Cheltenham Festival Preview
‘The Greatest Show on Turf’ is less than a week away and many punters are attending preview evenings up and down the country trying to get a little bit of a better idea on who to back on the day. Here at Racing Breaks, we have decided to do our own Cheltenham Preview where we will talk you through the storylines from the major races throughout the 2017 Cheltenham Festival.
Tuesday 14th March - Day One - Champion Day
The first day of The Festival always deliver on quality with no fewer than 4 Grade 1s and the famous ‘Cheltenham Roar’ will signal the start of the long anticipated 2017 Cheltenham Festival!
The Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is the first race of the Festival and this is a race that Willie Mullins has dominated in recent years. He has won 3 of the last 4 renewals with the likes of Vautour and Douvan and he was second only to Altior last year. Mullins will be hoping to get another early winner on the board in the shape of Melon, who is currently 4/1 favourite. Melon only has one run under his belt for the yard, albeit an impressive 10 length success, and many have questioned whether he has the experience and knowhow to win a race of this magnitude. The last 2 winners of the Champion Bumper are next in the market, in the shape of Moon Racer and Ballyandy, who bring valuable Course and Distance form to the race. Moon Racer, who still might line up for the Champion Hurdle, will have to buck the trends to win this though - no 8 year old has won the Supreme Novice for 28 years.
The Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy
Altior is the most exciting young horse around right now. He is rated 1lb higher than Sprinter Sacre was at this stage of his career and he goes into the Arkle having not put a foot wrong over fences this season. It would be an almighty shock and great shame if he were not to win this in impressive fashion and set up a mouthwatering encounter with Douvan next season.
Who will chase Altior home? Charbel got within 6 lengths at Sandown earlier this season and he looks the likeliest of those in the field to fill second spot.
The Stan James Champion Hurdle
With the previous 2 winners of this race in Faugheen and Annie Power out injured, the 2017 Champion Hurdle waters are looking murky. The JP McManus pair, Yanworth and Buveur D’Air, head the market for the feature race on Day 1 with Yanworth looking likely to go off the shortest of the two. Yanworth went off as hot favourite in last year’s Neptune but was beaten by Yorkhill having been forced to travel wide throughout. There was talk that he could be stepped up in distance to 3 miles this season so there are question marks whether 2 miles on Spring ground might provide too sharp a test for Alan King’s seven year old. Buveur D’Air, on the other hand, had chasing plans shelved half way through the season when it became apparent that the Champion Hurdle was lacking a superstar and therefore winnable. Petit Mouchoir, who was just touched off by Buveur D’Air in a Grade 1 Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree last year, heads the Irish Challenge in a race that has been won by Irish trained horses for the last 4 years.
The OLGB Mares Hurdle
This looks set to be an almighty three way clash between the Rich Ricci owned pair of Limini and Vroum Vroum Mag and Gigginstown’s Apples Jade. All three were trained by Willie Mullins last season but following the acrimonious split between Gigginstown and Willie Mullins, Apples Jade is now trained by Gordon Elliot. Apples Jade shocked Vroum Vroum Mag at the beginning of the season but was recently turned over at short odds by Limini. That victory lead to suggestions of Limini being supplemented for the Champion Hurdle but they have decided against stumping up £20,000 and all 3 look set to take their chance in the 2 mile 4 furlong contest.
Wednesday 15th March - Day Two - Ladies Day
The Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle
Two British novice hurdlers are at the top of the market for the Neptune and both are protecting unbeaten records - something has to give! Neon Wolf posted arguably the most impressive performance by any novice in England or Ireland when trouncing his rivals at Haydock in January, whereas, Finians Oscar emerged from the Point to Point scene to win the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle. It is far from a two horse race with plenty of hopeful Irish challengers including Bacardys who stormed to Grade 1 success in the Deloitte at Leopardstown and the Henry De Bromhead trained Monalee.
The RSA Chase
This 3 mile test for Novices is renowned for being an excellent Gold Cup trial for the following year with the likes of Denman, Bobs Worth and Lord Windermere all going on to Gold Cup glory. Might Bite, who suffered the most dramatic fall of the season when clear in the Grade 1 Feltham Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, leads the British charge for Nicky Henderson who is also represented by Cheltenham specialist Whisper. Alpha Des Obeaux, who was second only to the mighty Thistlecrack in last year’s World Hurdle, will have to bounce back from a poor run last time if he is to have a chance here. Another leading Irish challenger is Acapella Bourgeois who will have to prove that his runaway success of a Grade 2 chase at Navan was no fluke.
The Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase
The standout race on Day 2 but nothing should be able to get close to Willie Mullins’ superstar, Douvan. He has demolished everything in his path since he moved from France to Willie Mullins’ yard and despite not perhaps producing his best runs at Cheltenham, will surely have too much for the opposition.
Weatherbys Champion Bumper
The final race of the day of Day 2 is the Champion Bumper which usually produces great horses to look out for in the future, past winners include Cue Card, Ballyandy and Moon Racer. Western Ryder, who is owned by the Albatross Club, whose members include Racing Breaks’ very own Ross Marshall and Andrew Harding as well as Lee Westwood and Chubby Chandler looks set to challenge the leading Irish Hope, Carter McKay.
Thursday 16th March - Day Three - St Patricks Day
JLT Novices’ Chase
Yorkhill won the Neptune at last year’s Cheltenham Festival when beating hot favourite Yanworth. He has progressed to the bigger obstacles this season and his two performances have drawn plenty of criticism despite the fact he has won them both. He jumps out to his left and can be a little erratic at his fences but there can be no doubt that he has got a brilliant engine and all the talent in the world. Paul Nicholls has made no secret that he believes Politologue is his best chance of a winner all week and if Yorkhill fails to fire, then Politologue and Sam Twiston-Davies will be waiting in the wings. Top Notch for Nicky Henderson and Disko for Noel Meade both come into the race off the back of impressive Grade 1 victories and this looks a very strong renewal.
Un De Sceaux sits at the top of the Ryanair market and is undoubtedly the class horse in the race.He has been stepped up in trip due to the fact he shares a stable with the best 2 mile chaser around, Douvan. Stamina is a big question mark considering his best form is all at 2 miles and this is a 2 mile 5 furlong test. Furthermore, his best form is on softer ground so the drying conditions and lack of forecast rain has to be a worry for connections. AP McCoy’s final Cheltenham Festival winner came on board Uxizandre in 2015 and Alan King’s 9 year old made a very satisfactory return when he was 2nd to Un De Sceaux on Trial’s Day in January which puts him right in the mix.
Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle
The highlight of the 3rd day of the Festival is the Stayers’ Hurdle which was won in devastating fashion last year by Thistlecrack. Unowhatimeanharry comes into the race with a similar profile and as a result is a very warm order to emulate Colin Tizzard’s superstar. A winner at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, he has progressed into the leading staying hurdler on the circuit. Jezki, who himself won the Champion Hurdle in 2014, will provide Unowhatimeanharry with his toughest test to date if he can stay the 3 mile trip. Meanwhile, Cole Harden’s connections are very bullish about his chances and claim that his preparation for this year’s renewal has been better than when he won the race in 2015.
Friday 17th March - Day Four - Gold Cup Day
JCB Triumph Hurdle
Defi Du Seuil has carried all before him for Alan King this season and is 6/6 including 3 wins at Cheltenham on varying grounds. He will be ridden by Champion Jockey Richard Johnson and is the one to beat. Perhaps his biggest danger is the fellow JP McManus owned Charli Parcs. Charli Parcs has a lofty reputation at Seven Barrows and the yard has a fantastic record in this race, 3 wins in the last 8 years, and if you excuse his last run where he fell which lead to Barry Gerraghty being ruled out for of the Festival, then he has a tremendous chance.
Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup
The biggest race of the week and it is a very open renewal this year. Thistlecrack’s injury means that there are 3 horses vying for favouritism: Native River, Cue Card and Djakadam. The first two of those are trained by Colin Tizzard and Native River has the perfect profile for the race, he has won the two biggest staying handicaps in the Hennessy Gold Cup and the Welsh Grand National whereas Cue Card has been beaten twice but still has 2 Grade 1s to his name. There will be no dry eye in the house if Cue Card can win but the stats are against him, no horse over the age of 10 has won the race since 1969. Djakadam has been 2nd in the last 2 renewals and according to Willie Mullins, “has had the perfect preparation.” It is sure to be a fascinating race!
The Racing Breaks team have compiled their best bets for the week. The racing looks incredibly exciting but very competitive. There is a NAP (best bet of the day) + EW tip for each day.
Back Nicky Henderson to be top trainer of the week at 7/2
Back Noel Fehily to be top jockey without Ruby Walsh at 7/2
Thursday 16th March - Day Three - St Patricks Day
NAP: Yorkhill 6/4 in the 1:30 JLT Novices’ Chase
EW: Starchitecht 9/1 in the 4:10 Brown Advisory Plate
Friday 17th March - Day Four - Gold Cup Day
NAP: Native River 4/1 in the 3:30 Gold Cup
EW: Charli Parcs 8/1 in the 1:30 Triumph Hurdle