winning last year but the nature of this race suits him well with likely strong pace allowing him to creep in late. I don’t see him being far away again and is over a stone better off with Before Midnight who beat him here before Christmas. Another small stakes race though
530 Champion Bumper
We have two supposed superstars from Ireland here in Facile Vega and American Mike. I can’t tell you which is best and won’t be getting involved. Of the others I do like OUR JESTER as a horse going forward. He’d be the one I would be considering in each way multis on the day with firms paying 4 places
Good luck to all over the meeting with whatever you back. I’ll be back with picks for days 3 and 4 on Wednesday evening once all final declarations are in