All of what follows is, as usual, subject to the ground! We’ve had a very unusual season with good and good to soft featuring pretty much throughout. Perhaps the biggest bet for the week as matters stand is what the going will be, and it could have an enormous bearing. For holidays I’ve tended to rely on Accuweather and they are predicting that six of the twelve days at Cheltenham between now and the start of the Festival will feature rain, plus more of the same on the first three of the four days of the Festival itself. If that’s right then much of what follows will be pointless!
If you want a quick summary of what follows, it’s here:
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
Al Dancer (3/1) is the right favourite and could be a top horse. The Betfair Hurdle win was an ideal prep. Fakir D’Oudaries (6/1) proved his credentials in the Triumph Hurdle Trial at Cheltenham on 26 January. However my early selection is Elixir De Nutz (8/1), with Grade 1 form in the Tolworth that has stood up really well.
Le Richebourg would have been my selection until his unfortunate setback. I can’t have current favourite Defi du Seuil (5/2) and I’m torn between Lalor (11/4) and Glen Forsa (4/1), the latter being also entered for the JLT so that might help. Lalor requires a leap of faith after being beaten fair and square by Dynamite Dollars, who subsequently beat not much in the Lightning at Doncaster. Albeit that it was a match, Glen Forsa was mightily impressive when beating Kalashnikov on soft ground and could be a very good horse indeed.
I’m going to oppose Buveur D’Air (2/1) and side with Apple’s Jade (15/8) with the mare’s weight advantage, but won’t be surprised if the other mare, Laurina, overpowers them both. It’s 10/1 bar the three which seems right.
On the assumption that Apple’s Jade and Laurina will go for the Champion Hurdle (by no means certain), Benie Des Dieux (evens) will be my bet of the day.
One of the bets of the week is deserving favourite Santini (3/1), for whom this race should be absolutely ideal. It’s a grinder for the novices and this one has the perfect combination of quality and stamina.
I can see no reason whatsoever to oppose Altior (4/9) and suspect that he will face a small field of others who he has comprehensively beaten or who have no chance. A crowning glory before being tried at longer distances (hopefully), notably the King George.
Tiger Roll demonstrated his rude health with a dominant victory in the Grade 2 Boyne Hurdle at Navan on 17 February. I can see no reason to oppose him and the current evens on offer will surely be much shorter on the day.
I wouldn’t normally be considering this one at this stage but Envoi Allen (3/1) looks to me like very good value for what is almost certainly the horse of the year in this division. Assuming good health, I see this one being a major player in all the main races in years to come.
JLT Novices’ Chase
If Glen Forsa (6/1) turns up here, I think that he wins. Alternatively, I like Camelia de Cotte for Mullins/Ricci at an appealing 14/1.
Min (5/2) could win this if he turns up but I doubt that he will. Frodon (6/1) should run at this ideal trip, rather than the far too long Gold Cup and if he turns up then, subject to Min’s absence, will provide Bryony Frost with her first Festival Grade 1.
In the unfortunate absence of Penhill, this is an easily winnable race and provides my bet of the week in the shape of the admirable Paisley Park (15/8). The emerging horse of the season in my book and one with a very exciting future. Again, like the Champion Chase, this could end up being quite a small field.
Don’t forget that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that it’s not inconceivable that Presenting Percy could turn up here instead of the Gold Cup. He’s still available at 12/1 with Betfair and 2/1, non runner no bet, with Sky Bet. A big conspiracy theory I know but, given the quirky preparation, not out of the question.
Brown Advisory Plate
I wouldn’t normally mention this race at this stage but current favourite Siruh Du Lac (8/1) should be half that price. An outstanding candidate.
Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle
Another race I wouldn’t have expected to mention now but I’m very keen on race hardened and impressive Posh Trish, at a very appealing 15/2.
Everyone in Ireland seems to think that Sir Erec (6/5) is the banker of the week. However, I prefer proven National Hunt types in this race and I’m delighted that Quel Destin, who has served me very well throughout the season to date, is currently 8/1 and represents my first bet placed. By the way, that’s an outstanding each way option.
Well, if Presenting Percy (7/2) turns up then he wins, assuming that the ground is as usual, and probably even if it’s not. If it’s not (i.e. soft or perhaps even worse) then Native River (11/2) has a fair chance to follow up on his victory last year. That’s pretty much it. Kemboy doesn’t jump well enough. Clan Des Obeaux won’t stay the distance up the hill (particularly on the likely softer ground, but may do subsequently). Bellshill is a good horse but not a prospective Gold Cup winner. Might Bite can’t be supported this season. Of the rest, I wouldn’t be shocked if Invitation Only (25/1) runs a screamer and is definitely a candidate as an each way shot.
Recent pointer Stand Up And Fight, owned by J P McManus and trained by Enda Bolger, is the big talking horse and current favourite for this race at 3/1. As a 7-y-o he could be absolutely anything. My preference is currently for two proper campaigners, Ucello Conti (4/1), a very taking winner of the Navan hunters’ chase against good opponents on 17 February, and my current selection, Road To Rome (6/1), a superb winner of the Walrus at Haydock on 16 February, whose form following wind surgery is 24321111111. This will be former winner’s Pacha Du Polder’s last race so I’m just hoping for a safe round for that one. Another that I’ll keep an eye out for is Shantou Flyer (7/1) who appears to have found his metier with new owner and man of the Hunters David Maxwell.
There will be lots more to follow in the run up to the Festival with the huge benefit of 48 hour declarations.