Weatherbys Cheltenham Previews: 9th March
Week-by-week Paul Jones of Weatherbys reviews this year's Cheltenham Festival's hopes progress. Read his thoughts as the countdown to the greatest show on turf is nearly complete.
Supreme Novices' Hurdle
It looks virtually certain now that Get Me Out Of Here will contest this race and therefore start as second favourite and I only see him shortening as the rails bookmakers are going to want to get Dunguib who I am certain will start bigger than his current ante-post odds.
It was interesting to hear Willie Mullins talking so enthusiastically about both Flat Out than Blackstairmountain in his interview on RPTV though I don't doubt he still rates Blackstairmountain as his number one so Ruby Walsh will ride leaving Emmit Mullins to ride Flat Out.
I wouldn't put anyone looking at either each-way. Of the other top eight in the betting I don't fancy the Henderson pair of Oscar Whisky or Bellvano (may head for the County Hurdle) or Menorah but would have time for Loosen My Load's place chance if he does come here.
Just the usual "everything is going to plan" reports from yards of the leading fancies in a market where the market has been stagnant for a good while now. That may change on the day if J P McManus gets stuck into his Captain Cee Bee but, if he doesn't, I can see the layers wanting to get him so feel he is another current favourite that could start at a bigger price on the day than he is now.
After his public school I thought it was interesting that Willie Mullins stated he felt Sports Line would improve a fair bit as he commented he had endured a small problem since his last run and he is also likely to let Shakervilz to take his chance and has warned us not to underestimate him highlighting his clean jumping but he has class issues to answer for me in a race that usually goes to a class act.
Edward O'Grady has issued an upbeat report on Osana saying he will improve for his last run when third in his trial but I really just can't see him winning.
William Hill Trophy
Looking at the weights, it would appear the bottom weight here will carry only around 10st 8lbs so the 11st rule is going to be under threat (the last 10 winners carried under 11st) so I would ignore that concentrate on the official ratings stats that say you've had it if rated 150+ like in the last 27 years.
I don't read much into these things but David Pipe put up The Package as his banker of the meeting at a preview evening in Ireland last week. Character Building has a very good Festival record having won a Kim Muir and should have won the NH Chase (second but wandered on the run-in) and John Quinn has confirmed him for this race and has been backed across the board into fourth favourite but I've never been one to consider Grand National-bound horses in this race as they are being trained for another day and I am sure he will be delighted if he finishes in the first six.
I am not having The Tother One off top weight in a race where carrying a big weight is a big negative who is disputing fourth favouritism behind Theatrical Moment who I do have time for as Jonjo O'Neill won this with a novice last season though he has other entries at the Festival and I noticed there was money for his stablemate Isn't That Lucky who was mapped out to win the Jewson last season and finished second and he looks to have mapped out for something this season as well.
What have the Irish got given they have won two of the last four renewals in which they have had a runner? Not a lot. Siegemaster, but I don't trust his jumping plus he has enough weight so Casey Jones would interest me more off just 2lbs more than his Irish rating and he has been off since finishing fourth in a Grade 1 back in November and the long absence wouldn't bother me, in fact, I would see it as a positive but he is rated 151 which would make him the highest rated winner for 28 years.
I'ts been a strange couple of weeks for Nicky Henderson. Firstly Binocular is out for the season with a muscle problem and now there is nothing wrong with him and McCoy says he has missed no work so the Champion Hurdle looks back on the cards.
It would appear he is now going to take his chance again which means that McCoy will be required to ride him so Zaynar could now be ridden by Andrew Tinkler who won on him at Ascot as Henderson stated Geraghty will almost certainly ride Punjabi.
I still feel the each-way money will come for Punjabi who is proving to be a popular selection on the Preview Evening circuit. In addition to Go Native the quickening up of the ground is certainly in favour of Starluck who won over a mile last week in his final prep as that can help him last the trip out better plus Medermit who Alan King is convinced is better on better ground despite winning at Haydock on a testing surface but against Solwhit and Khyber Kim. And what is it with lame horses this season? Sublimity was found to lame on Saturday and now misses the race.
David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle
The retirement of Whiteoak, who to my mind was one of just four potential winners, has weakened this race further as has the retirement of Candy Creek this week. I can pass on news that last season's third Aura About You for the Paul Nolan yard is likely to make her seasonal debut in this race and I've heard good reports about her latest gallop where she reportedly tanked up the gallops.
Last season's Champion Bumper fifth Morning Supreme has leapt into disputing joint third-favouritism now with the bookmakers. Willie Mullins had intimated going for one of the novice races with her but as the race is turning into somewhat of a non-event it would appear he may let her take her chance even if he does run the hot favourite.
Mullins' J'Y Vole has also been a mover which would mean a switch from the Ryanair Chase if that is the case but, reading his quotes on Sunday, the Ryanair remains the plan. As the race is falling apart, Jessica Harrington is now also having second thoughts about running Zarinava who she ruled out a couple of weeks back fearing she wouldn't stay so, unless they have shortened the course in the last fortnight, she wouldn't be on my radar. Colm Murphy has confirmed Barry Geraghty for the ride on Voler La Vedette.
Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle
Now that Ruby Walsh has committed himself to Quel Esprit in this race he has been trimmed and will be popular on the day as well attempting to give Willie Mullins a third win on the spin in the race but I still see the money coming for Rite Of Passage.
With officials watering yesterday, obviously things are quickening up and if the ground is no worse than good-to-soft, seeing the way he came clear in the Irish November Handicap (where he ran to a classy 103), I can only think he will have too much pace for Quel Esprit who many feel should be in the Albert Bartlett having looked one-paced over 2m5f last time when beaten by Coole River.
The winner franked that form and my gut feeling is that Quel Esprit also wasn't right that day and we will see a much better horse but my opinion of Rite Of Passage is sky high and I will not be opposing him.
I have stamina doubts about Peddlers Cross even though he is a winning pointer as he looked plenty speedy at Haydock, Reve De Sivola doesn't jump well enough and has been beaten too many times and I can see Quantitativeeasing ending up in a handicap.
There has been money for Summit Meeting off the back of Pricewise's recommendation plus positive words from Jessica Harrington and it is interesting she runs him rather than Coole River and I can see him go well as I can Finian's Rainbow on better ground than when beaten in the Challow Hurdle and who Barry Geraghty has been gushing over on the Preview Evening circuit but I can not take on Rite Of Passage.
The big story has been the problems with the lameness of Punchestowns. I don't know if they were being over-cautious here and mentioning the problem thus causing many a worry for those that have already backed him but all appears to be well again after a canter on Saturday.
As a result Long Run is now favourite but if Punchestowns is fully fit I maintain he is the one to beat. The big mover of the week however has been Uimhiraceathair so you can read into that he will be Ruby Walsh's mount. Willie Mullins also contributed to the move by admitting he wasn't fully fit for his last run when dead-heating with Telenor and will improve plenty and he has trained three winners of the race before.
It looks like The Nightingale will miss Cheltenham altogether for Aintree if Paul Nicholls gets his way but there was a turnaround in the plans for Burton Port who will now tackle the race. Henderson commented after he won the Reynoldstown Chase that he would probably wait for Aintree but I suspect Trevor Hemmings wants a runner so they changed their plan.
Queen Mother Champion Chase
The main news last week was that Nicky Henderson has switched Petit Robin from this race to the Ryanair Chase. I can understand why they have done it as he can't win this race if Master Minded is anywhere near his A-game but he has a squeak in the Ryanair as there is no superstar but he was last year's third as a virtual novice and this race is more prestigious so should be running here for me.
The switch means that Barry Geraghty is now free to continue his association with Big Zeb. Master Minded is going to take an awful lot of beating and win it comfortably in my opinion and Kalahari King is the most likely to run on for second picking off those that attempted to serve it up to the favourite with his late hold-up style.
The switch from the Champion Chase to this race for Petit Robin has thrown another contender into the mix as he has a chance but I am sure Henderson rated Barbers Shop his number one as Petit Robin is far from certain to stay 2m5f at top level and he was stuffed when upped to 2m4f in the Melling Chase last season.
It could be that his Champion Chase running when third had left its mark for Aintree rather than the trip but it is a concern. I've got a feeling that Tranquil Sea will start favourite and he continues to be backed after his win last week.
Alan King may stick blinkers on Voy Por Ustedes and may not have given up on him but deep down I am not convinced. The betting would suggest J'Y Vole is Willie Mullins' number one but he has stated he thinks she is better on right-handed tracks so gave the impression he preferred Scotsirish more and his Barker may yet end up here too.
The two problems with this race are that Big Buck's has killed much of the betting interest and nothing happens after the Cleeve Hurdle so there is little to report. Time For Rupert remains the horse to interest me most in the each-way market as does Powerstation to a lesser extent given his excellent course form and the ground appears to be moving into his favour.
The vibes I am getting about Karabak are not as strong as they should be for a horse disputing second-favouritism but I don't think there is anything wrong with him, just that punters are prefering Tidal Bay as the danger.
One thing is for certain, I am not having Sentry Duty staying well enough to finish second. Beware if you fancy Mourad (though we are betting non-runner no-bet on this race) as he is being nibbled at for another handicap at the meeting.
Soldatino has been the big mover but he looks a skinny price to me now as he beat little at Kempton and took his time to do so. Yes he was well on top at the end and will have learned plenty but he is no value anymore.
The same stable were hoping that Super Kenny may join him here but he had a setback that forced him out of his prep race (and hurdles debut) last week so he is out of the equation. With the ground quickening up all the time I also think Alaivan is poor value at around 4/1 as he looks like he want some real cut which is hear that Secant Star could also do with.
I did hear he had had a little setback last week which went unreported as far as I could see until Monday but Willie Mullins feels all is well again.
Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle
Momentum is getting behind Enterprise Park and I could actually see him challenge the long-time ante-post favourite Tell Massini for outright favouritism on the day. The more I think about it, the more I think we are on the two class acts of the race. Enterprise Park's stablemate Fionnegas would worry me slightly though if he lines up here but Mullins is undecided whether he heads here or joins Quel Esprit in the Neptune.
Shinrock Paddy is the other big Irish player but has been off for three months where he also had a setback which would worry me. Restless Harry is a front runner so it will be interesting if he and fellow front Tell Massini go toe to toe throughout.
If so, stamina is going to be the name of the game here even more which would concern me if I were a The Betchworth Kid supporter as I don't think he is absolutely guaranteed to stay all of this trip at an unrelenting gallop. The interesting new horse being considered for this race is last season's Foxhunters' winner Cappa Bleu but he has been disappointing since then and I have last year's Foxhunters' down as one of the worst I have seen.
The main news this week is the injury to Taranis that has ruled him out of the rest of the season and he was one of five legitimate contenders to finish second or third in my opinion behind Kauto Star, the others being Denman, Cooldine, Imperial Commander and Tricky Trickster.
Denman has drifted in some places over the last couple of days, probably as punters feel his best chance of winning is outslogging Kauto Star but the ground is heading the wrong way for that. I have noticed a growing feeling that Tricky Trickster could be the fly in the ointment.
He is young enough, in the right yard and has different formlines to the others so we don't know how good he is which suggests he could be the one to run above himself as usually there is one big priced horse that reaches the frame. Other than that, there is not a lot doing except Jim Dreaper confirmed that Notre Pere will not travel over. There looks like being around ten runners at this stage.