The story of the first day of the 2015 Cheltenham Festival was dubbed Ruby Tuesday, and the same title could be given to the first day of the 2016 Cheltenham Festival. Not only did he do a steering job on Douvan to win the Arkle, and also on Vroum Vroum Mag to win the Mares’ Hurdle, but he got Annie Power’s name into the history books with a convincing win in the Champion Hurdle. Connections of Annie Power might just be kicking themselves that they didn’t go for the big 2 mile prize sooner, given the commanding victory she dished out to the boys. If she heads back to Prestbury Park next year to defend her crown, she might just face a stiff test from Altior, another convincing winner on the day, this time of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. He dished out a 7 length defeat to another one of Willie Mullins’ fancies, Min in the first race of the day.
We head into the second day of the 2016 Cheltenham Festival with a profit to our name, with Annie Power getting up at 5/2, and Legacy Gold, our each-way selection in the Mares’ Hurdle finishing a close third at 40/1. So we start the second day with a profit of +3.25 units, which we’ll take. Wednesday’s card starts with another novice hurdle at 1:30, this time the Neptune, followed by the RSA Chase at 2:10. The cavalry charge known as the Coral Cup is at 2:50, before the feature race of the day, the Queen Mother Champion Chase. The love-it-or-hate-it cross-country chase is at 4:10, the race that splits horse racing fans across the country, then it’s the Fred Winter Hurdle at 4:50. and then the Champion Bumper finishes off the day at 5:30.
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The Neptune Novices’ Hurdle is our first race for the day, and we’ve got a few hots ones in this field of novices taking on the 2 mile 5 furlongs.
Yorkhill will be all the race, as it’s the Mullins and Walsh combination again. He comes into the race in sparkling form, with two wins out of two races, the last one being a Group 1 at Sandown in January. The form from that race hasn’t work out too poorly, with O O Seven winning next time out, albeit in a lesser race at Musselburgh, and Agrapart, who was third, going on to win a Group 3 comfortably at Newbury. The one problem here is that the vast majority of winners of this race have had at least three runs over hurdles, while Yorkhill has only had two.
In terms of experience, Yanworth has had four runs over hurdles, and four wins, the latest coming at Cheltenham in a Group 2 success. He easily disposed of the handy Shantou Village in that race. He’s done everything right, and is, quite rightly, the top-rated horse in the race. On paper, it looks like a shootout between Yanworth and Yorkhill.
However, we’re going to avoid the two more obvious choices, and look at another Willie Mullins runner, A Toi Phil who also has great form coming into this race. He ticks the boxes of having three runs over hurdles, and he’s won two of them, while running out in his first race under rules, where he ran out left. His win last time out over Acapella Bourgeois at Leopardstown has worked out well, with the runner-up going on to record a comfortable victory in a Group 2. His first win over Don’t Touch it and Vigil has also worked out well, and the later reopposes him today. Brian Cooper gets the nod, which is a huge plus, and the fact we know he’ll get the trip puts him even more in our good books.
The RSA Chase is the second race of the day, and we’ll be looking for a future Gold cup contender in the field here. There’s definitely a few that look the part, and this is an exceptionally tricky race to fathom out, given that the field are so tight on ratings.
Blaklion has some handy form, and had appealed to me a few weeks ago, but looking further into his results, he doesn’t seem to have beaten the real class that some of the other runners have. He beat Definitly Red last time out easily enough, but then Definitly Red disappointed big time on the first day of the Festival, it’s not giving a big boost to his form. Add in two second places prior to that, and he doesn’t have the real star-potential that others do.
Le Mercurey is held on form by Vyta Du Roc, and neither look like the type to win this race.
I’m not entirely impressed by the form lines from No More Heroes’ wins. The runners-up haven’t proven to be of any real class, and while you can only beat what’s put in front of you, No More Heroes hasn’t really been tested by any real classy opposition, the likes of which he’ll face in the RSA Chase. It’s really the same for Roi Des Francs.
Seeyouatmidnight has looked handy enough, but is on par with Blaklion on previous form.
More Of That appeals the most purely down to Cheltenham course form. He’s won his two novice chases comfortably, both at Prestbury Park, and also has a World Hurdle win under his belt with form that’s worked out really well, as you would expect. Jonjo O’Neill has had a quiet 2016, but bounced back to form with a huge run from Holywell, and then a win for Minella Rocco, so his horses are back firing again. Add in that Barry Geragthy knows how to get the job done, and it confirms the reasons that I’ve been looking to back More Of That since his first run of the year.
The Coral Cup, notoriously hard to get a winner from, purely due to the size of the field. We have 26 runners going to post, and trying to work out the puzzle of the handicap is just a real nightmare. However, we do have some trends that will help us try and work out where the winner is going to come from.
Horses with an official rating of 150 of greater tend not to fare well, so we can eliminate the top six in the handicap. The good news is that leaves us with only 20 to sort out now. Great! We need to be looking for a runner that has no more than one handicap win to its name, and also a second-season hurdler. This starts to narrow things down for us.
Basically, I’m looking right at the bottom of the handicap here, and Hunters Hoof looks thrown in at the weights. He’s a second season hurdler, lightly raced and only won one handicap hurdle in his time. His win over Work In Progress looks decent enough, given that Work In Progress has gone on to wind handsomely at Fakenham. Plus, Nicky Henderson’s stable are going well, and Nico de Boinville is shaping up to a real class act in National Hunt racing.
3:30 Cheltenham – QUEEN MOTHER CHAMPION CHASE
The feature race of the day is the Queen Mother Champion Chase, to find the best 2 mile chaser in training. After seeing some greats of the sport win this race over the years, including my favourite horse, Moscow Flyer, it’s safe to say that Dodging Bullets’ win last year, was surely one of the worst Champion Chases in recent memory. The form hasn’t held up, and the fact the old warhorse Somersby managed a second place in 2015 sums up how weak the race is. The form hasn’t held up, and it’s safe to say I can’t see Dodging Bullets retain his crown.
In fact, this is all about Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh again, as Un De Sceaux is the horse to beat. He’s been beaten twice over fences, but that’s only because he fell, both times when cruising out in front. But last year’s Arkle winner doesn’t mind it round here, he loves the trip, and is going to be seriously difficult to beat, especially when you look at the quality of most of the field – it’s not great. Hopefully this is a return to form for the Champion Chase, though, and if Douvan goes that route next year, we might get a real clash of the titans.
If Sprinter Sacre is back to his best, it’ll be close, but we’ve not seen anything from Sprinter Sacre that suggests he’s anywhere near his best form.
This is almost a horse lottery, the Cross Country Chase, over 4 miles which takes place all over Cheltenham. I think they might even head up into the stands at some point.
The key thing here is experience, with the majority of the winners having raced over the Cross Country course before. It’s also a good race for well fancied runners, as well as horses of Enda Bolger. This is also the first year the Cross Country race at the Festival has been run off level weights, so we’re going to see a real shake-up.
That would seem to give Any Currency a real chance on last year’s form, as he lumbered 11st 11lbs to second place, giving Rivage D’Or a fright, who was carrying 10st 10lbs. However, Any Currency isn’t getting any younger, and at 13, might just struggle.
However, Balthazar King, after almost a year off after falling in the 2015 Grand National, really appeals, even though he’s now 12. He took care of Uncle Junior off levels weights round this course in November 2014, won this race in 2014 off top weight, beating Any Currency by a short head, but conceding 18lbs. He’s the second-highest rated horse in the race, so he really has to have a strong chance.
The Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle is next, for four year olds, and that means we don’t have too much form to go off of, and there isn’t too much of a disparity between the ratings of the runners, either, purely do to a lack of form to go off of, and many racing at the same levels.
Willie Mullins has the interesting Voix Du Reve, but I don’t think the handicapper has been very lenient, and he’s off a rather high mark, given the fact he’s only had one run in Britain, and he finished in a dead-heat for second, although it was a Group 3. The mark might just be a little too high, though.
Fixe Le Kap and Messire Des Obeaux look weighted to go neck and neck together, and I would expect more from Messire Des Obeaus this time round, but their form is patchy.
Instead, Doubly Clever each-way is looking to make it four from four over hurdles, and Harry Cobden taking 7lbs off looks to be quite an interesting prospect. As it stands, I think he’s on the right handicap mark, but that 7lbs off his back starts to make him look a real threat. It’s a tough race to work out, but the 7lb claim helps make up my mind at what could be a huge price, and with at least four places being paid, we’ll take our chances.
The Champion Bumper tends to be a wide open race, although Willie Mullins tends to come well-armed, and this year is no exception: Mullins has 7 runners in this field of 24.
Bumper form is notoriously hard to read, and those coming into the Champion Bumper tend to be smart animals, so working it all out isn’t easy.
Turcagua has been off the track for 466 days, but has some good form. His last win was in 2014, and it was over Bonny Kate, who has gone on to be a classy performer, in Group races. However, the absence is a bit of a worry, and if it wasn’t for the 1.5 years off, I would be all over Katie Walsh’s runner.
Instead, we’ll go with New To This Town for Jess Harrington. His last win has worked out very well from Gowran Park. He beat Avenir D’UnVie by around 2 lengths, although receiving 7lbs. But Avenir D’Un Vie went on to win as Naas in February by 14 lengths. His first win in a bumper, at Thurles in December 2015 has also worked out really well, with the runner-up, Articulum, winning a couple of bumpers since. That’s about all we can ask for when it comes to form lines in the Champion Bumper, so we’ll go with it and hope for the best in yet another wide open race.