STAR PREVIEW: Cheltenham Thursday

Cheltenham Festival 2020
Prestbury Park, Cheltenham, Thursday

Racing Live on ITV1 HD from 1pm
Coverage from 9am on Racing TV HD
Opening Show on ITV 4 HD from 9:30

A bad day yesterday, with only Minella Indo running with any sort of credit. There’s still all to play for, however.

IF – and I mean IF – Faugheen wins the Marsh Novices’ Chase (1.30), then the roar from the course and at home will probably break the sound barrier. And I’m sure that you and I would – as the kids say – Love To See It. It’s fair to say that the 12-year-old has a big form chance, and that the heartwarming moment is entirely possible, but his Flogas Novice Chase win came on decent ground at Leopardstown and it’s possible that a very tough finish might not suit him. He did beat Samcro on heavy ground at Limerick over Christmas, but the runner up that day blew out completely and he hasn’t faced a heavy ground test in this circumstance – he won the Liberty Insurance Novices’ Hurdle in December 2013, and his other heavy ground run was a sixth in the Champion Hurdle. His form claims are unarguable, but this could end up being the hardest test of his career and others are preferred.

Samcro is surely better than he showed when second to Faugheen over Christmas and he’s had a wind operation since, but it is hard to trust his finishing effort. Mister Fisher was a gutsy winner of the Lightning Novices’ Chase at Doncaster and should go seriously well here, but preference is for Itchy Feet. Third in last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle when doing all his best work late, he was kept at two miles when fourth at Aintree and on his return hurdling, but he’s 2-2 at over fences at 2m4f, first making short work of a gimme at Leicester and then an impressive win in the Scilly Isleworth Novices Chase when he drew well clear of the solid yardstick Midnight Shadow, who also runs here. His jumping under pressure was impressive there and the way he relished the run to the line suggests that once again, he will be one of the best finishers – just like his run to take third in last year’s Supreme. He looks extremely comfortable at this distance and the ground hopefully won’t be an issue for him.

In the Pertemps, all of Relegate, The Storyteller, and Sire Du Berlais are just too short to be backed and little else actually appeals so it’s onto an excellent renewal of the Ryanair (2.50). A Plus Tard looks sure to go well in his bid for a second straight festival win, and he ought to take the beating, but 2m4f looks like Min’s trip now and at the prices he just rates the bet. His extraordinary performance in the Melling Chase at Aintree last year is the best form in the field on balance and it’s interesting to note that his one wins since has come at 2m4f, when taking the John Durkan Chase in good style. His second to Chacun Pour Soi at Leopardstown reads well given that Chacun was surely fitter there than he was when A Plus Tard beat him over Christmas and he has a puncher’s chance here. Frodon, last year’s gallant front running winner, will be a pressure point on the front end and is the biggest threat, although if Riders On the Storm has recovered from his Ascot Chase win, then he will play a hand too.

The Stayers’ Hurdle (3.30) looks to be at the mercy of Paisley Park, last year’s winner who once again ground things out in the Cleeve Hurdle on Trials Day. He’s 8/13 now, which looks to be the right price, and assuming the market is right, there are 3 places on offer to take a shot at. Summerville Boy has long looked a stayer in the making and a return to hurdles has rejuvenated him, with a fine win in the Reelkeel Hurdle then followed up with a creditable second to Paisley Park in the Cleeve. Paisley Park had him covered with that form there (Lisanagar Oscar third, Tobefair fourth) but those efforts read well and he finished his race out strongly there. A repeat effort will give him a big chance of being placed or better and we know the ground isn’t an issue.

The other horse of interest is City Island, who was an impressive winner of the Ballymore before three disappointing runs this season, one at the Punchestown Festival (hurdles) and the other pair over fences at Leopardstown and Punchestown. He’s had a wind operation since then, and if he can recapture that form then he’s a big player. Similar comments apply to the now mercurial Apple’s Jade – if she is at her best then she is no double figure shot.

It will take a huge effort to get Simply The Betts beaten in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase (4.10) given the strength of his Trials Day form, but at 3/1 he makes little appeal for such a cavalry charge and each/way bets against the field are once again preferred.

La Bague Au Roi took novice chasing by storm last year, beating the RSA Chase winner Topofthegame in the Kauto Star at Kempton and then taking the Flogas Novice Chase too. After being beaten at Aintree she’s not been as good this season, stopping quickly in the West Yorkshire Hurdle and then finishing third in the Peterbrough and Silver Vase chase. Sent to the Dublin Racing Festival again, she was fifth in the Irish Gold Cup, a more than creditable effort given the quality of that race, and a mark of 149 looks fair based on those efforts. Richard Johnson is a fascinating booking here and whilst she hasn’t got much Cheltenham form to speak of, she did have wind surgery after being well beaten in last year’s Mares’ Hurdle.

It was difficult to pick the second horse against the field here, with two of Willie Mullins’ charges making big appeal. Robin Des Foret’s wind operation makes him such a tempting option, but Blazer’s lower mark here combined with the fact he managed to pass Robin Des Foret when closing late to take fourth in the big 2m5f handicap chase there. That was his second start back from a long layoff and it’s possible that he improves once again from that effort. A really well run race should give him more pace to aim at and that just earns him the vote. Siruh Du Lac, last year’s winner, can be forgiven a bad run in the BetVictor Gold Cup here and is also on the shortlist.

Rachael Blackmore and Henry De Bromhead have an excellent chance in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle (4.50) in the shape of Minella Melody, although last year’s second Concertista, an excellent third in a competitive handicap hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival, gets 5lbs and looks to have a big chance on that basis. A number of the leading contenders are close together and nothing makes enough appeal to push the trigger on, so we’ll leave that aside and turn towards the Kim Muir.

This is always a proper test here and one horse with no qualms about that is Le Breuil, who managed to grind out last year’s National Hunt Chase when getting the better of Discorama in what was the toughest race of last year’s festival. He’s since been aiming at the Grand National, and ran two creditable races when seventh in the Becher Chase, and then when fifth in the Classic Chase at Warwick. The form of that has worked out very well, with second Captain Chaos having bolted up in the Grimthorpe Chase, whilst The Conditional took the Ultima on Tuesday.

It’s impossible not to back Fitzhenry, who was taken out of the 2m5f handicap at the Dublin Racing Festival but who had previously finished runner up in both the Troytown and Paddy Power Chases.

RECOMMENDED BETS (scale of 1-100 points)
BACK Itchy Feet 2 pts win in 1.30 Cheltenham at 9/2 with
BACK Min 1 pt win in 2.50 Cheltenham at 9/4 with
BACK Summerville Boy 1 pt each/way in 3.30 Cheltenham at 15/2 with
BACK La Bague Au Roi 1 pt each/way in 4.10 Cheltenham at 12/1 with
BACK Blazer 1 pt each/way in 4.10 Cheltenham at 12/1 with
BACK Le Breuil 2 pts win in 5.30 Cheltenham at 5/1 with
BACK Fitzhenry 1 pt each/way in 5.30 Cheltenham at 10/1 with

PROFIT/LOSS SINCE JAN 1 2017: PROFIT 197.49 points
(Excluding Premier League ante-post, Six Nations Outright, Six Nations Specials, Labour Leadership Contest, Cameron Brown Football Bets, New Hampshire Primary)