Six of the seven races on day 2 of the Cheltenham Festival were won by Gordon Elliot (2), Nicky Henderson (2), Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins. The only interloper was French handler David Cottin whose Easyland made it a magnificent seven wins on the spin when readily disposing of Elliot’s Tiger Roll in the Cross-Country Chase. The Tiger is out to 8/1 with bet365 for an unprecedented three successive Grand National successes at Aintree.
It has been a good couple of days for the Big Four trainers in Britain and Ireland – or five if you include Henry De Bromhead who really should have 3 winners next to his name – but it has been a disappointing couple of days for other major elite British trainers Colin Tizzard and Philip Hobbs.
Hobbs had a winner at Stratford -upon-Avon on Monday so we must put things into perspective, but his runners have been hugely disappointing so far at Cheltenham with odds on favourite Defi Du Seuil bombing out in the Champion Chase despite being asked to race five wide throughout in a five-runner race. Was Sporting John ever a factor in the Ballymore?
Tizzard’s The Big Breakaway finished a brave fourth in the opening Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle – something had to finish 4th with Sporting John not picking up a leg? – but he was never travelling at any stage and I am convinced he is better than that.
Copperhead and Slate House were never at the races in the RSA which is worrying news if you are a supporter of Lostintranslation for Friday’s Gold Cup. I shall be closely monitoring both yards tomorrow and suggest you do the same.
Day 3 of the Cheltenham Festival begins with the Grade 1 Marsh Chase (formerly JLT) for Novices’ over a trip just shy of two-and-a-half-miles.
This will be the tenth time this race has been run at the Festival and Ireland have landed the prize seven times in the previous nine renewals. The wonderful 12-year-old former Champion Hurdler Faugheen won a Grade 1 over fences at this trip at Leopardstown last month and did beat Samcro (1.30) at Limerick on heavy ground on Boxing Day. Why then do I think Samcro will reverse the form today?
Samcro has had a wind operation since that tame finishing effort and there is every chance that the ground on the New course today will be no worse than good to soft with no further significant rain forecast. The each way selection – 11/2 with William Hill – won his first six career starts and was considered a future Gold Cup winner when landing the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle here two years ago. Things have not exactly gone according to plan subsequently, but I just feel we may see a different horse this afternoon.
Former Champion Bumper winner Relegate (2.10) left the yard of Willie Mullins ahead of her belated seasonal reappearance when I thought she ran an eye-catching fourth in the Punchestown qualifier for the Pertemps Final last month. The booking of Mullins’ stable jockey Paul Townend catches the eye and her new trainer Colm Murphy has handled two of my favourite horses of all time in Big Zeb (2010 Champion Chase winner) and Brave Inca who landed the 2004 Supreme Novice and 2006 Champion Hurdle. The each way selection is 6/1 with 10Bet who are betting five places on the race.
The Grade 1 Ryanair Chase is a cracker which I believe will go back across the Irish Sea and preference for Min (2.50) over A Plus Tard is marginal. The selection is three from four over today’s two-and-a-half-mile trip and I liked the way he was staying on behind Chacun Pour Soi over an extended two miles last time. We weren’t able to put that form to the test with the defection of the winner from the Champion Chase on Wednesday, but Min looked to be crying out for a return to further last time.
A Plus Tard beat Chacun Pour Soi first time out and turned last year’s Novices’ Handicap at the Festival into a procession. It might be folly to ignore the outstanding Henry De Bromhead/Rachel Blackmore partnership, but I just favour Min who is 3/1 with Unibet.
The Stayers’ Hurdle is likely to go to Paisley Park, but he makes little appeal at 4/6 and I have backed a couple each way although I appreciate the favourite will need to have an off day for us to take gold.
Summerville Boy (3.30) was coming back at Paisley Park in the Cleeve Hurdle last time on his first start over 3m, and I wonder if Jonathan Burke will ride the selection more aggressively from the front with his stamina for the trip now, seemingly, guaranteed. The each way selection is a best-priced 9/1 with bet365. I have also had a little bet each way on Emitom although I appreciate, he will have to improve dramatically on his last start when winning at Haydock.
A big run from Emitom would be a boost to the chances of La Bague Au Roi (4.10) who came back to something like her best form when fifth in the Irish Gold Cup at Punchestown although I don’t think she got on particularly well with Mark Walsh on that occasion. The drying ground is a plus and I hope to see Richard Johnson – who had a disappointing first day – get a better tune out of the mare who is an ew recommendation at 12/1 with Boylesports who are betting five places.
The form of Simply the Betts C&D win here back in January has been well and truly franked and a 9lbs hike in the weights may not prevent him following up. He looks a big danger, but the mare gets the each way vote.
Willie Mullins has saddled the winner of the Mares’ Novices event each year since its inception in 2016 courtesy of three odds on favourites and a 50/1 shot 12 months ago. The Irish handler has four of the 22-runner field this afternoon, but I have long been a big fan of Floressa (4.50) and hope she can give Britain their first winner of the race.
The each way recommendation did not get the run of the race behind the admirable Lady Buttons at Doncaster last time in a race that developed into something of a sprint. She is a fast, fluent jumper and at 6/1 with Unibet (4 places) I would be disappointed if she didn’t run a big race.
Fingerontheswitch has done us a couple of favours in recent months but the Kim Muir is a stiff test of stamina and I remember Just A Sting not getting home in this corresponding race 12 months ago. The each way vote goes to Cloth Cap (5.30) who finished third in the Scottish National last spring and will be well served by the drying ground. At 25/1 with William Hill (5 places) he might be a shade overpriced for Jonjo O’Neill who can certainly get them ready for the big day.
For all your racing news go to charliemccann.co.uk and follow me on Twitter