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Cheltenham preview - Day 1

CHELTENHAM TUESDAY

SUPREME NOVICES'

A weak-looking edition, where the field is simply dominated by the Mullins stable. This race rarely goes beyond the first few in the market so don't overthink it (10 of last 11 winners in single figures, but only two outright favs in last 19 runnings).

Asian Master - an unusual runner for Mullins, a small family-owned horse retaining an amateur jockey (the son?) who would be entitled to claim 7lb if it wasn't a Grade 1. So none of the regular Mullins jockeys could take the ride anyway, so we are only guessing at his rank in the stable. He thumped Better Days Ahead last time out, but was ridden out to the line, and that runner-up is a formline for Slade Steel. Interesting side note, he ran second on debut in a P2P against one of the hottest favourites of the festival, Fact To File, two years ago. Judging by the Mullis stable tour reports, they don't yet know how good he is.

Favour And Fortune - consistent gelding in lower class (with decent speed ratings), big step up to Championship level here though and needs a big step forward. 

Firefox - beat Ballyburn at Fairyhouse in December, but then disappointed in the Lawlor's at Naas two months ago. Tipped up by some decent judges here so they've obviously found excuses for the last run and have faith that he'll be in prime shape here. Strong in the market so must be considered.

Gold Dancer - bought out of France for €250k but flopped at his Irish debut in the Dublin Racing Festival G1. Based on the jockey bookings/owner restricitons, he's probably ranked last in the stable entrants. Would need a miracle turnaround to compete here.

Jeriko Du Reponet - was highly hyped earlier in the season but hasn't progressed much in the ratings in two wins since. Seems the sort of type to only do enough as required to win, not the sort who will go out and dominate. If that's the case, then a proper test against a fleet of Irish talent could see a big progression for him. The runner-up from his last win, Lump Sum, has since gone onto win the G2 Dovecote. Don't go ruling him out.

Kings Hill - has only won a maiden at Thurles, huge rise in class here. A nice day out for the owners anyway.

Mistergif - lowly rated on the Flat in France but then sold for €190k after a second and a fifth at Auteuil. Bolted in on Irish debut at Limerick with quite a handy speed rating. Another bit of Mullins bingo with the jockeys, Dryl Jacob is the retained rider for Munir and Souede, so who knows where he fits in the picture? Wears a hood for the first time.

Mystical Power - probably the best-bred hurdler of all-time, by super Flat sire Galileo out of the champion hurdling mare Annie Power. Would have cost a fortune if he wasn't retained by the breeders. Has been winning easily so far, capped off by a 7L win in the G2 Moscow Flyer at Punchestown in January. Room for concern with his jumping though - his last two race comments start with 'didn't jump with fluency'. Could the pressure of a G1 bring him unstuck? That will probably depend on the tactics of the six non-Mullins runners. The first-time hood is a little concerning.

Slade Steel - handy de Bromhead trained hurdler with strong Irish form. Has twice finished 7L behind Ballyburn, in a Punchestown Festival bumper and in a G1 at last month's Dublin Racing Festival. In between, he won a pair of Naas hurdles, including a G2. In the mix.

Supersundae - twice raced, both times in France but yet to win. Another nice day for the owners.

Tellherthename - trained by the British 'flavour of the month', Ben Pauling, and possesses quite a decent form book. Has bolted in twice at Huntingdon, was beaten a nose by Jango Baie on rules debut, and then pulled up, behind the same horse, after a stumble in the G1 Tolworth on Boxing Day when highly rated in the market. The form mightn't be as strong as the Irish form but it does carry some weight. On Racing Post Ratings, still a bit to do.

Tullyhill - the default favourite as he ticks the Mullins & Townend box. Ran second in the Irish Champion Bumper at Punchestown last season, was beaten at 1/8 making several errors on hurdle debut by Shannon Royale who hasn't gone on, followed by impressive wins in a Naas maiden and a Listed novice at Punchestown. One of the beaten brigade who can be used as a comparison is Jigoro, who finished 7L behind Mystical Power and 9.25L behind Tullyhill, roughly the same given the conditions. 


SUMMARY

There's a strong chance of a Mullins 1-2-3 here, but which way? Don't read too much into the jockey bookings as half of the six have retained jockeys through the ownership but Tullyhill goes on top for me. Mistergif showed good speed at Limerick which comes in handy here and Asian Master could put value into exotics with third. Opposing Mystical Power based on rusty jumping but he could just be a star.

Tullyhill, Mistergif, Asian Master

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ARKLE CHASE

Authorised Speed - two chase starts for a fall and numerous mistakes in a weak race at Plumpton. Nope.

Found A Fifty - has found his calling as a chaser, looking quite impressive in four chase starts, for a win, second to the Irish National winner over 2m4f, a G1 win over My Mate Mozzie & Facile Vega on Boxing Day, and a narrow defeat to Il Etait Temps in the Irish Arkle just over a month ago. Has to go close. 

Gaelic Warrior - quirky jumper who has won six times going right-handed, one (from seven) going to the left. Of the latter, the first three runs were in France where he failed to win, and two have been seconds at the Festival (in the Boodles and the Ballymore Novices). The issue is that he veers off to the right when he jumps. Going right-handed, he has a rail to guide him. At Cheltenham, it means he travels further and loses ground to rivals. Exceptional hurdler, has won two from three over fences, unseating in a two-horse race last time. He'll be in the finish but his quirks mean I can't put him on top.

Hunters Yarn - handy hurdler who was several lengths clear on chasing debut in December when he fell at the last (SP 1/3 fav!), and then won effortlessly in a Beginners Chase at Fairyhouse six weeks later. Obviously talented but hasn't crossed paths with any of these over fences. Untapped and hard to line up against stable rivals.

Il Etait Temps - top class hurdler who went off second fav in the Supreme last year, but didn't jump that cleanly, finishing fifth. Second to Gaelic Warrior, beat Found A Fifty in his last two runs, but has disappointed at the last two Festivals. That rules him out for mine. 

JPR One - won a G2 at Lingfield in January, I just have concerns about the depth of this class of chasers in the UK. 

Master Chewy - was nearly brought down at the first fence at Lingfield so ignore that race. Had a strong record of two wins and two seconds from his first four chases versus no wins from seven hurdles runs, so seems to have found his place now. Like JPR One, I don't think the UK form around him is strong enough.

Matata - created havoc at Lingfield last time, almost taking out half the field at the first fence. Jockeys will be cautious around him. A win and two seconds from three chase starts, the UK form is again the query.

My Mate Mozzie - stayed on late to be runner-up behind Found A Fifty on Boxing Day, giving him a record of a win (here) and two seconds from three chase starts. Note his last two runs (first and second) have made use of a tongue tie, and now he receives cheekpieces, which he has tried once before (Galway Hurdle two years ago, started 2nd fav but finished 13th). 8yos and horses with headgear traditionally have a poor record in this but Gavin Cromwell has no fear of breaking trends. Going the right way, definite chance.

Quilixios - won the Triumph back in 2021, had over 20 months off before this campaign. From three chase starts, he has won two (over 2m and 2m3f) and finished a mile back over 3m - hence the return to two miles. His chase mark is still 9lb below his hurdles mark, suggesting there is still plenty of scope for improvement. Can go close here.

SUMMARY

This is a great betting race, with only one horse given no hope, and question marks over several of the fancies. Gaelic Warrior has plenty of talent and could just brain them, but I'd rather take him on with his quirks on display here.

Found A Fifty, Quilixios, My Mate Mozzie

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ULTIMA CHASE

The first of the 'massive field, throw a dart' races.

Will be studying this until as late as possible for my Colossus and Placepot bets. Early thoughts are Trelawne, Twig and Chianti Classico. The Irish have a poor record in this race, at least in terms of winning. The new JP McManus-owned fav falls into this bogey. 

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CHAMPION HURDLE

Now that Constitution Hill is out, there's just as much of a gap between State Man and the rest. He's that darn good. For the placings, Irish Point and Nemean Lion.

State Man, Irish Point, Nemean Lion

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MARES' HURDLE

Lossiemouth is odds-on for a reason here, just the one defeat from seven starts when desperately unlucky, and she resumed this season by winning the International Hurdle ahead of Love Envoi (second in this race last year) by nearly 10L. 

Ashroe Diamond is the best of her stablemates and win a G2 at Doncaster impressively last time. Gala Marceau inflicted the only defeat of Lossiemouth's career but has flatlined ever since. Marie's Rock was favourite for this race last year but was well beaten, think she's better over a longer trip now. Echoes In Heaven and Love Envoi are off to the breeding barn and the sales respectively after this, not expecting either to go out on top.


Lossiemouth, Ashroe Diamond, anything

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BOODLES FRED WINTER

Love this race, brickbats to all those who want it scrapped!

Liari - the only Tuesday runner for Paul Nicholls who arrives having won all three hurdles starts, showing natural progression at each start, but notably all of them were on flat tracks. Won the Scottish Triumph Hurdle last month, so he has to be in with a big chance here despite topweight but is vulnerable to a lighter-handicapped rival who has kept something up the sleeve. 

Ndaawi - could have won by 20L last time but eased down to only record a 2.5L victory at Naas. Finished 3.5L behind Miss Manzor the previous start at similar weights. Has class, perhaps hitting his straps now?

Batman Girac - had a lovely 'quiet' run in the G2 Dublin Juvenile Hurdle on St Stephen's Day, held up at the back of the field then running on nicely through the field without a lot of room to finish fourth, behind a couple of leading fancies in the Triumph on Friday. He wasn't the favoured runner for the owners that day after a mysterious run the previous start (jockey eased him down suspecting an injury). In a race where you need to be wary of disguised form, he's one to watch.

Miss Manzor - finished behind Batman Girac on Irish debut in December but stepped up soon after to win at Fairyhouse, ahead of Ndaawi and Karia Des Blaises. Carrying a hefty weight for a filly, bit probably the stable pick outside of the Munir & Souede runner.

Eagle Fang - gets the form tick for winning the lead-up race at Naas which has provided four of the past five winners. He was five lengths ahead of Bright Legend on that day, claiming his first win after dropping back from a couple of Graded races. In the mix.

Karia Des Blaises - has finished behind Miss Manzor in both starts since leaving France, needs more than the 3lb swing in the weights.

Milan Tino - a JP McManus-owned runner still being trained out of France. Hasn't won in four starts (placed each time), but each of those has been G2 or Listed so this is a drop down to a more realistic level. Placings behind Burdett Road and Sir Gino, both at Cheltenham, rates him a worthy favourite.  

An Bradan Feasa - collateral formlines throught Burdett Road (6.5L behind at level weights) and Liari (8.75L behind, receiving 3lbs) put him into calculations now that he gets 8lbs from the topweights. 

Ose Partir - quite tight in the market considering his form, bookies have a lot of respect for Martin Brassil. Has barely beaten a horse home in his past three, I can't have him.

Nara - another McManus-owned runner in the green & orange hoops. Won easily at his only start in France, then well beaten in both races in Ireland. But remember, that gets him his handicap mark - he didn't look to be trying too hard at Naas (the form race with four of the last five winners) or Fairyhouse. Has Mark Walsh, JP's no.1, aboard.

Mordor - a second and three thirds from eight runs on the Flat and over obstacles. Nope.

Pigeon House - speaking of non-winners, this one is none-from-fifteen, although his five placings (all seconds) have all appeared over hurdles. Finished in front of a few of these, including Lark In The Mornin, at Punchestown, but I can't have a serial non-winner.

Eagles Reign - couldn't win a maiden so stepped into handicap company to get off the mark last time at his eleventh atempt. Big gap between that form and what is needed here. Pass.

Balboa - onto his sixth (!) trainer in 12 months, with a record of one win from 12 starts. Not that far behind Liari last time but has a lot to find here to be competitive.

Lark In The Mornin - well fancied at all three hurdles starts but yet to land  a victory. Last time he had an excuse after a mishap at the last cost him a few lengths, but the previous two runs weren't worth forgiving. There's obviously feeling in the stable there's a lot more to come but I can't have him as favourite.

Les Loyautes - on debut for Nigel Twiston-Davies after one win from nine jumps starts (four hurdles, five chases) in France. Too exposed to worry about here.

Roaring Legend - handy on the Flat, rated at a peak of 83, then runner-up to two very talented types from the Nicholls camp before flopping at 2/7 at Market Rasen last time. Perhaps the small field and slow pace caught him out but he was rather disappointing. In with a chance on the previous two run.

Palamon - third behind Ndaawi at level weights last time, but the 3.75L margin really should have been 20. Not for mine.

Harsh - started his jumping career with two decent runs before a distant fourth in the G2 Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow over Xmas. Has been off ever since and now receives 7lbs for using a jockey who has won just three races from 52 in his career. Pass.

Bright Legend - progressive juvenile who is owned by the same connections as Band Of Outlaws who won this race in 2019. Doesn't have anywhere near the level of form though, he barely got into the race where as Band of Outlaws was rated 5lbs higher than anything in this edition.  Some chance but wouldn't be rushing to back him. Ran second in the 'hot' race at Naas last time out.

Latin Verse - interesting British runner with a few stable switches. Is two-from-two for Syd Hosie in lesser class, ran in a couple of stronger races for Anthony Charlton, finishing distanced behind Liari in heavy going at Aintree, but went much closer against the stablemate Kabral Du Mathan a month later and then bolted in by 19L at Ludlow back under Hosie. Very curious, hasn't been missed in the market.

Teorie - handy one at the bottom of the weights for Fergal O'Brien. This stable had a third here a few years back with Elham Valley, and claim this one has more gears. Has won two of his three starts, the other time running too free for a 7lb claimer. Not hopeless.

SUMMARY

Batman Girac feels like he could have a lot up his sleeve, Nara might have the brakes released while the bottom pair could sneak the placings. Happy to place lay this favourite (Lark In The Mornin).

Batman Girac, Nara, Latin Verse, Teorie


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NH CHALLENGE CUP

Seven runners in an amateurs' race is a very disappointing return. I don't see the point of this race in the first place, this confirms it.

Corbetts Cross - very talented but a bit erratic. Ran out at the last obstacle in the Albert Bartlett last year and fell last time out. Hooded first time. Take on trust.

Embassy Gardens has won his two chase starts by at least 10 lengths so is the obvious favourite. Flopped in the Albert Bartlett last year, gets the first-time hood here.  Lightly raced, horses with only two previous chase starts have struggled in recent years - 10 of the last 14 winners have had at least four goes over fences.

Henry's Friend represents Ben Pauling and has won three in a row, topping it off with the Reynoldstown at Ascot, a G2 Novice. Only four starts over fences though. 

Kilbeg King was just beaten by Henry's Friend at Ascot after running thid in the Kauto Star at Kempton on Boxing Day. Yet to win in four chases, but his figures are up to this, the extra distance probably works in his favour.

Mr Vango won the Devon National (at his second chase start) by 60L after the race fell apart. Would be a poignant winner for Sara Bradstock, after the recent passing of her Gold Cup-winning husband Mark, and has been tipped up by several decent judges. 

Salvador Ziggy - won his first two chase starts early in the season, cam runner-up in the Kerry National and then went after the big cash in America for the Grand National Hurdle without success. He's not run since last October which makes 3m6f a real test, but Gordon Elliott is not to be underestimated.

Apple Away - the only mare in the field, she finished her hurdling career with a win in the G1 Sefton Novices' at Aintree last April. As a chaser, she has been placed twice behind Grey Dawning (favourite for the Turner's), won by 31L at Leicester, and came third (beaten less than 3L) in the Reynoldstown at Ascot against a couple of these. The concern with her is her runs appear to have been restricted to flat tracks rather than the undulations she will see here (ran here once, beaten 24L). 

SUMMARY

Only seven runners kills the each-way angle but I think there is value at bigger prices.

Kilbeg King, Henry's Friend, Mr Vango

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BEST OF THE DAY

Festivals are never easy and I'm not going to recommend an odds-on pop.

Batman Girac (10/1) each-way in the Boodles and a place bet on Kilbeg King (~3/1) in the last will do.

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