We've had Trials day and the calendar has ticked over to February - it's now only weeks until the Cheltenham Festival!
Getting in early with his ante-post analysis is Racing UK Tipstar winner, Harry Allwood, @H_Allwood1. You can read more of his work here.
Sky Bet Supreme Novices Hurdle
2014 Champion Bumper winner Moon Racer currently heads the betting for the Supreme Novices Hurdle and was a winner over course and distance in November. He won what turned into a tactical race that day and beat horses who look better suited over further. Although he’s three from three at Cheltenham and is still relatively lightly raced for an eight-year-old, I think he will prove vulnerable against some potentially top class horses.
I was seriously impressed with Charli Parcs when he won at Kempton on his UK debut where he jumped and travelled well and won without coming off the bridle. That wasn’t the strongest of races but he had the race won a long way from home that day as well as posting a decent time. Held in high regard, he looks a high-class horse in the making.
Jenkins was ante-post favourite for this race until running disappointingly at Kempton on Boxing Day. Prior to that he had shown some useful bumper form and won in workmanlike fashion at Newbury on his hurdling debut in what looked a strong maiden hurdle. He still remains with plenty of potential but is hard to recommend on the back of that disappointing run and has also had suffered a setback since then.
The Willie Mullins-trained Cilaos Emery won nicely on his hurdles debut at Navan and at the time that looked an uncompetitive race. However, the second that day is now rated 139 but probably found the trip too short when second to Cilaos Emery and Mullins looks to hold stronger claims with Melon who had a lofty reputation before winning easily at Leopardstown at the end of January. The form of that race is questionable but couldn’t have won any easier and is clearly held in high regard.
Although it hasn’t been confirmed, this race is likely to be the target for Charli Parcs and still looks value at 8-1 having been well supported for this race over the last few days. It’s worth having a saver on Melon who Willie Mullins holds in high regard and created a good impression when winning at Leopardstown.
Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices Chase
Won in 2012 by the mighty Sprinter Sacre, Nicky Henderson looks to have another superstar on his hands with Altior who is three from three over fences and looks destined for the top. He’s unbeaten at the course, jumps well for a novice and is a confident selection to continue his winning streak in the Arkle.
Min is currently clear second favourite and is also unbeaten over fences. He raced keenly in his races as a hurdler but has settled better over fences this season. However, he has suffered a setback in training recently and was beaten easily by Altior in last year’s Supreme.
The former Paul Nicholls-trained Some Plan looked unfortunate not to win over course and distance in December but has made amends since then by winning at Navan and Leopardstown. He travels well and his jumping has improved on each of his starts over fences. He will also be suited by the likelihood of a small field.
Altior is a confident selection to win but I wouldn’t put you off having a few quid each-way on Some Plan who is not without hope at 25-1.
Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy
This race revolves around current favourite Faugheen who we haven’t seen since winning the Irish Champion Hurdle in January last year. He’s been due to run a couple of times already this season but has once again picked up a couple of injuries. Providing he does make it to the race he will be tough to beat but I wouldn’t want to be taking short odds at this stage on a horse who’s had a disrupted preparation and may not even make it to the race.
The Henry de Bromhead trained Petit Mouchoir put in a brave performance to win this year’s Irish Champion Hurdle, travelling well before holding off the late challenge of Footpad. He’s progressed gradually this season and, providing he handles the track, he has a chance of going close.
Yanworth is currently prominent in the betting and had previously been fancied for the World Hurdle at the start of the season. Having beaten The New One in the Christmas Hurdle over two miles at Kempton, this race is now the plan for him. He didn’t jump too well that day though and I believe he wants further.
Nicky Henderson will be represented by Brain Power who bolted up in a competitive handicap at Ascot in December. When quotes came in for the Champion Hurdle after that win I thought they were a bit optimistic but looking back at the race he was highly impressive indeed carrying almost top weight in one of the strongest handicaps run this season. He defied a 7lb higher mark that day and has now been given a rating of 162 which doesn’t leave him with much to find with those at the head of the market.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Yorkhill was supplemented for the race if Faugheen doesn’t turn up. He’s unbeaten over fences this season but was a good winner of the Neptune last season beating Yanworth and looks to have enough speed for two miles.
Plenty of speculation as to who will actually turn up in this race. If Faugheen does run then he will be tough to beat but that’s looking more and more unlikely and I would rather take a chance on the progressive Brain Power each-way at a general 12-1.
Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase
Seven-year-old Douvan has looked unbeatable in eight career starts over fences to date, easily winning the Arkle last season and completed a hat-trick of wins at the three big festivals. He’s jumped imperiously in each run over fences as well as beating some useful horses along the way. He’s currently best priced 2-5 for the race so will be many people's banker and should duly oblige.
The horse that is most likely to follow him home though is Fox Norton who has a progressive profile, goes well at the course and is likely to go for the race unlike most who have been given an entry. He was beaten just over ten lengths by Douvan in the Arkle last season but has clearly improved this season. With a revised mark of 167, he’s only rated 2lb inferior to Douvan. He’s three from five at the course and has also produced a couple of decent placed efforts.
Douvan really should be winning this race and has done nothing wrong over fences in his career to date. This race is likely to have very few runners with most of the horses entered having other races as preferred targets. Fox Norton is progressing nicely over fences and this race is the intended target for him at the moment so is the most likely to follow the favourite home.
Although the target for Un De Sceaux is currently undecided, he looks likely to go for the Ryanair Chase with stable mate Douvan a short priced favourite for the Champion Chase, a race in which Un De Sceaux was second in last year. He won the rescheduled Clarence House Chase at Cheltenham in good fashion on Trials day and clearly stays the Ryanair trip having won over 2m5f in France last year. He didn’t jump too well at Cheltenham in the Champion Chase but was much better in the Clarence House, travelling well and finding plenty under pressure.
One horse who ran an eye-catcher at Cheltenham on Trials day was Uxizandre who ran a fantastic race to finish second behind Un De Sceaux, his first run since winning this race in 2015. Although he looked pretty fit beforehand, he’s sure to come on for the run and two miles is on the sharp side for him. Providing he can avoid the dreaded bounce factor, he’s sure to go close in this race especially with the likelihood of better ground than he encountered on Trials Day.
As mentioned, although the target is not yet decided for Un De Sceaux, this race looks tailor-made for him in my opinion and should take plenty of beating providing he goes for the race. Uxizandre is the obvious danger having ran so well in defeat behind the selection on his comeback after a long absence.
Sun Bets Stayers Hurdle
The Harry Fry trained Unowhatimeanharry has done nothing wrong all season and made it eight wins on the bounce in the Cleeve Hurdle since winning a Handicap off a mark of 123 in November 2015. That was also his fourth win at the course and I’m surprised he’s not shorter than 15-8 to win this race. He strikes me as a horse who only just does enough and clearly idled up the run in when winning the Cleeve Hurdle.
2015 winner Cole Harden was second to Unowhatimeanharry in the Cleeve and that was his best run for some time having run a few disappointing races. He’s sure to go straight to the stayers hurdle now and looks to be gradually coming back to form so has an each-way chance.
2014 Champion Hurdle winner Jezki won on his return at Navan in January after a long lay-off due to injury. The form of that race is below what some of his rivals have achieved in the run up to this race but he’s a high class horse, has won over three miles in the past and usually shows his best form in the spring. He has the ability to go close providing he can build on that comeback win.
My festival banker is going to be Unowhatimeanharry who has improved nearly 50lb since the start of his winning streak. He enjoys Cheltenham, is versatile ground wise and could have even more improvement left in him. He’s a confident selection but is likely to be an even shorter price than he is now on the day and one for the each-way players is Cole Harden who is a previous winner of this race and showed he was coming back to form with a good run last time out.
JCB Triumph Hurdle
Defi Du Seuil has done nothing wrong all season and deserves to be the current favourite for this race. He won two on the bounce at the track before winning the Future Champions Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow. He didn’t jump so well that day but beat two smart novices easily and was conceding 7lb to a 144 rated rival. He’s been winning on soft ground but there’s no reason to believe he won’t be just as good on better ground and has plenty of speed. He will be going into the race with the best form, already has three wins at Cheltenham under his belt and has plenty of experience for a four-year-old.
I was impressed with Dinaria Des Obeaux when she won at Cork in December. She travelled and jumped well in the main that day and the form has worked out okay since. I thought she deserved to be a shorter price for this race as she looked a high class horse in the making on her Irish debut and is also a likely runner.
Although Defi Du Seuil will prove hard to beat having done nothing wrong all season and will have the strongest form going into the race, the value lies with Dinaria Des Obeaux who bolted up on her first run for Gordon Elliot and I’m surprised she’s still available at 16-1.
Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup
Unfortunately plenty of horses who were fancied for this race at the start of the season are now out of the race. Thistlecrack lost nothing in defeat when second in the Cotswold Chase on trials day and is still the clear ante-post favourite for the race. He was foot perfect in the King George the time before, easily beating stable mate Cue Card. The trip is of course a question mark in the Gold Cup having been outstayed in the Cotswold Chase but I have no doubt he will stay the trip on better ground which he looks better suited by. His jumping around Cheltenham is still questionable but hasn’t done much else wrong this season and deserves to be favourite.
It was confirmed recently that Cue Card is now an intended runner in this race and was deemed an unlucky loser by some last year when falling at the third last. Like Thistlecrack, he will also be suited by better ground but has work to do to beat the favourite having been beaten easily by him in the King George. The Hennessy and Welsh National winner Native River is also due to line up for the Tizzard team. He’s a thorough stayer and is likely to make this a proper test for his rivals having made virtually all to win his last two starts and I can see him running a big race, especially if the ground is soft.
Twice a runner-up in this race is Djakadam who was third in the Lexus Chase last time out. He’s sure to run his race in the Gold Cup again but was beaten by Outlander whom I believe the value lies with having won a competitive renewal of the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas. He clearly improved for the step up in trip that day and looks certain to be suited by the Gold Cup trip judging by the way he won that race. He’s not won at the course before but was going okay when falling in the JLT last year and I expect him to go close.
The value, as mentioned, lies with Outlander who looks a great each-way bet at 12-1 although Thistlecrack will be hard to beat if the ground is good.