Cheltenham Festival Race Preview, 18/03/2021

Cheltenham, Thursday March 18th

Cheltenham 1.20
Marsh Novices’ Chase Class 1 Grade 1
2m3f168y – Going: Good to Soft – Over the New Course – 8 runners

No need to spend ages on this – Envoi Allen** jumps off the page, remaining unbeaten in his career after three novice chase wins, the latest at Punchestown in January, left in front by Asterion Forlonge‘s fall and making the rest to draw clear of Fils D’oudairies. Best of the rest is Shan Blue*, who for me was made too much use of when runner-up in the Scilly Isles at Sandown last time, nothing left after the last and easy pickings for Sporting John. Also in contention for the placings should be Chantry House, who was improved in both the jumping and attitude departments at Wetherby last time, and the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup-winner Chatham Street Lad – they’re preferred to Fusil Raffles, who recovered from a blunder at the 13th and only got to the front after the last when beating Lieutenant Rocco at Cheltenham in December.

Selection: ENVOI ALLEN – Alternative: Shan Blue

Cheltenham 1:55
Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle Class 1 Grade 3
2m7f213y – Going: Good to Soft – Over the New Course – 26 runners

We’ll keep this simple and stick to the most wanted:
– Brinkley, winner of the Exeter Qualifier, not going best between last 2, pushed along and took definite lead approaching last, hard driven run-in, found extra, pulled clear last 150 yards, workmanlike and decisive from Tommy Rapper – drier ground a concern;
– Imperial Alcazar*, winner of the Warwick Qualifier in January finding improvement, niggled along as field bunched up home turn, forced wide, hard ridden, stayed on well and a length off leaders approaching 2 out, hard ridden and sustained effort to lead approaching last, ridden clear, eased last strides, decisive from Mr Harp;
Storm Arising*, progressive this season, 2nd to Portrush Ted in the Sandown Qualifier then winner at Chepstow last time, tracked leaders under a ride 2 out, strong effort to lead approaching last under pressure, the better jump, driven out, wandered a little but always finding the necessary to beat the reopposing Ask Dillon (that one will be soon off the bit);
– Anything Will Do*, 5th in the Leopardstown Qualifier in December, a little ground bend before 2 out, pushed along approaching home turn, stayed on, put under pressure approaching last and closed on those ahead, took 5th before in close to last, no more run-in, before weakening late next time out also at Leopardstown – last time is to an extent forgivable as he wasn’t out of the 1st 4 throughout, in contrast to the Qualifier when he was positioned midfield;
 – Come On Teddy, 3rd in the Warwick Qualifier, travelled more comfortably than some but no clear run as field bunched up on home turn, hard ridden and steered wide (not widest) approaching 2 out, in close to it and 2 or 3 lengths to find between last 2, no extra before in close to last and left 3rd by fallers, kept on but no more run-in – he might have finished a couple of lengths closer but for not getting the rub of the green on the turn.

Shortlist: Imperial Alcazar, Storm Arising, Anything Will Do

Cheltenham 2:30
Ryanair Chase Class 1 Grade 1
2m4f127y – Going: Good to Soft – Over the New Course – 14 runners

Allaho
Was 2nd in last year’s RSA Chase, all out when finally getting a sniff of the lead having duelled against Minella Indo only for Champ to turn up late and mug the pair of them. Made mistakes on his way to finishing 20 lengths 4th to A Plus Tard in Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas: dropped in trip last time and won Grade 2 at Thurles in January, led or disputed, moved best home turn, pulled clear with Elimay, travelled much the best but was closed on nearing last, in close, hard ridden on landing, found extra run-in to pull clear, decisive in the end. His form is 10 lbs to a stone shy of what will be needed
Chris’s Dream
Probably ran better than expected in last year’s Gold Cup, only dropping out of contention after a mistake at the second last. Sound reappearance-2nd to The Storyteller in Champion Chase at Down Royal in October,  led a neck last, hard driven, went a length clear, all out, was closed on last 100 yards, headed final strides; weakened to 5th behind Min in John Durkan Memorial in dense fog at Punchestown on only other start since. Last year’s Gold Cup was his best career-run during the months of March and April – prior to that he’d been beaten further than the 18 lengths he was beaten by on all his runs during those months
Dashel Drasher
Completed an Ascot hattrick by once again making all at the track for his finest win to date in the Ascot Chase in February, forcing the pace and always having Master Tommytucker’s measure in the straight. A bit to find maybe but, coming in to the race, what reason is there why he can’t find it – he arguably might prefer the good ground (good to soft at worst) that this is likely to be than the soft surface he had for all three of his Ascot wins, and he’s won here over hurdles
Fakir D’oudairies
Last year chased Put The Kettle On in the Arkle at this meeting, ridden when mistake 2 out, hard ridden, some 3 lengths behind last, hard driven, stayed on up the hill, closed on winner, almost drew upsides then winner found more. A perhaps-ambitious try over 3m in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas came to nothing,  pushed along from 14th, dropped rear, blundered 3 out and weakened further, pulled up before last; back to form over 2m in Dublin Chase at Leopardstown, chased leader approaching 3 out, further ground to dispute lead 2 out, pushed along, hard driven and led approaching last but soon headed by Chacun Pour Soi, readily outpaced, stuck to task. Successful on his only start over 2m4f and not out of the 1st 4 on three visits to Cheltenham (actually shaping like wanting further when 4th to Klassical Dream in the 2019 Supreme), here’s a potential surprise package
Fanion D’Estruval
No wins this season while his form has got better, starting with 2nd to Magic Saint on reappearance at Cheltenham in November, headway from midfield, moved largely comfortably approaching home turn, chased winner straightening, shaken up, went through 2 out, hard driven, one pace when pecked on landing last, hard driven, kept on up the hill, no extra last 150 yards; looked like taking a hand in the rescheduled Peterborough Chase at Cheltenham when falling,  made ground on the bit and prominent 12th, further ground and moved upsides leaders going comfortably when fell 3 out. Lacked the pace to put a challenge in against First Flow and Politologue in Clarence House at Ascot, and same again in Game Spirit at Newbury when 4th to Sceau Royal, hitting the fourth last and making mistakes at the last two. Will be better over this trip, but jumping now seems to have become an issue
Imperial Aura*
Won the novices’ handicap chase at last year’s Festival from the NH Chase winner Galvin. Unbeaten when completing this season and posted best to date when winning 1965 Chase at Ascot in November, made much of the running seciond circuit, came up every time when asked for jumps, ridden along home turn, stayed on well from 2 out, ridden out, workmanlike and decisive over Itchy Feet and Real Steel. Unseated 2nd in Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton in January when last seen, but jumping hadn’t been an issue with this one before that; chances
Kalashnikov
No wins this season but good runs in defeat the last twice, the better of those in Peterborough Chase at Cheltenham in December, midfield 6th, in close to 9th and niggled along, headway from 13th, closed on leaders and prominent when mistake 3 out, hard driven approaching home turn, stayed on approaching 2 out, chased Mister Fisher between last 2, every chance and the better jump last, hard driven, moved upsides, couldn’t find more last 150 yards, one pace, stuck to task – good run although racing typically lazily. Tried 3m and a little bit below the Cheltenham run in Denman Chase at Newbury, disputed 3rd some 3 lengths off leader home turn, not fluent 4 out and pushed along away from it, hard ridden from 3 out, one pace in 3rd from 2 out, kept on between last 2, looked held last, one pace run-in behind Secret Investor. Tried in a tongue-strap as well as cheekpieces, he’ll need the jockey to be at him from a long way out but he might pick up some pieces
Melon*
Played his part in a famous finish to the Marsh Novices’ Chase at last year’s Festival, going down by only a nose after making a lot of the running. No wins this season, but smashing run trying 3m in Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, led 12th, clear 14th, ridden into 3 out, pressed on, steadied into and in close to 2 out, travelled comfortably home turn, headed and pushed along approaching last, no extra nearing it, hard driven run-in, not totally done with early on run-in, didn’t really fade close home but lost 2nd inside last 50 yards. Went for the Irish Gold Cup there in February but this time failed to stay to a greater extent, moved largely comfortably till ridden into 2 out, pushed along approaching home turn, faded turning in, looked held under a ride approaching last, reached for it, driven and no more run-in, kept on last 150 yards and didn’t lose further ground on those ahead close home. Perhaps not one to take a short price about on account of his poor win-to-run ratio, but he’s been 2nd in two Champion Hurdles in the past
Min*
Last year’s Ryanair-winner, travelled best off home turn, pushed along after 2 out, stayed on in a length lead, wandered a little before the better jump last, hard driven, idled in front, stayed on well enough under pressure, was closed on last 125 yards but always holding on and beat Saint Calvados a neck. Successful reappearance in the dense fog at Punchestown in John Durkan Memorial in December, beating Tornado Flyer and Melon; the wheels fell off in Dublin Chase at Leopardstown last time, led or disputed, was joined when mistake 6th, took off way too early 7th, weakened quickly and pulled up before 8th – his first ever failure to complete a race. Not sure what we’ll get from him here
Mister Fisher
At this meeting last year ran 4th to Samcro in Marsh Novices’ Chase, niggled along 3 out with 6 lengths to find, switched off inner and closed a little home turn, niggled along, stayed on and closed on leaders approaching 2 out, hard ridden, kept on one pace before steadied into last, in close, looked held run-in, driven, stayed on and was closing final 125 yards. Was pulled up on reappearance in Paddy Power Gold Cup in November,  made a bit of ground going down the hill till weakened nearing 3 out, pulled up before 2 out; back to form when winning rescheduled Peterborough Chase at Cheltenham in December, tracked leaders 9th, mistake 12th, travelled comfortably at the top of the hill, chased leader approaching home turn, travelled best as led approaching 2 out, pushed along between last 2, stayed on approaching last, in close to it, hard driven, found extra last 150 yards, asserted, pulled away from Kalashnikov last 100 yards, at last getting the more positive tactics he needs. With the same sort of ride again he’ll be in the mix
Real Steel
A surprise package in last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup before his stamina gave out, at most 3 lengths down 3 out racing widest of all, within 2 lengths on straightening, arguably travelled best for a couple of strides approaching 2 out, every chance jumping, hard driven, no extra approaching last, 6th to Al Boum Photo. Joined Paul Nicholls and nothing of the same order in two starts, finishing weakly, 3rd to Imperial Aura at Ascot in November after it looked like it would be something better –  travelled the better coming up from Swinley Bottom, ridden home turn, didn’t find anything, faded after 2 out – and pulled up in the King George at Kempton, niggled along 10th, ridden and faded from 13th, well held 3 out, weakened quickly and pulled up on the take-off side of the second last. Not for me
Saint Calvados
In this race last year ran 2nd to Min, at most a length down approaching last, every chance when mistake, hard driven, switched to challenge on Min’s outer final 175 yards, stayed on well under pressure, was closing on Min final 125 yards but never quite getting there. On reappearance was 4th to Frodon in King George at Kempton, took a hold, mistake 14th, ridden from 15th, chased leader home turn, ridden and stayed on from 3 out, within 3 lengths 2 out, hard driven, lost 2nd approaching last, faded, lost 3rd close home. Unseated last time in rescheduled Cotswold Chase at Sandown on only other start, nudged along from 16th in detached last, knuckled over on landing and unseated rider 17th – although nudged along, he hadn’t been asked for a maximum effort at the time. Connections stick to what they know works by running here – drying ground a concern
Samcro
Won the Marsh Novices’ at last year’s Festival, just getting the better of the scrap with Melon by a nose. Disappointing reappearance in Grade 2 at Down Royal in October, loomed up on inner approaching 3 out, took off too early and went through it, hard ridden in last and outpaced under a push approaching 2 out, passed a couple and disputed 2nd jumping, ridden and kept on one pace approaching last, hard driven run-in, faded behind Battleoverdoyen; went off 18/1 (who’d have thought Samcro would go off that big for a race a few years ago) in Savills Chase at Leopardstown on Boxing Day and was disappointing, pushed along in rear from 13th, weakened approaching 14th, weakened more markedly and hopelessly tailed off 3 out, pulled up and eased to a walk before 2 out. Which Samcro turns up this time?
Tornado Flyer
Ran 5th to Samcro in Marsh Novices’ at this meeting last year, raced lazily and struggling with 5 to jump before staying on up the hill. Good runs 1st 2 starts this season although little of his 2nd to Min in John Durkan Memorial at Punchestown could be seen on account of dense fog. Ran well for a long way before failing to stay in Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, marked headway after 3 out and closed on the 3rd to 5th approaching 2 out, pushed along from there, couldn’t find extra approaching home turn, well held straightening, weakened, well back last, 5th to A Plus Tard beaten 37 lengths; better effort dropped in trip in Dublin Chase at Leopardstown last time, took off too early and dived at a couple of fences, hard ridden after it, kept on approaching home turn, outpaced, took well-held 4th approaching last, driven and no more run-in, kept on last 150 yards and was closing on the 3rd final strides. Possibly flattered by the run against Min, on balance he has something to find

Shortlist: Imperial Aura, Melon, Min

Cheltenham 3.05
Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle Class 1 Grade 1
2m7f213y – Going: Good to Soft – Over the New Course – 15 runners

Bacardys
In this race last year ran 3rd to Lisnagar Oscar,  very good ground wide to pass several some 200 yards off last and chase winner 2 lengths down, finally hard ridden nearing last, couldn’t find extra when steadied into it and went left, hard driven, all out, kept on well enough to hold 3rd with nothing to spare. Fine reappearance effort when 4th to Honeysuckle in Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse, but regressive since, pulling up at Leopardstown over Christmas and well held in Galmoy Hurdle won by Sams Profile at Gowran Park last time though ran well for a long way on what were beyond desperate conditions, headway widest of all going to 3 out, closed up further and no more than 3 lengths down home turn, hard ridden and faded before 2 out, well beaten between last 2. Not sure what to expect now
Beacon Edge*
Improving second-season hurdler who ran Honeysuckle to 3/4 length in Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse in November and last time out, stepped up to 2m5f, gradually reeled in Fury Road to win Boyne Hurdle at Navan, moved upsides Fury Road 3 out, at most niggled along as pace increased going to 2 out, at most half a length down there, pushed along between last 2, stayed on, 1st 2 drew clear, strong effort under pressure after last, found extra last 150 yards, got up a couple of strides from the post. Related on the dam’s side to the 2011 RSA Chase runner-up Jessies Dream, there’s every chance of him staying as he steps up to 3m for the first time
Flooring Porter
Has shown dramatic improvement on winning handicaps in the Summer and Autumn – on what turned out to be his last run in a handicap (for now, anyway) just drew further clear of The Bosses Oscar in the straight to win at Navan in December, and last time out took the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown, led, mistake 6th, pressed on from bend before 2 out, ridden along home turn, found extra approaching last, stayed on well run-in to beat The Storyteller 6 lengths. Having just won a three-mile Grade 1, there’s nowhere else he could go
Fury Road
At this meeting last year ran a close 3rd to Monkfish in the Albert Bartlett, midfield,  stayed on approaching home turn, sustained effort 200 yards off last, switched inside rivals and closed on leaders under a firm hand ride, drew upsides last, put under pressure, went right and across eventual 4th 175 yards out, led narrowly, sustained effort under driving, headed two or three strides from the post and lost 2nd on the line. Made all to win at Punchestown on reappearance (SP 4/11), but after a prominent ride didn’t quite see it out behind Flooring Porter in Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown, , within 2 lengths when tracked leaders bend before 2 out, pushed along and going worst of the leaders approaching 2 out, ridden and no extra home turn, just kept on. Was able to dominate when beaten a neck by Beacon Edge in Boyne Hurdle at Navan last time, staying on well off his own pace from the second last and caught only in the last couple of strides. Chances
If The Cap Fits
High-class form when beating Roksana in Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree in April 2019; was a bit below his best when 5th to Paisley Park in 2020 Cleeve Hurdle over this c/d. Been chasing this season and hasn’t matched his best hurdling efforts, looking less than genuine on and off, last time at Taunton over 3m4f, blundered 9th, headway and chased winner from 15th, left in lead 4 out, pushed along home turn, was joined 3 out, hard ridden, narrowly headed 2 out, still every chance till nearing last, no extra run-in, beaten 5 lengths behind Yala Enki. Looks not the force of old
Lil Rockerfeller
Four years ago was his finest hour, after a typical make-all ride and finding loads only Nichols Canyon could get to him. Not the force of old now, although placed on his last five starts, hurdles and fences; last time in conditions hurdle at Market Rasen led, ridden along and pressed on turning out of back straight, hard ridden and narrowly headed 2 out, stayed on, still every chance last, hard driven, stuck to task, no extra close home and beaten a neck by On The Blind Side. His present-day form gives him a stone to find to be competitive; you know where he’ll be in the early stages of the race
Lisnagar Oscar*
After finishing 3rd to Paisley Park in Cleeve Hurdle last January went two places better in last year’s Stayers’ Hurdle, prominent in chasing group 10th, at most nudged along and closed on leaders going better than most on downhill run to 2 out, pushed along and took 2nd approaching home turn, led soon after the turn, stayed on, opened up a 2-length lead 175 yards off last, put under pressure nearing it as Ronald Pump closed on him, in close but the better jump, driven out, stayed on well to pull clear last 175 yards. Modest efforts first two runs this season before returning to form in Rendlesham at Haydock last month, led 8th, was a length and a half up turning out of back straight, niggled along and pressed on approaching 3 out, stayed on under a hand ride approaching 2 out, was closed on between last 2, was joined last, headed 175 yards out, driven, found extra under pressure last 100 yards and closed on Third Wind, just held. Should go well now he’s found his form
Main Fact
Continued his fine run of form on the Flat and over hurdles when winning Grade 3 handicap at Haydock in what for this one is typical fashion, under a ride and going nowhere in rear turning out of the back straight before passing rivals from the third last under pressure and beating Third Wind 3 lengths. Found wanting in stronger company the last twice, tailed off behind Paisley Park in Long Walk at Ascot just before Christmas and only 4th to Third Wind and Lisnagar Oscar in Rendlesham at Haydock last time, within 5 or 6 lengths at the second last but dropping further back approaching the last. Little expected in first-time blinkers
Paisley Park*
The 2019 Stayers’ winner; everything seemed set fair for a follow-up in last year’s renewal but it didn’t happen, some 3 lengths down til steadied into and mistake 2 out, driven and stayed on coming off home turn, was 3 lengths down some 250 yards off last, struggling to pick up under pressure when bumped 2 or 3 times, no extra nearing last, weakened up the hill, got tired and heavy-legged, could barely make it to the line. Looked back in the room when 2nd to Thyme Hill in Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury in November and confirmed it when beating that rival in Long Walk at Ascot, niggled along and not clear run starting home turn, pushed along, hard driven and stayed on home turn, wandered a little approaching 2 out and had 5 lengths to find, stayed on under strong pressure between last 2, closing in 3 lengths 4th last, sustained effort run-in, steadily closed on 1st 2, took 2nd then gradually reeled in Thyme Hill last 75 yards, led last strides. Needed all of it to get up that time but, although it looks as though he’s not the next Big Buck’s, has a good chance again
Reserve Tank
At this meeting last year ran poorly in the Marsh Novices’ Chase, weakened markedly and tailed off when pulled up before 2 out, eased down to a walk. Only start this season, was 5th of six to Brewin’upastorm in National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell in February, dropped to last and niggled along approaching 7th, in close and went left 3 out, ridden along and lost place, dropped to detached last and some 10 lengths off leader turning out of back straight, kept on approaching 2 out, jumped left, made no ground on those ahead between last 2, well back last, hard ridden run-in, kept on, closed on the 4th, not quite get the place last strides, nearest finish. That form is well short of what’s needed
Sam Spinner
In 2019 was runner-up to Paisley Park; won three novice chases in late 2019 but not seen out again after that December. Poor reappearance in Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, jumped slightly sideways 6th and stumbled on landing, pushed along for a few strides, going worst of the field turning out of back straight then eased off, taken wide and pulled up before 7th; also showed nothing in Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury in November, niggled along 6th as pace increased, lost place and towards rear under a push 7th, dropped to last and tailing off 8th, hopeless home turn, trailed in behind Thyme Hill and Paisley Park. Little expected
Sire Du Berlais
The winner of the last two Pertemps Finals made a winning reppearance in Lismullen Hurdle at Navan, moved well enough some 3 lengths down home turn, ridden along after 3 out, stayed on wide approaching 2 out, put under pressure approaching last and took 2nd, closed on leader, led 125 yards out, asserted over French Dynamite close home; confirmed the form in Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown though wasn’t that strong in the finish, prominent to midfield, ridden into 8th, niggled along after 3 out, headway bend before 2 out and tracked leaders, pushed along and outpaced approaching home turn, put under pressure, one pace approaching last, took 2nd last, hard ridden and no more, stuck to task but lost 2nd to The Storyteller close home, just shy of 7 lengths 3rd to Flooring Porter. No doubt he’s been running well enough to be considered here, even though he’s a hard ride
The Storyteller
Mixed and matched hurdling this season and has shown high class form in both disciplines, arguably better over fences: best work at the end when staying on from the last to take 2nd to Flooring Porter in Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown, then arguably showed better form over fences when chasing home Kemboy in Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown on February 7th, within 3 lengths jumping 3 out, travelled largely comfortably approaching 2 out,  pushed along approaching home turn, hard driven once in line, stayed on, drew upsides eventual 4th last, soon took 2nd, hard driven, stayed on under pressure, pulled clear of the others, no impression on Kemboy last 150 yards, stuck to task.  A good run and frame-finish wouldn’t be the greatest shock
Vinndication
At this meeting last year ran 4th to The Conditional in Ultima Handicap Chase,  pushed along approaching home turn, hard ridden approaching 2 out, upsides and pecked on landing, ridden and led approaching last, steadied into it, hard ridden, soon headed, put under strong pressure, faded 150 yards out, stuck to task but lost 3rd close home. It looked a good reappearance when 2nd to Cyrname in Charlie Hall at Wetherby,  closed on 1st 2 a little approaching 2 out, sustained effort and took 2nd last, driven out, drew clear of 3rd, stayed on but no impression, and unseated in Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury only other start this season, tracked leaders turning out of back straight, travelled largely comfortably when took off too early and fell 17th. The way Cloth Cap finished it off he probably wouldn’t have won, but he’d have been on for 2nd, 3rd or 4th had he not messed up at the Cross Fence. He’s actually unbeaten over hurdles – Champ was runner-up to him once – but hasn’t run over them since February 2018 and others have more relative pace
Younevercall
Useful hurdler but has his superiors, in Long Walk at Wetherby in December mistake 4th, in close to 8th, mistake 3 out, ridden along, led home turn, steadied into and mistake 2 out, hard driven between last 2, headed approaching last, looked held when blundered, faded run-in, 4th to Paisley Park beaten 7 lengths, and completely folded up in Relkeel at Kempton when last seen,  niggled along approaching 5th, held place till mistake 7th, ridden and lost place approaching 3 out, tailed off when pulled up before 2 out. Looks safe to omit from consideration

Shortlist: Beacon Edge, Lisnagar Oscar, Paisley Park

Cheltenham 3.40
Paddy Power Plate Handicap Chase Class 1 Grade 3
2m4f127y – Going: Good to Soft – Over the New Course – 23 runners

Most wanted:
– Mister Whitaker*, nearest finish behind Two For Gold and Aso at Warwick last time – we know how good his record at Cheltenham is;
Oldgrangewood*, who ran well in the race last year and might well have got in contention but for unseating three out in the Two For Gold-race at Warwick;
Farclas*, who survived two serious mistakes to finish 4th to Off You Go at Leopardstown last time – it could have been better without the mistakes;
– A Wave Of The Sea, winner of the 2m-handicap chase at Leopardstown last month, all out in the end from the staying-on Top Moon, but he has won over further before;
– Champagne Court, back to form when 4th at Warwick last time;
– The Unit, 3rd in the same Warwick race after shaping well coming back from a 22-month absence earlier in the season;
– Dead Right – not out since September but won with a bit in hand at Market Rasen when last seen and looks an interesting lightweight.

Shortlist: Mister Whitaker, Oldgrangewood, Farclas