Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
Twelve horses have been declared, four of which representing Willie Mullins in search of his fifth Supreme winner and all four of his biggest owners have a runner; Douvan for Susannah and Rich Ricci, Shaneshill for Andrea and Graham Wylie, Alvisio Ville for J P McManus and Tell Us More for Gigginstown. In fact, the Irish outnumber the British by 7-5 with Bentelimar (Shay Barry), Sizing John (Henry De Bromhead) and Velvet Maker (Tony Martin) also declared as they bid to record a fourteenth success in the last 24 runnings, so this has comfortably been their best race at the Festival. Bentelimar has won his last two starts like 12 of the last 18 winners. Only Douvan, L’Ami Serge and Seedling have done likewise amongst his rivals and he could be a forgotten horse. Velvet Maker is a second-season hurdler who needed four starts to get off the mark over timber last time out.
Bookmakers will want to take on Douvan and especially in the knowledge that short-priced favourites have a terrible record in the Supreme as only two of the last 11 horses to start at under 2/1 have won. It will be touch and go whether starts at under 2/1 given that the layers will want to get him and sentimental punters could also come for McCoy’s mount, Jollyallan, who he has chosen of Alvisio Ville who is ridden by David Casey. Alvisio Ville ran as if dropping back to 2m would suit him when he was third in the Deloitte but only two of the last 18 Supreme winners were beaten last time out which is also against Jollyallan, though he was beaten by a second-season hurdler in Garde La Victoire. Both are owned by J P McManus who has seen his colours twice carried to victory but he has also had as many as six runners-up, five ridden by McCoy, for whom this has not been his lucky race. Also beaten last time out was Shaneshill over 2m4f and last season’s Weatherbys Champion Bumper runner-up (4 of the last 12 winners ran well in that race 12 months earlier) has a second stat to defy as 17 of the last 20 winners ran in the last 45 days and that defeat was before Christmas which only Captain Cee Bee of recent winners has managed to overcome.
Shaneshill was Neptune bound before Nichols Canyon in the same ownership won the Deloitte and needs to jump quicker. Tell Us More was also beaten last time out over 2m4f in a Grade 1 but shaped like a drop back to 2m would suit him having made most and jumped slickly until he was passed on the run-in by Mckinley.
Sizing John has also not run this year since causing an upset in a weak Grade 1 at Leopardstown over Christmas having previously been slammed 12l by Douvan and that’s a stat I don’t like. Similarly, Seedling has not run for 88 days which is also longer than ideal.
Only one horse to have run on the Flat has finished in the first three in the last seven years which is against Qewy who won the same novice hurdle at Newbury that Shadow Leader and Al Ferof took before they won the Supreme. Seedling also won a race that has had a bearing on the Supreme when beating Some Plan under a double penalty at the December Meeting but he has not run since. Some Plan then franked the form with an easy win in the Scottish Supreme Trial and could be the front runner in a race where they have a good record.
The main home hope, however, looks to be L’Ami Serge who despite being 0-6 in France, has seriously impressed with three wins for Nicky Henderson including the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle on softer ground than he enjoys for a horse who showed a good turn of foot to win at Ascot. Henderson may not have trained the winner since Flown in 1992 but he has had as many as nine top-four finishers in the last eight years alone so he has a strong each-way look about him even if he has been off the course since the first week in January. He is very experienced so his trainer didn’t feel the need to give him a prep race.
It’s a tricky one with DOUVAN because if he starts under 2/1 the stats are against him but he has a heck of a lot in his favour otherwise and bookmakers will want to get him so he might start at 2/1 or bigger. Therefore he makes the short list as he is the only one of the Mullins quartet to have won last time out like all but two of the last 18 winners as he bids to give his trainer a fifth win in the race. Nicky Henderson’s place record suggests that we have to give L’AMI SERGE serious each-way consideration and, like Douvan, he is just one of four horses in the line up to have won his last two starts like 12 of the last 18 winners. Many will view him as an each-way steal at around 5/1. Another horse to win his last two starts is BENTELIMAR who looks the best overall each-way value of the race. He is as tough as they come and would be a much shorter price if trained by a more fashionable stable than that of Shay Barry. Tell Us More appeals most of the horses beaten last time out dropping back to 2m and the other each-way alternative to the big two.
Racing Post Arkle Trophy
A healthy-sized field of 11 compared to recent seasons and even more so when we consider that Un De Sceaux would probably be sent off Champion Chase favourite if he headed down that route after running to a rating that would have won him every Arkle in the last 20 years except for Sprinter Sacre’s when he blitzed two class acts in the Irish Arkle. He wasn’t as headstrong on that occasion but this atmosphere on his first run at Cheltenham will be unlike anything he has faced before and the fact remains no horse has made all since 1980 though Azertyuyiop led from the third obstacle. Remarkably, Ruby Walsh has also not ridden a winner over fences at the Festival since Kauto Star took his second Gold Cup six years ago. The big stat in his favour is that five winners since 2000 were the best hurdler in the race and he is comfortably that.
Dunraven Storm would be the oldest ever Arkle winner if he can win at the age of ten so that looks highly unlikely and I don’t like the absence of 94 days for Court Minstrel. As with the other Grade 1 novice events at the Festival, my personal preference irrespective of trends is that I much prefer to side with a contender that has been given a prep run, to get the freshness out of their system ahead of the day that really matters more than anything. Only Simonsig and Sizing Europe of Arkle winners since 1997 had not run during the same calendar year. Just three of the last 23 winners were older than seven and Court Minstrel is eight as is Sgt Reckless.
Seven of the last 12 winners had won at Cheltenham before (six in pattern races) but, purely looking at previous Cheltenham Festival form, although nine of the last 11 winners had been successful or finished placed at this meeting in the past is a strong steer in its own right, arguably even more interesting is that five of those 11 winners had finished in the first four in a novice hurdle at this meeting the previous season and that brings in the Supreme second and fourth, Josses Hill and Sgt Reckless. Whether Josses Hill jumps well enough and whether Sgt Reckless has enough chasing experience are the main sticking points with this pair. Josses Hill might jump better in a championship race at a strong pace but he might be even worse, who knows, but his trainer has won this race five times before. Sgt Reckless has only had one chase start, though that didn’t stop the Pond House-trained winners, Well Chief and Western Warhorse. Talking of Pond House and David Pipe runs Sail By The Sea for last year’s winning owner who has one more start over fences and impressed at Chepstow last time out.
Vibrato Valtat has been running in all the right races in Britain placing in the November Novices’ Chase before winning the Henry VIII, Wayward Lad and Kingmaker, and they are the best British trials. An improved horse since a wind operation, he is officially only 4lb behind Un De Sceaux on British ratings and looks the pick of the British defence to give Paul Nicholls a third win in the Arkle. He beat Three Kingdoms more cosily than the margin suggested at Kempton and he should hold McCoy’s mount on that running. Vibrato Valtat was rated only 138 over hurdles though and just two of the last 15 winners were not rated as high as 142 over timber. Gods Own is a second-season novice who won the Haldon Gold Cup back in the autumn but lost his way in two subsequent runs on soft ground. He has since been freshened up and will enjoy the better surface.
In addition to Un De Sceaux, the Irish send over Clarcam and Smashing who have both been well beaten by the sure-fire odds-on favourite already this season. Clarcam had previously won a Grade 1 by 17l at Leopardstown but he had an 11lb age allowance that day which is now totally wiped out. Smashing paid the price for trying to live with Un De Sceaux last time and has impressed in victory since and it interesting they run him rather than Sizing Granite who would have had place claims.
Nicky Henderson’s superb record in the race and having placed in the Supreme last year mean that JOSSES HILL earns a place on a trends-based short list but if you back him you might want to watch from behind the sofa when he approaches an obstacle. VIBRATO VALTAT doesn’t have the hurdles rating but other than that he has the right credentials to run a big race having improved from run to run this season in all the right races and for a stable with two wins in the race and he looks a solid each-way alternative if you don’t fancy the short odds about Un De Sceaux. The top rated hurdler in the race Un De Sceaux may be, but front running is hard to pull off in this race and he has fallen in one of his three chase starts and might be better bullying opposition on flat tracks. Being a five-year-old with no allowance makes it hard to select Clarcam in a trends shortlist but he is a dependable, professional horse with a sound jumping technique that might be ridden for a place so he is of place-only interest. SGT RECKLESS was fourth in last season’s Supreme and last year’s Arkle winner won off the back of just one chase start so it can be done so he completes the short list having looked a good jumper in that one win at Uttoxeter. The faster the ground, the better his chance.
Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase
A maximum field of 24 have been declared and we will start with some negative trends to help whittle that down to a more manageable starting point kicking off with the fact that horses aged 11+ are 0-47 since 1997 with just two placing so Cape Tribulation has it to do on that statistic thought it is worth noting Malcolm Jefferson’s horses are flying right now. This hasn’t been Paul Nicholls’ race being 0-17 and the fact that his top weight, Black Thunder, is rated 155 and there has been no winner rated over 150 since 1983 means he has it all to do. No Hennessy representative has won for 25 years which is a big surprise given it is the second most important staying handicap chase of the season and that is the main statistical sticking point against the well-fancied The Druids Nephew, though he did prep in the Cleeve Hurdle like two of the last six winners. He finished seventh at Newbury which came quickly enough after finishing second to the Gold Cup-bound Sam Winner here at the November Meeting. Annacotty pulled up in the Hennessy but has since won the 2m5f handicap here on Trials Day. What A Warrior also pulled up in the Hennessy and has not run since but Monbeg Dude fared a lot better in fourth. However, the Grand National is his chief objective.
It had been threatening to happen for a while but the 143 barrier was finally breached last season. I am referring to the official BHA ratings of winners as prior to Holywell being successful off a handicap mark of 145 last year as the previous 14 winners were officially rated no higher than 143 entering the race. Five of the last eight winners were rated between 142-145 so that’s the kind of ballpark figure I am inclined to look at first and brings in No Planning (145), Grand Jesture (143) and Ned Stark (143). Cape Tribulation, Monbeg Dude and What A Warrior are the other three to fall into this bracket but have it to do on stats mentioned earlier. Mendip Express (148) and Theatre Guide (147) might just be a little too high.
Ned Stark has a lot going for him as I will outline in the conclusion not least his trainer’s fine record in the race of two wins and others to run well and also the fact he is a novice like four of the last 11 winners.
No Planning has won five of his 15 chase starts but looks to have lost his way since the turn of the year beaten 25l and 30l in his two starts. Grand Jesture is sent over from Ireland by Henry De Bromhead and the Irish have won this race twice this century from limited runners. He too was disappointing on his last start over Christmas but he is a bit of a character and open to improvement on his seventh chase start. Gallant Oscar looks like being the most fancied Irish runner for Tony Martin who won this race with Dun Doire having been sent off favourite for Djakadam’s Thyestes Chase but he was fourth beaten 28l. Dun Doire also contested (and won) the Thyestes for Martin before he won here. Azure Fly off bottom weight and Smart Freddy who has won two of his three chase starts for Ben Pauling who is fast making a name for himself in the training ranks are the other two novices in addition to Ned Stark.
Jonjo O’Neill won this handicap for a third time last season and is represented by Lost Legend and Dursey Sound. The first-named looks the number one with Richie McLernon in the saddle but he is quite exposed having his fifteenth chase start. Dursey Sound has been well beaten on his last four starts but he is owned by J P McManus who has owned three winners of this race since 2002 and has dropped 7lb as a consequence so it wouldn’t be the greatest shock to see him re-find his best form. This has been a good race for the market leaders with ten of the last 14 winners starting in the first four in the betting and the first three positions look set to be Pendra, The Druid’s Nephew and Ned Stark. Pendra is the McManus number one and will be well backed under McCoy. Third in the novice handicap chase on this day last year, he has had a wind operation since he last ran at the Hennessy Meeting. Eight of the last 17 winners had placed at the Festival before so he fits that profile as does Cape Tribulation (won a Coral Cup).
Seven of the last 12 winners won last time out which is tick for only Ned Stark, Annacotty and Gevrey Chambertin. The latter is trained by Dvaid Pipe who won this with An Accordion and has saddled The Package to be placed three times.
Alan King won this race with Fork Lightning as a novice and was going to win it with another until Bensalem fell two out off 143 and then he made amends 12 months later off the same mark. NED STARK will also race on 143 this year and that is the right kind of rating as five of the last eight winners ran off between 142-145. He is a good jumper for a novice as he showed winning at the Hennessy Meeting and the Grade 2 Towton Chase which I thought he won a shade cosily and took to the course well in the Dipper over an inadequate trip in between and also represents novices and horses in the first four in the betting which is also the right kind of profile. PENDRA has plenty going for him too but the concern regards value is he might be over-bet being McCoy’s mount at his last Festival and don’t rule out DURSEY SOUND for the same owner who has won this race three times at a much bigger price who is one of two Jonjo O’Neill representatives and he is a trainer who targets this race and he might be the each-way value of the race. GEVREY CHAMBERTIN has had his handicap mark protected by David Pipe since he won at the Hennessy Meeting and is interesting for this stable who target the handicaps at this meeting and have a good record in this staying handicap chase. The horse he beat into second that day was Kaki De La Pree who then finished second to Ned Stark in the Grade 2 Towton Novices’ Chase. GALLANT OSCAR ran in the Thyestes as did Dun Doire before he won this race also for Tony Martin in 2006. He was a bit disappointing but it was notable how well backed he was that day to beat Djakadam so if that run can be forgiven, he is a big player here on just his seventh chase start.
Stan James Champion Hurdle
Faugheen may just be too good for these but he is not a trends horse having not run since winning the Christmas Hurdle as just one winner since 1993 had not been a given a prep race in the same calendar year (Rock On Ruby) and just one of the last 23 winners of that Grade 1 race at Kempton to line up for the Champion Hurdle has won (Kribensis). Kempton and Cheltenham are like chalk and cheese so I can see why horses beaten in the Christmas Hurdle have a better record than the winner but, in Faugheen’s case, we know he devours the Cheltenham hill having impressed when winning the Neptune last season, which has been by far and away the best novice guide from the previous season. Hardy Eustace and Istabraq won both races and Rock On Ruby went one place better in the Champion Hurdle than in the Neptune. In addition, four Neptune winners since 1994 have placed in the Champion Hurdle.
The New One also won a recognised trial with a poor record when he took the International Hurdle at Cheltenham in December because of the last 25 winners of that race to run in the Champion Hurdle only Rooster Booster has completed the double. My view on that is because that race takes on the stiffer New Course over 2m1f whereas the Champion Hurdle is more of a speed test on the easier Old Course over 2m½f. More of a concern is whether last year’s third can hold his position in a tactical race on the downhill run where he lost 3l on the field last year. He does have one quirky stat in his favour though – the last four horses to finish third to come back and try again the next year all won. If you do like his chance, he is likely to start shorter on the Tote being a local horse so look for another betting medium.
Hurricane Fly became only the second horse to regain his Champion Hurdle crown after losing it which was a big stat at the time and know we are asked to believe he can do it again after losing his title at the age of 11. A 22-times Grade 1 winner he may but I just can’t see it and especially if the ground does not ride genuinely soft. Leopardstown on testing ground in cat-and-mouse encounters are where he excels. Only two horses have won aged 10+ in the race’s history (first run in 1927) and they were defending title holders and no unplaced horse from the previous season’s renewal has won for 20 years. All this suggests he is unlikely to be a fairytale winner and is more of a bet for sentimental punters.
The trends horse, if there is one, is Jezki mainly on the negative stats of his main rivals than anything else, who looks rock solid each-way if all eight stand their ground at 4/1+ so stakes are returned if he finishes placed so there will be much each-way thievery with the dead eight runners. Of the big four, he was the only one beaten last time out which used to be a big negative but three of the last six winners were beaten on their previous start including Jezki last year. Fourteen horses have won the race more than once. Having won what was widely accepted to be the best Champion Hurdle for many a year heading into last season’s race, he hasn’t really caught the imagination but it is no great shock he lost out to Hurricane Fly in tactical races on soft ground as what he wants is a proper gallop on a decent surface like when he won last year’s race.
As much as I like Kitten Rock as an individual, the fact that five-year-olds are 1-92 since 1985 is hard to get away from even though six have hit the frame in the last eight years. Like Jezki, he is owned by J P McManus, so we have to also factor whether he might be running to aid the defending title holder. Probably not but I wouldn’t put my life on it. Arctic Fire was getting beaten in the same Grade 1s at Leopardstown last season as Jezki and was placed in last season’s Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle so will act on the course and fits the stat that 20 of the last 30 winners finished in the first four at last season’s Festival as do the big four and Vaniteux (third in the Supreme) but he still has 12lb to find on official figures and may well be ridden off the pace to pick up the pieces and try to snatch as much place prize money (down to sixth) as possible. He deserves to take his chance and represents the Fighting Fifth, a race which has featured three winners and four placed horses in the last seven years, but he does look very much Willie Mullins’ third string with Danny Mullins coming in for the ride.
Vaniteux and Bertimont have both finished second to The New One this season and it is very hard seeing them find the necessary improvement to reach the frame. Henderson has won the race five times in the past but Vaniteux would be the stable second string if My Tent Or Yours wasn’t ruled out for the season in the autumn.
The pace angle is going to be crucial here and Faugheen’s chances will increase if Walsh can dictate from an early stage but having not run since Christmas, I am struggling to include him on a trends-based short list and especially as that win was in the Christmas Hurdle where winners have a poor record here. As Hurricane Fly will be the joint oldest winner if successful, he also can’t appear on any trends list. No horse is an ideal fit but JEZKI fits the trends best and will be hard to kick out of the first three so he makes obvious each-way appeal. The New One was an unfortunate third last year, which hasn’t been a bad place to finish at all on stats but he does appear to have a preference for the stiffer New Course and the record of the International Hurdle winner is not good. ARCTIC FIRE could be ridden for a place with the hope to get lucky and makes some each-way appeal racing on the fastest ground he has encountered for a while which he should appreciate. Placed at last season’s meeting and running in the right races in Ireland, he is no forlorn hope and has a fairly similar profile to Jezki last year before he won. Five-year-olds actually have a good strike rate for a place of late but an awful strike rate in terms of winning over the last three decades so maybe Kitten Rock, who is 4-4 this season and we don’t really know how good he is, could be a little value in the place-only market?
OLBG Mares Hurdle
Race trends can be thrown out of the window for this race with Quevega winning it for the last six years, five of which on her seasonal debut, so there are any to talk of, so this is more of a form guide.
There is an assumption that ANNIE POWER will carry on where Quevega left off for Willie Mullins but it was always the intention to start off that six-time winner in this race for the last five of her wins in this race whereas Annie Power makes her seasonal debut here off the back of a setback so this is no penalty kick. Especially as her connections also want to take her to Aintree and Punchestown and I don’t think they had Quevega at full concert pitch when she won the last three runnings of the race so the chances of Annie Power being 100% have to be questioned.
Of course she has to be on any form-based short list as she is 7lb clear on official ratings but does that entitle her to be so far clear of Polly Peachum in the betting and especially if she is not fully fit? The positive vibes for POLLY PEACHUM have been increasing over the last week and if you are prepared to forgive her a poor run over 3m at Kempton in November when we last saw her, she enters this race as the obvious best home hope and a serious each-way consideration. She also easily beat last year’s third, L’Unique, at Cheltenham in April so we know she handles the course and will appreciate spring ground if that proves to be the case. On a line through L’Unique, she has the beating of last season’s second, Glens Melody, and official ratings back that up to the tune of as much as 5lb but she is the bigger price of the pair.
L’Unique has improved in the spring for the last two years so don’t be shocked to see her leave this season’s form behind. The Pirate’s Queen joins L’Unique in the race for Alan King and may be best of the novices having beaten Bitofapuzzle, who looks more at home over 3m, before Christmas. The latter-named is closely matched with Carole’s Spirit on Ascot from but the Robert Walford-trained mare also looks like she would prefer a longer trip. First-time blinkers is therefore probably a good idea to sharpen her up, and her jumping as she flew out to the right far too often at Ascot when not beaten far trying to give Bitofapuzzle 5lb.
Toby Balding National Hunt Chase
Gigginstown have had a double u-turn by eventually declaring Very Wood for this race after it was announced last week he would run in the RSA having previously been on target for this contest and he is now likely to start favourite (three of the last five favourites have won) under Nina Carberry who has not had the best of luck in this race having been beaten after leading at the final fence in three of the last five runnings. That means Wounded Warrior misses out but the owner also run Thunder And Roses who was a bit disappointing last time but having impressed on his previous start and shapes like a real marathon-trip horse of the future. Thunder And Roses is officially top rated on 148 just 1lb ahead of Very Wood and 2lb ahead of Cause Of Causes and Perfect Gentlemen so the Irish gave a very strong hand. The National Hunt Chase is a race on the change following three significant alterations to the race conditions in 2002, 2006 and 2010 leading to a superior class of horse required these days required to win. Three of the last four winners were officially top rated.
Five and six-year-olds are just 1-67 since 1989 which makes me wary of backing the six-year-old Very Wood even if he won the Albert Bartlett last season. Also aged six are Cogry and Vivaldi Collonges. The latter is trained by Paul Nicholls whose race record reads 0-15, many of which were well fancied and his challenger this year was outclassed in a match by Kings Palace at Newbury last time out. Cogry had previously just beat Doing Fine in the same Warwick chase (I Need Gold looks held back in fourth) that was won by last season’s NH Chase winner trained by Alan King. Doing Fine is interesting as he is bred to want marathon trips, his trainer has won this race and the RSA for staying novice chasers in recent seasons and he has been declared in first-time blinkers. Last season’s winning stable are represented by another Warwick this season in Sego Success and King’s principals in the four-miler down the years all ran at that Midlands track.
Ten of the 13 winners since the race conditions alterations had finished first or second last time out which is against Broadway Buffalo (fell – fallers/u.r have approximately just a 3% strike rate at the Festival over the last decade), Cause Of Causes, Perfect Candidate, Return Spring (wears first-time blinkers), Royal Palladium, The Job Is Right, Thunder And Roses, Theatre Queen (who can’t give away lengths at the start like last time) and Top Totti. Cause Of Causes is the most interesting of them as he was prepping in the Boyne Hurdle and was second in last year’s Kim Muir. The Job Is Right was also prepping over hurdles last time out having been booked for second in the Thyestes behind Djakadam on his previous run until he exited at the last fence, His trainer, Michael Hourigan, has a love affair with the NH Chase and won it with Deejaydee who also prepped over hurdles. Willie Mullins runs Perfect Gentleman who is a ten-year-old which is older than I like.
Thunder And Roses
Cause Of Causes
SEGO SUCCESS has been trained for this race all season by Alan King who has won it with Old Benny and Midnight Prayer and like that pair and his Godsmejudge who was third two years ago, he chose to give him chasing experience at Warwick. DOING FINE also has good Warwick form and represents a stable with a win in the race and he is out of a mare who stayed 4m having won over that trip at Punchstown so he is interesting and particularly in first-time blinkers. THUNDER AND ROSES might be best of the Irish. He is the wrong price as officially the top-rated horse who promises to improve for a marathon trips. CAUSE OF CAUSES has a similar profile to Poker De Sivola in 2010 in that he is second-season chaser who was fancied for the Kim Muir the previous season so he has an experience edge. In fact, he fared better than Poker De Sivola in his Kim Muir as he would probably have beaten Spring Heeled last year if he didn’t belt the final fence. He prepped for this over hurdles so I am not concerned he was unplaced last time out. Of more concern is that he is 0-10 over fences and whether he will fully stay so he might be more of an each-way option.
CHAPS Barbados Restaurant Novices’ Handicap Chase
The race conditions make this a tough handicap to target in advance as any horse allotted a handicap mark of over 140 is ineligible to run and, remarkably, only 6lb covers all 20 runners this year so weight-based arguments really don’t come into it though I should mention two the last three winners carried top weight and Killala Quay holds that distinction this time despite being a maiden over fences but so was the 2008 winner and a maiden over fences has been placed for each of the last five years. Thomas Crapper has also yet to win over fences but loves this course and was second in the Martin Pipe last March only behind Don Poli no less and he runs off the same handicap mark as 12 months ago over hurdles. Monkey Kingdom (wears a first-time tongue tie) and the bottom weight, Keltus, are also maidens over fences. The latter is interesting having placed in last year’s Fred Winter and one of his higher weighted stablemates for the same owner that sponsors this race came out so he just crept into the bottom of the handicap.
Although it is paramount not to be on a horse that has shown the Handicapper too much of its hand, the problem trainers face is that their horse must have shown a sufficiently high level of form to get into the race in the first place. Five of the last six winners won last time out and qualifiers this year are Leap Dearg who has won his last three starts in Ireland (Drumnea is the other Irish hope and they are a slightly disappointing 1-28), Horizontal Speed who broke his debut over fences at the fourth time of asking, Generous Ransom who won what is traditionally a strong novices’ handicap chase on Festival Trials Day that featured the 1-2 in this race two years ago (Irish Cavalier finished a close-up third and Stellar Notion was a disappointing seventh as favourite) and Gores Island who would become the oldest winner at the age of nine.
In ten runnings to date, the winner has come from the first five in the betting on eight occasions. The top three positions are currently held by Generous Ransom, Thomas Crapper and Keltus and it’s a bun fight for the two other spots.
Nicky Henderson has trained a winner and three seconds and he runs Golden Hoof and Cocktails At Dawn who both need decent ground according to their trainer. J P McManus likes to have a contender or two mapped out for this handicap from an early stage having had a winner and two second and he owns Bold Henry who won over 2m here at the November Meeting.
After GENEROUS RANSOM won the equivalent race to this on Festival Trials Day his trainer commented he would be even better on faster ground and he appeals most of the four last-time-out winners. That race threw up the 1-2 here two years ago and Irish Cavalier wasn’t beaten far so is also respected. Stellar Notion made too many mistakes as favourite but previously had Generous Ransom behind when winning at Kempton. Two of the last three top weights have won and KILLALA QUAY was fourth in last season’s Neptune only beaten 6l by Faugheen.
Maidens over fences have notched a winner and five place positions recently so he could have the class to overcome that. THOMAS CRAPPER loves Cheltenham. That’s his big advantage and only Don Poli beat him in last season’s 24-runner Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle. He was also a dual winner at Cheltenham over hurdles last season. He ran off 134 when second at last season’s Festival and has the same mark for this novice handicap chase after failing to win in five starts over fences but the first three of those were over an inadequate 2m when he ran well behind three Arkle hopes in Court Minstrel (beaten 3l at Cheltenham), Vibrato Valtat (beaten 1l at Warwick) and Three Kingdoms (beaten by 3l at Leicester).
He didn’t finish in the first two places last time out but he was taking on a better class of horse in the Tingle Creek fifth and Josses Hill. He has a big each-way chance on his course profile. HORIZONTAL SPEED came good last time out after a slow start to his chasing career not unlike other winners and Hobbs won this race with a horse with a fairly similar profile in Copper Bleu.