CHELTENHAM PREVIEW 2016

The annual Cheltenham festival (to be held this year from March 15 to 18) is one of horse racing’s finest spectacles.  As usual, the best of the best will be on display and all races will take maximum effort to win no matter how short-priced the favourite.  It really is a Punters’ Paradise.

This year’s festival is likely to begin on a mixture of soft/good to soft ground as the weather has settled down and the track is drying out.  The standard massive Irish contingent will make the trip across the sea to participate and, as is the norm these days, Willie Mullins (1/14 odds) and Ruby Walsh (1/3) have already been named Champion Trainer and Jockey respectively by the Bookies.  There’s no denying the strength of the Walsh/Mullins raiding party but the races are yet to be won and I for one will be having a flutter on perennial Cheltenham standing dish, Nicky Henderson (insulted at 12/1) and his stable jock, Barry Geraghty (11/2) to upset that particular applecart.

Jonjo O’Neill has been going through a quiet time but his stable has begun to show better form the past month or so.  Watch out for his charges in the handicaps as many will be on very lenient marks.

TUESDAY, MARCH 15

Supreme Novices Hurdle (Grade 1; 4yo+; 2m; 1330 GMT; 8.30am Ja Time)

The Ruby Walsh/Willie Mullins combo has won the last 3 renewals of the traditional opener with class acts Douvan (2015; 5yo; 2/1 fav); Vautour (2014; 5yo; 7/2 co-fav); and Champagne Fever (2013; 6yo; 5/1).

The trainer is very strongly represented by 5yos Min (ante-post favourite; won Grade 1 Moscow Flyer at Punchestown in January as did Vautour and Douvan before him) and Yorkhill [Unbeaten in four starts, won on hurdling debut at Punchestown (2½m) in December before dropping in trip for Tolworth victory at Sandown in January]).

Mullins has warned that he doesn’t consider Min to be as good as either Douvan or Vautour and there’s a question mark against him (has only won on heavy) if the ground dries up too much so, at the likely odds, it could pay to look elsewhere. Yorkhill’s Tolworth form is working out very well (3 subsequent easy winners behind) but he’s clearly stable second string so the two to concentrate on come from Nicky Henderson’s barn in Altior and BUVEUR D’AIR. Nicky has come desperately close in this race often and deserves to put one over the Irish at last.

Of the two the latter (2 for 2 over hurdles) is preferred as having limitless scope while the former would prefer a less testing surface.

SUPREME NOVICES SELECTION:    BUVEUR D’AIR

 

The Arkle Chase (Grade 1; 5yo+; 2m; 1410GMT; 9.10am Ja Time)

DOUVAN (TUESDAY’S BANKER) seems to have frightened off most of the opposition and may have as few as four opponents here. Nicky Henderson’s Vaniteux should chase him home.

ARKLE SELECTION: DOUVAN (TUESDAY’S BANKER)

 

The Champion Hurdle (Grade 1; 4yo+; 2m; 1530 GMT; 10.30am Ja Time)

There’s plenty hype surrounding Willie Mullins’ Annie Power who heads all markets since fancied stable companion and defending Champion, Faugheen, defected due to injury.

She’s an enigma, 13 for 13 starts outside the festival but 0 for 2 at Cheltenham including an amazing last hurdle fall with the 2015 mares hurdle at her mercy. She was set to run in the Mares or the World Hurdle again this year until Faugheen’s withdrawal and, although she is a hot favourite, this won’t be easy. No mare has won this race for the longest while and in MY TENT OR YOURS (NAP), she’ll have an opponent who has appeared born to win this race but who has been his own worst enemy. Once the great Nicky Henderson has him settled (and exercise reports suggest he’s flying) this won’t be a race.  The New One could be next best.

CHAMPION HURDLE:               MY TENT OR YOURS (TUESDAY’S NAP)

 

MARES HURDLE (Grade 1; 4yo+ mares; 2 ½m; 1610GMT; 11.10am Ja Time)

Top class chaser turned hurdler VROUM VROUM MAG highlights the depth of the Walsh/Mullins challenge by effortlessly stepping into Annie Power’s shoes in time with an impressive win at Ascot over a 3m trip that obviously stretched her stamina. This is her perfect trip and she should continue Willie Mullins’ utter domination of the event.

MARES HURDLE SELECTION: VROUM VROUM MAG

 

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 16

 

NIM (Baring Bingham) Novices Hurdle (G 1; 4yo+; 21f; 1330GMT; 8.30amJa)

Willie Mullins starts two but his best chance comes from Long Dog (won the last six hurdles starts, including Grade 1s at Fairyhouse and Leopardstown over 2 miles). He’ll be a rare bird namely a Mullins starter at a decent price but he will have to be exceptional to beat Alan King’s YANWORTH (4 for 4 over hurdles who looked a top class prospect when winning Grade 2 Classic over the New Course at Cheltenham by 7 lengths). He’s very hard to beat!

NEPTUNE INVESTMENTS SELECTION: YANWORTH (WED’S BANKER)

 

RSA CHASE (Grade 1; 5y0+; 3m; 1410GMT; 9.10am Ja Time)

No More Heroes has won all three starts over fences including Grade 1s at Fairyhouse and Leopardstown so his chances are obvious but Jonjo O’Neill’s MORE OF THAT (nap) was the better hurdler and, after a lengthy absence (breathing operation) won both novice chases he contested in November/December at Cheltenham.  He has immense potential.

RSA CHASE SELECTION: MORE OF THAT (WEDNESDAY’S NAP)

 

 

CHAMPION CHASE (Grade 1; 5yo+; 2m; 1530GMT; 10.30am Ja Time)

Once again, Willie Mullins provides the howling favourite in 2015’s Arkle winner Un De Seaux .  But this classy jumper has twice blotted his copybook by falling and is a very headstrong sort so could be vulnerable if taken on for the lead. I just can’t help but ask why is anybody shorter in the betting than SPRINTER SACRE who promised to develop into another Arkle or Desert Orchid before suffering a debilitating injury in December 2013. Nicky Henderson wasn’t able to bring him back in time to be fully wound up for last year’s Champion Chase but has won two Grade 2s in Nov/December this year (the second beating Sire De Grugy by 3/4l at Ascot) and has been prepared for this with a vengeance since.

CHAMPION CHASE SELECTION:              SPRINTER SACRE

 

CHAMPION BUMPER (Grade 1; 4-6yo; 2m; 1730GMT; 12.30pm Ja Time)

Another Willie Mullins’ corker in Augusta Kate (Mullins has won this race eight times) but it is worth questioning what she has beaten so preference is for Nigel Twiston-Davies’ BALLYANDY (Sam Twiston-Davies up) who’ll relish all conditions especially the likely strong early gallop.

CHAMPION BUMPER SELECTION:   BALLYANDY

 

 

THURSDAY MARCH 17

JLT Novices Chase (Grade 1; 5yo+; 20f; 1330GMT; 8.30am Ja Time)

Yet another strong Willie Mullins contingent led by likely favourite Outlander who had strong hurdles form, including defeating Martello Tower, Killultagh Vic (my early fancy for this), Windsor Park and No More Heroes in a Grade 2 Novice at Leopardstown, before switching to fences where he’s 3 for 3. But he flopped at last year’s festival on good ground and so the suspicion remains he needs testing conditions to produce his best.

At likely skinny odds, he can be opposed with GARDE LA VICTOIRE (also 3 for 3 over fences including a Grade 2 Novice at Cheltenham on good to soft in November).   Three Musketeers who won a Grade 2 20f Novice at Newbury impressively before flopping at Cheltenham in the mud, can bounce back and give the selection most to do.

JLT NOVICES CHASE SELECTION:  GARDE LA VICTOIRE

 

Ryanair Chase (Grade 1; 5yo+; 20f; 1450GMT; 9.50am Ja Time)

Al Ferof is all the rage for a race in which many contenders are likely to go elsewhere but he can find this adumbrated 2 ½ miles sharp and so preference is for DYNASTE who won this in 2014; has had his troubles since; but signaled a return to form at Ascot on latest when 2nd to Silviniaco Conti in a Grade 1 race.

RYANAIR CHASE SELECTION: DYNASTE

 

The World Hurdle (Grade 1; 4yo+; 3m; 1530GMT; 10.30am Ja Time)

THISTLECRACK (THURSDAY’S BANKER) has looked nailed on for this race since stepped up to 3 miles at Aintree in early 2015. He has been no less than awesome since and should repel Saphir Du Rheu who has the benefit of a breathing operation.

WORLD HURDLE SELECTION: THISTLECRACK (THURS’ BANKER)

 

The Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase (Grade 3; 5yo+; 20f+; 1610GMT; 11.10am Ja Time) merits a mention because it provides The Terrible Tout’s NAP OF THE MEETING in Course specialist JOHN’S SPIRIT who is one of the aforementioned Jonjo O’Neill’s handicappers who have had a quiet time hence dropped down the handicaps to 145 which is 2lbs below his last winning mark.  Also, his last three runs on Heavy and very soft could not have been his cup of tea as he prefers the drier ground he seems certain to get on Thursday. GET IN EARLY AND OFTEN!

FRIDAY, MARCH 18

 

JCB Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1; 4yo; 2m; 1330GMT; 8.30am Ja Time)

Unusual to have Aidan O’Brien feature in this sphere so notice must be taken as his Ivanovic Gorbatov heads the markets for the Triumph.  He flopped last time out in testing conditions but that was only his second hurdles race and he’s likely to be suited by the less testing conditions here so he’s in the “could be anything” category.

This is an ultra-competitive heat with the likes of ex-French Sceau Royal (Alan King; sure to run a big race after winning his last 3 and 4 of 6 since being imported); and Footpad (Willie Mullins; 3 wins from 4 since joining stable from France including Grade 1 at Leopardstown where he showed marked improvement in a 1st time hood; raced only on heavy ground).

Still, I think Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls has this one covered with Connetable (beat older horses in a listed hurdle at Sandown albeit run at a muddling pace); and ZUBAYR, a revelation switched to hurdles (after running in the frame in two flat maidens in France) winning Grade 2 Adonis at Kempton by 3 3/4l from Azzuri. Any amount of improvement to come so he’ll take all the beating

TRIUMPH HURDLE SELECTION:             ZUBAYR

 

ALBERT BARTLETT NOVICES HURDLE (G1; 4yo+; 3m; 1450GMT; 9.50Ja)

Barters Hill will be all the rage but he’s yet to experience the Cheltenham hill so, at a value price, the progressive and creatively-named UNOWHATIMEANHARRY (has won all 4 starts since joining Harry Fry and being fitted with a tongue strap; 3 handicaps, including 2 at Cheltenham, and a Grade 2) could be the one. He’s sure to be up to this his stiffest test to date.

ALBERT BARTLETT SELECTION:     UNOWHATIMEANHARRY

 

CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP (G1; Chase; 26f; 5yo+; 1530GMT; 10.30am Ja)

The festival feature promises to be a humdinger with a more settled Cue Card promising to stay better than before; Vautour coming off an impressive King George run although still with a slight stamina query; and DON COSSACK (BANKER OF THE FESTIVAL) expected to relish all conditions here after appearing to be closing on Cue Card when falling at the last in the King George.  Kempton seemed a bit sharp for the selection on King George Day and he is a confident pick to turn the tables.

GOLD CUP SELECTION:” DON COSSACK (FESTIVAL BANKER BET)

Friday’s nap comes in the COUNTY HURDLE (a Grade 3 handicap over 2 miles; 1410GMT; 9.10am Ja Time) where excellent young trainer Dan Skelton saddles SUPERB STORY who was 2l 2nd to Champion Hurdle entrant Old Guard over course and distance last time at the races. He’ll prove very hard to beat at a fancy price.

FESTIVAL’S BEST THREE SELECTIONS

MY TENT OR YOURS (Champion Hurdle; Tuesday)

JOHN’S SPIRIT  (Brown’s Advisory Stable Plate; Thursday)

DON COSSACK (Gold Cup; Friday)

Good Luck!

THE TERRIBLE TOUT

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