Sat. Sep 18th, 2021







Weatherbys Champion Bumper (4.50pm) preview

This is a head-to-head according to the betting, which might seem ridiculous in a big field of lightly-raced horses with any amount of potential improvement to come but does actually feel justified when you look at their form.

Both Kilcruit and Sir Gerhard are now running for Willie Mullins, though the latter only arrived at the stable as part of the recent exodus of horses owned by Cheveley Park Stud from the Gordon Elliott/Denise Foster yard. Both have outstanding claims on their latest performances, and put up similarly impressive timefigures in the process, though Kilcruit, who was simply devastating in a Grade Two event at Leoparstown last month.

The only other runner at single-figure odds is Foster’s Three Stripe Life, while Grangee is another from the Mullins team that could go well at a decent price. Mullins’s last five winners of this, incidentally, were priced at 25-1 twice, 16-1, 12-1 and 11-1.

Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase (4.15 pm) preview

The traditional big field for the pell-mell chase around two miles which until recently brought the meeting to a close.

Embittered, who has run in Grade One company on his last two starts, seems likely to start favourite for Joseph O’Brien, but dangers abound including Zanza, Ibleo and Sky Pirate, all of whom have posted a decent win already at this trip this season.

Among the outsiders, I’m taking a chance on Amoola Gold, who finished close behind Sky Pirate at level weights at Ascot earlier in the season but gets a bit of weight from that rival this afternoon.

Glenfarcas Cross Country Chase (3.40 pm) preview

Another short-priced favourite as Easysland attempts to follow up last year’s victory in this race, with the dual Grand National winner Tiger Roll among those out to stop him.

Having tipped Easysland, it’s too late to back out now but it owed as much to serious doubts about Tiger Roll, the second-favourite, as anything else and while he is certainly the most obvious winner, even-money is a very thin price given his lack-lustre performance – admittedly under a bit weight – in the handicap event over this course in November.

Kingswell Theatre, the winner that day, takes him on again on 22lb worse terms, but is, by his trainer’s own admission, a very slow horse who needs testing conditions to stand much chance.

Some Neck also won a handicap over this track in December, but off a mark of 137, around 30lb below Easysland’s mark. Probably a race to leave alone, while appreciating the great Tiger Roll on what might yet be his final start.


Queen Mother Champion Chase (3.05 pm) preview

A race in which odds-on shots have a habit of getting beaten in recent years, including Douvan at 4-9 in 2017 when on paper it looked like he only needed to be facing the right way at the start to give Willie Mullins his first victory in this race. Instead, Mullins is still waiting to tick it off his list and complete a full set of the Festival’s Big Four feature events.

Chacun Pour Soi, his main contender this afternoon, is currently a 5-6 shot and will probably set off a bit shorter than that if either or both of Gaillard Du Mesnil and Monkfish have obliged earlier on the card. He is, without doubt, the outstanding performer in this division at the moment, but he will need to see off last year’s winner Politologue and up-and-coming Nube Negra, who beat Altior, a late absentee from this, at Kempton at Christmas, in order to prove it on the biggest stage.

Put The Kettle On, a surprise winner of the Arkle over course-and-distance 12 months ago, also deserves consideration given her liking for the track, though she was eight lengths behind Chacun Pour Soi at Leopardstown in December.

Coral Cup Hurdle (2.30 pm) preview

Where to start? The 26-runner field includes novices, seasoned handicappers including the 2019 winner, William Henry and everything in between, with burdens from 11st 10lb right down to 10st 1lb.

Even by Festival standards, it’s a fearsome challenge but a couple of recent trends that might help to narrow things down includes the fact that nine of the last 10 winners had had no more than nine starts over hurdles, and seven out of 10 were aged from five to seven.

Young, lightly-raced horses – including, though not necessarily – novices seem to have the upper hand, though this category includes plenty of the market leaders including Craigneiche, Guard Your Dreams, Grand Roi. Nicky Henderson, Craigneiche’s trainer, has three wins in the last seven runnings and also saddles Birchdale, Janika and Monte Cristo.

Willie Mullins, meanwhile, also has four runners, including well-fancied Koshari with stable jockey Paul Townend in the saddle, but my stab at the race is stable companion Dysart Diamond, who has a similar profile to Mullins’s Bleu Berry, the winner in 2018, and is available at around 25-1.


Brown Advisory Novice Chase (1.55pm) preview

There is a natural impulse when a horse is priced up at around 1-3 for a novice chase at the Festival to think: it can’t be that much of a certainty, can it? There are all those fences to jump, for one thing, and the second-favourite looked pretty good last time out … Well, since 2003 at least, is has been just that: seven horses have set off at odds-on for a Grade One novice chase at the Festival in that time and all seven came home in front, including Shishkin in Tuesday’s Arkle.

Monkfish will be shorter than all of those bar Douvan and Altior in the Arkle in 2016 and 2017 respectively, and he has looked bomb-proof in his three starts over fences since winning the Albert Barlett Novice Hurdle at this meeting last year. The time of his win at Leopardstown last time was exceptional even though he did it all on the bridle and even at this stage, he looks sure to be a major player in next year’s Gold Cup.

Front-running Eklat De Rire, with Rachael Blackmore in the saddle, might have a squeak if Blackmore can get an easy lead, and his latest form was franked when runner-up Escaria Ten went close in the final race on Tuesday, but this is likely to be all about Monkfish.

Ballymore Novice Hurdle (1.20 pm) preview

The opener on day one is short on numbers by its usual standard – this is only the second single-figure field this century – but it might advance the argument that a lot of the “missing” horses are so-called “social” runners – entered with the owners’ badges and a grand day out in mind – rather than big contenders as it has plenty of strength in depth.

It’s a toss-up at the moment whether Bob Olinger (Henry de Bromhead/Rachael Blackmore) or Gaillard Du Mesnil (Willie Mullins/Paul Townend) will start favourite, while Bravemansgame (Paul Nicholls/Harry Cobden) is hunting them up in the betting. All three arrive on the back of Grade One victories by at least five lengths.

Bear Ghylls, unbeaten in three starts over hurdles, is another to consider Nicky Martin’s 10-horse yard on Exmoor, while the decent form of Joseph O’Brien’s Keskonrisk behind Appreciate It at Leopardstown in December looks even better after the winner’s devastating display in the Supreme on Tuesday.


Competition winner day one


Cheltenham Festival tipping competition


The Guardian’s racing correspondent sets the scene

Good morning from Cheltenham, where a dry night has seen the official going at the course changed to good-to-soft all round ahead of the second and final day of action on the Old course.

It is an afternoon when Willie Mullins appears, for the moment at least, to have an iron grip on proceedings, and also a day when the bookmakers will be hoping to get at least one of the three – yes, three – odds-on shots in the seven races beaten. Two are from the Mullins yard – Chacun Pour Soi in the featured Queen Mother Champion Chase and Monkfish in the Brown Advisory Novice Chase and he also has Gaillard Du Mesnil
(2-1) in the opener and the first two in the betting in the Bumper.

The remaining hot favourite is Easysland in the Cross-Country, where the great Tiger Roll, winner of the Grand National in 2018 and 2019, will have his first outing for Denise Foster since well, we all know what since. This could yet prove to be the final race of his career, as Michael O’Leary, his owner, has made it plain that he will not press on with Tiger Roll if he feels he is on the downslope of his career, which is exactly how it has appeared in several of his recent appearances.

A slightly cooler afternoon than yesterday is forecast but it is expected to remain dry, which will start to focus attention on the going on the fresh ground on the New course, which hosts proceedings from tomorrow.

Don’t forget that our daily tipping competition in association with Betfair will be running again today, with £100 in a Betfair account to whoever shows the best return from a notional £1 level stake on today’s seven races. Entries as early as possible please, and if we can keep late amendments to a minimum, that would be appreciated too.

Cheltenham Festival: Day Two


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