13:30 Cheltenham – JLT Novices Chase
This looks impossible to decipher as the two market leaders have clashed before, Defi Du Seuil is a former Triumph winner and will likely travel like the best horse in the race for quite some time. A good jumper, off level weights he really ought to be beating Lostintranslation, however, the latter beat him, albeit in receipt of 3lbs when the pair met here in the Dipper. Next time, at Sandown, the pair once more fought out the finish, this time resulting in Defi Du Seuil coming out on top. Separating the pair really does look a thankless task and as such, we shall look at an each way alternative whilst expecting the aforementioned pair to go well. Kildisart is on something of a roll and his win here in January promised at more to come, trainer Ben Pauling has already struck at the Festival and this lightly raced son of Dubai Destination is taken to run into at least a place. Voix Du Reve fell when in with every chance at Leopardstown the last day, he and stablemate Real Steel wouldn’t want dismissing out of hand though you do feel both require a significant leap of faith.
14:10 Cheltenham – Pertemps Network Final Hurdle
Another big handicap field Sire Du Berlais will go off favourite I imagine but the price will be a little short for me in a big field where anything can happen. I do like the look of Dr Richard Newland’s Aaron Lad who has won four of his last six races so has winning form, confidence and clearly knows how to get his head in front. He’s won at Cheltenham just before Christmas last year so has the course and distance form to boot.
Looks to have been saved for this race since winning last and going up 9lbs in weight he does have a decent young jockey in Charlie Hammond on board who has won on this horse the last two times he has ridden him.
AARON LAD (E/W)
14:50 Cheltenham – Ryanair Chase
A race which attracts horses who have entries in the champion chase or the gold cup that for a number of reasons get switched to this race. Footpad and Monalee are battling for favouritism at the moment however there’s question marks over both of them. Footpad hasn’t been brilliant since winning the Arkle last year and with Monalee there’s a doubt whether this trip is on the little short side having raced at three miles in his last two runs.
I really like the chances of Frodon and he gets the nod for the race. Byrony Frost and Frodon seem a match made in heaven having won on the horse in 3 of its last 4 races. Frodon won at Cheltenham in its last race beating Elegant Escape who is fancied to be very competitive in the Gold Cup this year which is rock solid form. Drop in trip doesn’t worry me either hopefully Nicholls will justify the decision to go for this race rather than the Gold Cup and come back with another course success.
15:30 Cheltenham – Stayers Hurdle
Paisley Park could only muster a mid-field finish in the Albert Bartlett last season but has since been partnered with Aiden Coleman and is unbeaten in four this season, looking more and more impressive with each run he has had. A worthy favourite, he has already beaten a number of todays’ rivals and looks capable of making it five in a row.
Faugheen is reported to be in excellent form ahead of this race and proved he can cope with this trip when winning the Stayers Hurdle at Punchestown last season. An absolute beast of a horse, I would love to see him roll back the years and win today. The concern would be, as has been widely reported on the run up to the Festival, is that in the last forty years there has only been one winner aged over nine.
Black Op chased home Samcro when second in the Ballymore at last seasons’ Festival, before ending his season with a Grade 1 win in the Mersey Novies Hurdle at Aintree in April. He had a go over fences at the beginning of this season but didn’t look happy and reverted back to the smaller obstacles with a decent third behind Paisley Park and West Approach on first attempt over a three-mile trip since his pointing days.
Wholestone has made the frame twice at the Festival and in nine of his ten prior runs at Cheltenham before a bad mistake two from home put pay to any chances in the Cleeve Hurdle when last seen and as a result arrives here on a bit of a retrieval mission.
Another who has had two placed efforts at prior Festivals is Top Notch. A winner of eight from twelve over fences and two from three over similar trips to today, he was impressive when beating Black Corton over fences last time out and although switching back to the smaller obstacles for todays’ race, a similar run could see him right in the mix here.
A final mention goes to Kilbricken Storm who is two from two over course and distance having won the Bristol Novices Hurdle in December 2017 and then returned in March 2018 to win the Albert Bartlett at odds of 33/1. With just two runs over fences this season, the lack of a recent run over hurdles would have to be a concern, yet his form at the course would have to give him a chance.
PAISLEY PARK (WIN) – NAP
16:10 Cheltenham – Brown Advisory
Spiritofthegames was an excellent third over course and distance when last seen in January, finishing just two lengths behind Kildisart who is due to contest the JLT earlier in the day. A strong performance there would frank the form and with decent form at the Festival having finished a solid fifth in last seasons’ Randox Health County Hurdle he has to be in with a strong chance here.
Siruh Du Lac is unbeaten in three this season and beat the re-opposing Janika in a Grade 3 over course and distance when last seen. Janika won three races in France before moving to Nicky Henderson and although has finished second on both occasions he has put in two very good runs for the Lambourn trainer. He has looked a potentially high-class individual so shouldn’t be overlooked, however at the weights I would side with Siruh Du Lac.
David Pipe has a good record in this race and runs Eamon An Cnoic who was a decent winner when last seen in February. He has raced twice at the course before and hasn’t been able to get competitive in either race, but is a prior winner over the trip and won’t mind conditions so could outrun his odds.
16:50 Cheltenham – Mares Novices Hurdle
Epatante has won two races since joining Nicky Henderson, both of them in seriously impressive fashion, and has been heavily touted for this race for some time. This is undoubtedly a tougher assignment but she has been so comfortable on both occasions over hurdles and if you include her wins in France she has won on everything from good to heavy ground so for me will take all the beating.
Queenofhearts won a Listed contest at Haydock in heavy ground in December, before confirming the form with Danse Idol when winning a Grade 2 at Sandown in February. Both these victories came over further trips but has won over shorter trips in bumpers. That should hopefully mean she has both the speed to contest this trip and the stamina to get up the hill so I am expecting a big run and a top three finish.
Posh Trish finished third behind Queenofhearts in a bumper at Sandown last March but has been a different proposition this season, winning four from five over hurdles including her last three with the minimum of fuss. A similar run would bring her right in to the frame but I’m not convinced she has what it takes to win and if backing each way would prefer a bigger price.
17:30 Cheltenham – Kim Muir Challenge Cup
At 11stone 5lbs Measureofmydreams fits one of the positive stats for this race, and is partnered with Jamie Codd who has won this race four times since 2009. His first run in almost two years saw a reasonable third of five at Fairyhouse in February so if he can build on that he could justify favouritism, although also comes with risks having his second run in relatively quick succession following such a long absence.
Any Second Now hasn’t visited the winners’ enclosure since January 2017 and is yet to win in nine over fences, but has posted four seconds from those nine runs and has had to play bridesmaid to the likes of Monalee, Invitation Only, Footpad and Mortal so all in all his form looks pretty solid. Add to this the fact that he is partnered by Derek O’Connor and I think we have a horse that could put in a big run… maybe even gaining his first victory over fences.
ANY SECOND NOW (E/W)