A great opening day with The Conditional making all the profit, winning at 15/2 to make it a profitable day!
Hoping for similar returns Wednesday.
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13:30 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
Envoi Allen is the most exciting horse we’ve seen in the sport for a number of years and should gain his second Festival success here.
Last season’s Champion Bumper hero has won all eight of his career starts and will be considered one of the bankers of the Festival as he bids to make it a hat-trick of Grade 1 wins this season. Envoi Allen doesn’t strike me as the sort of horse to ever absolutely bolt up in a race, but he possesses a seemingly infinite number of gears that he can work his way through.
When his rivals have thrown everything at him, Envoi Allen has always looked in control, barely out of his comfort zone, almost as if he’s safe in the knowledge that he’ll always have more up his sleeve. This race should play to his strengths perfectly, and I’d expect this race to be a coronation for him.
This is quite a strong crop of novice hurdlers, though, and Envoi Allen may be given more to think about here than he has previously in his career.
The main challengers look to be Sporting John, who hasn’t had been given a particularly high-profile campaign by Philip Hobbs, but is three-out-of-three under rules after a successful point debut, showing a fair amount of raw speed in all three races and Willie Mullins’ The Big Getaway, who broke his maiden over hurdles in impressive fashion at Naas in January.
Colin Tizzard also runs his highly exciting prospect The Big Breakaway here and he adds further substance to the strongest novice hurdle of the season. Whether this will come a bit too early for him is a debate to be had- he lacks the experience of Envoi Allen- but thrashed two 130+ hurdlers on both of his racecourse appearances, and this out-and-our galloper remains a horse to hold in high regard no matter how he fares at Prestbury Park.
14:10 RSA Chase
Champ was runner-up on this day in last season’s Ballymore, but I’d be hopeful he’ll go one this time around win the RSA. He’s a horse with a huge engine and tons of natural ability, and though his jumping hasn’t always impressed this season, I’d be hoping he will still be good enough to overcome that flaw.
It’s harder to put a figure on what Champ’s main market rival, last season’s shock Albert Bartlett winner Minella Indo, has achieved over fences so far.
Beaten over an inadequate 2m4f by a subsequently woeful Laurina on his chasing debut, Minella Indo running to similar level when beating future Grade 2 winner Captain CJ in a beginners’ chase at Navan in January.
He’s an accurate jumper and is well respected, as is Allaho, who ran respectably in defeat twice behind Minella Indo in Grade 1 company last season, and bolted up on his second chase start last season, though whether he’ll prove perfectly the trip is a question he has to answer- he’s clearly a horse with pace, and headed the market for the JLT last week. The Mullins camp will be confident they’ve made the right decision, but I don’t know how sure I am.
One horse who definitely will stay is the likeable Copperhead, who wasn’t much of a hurdler, but has proved a different proposition over fences and ran away with the Reynoldstown last time out. He’ll be going forwards rather than backwards at the finish, and should be hitting the frame.
14:50 Coral Cup
I think Willie Mullins could hold the key to this race, and his Bachasson ranks highest on my shortlist.
Officially, Bachasson has achieved more as a chaser- his OR is 11lbs superior and he was considered good enough by Mullins to run in the Gold Cup two years ago, but he’s smart over hurdles as well and I don’t think there’s as much disparity between his talent at either discipline as the ratings suggest.
He’s only raced twice since turning Darasso over on New Year’s Eve 2018, but travelled well after a year off to finish third in the Boyne Hurdle on his only racecourse appearance this season. His mark of 148 and best price of 16-1 could underestimate him.
Willie Mullins also holds strong chances with Canardier, who went well in this race last season for Dermot McLoughlin and has been rerouted after a dismal novice chasing campaign, and Eglantine Du Seuil, the winner of last season’s Dawn Run and a huge eyecatcher when staying on into fourth in the Ladbrokes Hurdle last time, whilst another mare, Black Tears, merits consideration.
Of the British team, Dame De Compagnie rates the likeliest winner in my opinion. After running with promise in the Greatwood on her first start since a year off with injury, she then built on that effort by winning a decent mares’ handicap over C&D in December. There could be more progression to come.
15:30 Champion Chase
The outstanding four-time Festival hero Altior’s bid for his third consecutive win in the two-mile Championship ended on Tuesday morning, a reoccurrence of a splint being enough to rule him out of what would’ve been the race of the meeting.
On appear, he’d have faced the toughest test of his career, against the two most exciting newcomers to this division’s top table, who now look to have the two-mike crown between them.
The challengers are Chacun Pour Soi and Defi Du Seuil, clashed at the Punchestown Festival at the back end of last season, with Chacun Pour Soi coming out on top. Opinion differs, though, as how literally to take that form, given that Chacun Pour Soi had only had one prior run that season, in a low-key beginners’ chase at Naas, whilst Defi Du Seuil had been considerably busier- winning Grade 1s in the shape of the Scilly Isles and here at the Festival in the Marsh.
Again, this year, Defi Du Seuil has been the busier of the two, but has looked to have improved again this campaign, winning all three of his starts, including two more Grade 1 victories. We know he’s equally adept over further, so the uphill Cheltenham finish will be no issue for him. Chacun Pour Soi suffered a shock defeat at the hands of Ryanair favourite A Plus Tard, but confirmed he was a top-notcher when beating Min to take the Dublin Chase last time out.
That was a visually stylish return to form and the clock spoke well for him, but that was a tough race and there are more doubts about his stamina than his main rival.
The champion, Altior, has had a strange season. Nicky Henderson admitted that the decision to step up him to 2m5f for his long-awaited clash with Cyrname at Ascot in November, one which saw him given his first, and only, defeat over obstacles, was the wrong decision.
Prospective tilts at the King George, Desert Orchid, and Clarence House were all abandoned, and whispers were abounded that all was not quite right with Altior. However, he put those rumours to bed when reverting to winning ways in the Game Spirit at Newbury last time, typically hitting top gear in the shadows of the post. On Tuesday morning he was ruled out of the race- he’s a big loss to this season’s Festival and hopefully will be back fit in 2021.
Without Altior, who admittedly I was keenest on for the race, the selection is Defi Du Seuil, who boasts a fine Cheltenham record, stays well at the trip and has taken a step forward which each run this season. It’s hard to find a flaw in his game.
16:10 Cross Country Chase
You wait years for a four-time Festival winner, and then two come along at once.
Such was the case last season, when, half an hour after Altior gained his fourth Cheltenham success in the Champion Chase, Tiger Roll achieved the same remarkable feat by taking his second successive Cross Country.
He’s going for five here- oh, and he’s won another Grand National in the meantime.
His current OR rates him as a Gold Cup quality chaser nowadays, and he ran with promise on his seasonal warm-up in the Boyne Hurdle last time. Normally, this would be a formality for a horse his versatility and class, but there’s an interesting rival in the manner of French raider Easysland.
David Cottin’s six year old has won all six of his last starts, including when impressing an unorthodox Jonathan Plouganou ride over C&D here back in December.
He’s highly progressive and obviously loves the unusual test cross-country racing provides, so this may not be as straightforward for Tiger Roll as it has been in the past two seasons.
It will also be fascinating to see how 2018 Gold Cup runner-up Might Bite fares in this new discipline. He’s clearly not been the same since having such a hard race that day, and even though he can’t be considered a backable proposition in his current form, he’ll add a different aspect to the Festival’s longest race.
However, in all likelihood, the Tiger will have too much for his cross-channel rival and should go on to record another popular success.
16:50 Boodles Juvenile Hurdle
Three of the past ten renewals of this race have gone to an ex-French Paul Nicholls trainee, and he could add another victory to his fine record in the race with Thyme White. He showed fairly useful flat form in his native country before hitting the post on his first two hurdles starts in Britain- no match for Goshen at Sandown, before finishing a tidy second a well delivered Rowland Ward at Kempton over Christmas.
He got a win under his belt when taking the Scottish Triumph last month, and I quite like the lines of his form- Group Stage and Goa Lil, both rated above 130, were beaten by him last time out and given how well Nicholls has done in the past with this type of horse in this race, it would be no surprise if Thyme White could follow in the footsteps of Sanctuaire, Diego Du Charmil and Qualando and take the Fred Winter trophy back to Ditcheat.
Nicholls’ top weight Mick Pastor is also highly respected- he probably showed enough at Ludlow to merit a crack at the Triumph, so it’s interesting that they’ve chosen to run him here instead.
17:30 Champion Bumper
Appreciate It is a short-priced favourite for good reason this after his facile victory in the Grade 2 equivalent at the Dublin Racing Festival last month.
That race was taken last season by Envoi Allen, who followed up in this, and there could be no man better to prepare a horse for this event than Willie Mullins, who has trained a record eight winners of the race. Appreciate It evidently stays well, and his future will surely lie over further than this, though that can be seen as a positive given how the hill can be a problem for those at the minimum trip who find their petrol tank emptying.
Mullins also has Ferny Hollow for last year’s winning owners. The expensive point purchase was turned over at odds-on on both his first two starts for Mullins, but settled better last time out and finally got a 1 next to his name, never having to get out of first gear to win at Fairyhouse last month.
Gigginstown’s Farouk D’Alene has also impressed so far, and showed he has an attitude to match his talent when battling back to beat Fire Attack at Naas last month. He’s another Irish challenger warranting serious respect, though whether that effort will have left a mark on him could be cause for concern.
The best British hand looks to be held by David Pipe, who readies Israel Champ and Panic Attack for this. The former put an underwhelming rules debut at Worcester behind him to win at the second time of asking over course and distance in Listed company back here in November, before following up again at that level at Ascot in December.
The mare Panic Attack has only been seen on a racecourse for Willie Mullins- the Closutton maestro sent her across the Irish Sea to make her debut in a Listed race at Market Rasen in January, where she readily bolted up.
Since purchased by Bryan Drew and switched to the Pipe yard, I was hugely impressed by her turn of her foot and but that was a much weaker race than the ones won by her stablemate, though I think the market has it spot on and that Appreciate It will take all the beating.
- 13:30 Envoi Allen
- 14:10 Champ
- 14:50 Bachasson
- 15:30 Altior
- 16:10 Tiger Roll
- 16:50 Thyme White
- 17:30 Appreciate It