Cheltenham Festival Race Preview, Tuesday 16/03/2021

Cheltenham, Tuesday 16th March

Cheltenham 1.20
Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle Class 1 Grade 1
2m87y – Going: Soft (Good to Soft in places – Over the Old Course – 8 runners

Normal service is resumed later on the card, with 22 runners and two reserves in the Boodles, but there’s no escaping the fact that, numerically, this is the most disappointing renewal of the Supreme since 12 took part when Douvan won in 2015. 

Half of the field was in the Grade 1 two-mile novice at Leopardstown on February 7th, with Appreciate It* coming out on top, never out of the first two, setting a steady-to-medium pace and finding plenty from the home turn, certainly finding more than Ballyadam*, who looking like serving up a serious challenge when produced on the bit after the second last, but unable to match the winner from approaching the last.  They were ahead of Blue Lord, who was firmly pushed along approaching the second last – the first of the principals to come under a serious ride – and did his best work at the end, passing a couple of rivals under a ride to take 3rd just after the last and shaping like he could use two and a half miles. He in turn was two places ahead of Irascible, who in the end paid the price for disputing the lead with Appreciate It, ridden along before the second last and fading once into the straight; so of the ones from that Leopardstown race Appreciate It looks the one, but Ballyadam is not to be underestimated. Don’t expect Appreciate It to lead this time – he won’t need to.

The other key race is the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown, which Metier* had to himself, travelling comfortably, drawing clear of Shakem Up’Arry between the last two hurdles to win by 12 lengths – the runner-up ran okay when 8th in the Betfair Hurdle while the 4th Do Your Job posted similar form when chasing home My Drogo in a Grade 2 at Kelso. That form ties in the winner of the Betfair Soaring Glory, for whom the good ground at Newbury might well have been a help when he beat Fifty Ball and Edwardstone, but on the form lines Metier should come out best in the match. The pace here is no problem with For Pleasure in the race (hence Appreciate It won’t have to make it himself) – he looked more settled than previously when making the running to approaching the second last in the Betfair Hurdle, but he probably won’t last home. The Chepstow specialist Grumpy Charley doesn’t look good enough, so it comes down to the class acts, Metier and Appreciate It – although I think there’ll be a big run from Ballyadam, as was the case at Leopardstown.

Shortlist: Appreciate It, Ballyadam, Metier

Cheltenham 1.55
Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase Class 1 Grade 1
1m7f199y – Going: Soft (Good to Soft in places) – Over the Old Course – 6 runners

Still a fascinating clash even if there’s no Energumene. Allmankind brings speed to the table, going from the front and a little freely, but for me he’s one of those about whom I wouldn’t like to take a short price – in the Kingmaker at Warwick he was in tight to a couple, low at another, and there was a bad mistake at the second last – by which time he was clear of Sky Pirate. Shishkin** has more stamina and ultimately should end up over longer trips (then again I thought that about Altior), his jumping sound in the main in two solos round Kempton and last time in the Lightning at Doncaster, in which he left the reopposing Eldorado Allen behind from going to the third last for a ready win. After looking useful when winning his first two chases the latter was perhaps a little disappointing when a well-beaten 4th to Allmankind in the Henry VIII at Sandown, but was back to his best at Doncaster – all the same, granted completions, he has it to do with the big two. Of the two visitors, both of whom were against Energumene in the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown, Captain Guinness* is preferred – whilst everyone was raving about the winner afterwards it was universally overlooked that this one was never worse than 2nd throughout, jumped soundly and had got to within a length of Energumene – and going equally as well – when falling at the second last; the worst he’d have finished would have been upsides eventual 2nd Franco De Port, who’d raced midfield or worse and made mistakes – including a blunder at the 3rd – before staying on nicely past rivals to take the silver medal on the run-in. The other runner Numitor, who tends to race lazily and was well held in a 0-130 handicap at Sandown last time, isn’t good enough. so I’m going Shishkin, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Captain Guinness, rather than Allmankind, was the one to chase him home.

Selection: SHISHKIN – Alternative: Captain Guinness

Cheltenham 2.30
Ultima Handicap Chase Class 1 Grade 3
3m1f – Going: Soft (Good to Soft in places) – Over the Old Course – 16 runners

In this race last year was 7th to The Conditional, made much of the running,  headed going to the last and weakening up the hill. Sprinted clear to win on good to soft ground at Chepstow in January; failed to stay longer trip behind Secret Investor in Denman Chase at Newbury next time, detached under a push from the home turn and held from the third last, 4th to Secret Investor beaten  15 lengths. That made it two out of two attempts over this trip that he’s been beaten double digits and it’s hard to see him staying
Aye Right*
At last year’s Festival was a tailed off 5th to Champ in the RSA Chase, in contention at the third last before weakening. Has been most consistent this season, three times runner-up and arguably unlucky not to have won. Best to date when 2nd in Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster last time,  led after 13th, niggled along home turn, pushed along from 4 out, stayed on in front, a length up 3 out, given reminder then rider dropped whip a few strides after it, continued to stay on, was 2 to 3 lengths up 2 out, hard ridden, was 2 lengths up last, sustained effort, was headed by Takingrisks 100 yards out, no extra final strides. This time….?
At the 2019 Festival was midfield in the Martin Pipe Hurdle behind Early Doors, a couple of mistakes and lost place halfway; last year was pulled up in the RSA Chase, lost place and rear 11th, exiting the race after a mistake at the 13th. Unimpressive in beating If The Cap Fits in a moderate renewal of the Future Stars at Sandown in November, niggled along early on the final circuit, ridden out from the last and showed a high tail carriage; was 11 lengths 5th to Yorkhill in Rehearsal at Newcastle in November when last seen, up with the pace, drew upsides under a ride approaching 3 out, not fluent, put under pressure, faded approaching 2 out, dropped away between last 2, was being closed on by the 6th last strides. Hardly jumps off the page
Ok Corral
Rather hit and miss since running 2nd to Kilbricken Storm in the 2018 Albert Bartlett at this meeting; mistakes and lost place dropping to the rear in the 2019 National Hunt Chase before being pulled up, then two tailed-offs before coming back to form when last seen out in the 2020 Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster, moved comfortably 5 out, shaken up 4 out, stayed on under 3rd 3 out under a ride, closing on 1st 2 approaching 2 out, soon took 2nd, hard driven, 1st 2 pulled clear between last 2, disputed lead last, ridden out, stayed on well and found extra to assert over Fingerontheswitch last 150 yards. Hard to see a good run from this one happening after a 416-day break
Milan Native
At last year’s meeting won the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir, headway from midfield final circuit, led going best on the home turn, idled in front but always going enough to hold on from Kilfilum Cross. Reappearance win over Discorama in a small field-conditions chase at Galway in October suggested more to come but he hasn’t progressed, possibly affected by trying to match strides with Minella Indo in what became something of a slugfest at Wexford last in October, last time tailed off in Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown, at most 6 lengths behind 13th, tracked leaders 14th, nudged along bend before 3 out, blundered there, pushed along, lost a couple of lengths, losing ground when blundered 2 out, weakened approaching home turn, eased down and allowed to complete in own time behind Castlebawn West. Hard to fancy on what he’s been doing
Good 4th to Indefatigable in last year’s Martin Pipe C/Js Hurdle, staying on when hampered by Column Of Fire’s fall at the last, closing on the 3rd final strides – he’d have been 3rd but for the incident at the last. He’s two out of three over fences, with his best to date at Cheltenham in December when last seen out,  travelled best as moved upsides leader approaching 3 out, pecked on landing there, led home turn, ridden into 2 out, stayed on well to assert between last 2, some 4 lengths up last, hard driven up the hill and hung left, all out, ridden out, was closed on but always holding on from The Mighty Don. Good chance
Is two from four over fences with his best to date last time at Sandown in February, up with the pace, led approaching 3 out, hard ridden and stayed on to go 3 lengths clear home turn, ridden along between last 2, put under pressure approaching last, led 4 lengths jumping, driven out, all out run-in but in no danger, maintained clear lead under a ride last 150 yards – sent for home before the third last, hence he had little left at the end, but was always holding on from Clan Legend. Yet to try 3m – not the likeliest stayer on pedigree, as his dam’s dam was the dam of Polidam, who flopped over the trip on three occasions when trained by Willie Mullins but was 2nd over 2m7f110y in a Listed chase at Auteuil in April 2014, and his dam herself won at 2m1f – this one is a point winner though, so perhaps should get the benefit of the doubt
Delire D’Estruval
In his usual blinkers, won the Silver Plate Chase (Cheltenham Festival consolation) at Kempton a year ago, suited by a well-run race having been in the last three early on and picking off Drumconnor Lad at the last. On reappearance and only start since, the blinkers were left off when pulled up in Grade 3 handicap at Kempton won by Clondaw Castle, dropped to detached last after not fluent 11th, tailed off 12th, pushed along to no avail approaching 13th, hopeless 14th, pulled up before 3 out. His relations have only shown form up to and including 2m5f and, even though the blinkers are back on, this looks an unlikely winner 
Vintage Clouds
Last year couldn’t match his 2nd to Beware The Bear in the 2019 running, only 8th to The Conditional, ridden and lost place after 3 out, well held home turn, came wide approaching 2 out, no more between last 2. Three double-digit defeats from three runs this season including distant 3rd to Claud And Goldie at Kelso last time,  lost place/reminder going to 13th, hard ridden and another reminder approaching 3 out, hard ridden home turn, stayed on till was joined 2 out, hard driven and headed between last 2, faded and well held when jumped right last, beaten 19 lengths. In first-time cheekpieces (rare for the Sue Smith yard to use any headgear), now 11 and on his 38th start, little expected
Good win to start his season when taking a useful handicap chase at Galway in October, up with the pace, effort and led on long run to 2 out, left well clear there, hard ridden after last in 15-length lead, hard driven home turn, ridden out last 350 yards to beat Chavi Artist 13 lengths. Has been beaten 20 lengths or failed to complete on four starts since, but last time was shaping really well prior to falling in the Punchestown National Trial, midfield, travelled comfortably and jumped soundly till fell 17th – ironically that was his first error of the race. He shaped okay in the 2019 Martin Pipe on his only visit to this meeting so far – sticking to his task and shaping as though wanting a trip – and if keeping his feet this time he could well have a say
Admiral’s Secret
On his only two starts this season, he continued the fine form with which he finished the last campaign; however was stepping up in grade at Warwick last time and couldn’t complete a long-range four-timer, held up and headway in the second half of the race,  had 10 lengths to find on leaders 3 out, hard ridden and stayed on home turn, closed on those ahead and was 7 lengths 5th straightening, hard driven between last 2, picked up well approaching last, took 4th, hard driven, closed on 1st 3, took 3rd 150 yards out and closed on 1st 2, too much ground to make but closing on Two For Gold and Aso at the line. It’s rather amazing that connections haven’t gone over this trip before now as both sides of the pedigree positively shout stamina; comes with risks – has often refused to race and is ponied to the start – but if he stays, he could do something
One For The Team
Maiden over fences with best of four starts coming when 2nd at Newbury in November, chased clear leader when in close to 4th and 5th, took off on the wrong leg 8th, ridden into 10th, disputed 2nd when not fluent 4 out, kept on from 3 out, some 3 or 4 lengths behind 1st 2 2 out, hard driven, stayed on well approaching last and was a length down on Next Destination jumping, hard driven, one pace last 150 yards, stuck to task. Regressive of late, well-fancied second favourite in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster but not running to his best, mistake 1st, lost place/midfield before 9th, made ground and back disputing 3rd by next, lost place under a ride home turn, looked held 4 out, pushed along and lost further ground by 3 out, tailed off behind Takingrisks. With only two wins from 12 starts he’s arguably not winning the races he should, but he looked one of the more interesting runners in the Sky Bet and could be worth another chance
The Wolf
At last year’s Festival he was 7th to Monkfish in the Albert Bartlett, in last pair and under a ride final circuit but no impression on leaders and well held approaching last, kept on well last 150 yards, nearest finish. A good enough start over fences when winning on chasing debut at Chepstow in October, jumping soundly and pulling out more from the last when beating Liosduin Bhearna at Chepstow in late October, but has been regressive since – admittedly running well for a long way when 3rd to Chantry House at Wetherby last month, led,  niggled along approaching 13th, vigorously pushed along turning out of back straight and was joined up front, hard driven home turn, headed 4 out, hard ridden, began to lose ground approaching 3 out, faded, about 5 lengths down and well held under a ride 2 out, dropped further back before steadied into last, eased run-in. Came under a ride early enough and, beaten double digits on both runs at Cheltenham, little expected
This one running over 3m would have been hard to picture beforehand but here he is: has run to form without winning for the most part this season, at Doncaster on November 27th made mistakes, put under pressure and moved into 3rd approaching 2 out, hard driven between last 2, no impression on 1st 2 approaching last, hard driven run-in, stayed on and had a chance of 2nd 100 yards out, stuck to task but not get the place, 3rd to Barton Knoll, and down in trip at Cheltenham last time to 2m, started to close approaching 3 out but still plenty to do, good ground approaching home turn, closed on leaders and every chance approaching 2 out less than a length down hard driven and no extra in 3rd approaching 3rd, looked held 200 yards out, all out and 3rd to Sky Pirate and Ibleo. Comes here in form, but breeding suggests he shouldn’t stay this far
Soupy Soups
Career best effort when taking Perth Gold Cup in August, midfield, moved comfortably when edged closer after 14th, chased leader going comfortably 3 out, moved best of the field when led approaching 2 out, ridden, asserted, drew 4 lengths clear by last, hard driven run-in, stayed on, all out from As You Like; nothing much in two starts at Kempton since, last time in Grade 3 handicap behind Clondaw Castle little headway when hampered 4 out, some 15 lengths down home turn, mistake 3 out, weakened, well back last, eased down, tailed off. Little expected
Not doing well this season, in the veterans’ final at Sandown in January midfield 11th, but very soon shuffled back to rear, blundered 12th, niggled along approaching 13th, good ground and midfield 15th, ridden along after 19th, weakened and midfield to rear turning out of back straight, put under pressure, lost touch with main group approaching 3 out, tailed off home turn and trailed in behind Seeyouatmidnight, and in Grade 3 handicap at Kempton behind Clondaw Castle perhaps a little better, midfield, niggled along from 12th, hit 13th, pushed along and no impression home turn, put under pressure and no more from 3 out, well back 2 out, kept on a bit from last and appeared to have running left at the end but no impression on those ahead, 8th beaten 24 lengths. All the same little expected

Shortlist: Aye Right, Happygolucky, Discordantly

Cheltenham 3.05
Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy Class 1 Grade 1
2m87y – Going: Soft (Good to Soft in places) – Over the Old Course – 10 runners

At the time he beat Saint Roi in the Morgiana at Punchestown it looked as though he was fortunate, as the runner-up met trouble in running, but that one got worse as the season progressed and isn’t in the line-up; on either of his runs in the Leopardstown Grade 1s he has it to do here, well beaten behind Sharjah and Aspire Tower in the Matheson Hurdle at Christmas and unable to lay a glove on Honeysuckle in the Irish Champion in February, sticking to his task but unable to do anything after the winner went clear from the third last
Aspire Tower
Dramatic improvement on what he did in his juvenile season when beating Abracadabras in the WKD Hurdle at Down Royal in October, which he confirmed when last seen out in the Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas, tried to make all, nudged along bend before 2 out, mistake, pushed along approaching home turn, put under pressure once in line for home, found extra approaching last, was joined by Sharjah 150 yards out, headed, one pace last 100 yards – he gave it a go and found a bit extra off his own pace, but the winner was ‘on it’ that time. Trying the same tactics here will only assist Honeysuckle, but no forlorn hope for a place
After a while in the doldrums since his famous unseat with the race in the bag in last season’s Triumph Hurdle, bounced back to form and how with a trouncing of probably a below-form Song For Someone in Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton last month, drew upsides leader after 6th, soon led and was going best approaching home turn, drew clear without being hard ridden on long run to 2 out, well ahead last, brought over to the stands’ side (outside) on the run-in, not hard ridden to maintain clear advantage and if anything went further clear, readily with apparently something in hand. There is a strong chance that nothing else turned up in the Kingwell – Song For Someone apart, the rest of that field wasn’t the class of the best pre-Cheltenham races on either side of the Irish Sea – but the style marks couldn’t have been higher
James Du Berlais
Consistent for previous connections, when last out in Prix Renaud du Vivier at Auteuil last time edged closer turning out of back straight, tracked leaders home turn, pushed along straightening, led 2 out, hard ridden, headed between last 2, steadied into last, was a length and a half behind jumping, hard driven run-in, found extra and led 150 yards out under strong pressure, could have gone either way, just headed by Moises Has last stride. Moises Has is an old rival that he’d beaten at Auteuil the time before, but he’d probably rather race that one than take on this field, as even after my best interpretation of his Auteuil form, he’s ballpark 30 lbs shy of what will be needed
Not So Sleepy
After his attempt to wipe out the rest of the field in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle – led till jinked and unseated rider 1st, continued riderless and carried out Silver Streak 2nd, was in front of the field home turn and got in leader’s way before running round 3 out, led Epatante across the line – he won the Grade 3 handicap hurdle at Ascot for the second year in a row, raced freely, led in Swinley Bottom, ridden into 5th, niggled along approacing 3 out, travelled better approaching home turn in narrow lead, pushed along turning in, found extra approaching 2 out, 4 lengths up jumping, hard ridden between last 2, stayed on, put under pressure approaching last, still about 4 lengths up jumping, ridden out and maintained clear advantage, went left under pressure 150 yards out and gradually tacked across to stands’ side rail,always holding on from Buzz. The form is 20 lbs shy of what will be needed here
Not the same horse in two starts this season as he’d been in the Autumn of 2019 before a ‘setback’, as Chasers & Hurdlers 2019/20 put it, forced him to miss the rest of the season; he was still in contention on the home turn before dropping away approaching the last when 31 lengths 6th to Sharjah in the Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas, but fared worse behind Honseysuckle in the Irish Champion in February,  lost place and pushed along bend before 2 out, in last pair jumping, pushed along and weakened to last home turn and weakened further in the straight. Best watched
Last year’s runner-up, held up, mistake 3 out but still on the bit after it, smooth headway into midfield, in close to 2 out, not asked for the maximum approaching home turn, had 5 in front and 5 lengths to find coming off home turn, pulled wide approaching last, closed on those ahead, nudged along before steadied into last a couple of strides before and jumped it a length and a half down, shaken up, outpaced as Epatante went for home, stayed on and drew clear of the 3rd, no chance with winner. Successful seasonal debut when winning Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas, held up, shaken up after 2 out, strong effort from home turn, ran on, closed on leader before and after last, led run-in, going away from Aspire Tower at the line; a bit off that when 3rd to Honeysuckle in the Irish Champion, headway and midfield 2 out, niggled along and took 3rd approaching home turn, soon hard ridd, no extra and carried head to one side approaching last, no extra, well held jumping, weakened last 150 yards. He also ran below form in the 2020 renewal of that race – albeit not by as much as this year – so every chance he’ll be here at his best
Silver Streak
In soft ground in the 2019 Champion was an out-on-his-feet 3rd to Espoir D’Allen in thi, and in last year’s renewal was 6th to Epatante, mistakes at half the hurdles, looked held home turn, some 8 or 9 lengths back last, kept on well last 125 yards, closing on the 5th at the post. Successful reappearance at Kempton in October, carried out by the errant riderless Not So Sleepy in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle, then beaten a nose in International at Cheltenham in December, the last hurdle omitted (low sun); niggled along at the top of the hill, at most 3 lengths to find jumping last (normal 2 out), stayed on home turn, not clear run as surrounded passing omitted last, put under pressure 250 yards out, stayed on 175 yards out, closed on Song For Someone, strong effort under pressure, 1st 2 pulled clear, closed on winner last 75 yards, just held post. Finest hour so far this season when beating an off-her-game Epatante in Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day, making all, pressed on from 5th, some 5 lengths clear from 3 out, pushed along approaching 2 out, stayed on well, 4 lengths up last, ridden out, stayed on well. On his day he’s got the form, but in the last two Champions he’s been found wanting, and whilst he had the Christmas Hurdle to himself, that won’t be the case this time
The defending champion, in last year’s renewal plenty of cover, a little keen, headway and prominent when not fluent 5th, progress into 3rd on the bit starting down the hill to 3 out, mistake there, ridden into 2 out, tracked 1st 2 going best home turn, pulled off the inside coming off home turn to get a clear run at the last, ridden into it, led on landing, shaken up, quickened clear, ran on up the hill to beat Sharjah and Darver Star. Successful reappearance in fighting Fifth at Newcastle in November, yet to be asked for an effort and was a length and a half to 2 lengths down on Sceau Royal last, shaken up on landing, quickened to lead 150 yards out, soon clear, readily with a bit in hand by 4 lengths from Sceau Royal. A bad mistake proved costly in Christmas Hurdle at Kempton when last seen, chased leader when blundered 3 out, pushed along home turn and not going best, closed on Silver Streak home turn, hard ridden between last 2, no extra, looked held last, eased run-in. Not the ideal build-up but not the end of the world
Brings a flawless record, ten wins from ten starts under Rules, to this Champion; one of those ten coming in the mares’ hurdle on this day last year, mdae some of the running, relegated to 3rd but not asked for an effort as pace increased approaching 2 out, pushed along approaching home turn, got a split on inside rail home turn, started her effort and led, ridden along, wandered a little as 1st 2 pulled clear approaching last, steadied into it but horse took off out of the jockey’s hands, hard driven, stayed on well last 175 yards, ears flat back, pulled out the necessary all the way to the line – the form suggests she wouldn’t have beaten Epatante had she run in the Champion instead, but she’d have been within 5 lengths. Won Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse on reappearance then, as last year, had her pre-Cheltenham run in Irish Champion at Leopardstown, led and quickened the pace 5th, pressed on in a clear lead from 2 out, stayed on well from home turn, well ahead last, ridden out, maintained clear lead to the line by 10 lengths from Abacadabras. It illustrates that her best chance here is to be up with the pace, not necessarily lead, but not less than 2 or 3 lengths away from it, but live contender

Shortlist: Sharjah, Epatante, Honeysuckle

Cheltenham 3.40
Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle Class 1 Grade 1
2m3f200y – Going: Soft (Good to Soft in places) – Over the Old Course – 11 runners

Not a competitive renewal, and the improved Roksana** – who wouldn’t have been out of place in the Stayers’ Hurdle after the improvement she’s shown this season, taking the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby on reappearance – is the first, and possibly only, place to look for the potential winner; she cruised up to Magic Of Light at Ascot when last seen out in January and beat her 8 lengths – fortunate winner of this in 2019, and only 4th to Honeysuckle last year, this isn’t as deep a renewal as either of the last two. Next best, both officially and on my ratings, is Concertista*, who worked harder than the betting might have suggested beforehand when beating the reopposing Minella Melody at Leopardstown over Christmas (also in that race My Sister Sarah, who runs here too, was well back in 4th and not expected to be cause for concern), appeared to be going best turning in, ridden along approaching last, stayed on, asserted run-in, drew clear – beating her by further than she’d done at Fairyhouse in November. Others are struggling for form – the Martin Pipe winner Indefatigable (first start after a wind-op) looked on for a good campaign when 3rd to Bannixtown Glory at Kempton in November, just stretched by the 3m-trip in the closing stages, but dropped out tamely behind McFabulous in the rescheduled Relkeel Hurdle at Kempton next time, while Cesarewitch winner Great White Shark was done with on the back straight in the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park last time out, although that may well have been a case of not coping with what were beyond extreme conditions. For a frame-filler you could do worse than Black Tears, the 2020 Coral Cup runner-up, who’s here after landing the odds in a weak mares’ Grade 3 at Punchestown – she’s preferred to the mare who beat her a year ago, Dame De Compagnie, who was in the process of dropping away before unseating in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown last time. I don’t think there’s anything else lurking among the rest.

Selection: ROKSANA – Alternative: Concertista

Cheltenham 4.15
Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle Class 1 Grade 3 4-y-o
2m87y – Going: Soft (Good to Soft in places) – Over the Old Course – 22 runners

Looked more like one for the Triumph but here he is; good 2nd to Adagio in Grade 1 Finale at Chepstow,  led going best approaching 3 out, shaken up between last 2, headed approaching last, no extra and some 2 to 3 lengths behind jumping it, kept on run-in but no further impression, and 2nd again to Monmiral at Haydock last time, led and clear, moved comfortably turning out of back straight, briefly niggled along approaching 3 out, in close to it, pushed along from there to 2 out, was a neck down jumping, outpaced under a ride between last 2, looked held last, kept on, beaten 7 lengths. Might need to settle better but chances
Wide-margin winner at Gowran Park on hurdling debut: best to date when falling late at Fairyhouse in January, slight mistake 3 out as pace increased, niggled along home turn, edged closer and came back on the bit approaching 2 out, travelled best as moved upsides Teahupoo between last 2, 1st 2 pulling clear, ridden into and fell last – at worst he’d have been a close 2nd. Tailed off behind Quixilios in the Grade 1 juvenile at Leopardstown last month, held up,  mistake 6th, niggled along and a little headway into midfield bend before 2 out, pushed along approaching home turn, made no ground, weakened turning in, eased off before last and allowed to complete in own time – didn’t turn up there, the writing on the wall when mistakes happened on the back straight. Not a good LTO-run, but half a chance on the Fairyhouse effort
Saint Sam
Maiden in three runs over hurdles with best run last time, 2nd to Quixilios in the Grade 1 juvenile at Leopardstown last month, went on, was 2 to 3 lengths clear by 2nd, a little keen, in close to 4th, went 6 lengths up by 6th moving comfortably, travelled comfortably though not so far clear as Quixilios closed on him approaching 2 out, mistake, niggled along approaching home turn, headed on straightening, hard driven, no impression on Quixilios approaching last, steadied into it and mistake, hard driven run-in, kept on and didn’t lose further ground on winner last 150 yards. Good run but had a hard race in that he stuck to his task well under pressure after the game was up, having done a hell of a lot of running to be so far ahead at the third last (admittedly going comfortably to that point)
Cabot Cliffs
Three wins from five runs over hurdles with best to date last time at Warwick on February 26th, following up an earlier course-win; led, keen, lugged right approaching 1st, clear 2nd, took off too early 3rd, not so far ahead bend before 4th, clear again approaching 5th, moved comfortably when asked for a good jump 3 out, drew further clear without being hard ridden, niggled along home turn, more firmly pushed approaching 2 out, well ahead and in no danger when pushed along firmly approaching last, pushed out, unchallenged with a bit in hand by 17 lengths from Heross Du Seuil. Arguably does a bit much in front but chances
Druid’s Altar*
Won two out of five over hurdles so far with best to date when winning at Naas last time, chased leader for the most part,  in close to 5th, travelled best approaching 2 out, led there, pushed along, found extra and drew clear approaching last, was closed on early on run-in, hard driven and picked up again to draw away last 150 yards. Had to find extra for a second time but got it done, perhaps had a bit in hand over Zoffanien and has a chance
Won at Auteuil when with David Cottin: two sound placed efforts from two starts since joining Joseph O’Brien, last time at Leopardstown in February midfield, mistake 6th, niggled along and made ground into 3rd but with 8 lengths to find approaching 2 out, pushed along approaching home turn, stayed on and made up some of that, put under pressure approaching last, sustained effort under driving and a chance of 2nd till faded run-in, stuck to task last 150 yards, 3rd to Quixilios and Saint Sam beaten 10 lengths.  Chance
Riviere D’etel
Successful at Punchestown on Irish debut, then ran well against older novices at Navan last time but didn’t impress with his finishing effort, led, tended to jump slightly right, mistake 6th, headed, moved comfortably home turn, led 3 out and going best, shaken up after 2 out, carried head high, headed, faded under a ride approaching last, chance of 2nd run-in under pressusre, no more and lost ground on 2nd last 150 yards, 3rd to Thedevilscoachman beaten just over 3 lengths.  Form (as well as attitude, judged on the Navan race) lags some of these
Balko Saint
Beat older novices at Wincanton last time, always 1st 2, well-run race, 1st 2 clear by 5th and at least 25 lengths clear turning out of back straight, moved best approaching 2 out, ridden along after, eventual runner-up stayed upsides approaching last, ridden out run-in, stayed on well close home to beat Robin’s Dream a neck. Chances
Won first three over hurdles then found wanting in a stronger race, 4th to Duffle Coat in Wensleydale at Wetherby in October,  mistake 2nd, shuffled back 3rd and midfield, steadied into 5th, nudged along for a stride, niggled along from 6th, going worst of the field turning out of back straight, vigorously pushed along home turn, looked held 3 out, not hard ridden and left alone approaching 2 out, pushed along between last 2, kept on a little approaching last, ridden hands and heels after last, just took 4th close home. On first start for John McConnell having not been out since then, probably a bit to find
Hell Red
Hasn’t built on winning hurdling debut at Chepstow in October, pulled up at Cheltenham in November then last time at Wincanton against older novices raced up with the pace, niggled along off home turn, making no ground when stumbled on landing last, ridden and weakened, was being closed on by the next ones and only just held 3rd post, beaten 7 lengths behind Pol Crocan. Not for me after that weak finish last time
Glorious Zoff
Won by 12 lengths at Sligo on hurdling debut but hasn’t built on it, with arguably the worst of his three runs over hurdles coming at Doncaster in December behind Monmiral when last seen, edged closer after 4th, niggled along after 5th, made ground and took 3rd some 6 lengths down home turn, pushed along approahing 3 out, put under pressure going to 2 out, carried head to one side and not stay on before mistake 2 out, well held between last 2. Back to winning ways on the Flat at Dundalk when last seen out (rated 70 on the level), hanging left before staying on well in the last 150 yards to beat Dances With Stars . Hurdles form gives him a tough task
Had a chance of beating the reopposing Coltor at Naas in January and ran well though carrying his head high, staying on well and closing last 150 yards, caught by the also staying-on Showbusiness and finishing a half-length 3rd. On his sixth start, no less, over hurdles, looked improved in winning at Naas on February 28th, chased clear leader, raced with high head carriage, himself clear of the 3rd from 3rd, mistake 6th, niggled along home turn, moved largely comfortably on straightening though had 3 or 4 lengths to find approaching 2 out, edged closer, loomed upsides on the bit approaching last, 1st 2 clear, ridden clear run-in, ran on well last 150 yards, readily and decisive by 9 lengths from Rock Chica. One of many chances
Houx Gris
Was 3rd then won on two starts over hurdles before joining Paul Nicholls; the  win was at Auteuil on October 22nd, midfield, headway wide back straight and prominent 7th, was 5th or 6th going comfortably with 3 lengths to find home turn, in close to 2 out, shaken up, stayed on between last 2, led last, put under strong pressure, sustained effort, held on well to beat Homme Public (2nd then won on first two starts for Oliver Greenall and also runs here) by a neck. Given a tough ask on British debut, was 3rd to Adagio and Nassalam in Finale at Chepstow, chased leader turning out of back straight after 5th, disputed lead going comfortably 3 out, niggled along, blundered 2 out, weakened quickly between last 2, lost ground on 1st 2 approaching last, well back jumping, weakened further last 150 yards, beaten 22 lengths. I don’t make either the French form or the Chepstow run good enough
Soldier On Parade
Made heavy weather of winning at Market Rasen, albeit unchallenged, in September for his third and most recent hurdles win, leaving Hiconic behind under pressure from the second last. Stepped up in grade, tailed off on his last two hurdles runs, in Adonis at Kempton last time moved upsides leaders 5th, mistake 6th, pushed along and started to lose place home turn, dropped away on straightening, weakening in rear 2 out, tailed off last. trailed in behind Tritonic. Not for me
Best to date over hurdles when beating Showbusiness and Zoffanien at Naas in January, up with the pace and ridden into a couple of hurdles, moved comfortably half a length down turning out of back straight, pushed along approaching 2 out, led jumping, pushed along, led a length when pecked on landing last, driven out run-in, stayed on, was closed on last 100 yards, held on grimly by a neck. Connections now reach for a visor, which he had when winning on the Flat at Killarney in October (needed to be niggled along to get going but moved better from halfway till ridden along home turn, gradually getting there and best work at the end to win going away); the way he races he could well be in there at the end (or taken off his hooves in the first mile)
Her Indoors*
One of the most improved 4 year-olds in recent months, she posted her best to date when winning Listed fillies’ juvenile at Doncaster in January, held up, mistake 4th, headway after 5th, tracked leaders when niggled along approaching 3 out, got a split and produced to challenge, mistake, switched round a rival and niggled along, stayed on and produced to challenge 2 out, manoeuvred further out to stands’ side (outside) rail and put under pressure, 1st 2 pulled clear between last 2, the better jump last, driven out, found extra run-in, pulled away last 100 yards, workmanlike and decisive in the end from Talking About You.  Strong chance
Sage Advice
Ready winner on hurdling debut at Kempton in January: gave Cabot Cliffs a race at Warwick on February 3rd, prominent, niggled along when mistake 3 out, made ground going better and chased winner home turn, pulled wide and hung left before in close to 2 out, hard ridden, stayed on approaching last but 2 lengths to find, driven and no extra run-in, stuck to task. Probably below that when last of 3 at odds-on at Fontwell last time, mistakes 6th and 3 out, within 2 lengths when firmly pushed along home turn, hard ridden and couldn’t find more after 2 out, lost ground under a ride between last 2, well held last, kept on under a ride run-in and closed a little on the 2nd last 150 yards but never a chance of getting the place, beaten 8 lengths behind Hystery Bere. Conditions were extreme at Fontwell that time and if that is overlooked, he has a chance
Burgundy Man
Maiden hurdler, regressive form for E. Grall, pulled up and well-beaten 8th on last two runs, both at Fontainebleau; little expected on first start for Venetia Williams
Homme Public
Relatively high style marks when winning at Market Rasen last time on February 21st, chased leader 4th, disputed lead 6th, soon headed, chased leader off home turn, effort and led approaching 2 out, ridden clear for hands and heels approaching last, driven out, stayed on well to go further clear, workmanlike and decisive by 6 lengths from Gilbertina. This form links him to Her Indoors (had Gilbertina behind at Doncaster) and gives him a chance
Jeff Kidder
Only win in four runs over hurdles at Fairyhouse on November 3rd, tracking leaders when mistake 3 out, pushed along home turn, rather hemmed in approaching 2 out, slightly hampered, pulled wide, stayed on approaching last, hard driven and sustained effort to lead 150 yards out, going away from Bigz Belief at the line – strong at the end after having his run blocked just before the second last. Was last of seven in Grade 2 at Leopardstown on Boxing Day when last seen but actually ran well, outpaced at the end of a slowly-run race but sticking to his task when beaten just under 9 lengths behind Zanahiyr (5 lengths behind the 2nd, Busselton). Not out of it
Elham Valley
Decisive winner from subsequent Sandown winner Hudson De Grugy at Sandown in December on hurdling debut, stayed on to draw upsides leader last, steadied into it, hard driven run-in, found extra and ran on to draw clear last 150 yards. Regressive since, tailed off 4th to Adagio in Finale at Chepstow and tailed off behind Monmiral and Nassalam at Haydock last time. A bit to find
Curious Bride
Reserve – gets a run on the withdrawal of Tinnahalla. Winner at Punchestown on second run over hurdles, led, hit 5th and 7th, niggled along in front going to 2 out, pushed along after, stayed on home turn, was strongly pressed going to last, 1st 2 clear, the better jump, driven out, stayed on well to assert from Palm Beach last 150 yards (also behind were Zoffanien and Coltor). Next time at Navan in Listed mares’ novice over 2m5f was held up and beaten before stamina was an issue, beginning to struggle when mistake 7th and pushed along, mistake 8th, went left and mistakes 9th and 10th, weakened turning out of back straight, tailed off when pulled up and eased to a walk before home turn. Blinkers are now fitted (won in the headgear on the Flat at Cork in September, making all) – you fancy her chances will be dependent on her being able to dominate, which seems unlikely

Shortlist: Druid’s Altar, Zoffanien, Her Indoors

Cheltenham 4.50
Sam Vestey National Hunt Challenge Cup Novices’ Chase Class 1 Grade 2
3m5f201y – Going: Soft (Good to Soft in places) – Over the Old Course – 13 runners

Unbeaten in two novice chases, Next Destination* – who’s also run well at two previous Festivals – looks solid here; for a few strides in the three-runner race at Warwick he won last time he was actually going worst of the trio, but picked up well at the end to beat Fiddlerontheroof. Main rival Galvin* also has plenty of Cheltenham experience, not least his fine 2nd to Imperial Aura in the novices’ handicap chase at last year’s meeting – last time out, back in October and also at Cheltenham, was his best to date over fences, niggled along approaching home turn, produced to challenge on outer 2 out, soon led, a length up last, ridden out, stayed on well to go clear up the hill, decisive and a shade readily from the reopposing Soldier Of Love, who hasn’t been out since pulling up after a couple of blunders in the race won by The Big Breakaway here in November. Reynoldstown Chase winner Remastered, sound stayer Escaria Ten (taken off his feet in the Martin Pipe a year ago) and good 2nd at Navan last time Lord Royal* are others likely to run well – the latter could well have gone closer to beating Mr Hendricks in the Navan race if he’d been ridden for stamina earlier in the home straight – and add to them Snow Leopardess, who came out best from Commodore in a desperate slog at Haydock in November and is one for a ‘National’ next season – but the rest are likely to struggle.

Shortlist: Nest Destination, Galvin, Lord Royal