Weatherbys Cheltenham Previews: 1st March
Week-by-week Paul Jones of Weatherbys reviews this year's Cheltenham Festival's hopes progress. Read his thoughts following this weekend's action.
SUPREME NOVICES' HURDLE
The vibes I am getting is that more and more this looks like being Get Me Out Of Here's Festival objective and he will be popular each-way if that is the case as he has the rating already in the bag to win most renewals of this race. Peddlers Cross will not be lining up here as the Neptune has been mentioned by his trainer as his target and Henry De Bromhead also intimated the Neptune is where he would prefer to run Loosen My Load both of which would have been big players for a place here if taking their chance.
Paul Nicholls has confirmed his representative will be Pepe Simo rather than Ghizao who also heads to the Neptune but I really can not see him being good enough and the same is true of Salden Licht who was a big disappointment in the Dovecote so I imagine if he runs anywhere at the Festival, it will now be in the County Hurdle. Flat Out is a second Willie Mullins to consider in addition to Blackstairmountain as he won on his hurdling debut at Punchestown just over a week ago in a time seven seconds faster than
Won In the Dark recorded in another race on the same day and he has won again since and wasn't disgraced in last season's Champion Hurdle. According to Mullins he is bound for this race and his prominent style of racing is well suited to the race.
Little to report this week from action on the track but at Paul Nicholls' media day he was sweet on Woolcombe Folly suggesting the public may have underestimated him but I can't touch a horse with just one chase start under his belt. Yes, Well Chief won it having had just one chase start but he was one of the top ten greatest two-mile chasers of all time. Woolcombe Folly will not be.
He also reiterated his feeling that Tataniano will be better on better ground but also said he may miss the race if it comes up testing and I notice they also stuck him in the Grand Annual which suggests to me they don't think he is out of the top drawer.
Walsh is unlikely to confirm his mount until the final few days but Sports Line looks his most likely mount after he impressed in his public schooling session On Sunday. One confirmed partnership is Robert Thornton coming in for the ride on Somersby as McCoy will be claimed by his retainer to ride Captain Cee Bee which looks a good booking to me and it would be most ironic if he were to win as it was Thornton who got the spare ride on Captain Cee Bee when McCoy chose Binocular in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle two seasons ago. Mikael D'Haguenet schooled after Leopardstown but didn't impress me with his jumping which was fiddly so they would be mad to go for the Arkle in my opinion.
An ideal final prep-race win for Punjabi where he easily beat vastly-inferior rivals that should have helped put him spot on. I don't doubt that any of the other live Champion Hurdle hopes would also have won that race with plenty in hand but you still like to go and see them do it and he did it stylishly on ground he would not have enjoyed. I see him starting third-favourite on the day as I would very much believe that Geraghty will stay loyal to him now rather than plump for Zaynar. I know it was a mickey mouse race but I still like the idea of Punjabi arriving here off the back of a win like 22 of the last 26 winners.
I can only see four potential winners of the race they being Solwhit, Go Native providing it doesn't turn genuine soft, Punjabi and Medermit. In my belief Khyber Kim is a mudlark and not quite good enough, Zaynar and Celestial Halo want longer trips, Starluck will struggle to get up the hill at Champion Hurdle pace and the rest are outclassed. The only other possible winner I could entertain is if they switch Voler La Vedette from the Mares Hurdle but that is only likely to happen if some of the leading Champion Hurdle hopes come out.
DAVID NICHOLSON MARES HURDLE
Colm Murphy was interviewed on ATR last week and confirmed once again that this is the aim for Voler La Vedette as he has maintained all season despite the pressure being placed on him to run in the Champion Hurdle. That said, he has left her in the Champion Hurdle in case something awry happens to one or two of the leading fancies so he has left the door marginally open but he was saying that before Bonocular was ruled out and Zaynar was beaten at 1-14 and those two factors wasn't enough to sway him from his season-long plan.
Paul Nicholls confirmed he would run Pepite Du Soleil but she has been most disappointing this season but it would appear that another disappointing mare this season in Stravinsky Dance will miss the race as. This really is looking just a four-runner race between Quevega, Voler La Vedette, Whiteoak and No One Tells Me and the former came through her public gallop fine at the weekend though we didn't learn much.
NEPTUNE INVESTMENT MANAGEMENT NOVICES' HURDLE
The opposition to Rite Of Passage is starting to take shape now as Peddlers Cross was confirmed for this race as was Quel Esprit and Fionnegas for Willie Mullins (but he has been known to change his mind) and Alan King wants to run Manyriverstocross here rather than head for a handicap. Henry De Bromhead also expressed a preference to run Loosen My Load here over the ‘Supreme’ but it was only a preference so this is looking a much stronger race than a couple of weeks ago.
As for Peddlers Cross, although he is a winning pointer, he showed plenty of toe when winning all three starts this season so I just wonder whether this 2m5f may stretch him a little so I prefer Finian’s Rainbow of the home defence as I don’t really think that Manyriverstocross is quite up to this and Reve De Sivola has been beaten too many times in his career to interest me though I am sure he will put up his usual good effort.
I am not a Quantitativeeasing fan and notice he also got an entry in the two of the handicaps which suggests to me they are worried if he has the class.
For starters there are three probable notable non-runners following news that Tazbar, Bensalem and Pandoroma look like missing the race. The Feltham Chase runner-up Tazbar has definitely been ruled out of the rest of the season through injury and he was a lively outsider having won his next two starts by 14 lengths on each occasion. Alan King all but confirmed on Monday that Bensalem will indeed run in the William Hill Trophy and it looks long odds-on that Pandorama will also miss the race following a setback.
Ogee won midweek and could come here but I just have last season’s Grade 1 Sefton Hurdle winner as on the small side for a big chasing track like Cheltenham but The Nightingale is a different matter and he looked as smooth as silk when giving Paul Nicholls his fifth Pendil Chase winner on the spin. He is classy for sure but whether he is man enough for a race like the RSA Chase I don’t know as he finished distressed twice last season including when sixth in last season’s ‘Neptune’. Whether he runs is dodgy though as Nicholls has suggested he may be one to wait for Aintree.
Mikael D’Haguenet didn’t impress everyone with his public schooling session on Sunday and it is fair to say he was less than fluent over his fences looking most novicey and he had a good blow afterwards Earlier in the day his stablemate Citizen Vic followed up his Grade 1 win with another victory but it would appear he is likely to miss the Festival and maybe Mullins’ number one will be Uimhiracethair who impressed when schooling alongside Cooldine. I think he is looking more and more like Ruby Walsh’s RSA Chase mount.
QUEEN MOTHER CHAMPION CHASE
Alan King's had a media day last week and told the assembled press that he had released Robert Thornton to ride Twist Magic for Paul Nicholls even if Oh Crick does run as his owner wanted to keep Wayne Hutchinson on board as he won the Grand Annual on him last season.
The impression I formed was that King was marginally leaning to the Grand Annual again where he conceded he would probably have top weight. Paul Nicholls was very bullish he had Master Minded back to his best at his media day which, if that is the case, the rest are fighting it out for second and another wide-margin victory awaits in his bid to match Badsworth Boy's hat-trick in the race. David Pipe informed a preview at Exeter that all is well with Well Chief but he is realistic about his chances of placing again but he does go better left-handed and his last three runs have been on right-handed tracks.
Forpadydeplasterer now has the services of A P McCoy which was confirmed today and he looked in very good nick for a horse that was ruled out of the Festival a couple of weeks earlier when schooling well on Sunday.
WEATHERBYS CHAMPION BUMPER
News has recently filtered through that Dermot Weld has had a change of mind and will run both Elegant Concorde and Hidden Universe as he had originally stated that just one would run as they were in the same ownership but clearly his owner is a sporting kind of chap. In addition to Day In A Lifetime and Up Ou That, Willie Mullins added a third contender in his bid to win this race for a seventh time when Bishopsfurze won on his debut last week and like Day In A Lifetime, he is a once-raced, unbeaten five-year-old like five of his six winners of this race.
Kieren Fallon looks like he will have his second ride in the race as has been snapped up for Old McDonald who was last seen in December winning at Ludlow and previously finished second beaten three lengths by leading fancy for this race Tavern Times whose stable supplied last season’s runner-up. There has been some money this week for Drumbaloo whose form when beating Western Leader was franked when the runner-up won a decent novice hurdle last week and Drumbaloo has won again since albeit by a short-head but it was the same Grade 2 race that Dunguib won last season before winning here.
Araucaria now looks up against it after her odds-on defeat at Leopardstown on Sunday behind Edward O’Grady’s Shot From The Hip for the Magniers who is now fourth favourite and he looked good but I imagine J P Magnier will keep the ride and he won’t be able to claim his allowance which has to be a negative.
The main focus this week surrounded Tranquil Sea's final prep race in the re-routed Newlands Chase at Leopardstown that was abandoned from the following weekend and he couldn't have done it much better. Many have him down as a soft ground horse pure and simple but I am not so sure and believe he will be pressing Poquelin hard for favouritism on the day as the Irish will pile into him being their main challenger.
With regards to Voy Por Ustedes Alan King underlined he had not lost faith in him at his media day last week and, of all his Festival squad he brought out one by one in the blizzard, it was he that was the liveliest kicking and bucking away and the trainer is adamant he will improve greatly for the step back up in trip as was delighted with him in the Game Spirit until they outkicked him turning for home.
Deep Purple may turn up. Evan Williams has said all season this is not his track so he won't run but it would appear that the lure of the Festival may prove too much and he has a chance on his Peterborough Chase form giving weight and a beating to all but the jumping in that race by many was awful and he may have been flattered. He then broke a blood vessel in the William Hill King George VI Chase and has not been seen since. He wouldn't be for me as I think he wants flat tracks.
No news to report as such but why has Karabak been weaker than most in the markets this week. Paul Webber has issued an upbeat report for his Cleeve Hurdle runner-up Time For Rupert believing him to have a very good each-way chance and I can see that as he is a horse progressing with each starts and meets Tidal Bay on 4lbs better terms than when beaten five lengths last month.
Alan King was sweeter than many expecting when discussing Katchit's chance with the press last week commenting he would be disappointed if he is not in there fighting at the final flight on the proviso it wasn't hock deep ground. There are a lot worse outsiders than the former Champion Hurdler.
The market has been all over the place over the last few days following the weekend's action and injury scares. Mille Chief missed the Adonis Hurdle through lameness as he is now a serious doubt for the race. Fingers crossed they can source the problem as soon as possible so all is not lost as they will have to get him working again soon or there is little point heading to Cheltenham if he is not in tip-top shape. It doesn't sound promising though.
As for Secant Star, his form was franked last week by Capellanus who looks a live hope for the 'Fred Winter' but another leading Irish hope in Pittoni was beaten into third against older horses at the weekend and is now a major doubt as he finished "clinically abnormal". I imagine Paul Nicholls is kicking himself for not entering the impressive Dovecote Hurdle winner on Saturday Escort'Men as he bolted up so he will head to Aintree instead. On the same card Nicky Henderson's Soldatino won the Adonis Hurdle in the absence of Mille Chief on his British debut and just his second hurdling start. I doubt he beat much as Ultimate didn't run his usual race on testing ground as he barely stays two miles so he wouldn't be for me.
Given the problems with Mille Chief, Alaivan is the new favourite but I've got him down as a soft-ground horse so usual Friday Festival ground could catch him out and if Mille Chief doesn't make it, it looks like the Irish will have the front three in the betting.
The main news centred around Paul Nicholls' open day where he feels Kauto Star will be unbeatable if I have read his comments correctly so a shade of odds-on strikes me as being overpriced. Nicholls reiterated that Denman will be fitter than at Newbury, that McCoy will keep the ride and that they will resist blinkers but they may try a noseband.
He also reiterated that What A Friend will miss the race having had a meeting with his owners preferring to wait for Aintree and Punchestown and, reading between the lines, I got the feeling he preferred Tricky Trickster to Taranis and My Will of his other three. Cooldine had a public workout at Leopardstown on Sunday and all seemed to go okay but, after Madison Du Berlais sulked again in the Racing Post Chase, I find it hard to believe he will take his chance.