Marsh Novices’ Chase
The result of the week for the racing public would be for Faugheen to win this and it wouldn’t be unmerited. His Beginners win, when blundering two fences, was as good a win as you would see in that sphere. He followed it up with victory at Christmas when easily beating Samcro by ten lengths, with the 143 rated Castlebrook a total of 32 lengths in arrears. He could have jumped better in winning the Flogas Novices’ Chase but he stayed gallantly to the line and while stamina is required to win the Marsh Novices’ Chase, Faugheen gave the impression that day that the step up in trip would suit better and he has a superb Cheltenham Festival record. While I firmly believe that Faugheen is the best novice chaser this season so far, his participation is uncertain and connections have been public about not traveling to Prestbury Park. Itchy Feet will run and he does his best work late, and stayed on strongly to win the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase, beating the Dipper winner, Midnight Shadow by a comfortable three and a half lengths. The step up in trip seems to have suited him and while the Dipper form doesn’t convince me, Itchy Feet only beat what he had too. He was third in last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, staying on all the way to the line. Melon has a fantastic Cheltenham record, even without winning. He was second in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, two Champion Hurdles and third in an International Hurdle, giving six pounds away to the winner, My Tent or Yours, for a two length defeat. He has run poorly in two Dublin Racing Festivals, only to bounce back at Cheltenham, so I’ve no concern for him after his bad run in the Irish Arkle. Mister Fisher has course and distance winning form from December’s Ryman Novices’ Chase. He is novicey at his jumping and is probably worth more than his length and a quarter victory over Good Boy Bobby. It would have to be, however, as that rival was destroyed by Itchy Feet in the Scilly Isles and Mister Fisher got five pounds off the runner up at Cheltenham. Reserve Tank is a bit inconsistent and looks like he wants three miles. The single piece of form he has that puts him in with a huge chance here is the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle win over Brewin’upastorm and Angels Breath. I am not convinced by his jumping and the form with Danny Whizzbang doesn’t look to be good enough. He will need a lot of improvement to win this race and will have to jump a lot quicker. If I owned Bapaume, I’d be running him in this. The form with Spyglass Hill would put him in with a solid chance as that Beginners Chase has worked out extremely well. It all happened too quickly for him in the Irish Arkle and he never got going. He is quick enough at jumping and stays strongly so I think he’d have a nice chance in this race. The enigmatic, Toronado Flyer could be a fly in the ointment. On the bare form, he is hard to fancy but in the past he’s recorded some good enough performances to have each way claims here, including when third in the 2018 Champion Bumoer. He destroyed the Mathesson Handicap Chase winner, Eclair de Beaufeu (winning off of 140) in his Beginners Chase win. I’m a Game Changer was second and he had previously been held by Fakir D’oudaires and Melon by a total of sixteen lengths in third. That would put the form of Toronado Flyer around the high 150’s and although it’s a long shot, the 33/1 shot has each way appeal. And then there was Samcro. The winner of the Overhyped Horse of the Decade award. As a novice hurdler, second season hurdler and now a novice chaser, Samcro has always performed to what he is, in and around the 164 mark. That was good enough to win the 2018 Ballymore and to put him in the top novice chase company this season but that is what he is. That said, I don’t think there is any shame in what Faugheen did to him at Limerick and on all form, Faugheen should be that far ahead of him – even with the free travel. However, on the level of ability of which he has shown, Samcro still has a big chance to win the Marsh, if either Faugheen doesn’t perform or doesn’t race. I’d be intrigued by his participation in this. The reason he is overhyped is because he has looked to win races so effortlessly but I wonder what he has behind the bridle because when in trouble he has produced little to inspire and while he has every chance to prove me doing him a disservice, he would need to improve on all known form to be the superstar everyone expected. Of course, the horse is only capable of what he is, and such was the high regard he has been held from an early stage is why even at downplaying his ability, he is still a top quality horse.
Faugheen, Melon, Samcro
Toronado Flyer (each way)
It looks set to be a very strong renewal of the Ryanair Chase. Last year’s winner Frodon came back to form at Kempton. I was all over this horse last season for the Ryanair Chase and while I give him a great chance of backing up in 2020, I have more concerns and don’t fancy him as much as last year. Frodon is one of my favorite horses in training. He wears his heart on his sleeve and gallantly gallops from the front, jumping boldly. There is no doubt that Frodon’s favorite conditions are on Cheltenham’s new course, over two miles and five furlongs, exactly what this race offers. I do wonder, however, if he will get such an easy lead this year. His chief market rivals, Min and A Plus Tard, both like to make the running and it could be a case of them going at it a long way from home. Of the trio, Frodon has the stamina proven, when winning last season’s Cotswold Chase over three miles and two furlongs and I would favor him was it not for the higher class of horse he will be taking on here. Min, on his Melling Chase form, would be a good thing for the Ryanair. However, he has only performed to that level once, and though he is a solid horse with proven form, he has brought back to the field with his more consistent displays. That would bring him closer to Frodon and also, Henry de Bromhead’s exciting, A Plus Tard. His win at last years festival, in the Novices’ Handicap Chase, was devastatingly impressive. Although that race sees the handicap compressed quiet tightly, he made a mockery of the field off of a mark of 144, and his subsequent Graded race form has seen him raise to a career high of 165, which still seems a bit undervalued when you consider the time of his victorys. Initially, I thought he could win the Champion Chase but considering the return to form of leading players Altior and Chacun Pour Soi – whom A Plus Tard beat at Leopardstown over Christmas – it seems a wiser move to reroute him to the Ryanair Chase. Not that it will be any easy contest. As well as Min and Frodon, there is recent Ascot Chase winner, Riders Onthe Storm. There is no doubt that Cyrname was well below his best when falling that day but take nothing away from the winner, who is a massively improved horse this season. He wouldn’t have a lot to find on that form to be involved in the finish here and he would have to be under serious consideration. It could be argued that with Min, A Plus Tard and Frodon all wanting to make it, that Riders Onthe Storm could sit in and wait for them to cut each other’s throats before pouncing late and while that is a plausible prediction, it is one that needs three superb horses to underperform. Good old Aso loves this race, having chased home Frodon and Un de Sceaux in the last three years. They were the best performances of his career and only for meeting those two superstars running career best races, he would have won at least one renewal of the Ryanair Chase and been a good second in the other. At 33/1, you’d surely get a run for your money if backing him each way. I believe that Min is the best horse in this field and those mocking his Cheltenham record are slow to the realisation that but for the presence of Altior, Min would have won a Supreme Novice and at least one Champion Chase. The worry for me with Min is that the battle up front will play into the hands of Riders Onthe Storm and as much I believe in Min and Frodon – which is not just the heart ruling the head – I think a change in trusted tactics is not only going to need to be employed, but it is needed to prevail.
Riders Onthe Storm to win
Last season’s winner has few flaws and as good as he is, the opposition don’t seem much. Paisley Park hasn’t been beaten since the Albert Bartlett Novies’ Hurdle at the 2018 Festival and although down the field that day, the race was of high quality which included Santini, Chris’s Dream and Real Steel. He won a couple of handicaps after that and then went on the Grade 1 barrage, taking the Long Walk Hurdle, two Cleeve Hurdles and of course the 2019 running of this contest. As well as that, he won the Long Distance Hurdle (Grade 2) at Newbury’s Winter Carnival. Barring disaster, Paisley Park won’t be beaten in the 2020 Stayers Hurdle. For his connections, one of those disasters would be Willie Mullins commuting Benie des Dieux to the race. With her seven pound mares allowance and a replication of her French Champion Hurdle or Galmoy Hurdle form, she would give him awful trouble and I would see her as the one to beat. It could be argued that for sporting reasons, it would be better to see her run but it could also be said, that if Honeysuckle dodges the Champion Hurdle and runs in the Mares Hurdle, then perhaps the Stayers Hurdle would be the easier contest, such is the ridiculousness of the sex concession for mares. With her unlikely to run, the interesting battle could be for the runner up spot of which Summerville Boy has the best credentials. He was only a length and a quarter down in the Cleeve Hurdle in January, and though Paisley Park would very much be expected to be sharper at the Festival, Summerville Boy – a previous festival winner in the 2018 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – would have a superb chance of coming second. City Island has been crying out for better ground all season and to a certain degree, his poor novice chase form can be excused, as he returns to the smaller obstacles in this event, but even on his best form, he would need significant improvement to trouble Paisley Park. His Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle win at the 2019 Festival was impressive, when beating Champ and a field which also included Brewin’upastorm, Easy Game, Notebook and Battleoverdoyen, albeit with several of those runners, underperforming. I think that includes runner up Champ who improved around seven pounds to win at Aintree next time out. Bacardys has run well in this in the past – possibly most so when coming down at the last – but he’s a horse who frustrates me because I think he has huge amounts of ability but only shows it now and then. He tipped up in a Beginners Chase at Leopardstown last season at the last fence but the amount of ground that he made up between the second last and the last was a massive performance and the length of his stride when approaching the final flight, suggested that he was far from finished before falling. His run in the Lismullen Hurdle when beating Apple’s Jade (9 1/2 lengths) and Magic of Light (25 lengths and getting two pounds) was also of the top quality, and as a novice, he beat Finian’s Oscar (Tolworth Hurdle and Manifesto Novices’ Chase winner), Death Duty (Grade One winning novice hurdle and chase winner), Let’s Dance (Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle winner), Bleu Berry (Coral Cup winner) and Kemboy (Savills Chase, Betway Bowl Chase and Punchestown Gold Cup winner). The Rendlesham winner, Emitom, would be relying on his good second to Champ in last year’s Sexton Novices’ Hurdle to put him in with a good shout. However, the Gold Well gelding is an improving six year old who finds it hard to lose races. Even in defeat to Champ, he lost very little in his solid reputation but it may be concerning that the only time he has run poorly came on this track in the Relkeel Hurdle on New Year’s Day. It appears that Dai Waters has brought back the old boy, Oscar Whisky, in the disguise of William Henry. There is little doubt in my mind that this horse is one of the most talented jumping hurdles at the minute but just like Oscar Whisky, William Henry can’t see out three miles and looks like an Aintree Hurdle horse, though should he line up here, class may see him into a place. I’ve never liked Apple’s Jade around Cheltenham, however, she gets to ridiculous mare’s allowance. She may have been trained differently this year as she hasn’t shown her old zest but she was flawless in the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown and on her best form, with the concession, she’d be a massive bet against the favorite.
Apple’s Jade each way
Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle
Colreevy was may have an issue negotiating the Cheltenham hill based on her 2018 Champion Bumper run, although some may question her temperament. She swishes her tail and seems a tricky mare with further issue being her preference to go right handed. Because she is far from straight forward, it is difficult to fancy her or indeed, to rule her out. She also has four pounds and a two and a half length defeat to turn around with the race favorite, Minella Melody. She is yet another big name to a strong Henry de Bromhead hand at Cheltenham 2020, who also holds another fancied runner, Dolcita by six pounds and three lengths. It sounds as though, Lamarckise, is the Willie Mullins first string in this contest. You can be sure that she will improve from her first run and she is of interest against the favorite. It is concerning that the runner up, Miss Pernickety was well beaten since and that would make it hard to oppose Minella Melody with her. The Tolworth Hurdle runner up, Jeremy’s Flame has been well beaten in a handicap off of 136 lately, which also draws a cloud over her Newbury conqueror Floressa. The third place horse, Silver Forever has won since and there was little separating Floressa and her in a previous contest. That brings into question the Paul Nicholls mare’s run in that Newbury contest also. Concertista is a second season novice, whose first ever run over timber came when caught on the line in this contest twelve months ago. As good as the time was that day, the form has not worked out since and looks unreliable. On the basis of Concertista producing such a huge run on hurdling debut, then there will be some expecting big things from The Glancing Queen if she lines up in this race. She beat Minella Melody by two and a quarter lengths at the Grand National meeting in the Listed Mares’ Bumper and Daylight Katie was back in third. The latter beat Jeremy’s Flame in a maiden hurdle at Down Royal, though she too has an absence to overcome, having not run since that November contest.
Minella Melody to win
Judging by the web of form from to Cheltenham qualifier on New Year’s Day, that was the strongest contest on the road to the PERTEMPS NETWORK FINAL at the festival. Kilbricken Storm went from that race to finish fewer than nine lengths behind staying hurdle superstar, Paisley Park, in the course and distance Cleeve Hurdle (Grade 1). That would give him a handicap figure of 153, which is what he should have been given when beating this years Gold Cup second favorite, Santini (then rated 150) by three lengths in the 2018 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. He is rated 140 to win this, nearly a stone well in. Rapper was second in that trial and proved that his previous qualifier win was one of which he was ten pounds well in. It is usually worth handicapping for the final by judging the race through the sixth place finisher as it is the first six which qualify and the winner who is the one who gets the penalty. Rapper was only beaten a length and three parts on New Year’s Day. While this franks him as a 133 horse and confirms the handicappers assessment of Kilbricken Storm, it should be worth nothing that the fourth horse, The Jam Man ran at Leopardstown since then and nearly proved the Turf Club’s assessment of 139 (from 144) was over ten pounds incorrect through the already qualified Tout est Permis (two pounds well in on the day). This put the Jam Man on an invincible mark of 152 but with a five length advantage, it reduces that to ten pounds well in. Coming back to the Cheltenham trial in January, that reflected on Kilbricken Storm returns him to the 155 which you could take off a few lengths for his shifting right on the run in and it returns him to his most consistent mark. By domino effect, Rapper is now seven pounds well handicapped and the qualifier winner, Skandiburg, is six well in. Sire du Berlais can hardly be described as the dark horse for the race, considering that he won it twelve months and is single figures to repeat the victory. However, he will be seven pounds higher than last year, making his task significantly harder, in handicapping terms. That is if the BHA’s assessment in 2019 was correct. According to the closest finishing horses, it doesn’t. A neck separated Theclockisticking and Thermistocles in last year’s final and the former was on a very generous weight based on his qualifier. Through their performance, which was solid, Sire du Berlais would be a 154 rated hurdler, two pounds well in this year meaning that his rivals need to find a way to perform t0 157. In the Warwick qualifier, he only finished fourth off of 152, but as stated, the best way to handicap the final is through the last qualifier (unless not in reason) and at Warwick, Igor in sixth, compliments SIre du Berlais at 155.
The BROWN ADVISORY AND MERRIBELLE STABLE PLATE is always a very competitive affair. Snow Falcon, Shattered Love and Deyrann de Carjac all look well in on their respective form. The form Snow Falcon at Gowran Park earlier in the season could be key as he beat a 159 rated chaser by seven lengths, conceding two pounds. He runs off of 157 in this, so rediscovering that performance gives him a huge advantage. Vision des FLos is very inconsistent and has been his whole career, but when he’s good he’s good. He would be considered well treated based on his run behind Champ in November, probably to the tune of seven pounds. He was impressive in a two horse race at Chepstow but he ran motherless in the Scilly Isles and on that run he couldn’t be fancied. If he shows up on his best behavior at Cheltenham, then he is well handicapped. Two for Gold is also one to note here off of 146 as his form with Copperhead in the Reynoldstown Chase, makes him capable of a 160 performance in this festival handicap but it looks like he will contest the RSA Chase. Deyrann de Carjac is a novice who swerved Tuesday’s novices’ handicap in favor of this. While the form of the Dipper hasn’t worked out great, his run in third would give him a big advantage in this. Novices have a good record in handicaps as they are unexposed and he could spring a surprise.
I already mentioned how Le Breuil is well handicapped in the Ultima but as a Grand National trial, this is a better race and he is likely to run in the FULKE WALWYN KIM MUIR CHALLENGE CUP HANDICAP CHASE instead. If he does run, I think he is so far ahead of the assessor that he will take all the beating. The 33/1 shot Aye Aye Charlie trained by Fergal O’Brien has only one entry at the festival. The reason I rate him so highly is because of his run in the three mile novice chase at the Open Meeting behind Wholestone. That was a strong performance and if it was an efficient time then he is seriously well in. It is a concern that this horse has raced nine times at Cheltenham without victory but he has put up big performances in defeat. Equally, the Midnight Legend has never performed obviously well over three miles plus. The Wholestone form makes very tasty value but Le Breuil would be the most solid selection. Forza Milan deserves a mention also. Carefully Selected made an alarming mistake on route to winning the Grade 3 Novices’ Chase at Naas in January and so the four lengths winning distance may dilute the actual level of ability of the winner and he gave six pounds to the runner up. However, even accounting for the mistake, the winning time rating was 161 and that makes Forza Milan a 151 horse, not a 138 as the BHA believe. With 13 pounds up his sleeve he would be a very attractive each way bet.
Marsh Novices Chase – Faugheen
Pertemps – Kilbricken Storm
Ryanair Chase – RIders Onthe Storm
Stayers Hurdle – Apple’s Jade
Plate – Deyrann de Carjac
Mares Novices Hurdle – Minella Melody
Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir – Le Breuil