What a second day! Hot favourite Douvan never looked like winning the Champion Chase and eventually finished lame, and our selection Might Bite put in one of the most extraordinary performances ever seen at Prestbury Park. Our strong fancy was really showing all of his class and ability and had bounded 20 lengths clear of his rivals turning for home. It looked to be a procession until the horse put the brakes on at the last, then jinked badly and stopped almost to a walk. This allowed danger Whisper (from the same stable) to sail by and Might Bite looked to have thrown away a golden opportunity for festival success. However, showing what latent talent he has, the horse managed to get started again and he fairly flew home to get up by the skin of his teeth. We will be looking to repeat the feat (albeit less dramatically) on the penultimate day of the festival, with some cracking bets.
Willie Mullins definitely hasn’t had the best of weeks so far, and he will be looking to rectify that with his hot favourite Yorkhill in the JLT Novices’ Chase. A previous festival winner, Mullins’ charge is 8 from 9 under rules and 2 from 2 since going chasing. However, despite his impressive form figures, there are a few detractors. Why? Because the horse clearly has a mind of his own, and his jumping whilst exceptional at times, has been amateurish on other occasions. A public gallop last week in Ireland did little to either bolster confidence or render the horse a lay, as he did plenty wrong, but still managed to cart himself home in front of his two workmates. He could very well win, but at the odds, is a little bit of a risky proposition, and is passed over for Top Notch.
Top Notch hails from Nicky Henderson’s all conquering Seven Barrows yard, and this 6 year old Poliglote gelding has done nothing but improve over fences, winning his last four races, with improving form figures each time. He actually acquired a higher RPR than the market leader Yorkhill ever did over hurdles, but is seen by many as the less talented horse, which could be a mistake. Did it very well last time out at Sandown and with the dead 8 runners, he looks a fantastic each-way bet at odds of +350 with Bet365 and Coral. Likely to sit just off the pace and travels well.
Run over the same trip as the JLT, the Ryanair Chase is a fairly new contest that was put in place for runners who may lack the requisite speed for the Champion Chase, but don’t quite have the stamina for the Gold Cup trip. There are a few really interesting runners in this field, and one horse who is sure to be popular is Willie Mullins’ Un De Sceaux. A multiple Grade 1 winner over 2 miles, Mullins undoubtedly put his 9 year old gelding in this contest to avoid clashing with stable star Douvan (didn’t turn out so well). Although he is not thoroughly proven over this trip, recent efforts have suggested that 2miles on fast ground is too sharp. Whilst he has excellent form claims, the main concern is the drying ground. Even over the longer trip, the underfoot conditions may blunt this horse, as he didn’t seem to fully let himself down on the quicker surface last year.
The selection is the Gordon Elliott trained Empire Of Dirt. This 10 year old has really only showed his ability in the last couple of years. Won at the festival last year over 2 miles 5 furlongs when reverted to hurdles, but showed his aptitude for both the track and the going that day (it was genuine good ground). Since then, he has switched yards from C A Murphy to Gordon Elliott and the improvement in both runs this season has been noticeable. Bolted up at Navan over 3miles in a handicap, beating 24 other rivals and then went very close last time out at Leopardstown in the Irish Gold Cup, with his stamina just ebbing away a little bit at the end of the contest. The return to good ground and the drop in trip should suit and he looks a real solid proposition in this one at +250 with Bet365, Coral and Ladbrokes.
If Frank Bruno is on, then bettors should be on. Uknowwhatimeanharry is many people’s festival banker, and the JP McManus owned 9 year old looks to have a fantastic chance of cementing his position as the top staying hurdler. Since moving from the Helen Nemes yard to Harry Fry, the horse has become a totally different proposition, and has racked up eight wins on the bounce. Has produced RPR’s of 167, 167 and 168 in his last three runs, and one suspects that a repeat performance of those efforts would suffice in the feature on day three. Won the Albert Bartlett contest (over the same course and distance) at the festival last year and if he turns up, he really should win at +138 with Bet365, Coral and Ladbrokes.
Are there dangers? Well a few, with the main thorn coming from the same ownership, in the form of the John Harrington trained Jezki. The former Champion Hurdle winner is advancing in years and looks to have lost a bit of his speed. However, if this race isn’t run at a particularly quick tempo over 3 miles, then he still may have a better turn of foot than the majority of his rivals. Should probably place.
13:30 Cheltenham – Top Notch (Each Way)
Thursday 16th March
14:50 Cheltenham – Empire of Dirt
Thursday 16th March
15:30 Cheltenham – Uknowwhatimeanharry
Thursday 16th March