13:30 Cheltenham – Ballymore Novices Hurdle
Samcro has beaten all before him in seven races to date and arrives here as perhaps one of the bankers of the Festival, effortless when winning at Leopardstown last time his form received a notable boost yesterday when Paloma Blue ran a fine fourth in the Supreme Novices. The ground and trip look unlikely to faze Gordon Elliott’s charge today though as he is a heavy favourite, we shall look for an each way alternative that could perhaps follow him home. Brahma Bull is one of four from the Mullins yard and though he is the outsider of the four he remains an interesting sort. Unbeaten in three bumpers you can only assume he has had a few issues since hacking up on his hurdling debut at Thurles, despite that it is interesting he has been declared for this race and at around 33/1, with plenty of scope for improvement and with no going issue, he is given a speculative vote to place. Next Destination has progressed nicely over hurdles and won a Grade1 at Naas the last day, that didn’t look the strongest Grade1 but he finished a good fourth in last seasons champion bumper and Ruby has opted to ride him. Duc Des Genievres and Scarpeta make up the Mullins challenge and are respected however the most interesting of the rest is Vision Des Flos whom bolted up on his first start having had the wind op and who comes from a yard firing.
Brahma Bull (E/W)
14:10 Cheltenham – RSA Chase
Presenting Percy landed a monster gamble when winning last seasons Pertemps Final and has so far proven himself to be high class over fences, second to Gold Cup hopeful Our Duke at Gowran last time it is fairly difficult to see him out of the frame here and he has to be respected despite being prone to the odd blunder. Monalee is two from three over fences and he beat the re-opposing Al Boum Photo last time, the latter jumped poorly that day though separating the pair is extremely difficult. Black Corton often goes off a bigger price than he ought to and often leaves you baffled as to why, a grand type who jumps beautifully it is with a real heavy heart that once more we shall take him on, we do so however believing he has every chance of at least a place. Dounikos and Elegant Eascpe are others with chances if on song but with last seasons success still fresh in the memory, Presenting Percy is taken to pounce late under Russell.
Presenting Percy (WIN)
14:50 Cheltenham – Coral Cup
Only two of the last ten winners of this have returned at single figure odds and one of them winners has won from an absence of over 100 days, facts and figures to one side this is just usually a brutal race to decipher. Topofthegame served notice when powering through the Kempton into fourth place in January, that effort was duly backed up with determined victory at Sandown. Paul Nicholls knows what it takes to land this and despite being slightly down in trip and up the weights it is easy to envisage this becoming gruelling, as such he is taken to follow up. Fixe Le Kap was a big eye catcher last time having returned from having the wind op, never really in the race he looked full of running come the finish and his chance shouldn’t be dismissed. Attempting to dismiss or separate the rest of them looks impossible so the likes of Max Dynamite, William Henry, As You Were and Burbank are given honourable mentions and warrant respect.
Topofthegame (WIN) – NAP
15:30 Cheltenham – Queen Mother Champion Chase
Altior is unbeaten in all twelve of his races over obstacles and was a brilliant winner here last year in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, an awesome jumper of fences he overcame a wind op and destroyed Tingle Creek winner Politologue last time. Taking on Nicky Henderson’s superstar is almost ridiculous to suggest but he has had an issue in the build up to this and is not a very appealing betting proposition on the back of that, whatever we would certainly like to see him go well and he probably wins if in good enough shape. Douvan has had a troubled build up, missing engagements and hardly inspiring confidence with the races he has been entered in, brilliant on his day he looks a huge danger if ready to go but there must be doubts. Min has a little to find with Altior on hurdles form but he been fairly impressive over fences, should the market leaders falter he may well prove good enough. Special Tiara is a sight to behold over these fences and has a cracking record around here, the ground is a concern but he did win this last year and is entitled to respect. Charbel has a chance if you judge him on last seasons Arkle (Fell when ahead of Altior) in the main however he hasn’t been up to it this season and can only be watched. God’s Own wouldn’t want it too soft and he has a little to find on this seasons form, he often comes to life in the spring however and given a lot have serious questions to answer, he gets a most speculative vote to place at massive odds.
God’s Own (E/W)
God’s Own winning at Aintree.
16:10 Cheltenham – Cross Country Chase
Seen by some as an oddity that shouldn’t belong at The Festival. Never the less the Cross Country is here to stay and so it should having produced fantastic and memorable moments over the years.
This years renewal sees the infamous green and gold silks of JP McManus tackle these unique obstacles with another race favourite however what is rare is that the market principle isn’t trained by a certain Mr Bolger. Cause Of Causes comes out of the yard of Gordon Elliott and this ten year old has had outstanding festival success. A win in the four mile National Hunt Chase in 2015 was followed up by a successful outing in the Kim Muir the following year before making it three consecutive Festival victories when scooping this race last term. A very worthy favourite based on his course form but a disappointing return to action after a long layoff was enough to convince me to swerve the favourite.
Trainer Gordon Elliott is mob handed in the race with both Tiger Roll and Bleds The Wings also hailing from his yard.
Many shrewd punters are talking up the chances of Tiger Roll who has followed the same route as Cause Of Causes by winning the National Hunt Chase last term. Having tackled these unique fences only once he didn’t take to them brilliantly and although he may have improved at home his occasional jumping error could be enough to let him down.
When you think of Cross Country races both here in the UK and also in his native Ireland you can’t help but think of trainer Enda Bolger. The trainer has been victorious in this race on numerous occasions and I’m hoping he will be once again. As with Gordon Elliott, Bolger has three in the race including former race winner Jodie’s Orders. Despite the horses former race win it is in fact stable mate Auvergnat that gets my vote. Very much hit and miss over these fences having unseated its rider and falling on two occasions. On both runs however he travelled very well and was somewhat unfortunate. When he did manage to complete the course he ended up in fourth spot in this race in March 2017. If the experience of Mark Walsh can eradicate any jumping errors then he’s got a great chance of finishing in the top three.
16:50 Cheltenham – Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle
One of the most powerful men in racing JP McManus told television cameras that Apples Shakira was his most fancied runner of the four day meeting and although we have to wait until later in the week for her to step foot on Gloucestershires premier race course two of her former rivals line up in the penultimate race on day two. Both Nube Negra and Look My Way are horses that look worthy of backing having both done relatively well against the aforementioned Apples Shakira.
Both horses go well on softer ground and both have put in decent performances here at Cheltenham which counts for a lot.
At a bigger price I also couldn’t put people off of Embole who could do better than his price suggests but perhaps lacks the class of the other two.
A race that the Irish tend to do well in but this year it looks like the Brits are likely to take home the prize.
Nube Negra (E/W)
Look My Way (E/W)
17:30 Cheltenham – Champion Bumper
The final race on Wednesday is one that punters tend to love but is an absolute minefield to figure out. The Champion Bumper has thirteen unbeaten horses set to lineup and trying to decipher such limited form is tricky at best. Despite the fact more than half the field are yet to taste defeat my selection doesn’t actually fall within this group of horses. Favourite Blackbow may have beaten Rhinestone last time out but I feel those placing could easily be reversed. Trainer Joseph O’Brien often has one mapped out for Cheltenham’s four day showpiece and this could very well be the one. A conservative run at Leopardstown saw jockey Derek O’Connor leave it a touch too late and left Rhinestone too much to do. With Barry Geraghty in the saddle I’m sure the same mistake won’t happen again and with a victory on heavy ground today’s conditions shouldn’t be an issue either.
Top trainer Willie Mullins sends five into the race and although he trains the favourite there’s a few shrewd voices that feel the unbeaten Tornado Flyer has a lot left in his locker and has improved markedly behind closed doors.