Cheltenham Festival 2022: Day Two Preview, Trends, Tips
Day two, Wednesday, takes us from the end of the first quarter to halfway and, en route, we will savour four Grade 1's, a circuitous Cross Country jaunt, and a National Hunt race without any obstacles: all the fun of the fair. Matters commence at half past one with the...
1.30 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m5f)
There were only seven runners in last year's Ballymore (Neptune) and this year there are nine. Not great, but better at least.
It's six years and a dozen runners since Willie Mullins last clapped his germans on the Neptune pot, that 2016 triumph recorded by the subsequently quirky Yorkhill. Two years before Yorkhill came the machine, Faugheen, and then it was back as far as 2008/9 for Mullins' other two Neptune winners, Mikael d'Haguenet and Fiveforthree. The long and short of it is that Willie has trained four winners of this race but from 28 runners, 18 of which were sent off single figure prices. More positively, three of the six horses he saddled at odds of 3/1 or shorter won; and Sir Gerhard is by far the shortest priced runner he's had in the Ballymore, likely to be sent away as an odds-on chance.
Sir G's Rules career to date has comprised six races and five wins, the defeat being when only third in the Punchestown bumper behind Kilcruit. In two hurdles efforts thus far he was the easy winner of first a maiden hurdle (runner up is two from two since, including in a Grade 3 on Sunday) and then a Grade 1 novice hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival. On that latter occasion, he was six lengths too good for Three Stripe Life, who renews rivalry. Critics point to Sir Gerhard's less than perfect jumping while supporters counter that the longer trip will enable him to hurdle more fluently and, in any case, didn't he win his Grade 1 easily despite that imperfect technique? Sir Gerhard has to prove his stamina under Rules but he did win a three mile point to point so it is more than fair to assume he'll see the trip out.
Three Stripe Life has no such proof of stamina though is bred stoutly enough to feel he'll get home; what is more of a reservation is that he's been beaten by Sir G twice and there is no obvious reason why that would change in round three.
Henry de Bromhead has been at least the third best trainer at the Cheltenham Festival in recent seasons and he is represented here by Journey With Me, unbeaten in a point, a bumper and two novice hurdles. The six-year-old son of Mahler was impressive in beating Minella Crooner and Kilcruit, both serious Grade 1 horses, in a very hot maiden before looking a touch laboured when following up under the penalty. This will be the quickest turf he's raced on, which is an unknown, and also is a step up in grade - at least nominally, because his maiden was peppered with G1 animals - but he too is a threat to Sir Gerhard.
Unquestionably the pick of the British challenge is Stage Star, trained by Paul Nicholls and owned by Owners Group's fractional ownership club. His is another high class form profile, most notably his latest effort when comfortably collecting in the Grade 1 Challow at Newbury. That form has yet to be fully tested, though third placed Gringo d'Aubrelle, beaten ten lengths by Stage Star, was 19 lengths behind Dysart Dynamo next time. Stage Star is tractable with regards ground and run style, the question being simply, is he good enough? I'm not sure, but he certainly deserves a crack and what a craic it will be for his enthusiastic owners. [Those who crab fractional ownership don't really get it, do they? It clearly works for thousands of racing fans, and if the crabs are not in that number, so what? *puts soap box away*]
Nicky Henderson runs I Am Maximus, whose form when winning a warm Newbury novice and running close to Hillcrest over this course and distance is solid but slightly below spectacular. He did beat My Drogo in a bumper here at the start of last season so clearly relishes this track. He'd be a shock winner but could push for the podium.
Whatdeawant's form behind Ginto in the Grade 1 Lawlor's of Naas last time leaves him with something to find, but he travelled very powerfully for a long way there before not quite getting home in the testing ground. It's possible that this sounder surface can help him finish off better but he still has plenty to find with the best of these.
The remaining trio are all maiden hurdlers - Scarface, Haxo and Hemlock - and look highly tried.
Ballymore Pace Map
Plenty of forward goers in the field though most are versatile enough to rein back as needed. Haxo and Journey With Me, and possibly even Sir Gerhard, are the likeliest for the lead and a sensible tempo is expected.
Ballymore Novices' Hurdle Selection
On the face of it this is Sir Gerhard's to lose. He is the Champion Bumper winner, and he has been impressive in his two hurdle starts in spite of some less than electric leaping at Leopardstown. But he's terribly short and there is at least one credible threat in the form of Journey With Me, whose form may look better or worse after Kilcruit has finished his Supreme challenge 24 hours prior. He has to prove he handles quicker turf but he's an each way price and that'll do for me.
Suggestion: Back Journey With Me each way at 13/2 or bigger.
2.10 Brown Advisory Novices' Chase (Grade 1, 3m)
Widely remembered as the RSA Chase, and officially as the Broadway Novices' Chase, the Brown Advisory is the Grade 1 staying novice chase at the Festival. It has, however, lost a touch of its draw in recent years with the reduction in distance of the National Hunt Chase and the emergence of the Turners/Marsh/Golden Miller at an intermediate range.
This season, we might have expected Stattler from the NH Chase and either or both of Galopin Des Champs and Bob Olinger from the Turners to tackle this contest but all three of those Irish runners chose alternative paths. Such is the way of things now.
As it happens, the Brown Advisory looms as a strong chance for the home team with the first three in the betting being UK-trained. They are headed by Kauto Star/Feltham winner, Bravemansgame, who has since followed up off a big weight in a small field Newbury handicap. It is a well worn statistic that no Kauto Star winner has followed up in this from, I think, 22 to have attempted it. That's a withering trend and attests to the stark difference between the two challenges. It should be noted that Coneygree won the Gold Cup after winning the Kauto Star, which was a remarkable double from a freakishly talented novice.
What is more notable still, perhaps, is that five beaten horses from that Kempton Christmas contest have won the RSA/Brown Advisory. They include the likes of Bobs Worth, and that brings in Ahoy Senor. The Lucinda Russell-trained novice was seven lengths too good for Bravemansgame in the G1 Sefton at last year's Aintree Festival, but was beaten by a similar margin at Kempton (soft). His best form is on top of the ground and if his jumping stands the test - a comment that applies to a lesser or greater degree to all of them - he may reverse form with the Paul Nicholls runner.
There are a few contenders for the early lead, Ahoy Senor principle among them, but also L'Homme Presse and Threeunderthrufive potentially. The first named has the tactical speed as a result of being campaigned over shorter trips, including when taking the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices' Chase at Sandown. That is usually a precursor for a tilt at the Golden Miller but perhaps the stern opposition there has encouraged connections to take the scenic route. Regardless, L'HP's unbeaten quartet of chases to date have seen him largely unflustered to record double digit margins in the most recent three including a bloodless verdict over The Glancing Queen at Cheltenham.
The first of the Irish contingent in the markets is Capodanno, who was second to Bob Olinger before unseating behind Galopin Des Champs in his last two runs; unsurprisingly, he swerves a rematch with that duo and instead takes on a different cohort entirely. He did have Gaillard Du Mesnil 27 lengths back in the Bob O race and surely has the measure of that one. A 140-odd rated hurdler, we probably have yet to see his top performance.
Threeunderthrufive is a win machine as demonstrated by his nine 1's from twelve starts. He's four from five over fences including a track score and, though only sixth in last year's Albert Bartlett, is another expected to make a bold bid from the front. He's won Grade 2's in that manner the last twice, and has led in all of his five chase runs.
One we've not seen a lot of is Ronnie Bartlett's Dusart, trained by Nicky Henderson. With just four runs to his name, three of them wins, his best effort was likely in defeat when a close up third to Belfast Banter in the Grade 1 Top Novices' Hurdle at the Aintree Festival last spring. Two easy wins over fences at this sort of trip and on this sort of ground put him in the right post code, but from there who knows?
Meanwhile, back in Ireland, Farouk d'Alene has been quietly racking up a solid form portfolio: in four chase races so far, he has two wins and two seconds, the runners up spots being when pipped on the line in a Grade 1 over 2m4f and when headed on the run in over an extended three miles in a Grade 3. His vanquishers were the smart Master McShee and Stattler and he doesn't look far off the best of his countrymen in this field.
Fury Road, in the same ownership and also for Gordon Elliott, beat Run Wild Fred eight lengths in a three mile Grade 1 at Christmas, but fluffed his lines big time when trailing home the length of the straight behind Galopin Des Champs at the Dublin Racing Festival. His is a veritable mixed bag of form figures, though some hope comes in the fact that the G1 score was over this trip and on this sort of ground while his defeats were at shorter.
One of Fury Road's defeats was to Beacon Edge, who in turn has been seen off by Farouk d'Alene since. This third Gigginstown wheel is not the most obvious stayer in the field, to my eye at least.
Streets Of Doyen was third in last year's Albert Bartlett and fourth in the Sefton at Aintree but has been largely AWOL over fences since. He's 100/1 if you want to take a massive flyer on him getting back close to his best. I don't.
RSA Chase Pace Map
Lots of early dash here on the face of it, which probably means the winner will jump well under pressure and doubtful stayers need not apply.
RSA Chase Selection
A really good race in prospect and my inclination is to field against the favourite. Ahoy Senor is a gallant and very capable alternative but his jumping may be a little sketchy for a searching examination such as this. L'Homme Presse has to prove he stays but he's finished off his races well, while Capodanno doesn't look an obvious single figure player in here to me. Fury Road looks a bit over-priced if you're prepared to overlook that pasting last time out. At 16/1 and with four places, he's in my shake up.
Suggestion: Consider 7/2 L'Homme Presse for the win and Fury Road each way at 16/1+ with four places. Should be a very exciting watch.
2.50 Coral Cup (Handicap, Grade 3, 2m5f)
A big field handicap hurdle is not the sort of race in which I should be wasting your time or mine, but I have sifted through some trends and come up with a shortlist of Saint Felicien, Fastorslow, Indigo Breeze and Good Risk At All.
Of those, I backed Saint Felicien last week after Matt Tombs made a very strong case for the horse fitting a Gordon Elliott-trained Festival handicap winner's profile. Seeing the broader trends profile fitting as well, he's as good an arrow as any in an obviously open race. His form only amounts to three lines in the book: a win in a big field at Auteuil, a win in a small field at Gowran Park, and a mark-qualifying fair second in a Grade 3 at Naas. His price has shortened from the 10/1 I felt was fair enough but his chance is the same as it was.
Elliott also has Indigo Breeze (amongst others) who, like Saint Felicien, will be making his handicap debut. The winner of a bumper and a hurdle, and runner up in two of three further hurdles races, including last time, the six-year-old son of Martaline has bundles of upside though was well beaten (7/4 SP) on his only try at this sort of trip.
Good Risk At All had been ante post favourite since the entries came out for this. A scopey sort yet to finish out of the first two, he bolted up by nine lengths on his handicap debut last time and now moves up in trip to something more closely aligned with his pedigree. It would be a great occasion for young trainer Sam Thomas if he could land this coup though he did show the 'capper plenty at Ascot last time.
I was surprised to see how strong Fastorslow had been in the ante post markets even though that early momentum has steadied in the past week or so. His form has been disappointing in two spins after a promising Irish debut second last April. But perhaps that was the plan given he won two of three French starts beforehand. Trainer Martin Brassil won the Ballymore in 2019 with City Island for these connections but he's had a couple of fancied handicappers flop at the meeting, too.
One non-trends type who caught my eye was Drop The Anchor, trained by Pat Fahy. Proven in top class big field handicaps, this eight-year-old won a valuable such race at the 2021 Dublin Racing Festival and was subsequently a staying on three-and-a-half length seventh of 25 in the County Hurdle. Most recently seen keeping on under minimal urging in that DRF handicap hurdle he comes here three pounds lower for an attempt at four furlongs further than the County. His best form seems to be on soft but I think he'll get away with good to soft, in fact he might even need it to allow his stamina to last out.
And a Brit to hurl into cogitations is McFabulous, who has been anything but in recent Graded spins. As a consequence his mark has drifted south from 158 to 150. His only previous role in a handicap was when bolting up by better than six in an 18-horse charge at Kempton (Grade 3 novices), and a pair of January jogs around this circuit suggest a plan was afoot. I'm happy to buy a bit of 20/1 to find out.
As ever, there are at least a gross more with chances.
Coral Cup Pace Map
Loads of runners and loads playing their hands late from midfield or further back.
Coral Cup Selection
I've backed Saint Felicien and, now there are all those extra places to work with, I'm minded to have a small crack at Drop The Anchor, too, for whom this has surely been the plan. McFabulous would be a brilliantly Keeganesque "I'd love it" moment for his trainer, Paul Nicholls, were that one able to do a job on the raiders.
Coral Cup Suggestion: If you can stomach the prices in such a big field, consider 10/1 Saint Felicien and 10/1 Drop The Anchor. At bigger odds, 20/1 McFabulous could be the pick of the home defence. Eight places are available with at least one firm, which gives us a fighting chance of getting something back.
3.30 Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1, 2m)
For many, this year's Champion Chase is the race of the meeting. It's easy to understand why when you see the headline acts Shishkin, Energumene and Chacun Pour Soi. The fact that the first two named met so recently in a classic encounter at Ascot, with the result in the balance even after the last fence, adds to the anticipation for this deeper contest.
At Ascot, in the Grade 1 Clarence House Chase, Energumene attempted to make all, an endeavour he very nearly completed: jumping slickly on the front and enjoying a rail-scraping trip, Paul Townend did the right things at the right moments and was overhauled only in the shadow of the post over the two mile and a furlong race distance.
Contrast that with Shishkin's transit, where Nico de Boinville had him wide and in clear daylight but with the partnership enduring some untypically scrappy leaps en route. Despite travelling further and showing less fluency at his fences, Shishkin was able to prevail. So what hope Energumene in the rematch?
Well, plenty as it happens. Firstly, the Queen Mother Champion Chase distance is a full furlong shorter than the Clarence House, a factor Energumene's supporters maintain gives their pure speedster the edge. The counter is that, in a field with bundles of possible pace angles, they will surely go a lick quicker than at Ascot which ought to allow Shishkin to travel and pick up so many pieces from the second last.
Those closest to the challenger insist he doesn't have to lead, and that may be correct; but the evidence of the form book is that he has led in every one of his seven races over obstacles and in one of his two bumpers. His only career defeat? When he didn't lead, on his first Rules start. At this point, we cannot know if that is coincidence or something more material; but knowing that we cannot know means the uncertainty must be factored into his price.
Prior to Ascot, both Shishkin and Energumene had shown themselves to be the dominant domestic players in their respective jurisdictions, though their ratings (Shishkin 177 in UK, Energumene 175 in Ireland) have an interloper betwixt and between. Step forward the 176-rated Chacun Pour Soi, stablemate of Energumene and a third large cog in the 2022 Champion Chase machinery.
Chacun Pour Soi's Irish form is incontrovertibly top class: four straight Grade 1 chase wins and six G1's in all. But, in two visits to Blighty, he double clunked: first when sent off 8/13 for last year's Champion Chase ("we rode him all wrong", they said) and then when returned that same price in this season's Tingle Creek ("too bad to be true", they said). Fact is, UK CPS is a pale imitation of Irish CPS on, granted, a limited evidence base to this point. In a 'normal' year, when he wasn't up against not one but two superstars, he might be worth chancing - and the price may be enough to make the play for some this time around - but for me he's very much up against it.
Even allowing for the strength at the head of the table, there are still worthies lower down the order. Take Nube Negra for example, a course winner in the the Grade 2 Shloer Chase in November and last year's Champion Chase runner up. Of course, last year, he had neither Shishkin nor Energumene with which to contend, and he did rather fluff his lines in the Tingle Creek albeit when different (wrong?) tactics were deployed. Nube Negra is a strong-travelling hold up type who comes home well; there might be an optimal setup for him here and, if so, the frame may again witness his presence.
It's pretty big prices on the rest, and understandably so. Envoi Allen has seemingly been 'found out' since tipping up in the Marsh (now Turners) last season. A current rating of 161 gives him a stone to find with three rivals and something pretty unexpected would need to transpire to bridge that apparent ability deficit. Put The Kettle On has been an unbelievable Cheltenham stick for connections, winning last year's Champion Chase in a remarkable conclusion. But she's been beaten 21 lengths, half that distance and double that distance in her three subsequent starts. Even allowing for a non-staying effort last time over 2m6f, she's hard to fancy against the strength and depth assembled this time around. Awesome mare, though.
The other form champ in the field is Politologue, whose Champion Chase record is very good indeed: fourth in 2018, second in 2019 and winner in 2020. He didn't contest last year's renewal but is back for another tilt this time. Aged eleven, he's knocking on a touch now, but what he certainly does bring is front end speed. He'll be a thorn in the side of whichever of Energumene and Chacun Pour Soi goes forward and that ought to make for a fascinating race, potentially favouring Shishkin and a late runner like Nube Negra.
A horse I like a lot, though not necessarily in a cauldron like this, is Funambule Sivola. A moderate novice hurdle campaign two seasons ago blossomed into deep progression last term when sent handicapping straight over fences. Wins in that sphere ensued, off 112, 124, 133 and 141, before Graded competition was embraced. The Venetia Williams-trained seven-year-old had his first taste of Grade 1 action at Aintree last April, ceding only to Shishkin and, even then, giving him a race.
This term, it looked very much as though connections wanted to swerve Shishkin at any cost, pursuing an abortive two-and-a-half mile chase campaign: first, when not getting home in the Peterborough Chase and then when midfield in a valuable Cheltenham handicap in January. Reverting to two miles in a brace of spins since has seen as many gold medals most recently in the Grade 2 Game Spirit Chase at Newbury. This horse wins a lot and does it at two miles; his full trip record in chases is 12121 and it is not inconceivable that he could continue that pattern.
Champion Chase Pace Map
Only eight runners but three of them are want the lead types. Two of those are stablemates so it's hard to know how the front of the race will go, or rather who will be at the front of the race. My guess is one of the Mullins pair of Chacun Pour Soi and Energumene will lock horns with Politologue. Shishkin will travel kindly in the next rank and Nube Negra will be sniffing around in the late furlongs for some podium action.
Champion Chase Selection
This looks a humdinger. We said that before the Clarence House at Ascot and it fully delivered. Asking for reality to match the hype a second time, whilst mixing in two former champions and Chacun Pour Soi - and Nube Negra and Envoi Allen - is asking for a lot; but let's hope we get a bag full of hum and ding.
I think Shishkin will win. There, I've said it. He's just going to travel beautifully through the race, might hit a flat spot but will have a strong finish when the pace pugilists have thrown in the towel. If you want a more exciting wager, or at least one at a bigger price, Nube Negra without Shishkin looks a bet. There's a pace-driven case for thinking the Mullins pair may be susceptible to the finishers and, bar the jolly, none finishes better than NN.
Suggestion: If you haven't got enough fives to try and win some fours via Shishkin, who will probably win, consider backing Nube Negra each way without the favourite at around 11/2, a quarter the first two.
4.10 Glenfarclas Chase (Cross Country, Class 2, 3m6f)
The Festival's yeast extract spread of a race. Love it or hate it, the Cross Country - Glenfarclas Chase to give it its correct nomenclature - is here to stay, and this scribe is delighted for that. Apart from anything else, how could the peerless Tiger Roll have so emblazoned his palmarès without it?
The mighty midget - he's only 15.2 hands - has a Cheltenham Festival record that very few can match even going back to the dawn of battle engaged on Cleeve Hill. Not just the winner of three Glenfarclas Chases, but also a National Hunt Chase and, as far back as 2014, a Triumph Hurdle, little old (he is small and he is relatively aged) Tiger bids for a sixth Festival win spanning eight years. Chuck in a couple of Grand Nationals for kicks and, oh boy, what a joy. Unbelievable, Jeff, as Kammy would have it.
He's twelve now, is the Tiger, but word has it that the fire remains aflame and he doubtless knows his way around the ever-decreasing circles of Cheltenham's inner course better than any of the pilots. If this is to be his swansong (and let's not sully our chat with the National handicapping phoney war), then praise be if Tiger can Roll once more into the winner's enclosure. He'll take the blooming roof off!
Don't worry too much about his form away from the Festival in the context of the Festival; this (and Aintree's Nash) is the only one that counts, the rest mere cobweb removal.
Against him is a soupcon of interesting horses and a grab bag full of dead wood. Let's zero in on those of interest, starting with Prengarde, a young upstart from the French provinces who has decamped to Enda's in the livery of JP. That's Enda Bolger, and J P McManus, for the avoidance of doubt and, before and betwixt the Tiger King's domination, those connections enjoyed their own hedge-mony (see what I did there?!).
Indeed it's 3-3 between Giggy's Tiggy and JP's assortment. McManus has owned seven of the 17 winners of the race since its inception in 2005 and his most recent victor, in 2020, was also a jeune from the other side of La Manche, Easysland. More on that one anon but back to Prengarde, whose reputation for disrespecting his elders across the varied impediments of Compiegne's cross country piste grew with each of his five consecutive scores in the discipline. He was well enough beaten in the midst of that quintet in a hurdles spin, so we ought not perhaps to get too flustered about his nothing run at Naas a little over a fortnight ago. Still, his price is tight enough considering he's yet to officially traverse the Cheltenham bushes and barrels.
And back we go to Easysland, 17 length router of his opposition two years ago - closest rival, Tiger Roll, going soft (not good is no good for the Lord of this manor) - but beaten by the same margin, plus a length to remind him who is the daddy, a year later. That distant silver was Easy's last run for David Cottin before a move to Jonjo's Jackdaws base. From there he has so far amassed two letters and no numbers in his form profile; to wit, a pair of P's at 50/1 and 66/1 in strong handicap hurdle company implied plenty regarding expectation those days. Now he is a 12/1 chance and tepid enough in the early exchanges. Perhaps it's a language barrier thing, perhaps not; one thing we can rely on is the application of cash in the hours leading up to the race as a portent of prospects. No blue on the grid, likely no chance.
But these are not the only Gigginstown and McManus runners atop the market. Dear old Mr Ryanair (whose banter, whisper it, is so so good for the game, emotive and divisive as it typically is) has quintuple Grade 1 winner, Delta Work, as his second string! If that's the good news, he's looked a fair whack below that since the last of those five, in February 2020. Yet he's still a mere whipper snapper in cross country terms at the age of nine - Prengarde and Easysland are barely potty-trained - and was only beaten 15 lengths in the G1 Irish Gold Cup last time. That, like most of his other 'not beaten far' recent races, was a steadily run affair, and he could travel all over these until the kick for home as they straighten up on the course proper.
Old 'green and gold' also has the 1-2 from the PP Hogan, a banks race hosted at Punchestown which has traditionally been the key prep for this. There, Midnight Maestro bested Shady Operator, yet the market vibes suggest tables will be turned in this rematch, as indeed they were in their previous meeting, again over the Punchy banks in the Risk Of Thunder Chase in November. Shady will be having his first race over this track while the Maestro had a sighter in last December's handicap (6/1, never in it). That local knowledge edge allied to a bit more meat on his price means he's the value in a match bet.
Diesel d'Allier is a dual winner of the handicaps on these slopes and has a fourth placed finish behind Easysland in the 2020 Glenfarclas. That's enough to expect him to threaten the first half dozen but insufficient to consider even an each way play.
In the context of this race, the rest are akin to the cast of the Star Wars bar (*braces for aggrieved owner response) though Brahma Bull's rating at least affords him a name check. He was third in the Ladbrokes Trophy in November, but as an unexpected 40/1 poke. He'd not be the biggest shock ever, but he would be a big shock.
Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Pace Map
Whilst there is no guaranteed pace, they always go a crawl anyway so it doesn't really matter too much.
Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Selection
It's hard to know where to turn for a bet here. Tiger Roll is not really much of a price but it'll be fun cheering him home if he's still engaged as they face up to the stuffed hurdles. I've backed him in novelty wagers - biggest winning margin of the week, win by 10 lengths, that sort of thing - on the basis that maybe he either wins by miles or doesn't win; but of course he might just win by a little bit.
Against Tiger - such heresy - Prengarde was very strongly touted initially though that confidence has subsided since and he's been ousted as crown prince by Delta Work. I favour the former's subject matter expertise over the latter's back class, but both have much to answer.
Easysland looks a bit of a busted flush, though is young enough - and Jonjo is both talented enough and wily enough - to bounce back. Of the Punchy pair, Midnight Maestro may have a sliver of value in his price, but I'm nowhere near sure enough to suggest he's a bet.
Indeed, I can't find a bet here. Small win play on Prengarde perhaps?
Suggestion: Back whatever you like, or enjoy the theatre of it. Or, if you're one of them, go make a pot of tea or grab a beer. 😉
4.50 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase (Grade 3, 2m)
Impossible. Just. Impossible. Let's try a few of RacingtoProfit.co.uk Josh's profile pointers to try to whittle things more manageable.
14/14 had run at G1 or G2 level previously: (had not: 0/73, 13p)
14/14 had 7< career wins (8+ : 0/49, 4p)
14/14 ran 26+ days ago (25<: 0/48, 3p)
12/14 had 13< chase runs (14+ : 2/106, 14p)
That's unfortunately not a huge help, but it does eliminate some. I still have eleven on my shortlist and I don't think I've ever backed the winner of this race, so I won't waste too much more time. It goes without saying you want a strong travelling, sure-footed jumper and ideally one that has not shown too much already - or at least not recently.
The novice Embittered was rated a bit higher over hurdles and has yet to run in a handicap chase, instead rocking up and taking it on the chin in many of the best Irish two mile novice events. As with a goodly number of his rivals, this looks like a bit of a plan. And that'll do.
[Sorry not sorry if you were expecting more in this section]
Grand Annual Pace Map
For Pleasure is in here, and so is Editeur Du Gite; Exit Poll also. Chuck in Global Citizen and Before Midnight and this cannot be anything other than a tear up from tape up. Don't come from too far back, mind, as you'll need fortune in transit aplenty.
Grand Annual Selection
I don't know, simple as that. But I do know that Embittered looks like a horse who ought to relish this sort of test, and I'll probably have a throwaway voucher (which is very likely to get thrown away) in his direction.
Suggestion: Get your prayer mat out and try tuppence win and place Embittered. Don't feel that way when the inevitable comes to pass.
5.30 Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Grade 1, NH Flat, 2m 1/2f)
And we close with the only race less scrutable - or more inscrutable if you prefer - than the Grand Annual. Actually, the Fred Boodles is another runner. Anyway, what I mean to say in my typically verbose way is that this is usually deeper than the betting suggests. Consider this epic snippet from Matt 'the Stat' Tombs:
12 of the last 13 times Willie Mullins has had multiple entries in the Bumper, the most fancied has failed to be the first Mullins horse home. That is not a positive for Facile Vega, which is a shame because yours true has a tidy ante post ticket on the early talking horse. In fairness, he's done everything right since popping out of Quevega five or so years ago, his latest form line - of two - being a breath-taking smash up job in a hot-looking Leopardstown bumper.
He deserves to be favoured on that performance, but the reason for the Tombs-tone stat is that the Champion Bumper is a race in which most have yet to peak and many are unbeaten to this point. Consider this: since 2008, Willie has had four unbeaten winners of Cheltenham Flat Race. Sir Gerhard was 85/40 (ugh) last year, but in 2018 Relegate was 25/1; and in 2013 Briar Hill was 25/1; and in 2008, Cousin Vinny was 12/1.
The message is this, I think: if you've a tasty ticket on Facile Vega, bully for you and bonne chance. If not, look elsewhere because Willie had ten horses that fitted the above profile beaten at odds of 7/1 or shorter.
Mullins also saddles third choice, Redemption Day, winner of his only start to date. Paul Townend rides that one. But in the longer grass are Houlanbatordechais (easy for you to chais), James's Gate, Madmansgame, and Seabank Bistro, all of which are unbeaten in one or two starts and some of which are pronounceable. Who knows what the hierarchy is among them? Not Willie, as he's keen to share; history tells us we should take the hint and take a flyer on a 'could be anything' at a price.
Houlanbatordechais - did I spell that right? - will be ridden by Rachael Blackmore and is currently 50/1. Really? Madmansgame gets Danny Mullins and is 40's in a place. Brian Hayes partners Seabank Bistro and he's 40/1. Those are darts I'm more than happy to fling.
Meanwhile, back up top, I've failed to mentioned American Mike, Gordon's fly in the Mullins ointment. Spoken of in bullish terms he's been a facile, ahem, winner of two small field bumpers, the latter of which was in Listed company. This is wider and deeper than that but they know a good'un at Cullentra and they're fair sure this lad is a good'un. His price leaves zero margin for error, however.
The obvious truth is that I have no divine 'in' for this race, but the fact that King Willie has won it multiple times with a double didge-priced runner makes my wagering bed for me. I'm happy to lie there.
Champion Bumper Pace Map
Pinch of salt pace map below. They may very well run in a completely different formation from that suggested, such is the amorphous nature of their profiles.
Champion Bumper selection
One of these will step forward more than all the others, but which one is a total unknown. Facile Vega is a fair and obvious favourite, likewise American Mike second choice. But there's depth here that has historically rewarded a big odds guess. So let's guess!
Suggestion: Try a tiny tickle of Houlanbatordechais (I'll be cheering for 'the Mongolian' in case you're wondering), Madmansgame and/or Seabank Bistro and/or James's Gate. It's that sort of a race.
This second quarter brings us to the half time show. It will have been a roller coaster, as ever, and fingers crossed we'll have enjoyed more luck than losers.