Weatherbys Cheltenham Previews: 15th Feb
Week-by-week Paul Jones of Weatherbys reviews this year's Cheltenham Festival's hopes progress. Read his thoughts following this weekend action.
SUPREME NOVICES' HURDLE
The J P McManus-owned pair of Get Me Out Of Here and Bellvano were the two big winners this week on the two-mile novice hurdling scene so A P McCoy will have an interesting decision to make if they both make it there but I suspect they won’t.
The shorter of the pair is marginally the Totesport Trophy winner Get Me Out Of Here and the time of his win was certainly better than that posted by Bellvano on the same day but he also has the Neptune entry and I will be amazed if the McManus operation also don’t give him handicap hurdle entries and they will no doubt be watching the handicapper does very closely.
As for Bellvano, he clearly has class and speed but he didn’t convince me at all when he hit the front at Newbury as McCoy had to yank him back in or he could have ended up of the chase course so I can’t really have a horse like that on my mind for the Supreme. No other contenders really emerged over the last seven days.
Long Run won the influential Arkle Trial at Warwick, the Kingmaker Chase over two miles, in the style of a serious horse considering he is really a three-miler but the general vibe I was getting afterwards was that it would be better for the horse if they kept to the original plan of running in the RSA Chase but who really knows where he will end up.
The first fence down the back straight caused him a problem and he didn’t look entirely comfortable until he shook off King Edmond turning for home and then his stamina kicked in and he ran right away from horses that are anything but mugs. I have to say I would be slightly surprised if he ended up here but as far as trends are concerned, they scream out that the Arkle is the race for him.
The only other relevant action concerned Osana who could only finish third in the Flyingbolt Chase and you would have to say he is simply not good enough over fences to win an Arkle on his last two runs. I have to say I think Captain Cee Bee is starting to look way too short as I reckon you will get a similar price on the day.
No real Champion Hurdle clues this week as Jumbo Rio, Noble Prince and Muirhead couldn’t beat the novice Luska Lad in the Grade 2 Red Mills Hurdle which was used by Hardy Eustace prior to his Champion Hurdle winning effort. I would imagine that on that evidence that Jumbo Rio and Noble Prince could now end up in one of the handicaps and who knows what they will do with Muirhead who ran a terrible race.
Jumbo Rio was not favoured by the weights so it was a good effort from him especially as he spotted the winner five lengths at the start but whether his French Champion conqueror Rock Noir will now make the Champion Hurdle looks in doubt and American Trilogy also looks like missing the race according to Paul Nicholls’ column after he missed last weekend’s Totesport Trophy. All eyes will be on Zaynar at Kelso later this week but I can’t imagine anything of any note will take him on so it can only be a no-win situation as far as last season’s Triumph Hurdle winner is concerned.
DAVID NICHOLSON MARES HURDLE
With Stravinsky Dance disappointing again, the grip of the Irish on this race strengthened again at the weekend without them having to do anything aided by the fact that Silver Kate, who would have been a sporting outsider and won well at Bangor last week, has been confirmed for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle instead of this contest.
It was thought that Willie Mullins could run Quevega in the Red Mills Hurdle last weekend but he wasn’t totally happy with her so missed the race and it is now looking likely she will bid to defend her title on her seasonal debut which isn’t ideal but he trainer is not concerned about that.
No One Tells Me is no forlorn hope but is she an each-way bet as she is effectively only gunning for one place as Voler La Vedette and Quevega look streets ahead. She has a couple of lengths to find with Voler La Vedette on her last run but Jessica Harrington feels she is open to plenty more improvement as she has just turned five and appreciates soft ground so opening day ground can suit her.
NEPTUNE INVESTMENT MANAGEMENT NOVICES' HURDLE
The decision to probably run Rite Of Passage here rather than take on Dunguib in the Supreme must be even more tempting now following the defeat of the then ante-post second favourite Quantitativeeasing at Kempton to a horse not even entered for the Festival. In fairness, the winner got the run of the race in what was a crawl that would not have suited Nicky Henderson’s previously unbeaten horse but I wasn’t convinced he was top class before this race and am I certainly of the opinion he isn’t now.
The Betchworth Kid was even less suited to the slow pace so the close-up third was actually cut for this race after his defeat but I would think the Albert Bartlett looks the more likely option for him as the yard have Manyriverstocross for this who ran well when third in the Totesport Trophy but I just wonder if they might look at one of the handicaps for him though. The winner of that race was Get Me Out Of Here but he is sure to have at least three other Festival entries so who knows where he will end up. My guess is maybe one of the handicaps.
Before the French Triumph Hurdle third Najaf won at Exeter on Sunday, Paul Nicholls said this was his most likely Festival target and that he would improve a lot for the run and it was a pleasing enough performance considering 2m1f would have been on the short side. The stable’s Noland won the same race prior to winning the Supreme but Najaf wouldn’t have the pace for that. The Neptune looks favourite but he is also in the Albert Bartlett.
Considering the combination of track and trip was far from ideal for Long Run, I thought he was very classy winning the Kingmaker Chase but I do still have reservations about his jumping on an undulating course, the fact he is only five and their allowance was cut from 10lbs to 2lbs two years ago and the terrible record of Feltham winners in this race.
I would still prefer Long Run to Diamond Harry though who won at Newbury on the same afternoon, in fact, I prefer Bensalem to Diamond Harry as well as Nick Williams’ charge didn’t jump as well here as he did over the baby fences at Haydock and I am pretty sure that Bensalem would have beaten him but for a jolting error just as the race was hotting up.
I am just not convinced that Diamond Harry is at his very best over three miles but I am very sure that the trip is exactly what Bensalem wants. I also don’t like the fact Diamond Harry will head to the RSA Chase off the back of just two chase runs as the last ten winners had at least three runs over fences.
Henderson may also have a third run in Burton Port who entered the fray with an easy winner from possible NH Chase candidate The Sliotar at Southwell making it two out of two over fences for him. Will he run three though?
Paul Nicholls was mentioning this race as a target for The Nightingale on Saturday (previously was a toss up between this and the Jewson) but he is another that will have two chase runs at most. Uimhiracethair just got up to force a dead heat at Navan yesterday and needs to improve bundles on that form and he is another with just two chase starts at present.
QUEEN MOTHER CHAMPION CHASE
Master Minded looked back to near his best at Newbury. Quite what happened at the last fence is a mystery but his three previous leaps were spectacular and the problem with his rib was clearly holding him back on his previous few starts. Providing he doesn’t have a recurrence of his tying-up problem which tightens the muscles and restricts his training, I can’t see how he can get beaten especially as Walsh will almost certainly ride him now and I do feel he is important to Twist Magic who will now not his services.
That was the only relevant action of the Champion Chase front this week but Golden Silver is likely to run at the weekend to bid to put him credentials back on the line after a disappointing run behind Big Zeb last time and his trainer, Willie Mullins, also reported that Barker, who parted company with Walsh on his only start this week, is also still on target though the Ryanair Chase is also an option.
There was no disguising the fact that was a disappointing effort from Voy Por Ustedes in the Game Spirit Chase. To go out without a fight suggested he has lost his enthusiasm and he needs to rediscover his mojo very quickly now to have a chance of even reaching the frame. The really disappointing aspect was that his jumping looked back to his best until he turned for home.
The only smidgeon of hope his supporters have is that he is a spring horse that clearly needs further than 2m1f these days and he has not ever really ran that well in this race either on his previous two cracks at it whereas he loves Cheltenham and he did start to make up some of the lost ground on the run-in.
Interestingly though, Alan King wasn’t anywhere near as negative afterwards as I thought he would be just putting it down to the trip. The vibes I am getting is that appears less likely that Joncol will come over and he will be saved for Punchestown instead and Tartak is now being aimed at the Grand Annual instead so opposition is starting to fall away for Poquelin here.
One horse at a big price that is potentially interesting is Master Medic but I have not read or heard anything that suggests this is definitely the plan with him and Scotsirish still half interests me as I feel he is under-rated but whether he runs or not I am not sure especially after his trainer confirmed the weekend winner J’Y Vole as an intended runner so will he run both?
The Boyne Hurdle has been the best Irish guide to the World Hurdle for many years and I was disappointed that Mourad could not reel in War Of Attrition which means he is now off my radar as a possible outsider to consider for the race. Mourad remains an intended runner but needs to seriously up his game but Mouse Morris had not yet confirmed War Of Attrition as wants to see what weight he gets for the Grand National when the handicap is released on Tuesday before any decisions are made about where he runs next.
Ninetieth Minute had no excuses back in third so it is hard to make out a case for him and he looks better over shorter distances. I just wonder if Edward O’Grady may let Jumbo Rio take his chance? It was a good run in the Red Mills Hurdle at the weekend to narrowly go down to Luska Lad at the weights and giving him plenty of start but I imagine they will want to see what mark he gets in the handicaps first.
The position of Mille Chief at the head of the market was strengthened again after Paul Nicholls broke news that his easy Newbury winner Royal Mix is highly likely to be out for the rest of the season and he was trading as fifth favourite at the time. With Sang Bleu all out to win at Huntingdon, Nicholls also decided he will miss the rest of the season as he just needs more time meaning Advisor is likely to be his number one and his Ascot form has been let down three times since so Ditcheat’s attack on this race has been severely weakened over the last two weeks.
Mille Chief missed his intended final prep race at Huntingdon as his scope wasn’t quite right so it is back to the original plan of the Adonis Hurdle in two weeks’ time. Alaivan and Secant Star look set to take each other on in their final prep-races but other than that, unless something comes from left field late on like maybe Sunwise or Super Kenny, then it is hard to see how this market is going to be shaken up much.
ALBERT BARTLETT NOVICES' HURDLE
Enterprise Park but he is doubly entered (also in the Neptune) and Mullins, as far as I am aware, has yet to confirm him to this race. He looks all stamina so I would say it is odds-on he will go here but it would worry me if the same trainer also ran Quel Esprit here as I get the feeling he rates him as his best novice.
Enterprise Park is unbeaten in three starts and won a Grade 2 over 2m6f on testing ground last time out and that form is working out very well as both the second and the third have franked that form winning next time out. That said, Friday usually throws up the best ground of the Festival and he has yet to run on anything other than testing going.
I have respect for Tell Massini who is a dual course winner and Cheltenham form has been a big factor in this race so far but he is priced accordingly and Shinrock Paddy won a good trial by 15 lengths so I also respect him.
The leading fancy that I wouldn’t consider backing is Restless Harry as it is going to be so hard for him to make all over three miles in what is likely to be a big field. The Betchworth Kid was cut for this race despite finishing third at Kempton last week which may have raised a few eyebrows but the trip was too short and the pace was too slow so he ran well in the circumstances and was finishing best of all.
Kauto Star is now odds-on after Denman’s horror show at Newbury but I would argue he probably should have been even before the 2008 Gold Cup winner dumped McCoy at the third last fence where he attempted to take off a stride too early just like he did at Aintree last season.
I don’t blame the jockey at all and any calls to replace McCoy should be treated with disdain as the horse just blew it and gave notice he might when getting the previous fence all wrong which would have cost him the race anyway. His jumping up until the home straight was very good but McCoy was disappointed he hadn’t shaken off Niche Market at that point so it could have just been tiredness that caused that mistake four out so he may have been undercooked or just had an off day.
The worrying aspect for his Gold Cup claims are that, given those two mistakes, can they risk riding him aggressively again or is he now best when just asked to pop away like when he won the Hennessy. If he pops away then he is going to find it hard to get Kauto Star on the stretch like when he beat him two years ago.
Tricky Trickster ended up winning the race but he got lucky as Andrew Glassonbury attempted to make the most of Denman’s mistake four out by kicking on straight away on Niche Market and that ultimately cost him the race as he was nailed on the line much to my chagrin having backed him without Denman. He will finalise his Grand National preparations in the Gold Cup.