Altior and Tiger Roll proved themselves the only constants in the opening two days at Cheltenham with a host of favourites turned over so far. Tomorrow sees old warriors Un De Sceaux and Faugheen do battle aged 11 in the Ryanair Chase and Stayers Hurdle respectively with the similarly experienced Measureofmydreams favourite for the Kim Muir at the tail-end of the card. Could the three of them make it a veterans’ day at Cheltenham? They might, but I think one each might be just too good for them:
This has been billed as a two-horse race for some time between the market principles DEFI DU SEUIL and Lostintranslation. I had originally intended to oppose the both of them, but no rival has emerged worthy of that selection. The former, therefore, is of slight preference as a cunning ride from Barry Geraghty saw him overturn previous Cheltenham form between the two. The fact Lostintranslation got the better of him at Prestbury Park should be no worry though as the tactic will be to leave him later than that day and he should confirm placings from Sandown. Real Steel is Ireland’s big hope, but his best form has been on a sounder surface and his wins to date have been against markedly weaker opponents. Kildisart is improving, but the form of his handicap victory here last time has taken a bit of a hit and his jumping wasn’t good enough that day either. Vinndication will have to go some to defeat the big two having been beat reasonably easily by the two favourites latest. The biggest scare could come from the mare Pravalaguna who has been a ready winner the last twice and will deal with the ground in receipt of 7lb. Voix Du Reve’s form is the best of the rest, but he doesn’t act as well on soft.
1. Defi Du Seuil
First Assignment has won on both his visits to Cheltenham and has remained solid on his last two starts. However, his record is better on quicker ground and there are a few who have targeted this who may be better rated. Sire Du Berlais is one of those and in finishing sixth in a qualifier for this in Ireland, he is only 1lb higher than fourth in the Martin Pipe last season and this has been a long-term aim. The race has been less of a long-term target for the selection CHAMPERS ON ICE. However, his first run in 14 months saw him finish an encouraging fourth in a qualifier when not given a hard time. He should deal with the surface and his best form saw him finish third at the festival three years ago in the Albert Bartlett – his mark of 135 is very tempting. Samburu Shujaa is a novice going places based on his previous two victories and sneaks in at the weights while A Toi Phil is the class horse in the race and well treated at his best. Abolitionist is warming up for the Grand National and his hurdle mark is lower than that over fences while the mare Culture De Sivola, novice Cuneo and Venetia Williams’ Eminent Poet are others who could go well.
1. Champers On Ice
2. Sire Du Berlais
This could end up being the race of the festival with the last two winners, four more course and distance winners and last season’s imperious Arkle winner. Monalee is none of the aforementioned and yet comes in as one of the biggest fancies after an easy victory from Anibale Fly last time out. A strong pace over this trip should suit as it would Road To Respect, winner of the 2017 Plate here, who stays three miles and is re-directed from the Gold Cup. Footpad is the Arkle winner, but the form from his novice season is weak and he’s been beaten on both starts this season. He has stamina to prove, as to an extent does the 11-year-old Un De Sceaux who won this two years ago when bowling from the front. He may sit off potential pacemaker FRODON on this occasion and that may enable Bryony Frost to have her biggest day. He proved his stamina when winning the Cotswold Chase last time and a course and distance win off a mark of 164 is also top form. He may be difficult to pass if getting going. Balko Des Flos deposed him last year but has been woeful since while The Storyteller won on this day twelve months ago though he ma be slightly below top-class. Aso may go well at a price.
2. Un De Sceaux
3. Road To Respect
It would bring the house down if Faugheen were to come back for one more day in the sun. He was electric when winning the Punchestown Stayers at the end of last season. However, he has to return from a crashing fall behind Apple’s Jade last time out and that will be tough on his ageing legs. A worthy favourite is PAISLEY PARK who stormed away with the Cleeve Hurdle on Trials Day and has improved with every run. Even if Faugheen turns up in peak form Emma Lavelle’s stable star will take some stopping. The Cleeve may have cut up a bit during the race, but the time was strong and a stern staying test will be right up his street. Supasundae was second last year, but the ground has gone against him in terms of lasting home while Black Op could well improve for his first run back over hurdles last time. Top Notch has been diverted from the Ryanair for this so Nicky Henderson must rate his chances while Kilbricken Storm’s Albert Bartlett win was top form so he could go close back at the scene of that triumph. West Approach and Petit Mouchoir are the each-way options at big prices with the former having been runner-up to the selection the last twice and the latter being upped in trip.
1. Paisley Park
3. West Approach
Siruh Du Lac and Janika were one and two in a course and distance handicap at the January meeting. They are up 7 and 6lb respectively for their performances that day which will make the form difficult to confirm and both are short enough in the market. Spiritofthegames was third at the track last time out, but the form may be a bit ropey while Eamon An Cnoic was impressive after wind surgery last time out. Azzerti fell here two starts back but has wins either side and promises a fair bit off his current mark and Doitforthevillage has had excuses for his last two defeats and should be suited by conditions in this race. Of slightly better value, however, is BOUVREUIL. He has had wind surgery since his last run and though he lost his way slightly under Paul Nicholls he won his first start for Ben Haslam before finding a second successive start at two miles too hot. Most notably, he is 3lb lower than when third to Road To Respect two years ago and does not seem to have lost any of his ability. Nicky Henderson has cleaned up the big handicaps on the first two days and River Wylde is Nico de Boinville’s mount and Romain De Senam cannot be without a chance on soft ground for the in-form Nicholls stable. Valseur Lido and Modus aren’t without chances towards the top of the weights.
3. Eamon An Cnoic
EPATANTE (nap) has looked the real deal so far over hurdles. She looks a classy individual and stepping up to the big time should hold few worries for her – she’s also in receipt of weight from some of the market principals. Posh Trish and Sinoria may have slightly more substance in their form, but have had to work harder and both have a 5lb penalty. My Sister Sarah represents the Mullins-Walsh combo that do so brilliantly with mares, but stablemate Sancta Simona was second in a Grade One and may be a better value option as far as each-way is concerned. Elusive Belle looked useful two starts back and Sam Waley-Cohen is as professional an amateur as you’ll find onboard. However, she was found wanting last time while, perhaps the most fascinating contender is another Mullins inmate Concertista who will be making her debut. Tintangle is another who can outrun her odds.
2. Sancta Simona
3. Posh Trish
Jamie Codd galvanised Le Breuil to win the National Hunt chase in spite of the odds and much better fancied is the lightly-raced veteran Measureofmydreams. He is 6lb lower than his previous handicap mark, but was an encouraging third on his reappearance and should go well again back over further having been third in the 2016 National Hunt chase. He’s one who requires a leap of faith due to his age though even if Gordon Elliott has started to find some winners. No Comment has threatened better than he’s achieved so far though the no.1 for JP McManus is Any Second Now who is still yet to win over fences when repeatedly going close. This stamina test might finally bring out that little bit extra that’s necessary. The Young Master returned to form at the beginning of the season though would need a sounder surface while TOUCH KICK is taken to go well as he’s only up 4lb for a recent victory and he’s run very well in three handicaps that have worked out superbly since. Squouateur has quirks but occasionally produces some talented performances as does Out Sam while Pearl Royal and Arkwrisht add spice to a dastardly betting heat.
1. Touch Kick
3. Any Second Now