Friday, 17 March 2017

Blamey Stakes preview

It's almost time for the Flat season in Europe and it's right in the heat of the action on the sunny side of the equator. While it's raining cats, dogs and hamsters in Sydney for the Golden Slipper, it'll be gorgeous weather yet again in the world's most liveable city.

Taking on the Blamey Stakes is astute Australian form analyst, Callum Gogerly, @_gogs10.


Incognitus Blamey Stakes
Group 2, AU$200,000, 1600m
Flemington Saturday, 1505 local, 0405 GMT

Conditions: The state of the Flemington track has been hotly debated over the past two meetings. Clearly, the inside has been the place to be and it hasn’t made for the most attractive racing. To his credit, track manager Mick Goodie has come out and stated that he underestimated the effect of mowing at slightly different lengths. He has said that the track should race more evenly this week, the rail coming out to the 3m mark should certainly aid things. A little rain around on Thursday, but the track should be in the “good” range yet again.

Speed: Not one iota of speed engaged in this race on paper. Sir Isaac Newtown raced handy in a Caulfield Cup, but first up at 1600m is another story. Harlem has been racing over longer trips in Europe so I doubt he could show the zip to lead this field. The other locals aren’t known leaders. Messy.

Black Heart Bart- Scratched

Palentino- Never really stood a chance last start with the slow tempo, but was my no means poor in the run home. He gets back “home” where he has done his best work before and it looks like the mile will be tailor made for him. He ran right past Black Heart Bart in the G1 Makybe Diva Stakes at this T/D in the spring. Looks like he’s ticking over nicely, value runner.

He Or She- Last year’s winner of the race back to defend his crown. Hit the line nicely to score here first up. He performed admirably at G1 level in a handful of starts throughout the spring placing on two occasions. He might not have the out and out class of some of these, but he gets conditions to suit (Flemington/Mile). He could be the absolute blowout hope.

Sir Isaac Newton- Team Williams galloper resuming for the first time as an Australian-trained horse. Was well spruiked in the Caulfield Cup but was possibly a little disappointing (over-raced). The stable tend to give their gallopers a one or two run autumn before setting them for a bigger spring. Pass today.

Real Love- Generally reliable mare who has been building up nicely this prep. Interesting to see that they are coming back to the 1600m after last starting running at the 1800m. I’ve always regarded her as at her best at 2000m and above. If the race is run as slow as is expected on paper then she’ll face a really difficult past to run over them in the straight.

Tosen Stardom- Ex-Japanese galloper who put in a bottler first up, only to just miss to Black Heart Bart. That was what you wanted to see after an injury enforced lay off. Would have met Black Heart Bart 4kg better for that effort. If he doesn’t have a case of “second up syndrome” and isn’t too far off them at the turn, he looks like he is the one to beat given the conditions of the race.

Harlem- Has never raced at a distance under 2000m, not unusual for a British import. I’m sure the Hayes/Dabernig yard have trained a little speed into his legs, but to win this first up would be a total shock.

Tips: These small fields can often be tricky races and this doesn’t look to be any different. Provided he is sound and came through the first up run well, then I’m with Tosen Stardom. He’s always shown promise when he has run in Australia in the past and with the weight swing on some key rivals, he looks like he will get his chance to break through for the first time in Australia today. Both Palentino and He Or She will benefit from getting to the 1600m and loom as the most logical challengers.

1. Tosen Stardom
2. Palentino
3. He Or She

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Cheltenham Gold Cup preview

And finally, it's the heavyweight battle of the year, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Has it lost anything in the absence of Thistlecrack? Maybe the absolute star quality but what we have now is a proper contest.

Taking on the challenge is sharp cookie and regular contributor, Dave Stephens, @davestevos. You can read more of his work on his blog.


Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup
Grade 1, £575,000, about 3m2.5f
Cheltenham Friday 1530 local, 0230 AEDT

After three tremendous days of action with no shortage of thrills, spills and bellyaches, the big day has finally arrived. The one that every owner, trainer and jockey wants to win is the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and this year’s race looks a particularly open renewal.

Ever since Thistlecrack fell by the wayside it has been Native River and Cue Card battling it out for favouritism, but the likes of Sizing John, Djakadam and Outlander won’t go down without a fight. Only one horse priced up at bigger than 8/1 has scored since 2007 (Lord Windermere at 20/1) so it has usually paid to stick with the market leaders. Read my thoughts on the race below.

The Main Contenders
Cue Card
Age: 11yo Official Rating: 170 Odds: 7/2 (prices as available on Thursday morning)

If there was to be a fairytale winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Cue Card would fit the bill perfectly. Colin Tizzard’s evergreen 11yo has thrilled racegoers down through the years, but this is the one prize that has eluded him. He was travelling well under Paddy Brennan in last year’s renewal when falling, but it was too early to say whether he would have beaten Don Cossack. He looked as good as ever when beating a middling field last time at Ascot, but the stats are against him on Friday.

No horse older than 10yo has won this race since What A Myth scored in 1969, and Cue Card has yet to win beyond three miles on anything other than a flat track. That being said, he will love the ground and he is bound to be travelling well half a mile from home. However, it is when they hit the hill that the real questions are asked, and I remain to be convinced that Cue Card has the answers. I would love to see him win and it would be great for racing, but in reality I can’t see him finishing in the first three.

Native River
Age: 7yo
Official Rating: 168
Odds: 7/2

The second of the Tizzard horses, and this 7yo son of Indian River has been talked up as a potential Gold Cup winner all season. He earned his only Grade 1 win last April at Aintree in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase, and he gave a sign of things to come with a brilliant win in the Hennessey back in November. Native River then went on to produce another fine effort when winning the Welsh National off top weight at Chepstow. He has serious stamina, but stamina alone won’t win you a Gold Cup, as you need a turn of foot too.

He beat Bristol De Mai and Le Mercurey last time, and he was only just over 3L ahead of Le Mercurey. I am not sure about the level of that form and there can be holes picked in a few of his efforts. In the Hennessey, a fast finishing Carole’s Destrier just failed to reel him in, and it was the same story with Raz De Maree in Wales. He jumps well and will gallop all day, but whether he has the required touch of class and turn of foot to win on the likely good ground remains to be seen. The jury is still out for me, and he has it to prove against the calibre of opposition he faces on Friday.

Age: 8yo
Official Rating: 165
Odds: 4/1

Forever the bridesmaid and never the bride, Djakadam is back for his third crack at the Gold Cup and plenty fancy him to make it third time lucky. It is hard to believe this fella is still only an 8yo, and he has found only one too good in the last two renewals. Don Cossack beat him last year, and it was Coneygree back in 2015. Rich Ricci and Willie Mullins endured a torrid first couple of days at the festival, but a win in this race would make up for all of that. Mullins has yet to win a Gold Cup, one of the few remaining prizes that has eluded him during a stellar career.

He claims to have had a perfect preparation with Djakadam for the first time heading into this race, but he was beaten by Outlander (and Don Poli) on his last outing at Leopardstown (24f yld). Incidentally, Outlander was one of the horses moved from Mullins’ yard to Gordon Elliott by Gigginstown, so if he were to beat Djakadam it would be particularly hard for Mullins to stomach. However, Djakadam ticks a lot of the right boxes, and he got to within 3 lengths of the mighty Don Cossack last year. He has the ability to figure at the finish, but he may well just come up short again.

Sizing John
Age: 7yo
Official Rating: 167
Odds: 10/1

Sizing John has had to play second fiddle to Douvan at the festival for the last two years. He was runner up behind him in the Arkle last year, and he was third behind him in the Supreme in 2015. The fact that Sizing John was able to run so well in those 16f contests show that he is a horse that has natural speed, and he proved he has plenty of stamina too with his victory in the Irish Gold Cup back in February at Leopardstown.

He held off the late challenge of Empire Of Dirt for a famous win, and given that the ground was soft for that 24.5f contest he should be fine over 26f on better ground. Jessica Harrington immediately nominated either the Ryanair or the Gold Cup as his festival target after that race, and I think she made the right decision to go for the big one. It is rare enough that you have a horse good enough to even run in the Gold Cup, let alone have a proper chance, so it makes sense to seize the opportunity when it arises. If his stamina does hold out, he has the turn of foot to go very close.

Age: 7yo
Official Rating: 168
Odds: 10/1

This 9yo son of Stowaway has been there or thereabouts in plenty of Grade 1 contests in recent seasons, and he catapulted himself into the Gold Cup picture with a commanding win at Leopardstown in December. He travelled strongly on the yielding ground, and both Djakadam and Don Poli couldn’t cope with his finishing burst. He ended up beating those two rivals by over two lengths, and that piece of form would give him every chance on Friday. His new trainer Gordon Elliott won it last year with Don Cossack, and he would love to do it again with this lad.

The big worry with Outlander is that he has failed to fire on both previous visits to the Cheltenham festival. He was sent off at just 4/1 in the Neptune, but he never figured and trailed home in sixth, six lengths behind the winner Windsor Park. Last year he fell in the JLT when still there with a chance, so his experiences of the festival have not been good. He cannot be discounted for his in form stable, but I think that Gigginstown would have had a better chance of winning if they ran Empire Of Dirt. A big run would come as no surprise, but his previous course form is the big worry.

The Best Of The Rest

Although the stats suggest that the market leaders usually dominate, there are a couple of interesting ones at bigger prices that could run well. Champagne West has won here twice over shorter distances, and he produced a career best last time when hosing up in the Thyestes on bottomless ground at Gowran. However, he has been pulled up on his last two visits to Cheltenham, including in the Ryanair last year, and unless the heavens open I can’t see him winning.

The JP McManus pair look to be up against it too, but if I had to back one of them it would probably be More Of That. I fancied him to run well at Leopardstown last time, and he was bang there with every chance when falling at the last. I am not sure how well he was actually going at the time though, and it is debateable as to how much he would have found at the finish. Minella Rocco has also had jumping issues on his last couple of starts, while Bristol De Mai was firmly put in his place by Native River last time.


Cue Card would be one of the most popular winners of this race of all time, but I just can’t see him staying up the hill. As an 11yo the stats are against him, and he may have to give best to his younger rivals. Native River will likely try and gallop them into submission like he has on previous starts this season, but that won’t be as easy on the likely good ground. Outlander has failed to produce his best on his last two visits to the festival, so that leaves us with Djakadam and Sizing John.

Djakadam has the strongest Cheltenham form of the whole field, and any worries about the condition of the Mullins’ horses were dispelled by a fabulous four-timer on Thursday. He has found only one too good in the last two years, but he may have to settle for second place yet again as I think Sizing John could be the one to be on here. He has solid festival form, and he got within seven lengths of a peak condition Douvan here over 2 miles so he won’t be found wanting for toe. He showed he stayed last time, he will enjoy the ground and at odds of around 10/1 I think he has the necessary credentials to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Stevos’ Prediction:
1. Sizing John
2. Djakadam
3. Native River

Ryanair Chase preview

We've survived to day three of the Festival, that's got to be a winner surely? A mixed bag for punters and bookies alike so far. A couple of winners yesterday pulled me back to almost square, but annoying close to big collects. Mind you, I also had Might Bite, so it works both ways!

Thursday is traditionally the stretch day, the extra day they threw in a bit over a decade ago which seems a little weaker than others. One of the features is the oft-maligned Ryanair Chase, partly for being a mid-distance race which dilutes the traditional championship races, and for being sponsored by the Marmite airline, Ryanair.

Taking another swing at a feature race preview is Cian Ryan, @cianryan92.


Ryanair Chase
Grade 1, £250,000, about 2m5f New Course
Cheltenham Thursday 1450 local, 0150 AEDT

The Ryanair Chase gets written off by many racing fans as it doesn’t tend to attract the same quality of horse as the Gold Cup. This year’s renewal is no exception with not many superstars in the field.

There is one potential superstar in the field in Un De Sceaux. Willie Mullins has had a terrible week so far but I’m hoping he can turn things around with this horse. Despite being branded as a “tearaway” by some early in his career, the horse has matured into a consistent grade 1 performer recently. His form is absolutely rock solid, winning an Arkle, Tingle Creek and Clarence House Chase. His second in the 2016 Champion Chase has been franked by Special Tiara going on to win this year’s renewal. The horse has an abundance of good Cheltenham Festival form. Cheltenham form has been a profitable angle for the 2017 festival so far. Many experts have written off the horse as they believe he won’t stay 2m5f but I believe he has been settling better in his races. His performance in the Clarence House Chase when beating Uxizandre by five lengths has been his most professional to date. He has also won twice over 2m4f at Auteuil which further strengthens the case that he’ll stay. The one negative for the horse will be the quicker ground. It is not enough of a negative to put me off as he put up a massive performance against Sprinter Sacre on good ground last year.

Another horse with previous festival form is Uxizandre. He won this race in 2015 for AP McCoy with a fantastic front running performance. He returned behind Un De Sceaux after a massive layoff of almost two years. He has five lengths to find with Un De Sceaux, some will argue he will improve for the run but this is dangerous to assume as the horse could also “bounce”. The price disparity between the two is not large enough to take the risk he will turn around the form.

It is surprising to see that connections have left Empire of Dirt in the race. Gordon Elliott revealed at a Betfair preview night that the horse would represent his best chance in the Gold Cup if he were to run. I assumed the horse would switch targets after Don Poli was injured, but the fact he remains in the Ryanair suggests connections feel he can run a massive race. Empire of Dirt has taken the step up to graded level in his stride, putting in a solid performance when finishing second in the Irish Gold Cup. He has graduated to graded level having put up impressive performances in a handicap at the 2016 festival and in the Troytown.

Josses Hill has improved his jumping this season and has won two decent chases over 2m4f before running well in the King George (seven lengths, fifth of five). He isn’t a no-hoper by any means but his form doesn’t come close to Un De Sceaux. I can’t imagine it was an easy decision for Bryan Cooper not to take the ride on Sub Lieutenant. Like Empire of Dirt, he also has solid form behind Sizing John who subsequently won the Irish Gold Cup and Djakadam who is fancied for the Gold Cup. He has an each way chance but may fall short at this level.

Vaniteuxwas a good novice chaser last season, unseating in the Arkle two out when a length and a half behind Douvan. His form has taken a dip this year and I don’t believe he is Grade 1 quality. Alary has come with a big reputation from France but he has shown nothing in his first two starts for Colin Tizzard. Aso won’t enjoy the quicker ground and has plenty to find to take this.


Un De Sceaux should outclass the opposition, he is available at 11/4 which represents great value for such a classy and consistent horse. There is also the possibility he may be under bet due to the lack of Willie Mullins winners. Empire of Dirt is a big danger but his price is far too short.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle preview

Late in the day, and after pictures disappear from ITV, it's one of my favourite races of the week, the 4yo handicap hurdle. For fans of racing without obstacles, think of a 2yo or early 3yo handicap - so much intrigue with so many lightly-raced horses and often, a stack of winning chances. And thus, without anyone else stepping up to take this race, I've had a crack at it.


Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
Grade 3, £80,000, about 2m1/2f
Cheltenham Wednesday 1650 local, 0350 AEDT

1. Divin Bere - unplaced in eight starts on the flat, but looks a completely different horse over hurdles. A win and two narrow seconds as a 3yo hurdler in France, he came to the Henderson yard via Paul Nicholls (there must be a story there?) and won on his British debut at Huntingdon. The also-rans haven't looked much so far but the runner-up Master Blueyes is one of the leading hopes in the Triumph on Friday, having won twice since, including the G2 Adonis by 11 lengths. Concedes weight to all of his rivals but it's very logical to say he's probably still getting light and has also had a recent wind operation. Henderson and Fehily have already had Festival winners, big chance.

2. Project Bluebook - started favourite in the Scottish Triumph Hurdle Trial but could only finish third behind Forth Bridge. Dropped three pounds for that defeat. Previously successful in open handicap company, always a tough task for an early 4yo, and the manner of that victory saw JP McManus open the cheque book. Jockey Brian Hughes has had a stunning season up north, but does that translate to Cheltenham?

3. Fidux - another French-bred (fabulous record in this race) who finished five lengths adrift of Project Bluebook at Musselburgh and 15L behind Master Blueyes in the Adonis at level weights (link with Divin Bere) in February. That dropped his mark by eight pounds from its peak of 143 after winning his first two hurdle starts. Seems too close to the topweights to be in the finish.

4. Long Call - Tony Martin, handicap race. Alarm bells ring. Formerly a Godolphin flat horse trained by Charlie Appleby, this one only got as high as 75 before switching codes. Beaten a long way in his first three hurdling runs in Ireland, Martin took him to Hereford for a soft kill on a heavy track and then gave Master Blueyes 7lb at Ludlow, finishing 18L behind him in second after clattering the last. On available form, he still has plenty to do, but you always have to be wary of a Tony Martin handicap runner.

5. Dolos - this year's Nicholls French raider, after Sanctuaire, Qualando and Diego Du Charmil in recent seasons. Not disgraced last start as favourite in a novice hurdle at Taunton (beaten 7.5L), particularly when both horses who finished ahead of him have since won. Finished 18L behind the Triumph Hurdle favourite at Chepstow over Xmas; again, not bad form. Plenty of positive vibes about this horse, expect him to be backed.

6. Flying Tiger - a few further lengths behind Fidux in the Adonis, although was conceding three lbs to the aforementioned and the winner. The switch from Lizzie Kelly to Richard Johnson may not bring much - Johnson has ridden just three winners from his last 38 rides and it's even worse at Cheltenham in past 12 months, 2/37. He's cold. Can't have him regardless of who sits in the saddle.

7. Prospectus - has beaten Dakota Moirette twice in weaker races, but a long way behind in a G2 at Leopardstown on Boxing Day. Ruby Walsh gets on for a small Irish trainer, surely there's a lead there somewhere.

8. Poker Play - bought for serious money out of France after a close second to Charli Parcs and a follow-up win late last year. Disappointed at Kempton on his British debut, starting 2/5 but ran far too keenly, trailing 4.5L behind Fidux. David Pipe, already a winner this week, put him away for a couple of months and applies the tongue tie for the first time. Big field, stronger pace and the gear change provide the opportunity to reverse that form, and Paul Kealy has spotted that in the RP. Keep an eye on him.

9. Domperignon Du Lys - started 5/2 against Defi Du Seuil in the Triumph Trial here in December, but blundered the second last flight when close up and trailed almost 17L behind. Then went to Market Rasen for a confidence boost starting 1/4. Concerned about his jumping under pressure, can't afford any errors here. Does have the Henderson stable touch though.

10. Rainbow Dreamer - an 88-rated Flat horse, he was 6L behind Nietzsche (but ahead of Master Blueyes) at Wetherby back in October, then cheekpieces applied for two easy wins at Fontwell. Swapped the cheekpieces for a visor against Defi Du Seuil here in January, beaten nine lengths. Honest but facing a tough task.

11. Diable De Sivola - gave weight to Defi Du Seuil back in November, finishing less than two lengths behind but the RP analysis calls it 'flattered by proximity'. Most recently beaten 15L by Soldier In Action at Doncaster. Can't see him being involved.

12. Linger - once upon a time ran on the Flat for Sheik Hamdan but didn't take long to work out he wasn't much chop, peaking at 65. Has picked up a few wins in off-season or low-grade juvenile races, won't be troubling these.

13. Dreamcatching - yet another French-bred with Paul Nicholls. As short as 7/2 when a postcode away from Charli Parcs and Master Blueyes at Kempton at Xmas time. Went to Wincanton for a novices hurdle last month and put them away comfortably. The talented Stan Sheppard claimed 5lbs that day and does so again here, getting quite a concession against the topweights. Right in this.

14. Dakota Moirette - beaten by Prospectus twice in past three starts. Stable on fire but a win would surprise.

15. Nietzsche - plenty of racecourse experience with 21 starts already before his proper fourth birthday. Has won in open handicap company at his past two starts, getting him very battle hardened. Beat Project Bluebook in December then made a mess of a late hurdle on New Year's Day, trailing the same horse by 15L. Would have to think the handicapper has a good handle on his mark but very honest. Could do worse than throw him in exotics and placepots.

16. Zig Zag - similar to Nietzsche in that he has faced the starter many times already and thus won't have any 'potential' factor left in his handicap mark. Got within four lengths of the highly-rated Landofhopeandglory in November, but in reality, this bloke was all out and the favourite just cruised on by. Big odds for a reason.

17. Icario - another Gordon Elliott runner and tipped up by Pricewise. Keeps getting beaten in maidens, that's well below this standard.

18. Fadas - beaten almost eight lengths by Dreamcatching at Wincanton in a novice hurdle, his British debut. Started a hot favourite that day so there must be decent stable confidence about this one. On that basis, being right down in the weights, don't be afraid to chuck him in exotics.

19. Dino Velvet - the best weighted of the Alan King trio according to the trainer. Ran second in an open handicap at Ludlow, good experience for a faster pace here. Doesn't scream out Cheltenham winner to me, but connections have had Festival winners in the past.

20. Dodgybingo - not seen since November but had finished ahead of Linger and Zig Zag. If there's any natural improvement in him after a four-month break, he could be competitive.

21. Percy Street - the best of these on the Flat, rated 98, and still has the tackle intact. Beaten a long way in the Adonis. Henderson will need to have worked a miracle to get him home in front.

22. Candy Burg - was in an absolute muck lather on his British debut here in December, finishing almost 20L last behind Defi Du Seuil. That was a big ask and started 50/1. Rated over 30lbs below that horse now, this is a little more like it. Tongue tie applied for the first time. The Venetia Williams stable is flying at the moment, albeit in lesser company. Likely to be the bolte rof the field but don't be shocked if there's a sharp improvement.


Hard to see beyond the big stables in this one, at least for the major prize. But it's a handicap which means fourth or possibly even fifth place brings rewards so don't be afraid to stretch beyond the obvious.

Divin Bere (EW)
Poker Play (small EW)
Candy Burg (a nibble EW)

RSA Novices' Chase preview

The big conundrum of day two - should Might Bite be a raging favourite by way of his domination of the Kauto Star Novices' Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day until tripping at the last fence, or should he be the lay of the day because his jumping can't be trusted? If you can find a bookie with faller insurance, there's got to be an angle to attack this race.

That's my bit of editorial, but taking control for the preview, it's regular contributor, the shrewd Chris Day, @chrisday100.


RSA Novices' Chase
Grade 1, £175,000, about 3m1/2f
Cheltenham Wednesday 1410, 0110 AEDT

The second race on the second day of Cheltenham, the RSA Chase, gives us the first real opportunity to pit the form of this year's leading novice chasers on each side of the Irish Sea against each other.

Favourite is Might Bite from the stable of Nicky Henderson, who had a superb start to the meeting yesterday. His chance here lies on a piece of form where he failed to complete the course at Kempton on Boxing Day. Prior to falling he'd jumped like a cat and would have won the race by a distance had he not come down at the last fence. He had a confidence booster round one of his trainer's favourite tracks, Doncaster, and once again revealed a big engine although his jumping did seem to lack its previous fluency.

He's the horse all the experts are against but he sets a high standard and the trainer said he'd never seen him school so well as he did last Friday.

The winner at Kempton was Royal Vacation, who won a very good 2 1/2 mile novice handicap next time on Trials' Day back in January from a mark of 143. He's a solid, unspectacular type, just the sort often associated with winners of this race and looks sure to go well although his trainer's form in recent weeks has to be something of a worry.

Whisper, an inmate of the favourite's trainer, is a former Coral Cup and Aintree Grade 1 Hurdle winner and seems to be in top form again having won the Dipper Chase from Clan Des Obeaux here on New Year's Day. Staying is his game and he gives the Champion trainer elect a very strong hand here with Davy Russell riding here for his retained owner.

Henderson also trains O O Seven, who won over the course in November and last time out took a novice handicap round Huntingdon. An admirable horse who has done nothing wrong but you'd have to think he has a bit too find with the best ones here. He could be one for something at Aintree or the Scottish National as he looks like he'd stay all day.

The other fancied English challenger to consider is Charlie Longsdon's Our Kaempfer, who blew his handicap mark when dancing in at Kempton in January. He was an unlucky fifth in last year's Pertemps Final and is an improver with an each way chance for a trainer who does very well with staying chasers. I like his chance in the 3 mile handicap chase at Aintree if he doesn't go up any more in the weights after this.

The number one Irish trained horse in the betting, Alpha Des Obeaux, is a former Stayers Hurdle runner-up who won a couple of small field novice chases in the Autumn before finishing third to Coney Island and Anibale Fly in one of the top trials for this, the Drinmore at Fairyhouse in early December. Last time out he apparently bled when disappointing at Leopardstown just after Christmas. His supporters seem to place great faith in his trainer's reputation for getting his horses right on the big day and, if he does, he's got the talent to go well but Grade 1 hurdlers who've spent more than one season over the smaller obstacles do have a poor record here, a comment which also applies to Whisper.

Acapella Bourgeois appeared to show huge improvement in Navan's Ten Up Novice Chase a couple of weeks ago where he led all the way for a 32 length success. The clock appeared to show it was no fluke and plenty of good judges like his chance. The third that day filled the same spot in yesterday's National Hunt Chase so his chance is there for all to see. He'd previously won a Beginners' Chase over the same course in January and his chance would be aided by rain.

Willie Mullins drew a blank yesterday and will be keen to put that right, relying here on Bellshill, who brings solid form into this, having also beaten Haymount at Limerick over the Christmas period. His festival form, though, does not inspire having disappointed in the Bumper and a red hot Supreme last year. He fell in a schooling session at Leopardstown a couple of weekends ago and has a few too many negatives here for me at such a short price.

A horse we've not considered here is Henry Daly's mare, Brierly Belle, who went off 3-1 behind Whisper on New Year's Day yet can be backed at 40+ having finished a long way back in third that day. She won over the course in April and gets the handy mares' allowance having shown tenacity to reel in a decent mare of Harry Fry's at Warwick and winning first time up at Carlisle in November. She may not have been at her best in January but she comes out pretty well on ratings and I always thought she needed three miles to show her best and she'd be my each way selection here.

Neptune Novices Hurdle preview

And back again we go! This is where it gets difficult, at least from my angle. Backing up day after day, with only 24hr decs for most races, makes it bloody hard to do the form properly. This race is the main competition to the Supreme Novices' - with Melon going down yesterday, has Harry Fry made the right decision with Neon Wolf? We'll know just after 1.30...

Saddling up for the preview is recent addition to the blog Alex Peperell, @al_peps. Start the day right with this great analysis...


Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle
Grade 1, £125,000, about 2m5f
Cheltenham Wednesday 1330 GMT 0030 AEDT

To kick off the second day of the greatest show on turf we have the 2m5f Neptune Novices’ Hurdle. This looks like it could be a very competitive race with some potential superstars embedded within the declarations. It’s a shame Finian’s Oscar has picked up an injury and misses this contest, but he is one to look forward to next season.

Neon Wolf heads the market and with good reason, he looked imperious last time out when hammering Elgin at Haydock. The vibes coming from the yard and jockey Noel Fehily would fill you with confidence if you already fancy this horse. Unbeaten in four starts including a point to point he certainly looks the one to beat, he jumps well and won’t have a problem staying the trip. If you are looking for a reason not to back him you would look at the fact he hasn’t been to Cheltenham and he hasn’t experienced good ground, personally I don’t feel either will be an issue.

Alan King’s horses weren't firing at the festival last year and he will be hoping to chalk up more winners this time around. Messire Des Obeaux looks to hold strong claims as he has already won a Grade 1 this season in the Challow Hurdle. He beat some good horses that day in Baltazar D’allier and Ami Desbois quite comfortably, prior to that he beat Ballyandy in a Grade 2 at Sandown. Giving 8lbs to Keeper Hill last time out he performed admirably to only go down a neck and that rival re-opposes again here but based on that run the form should be reversed off level weights. A seventh in last season's Fred Winter means he has experience of the track and he might be able to outrun his odds.

The Irish have a number of worthy contenders to challenge the British horses and Bacardys leads the line. His Bumper form is very strong with a third here at last season's festival, a win in the Aintree Bumper and a third at Punchestown behind Blow By Blow and Moon Racer. On his latest run he just got the better of stablemate Bunk Off Early in the Deloitte and this extra distance should suit him really well, he has festival form and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Shattered Love looks like a very strong candidate for Gordon Elliot and is potentially overpriced at 14/1. Her form ties in closely with Airlie Beach and Let’s Dance (at the time of writing I’m not sure where the latter runs, wherever she lines up she has a great chance) and those two are well regarded. Third in what looks like a strong Mares Bumper at Aintree last season that race is working out well and she beat Forge Meadow easily last time out who has subsequently won a Grade 2 by eight lengths. With her 7lb allowance I think she has a cracking chance.

Willoughby Court wasn’t too far behind Bacardys in the Aintree Bumper but based on his victories he would be much better suited to a bit of cut in the ground and I don’t believe he is going to get that here.

1) Neon Wolf
2) Shattered Love
3) Messire Des Obeaux

Monday, 13 March 2017

Close Brothers Novice Handicap Chase preview

Day One of the Festival comes to an end with a nasty handicap chase, you'd want to be in front by this stage...

Keeping it brief and rolling a few dice, because you'll be seven pints in by this stage, is Stephen Conchar, @wickyman. Welcome aboard!


Close Brothers Novice Handicap Chase
Listed, £70,000, about 2m4.5f
Cheltenham Tuesday 1730 local, 0430 AEDT

The last race on day one of the greatest show on earth is the Close Brothers Novice Handicap Chase, a new race by festival standards. It's a race that has evolved from the Cathcart Chase and is a 0/140 handicap with six previous runnings, normally won by one of the higher rated fancied horses. This year's field isn't great by Cheltenham standards but gives a chance for smaller trainers and larger stable's second strings to get a bit of glory. At the moment there are 20 runners and the place terms are 1/4 odds the first four, but on the day I am sure plenty of books will be offering the five place concession.

There are not many that can be ruled out, it will be all about who can do it on the day in a race sure to be ran at a breakneck pace.

The Contenders

1 Zandy Man - a small field, soft ground front runner likely to struggle in this.

2 Last Goodbye - Irish raider won a Down Royal novice chase, looks badly handicapped.

3 Double Ws - one of the Northern hopes, hardly thrown in but this has been his target all season.

4 Mixboy - trained in Scotland, looks to be taking on a bit much.

5 Foxtail Hill - the fav trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies (NTD) and ridden by his son Willie. Jumped well at Kempton.

6 Hammersley Lake - put in some good rounds of jumping has to be of interests with Danny Mullins booked.

7 Captain Redbeard - a fine chestnut who really comes into his own in the spring having won two points, three hurdles and two chases. Trained by Stuart Coltherd and ridden by his son Sam, I am hopeful of a big run. The horse has really improved lately and should love the big field hustle and bustle of Cheltenham. Both horse and jockey's first visit to Cheltenham.

8 Templehills - another NTD runner, was inpressive at Warwick.

9 Bun Doran - I saw him at Newcastle and was quietly impressed but I think this is a bit much for him.

10 Killiney Court - hacked up at Galway but am not sure that form's up to much.

11 Itsafreebee - they have managed to get him down to a mark that he gets in here placed in the Neptune last year, hard to rule him out.

12 Powersbomb - bit of a tearaway that makes mistakes but will set a fair pace.

13 Tully East - been running in good company was fourth in Martin Pipe hurdle last year.

14 Relentless Dreamer - don't think this one is good enough.

15 Deans Road - another that I like trained by De Bromhead.

16 Gold Present - looks out of sorts.

17 Two Taffs - looked to struggle at Catterick, it could all happen too quick for him.

18 Sizing Tennessee - blinkered first time.

19 All Hell Let Loose - ran in the Pertemps last season and beaten a long, long way.

20 Burtons Well - ran behind Waiting Patiently at Sedgefield, is that festival form though?


Itsafreebee 1 point win 9/1
Captain Redbeard 1 point ew 20/1 general
Hammersley Lake 1 point ew 16/1 Hills
Deans Road 1 point ew 25/1 general

Supreme Novices' Hurdle preview

It's time to play the music
It's time to light the lights
It's time to meet the Muppets on the Muppet Show tonight...

Or as they'd always say on Celebrity Deathmatch, "Let's get it on!"

It's here, it's here, the Festival is finally here! Taking on the challenge of the opening race of the Festival, the one which often seems to make or break it for bookies (and some ill-disciplined punters), is blog debutant, Cian Ryan, @cianryan92. Welcome aboard Cian!


Skybet Supreme Novices' Hurdle
Grade 1, £125,000, 2m87y
Cheltenham Tuesday 1330 local, 0030 AEDT

At 1:30pm, the famous Cheltenham roar signals the start of The Sky Bet Supreme Novices Hurdle and brings to an end the long wait for the festival. Run over 2m 1/2f at a good gallop, the cream usually rises to the top having produced classy previous winners in Vautour, Douvan and Altior. Willie Mullins has dominated the race in recent years with three of the last four winners. For most punters Willie Mullins’ “first string” is the starting point in solving the puzzle, however, this year does not seem so straight forward. It has been very difficult to establish a pecking order amongst the Irish novice hurdlers with many of the horses beating each other. Further muddying the waters is the fact there is no stand out English novice hurdler either.

I try and avoid being too reliant on stats and instead use form in order to prevent labelling horses as “too old” or “hasn’t had enough runs over hurdles”. Granted Supreme winners tend to have a certain profile but these types are often well found in the market. It is a market not to get stuck into with large bets but it is rewarding to solve the puzzle and get some decent value in the process.

This year is particularly intriguing with a Willie Mullins hype horse in Melon leading the market. The vibes are strong for this horse and is a short price on the back of an impressive maiden hurdle win. That maiden hurdle win has earned the horse a BHA mark of 153. This would suggest the horse doesn’t have to improve much to take the race. It is a farcical handicap mark in my opinion and shouldn’t be taken literally. Broken Soul who finished second to Melon has since been well beaten at long odds on and finished a remote sixth last week. Even though the form has been let down, it is hard not to take notice how confident Willie Mullins is. Quoted in a stable tour on the 27th of February, “We are likely to have plenty of runners in the race including Bunk Off Early who has Grade 1 form, but based on homework, I’d say it will be an easy enough decision for Ruby to ride Melon.” This is quite surprising to have such an easy decision off the back of just a maiden win. That said Willie Mullins uses schooling races a lot to create a pecking order. This also highlights Melon may not be inexperienced as his form figures suggest (preview night rumour was that he has schooled 'at least twice', Ed.). Ruby has chosen the wrong horse quite a few times in the novice hurdle division this season so I’ll be taking a chance he gets it wrong here again.

Apparent second string Bunk Off Early brings Grade 1 form to the table and a progressive profile. The son of Zebedee raced freely in the Deloitte hurdle but still stayed on to finish a good second behind Bacardys. I was waiting for the horse to empty and fall in a hole but he knuckled down well. Dropping back one and a half furlongs and a likely stronger pace will surely suit better. He also boasts a progressive profile, improving from his first run to his second but that is reflected in his price. At twice the price of melon the horse looks to be the value bet.

The English challenge is led by Ballyandy who got the better of Movewiththetimes in the Betfair Hurdle when in receipt of 1lb. The pair pulled six lengths clear of a decent yardstick in Clyne, showing themselves to be thrown in off a handicap mark of 135 and 136 respectively. The hustle and bustle of the Betfair Hurdle is a valuable preparation for this race but he will have to improve a bit and is prohibitively priced at 7/2 in my opinion. Movewiththetimes would have been an interesting proposition at double the price but as has been the case for a lot of Cheltenham this year, he has picked up an injury.

Of the others River Wylde was impressive last time out beating Elgin but was receiving weight. He has won all his races on flat tracks and will have to prove he handles this stiffer test. Beyond Conceit has taken well to hurdles off the back of a massive layoff from the flat. He refused to settle off a moderate gallop last time and a faster pace may suit. That said he looked a stayer in his last race and the drop back in trip may not be guaranteed to suit. High Bridge was a decent bumper horse last year and has rattled off three hurdle wins this season. He deserves to take his place here.

Crack Mome may be the forgotten horse of the race as Graham Wylie suggested that he was his most exciting novice this season. He appears to be written off in the market but hasn’t done a lot wrong. He was outstayed by Any Second Now at Punchestown last time having made a bad mistake at the last. It is easy enough to forgive that run as he was always prominent in a truly run race but Any Second Now letting down the form next time out isn’t ideal.

Overall the Supreme is a tricky race this year with lots of unexposed types and no stand out performer. The race has cut up quite significantly in recent days with Moon Racer going to the Champion Hurdle and potential favourite Neon Wolf going to the Neptune. Both horses would have had a massive chance in my eyes so the defections make this puzzle a little more difficult to solve. The hype horse, Melon, isn’t passed over very easily as Willie’s confidence is infectious. I can see the horse being a bigger price the morning of the race as the layers will be anxious to get the meeting off to a good start. 9/2 or 5/1 would be enough to tempt me to get involved. BUNK OFF EARLY is a rock solid each way proposition at 13/2 and should make the frame. Doubting Ruby Walsh’s judgement usually isn’t the quickest way to get rich but he has struggled to get a firm grasp of the novice hurdle pecking order at Closutton. Getting over double the price is definitely worth the risk in my eyes. I would not be surprised to see Crack Mome go close either but he has a point to prove after his last performance.

Arkle Chase preview

You're four pints in, the Supreme is over, now what? It's (possibly/probably) the best National Hunt horse in training...

Regular contributor, the wise Mr Chris Day, @chrisday100, previews the Racing Post Arkle Chase - can anyone take it up to mighty Altior?


Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase
Grade 1, £175,000, About Two Miles
Cheltenham Tuesday 1410 local, 0110 AEDT

The second race on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival, the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase, is always one of the week’s highlights and this year contains one of the two headline horses of the whole week in Altior, considered by some as the best jumps horse in training.

I’m not going to argue with that but I’ll be keen to see what happens next season or possibly at Punchestown this year when he finally gets to meet Douvan.

In the meantime, you don’t need to do an awful lot of form study to know that he brings the best form into this contest and, with a rating almost 20lbs ahead of his nearest rival, should be a banker to put almost £100,000 into the coffers of championship chasing trainer, Nicky Henderson.

A top class hurdler who reached an official rating of 160 over timber, the decision to go chasing was made and he’s made the transition to fences seamlessly, winning at Kempton in a non event in November, stepping straight into Grade 1 company at Sandown next month, returning to Kempton for a Grade 2 over Christmas before returning from a break to beat last year’s Arkle runner up, Fox Norton, in a canter at Newbury. The only time he’s ever come off the bridle over fences was at Sandown and he sets a very high standard for these to aim at.

The horse who did momentarily have him off the bridle at Sandown was Kim Bailey’s Charbel, himself a good hurdler who finished fifth in what is now widely regarded as one of the best Supreme Novices Hurdle’s ever run behind Altior. He’d earlier won impressively at Uttoxeter in October in a race which has worked out very well from Le Prezien who may well be hard to beat in the Grand Annual off 146 if anybody’s still going by 5.30 on Friday and Top Notch, fancied by many to give Yorkhill most to think about in Thursday’s JLT.

Willie Mullins, Ruby Walsh and Rich Ricci have a fantastic recent record in the race and run Royal Caviar who fell when still travelling strongly in the Irish Arkle last time behind Henry De Bromhead’s Some Plan, who also reopposes here. That race has been a strong pointer to this but the gut feeling is that these two are some way below the usual standard of the winner having been sent off as the outsiders in a field of just four runners at Leopardstown. Likewise, de Bromhead’s second and third strings, Ordinary World and Three Stars appear to have more than their fair share to find to get competitive here.

Brian Ellison has improved his jumps string no end in recent times aided by leading northern owner, Phil Martin and has Forest Bihan entered here. This one has improved all season and his form ties in closely with Waiting Patiently, a horse I think we may hear quite a bit of next season. The balance of his form suggests he has a little to find to get placed but that’s very possible and he could take some place money back up north on Tuesday night.

The other northern raider, Cloudy Dream, has also improved markedly for fences but failed by just under two lengths to concede 3lbs to Forest Bihan last time at Doncaster in the process coming out as the best horse in the race with A Hare Breath a further five lengths away in receipt of 7lbs. Wins at Huntingdon and Carlisle before Christmas revealed a slick jumping style and he could well be another to show up well.

Ben Pauling’s horse does appear to need to find a bit of improvement to figure although the trainer has always rated him highly and been making some bullish noises in the festival run up.

It’s true you don’t have to have a bet in every race but we wait 365 days for the chance and I make Charbel, at 10-1, a cracking each way bet here. He’ll love the big fences, jumps for fun and has shown that the festival and the way races are run here hold no terrors for him. And, if tricasts are your thing (not sure if they’re available in this - otherwise consider the Placepot), I’d have Cloudy Dream for a trainer who never has social runners at the festival to finish third behind Altior and Charbel.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Champion Hurdle preview

Let's get underway, it's Cheltenham time! The sad part about Cheltenham being so brilliant is that jumps racing from New Year's Day onwards is decidedly thin as trainers elect to put some of their charges in bubble wrap rather than risk injury on a racecourse (not as if that can't happen at home anyway - just ask Mullins or Tizzard) or push up their handicap mark. Which doesn't really create the best lead-in to such a great Festival. And that's without mentioning the fun & games of trainers messing around with which race they are aiming at or that not having minimum 48 hour declarations for all races in such a massive event is ridiculous... But, it's the Festival, it's huge and we're only 40-odd hours away from the ROAR to get us underway!

Got several new names contributing to the blog this week, the most prolific of which is probably the astute Stuart Williams, @Jimbo_JumpsMan. Read more of his work, including his daily full card preview during the Festival on his blog. If you think his analysis below is thorough, you're not wrong and I had to chop some out!


Grade 1, £400,000, 2m87y (Grade 1)
Cheltenham, Tuesday 1530 local, 0230 AEDT


▪️Seven of the last 10 winners were aged six or seven.
▪️Only two horses aged nine or older have triumphed this century.
▪️Only one 5-year-old has triumphed this century.
▪️Eight of the last 10 winners were rated 162 or higher.
▪️Eight of the last 10 winners won at least one of their last two starts.
▪️10 of the last 12 winners won their prep race.
▪️Eight of the last of the last 10 winners had run in the calendar year.
▪️Nine of the last 13 winners ran in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton or Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown.
▪️Eight of the last 10 winners were previous Grade 1 scorers.

Ideal Candidate:
▪️Aged 6 or 7
▪️Rated 162+
▪️Won at least one of their last two starts
▪️Ran in Christmas or Ryanair Hurdles
▪️Ran this calendar year
▪️Grade 1 Winner

This year's Champion Hurdle looks a very open affair, with both the 2015 and 2016 Champions, Faugheen and Annie Power, sadly on the sidelines having suffered set back on top of set back in an injury plagued campaign for the all conquering Closutton operation of Irish Champion Trainer Willie Mullins.

However the open nature of the race does present us with an intriguing Day 1 puzzle, as strong cases can be made both for and against each of the 12 runners set to face the starter at 3.30 on Tuesday afternoon.

So let's take a closer look at each of the contenders aiming to be crowned king, or indeed queen, of the two-mile hurdling division.

Trainer: Nicky Henderson
Jockey: David Mullins

Nicky Henderson's rapidly improving Champion Hurdle hopeful brings top class two-mile handicap hurdle form to the party, having landed the Listed Jumeirah Hotels And Resorts December Handicap Hurdle at Sandown, before following up in the Wessex Youth Trust Handicap Hurdle at Ascot two weeks later.

Brain Power, owned by Henderson's great personal friend Michael Buckley, has improved for each experience over obstacles and arrives here boasting a fairly impressive resume, with four wins achieved from just seven starts since embarking on a career over hurdles in November 2015.

Although the son of Kalanisi doesn't possess graded form in open company, to win two highly competitive handicaps in such impressive fashion just two weeks apart is no mean feat, and he certainly commands respect as it's impossible to know where the 6-year-old's progression will stop.

Brain Power has more speed than fancied stablemate Buveur D'Air according to Nicky Henderson, which adds further weight the youngsters claims, especially as he'll be able to make good use of his horsepower on the sound racing surface Prestbury Park is likely to be offering up on Tuesday.

The gelding has become quietly fancied by many shrewd judges in the build up to the Festival, and worked extremely well at Kempton recently, which should have left him absolutely spot on for his biggest assignment to date.

Trainer: Nicky Henderson
Jockey: Noel Fehily

Buveur D'Air is rather hard to weigh up in this contest having reverted to the smaller obstacles with a facile success in the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown having previously landed a brace of novice steeplechases' this winter.

Purchased by leading owner JP McManus last summer, the talented son of Crillon finished third in what now looks a red hot Supreme Novices' Hurdle 12 months ago, won by his potential superstar stablemate Altior, with Min in second, Tombstone in fourth, Charbel finishing fifth and fellow Champion Hurdle contender Petit Mouchoir back in eighth.

Nicky Henderson's 6-year-old landed Grade 1 honours at Aintree subsequently, beating the re-opposing Petit Mouchoir in a ding-dong battle after the last, with recent deeply impressive Punchestown Listed scorer Limini 8 lengths further back in third. Fourth placed North Hill Harvey, winner of the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham in November, and sixth place Agrapart, winner of the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Years Day add further substance to the form.

It's worth noting that Buveur D'Air has had his attentions switched to this contest despite the presence of Yanworth, who carries the same green and gold bands of JP McManus, who was already prominent in the betting for this valuable prize. An interesting decision, I'm sure you'd agree.

According to Nicky Henderson the idea of aiming Buveur D'Air at this race was floated well before the news of Faugheen and Annie Power's set-backs broke, with the master of Seven Barrows believing the youngster has unfinished business over timber.

His hurdling form looks strong, and Henderson loves a Champion Hurdler. Noel Fehily steps in to take the ride with McManus' retained rider Barry Geraghty currently on the sidelines, which is no negative as the Jockey who won this race on Rock On Ruby in 2012 knows the horse well having been the retained rider for Buveur D'Air's previous owner.

Connections will be hoping there is enough give in the ground for Buveur D'Air to be seen to best effect. And if there is, he would be rate a very strong contender here.

Trainer: Dan Skelton
Jockey: Harry Skelton

The Dan Skelton trained Ch'Tibello rates an interesting outsider, with last season's Scottish Champion Hurdle winner likely to relish the decent underfoot conditions on Tuesday.

The Sageburg gelding beat the talented Cloudy Dream (second) and subsequent Galway Hurdle winner Clondaw Warrior (third) at Ayr, and has posted three decent efforts over timber this term. He landed the Class 2 Betfair Price Rush Hurdle at Haydock in November, before recording placed efforts behind Yanworth in both the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton and Grade 2 Betway Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton, form which justifies his inclusion here.

Skelton has often pointed to Ch'Tibello's fluent hurdling technique and impressive turn of foot as major assets, with both seen to best effect when the gelding encounters his preferred decent ground. In such an open year, the 6-year-old could run a big race for team Skelton.

Trainer: Malcolm Jefferson
Jockey: Brian Hughes

Malcolm Jefferson's talented 8-year-old looked a potential star when storming to success in a Grade 2 contest at Aintree in April 2015. Indeed the shrewd northern trained saw the son of Overbury as a potential Champion Chase horse in time, before having his novice season curtailed after just one start, with a tendon injury keeping the gelding off the track for the best part of 14 months.

Cyrus Darius returned to the track with a distant fourth placed effort behind The New One in the Grade 2 Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock in January, before showing the fire still burns with success in the Class 2 Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso last month.

Brian Hughes, who has enjoyed a superb season in the saddle thus far (130 winners at the time of writing), will take the reins, and it's possible Malcolm Jefferson's stable star will strip even fitter for his Kelso victory last month.

Trainer: Willie Mullins
Jockey: Ruby Walsh

Footpad is one of two runners for both trainer Willie Mullins and owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede. Mullins, of course, has won the last two renewals of this prestigious prize, and has elected to run last season's Triumph Hurdle third here rather than wait for the 3 mile Championship, the Stayers Hurdle, on Thursday.

The talented son of Creachadoir finished a close second to fellow Champion Hurdle contender Petit Mouchoir in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown in January, and Mullins clearly feels that piece of form warrants the 5-year-olds participation in the Day 1 showpiece.

The French import returned to his native country to take Grade 1 honours in June last year, and confirmed his ability to act on decent ground at Leopardstown in January.

Daryl Jacob has elected to ride the same owners Sceau Royal over Footpad, but no doubt Mullins will secure a top Jockey for his challenger here.

Trainer: David Pipe
Jockey: Tom Scudamore

It's some statement to the regard in which Moon Racer is held by connections that David Pipe has given the green light for the unbeaten novice to contest the main event on Day 1, especially considering the 8-year-old would have been short order for the Festival curtain raiser, The Supreme Novices' Hurdle, had connections decided to stick to the novice route.

The former Champion Bumper winner is clearly fragile, having only made it to the track three times since his Festival success in 2015. And although he's only had two starts over timber, he does boast two victories over the impressive Betfair Hurdle winner Ballyandy, including a course and distance Grade 2 success in November.

Unbeaten in three starts at Prestbury Park, the Saffron Walden gelding goes particularly well fresh, which is bonus considering he hasn't been seen on the track since that Grade 2 victory at Cheltenham's Open Meeting. That said, it's still some ask to win a Champion Hurdle after the best part of four months off the track, but as we all know, the Pipes can ready one at home, and the gelding did have a school over hurdles at Wincanton last week.

Some will no doubt disagree with the decision of connections to sidestep the novice event, however it rather mirrors the decision of the Bradstocks when they allowed Coneygree to tackle the Gold Cup in 2015. When you have a fragile horse, you have to run them while they're fit. And with Moon Racer already an 8-year-old and the race appearing to be wide open, you can't blame connections for going for gold while they have the chance.

Trainer: Nicky Henderson
Jockey: Aiden Coleman

Nicky Henderson's third and final Champion Hurdle candidate is My Tent Or Yours, who will be hoping it's a case of third time lucky after playing the bridesmaid to Jezki in 2015, and again to Annie Power 12 months ago when running a stormer after the best part of two years off the track.

The JP McManus-owned gelding has always been his own worst enemy, pulling out the arms of any jockey to ride him in a race and therefore emptying his tank before reaching the business end of the contest.

However there have been signs that the Desert Prince gelding is learning to settle better in his races since his lengthy layoff, which would have to give him a small squeak here given the open nature of the race.

A second-placed effort behind The New One in the International Hurdle preceded a third-placed finish behind Yanworth in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, and the 10-year-old could easily run another big race if Aidan Coleman can settle the experienced campaigner in the early stages of the race.

Trainer: Henry De Bromhead
Jockey: Bryan Cooper

Henry De Bromhead's Petit Mouchoir is the shortest priced Irish trained contender for the 2m Championship event, having confirmed the promise of his Aintree Grade 1 second last spring by becoming a dual Grade 1 winner this winter. With the Irish Champion Hurdle forming the second part of his top flight double.

The Gigginstown House Stud owned grey has lowered the colours of multiple Grade 1 winner Nichols Canyon, last season's Triumph Hurdle victor Ivanovic Gorbatov and Willie Mullins' Grade 1 winner Footpad already this term, and will be looking to add to that list when he enters Prestbury Park on Tuesday afternoon.

Petit Mouchoir went some clip when successful in the Irish Champion Hurdle, and may try to execute similar tactics here. However the 6-year-old will need to improve vastly upon his eighth placed finish in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle 12 months ago.

That said, the son of Al Namix is clearly on the upgrade, and looks to have every chance in a very open looking year.

Trainer: Alan King
Jockey: Daryl Jacob

Sceau Royal rates one of the more lively outsiders for the 2 mile crown, having bolted up over course and distance at the Showcase Meeting in October.

Alan King's 5-year-old landed the Grade 2 Elite Hurdle at Wincanton on his next start, before finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle in November. The gelding then placed third in the Grade 2 Kingwell Hurdle on his return from a mid season break back at Wincanton in February, coming home two and a quarter lengths adrift of his stablemate, and current Champion Hurdle favourite, Yanworth.

Sceau Royal is a very strong traveller, and wastes no time at his hurdles. Indeed the super slick youngster has all the tools required in a Champion Hurdle contender.

His two defeats this term have come on soft ground, with the son of Doctor Dino showing his best form on a decent surface. He should therefore relish the underfoot conditions he'll encounter at Prestbury Park on Tuesday, and could run a very big race in the hands of the owners retained rider, Daryl Jacob.

Trainer: Nigel Twiston-Davies
Jockey: Sam Twiston-Davies

The New One lines up for a staggering fourth attempt at landing the Day 1 showpiece, arriving here in fine form after two victories this season, achieved either side of a second-placed effort behind Yanworth in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.

Nigel Twiston-Davies' stable stalwart won the International Hurdle for a third time in December, and ran another good race on Boxing Day before getting the job done against progressive handicapper Clyne in the Grade 2 Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock last month.

Regular rider Sam Twiston-Davies will be on board the thoroughly likeable 9-year-old, who has finished third, fifth and fourth respectively in this contest over the last three years.

Victory for the son of King's Theatre would threaten the foundations of Prestbury Park, and signal some serious celebrations inthe Hollow Bottom on Tuesday evening.

Trainer: Willie Mullins
Jockey: Paul Townend

Easy 2015 County Hurdle winner Wicklow Brave completes the Irish Champion Trainer's entries, and is hard to weigh up having not jumped a hurdle in public since finishing third in the 2015 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.

The talented flat performer finished sixth on his only other trip to Prestbury Park, when chasing home the brilliant, and sadly much missed, Vautour in the 2014 Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

Either Ruby Walsh or Paul Townend will partner the 8-year-old on Tuesday, with the gelding having his first start since competing in the race that stops a nation, the Melbourne Cup, in November where the Beat Hollow gelding finished 22nd of the 24 runners.

Trainer: Alan King
Jockey: Mark Walsh

Last, but certainly by no means least, is current favourite Yanworth, who like fellow JP McManus owned contender Buveur D'Air looked destined to contest a different Festival race at the start of the season before a certain stayer called Unowhatimeanharry carried all before him in the staying hurdle division this term. Alan King's son of Norse Dancer has always looked a top level performer, finishing fourth in the 2015 Champion Bumper before developing into a high class novice hurdler last term.

Indeed Yanworth found only the potentially top class Yorkhill too good in the Neptune Investment Management Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham last March, which remains the only occasion King's charge has encountered defeat over hurdles, and in his defence, it's fair to say he didn't enjoy the greatest of passages through the 2m5f contest, missing the third last and getting caught wide on the top bend.

The 7-year-old comes into the race on the back of three graded victories this season, landing a brace of Grade 2s, the Ascot Hurdle and the Kingwell Hurdle, with the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton sandwiched in between.

Mark Walsh, who is set for a huge four days in the absence of Barry Geraghty, comes in for the ride on Yanworth, and made the trip to Barbury Castle last week to school the horse who takes some getting to know according to those closest to the him.

The main concern people have for the otherwise standout contender is his ability to throw in some less that fluent leaps along the way, which is far from ideal when travelling at Championship pace on the big day in March. However there is no disputing the high performance tank that purrs inside his imposing orange frame.

On ratings and form he's the one they all have to beat. And he is a strong qualifier if trends are your bag. Mark Walsh has received much praise for his superb form in Ireland this term, and I'm sure I speak for many when I say it would be great to see the talented Irishman notch up at win of two on National Hunt Racing's biggest stage.


JP McManus obviously holds a very strong hand in the race, with both Buveur D'Air and Yanworth boasting extremely solid form in such a wide open renewal.

Nicky Henderson must also fancy his chances with Brain Power and My Tent Or Yours (also owned by McManus) providing further ammunition to current second favourite Buveur D'Air. Cases can be made for each arrow the Seven Barrows handler throws at the race, and you could bet your last tenner that all will be trained to the minute for this prestigious assignment.

Leading Irish fancy Petit Mouchoir and the aforementioned Brain Power look the most progressive hurdlers in the field. However Sceau Royal looks to be a horse open to significant improvement granted a strong gallop and decent ground.

The fact that David Pipe is allowing Moon Racer to take his chance here should certainly be taken seriously. With his form at the course and the Ballyandy formline suggesting it's not beyond the realms of possibility that he could bely his relative inexperience in such an open year.

The elders of the parish, namely The New One and My Tent Or Yours, have it all to do according to the trends. However their consistency and experience are certainly factors in their favour.

Finding the winner is no easy task, but all looks set for a truly intriguing Champion Hurdle.

Good luck.