One of the most hotly anticipated events on the racing calendar begins this Tuesday as the Cheltenham Festival gets underway and our top tipster is here with all the information you need ahead of day one at Prestbury Park.
13.30 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – Extra Place Race 1-2-3-4-5
- Last 8 winners all previously have won a graded race
- Won 50% of hurdle races
- Official Rating of 154+
- Deloite/Chanelle Pharma Hurdle, 2020 Winner Asterion Fortage
- Willie Mullins normally throws plenty of darts but has won 4 of the last 7 renewals
Shiskin looks to be the main hope for trainer Nicky Henderson, unbeaten on his 2 completed hurdle starts he put in a striking performance at Huntingdon in a listed hurdle.
No doubt has more improvement to come but I would have preferred to see him run at a stronger grade especially considering his short price and the overall poor record of runners at past festivals having their last prep run at the track (0-128 runners).
3 runs in last 90 days is also not the ideal preparation accepted that he did fall on hurdles debut and some high-class runners in the past from the Henderson yard have been beaten in this race suggesting that his novices are generally trained more for the future.
Similar comments apply to Chantry House from the stable who despite being a very nice individual has no graded form and looks more of a long-term project. The best of the UK runners is expected to be Fiddlerontheroof, the Colin Tizzard runner looks to have a rock-solid profile in that he has won 50% of his hurdle races, has a rating of 154 and has a graded win to his name.
That victory came last time out when a comfortable winner of the Tolworth Hurdle, progressive during the winter he looks to relish a soft surface and hopefully the ground will still be in his favour on Tuesday, if that’s the case he looks to hold excellent claims and is my main bet in for the race.
Asterion Forlonge looks to keep the impressive run of victories in the race going for trainer Willie Mullins, he was a comfortable 9 lengths winner of the grade 1 at Leopardstown which is always a key trial for this event.
Made all that day in a what looked to have been a slowly run race on the clock before his stamina kicked in late on, did have a tendency to jump right which is a slight concern but his trainer is a master bringing these types along to show improved form on the big day. With the faster pace likely to bring out more of his stamina he looks sure to be finishing stronger than most and is worth having on your side.
Fourth in last season’s Champion Bumper Abacadabras has useful past festival form to his name, but he did look to struggle to get home though which has to be a slight concern still. A winner of 3 of his 4 hurdle starts, and only finding Envoi Allen too strong for him in the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse it`s hard to pick faults in his form but I just worry something will be finishing stronger up the hill.
Selections: Fiddlerontheroof – Asterion Forlonge
14.10 Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase
- A victory last time out
- Won a Grade 1 or 2 Chase
- Raced at Cheltenham in the past
- Arkle Novice Chase, 2020 Winner Notebook
- Nicky Henderson 6 victories and numerous place efforts to his name
- Willie Mullins Won 4 of the last 5
Notebook deservedly heads the market arriving here unbeaten over fences in 4 starts. He looks to have had the ideal preparation which is more than can be said about most and is strong fancy to maintain that status.
His form on the last 2 occasions looks very solid winning the Arkle Novice Chase last time and I feel he comfortably had the measure of Fakir D`oudairies over the same CD the time before. Only officially rated 135 over hurdles some will say that is too low to win an Arkle but chasing was always going to be this fella’s game and like previous winners of this race with such a low rating that is offset by the unbeaten chase profile.
Trainer Henry De Bromhead holds the horse in some regard putting him alongside past stars he has trained. German-bred horses do not have the best festival record but it`s interesting that they have a previous winner and 3 placed horses in this race in the past.
He will need to be kept under wraps prior to the race as he can become very headstrong especially going down to the start, but his jockey Rachel Blackmore knows him well and I`m sure all measures will be taken prior to the race itself.
Fakir D`oudairies had much better form than the selection over hurdles and clearly likes Cheltenham having won and finishing fourth in last season’s Supreme. Trainer Joseph O`Brien has already built a reputation for being able to prime a runner for the big day but I can’t help think that another recent chase start would have improved his chances.
Generally speaking, it pays to focus on the market principles in the Arkle and the English runners all have some doubts about them, Brewin`upastorm brings past festival form but lacks experience over fences and he has not been seen since winning a novice event at Taunton in November.
Whatever Nicky Henderson runs has to be respected in this race but Mister Fisher has to take another step forward from beating Al Dancer at Doncaster. There looks little between Global Citizen and Rouge Vif based on their form in the Wayward Lad at Kempton over Christmas.
Global Citizen jumped particularly well that day and Rouge Vif has gone on to win again since in the Kingmaker at Warwick, both look progressive and hold similar each way claims.
14.50 Ultima Handicap Chase – Extra Place Race 1-2-3-4-5-6
- Previously run at the Cheltenham Festival 9 of the last 10
- Wearing headgear 7 of the last 8
- Novice or second season over fences
- Last run in any race at January Cheltenham meeting (last 5 winners)
- Normally a race for the English Nicky Henderson, David Pipe & Jonjo O`Neill have trained multiple winners
Vinndication looks likely to go off favourite, was 5th in last season’s JLT so ticks the past festival box and was an impressive winner on his only start this season at Ascot. He has been well found by the market though and I would have liked to have seen him have another run this season.
There looks little between Kidisart and Mister Malarky on a couple of form lines including when the former was successful at Aintree over similar trip on handicap debut. Another to run in last season’s JLT when finishing 4th, he found heavy ground against him on a couple of occasions this season before a more promising effort last time out when this time behind Mister Malarky.
Cheekpieces are added today which looks a positive and any drying of the ground will be in his favour, however, I just have slight concerns over his jumping at times and worry Daryl Jacob could find himself in a poor early race position which leads me to expect Mister Malarky to confirm the form and go close.
Cepage is the other horse I want on my side like the previous 5 winners of this race he had his last run here in January.
An all-out winner that day he does have to find a little more again in this competitive race but his form in the last year is some of the best in this field and the way he been finishing in those races suggests this trip could just bring out a bit more.
Trainer Venetia Williams is due a festival winner and his uncomplicated run style should see him a good early position. Big River is just 1lb higher than when finishing 4th in this race last season, he bounced back to form with a victory last time out at Kelso and it would not be a surprise to see him out run his odds.
Selections: Cepage – Mister Malarky
15.30 Champion Hurdle – Extra Place Race 1-2-3-4
- A victory last time out
- Previous Grade 1 winner
- 12 or fewer runs over hurdles
- 5 of the last 11 winners ran in the Christmas Hurdle Kempton, 2020 Winner Epatante
- Between them Nicky Henderson and Willie Mullins have won 8 of the last 11 Champion hurdles
Epatante will be bidding to give owner JP McManus his 8th success in the race. A winner of 4 of her 5 hurdle starts her only loss came in the Mares Novice Hurdle at last season’s festival, that does raise a small doubt around her suitability for Cheltenham but she had excuses for that below-par effort and victories at Exeter, Newbury plus most recently at Kempton suggests she is adaptable.
Her victory in the Christmas Hurdle was impressive quickening away from horses who probably just fall below champion hurdle level and are not expected to reverse that form. She fits the profile of many recent winners of the race and looks the most exciting horse for with scope for further improvement still in the line-up.
Reports recently around coughing are a little concerning but trainer Nicky Henderson would be unlikely to let her take her chances if not 100% and he certainly knows what it takes to win a Champion Hurdle. Being a mare, she will be receiving a handy weight allowance and that combined with her progressive unexposed profile makes her the most likely winner.
Cilaos Emery looks the main danger representing another yard who has had plenty of success in the race recently. A winner of a grade 1 as a novice over hurdles he has been supplemented for this race after being switching back from fences, with just the 7 starts he is potentially open to more improvement still.
He does look the main hope for Ireland but he may just be better on proper deep ground and I would have slight doubts about him not having the ideal preparation for this race. Of the rest Darver Star represents last season’s winning trainer, he has shown huge improvement from winning his first handicap of just 106 but I think he still needs to take another step forward from his second-place finish in the Irish Champion Hurdle.
Supasundae was a staying-on fourth that day, and there is good reason to believe he can reverse that form with it being his first run since May the previous year. After failed attempts in the Stayers Hurdle in the past this looks a sensible move in what looks an open a year and he makes some each-way appeal.
Third in this race last year Silver Streak bids to go 2 places better but he was firmly put in his place by Epatante last time out and despite Cheltenham being more suitable track I struggle to see him reversing that form.
Last season’s Triumph winner Pentland Hills is another for the Nicky Henderson camp, he has recently had a wind opp since his last run when just being beaten in the final strides by Ballyandy.
His trainers record for horse improving after such operation is one of the best around and whilst a return to Cheltenham in a fast run race is likely to suit, I feel he will need a couple to disappoint for him to be winning.
16.10 Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle (The David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle)
- Market leaders worth following, Fav or 2nd Fav won on 10 occasions
- Previously won over the distance
- Won or placed against the boys in a graded race
- The Previous season’s renewal
- Willie Mullins, 9 victories from the 12 renewals of the race
Both Roksana and Stormy Ireland have done little wrong since battling out last season’s renewal, and whilst both hold obvious each-way claims again this season this looks to be a match between a couple of other high-class mares.
Unbeaten in her 7 starts to date it’s hard to pick fault with the form of Honeysuckle, she seems adaptable to conditions and it’s hard to tell the limit of her ability still.
A victory last time up against the boys in the Irish Champion hurdle had connections thinking about a possible switch to the Champion but instead have decided to do battle with the Willie Mullins trained Benie Des Dieux.
A winner of the race in 2018 she looked set to double up when a final fence faller last season. She went on to comfortably win at the Punchestown Festival and it was a similar story when she made her reappearance this season at Gowran Park over 3 miles.
The times of those races look to stack up well which makes the comfortable nature of those victories even more impressive and coming here this season after a prep run to just take the edge of her is seen as a big positive, without any kind of mishap she is expecting to prove too strong for Honeysuckle.
Selection: Benie Des Dieux
16.50 Novices’ Handicap Chase – Extra Place Race 1-2-3-4-5
- Has ran 3 or 4 times over fences
- Seen the track in the last 45 days
- Look towards runners near the front of the market
- First or second-place finish last time out
- Cheltenham 2m 5f handicap January meeting 2020 Runner Up Imperial Aura 5th Champagne Court
- Mick Channon won this race 2 years ago for the same owners
Plenty of unexposed chasers to work out in what is always a very tight handicap. Gordon Elliot looks to have had this race in his mind for Galvin based on his 3 chase starts to date. 6th in last season’s Ballymore he looks to have taken a step forward in each of his 3 chase starts however he did fall on chase debut and he has not looked the most solid over the bigger obstacles to date.
Imperial Aura finished 2nd here in January and a reproduction of that effort gives him solid claims and it’s hard to see a reason why he should not run his race. Champagne Court was some 20 lengths behind that day and at first glance, he looks unlikely to reverse that form but he travelled well that day before not being given a hard time of things on his first run for a couple of months.
A staying on 4th in the Martin Pipe last seen a bolder showing is expected today. Hold the Note represents winning connections from a couple of years back and is the main fancy here.
Just the 3 chase starts to date is ideal and maidens over the larger obstacles have won this previously. He posted a solid effort in a Grade 2 at Warwick last time when travelling like the winner before just being outstayed. His jumping looks solid and this drop back in trip on a stiffer course looks the right move.
Selection Hold the Note – Champagne Court
17.30 National Hunt Challenge Cup – Extra Place Race 1-2-3-4
- Ran at a previous Cheltenham Festival
- Experience in a Graded Chase
- 1st or 2nd place finish over 3 mile or more that season
- Jamie Codd, Patrick Mullins & Derek O`Connor all have 2 successes to their name
- Gordon Elliot has won 2 of the last 5 renewals
Carefully Selected looks likely to go off at short odds and whilst the Willie Mullins runners ticks plenty of boxes, he does have to prove his stamina for this trip and backers are likely to have an anxious moment or two at some of his fences, with a clear round he should win and is no doubt the potential class horse in the race but at prohibited odds we can afford to look elsewhere.
Ravenhill represents dual winners of Eilliot and Codd but as a 10-year-old he misses the key age trend and a fall last time out is not the ideal preparation.
Newtide and Springfield Fox are both improving novices, the former was a fortunate winner of a Grade 2 last time out but looks all about stamina and of the 2 is preferred. Lord Du Mesnil started the season of a handicap mark of just 115 and after his fine effort last time out in the Grand National trial at Haydock finds himself rated 153, he doesn’t have the ideal profile for this race but he is an uncomplicated prominent runner who jumps and stays well.
Forza Milan has plenty to find on ratings and form with Carefully Selected on their Naas run but he may be better suited to this test and warrants a small interest.
Selections: Lord Du Mesnil – Forza Milan
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