Cheltenham – Day 1

SkyBet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
When you consider that Envoi Allen is the best novice hurdler around, then Abacadabras would have to be the most likely winner of the Supreme. He has only had Envoi Allen finish ahead of him in four hurdle starts and the gap was only a length and a half. The third placed Darver Star has since run a close second to Honeysuckle in the Irish Champion Hurdle, giving the mare seven pounds for a half length defeat. It is a bit of a surprise that he is not favorite for the curtain raiser for the 2020 festival as a result. The favorite is Shiskin and you can’t say that he hasn’t been impressive but I don’t think the form is there to warrant favoritism in comparison to Abacadabras. Shiskin won impressively on his recent race at Huntington and jumped well, if a little big at times. He’s a tall and narrow and is definitely a chaser in waiting. I have one reservation about Shiskin and it is because he races with a deliberate round action. It was good to soft at Huntington and he had no reason to dig into the ground, so unless it turns up soft at Cheltenham, I wouldn’t be confident about his chances and on top of his odds being far too short for what he’s done make him far from an attractive proposition. I’ve no reason to think that Shiskin isn’t a very good horse but there is nothing to suggest he has done anything better than Abacadabras who finished fourth in last season’s Champion Bumper. Envoi Allen was under five lengths ahead of him, with Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle favorite, Thyme Hill only a length ahead in third. It would be hard not to fancy Abacadabras who is a quick jumper and has a big engine, traveling easily in his races, but for the fact that the only time he hasn’t seen out a race has come in that bumper when he didn’t get up the hill. Brave Inca Novices’ Hurdle winner, Asterion Forlonge, is an intriguing candidate. He reminds me a lot of Champagne Fever. Like the 2013 Supreme winner was also bred to stay all day but was at his best galloping from the front over two miles. His huge cruising speed allows him to gallop so strongly for two miles and he jumps well, lifting his shoulders at hurdles. Unlike Champagne Fever, Asterion Forlonge jumps to his right obviously. It didn’t bother him in winning at Naas or Leopardstown but at Cheltenham there is little, if any, margin for error. There is no confirmation in whether he participates in this or the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. For me, his style of running suggests he should be in this race and he has the pace and stamina for the contest. This horse’s huge stride helped keep up a furious gallop at Leopardstown and when he looked like the opposition were finally comfortable with him, he bolted clear by a near ten lengths. Fiddlerontheroof won the Tolworth Hurdle, as Summerville Boy and Noland did on route to winning this. He is probably the best looking horse in the field. A tall and strong gelding with a broad face and another quality jumper. He sticks his head out for a battle and has a good will to win. He is another horse who is a huge chasing prospect. Before his Wincanton defeat, he sweat up as significantly as to notice during the race. He can hoot a bit of a flat spot and if he does in the Supreme then he’s going to find it very difficult to get back into it off of this strong pace. The runner up in the Tolworth, Jeremys Flame, was well beaten in a Mares Handicap Hurdle at Leopardstown off of a mark of 136, and although Colin Tizzard’s horse gave her seven pounds and a six length beating, I struggle to see that as significant enough form for what looks an above average Supreme. If it was twelve months time and we were talking about the Arkle, I would fancy this horse more, when he has filled out into the big chaser he is destined to be. His conqueror at Wincanton, Edwardstone, is another good horse in this field but he is a keen going sort and it proved his downfall behind Stolen Silver at Haydock. Stolen Silver also has sound Cheltenham form, losing by only a length and three parts when giving six pounds to Chantry House. He wasn’t beaten all that far in the Betfair Hurdle off of 140, which means he’s fairly honestly handicapped but that would be well below what’s required to even figure in a Supreme novices’ hurdle finish. On the same card, his Cheltenham victor, Chantry House, won a novices’ hurdle and the time was good. Despite the good performance it was a good bit off of what Abacadabras achieved. However, there is very little to dislike about JP McManus’ six year old. He moves his ears around, intelligently, in his races and even though he’s narrow, he is tall and leggy, like Douvan. He has a very quick turn of foot and with course and distance winning form already in the bag, it is easy to like Chantry House’s chances. He’d appreciate an easier surface than he encountered at Newbury but Cheltenham water well if needed and there is good reason to be optimistic about him, especially as all his form figures are 1’s. Captain Guinness ran very free in the Moscow Flyer Novices’ hurdle and only got beaten by three parts of a length. It was an admirable performance, considering and this horse clearly has a big future. Whether that is as soon as the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, I’d have my doubts. He’s a big horse and such is his running style, I’d be concerned about this horse losing his balance running down hill at Cheltenham, if he’s still in contention by repeating what he did at Punchestown. Willie Mullins was expected to run Elixir D’Ainay in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, however, he has declared him for this.. In beating Longhouse Poet at Naas, he has the better of one of this seasons top novices albeit over a shorter trip than ideal for his rival but his second to Envoi Allen may read even better. I thought connections would drop back in trip with him after that but they went the opposite way, running him over two miles and six furlongs in the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors ‘50,000 Cheltenham Stable Staff Bonus’ Novices’ Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival and Longhouse Poet was four lengths ahead of him in that contest when they were third and fifth. The drop back in trip is welcomed and the Lawlors of Naas Novices’ Hurdle form (Longhouse Poet again behind him by the further distance of three and a half lengths) with Envoi Allen and with Conflated, eleven lengths behind him before running fourth to Asterion Forlonge, should put him right in the mix at a big price of 20/1.
Chantry House to win, Elixir D’Ainay each way
Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase
Notebook is a horse that I’ve always liked, even so far as to have expected more of him over hurdles. There is no arguing that he has the top chase form in the Arkle, with two grade 1 wins and some fine jumping. There should be little doubt that he has a strong chance of landing the Arkle. If there is a reservation to be had with Notebook, it is his temperament. With the large crowd present at Leopardstown, he got wound up and bolted coming out of the shoot and took some restraining by Rachael Blackmore. The argument to be made in favor of Notebook is that he still won the race and with a better attitude would have won even further. There will be an even bigger crowd at Cheltenham and the shoot out onto the track comes through it and then has a long run to the start at the bottom of the track, so if he gets worked up in the preliminaries then I don’t think he will see out his race as well. That would bring Cash Back into the equation on the ERSG Arkle Novice Chase run, as he only lost out by three parts of a length and after running far too freely but again, Cheltenham’s stiff up hill finish may prove a challenge too far for him if he runs with the choke out as he did at Leopardstown. He jumps well but trainer Willie Mullins is slow to put headgear on his runners and Cash Back wears a hood, so there is possible a word of caution coming with it, just like Notebook. Joseph O’Brien’s Fakir D’oudaries used a lot of himself over the fences in his Beginners Chase win but improved remarkably to Fairyhouse when he won the Drinmore Novices’ Chase with a a beautiful round of jumping. He doesn’t have much to find in distance to close form with Notebook based on Christmas’ Racing Post Novice Chase running but he was in receipt of seven pounds that day and will run off of level weights at Cheltenham. That means he will have to improve again to win this but with age on his side, he would well be of interest and runs fresh at a track which he acts well. Another of last season’s novice hurdlers to go chasing this year of which I have been a fan of is Olly Murphy’s Brewin’upastorm. While I wasn’t flattered by his first chase win, his subsequent Taunton win over Southfield Stone reads well, considering the form of Paul Nicholls’ horse with Fanion D’estruval and that horse’s Wayward Lad run which now looks solid form, and Southfield Stone’s Pendil Novices’ Chase run when second to who Dares Wins. Global Citizen won the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase from subsequent Kingmaker winner, Rouge Vif. Both horses jump well and stay well so they should give a good account of themselves. Brewin’upastorm has one worry coming with him and that is his chase experience as he hasn’t run since November but he is a tidy and quick jumper. There seems to be a lot of pace on in this Arkle and stamina will be required on the stiff uphill finish. If there is one thing to note in this season’s Arkle, it is of the amount of fancies runners who like to travel on the front. Global Citizen, Cash Back, Notebook and Rouge Vif all want the lead and Fakir D’oudaries has performed well from the front also. It could be a cut throat gallop andirons could be that a horse with a later burst of pace or a horse with the stamina for the contest will prevail. Mister Fisher found plenty under pressure against Al Dancer at Doncaster last time and his jumping improved when he the gun was put to his head. He had spent too much time in the air until that point but once he did hit the front, he pulled himself up again. That makes him a tricky horse to ride in the Arkle but considering the strong pace almost certain here, he should jump quicker and it will be all about delivering him on time if good enough and considering that Al Dancer gave the three rivals that finished ahead of him in the Wayward Lad, three pounds and was only beaten four lengths, that gives Mister Fisher as much of a chance as the Wayward Lad winner, Global Citizen. However, with winning form over the course but in the intermediate trip, it would look more likely that Mister Fisher would run in the Marsh Novices’ Chase on the Thursday. Nube Negra  is not without his fans, mainly due to his quick silver jumping but Rouge Vif beat him without excuses in the Wayward Lad, which ties up with the Kingmaker form. The one and three parts lengths beating of him by Esprit du Large would subsequently not look so glorious either in terms of winning an Arkle.  At a big price, two time Champion Hurdle runner up, Melon, has plenty of appeal. He was beaten by Fakir D’oudaries on his beginners chase when clearly carrying plenty of condition but he gave the winner eight pounds that day and the margin was only three lengths. Considering how much Willie Mullins’ string have been wanting their first run of the season, that form makes him of interest and when he won next time out, he beat the very useful Gallant John Joe by two and a quarter lengths (and Chosen Mate by eleven lengths, who bolted up at Gowran Park recently) but the winning margin could arguably have been further but for a significant last fence blunder from the winner. He rallied impressively to win that day and his Cheltenham form, albeit without winning, is solid. For those who’ll argue his Dublin Racing Festival hammering by Notebook, Cash Back and Gallant John Joe eliminate him from the short list here, be wary of how poorly he ran at the last two Dublin Racing Festivals prior to huge Cheltenham Festival runs. Some so called esteemed television pundits who have claimed that ‘fences get in his way’ are dillusional if they truly subscribe to that theory as Melon is a superb jumper. Neat and quick with shoulders lifted and his back straight and never giving much air between himself and the fence, well suited to two miles. As said, he made a big blunder on his beginners chase win but as a novice, a mistake is expected somewhere and welcomed as an education to show the obstacles respect. The horse with the most room for improvement is Fakir D’oudaries but I think Melon is the value bet in this at prices around 20/1.
Fakir D’oudaries, Brewin’upastorm to win 
Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy
This season’s Champion Hurdle has been mocked as being below average and it is obvious to see why with no stand out candidate, what with last year’s brilliant winner, Espoir D’Allen, sadly no longer with us. However, the market has been dictating the quality of the race and if the Supreme ante post market is poor, then that of the Champion Hurdle is abysmal. Epatante heads the betting from stablemate Pentland Hills and neither make much appeal in the bare form. Epatante is a mare who jumps high over hurdles and her Cheltenham form is already poor, with her only finishing ninth in the Dawn Run Mares Novices’ Hurdle, which up to now hasn’t worked out well. She won the Christmas Hurdle on Boxing Day beating Silver Streak by five lengths which put her to the top of the market for the Champion Hurdle. She was in receipt of the seven pound mares allowance that day so, in theory, off of level weights, she would have lost by two lengths to last years Champion Hurdle third. It’s not that straight forward, of course, and she will be in receipt of the concession in this race also but it gives some bench market of where she is in terms of ability, which would be in the low 150’s. Pentland Hills is the second favorite and it is hard to see why. There is two separate form lines that put him behind another Nicky Henderson inmate, Call Me Lord. He was fifth, five lengths behind Call Me Lord in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham in December and with Ballyandy four lengths ahead that day, getting three pounds, he should be two pounds better than Pentland Hills. He got three pounds the next time they met, in the New One Unibet Hurdle but again was beaten, even if only by a neck. The 2019 juvenile form isn’t superb either and though he was clearly the best of them, it is very hard to vindicate his place in the market. Nico de Boinville had been watching the patient Paul Carberry’s masterclasses on Harchibald as this horse will need to be delivered late. The same, with regards the five year olds, goes for Fusil Raffles, who although a speedy horse, races very freely and with a big round action looking for soft ground. Cilaos Emery is a Willie Mullins trained horse that has been supplemented for the Champion Hurdle. Clearly, a very talented horse with good form figures. However, I can’t find one single bit of hurdle form that would warrant calling him a lively contender. Furthermore, he tended to jump his hurdles like he was chasing when winning the Red Mills Trial Hurdle recently. In beating Darasso by nine and a half lengths while receiving seven pounds, Cilaos Emery was performing around the mid 140’s in handicapping terms and if that is good enough to win this year’s race, then it really is a poor renewal. The Irish Champion Hurdle was billed as a match up between Honeysuckle and Sharjah but the latter didn’t show up. How he was allowed to drift to 14/1 for what was clearly a run below what he is capable of was very generous from the layers. This horse had won a Galway Hurdle off of top weight of 146, the Morgiana Hurdle beating Faugheen (Wicklow Brave was twenty lengths behind Sharjah), and the Ryanair Hurdle, beating Supasundae, Melon, Samcro and Petit Mouchoir, before Buveur D’air brought him down at the third in last year’s Champion Hurdle. He was beaten on his seasonal reappearance, as many of WIllie Mullins’ have, but improved to win his second Mathesson Hurdle (formerly the Ryanair Hurdle) and beat the rejuvenated Petit Mouchoir by nearly four lengths. The form of Sharjah makes him the most appealing horse in the Champion Hurdle this season and Mr Ricci has no need to supplement the mare with Sharjah a strong representative. Petit Mouchoir is a horse that could again pick up prize money in a big Grade 1 but Supasundae also is appealing for place money. He’s a bit long in the tooth to imagine him winning a Champion Hurdle but he would be a more likeable horse to tackle the Cheltenham hill than Petit Mouchoir. Darver Star represents last season’s winning trainer, Gavin Cromwell. He was second in the Irish Champion Hurdle, giving Honeysuckle weight. That was an incredible performance and he is clearly an improving horse. He is still a novice but such is the high regard he is held that his only Cheltenham entry is this. He is a second season novice so he is with plenty experience. Even if this season’s race isn’t the best looking on paper, I would have to think that Darver Star would need further improvement to win it. I may have slagged off a few of Henderson’s more fancied horses in this but one horse I do like is Call Me Lord. He won the International Hurdle over course and distance in December. In only beating Ballyandy a neck, he wouldn’t shape as a Champion Hurdle candidate but considering that that rival beat the more fancied Pentland Hills next time, it is arguable that Call Me Lord at least represents better value than his stablemate at 20/1. I also believe that Call Me Lord performed to a higher level of form when beaten in the Contenders Hurdle. Sometimes horses show more honesty to their ability in defeat rather than when winning, see Altior for reference. When If the Cap Fits beats 163 rated Apple’s Jade by a length giving her seven pounds, then he should be rated 171, which means that when he gives Call Me Lord six pounds and a half length beating in the Coral Hurdle, then Call Me Lord should be rated 164. Consider that Call Me Lord is six pounds heavier and six lengths ahead of the 152 rated Eldorado Allen in the Contenders Hurdle and that equally puts him at a rating of 164.
Sharjah, Call Me Lord (each way)
Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle
  This is potentially one of the races of the week if both Honeysuckle and Benie des Dieux show up. However, with both mares looking at alternative engagements, it has equally the likelihood of becoming a bit of a wet fish. I can’t split the two super mares and I stated earlier in the season, when putting her up as my horse to follow for the season, that Honeysuckle was the most talented mare that I had ever seen, only for Benie to blow away the Galmoy Hurdle field and jump right up to parity. At their best, I handicapped Annie Power, Asian Maze and Quevega all in the high 160’s but through the same exercise, Benie and Honeysuckle have come out on 170, the latter on three separate occasions. Benie des Dieux is a very fluent hurdler. She fell with the race at her mercy twelve months ago but she was fresh that day on her first run of the season and shows up this year with that Galmoy run under her belt. Honeysuckle isn’t the most consistent jumper but she is good when she is good and like Benie, she has a huge engine. If either of these mares show up in this race, they will win barring disaster and if both show up then we will have a mouth watering clash, the likes this contest has never seen. In the likely event, that Honeysuckle goes for the Champion Hurdle and Benie runs in the Stayers Hurdle, the race opens up massively. Roksana benefited from Benie falling at the last, twelve months ago and she improved to run a massive race in defeat in the Liverpool Hurdle. Her temperament is her downfall and she persistently swishes her tail when encouraged and persuaded. She is fairly consistent and on the Relkeel Hurdle form, she would once again be in with a huge chance. Last year’s. Runner up Stormy Ireland has encouraged me to think she can reverse last season’s Mares Hurdle run with Roksana. She is three from three this season and the diminutive mare continues to improve, beating the geldings in the Limestone Lad Hurdle at Naas, with considerably ease. She’s lightning quick over her obstacles and has a good turn of foot. Her victories have been in strong times. This time twelve months ago, Laurina would have been red hot for this contest but such is her subsequent form that she is a 14/1 shot. There is one glimmer of hope for her followers and that is her eight length beating of Minella Indo in a Beginners Chase at Gowran in November. On that form, the huge striding Laurina would be in with a great chance in this race if she doesn’t jump too big returning from chasing. However, the dramatic decrease in her stride length from her runnings in the 2019 to the 2020 Quevega Mares Hurdle suggests she is not in the same place at the moment.
Stormy Ireland to win
National Hunt Challenge Cup Chase
  The fact that Willie Mullins has a only entered Carefully Selected in one race at the Cheltenham Festival, shows the confidence the team have in him for this contest. A bad mistake three from home made his task of winning the Grade 3 at Naas even tougher but he prevailed, getting on top of subsequent winner, Spyglass Hill, just as that rival exited at the last. Stamina is well and truly requires to stay three miles at Naas so it looks good for Carefully Selected getting home in the National Hunt Chase. Captain CJ is another horse that Carefully Selected had behind him, that has since come out to win, taking the Ten Up Novices’ Chase at Navan. Lord du Mesnil is a horse with stamina assured, who was narrowly denied from making all over three and a half miles in the Haydock Grand National Trial on heavy ground. He’d previously won over that trip beating Perfect Candidate by nine lengths. He’s a Haydock specialist and that flat track is much different to Cheltenham’s undulations but his stamina has to be respected. Another runner with stamina proven is Paul Nicholls’ Truckers Lodge. He was a one and three parts length second in the Coral Welsh National over three miles and seven which bodes well for his chances. It is a concern, however, that he ran off of 139 that day and the level of form from some of the leading fancies in this would be well ahead of that. The late defection of Carefully Selected’s biggest danger, Champagne Classic , who got injured makes the favorite look even more a nailed on chance as a National Hunt Chase horse can be but if Colin Tizzard runs Reynoldstown Novice Chase winner, Copperhead then Carefully Selected would have another worthy rival to get past. He is a good jumper that stays and gallops and if he were in this, it would be hard not to see him go close. Joseph O’Brien’s Smoking Gun was of interest after winning a Begginers over three miles and a furling at Punchestown on New Year’s Eve. But his Thyestes Chase disappointment when favorite off of 136, as well as the fact that he Discordantly and Small Farm both fell when traveling well, ahead of him at Punchestown, suggests that he may be a little bit fortunate to be on the shortlist here. Kim Bailey’s Newtide looks like a horse that will stay well but he is prone to one too many mistakes for my liking. Lamanver Pippin is an lively outsider in my opinion. A quality jumper who stays well, the chief concern is like Truckers Lodge – if he is good enough.
  Carefully Selected to win
 
The Handicaps
In the ULTIMA HANDICAP CHASE  the 2019 National Hunt Chase has to be addressed with Discorama. Through the time of the four miler last year, he would be very well handicapped in this. Discorama has form with the now injured, Champagne Classic, from earlier in the season – when conceding five pounds for a 3 3/4 length defeat. That gives him a superb chance. He was eighth in the Troytown Chase at Navan but that was no bad performance as the winner, Chris’s Dream, was sensationally well handicapped on the day and the runner up improved to only get caught on the line in the Paddy Power Chase off of three pounds higher. The form is solid. The other handicap on day one is the NORTHERN TRUST COMPANY NOVICES’ HANDICAP CHASE, The Dipper runner up, Paint the Dream, must have a huge chance on his course and distance form off of 130. That seems a very low rating based on that run, although his recent Beginners Chase last of five does taint that picture. The 134 rated fourth horse in the Dipper confirms this further to the good time the race was run in and the winner, Midnight Shadow, ran a fine race to finish second to ante post Marsh Novices’ Chase favorite, Itchy Feet. If Mister Fisher was 100% in his run against Torpillo, then the Arkle fancy would have reflected his three length defeat on the Nigel Twiston-Davies runner on a rating of 154, which would be nine pounds to his advantage in the Novices’ handicap. Torpillo had other engagements at Cheltenham, including the Arkle Trophy but his connections have declared him in this handicap, so he must be taken seriously.
Selections for Day One of the Cheltenham Festival:
Supreme Novices Hurdle – Chantry House, Elixir D’Ainay
Arkle Trophy – Fakir D’oudaries, Brewin’upastorm
Ultima Handicap Chase – Discorama
Champion Hurdle – Sharjah, Call me Lord
Mares Hurdle – Stormy Ireland
Northern Trust Novices’ Handicap – Torpillo, Paint the Clouds
National Hunt Chase – Carefully Selected

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