Day 2 of the Cheltenham Festival and the time of the opening Supreme Novice Hurdle suggested conditions were good to soft and there will certainly be no soft – or there shouldn’t be – in the official going description come Thursday or Friday.
I have no strong opinion about the big three in the opening Ballymore Novice Hurdle and preference for Bob Olinger (1.20) over Galliard Du Mesnil and Bravemansgame is marginal. Galliard Du Mesnil drops back in trip having won a Grade 1 at the Dublin Racing Festival over an additional quarter mile last time when fitted with a first-time hood. The last five-year-old to win the race was The New One back in 2013, however, and Bob Olinger – 15/8 with Unibet – looked very smart when brushing Blue Lord – runs in Tuesday’s Supreme – aside at Naas last time although the latter did pull too hard and failed to get home. The only horse to lower the colours of the selection is last year’s Champion Bumper winner Ferny Hollow.
Bravemansgame will make up into a terrific chaser next season but I did not think it was much of a renewal of the Grade 1 Challow last time, although the third and fourth have subsequently come out and won. He remains a tremendous long-term prospect, but I prefer the chances of Bob Olinger.
The Colin Tizzard yard had a double at Taunton on Monday, and they will be hopeful of a big run from The Big Breakaway in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase although if Monkfish (1.55) jumps with the same aplomb that was the case at Leopardstown last month then the rest are just playing for second place. He looks a future Gold Cup winner to me, and he showed his battling qualities when winning the Albert Bartlett here 12 months ago. The selection is 1/2 with Boylesports.
The dogs have been barking Grand Roi for the Coral Cup for some time now but my two against the field are British trained from near the foot of the weights. Witness Protection was just outstayed at Wetherby over slightly further on his penultimate start but will think he is let loose with just 10st 1lb on his back for local trainer Martin Keighley.
Marginal preference, however, is for Shang Tang (2.30) who impressed when scoring at Fakenham last time from a 6lbs lower mark. The each way recommendation – 28/1 with William Hill & BetVictor 5 places – failed to stay 3m on his penultimate start but travelled very well to two out. His best form is, arguably, on flat tracks and he was beaten 10L on his sole previous start at Cheltenham, but the drying ground will suit, and the form of his latest win was franked at Sandown on Friday when the third did us a huge favour.
In the Champion Chase the drying ground is against First Flow but a plus for Nube Negra and Sceau Royal, but I have been with Chacun Pour Soi (3.05) since he beat Defi Du Seuil at Punchestown two years ago and he gets the vote. The selection – 5/6 with William Hill – was a late absentee from the corresponding race 12 months ago and his form in Ireland has been top class so far this term. His lack of Cheltenham experience is a slight negative, but he will have the race run to suit with several potential frontrunners in the race and I expect jockey Paul Townend to take it up between the last two.
The X-Country is not a race that floats my boat, but it would be great to see Tiger Roll – who will not be at Aintree next month – roll back the years and win the race for a third time and gain a fifth success at the Cheltenham Festival. French raider Easysland was so impressive here 12 months ago, however, that he is hard to oppose despite a slightly below par run here back in the autumn.
I have backed two in the Grand Annual Entoucas (4.15) and Not That Fuisse and the Irish raider just gets the nod over the Skelton runner who is 25/1 with Boylesports and will love the drying ground.
Entoucas – 15/2 with BetVictor – has only won a Naas maiden hurdle but has finished in the first four in his other nine races over obstacles and I thought he ran a terrific race at Leopardstown last time when he faded after the last over an extended 2m 1f. Trained by Joseph O’Brien his stablemate Embittered is the market leader, but I favour the JP McManus owned novice. Seven-year-olds have won two out of the last three renewals and Entoucas can get off the mark over fences on the biggest stage of them all.
I expect Ramillies to get closer to stablemate Kilcruit (4.50) in the Champion Bumper than was the case at Leopardstown last time when the grey travelled strongly but faded tamely. It is hard to see him reverse the form, however, given he must find 27L with the selection – 15/8 with 10bet – who looked a future star at the Dublin Racing Festival.
The unbeaten Sir Gerhard won both Bumper starts for Gordon Elliot and has joined Mullins in the last fortnight. He could be anything, but I was blown away by Kilcruit last time and would be disappointed if he did not go very close.