The end of the day was better than the start on Day 1, landing Galvin in the last and including Jeff Kidder in my Colossus Place 6 ticket (but not backing him straight out, grrrr). Not that the Place 6 paid much when all the favourites won or placed in each race. Two years ago the Placepot paid £91k on opening day when just one fav was placed in the six races, today it paid £5.80! Bookies were saved with Concertista being touched off in the Mares' race but unfortunately not by one of mine. And so we go again!
Ballymore Novices' Hurdle
One of the most anticipated contests of the week with three big guns taking their place and some decent depth behind them, even in a seven-horse field. Everyone connected with the Paul Nicholls stable has been comparing Bravemansgame to superstars like Denman after his dominant win in the Challow Hurdle at Newbury in December. The Irish hype has been nailed to Bob Olinger who has remarkably similar form to the Supreme favourite, Appreciate It, in finishing second to Ferny Hollow, and beating Blue Lord in a Grade 1 hurdle. Gaillard du Mesnil won a Grade 1 during the February Dublin Racing Festival and is the sole representative from the seemingly plentiful supply of novices in the Mullins stable, while Keskonrisk will benefit from the step up in distance.
BRAVEMANSGAME, Bob Olinger, Keskonrisk
Brown Advisory Novices' Chase (formerly the RSA Chase)
This looks to be a procession for Monkfish who might even have gone off favourite in the Gold Cup. He is a machine and will add to his six-race winning streak, but don't expect much of price. Fiddlerontheroof keeps running well behind good ones and Eklat de Rire who continues to improve.
MONKFISH, Fiddlerontheroof, Eklat de Rire
Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle
Traditionally one of the toughest races of the week to decipher, but there seems to be a few we can safely put the pen through this year, touch wood. Two of the youngest, and thus least exposed, in the field are Monte Cristo and Grand Roi. After impressing as a juvenile in France, the former has taken his time to strike form in Britain but last start he trounced a handy field at Kempton on Boxing Day, at the grand price of 25/1. Raised 12lb for that performance, there is still room for further scope now he has started putting it altogether. Nicky Henderson has four in this race, but jockey bookings don't tell us much as Daryl Jacob is the retained rider for the owners, Munir and Souede. Grand Roi was purchased out of the Henderson yard last year after three wins from four starts, and has seemingly been aimed at this race with a careful plan to maintain his handicap at a winning mark. An easy win over Xmas in a Grade 2 at Limerick was followed by a 5L second to Bachasson (conceding 7lbs) who has now won five on the trot. Topweights in this race have a healthy record (2019 placings were rated 151-153-148) and this mark surely underestimates him. Of the others, Thomas Darby never runs a bad race, Botox Has will relish getting back to Cheltenham after two below-par runs and Craigneiche cruised to victory at Ascot in January after a year off, there will be more to come from the very lightly-raced 7yo. And for a rank outsider in the Colossus ticket, Sayo will improve sharply for firmer ground.
MONTE CRISTO, Grand Roi, Botox Has, Thomas Darby
Queen Mother Champion Chase
Chacun Pour Soi has lengths on these if everything goes right (came out on the morning of the race last year and has had long injury spells earlier in his career). He's won six of seven since joining Willie Mullins including four Grade 1s. Nube Negra is the emerging star chaser, slaying Altior at Kempton over Xmas to take his record over fences to three wins and two seconds from five. Was that Kempton result the real thing or a flash in the pan? First Flow stepped out of handicaps and novice chases last start to win the G1 Clarence House at Ascot, taking down last year's Champion Chase winner, Politologue. But the concern is drying ground, I think he needs it wet. The one who will improve lengths for firmer ground is Rouge Vif, with five wins from seven on ground with 'good' in the description, including a win over Nube Negra last season. The sole mare in the race, Put The Kettle On, is unbeaten at Cheltenham in three starts.
CHACUN POUR SOI, Rouge Vif (EW at 25/1), Nube Negra
The return of dual Grand National winner and three-time Festival winner Tiger Roll and last year's XC winner Easysland. You may have heard the toys being thrown out of the pram by Tiger Roll's owner Michael O'Leary complaining about his Grand National weight this year versus his form since winning it in 2019. The problem is, he hasn't run over a normal Chase fence since the 2019 GN (hurdle, XC, flat, XC, hurdle) so he can't be downgraded, and the Ryanair boss looks like a goose again. Can Tiger Roll bounce back? He was disappointing here in November, but he's not won in the autumn over the XC course in three attempts, nor has he run so badly as to be pulled up. So perhaps we can forgive a little? The crowds would go wild if he won, but that won't be happening, on-course at least, whatever occurs. The French raider Easysland also failed here in November but that's also a handicap - he gave the winner Kingswell Theatre 22lb that day, here it's level weights. Probably should win again with Le Breuil and Some Neck ahead of a disappointing Tiger Roll who might head off to retirement.
EASYSLAND, Le Breuil, Some Neck
Grand Annual Challenge Cup
I quite liked Ibleo initally but drying ground is a concern, having not run on firmer than soft for over three years, and withdrawn twice when the description included Good. Amoola Gold has been first or second in five of his last six, including a narrow second to a future G1 winner in First Flow and a win over Ibleo (who is 8lbs higher today). Zanza was on a great run of form before falling last time out, always a concern but happy to include in my exotics rather than straight for the win. Sizing Pottsie should appreciate the drop back to a handicap after running in stronger company.
AMOOLA GOLD, Zanza, Sizing Pottsie
Take your pick from the Mullins runners. Kilcruit looked like a machine at Leopardstown in February, beating Letsbeclearaboutit by a dozen lengths. Sir Gerhard beat the same horse by 4.5L just before Xmas on seemingly deeper ground. Allow a bit of scope for improvement for the latter and perhaps even for drier ground, but Kilcruit really was impressive at the Dublin Racing Festival so he gets the nod. Three Stripe Life is the least exposed of these, won nicely on debut at Navan and is the best of the rest. Not a race I'll be getting involved in.
KILCRUIT, Sir Gerhard, Three Stripe Life
Bravemansgame WIN 4/1
Monte Cristo EW 10/1
Rouge Vif EW 25/1
Amoola Gold EW 16/1
Sizing Pottsie EW 28/1
Colossus Place 6 - join my syndicate!
2,3,6 / 4 / 2,5,7,9,12,26 / 1,6,8 / 5,9 / 2,5,10,11,12