Friday, March 08, 2024

Cheltenham Festival 2024 - the calm before the storm...

An uninterrupted preparation is preferable for any Cheltenham Festival engagement; unfortunately I've suffered the exact opposite this year - an interrupted preparation. Inchoate thoughts outlined below.


1.30 Supreme Novices' Hurdle

Ballyburn, considered by many to be the best novice seen this season, heads to the Gallagher Novices' Hurdle (1.30 Wednesday).

At the time of writing only three British trained entries remain in the field: Jeriko Du Reponet (136); Tellherthename (135); and Favour And Fortune (138).

Both Tellherthename and Favour And Fortune would appreciate better ground; if the forecast rain arrives on Sunday, that would have to be considered a negative. Favour And Fortune holds an entry in County Hurdle (2.10 Friday).   

Ben Pauling happens to have a number of talented novices in his yard this year including Handstands (136); The Jukebox Man (135); Personal Ambition (131); Fiercely Proud (130); Champagne Twist (124) - will be better with a summer on his back; and Pic Roc (123).

After Tellherthename's win at Huntingdon in January, the handler said:

"The ground there [at Huntingdon] was was soft enough and it is not the good to soft they advertised, but Tellherthename has handled it very well. He is an unbelievably class horse. That now gives him his fourth run so he has got the option of the Betfair Hurdle but the ground would have to be spot on for that otherwise we go straight to the Supreme with him. I think he is a class horse with gears galore and I sometimes think they are best fresh. They go such a gallop in that race (Supreme) and if you are anything but absolutely ready for the day then you might get flat footed."  

The undeniable dominance of Irish trained novices in recent years is daunting; their numerical advantage here tempers enthusiasm but Tellherthename is still of interest at around the 16/1 mark.

2.10 Arkle Novices' Chase

Marine Nationale misses the race after a setback.

I've spent a little time looking at the jumping of the Irish horses at the head of the market. 

Both Gaelic Warrior and Found A Fifty have shown a tendency to go right. The former was well beaten behind Fact Or File when unseating Paul Townend last time. 

Hunters Yarn has two runs over fences to his name, both at Fairyhouse, a right-handed track; the gelding fell at the last on his first start and made a bad mistake two out next time.

Wearing a first-time tongue-tie, the grey Il Etait Temps showed plenty of resolve and determination to get up to beat Found A Fifty a neck with Facile Vega third in the Irish Arkle at the Dublin Racing Festival last month.

Quilixios jumped right on his first run over fences at Limerick but jumped well at Naas in January. 

The two Irish entries of interest are Il Etait Temps and the 2021 Triumph Hurdle winner Quilixios.

JPR One has been considered, given he generally jumps and travels well in a race. 

The consensus opinion was he was unfortunate to unseat Brendan Powell in the Arkle Trial over course and distance in November. 

I've seen one pundit claim that is the only mistake the gelding has made in his races to date but I disagree - he made a bad error at the penultimate flight when finishing third behind Le Patron in the Henry VIII Novices' Chase at Sandown in December, an error that cost him his winning chance. 

All of which led me to just question his jumping in the white heat of battle. 

With previous Arkle winners achieving a hurdle rating of 150 and upwards - and JPR One recording just 130 - I've decided to leave the race well alone.

3.30 Champion Hurdle

With Constitution Hill unable to defend his title, Iberico Lord has been supplemented at a cost £18,000. 

The form of the Henderson stable remains a concern. Crazierthandaisy has been declared for the listed British Stallions Studs EBF Mares' Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race at Sandown tomorrow, the yard's first runner for seven days.

The absence of Constitution Hill has certainly opened the race up but Lossiemouth is still likely to take her chance in the Mares' Hurdle (4.10). 

Course and distance winner Pied Piper (16/1) is considered; he was beaten a head by the fast-finishing Faivoir in the County Hurdle last year. Bred by Queen Elizabeth II, the gelding changed hands for 570,000 euros at the dispersal sale of Andrew and Gemma Brown's horses last month.


2.10 Brown Advisory Novices' Chase

Favourite Fact Or File has yet to win over this distance under rules although he won a three mile point at Belharbour two years ago. On his first run over fences he was beaten by American Mike over two and a half miles.

Broadway Boy, behind Grey Dawning at Warwick last time, has a good record around Cheltenham. Assistant trainer Willy Twiston-Davies recently said:

"Broadway Boy worked exceptionally well last week. He had a quiet week after he ran at Warwick in January, when he wasn't right, but he hasn't missed a beat since. He did his last piece of work this morning and it was as good as I've felt from him all season. He's fresh and has a glint in his eye and his coat looks fantastic. All the signs lead to a big run.

"Fact To File looks a fantastic horse, but he beat Gaelic Warrior last time who was going left-handed and unseated, which is not exactly a formline you'd want to trust."

Stay Away Fay won the Albert Bartlett last year and started this term beating The Changing Man and Grey Dawning over three miles at Exeter.  

Last time his finishing effort appeared to flatten out against more experienced rivals in the Cotswold Chase and he lost second spot to The Real Whacker on the run up the hill; he may have lacked a little fine-tuning with this race the ultimate target. 

Grey Dawning appeared to have improved at Warwick last time beating Apple Away 14 lengths, Broadway Boy 32 lengths and The Changing Man 50 lengths.

I'm leaning towards Grey Dawning who did well to finish second behind Ginny's Destiny at the track in December after a bad mistake two out. Dan Skelton has indicated the grey will run in the Turners Novices' Chase (1.30 Thursday) if the ground remains soft.


2.50 Ryanair Chase 

The Ryanair is shaping up. Bambridge, last year's winner Envoi Allen ("in mighty form"), Turners winner Stage Star, Protektorat, and Ahoy Senor are all declared. Ga Law has been supplemented at a cost of £18,000.

Of the decision to run Ahoy Senor in this, assistant trainer Peter Scudamore said:

"It was a difficult decision...but the belief is he's got another year in him when he could go for the Gold Cup. I felt his run last year impacted how he ran at Aintree after, when he'd had a hard season.

"He's got a good chance in the Ryanair and Derek [Fox] would like it if he ran in it. His owners very sportingly gave our blessing to do so."   

Protektorat is of interest at around 12/1, particularly if the going remains on the soft side.

3.30 Stayers' Hurdle

There are strong(ish) vibes for Monkfish. 

Does Willie Mullins have him back to his best?  If the gelding runs in the Stayers' Hurdle (3.30) he'll certainly be worth a second look at 14/1. The ten-year-old also holds an entry in the Gold Cup. 


3.30 Gold Cup

A strong renewal, the highlight of the week. 

On Racing Post ratings last year's winner Galopin Des Champs has six pounds in hand of nearest rival Shishkin.

Current interest centres around L'Homme Presse (14/1) on soft ground; Hewick (20/1) on better ground; and Corach Rambler (22/1).

Festival handicaps

Kevin Blake's blog post provides an analysis of Irish trained entries in this year's handicap races, together with a potted history of the trials and tribulations endured by both British and Irish handicappers in recent times.

Irish entries slated to run off their current Irish mark include Batman Girac 133 (Boodles); King Of Kingsfield 140 (County); Magic Tricks 145 (Coral Cup / County / Martin Pipe); and Anna Bunina 140 (Coral Cup / Pertemps Final).

Irish runners allocated just one pound above their Irish mark include Risk Belle 136+1 (County) and Bialystok 138+1 (County).  

Other entries of note:

Absurde - won the Ebor handicap at York last August off a rating of 104; he is now rated 110 on the Flat. If he goes to post in the County on Friday he will have his first run in a handicap hurdle off 138.

Absurde's stablemate Sa Majeste has been given a mark of 140 for his first run in a handicap; he holds entries in the Coral Cup and Martin Pipe.

So Scottish - 130 over hurdles in Ireland; rated 133 for the County but has an Irish chase rating of 137.

Milan Tino - rated 136 in France but allocated just 126 in the Boodles.

Kevin Blake concludes:

"It is too early to suggest that peace in our times might well be a possibility in the contentious world of cross-border handicapping, but we seem to be moving towards a more harmonious future."  

As always, I'll aim to post selections for each of the four days. 

The tension is starting to build...


TW said...

Thanks for sharing your early thoughts. I, perhaps oddly given all the pre-festival coverage, only begin my form at the final declaration stage, I find there is still enough imponderables then.

In the interim, bidding to bolster the Cheltenham war chest, I’ve taken a look at the Imperial Cup.

BAD (FR),146

Whilst not a big trends man my reading of them suggest you want to be with a 5 or 6yo in this and that eliminates half of the field. You also probably don’t want to be carrying too much weight so I’ve focused on horses with less than 11-04 and further narrowed the field down to five.

All a bit arbitrary of course.

Of the five my dart has landed in Georgi Girl. She has won her last two races, is still progressing, has won over course and distance, in beating Amelia’s Dance LTO she beat a really good yardstick with a bit I hand. I thought there was value in 14/1 6 places.

I hope the blog has a successful festival!


GeeDee said...

Thanks for your ratings on the Imperial Cup, TW.

Only one winner older than six in the past ten years and only three have carried more than 11-00 in the same timeframe - London Prize 11-02 (2017); Surprise Package 11-01 (2022); and Iceo 11-03 (2023).

I looked at the race quickly on Thursday. Georgi Girl caught my eye primarily because I feel we haven't seen too many Philip Hobbs runners in the bigger showcase races since Johnson White's name was added to trainer's licence.

The stable has just three runners / four entries at Cheltenham:

Goshhowposh (Pertemps)
Celebre D'Allen (Kim Muir)
Into The Park (County / Martin Pipe)

Good luck!