Well it has arrived, Day 1 of the Cheltenham Festival is here and we have 3 main races to focus on, the Supreme Novice Hurdle, the Arkle Chase and the Champion Hurdle. I hope you watched my video on narrowing down the field, if not I have posted it below:
My personal shortlists for the races are as follows:
1:30 William Hill Supreme Novices Hurdle – 2m 110yds
A race which is usually dominated by the irish has not had an irish winner for the past 2 years now – so they will be trying their best to put that right this year. A wide open race this year – I will look at the key contenders.
Darlan – 9/2 – has to be a weak favourite, falling last time out at Newbury in a Grade 3, although going well at the time – question marks over his confidence – has decent course form with his win in a Class 3 here in December. Nicky Henderson has not won this race for 20 years.
Steps To Freedom – 7/1 – Irish trained, winning hurdle form here at Cheltenham when ran last in November in Grade 2 hurdle. Also a winner in the Aintree bumper on Grand National day. Negative has to be the length of time off the track at 123 days. A definite strong prospect for the race.
Cinders and Ashes – 8/1 – loves heavy / soft ground – so may have doubts with conditions. Not run in the past 45 days but has won a bumper here and also came 5th in last year’s Champion Bumper.
Galileo’s Choice – 8/1 – ex-flat horse from the Weld stable – came 2nd in the Royal Bond to Sous Les Cieux in December. Negatives have to be that he has only had 2 runs over hurdles so is inexperienced in comparison to some in the race.
Midnight Game – 10/1 – ex-French flat horse, came 4th in the Royal Bond in December on heavy ground but then bounced back to win at Leopardstown on better ground and in January at Naas – the yard still felt he would improve considerably on what he showed there. Negative has to be the record of ex-flat horses in this race over the past few years and the fact he has not raced within the last 45 days (although at 52 he is close).
Montbazon – 10/1 – another French bred who will love the expected good / soft conditions and his win in the middle of February at Newbury to beat Vulcanite by 7 lengths. The same Newbury race which Al Ferof won last year before going on to win the Supreme Novices, still on a good mark of 144. Negatives are that Alan King has never won the race and his lack of Cheltenham form – other than a bumper in November when he came 3rd, however this was after 7 months off the track and he did not look totally race fit. No such problems this time.
Of the others Tetlami has plenty of bumper form but only run twice over hurdles, Trifolium has had plenty of experience over the hurdles with no less than 7 runs over them, winning 3 times including last time out at the start of February at Punchestown in a Grade 2 race, showing plenty of speed – however his stamina may be called into question around Cheltenham and he would need to show too much improvement to win here. The only other possibility for me could be the Royal Bond winner Sous Les Cieux who looked to be flying until disappointing in his last two runs at Leopardstown, he looked a little slow to be a serious 2m Grade 1 horse, however he performed better in the last race, the 2m 2f Deloitte Novice Hurdle when finishing 2nd – he would probably suit the Neptune Hurdle over 2m 5f (for which he is also entered) rather than the Supreme Novices. However at the price he may well find that the stiffer test of Cheltenham is right up his street.
2:05 Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase – 2m
This race is dominated by top rated hurdlers, so the starting point is a rating of 142+ over hurdles, which the top 4 all hit with ease. The race this year looks to be between the top 4 in the market and a strong race for the home trainers. The top 3 all raced in the Supreme Novices here at Cheltenham last year.
However Sprinter Sacre appears to have converted this top class hurdles form better to chasing although remember only 2 favourites have won the race in the last 20 years.
Sprinter Sacre (6 yo) – 10/11 – came 3rd here last year behind Al Ferof in the Supreme Novices, ahead of the favourite Cue Card. He beat Peddler’s Cross at Kempton in December by some 16 lengths and then went on to win again at Newbury last month over 2m 1f on good / soft breaking the course record. He looks to do everything effortlessly and is hard to oppose in this race.
Al Ferof (7 yo) – 5/2 – has fantastic Cheltenham form, he came 2nd in the Champion Bumper in 2010, before returning to win the Supreme Novices in 2011. He made his chase debut back here in November winning the November Novices Chase before going to Sandown to win the Grade 1 Henry VIII at the start of December, although not convincing he jumped well and held on to win by a neck from For Non Stop. He then blotted his copy book a little by struggling to a 3rd at Ascot at the end of January, although considering he was a novice against far more experienced chasers, it was a tough ask. Has every chance to bounce back at Cheltenham, a course he clearly loves.
Cue Card (6 yo) – 6/1 – Another who seems to love Cheltenham, with a win in the Champion Bumper in 2010, ahead of Al Ferof, then won a Grade 2 Novice race back at Cheltenham and finished 2nd to Menorah in the International Hurdle before coming back to contest the Supreme Novices last year – only to come 4th behind Al Ferof. Last time out he won nicely at Newbury over 2m 2f beating For Non Stop by 4 lengths at the end of December. So a decent line of form against Al Ferof.
Menorah (7 yo) – 9/1 – Top rated over hurdles at 162 and one of my favourite hurdlers – has some great Cheltenham form behind him, including winning the Supreme Novices in 2010. However since switching to fences he has not been quite as convincing making jumping mistakes on debut at Taunton when winning, then again at Kempton in January before falling last time out at Doncaster – again making a jumping mistake. If he can produce a clear round of jumping he is in with a shout but it is a big if against this competition.
Of the others Blackstairmountain (7 yo) of Willie Mullins was making nice progress over fences before his last run at Leopardstown when the heavy ground caught him out and he faded to 5th place. Stamina doubts are the reason he is out at 16/1, but on better ground here at Cheltenham he may improve into a place here – but would have to really step up on what he has achieved so far to win. Kid Cassidy (6 yo) is the other outsider worth a look, although he fell on his chasing debut and did not perform at the highest level as a hurdler (rated only 135) – he is a promising looking chaser, winning his last two chase races, unlike the top 4 he does not have any Cheltenham form to his name and may struggle with stamina and to get the strongly run trip.
3:20 Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy – 2m 110yds
A race which is dominated by Hurricane Fly this year and it is hard to see past him winning again, after not putting a foot wrong since winning last year, now rated 173, he is super consistent and will take all the beating.
Hurricane Fly (8 yo) – his last race at Leopardstown in January saw him destroy Oscar’s Well by over 6 lengths, following and 8 month break from the track, he looked as fit as ever and like he had never been away. Prior to that he beat Binocular by over 9 lengths at Punchestown. Hard to see anything troubling him this time, unless he has a rare off day.
Binocular (8 yo) – won the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton in a real battle with Rock On Ruby and some 8 lengths ahead of Overturn to reverse his loss to him in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle. He still had some poor jumps in the race and did not fill you with confidence even though he appeared to be coming back to somewhere near his best. It all depends which Binocular turns up on the day, hard to trust him.
Zarkandar (5 yo) – one of the youngsters in the race and has the statistic that only one 5yr old has won the race since 1985. However, he made his hurdles debut last year at Kempton after racing on the flat in France. He won his debut nicely and then followed up with a win in last year’s Triumph Hurdle beating horses such as Grandouet and Sam Winner. He then won a Grade 1 Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree before a long break off the track. He returned last month in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury and even after such a break. He will improve for that run and could go close, but he would need to improve a lot to trouble the favourite.
Rock On Ruby (7 yo) – was very impressive in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton pushing an in form Binocular all the way to the line. He loves Cheltenham and has a record of 1,2,2 here – so has solid place claims and at 11/1 offers real value in the race.
Of the others , I can’t have Oscar’s Well after his performance at Leopardstown.
I hope you enjoyed that and you can watch the Day 2 Video here >>>> Racing Profits Guide To Cheltenham
Have a great day – talk tomorrow