Cheltenham Day One
The New One Can Finally Win His Champion Hurdle – By Rick Elliott
A few years ago the Racing Post did a survey and asked readers to name their favourite day of racing throughout the year. The overwhelming winner was the first day of the Cheltenham Festival and that occasion is now almost with us. The feature race of the opening day of the jumps meeting that counts more than for all others is the Champion Hurdle and The New One can finally get his name on the trophy.
The Cheltenham Roar has now become a tradition and is heard at the start of the first contest of the four days in the sport that matters most. If running and forgoing other engagements Ballyandy can get us of to a flyer by winning but there does seem to be a lot of positive vibes for Movewiththetimes who the selection beat in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury and Ballyandy is just about weighted to confirm the form.
Altior is the banker of the meeting for most punters but at a best price of 1/3 is not a working man’s price. Barring a fall the horse will win the Arkle Chase. Douvan is trading at about the same price for the Champion Chase and at best odds the double pays about 8/11. A really sensible gambler would not bother with the other 26 races and just have a hefty double on the two bankers but where’s the fun in that?
Rich Ricci has a strong hand in the Mares’ Hurdle but running plans have not been confirmed. It looks like Limini will take her chance and Vroum Vroum Mag could also run. That horse is engaged in six championship races at the meeting, over hurdles and fences. The owner is leaning towards being doubly represented in the mares’ race but that would leave him without a runner in the Champion Hurdle, a race he has won in the last two years with Faugheen and Annie Power, both absent due to injury this time.
The betting market for the Champion Hurdle is now totally different to six months ago when Ricci’s two potential runners were vying for favouritism. At that time Buveur D’air was novice chasing but that horse is now the market leader in some lists for the most prestigious hurdle race in the sport. Yanworth is now right in the picture but may not jump and travel quick enough to win a championship race over two miles. Petit Mouchoir is closely matched with Buveur D’air on Aintree form and Brain Power is unproven at this level so that brings The New Onto in to the mix.
Nigel Twiston-Davies’ pride and joy has run in three Champion Hurdles but never quite delivered. The best window of opportunity was in 2014 but the horse was impeded by the sadly departed Our Conor early in the race and was less lengths adrift to the winner Jezki at the line than the number of lengths lost when Our Conor fell. The New One has produced one of the best ratings efforts over hurdles this season and looks overpriced to finally win that elusive Champion Hurdle.
There is absolutely no point looking for an alternative to Altior in the Arkle. The horse was a superb winner of last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and would be a leading contender for the Champion Hurdle if he’d been kept over the smaller obstacles. Nicky Henderson always saw the horse has a chaser and it’s hard to disagree after four wins this season in chases by an aggregate of 100 lengths. There is little danger that the first leg of the banker double will not prevail.
Some bookmakers are saying the tone for the meeting will be set by the first race. Many pundits believe Melon is priced on connections and not form. The horse has only had one competitive start, winning a maiden in Ireland with ease. There are reports that Willie Mullins is bullish about his charge but Ballyandy has the big race experience to win the Supreme though Movewiththetimes should not be dismissed.
The Ultima Handicap Chase on day one looks like being one of the hottest contests in the division this season. Hollywell represents a trainer with a good record in the race and the horse could have the ability to win of a big weight. The National Hunt Chase is often won by the big yards with class animals and there have been good noises about Genie In A Bottle. The closing Novices’ Handicap Chase is often won by a progressive chaser open to improvement and Value At Risk has that profile.
That last race on the card could be the getting out stakes or a way of playing up our winnings from Ballyandy and The New One.
Cheltenham Day Two
Douvan Is The Banker But Cantlow Is The Bet – By Rick Elliott
Douvan can’t be opposed in the Champion Chase on the second day of the Cheltenham Festival on Wednesday. The rest of the card features some open contests which are complicated by the unconfirmed running plans of several leading contenders. The field for the RSA Chase looks just about fixed and Might Bite is the horse to beat based on novice chase form this season.
Douvan has been mentioned as the best horse that Willie Mullins has ever trained. He has won all 13 races since joining the trainer from France and has started at odds-against just once during this unbeaten run. No horse has yet got to within three lengths of Douvan in Britain and Ireland and his average winning distance over fences is 12 lengths. At 1/3 only the big hitters will be getting involved but the horse wins barring an accident or fall. God’s Own could run into a place at a decent price.
The second shortest horse in the betting on the Wednesday is Cantlow in the Cross Country Chase. The horse has adapted well to the discipline can give his trainer, Enda Bolger, his sixth win in the history of the race at this year’s Festival. He had replica fences built at his stable and even though horses face a variety of obstacles in a cross country race Bolger’s horses have seen them all before at home. That’s a huge advantage and Cantlow can make that experience tell by winning the most prestigious and lucrative cross country race of the season in Britain.
Any Currency would bring the house down if winning this year’s contest over a variety of jumps. The horse was first past the post last year but lost the race in October due to an unavoidable medication technicality. That could have been Any Currency’s window of opportunity and despite it being a great story if he won this year Cantlow is superior on all known form in cross country races. The defeat on Trials Day behind Urgent De Gregaine can be put down to giving weight which won’t apply at the Festival.
The Neptune Novices’ Hurdle which starts proceedings on day two is one race in which the waters are muddied buy possible absentees, most notable the current favourite, Neon Wolf. The horse has been backed to win the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle which is the first race of the four day meeting. Finian’s Oscar, trained by Colin Tizzard, definitely goes for the Neptune and could start favourite on the day if his rival is targeted at another race.
Neon Wolf is one of the best novices’ this season and is unbeaten in a point, bumper and two hurdles. He won the Supreme Trial at Haydock by nine lengths beating a decent animal while producing great numbers on the clock. A final decision has yet to be made but the move in the betting for the Supreme suggests the horse will run in that race which makes Finian’s Oscar of great interest in the Neptune. The horse is potentially a leading novice and the extra distance should help so he can justify the hype and reputation.
The RSA Chase is the novices’ equivalent of the Gold Cup but run over more than a furlong less. It is often a brutal race and generally a precocious animal will prevail. Might Bite has the best form in the field and would be a shorter price but for falling at the last At Kempton over Christmas with the race won. So jumping is a concern and there will be no room for error in the RSA Chase but Might Bite can get the job done.
The Coral Cup and Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle are big runner handicaps that are often won by unexposed horses with about a stone in hand. Tombstone is good enough to have been considered for the Champion Hurdle but takes the handicap route in the Coral Cup which could be a hint in itself. Divin Bere has received positive mentions for the Fred Winter while Carter McKay has solid credentials in the context of the bumper but Douvan is the only rock solid certainty of the day.