A winning start to Cheltenham 2020 on the opening day courtesy of Shishkin (6/1), The Conditional (15/2) and Imperial Aura (4/1) and the former would have been an impressive winner of the Supreme Novice Hurdle had he not missed out the first hurdle in the back straight and then met significant trouble in running as he mounted his challenge three out. Nicky Henderson looks to have found another star.
Day 2 of the Cheltenham Festival begins with the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle over 2m 5f and this sees the banker of the meeting for many in the shape of the unbeaten Envoi Allen.
Gordon Elliot’s six-year-old has won all eight career starts including three Grade 1’s, one of which was last season’s Champion Bumper. He is undeniably the most likely winner, but this is a deep race and at a best-priced 5/4 I have looked elsewhere for an each way alternative.
The one I have backed is The Big Breakaway (1.30) who has not been as highly tried as the favourite but is unbeaten in three career starts and was bought by his current connections for E360,000 to “be a Cheltenham horse.” His price has contracted over the last few days, and I would have preferred Colin Tizzard’s five-year-old to have had another start, given he has not raced since winning a modest novice at Newbury back in December. At 10/1 with bet365 he is the each way recommendation today, but he is also one to keep on the right side of going forward.
Robbie Power – who rides The Big Breakaway – has decided to ride Slate House over Copperhead in the RSA Chase but I am not convinced he has made the correct decision. Copperhead is a terrific jumper of a fence, but he may lack the class of Allaho, Champ and Minella Indo (2.10) and the vote goes to the Henry De Bromhead-trained novice who won last year’s Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle here 12 months ago when he had Allaho 9L back in third.
The selection – 7/2 with Unibet was not given a hard race – was hardly given a race at all to be fair – when runner up behind Laurina on his chase debut but I thought he jumped tremendously well when winning at Navan last time. He bypassed the Dublin Festival and comes here fresh and I just feel he might jump a bit better than Champ who has been off the track since falling here on New Year’s Day.
Champ finished runner up in the Ballymore last season so he has good course form but I would have preferred him to have had another run – he was due to race at Kelso last month before that card was abandoned – to see if his confidence had been affected by his mishap here at the beginning of the year.
Leading owner JP McManus has five chances in the Coral Cup headed by market leader the mare Dame De Compagnie who is trained by Nicky Henderson. She must hold every chance, but the Lambourn handler also saddles Birchdale (2.50) and he gets the each way vote at 14/1 with Bethard who are betting 5 places on the race. The selection has only had one run so far this season when disappointing at Ascot over fences, but I remember thinking he was going best at the top of the home run before his stamina gave out in the 3m Albert Bartlett last year. This drop back to 2m 5f should suit.
Altior is a late defection from the Champion Chase which is a shame although I thought he was only booked for third behind Chacun Pour Soi and Defi Du Seuil (3.30) with the latter getting the vote to overturn Punchestown form last season when the former finished 4L in front of the selection. The selection is 11/10 with William Hill.
Defi Du Seuil’s course form sways me towards him and this dual Festival winner looked better than ever when landing the Clarence House Chase at Ascot last time. Clock-watchers were purring with the time Chacun Pour Soi put up at Leopardstown last time, but I hope to see Barry Geraghty pick up the Mullins chaser over the last in what promises to be one of the races of the meeting – despite the absence of Altior.
The Cross-Country Chase sees Tiger Roll (4.10) attempt to add a third win in this unique test to his Festival triumphs in the Triumph Hurdle and NH Chase as well as two Grand Nationals. French raider Easyland has won his last six including over today’s C&D, but he has not yet met a horse of the calibre of the Tiger who will be in many doubles with Envoi Allen in the opener. Gordon Elliot’s equine superstar is a best priced Even money with William Hill.
I would have been confident of a big run from Zoffee in the Fred Winter on decent ground but is not going to be the case and I am hearing good reports coming out of the Elliot yard surrounding Aramax (4.50). The selection had useful form in his native France and ran his best race yet when scoring at Naas last month and this has long been the target. The each way recommendation is 15/2 with Unibet who are paying five places. It could be a very big day for both owner McManus and trainer Elliot.
Willie Mullins has saddled the winner of the Champion Bumper nine times previously and he saddles three in his quest for a tenth success including Appreciate It (5.30) who looked a potential star when scoring at Leopardstown in a Grade 2 last time. That is the best form on offer although at 2/1 with 10bet he has hardly gone under the radar.
For all your Cheltenham updates go to Charliemccann.co.uk and follow me on Twitter @charliesbetting