STAR PREVIEW: Cheltenham Wednesday

Cheltenham Festival 2020
Prestbury Park, Cheltenham
Tuesday 10th – Friday 13th March

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

The First day of the Cheltenham Festival was a dramatic one, with Epatante’s top class performance in the Champion confirming the impression she made at Christmas, whilst Rachael Blackmore’s initiative to grab the inside on Honeysuckle in the Mares’ Hurdle was a piece of recraft that will probably not be matched for the rest of the week. Honeysuckle’s tremendous duel with Benie Des Dieux was thrilling sport, and so was Shiskin’s dramatic Supreme win over Abracadabras.

On the betting front the day gave us a small reward, meaning we’re in a good day 2 position – a fine ride from Brendan Powell Jnr gave us a valuable winner in The Conditional, but Lord Du Mesnil’s exertions left him vulnerable to Ravenhill, denying what would have been a game-changing result. Still, he ran a mighty race to take place money and Hold The Note ran well considering how obviously well handicapped Imperial Aura and Galvin were in the Close Brothers’ Novice Handicap. Supasundae’s flop in the Champion Hurdle and Fiddlerontheroof’s limp showing in the Supreme were harder to take, but Big River ran a creditable race to be fifth and we can’t have too many complaints.

The one thing that we did all learn was that the ground is severely testing, with the Supreme run in 4m 8.20s (slow by 17.20s), the Arkle in 4m 8.14s (slow by 16.14s) and the Ultima Handicap Chase run in 6m 50.75s (slow by 45.75s). Coping with the surface was a perquisite to success and we can expect more of the same today.

That could spell trouble for Envoi Allen, who has been a dominant Ballymore favourite for much of the season since it became his likely target, and following his declaration it was certain he’d go off favourite. Nobody can realistically argue with that – he has won his seven starts under rules, including the Champion Bumper here last year, the Royal Bond and the Lawlor’s Novice Hurdle at Naas, and he’s done so with a mix of style and grit. His form is rock solid and his constitution deeply impressive, but it is easy to swerve him at 4/6 given the ground concerns here.

This is a Graded debut for Sporting John, but in three bloodless wins he has exuded graded potential and it would be an almighty shock if there wasn’t more to come from him. The way that he finished his race at Ascot, having made his challenge between the second last and final flights, suggested that he would relish the Cheltenham hill even at such a young age and he showed a handy amount of tactical speed in a four runner event. It’s also worth noting that he managed to post a faster time than the handicap run over the same course and distance, which had 15 runners and was won by 15 lengths too.

His previous form works out too – he beat a pair of subsequent winners by eight and sixteen lengths at Exeter, and when making his debut – again at the Westcountry venue – he got the better of subsequent Graded winner Harry Senior with next time out winners third, fourth and fifth. With the ground not a problem, the trip likely to benefit him and untold improvement set to come, he gets the vote to cause a minor upset.

The Big Getaway is evidently a horse of major potential – he could have doubled his 17-length winning margin at Naas, and the second was rated 120 – but he was 2/5 there. He was set for a proper battle with Cobbler’s Way at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival before making a hash of the last and never recovering, having raced keenly all the way. He jumped much better at Naas, but was under little to no pressure there and this is likely to be a very different test for him in terms of pace, with much more pressure on the front end. Of course, it could be that he’s a front running type, but this will be a different test and he’ll need to ration his energy very well.

The Big Breakaway had looked a graded performer all over with deeply impressive wins at Chepstow and Newbury in November and December, powering away when asking and finishing on the bridle both times. The form of his December win at Newbury has been boosted by the third and fourth, along with the runner up from his wide margin Chepstow success, and there’s lots to like.

Longhouse Poet kept on well but was no match for Envoi Allen in the Lawlor’s Novice Hurdle before just not staying in the extended Grade 1 novice at the Dublin Racing Festival. He deserves respect, as does Easywork, who was blown away by Asterion Forlonge in the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle. The return back to this trip and this course ought to really suit too, so he shouldn’t be discounted.

The RSA (2.10) is a really well contested event which has seen the top of the market become rather packed. This has been the long term plan for Champ, perhaps since his bumper days, and nobody can deny his engine or talent. However, it is a worry that his jumping has given sketchy moments on all three of his chase starts, including when falling in the Dipper here on New Year’s Day, and that – along with a keen going nature – has to be a worry for the favourite.

Copperhead’s complete destruction of the field in the Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase is worthy of huge respect and few will be coming up the hill stronger, but another novice from acorss the water gets the vote. Minella Indo is more inexperienced than some would like for this race, but that didn’t stop him winning the Albert Bartlett in fine style last year before landing the Punchestown equivalent. On his chasing debut, he was well beaten by Laurina, but the 2m4f trip didn’t suit him there and he looked better – even if he was laboured – at Navan in January, when soft to heavy ground was no barrier to victory. That performance looks all the better now after Captain CJ won the Ten Up Novices’ Chase by six lengths and Minella Indo still has major potential as a horse, let alone over fences.

Allaho and Easy Game could both have gone to the Marsh Chase tomorrow, so it is interesting that both are here given that they’ve shown plenty of speed so far this season. Pym blew out in the in the Reynoldstown but the form of his early season win over Imperial Aura looks magnificent now and he did win a novice handicap chase on soft ground at Ascot previously. He could be overpriced here if bouncing back, and Slate House – at his best – also needs serious respect.

JP McManus should be feeling grand – Epatante’s brilliant Champion Hurdle win was quite the birthday present – and plenty will think that he’s got a winning hand in the Coral Cup, with the first and second favourite in Dame De Compagnie and Birchdale, both trained by – you guessed it – Nicky Henderson. Dame De Compagnie was a very impressive winners of a mares’ handicap here whilst Birchdale, 6/1 for the Albert Bartlett last year after shaping with promise during his novice season, definitely has the potential to rate higher than his mark of 146.

However, they are not the only McManus contenders with a serious chance on paper. Top Moon is 16/1 with Star Sports but he would be a good deal shorter if not for his 13th place finish in the Ladbrokes Hurdle at Leopardstown last time, where he was swamped in the home straight. That came over 2 miles on yielding ground but the best of his form this season – namely his impressive win at Cork in November and then a second in the Tara Handicap Hurdle – has come with cut in the ground, and crucially over 2m4f. The change in track and trip could bring him back to his best and he’s 7lbs better off with Alfa Mix for that second at Navan, form that also ties in well with the topweight Kilfenora.

Novices do not have the best record in this race but the claims of Protektorat are simply too enticing to ignore. A weak four-year-old, he was pitched in at the deep end twice last year and came back a better horse for it on the evidence of two runners up finishes at Sandown. The second of those was in the December Handicap Hurdle and he then was a very gutsy ‘winner’ of the Listed Ballymore Trial here on New Year’s Day. The ‘winner’ (Protektorat was disqualified) followed up at Leicester with ease and they were six and a half lengths clear of the third, who has since won a handicap off 134 in good style.

Protektorat improved on that even more when he was third in the Ballymore trial on Trials Day, finishing third to the highly promising Harry Senior and King Roland whilst giving the pair 5lbs, and that form makes a mark of 144 look very worthy here. The Skeltons have a fine festival handicap record and if he runs as well again he has to be given a big chance. As for the rest, one threat who doesn’t make the portfolio is worth writing up in the shape of Egalantine Du Seuil.

Eglantine Du Seuil has already won at the Festival, taking the 2m1f Dawn Run Novices’ Hurdle last season at 50/1. That result was a shock, but she ran creditably behind Honeysuckle and Elfile in the Mares Novice’ Hurdle Championship at Fairyhouse and then when finishing third in the Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle, both times at 2m4f. This season she’s been third behind Stormy Ireland in a Punchestown Listed race, has bombed out at Leopardstown, and then finished a fine fourth in the Ladbrokes Hurdle. Returning to this trip could bring out more improvement and her mares form stacks up very well to boot – her third in the Mares Novice’ Championship was behind Honeysuckle and Elfile. A late challenge here might help her chances and she’s got to be considered a threat.

That is not the case with the Champion Chase, where we are sadly bereft of Alitor, but there is no real temptation to get involved with any of the contenders ahead of what should be a fascinating clash between Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi.

It is a personal opinion to recommend that those visiting today make their way into the Cross Country course for this year’s Glenfarclas spectacular (4.10) but there’s no appetite to back any horse given the likely state of the ground, with Tiger Roll and Easysland dominating the market (and entirely fairly so) and a whole host of contenders for a place. It is probably a spectacle to enjoy rather than make an integral part of one’s punting strategy.

The Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (4.50) is one of the most fiendishly tricky prizes to solve during the week but a couple did stand out enough to be worthy of inclusion. Repetito is well exposed but he may still be hiding something from the handicapper given that he only went up 5lbs for beating older horses in December, and if one digs deeper the form of that race really does work out – second Oakley ran a fair race when seventh in the Betfair, the third Never Adapt was nearly sent off favourite for that after an impressive Newbury win, and Nordic Combined (fourth) has also followed up there.

Willie and Patrick Mullins were disappointed with Carefully Selected in the National Hunt Chase but that’s unlikely to prevent Appreciate It being a very hot fancy for many in the Champion Bumper (5.30). The deeply impressive Grade 2 winner will take a huge amount of beating, but that is factored into the price.

There are any amount of each/way contenders but it is a surprise that Darling Daughter, an authoritative winner of a Mares’ Grade 2 at Leopardstown at the Dublin Racing Festival, is as big as 20/1 with Star Sports. She left the field in the dust then and runner up Politesse has since won well at Thurles and the sixth and eighth have also followed up since. The ground could be an issue – it was yielding at Leopardstown – but Darling Daughter had coped with soft to heavy when making a winning bumper debut at Limerick and overall she looks overpriced.

RECOMMENDED BETS (scale of 1-100 points)
BACK Sporting John 2 pts win in 1:30 Cheltenham at 4/1 with
BACK Minella Indo 1 pt win at 2:10 Cheltenham at 10/3 with
BACK Top Moon 1 pt each/way in 2:50 Cheltenham at 16/1 with
BACK Protekorat 1 pt each/way in 2:50 Cheltenham at 16/1 with
BACK Repetito 1 pt each/way 4:50 Cheltenham at 14/1 with
BACK Darling Daughter 1 pt each/way in 5:30 Cheltenham at 11/2 with

PROFIT/LOSS SINCE JAN 1 2017: PROFIT 208.49 points
(Excluding Premier League ante-post, Six Nations Outright, Six Nations Specials, Labour Leadership Contest, Cameron Brown Football Bets, New Hampshire Primary)