Not a lot of joy on the punt on day one, but we go again on Wednesday.
American Mike - star bumper horse last season but kept running into Facile Vega. Has started favourite at all three starts over hurdles but only won the first of them, a fairly weak maiden. Just hasn't progressed, might make a better chaser next year.
Champ Kiely - beaten only once in four hurdle starts, by the Supreme winner Marine Nationale. Went up in trip after that and bounced back to form with a solid win. He's a worthy contender as a 7yo but it's worrying that 16 of the past 17 winners have been aged five or six.
Gaelic Warrior - beaten a short head when a pronounced fav in the Boodles last year, hasn't really been tested in three runs since. His first two runs this season he started at 1/12 and 1/14 and then won a decent pot in the Liffey Handicap Hurdle during the Dublin Racing Festival coming from behind the pace. He jumps right under pressure which cost him here last year and he steps up five furlongs here. Not sure this is the right race for him but amongst the plethora of Willie Mullins' novices, he might just have to run here.
Good Land - an Irish runner, from a stable not named Elliott or Mullins that has already won a race this week (Marine Nationale in the Supreme). Won the Irish equivalent of this at the DRF, it didn't appear to be the deepest race in terms of quality but he fought on well to win. Ridden by the gun young Irish jockey Michael O'Sullivan. Quite short in the market now considering he didn't look that dominant last time out. Also a 7yo (see Champ Kiely).
Hermes Allen - unbeaten in three runs under rules. Unlike Impaire Et Passe, he's more seasoned at the distance, with all of his runs at at least this distance. Might he be too dour now for this trip? He's drifted severely over the past week. Untested so far, can win on wet or dry.
Ho My Lord - bought out of France, debuted over Xmas but fell early, and then won a maiden at Navan without too much effort. Big step up here, unlikely.
Impaire Et Passe - unbeaten in three runs, progressing from a bumper (in France), to a Maiden at Naas and then the G2 Moscow Flyer Novice at Punchestown. They haven't got near him in any of them, the query is what has he beaten? Looks a beast with plenty of upside - has just run away from them in those wins over shorter distances, trip looks a plus for him. Have to be wary of his price getting out of hand though.
Marble Sands - beaten a long way behind Hermes Allen in the Challow (soft track), before beating Rare Edition who flopped in yesterday's Supreme, in a Listed race. Nope.
Master Chewy - was well backed in the Betfair Hurdle (SP 8/1) carrying a light weight, but finished 15L behind the winner. Eight career starts including points, yet to win a race. It won't be here.
Persian Time - well beaten last time in far weaker grade, nope.
Impaire Et Passe just looks set to continue the run of favourites from day one, he looks very special. Champ Kiely should keep his stablemate honest with Hermes Allen filling the placings.
IMPAIRE ET PASSE, Champ Kiely, Hermes Allen
Adamantly Chosen - appears to be second-ranked of the Mullins quintet. He was supplemented for the race at considerable expense so you can assume he's flying at Closutton. His last two results have been second in Grade 1 Novice Chases behind Mighty Potter (banker of the week for many in the Turner Advisory on Thursday) and Gerri Colombe respectively. Nothing wrong with that form, worth a look each-way.
Amirite - Rachael's on this one, that's the only positive I can find for him. Unreliable jumper, won his first chase start but nothing of note since.
Bronn - wasn't far behind Gerri Colombe when both resumed for the season in November but his only start since has been winning a three-runner €7k race while the favourite here has won two Grade 1s. Ranked fourth of the Mullins quintet.
Gerri Colombe - seven starts, seven wins and has improved at each of his jumps runs. Not a horse who kicks clear and win by 20, he does what needs to and switches off, so we don't yet know how much he has left. He hasn't beaten any high class fields yet so it's a leap of faith to believe he has more to come. A damper track suits him better so if it dries out overnight, he might drift a little in the betting, but either way, he's still the one to beat.
I Am Maximus - one win over obstacles, a maiden hurdle but has flattered to deceive since then. Since transferring into the Mullins stable, he's been taking on decent fields but at best running second. Ranked fifth of the stable here.
Ramillies - first across the line in his two chase starts but interfered with the runner-up last time as Naas trying to get to the better ground near the rail and was relegated by the stewards. He battles on without a real turn-of-foot but that need not be a concern in a three-mile race.
Sir Gerhard - beaten only twice in seven runs under Rules, and both times at Punchestown at the end of the season. Just the one go over the big fences, for a 38L win in a three-runner race over two miles, where the second horse didn't perform anywhere near his best. He's high class, but it's a big risk taking him in a Grade 1 off that. Has only run once over more than two miles, winning the Ballymore at last year's Festival on a soft track. Stepping up to three miles is a query.
The Real Whacker - has won twice at Cheltenham, including the Dipper Novices Chase on New Year's Day, this season since switching back to Patrick Neville. Raised 14lbs in the handicap off that rating which puts him right in the mix here. Perhaps might have even pushed for favouritism if out of a bigger stable. His form lines up with Gerri Colombe who beat Thunder Rock & Monmiral (both placed in the Dipper, both carrying 3lbs less) in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles at Sandown a month later. In with a chance.
Thunder Rock - a sloppy jumper who has finished third behind The Real Whacker (3.5L) and Gerri Colombe (5.5L) at his most recent starts, recording three RP ratings in a row that are flat and non-progressive. The talent is there if he could clean up his jumping.
Thyme Hill - a rare 9yo in a Novice Chase, brought about by his lengthy hurdling career. Was an exceptional staying hurdler, winning the Grade 1 Liverpool Hurdle and running second to the likes od Champ, Flooring Porter and Paisley Park in other G1s. He bolted in by 15L in the Kauto Star at Kempton on Boxing Day after having first-time cheekpieces, reversing a result against the handy McFabulous. Ignore the trend against 9yos, it would be a very small sample of runners.
Galia Des Liteaux - mare who has won two of her chase starts very easily on heavy tracks but made a bad mistake early in the Kauto Star on Boxing Day (behind Thyme Hill) and was pulled up. She started 5/2 that day vs 11/1 for Thyme Hill, so there's plenty of belief she is top class. A lot will come down to the state of the track - if it's trending to soft or worse, then she will be strongly supported. Not so sure about that if it dries up.
I can't get excited about any at the front of the market, there's enough concern about each of them to go lukewarm about their current prices. The class of Thyme Hill will see him go a long way here with Adamantly Chosen given a chance at a big price.
THYME HILL (back 11/1), Adamantly Chosen (back 20/1 ew), Gerri Colombe
I'm not going to give this one the runner-by-runner treatment but a quick look through the trends for this race suggests start at the top of the weights, look for one who has raced at the Festival before, no more than two seasons over hurdles....
You'll never get a tick in every box but Fil Dor stood out for me. A French-bred (tick, 10 of last 21 winners), he has raced eight times over hurdles (18 of last 22 winners have had <10 hurdles runs), trained by Gordon Elliott (3 from last 12) and a 5yo (strong record but small number of runners). He has the services of a 5lb Irish claimer (winning 20% this season), a brilliant record over hurdles (four wins, four seconds from eight - defeated three times in G1s by Vauban) and he has earned top weight. The biggest field he has faced was a 15-runner chase, which he won (over the handy Saint Roi), giving him a taste of chaos of this race. One thing he hasn't done though is race over this trip, he steps up half a mile beyond anything he has run over before.
JP McManus always has something planned for a Festival handicap (had two of first four in the Boodles Juv), and this one could be getting in lightly. Icare Allen ran fourth in the Triumph last year (Fil Dor ran second) and resumed this season in a feature hurdle at Fairyhouse, running third carrying topweight. He then was pointed at the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury but fell foul of that track's lack of watering, hating the firmer ground. He gets his ground here, he's always looked in need of a longer trip, he'll have been aimed at this race for some time and prepared to the minute for this.
Red Risk has been following the Coral-sponsored races around, winning a handicap at Newbury in November thne just missing at Kempton in the Lanzarote. He might now be too high in the handicap to contend for the win but he's flying this season and could run into the placings at a big price.
FIL DOR (back 12/1), Icare Allen (back 25/1 ew), Red Risk, Riaan.
QM CHAMPION CHASE
Captain Guinness - rated too high for the handicaps, not good enough to win at Grade 1 level (0/9). Not here.
Editeur Du Gite - beat Edwardstone in the Desert Orchid when the 2/5 fav blundered, but then backed it up in the Clarence House (rescheduled to run this season at Cheltenham) to beat both the favourites here. Has found another gear this season, he's not getting much respect considering those two results...
Edwardstone - the star novice chaser of last season who won the Arkle, he won the Tingle Creek in December which shot his rating up again, before consecutive defeats to Editeur Du Gite. He looked like he'd run straight by in the Clarence House but didn't get up the hill as expected. One win, one second from five runs here, alarm bells sounding if you want to take 7/4.
Energumene - boom horse who has won eight out of ten starts over fences, with those losses being in the last two Clarence Houses, to Shishkin in 2022 and Editeur Du Gite (and Edwardstone) more recently. He looked set to win both of those but was run down by a champ the first time and blundered the final fence the last time. He'll probably look like he'll win coming up to the last fence, backers might chew their nails down to the base in the run to the post!
Funambule Sivola - beaten heavily in the past behind the 'three E's, and history repeat itself here. The question is whether it will be all of them at once.
Greaneteen - started shorter (2/1 vs 5/1) against Edwardstone in the Tingle Creek in December, but ended up 9L behind him. In his only run since, he finished behind Funambule Sivola (SP 1/2) with no obvious excuses. He'd be pushing for favouritism without those two results, now it seems like he's in decline. A chance, but unlikely.
Nube Negra - nearly won this two years ago, but more recently has been beaten over 10L by Greaneteen (twice) and Editeur Du Gite.
It comes down to three chances here. Edwardstone is too short, Energumene probably is as well but not as much while Editeur Du Gite still isn't getting the credit he deserves. By that logic, the order has to be:
EDITEUR DU GITE, Energumene, Edwardstone
Gordon Elliott now takes this race seriously with his Grand National fancies - last year's winner Delta Work and last year's Gold Cup second favourite Galvin lead his four-pronged team here and dominate the betting. Take your pick which way to go but they should be too classy for the rest.
DELTA WORK, Galvin, Gin On Lime
Fences have turned a disappointing former Flat racer and hurdler Final Orders into a genuine racehorse, winning five of his six chase starts and only missing by a length in the other. The gap between his hurdle and chase ratings is a remarkable 48lbs and there's no guarantee he has stopped there. Gavin Cromwell is no stranger to winning FEstival races, he'll be in prime condition for this.
Before Midnight has first-time cheekpieces and a tongue tie applied by trainer Sam Thomas in an attempt to spark him up. He hasn't been far away in recent runs, I wouldn't take a lot for him to hit the front again.
Dinoblue started favourite in the Mares Novice Hurdle here last year off just one run but things didn't work out for her. This season she has switched to chasing with a win and two seconds from three races, allowing her to sneak in at the bottom of the weights. McManus and Mullins, she'll go close.
FINAL ORDERS (back 6/1), Before Midnight, Dinoblue
Who honestly has a clue here? Not me, pass.