13.30 BALLYMORE -
Sir Gerhard sets the standard here. Pointed towards this one because there was no hope of Dysart Dynamo settling to run 2.5 miles, he should have the stamina to run this trip without too much fuss. Has been beaten once in his life, by Kilcruit in the Punchestown Champion Bumper. His main rival might come from this side of the Irish Sea, the Owners Group-owned Stage Star who has been untroubled in his three hurdle runs to date, winning the G1 Challow at Newbury easily over Xmas. All of those wins have been at this trip, so that certainly won't phase him. Three Stripe Life was beaten six lengths last time behind Sir Gerhard, which should see him run a place if he repeats that here. On breeding he certainly should stay all day. The fav should win but odds-on, look on. 8/1 EW on Stage Star is worth a go.
SIR GERHARD (4/6), Stage Star (back 8/1 EW), Three Stripe Life (7/1)
14.10 BROWN ADVISORY - see preview here
14.50 CORAL CUP - 26 runners but not a lot of live hopes on first glance through the form (cue a couple of them to get backed off the map tomorrow!) The obvious one is the favourite Saint Felicien. Three starts to his name for a win in France, a comfortable win in a Gowran Park novice and a keep-the-engine-ticking-over run second in the G3 Limestone Lad at Naas, just enough to get a decent mark without blowing their cover. He fits the bill for Gordon Elliott in a handicap, there's going to be plenty left in the tank. Gowel Road beat Unexpected Party here in November, giving that horse 14lbs, but has kept quiet since, meaning he only concedes 3lbs to the same horse in this race. Has since finished third in a small field in a Listed race at Newbury and second in a rich handicap at Lingfield. Via the winners of those two races, he appears similarly matched with Gerry Clermont which is curious as there's a chunky price disparity between them. This 7yo gelding trained by Jonjo O'Neill seems another to fit the bill of 'get the mark and then hang onto it' with three placings this season, the last time carrying 13lbs more than Unexpected Party, beaten 8.5L. Before that he finished behind Tritonic at Ascot, ahead of Metier and Goshen. Unexpected Party has a 12lbs rise in the weight to deal with from his Ascot win, but is still lightly raced, while the random dart might be The Bosses Oscar. He has only run over fences this season, and poorly at his last couple but this time last year he ran second as favourite in the Pertemps Final (fifth in the Martin Pipe the year before). A return to his best over hurdles would put him right in this.
SAINT FELICIEN (win bet 7/1), Gerry Clermont (bet EW 25/1), Gowel Road (11/1), Unexpected Party (11/1), The Bosses Oscar (33/1).
15.30 CHAMPION CHASE - Shishkin vs Energumene and the rest running for place money, or at least that's what the script says. Shishkin is a superstar, he's seven for seven over fences and beat his Irish rival narrowly in the G1 Clarence House at Ascot two months ago. Is there any reason to think Energumene can overturn that result? It's a different track, going the opposite direction, plenty of undulation... but that only puts it back in Shishkin's court as he has won the Supreme (the only time under Rules he hasn't started favourite) and the Arkle from two runs here. Hoping we have a proper battle but can see the Ascot result being repeated. For third, there's not a lot between them. Chacun Pour Soi is the best of them but he seems to underperform in England, Envoi Allen is no longer reliable and Put The Kettle On, last year's winner, hasn't been at her best this season. That leaves me with Nube Negra or for better value, Funambule Sivola. His record at two miles are fantastic, he mightn't quite be achieving the ratings but there's still a bit more there and he was only beaten 3.25L by Shishkin at level weights at Aintree last season. If you can find a w/o both favs market, he'll still be a decent price.
SHISHKIN (10/11), Energumene (3/1), Funambule Sivola (back in w/o favs market, 9/1 at Bet365)
16.10 CROSS COUNTRY - Do we believe the hype about Tiger Roll this time around? Last year I wanted to doubt him and he pissed in by 18L. O'Leary has thrown his toys out of the pram again about the Grand National Weights but word from the camp is that he is working brilliantly again. This is his time of year and his course, 12yo isn't unusual in this caper. Delta Work is a multiple G1 winner but first time over the banks isn't an easy transition so his price is poor value. Prengarde loves the banks courses in France but word is he arrived from France after a bit too long in the paddock. Diesel D'Allier ran fourth here two years ago and ran first & third over the cross-country course here before Xmas. 16/1 each-way looks more interesting than the short price on Tiger, while Brahma Bull takes his first look at the XC course but has some form to his name this season and his price of 20/1 makes much more sense than for Delta Work.
TIGER ROLL (15/8), Diesel D'Allier (EW at 16/1), Brahma Bull (20/1)
16.50 GRAND ANNUAL - Thyme White ticks the right boxes for a contender here - just three starts over fences, a distance winner, in form, in the middle of the ratings band/weights, and meets key rival Amarillo Sky 7lb better off for a 1.5L defeat. Frero Banbou has finished in the top four at his last nine starts including finishing third or fourth behind Editeur Du Gite and Il Ridoto, meeting both on much better weight terms here. Andy Dufresne has longed been talked up as a likely Festival winner but finally makes his first trip to England. His chase record hasn't yet lived up to his strong hurdles figures earlier in his career, there's enough to think he has plenty of scope left for improvement. He's had just the one run this season, a pipe opener to get him going in November. Another four months off is a little concerning but I doubt he'd be here if he wasn't set for it. For Pleasure ran third in the Supreme last season, albeit 26L behind. He likes to set a solid pace and might be able to hang on for place money if things go his way.
THYME WHITE (EW at 10/1), Andy Dufresne (7/1), Frere Banbou (14/1), For Pleasure (25/1)
17.30 CHAMPION BUMPER - Willie Mullins has won five of the last ten of these, and Gordon Elliott another two, so it pays to look mostly at the Irish raiders here. Four of Willie's five have been at double figures (11/1, 25/1, 16/1, 25/1) so don't necessarily give the race to the favourite. Facile Vega sets the standard but let's be realistic - take away the fact his mother Quevega is a Cheltenham legend and he'd be double the price. Few of these have had more than two or three runs so there's enormous scope for a rival to emerge from the pack. Redemption Day went to the line hard-held at Leopardstown over Xmas with Patrick Mullins standing high in the irons from a long way out whereas Facile Vega at least had a bit of a push to go for home in his two wins. Redemption Day beat Music Drive on occasion that, who later beat the horse who ran second to FV so the form loosely ties in. James's Gate was impressive in the mud at Punchestown, showing nice acceleration when given a nudge so he's in the mix as well. American Mike created a big reputation with two effortless wins before Xmas, the form out of those races hasn't held up but the numbers are strong.
REDEMPTION DAY (win bet 6/1), James's Gate (16/1), American Mike (9/4), Facile Vega (7/4)
13.30 - Stage Star EW at 8/1
14.10 - Dusart EW at 25/1, Threeunderthrufive EW at 16/1
14.50 - Saint Felicien Win 7/1, Gerry Clermont EW at 25/1
15.30 - Funambule Sivola w/o Shishkin & Energumene 9/1
16.10 - Diesel D'Allier EW at 16/1
16.50 - Thyme White EW at 10/1
17.30 - Redemption Day win 6/1