This is the last update with selections before the declarations. Thank goodness we have 48-hour decs this year so we can have a good look at the fields rather than wondering which horse will take its place where. Of course there is still the possibility of double decs but, overall, it should be much better all round.
The first considerations are the weather and the ground. According to the BBC website rain is forecast every single day from this Friday until Gold Cup day. Today (Tuesday) the ground is soft, good to soft in places. I’m expecting soft ground all round on Tuesday (11/8) and soft, heavy in places by Gold Cup day. According to Accuweather extended rain is expected this Saturday, followed by next Thursday and particularly on Friday.
I’m going to confine my views to the Grade 1 races and the Cross Country today because there are too many multiple entries in the main handicaps.
Later in the week I hope to post videos of the main contenders. For now, here’s an example of Footpad’s spectacular jumping performance at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting:
1.30 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (winner £71,188)
Kalashnikov**** (15/2 > 6/1 > 11/2)
There are 53 entries but it’s 10/1 bar Getabird and Kalashnikov without NRNB. It’s a “pick ’em”. It’s easy to think of Getabird being another Melon (i.e. a beaten hotpot). His form is impeccable and he has winning form over 2m 4f on heavy so softish ground shouldn’t be a problem. He easily beat Mengli Khan and Carter McKay in the Moscow Flyer at Punchestown on soft to heavy last time out in January and may well improve.
If you disregard Kalashnikov’s second to Summerville Boy in the Grade 1 Tolworth on proper heavy ground (and I think that you can) his profile is also impeccable and his victory in the the Betfair Hurdle (formerly the Schweppes) was a mighty performance for a novice. Another horse to have progressed from this race was Make A Stand in 1997 (having improved 50lbs in the course of the season), except he went on to win the Champion Hurdle at 7/1. Kalashnikov has shown his resolution and speed in a cavalry charge on soft ground and he is a confident four stars selection.
2.10 Arkle Novices’ Chase (winner £99,663)
Footpad***** (7/4 ->11/8 > 11/8 > 6/4)
Regular readers will know that I’ve been a fan of Footpad for years and he’s moved up to top gear by chasing. I’ve already said that I see this one as a future Champion Chaser. He took a drift in the market last weekend but it now seems that this may have resulted from confusion with the Munir horses (Sceau Royal is out), as noted by Ruby Walsh:
“Footpad is 100 per cent and we don’t know why he was in the news over the weekend.
“Maybe someone had the wrong information about a Simon Munir horse or something, we know Sceaux Royal went missing on Monday, but Footpad is 100 per cent and there was never an issue with him, but you get those rumours at this time of the year.”
I can’t split Footpad and Apple’s Shakira as my nap of the week. They are both five star selections and the current prices for both are staggering value.
I agree with the Racing UK pundits that Brain Power has no chance and although Saint Calvados was impressive in the Kingmaker at Warwick he didn’t really beat that much. He was sixth of 10 behind last weekend’s star De Bon Coeur last April at Auteuil. As an aside De Bon Coeur looks like France’s next Questarabad after his latest demolition job of the opposition at Auteuil on Sunday (winning a race also won won by Questarabad at a similar stage). It would be great to see that horse taking on the best from the UK and Ireland but, if I was the owner, I’d hold on to him and sweep up all the extremely valuable prizes in France for years to come (form 111111-F111).
3.30 Champion Hurdle (winner £256,275)
Buveur d’Air***** (4/6 -> 1/2 > 8/15)
None have emerged to prevent Buveur d’Air from retaining his crown. The only reason why he’s not my nap is the price. I’m therefore looking at the place options. As previously noted Elgin should be supplemented (for £20,000) and take his chance (currently 16/1) and Wicklow Brave could well run into a place at 12/1.
4.10 Mares’ Hurdle (winner £67,524)
Apple’s Jade**** (8/11 -> 4/6 > 4/6)
W P Mullins appears to be firing his best available against his former charge Apple’s Jade but none of them should be able to see her off. This is easily Gordon Elliott’s best chance of the day and probably the week. I might have a small interest on La Bague Au Roi for a place at 14/1 if she turns up here.
1.30 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (winner £71,187)
Samcro**** (9/4 -> 8/11 > 4/5)
There appears to be a consensus that this one is the Irish banker of the week. The price is certainly very attractive but, in reality, there are better options (albeit at shorter prices). His win at the Dublin Racing Festival was mightily impressive and there is no good reason to look beyond him. He’s unbeaten and this is his graduation day.
2.10 RSA Novices’ Chase (winner £99,662)
Black Corton*** (10/1 > 8/1)
I’ve been with Black Corton from the start of these previews and I’m not going to change now. The only concern is if Monalee turns up here but I think that he’ll show up in the JLT. Don’t worry about the progression from a summer horse to a Cheltenham Grade 1 candidate. As I mentioned above Make A Stand improved 50lb in one season before winning the Champion Hurdle. His victory in the Grade 1 Kauto Star Chase, followed by the Grade 2 Reynoldstown, proves his class beyond doubt and, with Bryony Frost on board, I can already see her smile and raised arm on board the winner making the front pages of the newspapers.
3.30 Champion Chase (winner £227,800)
Altior***** (11/8 -> 8/11 > 8/11)
Altior is the chasing equivalent of Buveur d’Air in the Champion Hurdle and should ensure that Nicky Henderson bags both 2m prizes. A curve ball in this one (for a place) is Great Field for Willie Mullins after 321 days off but on a five timer (into 10/1 from 16/1 in the last few days).
4.10 Cross Country Chase (winner £40,235)
Cause of Causes** (4/1 -> 7/2 > 11/4)
There’s not much to add to my earlier views. Cause of Causes is a fair bet for this one but no more than that.
1.30 JLT Novices’ Chase (winner £85,425)
Monalee** (14/1 > 13/2)
I do hope that Monalee turns up here and, if he does, he should win. One to watch is the Munir/Henderson highly rated recruit Terrefort at 13/2.
2.50 Ryanair Chase (winner £199.325)
Un de Sceaux**** (9/2 -> 3/1 > 2/1)
Unusually, I’ve put up the prize money in the titles of the races in this preview, particularly with this race in mind. The Ryanair is often seen as the poor relation of the other championship races but that prize to the winner of nearly £200,000 is not to be sniffed at. The ground prediction reinforces my view that this is Un de Sceaux’s for the taking. Waiting Patiently would be interesting if he turns up but I don’t think that he will. If the decs go as they might, this might be 7/1 bar the fav in which case the advice must be to get on now.
3.30 Stayers’ Hurdle (winner £185,088)
Sam Spinner** (4/1 -> 11/2 > 5/1)
Let’s get two out of the way to start with. Neither Supasundae nor Yanworth are my ideas of the winner. Both have had good days but are not champions here. This is a wide open race and that is why I think that it’s a perfect opportunity for the highly progressive Sam Spinner who, like Kalashnikov, has shown tenacity in his prep races.
1.30 Triumph Hurdle (winner £71,187)
Apples Shakira***** (4/1 -> 3/1 > 3/1)
I’m going to repeat myself – Apples Shakira is a very, very good horse. She gets half a stone from the geldings and arguably wouldn’t need it to win. That is a very significant advantage and all her wins in the UK have been on soft (she also beat 10 on her debut in France on trés souple) and this could be run on very soft ground. Unbeaten, she is all over my idea of the winner of this. Of the others Saldier (12/1) and Stormy Ireland (9/1) are candidates for a place, both at decent prices.
2.50 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (winner £71,187)
Next Destination* (8/1 -> 6/1 > 7/1 (as low as 4/1 in places))
This is by some margin the weakest of the Grade 1s and Next Destination is the weakest of my current selections. Santini is the current 4/1 favourite and if Chef des Obeaux (11/2) turns up here I’ll be switching to him (particularly on soft ground).
3.30 The Gold Cup (winner £355,937)
Native River*** (6/1 > 6/1)
Well, bring on that properly soft ground for my selection! If it does turn up that way on properly churned ground (after two days on the new course) I can see this one grinding on and on for an old fashioned win over 3m 2 1/2f. I can see some of the the Irish horses repeating their Christmas flops and, as I’ve already said, I can’t see Might Bite winning and all the more so on trying ground. I think that Ruby will ride Total Recall and he’s excellent value for a place at the current 16/1.
It seems this way at this time every year but this year in particular I think that there are horses to place in multiples and they are:
Un de Sceaux
Take them all (including NRNB) for a realistic 50/1. I have.