Cheltenham Festival 2023: Day Two Preview, Trends, Tips
Day two, Wednesday, and a similar combination of novice races, handicaps and a Championship race, this time the Queen Mother Champion Chase. As ever, it's a one-thirty start for the...
1.30 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m5f)
They say the Ballymore/Neptune/Baring Bingham is more of a speed test than the Supreme and, if very recent history is anything to go by "they" are right. The winners' finishing speeds in the Supreme in the past two years - the only two for which CourseTrack sectionals are available on the RTV website - were 100% each time, with the runners up coming home in around 94% each time. Meanwhile, in the Ballymore, the winners' closing sectionals were 102.2% and 106% while the runners up recorded 101.4% and 103.8%. What does it all mean? Well, simply that we might be looking for a horse able to travel and quicken rather than one who gallops relentlessly.
To the form, and the only place to start is with the talking horse's talking horse, Impaire Et Passe. Reputedly the latest Pegasus on the Willie Mullins production line, he's unbeaten in a Nancy bumper before transferring to Closutton (for €155,000) and winning a brace of novice hurdles, the second of which was the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer. That race has been a stepping stone in the past for the same trainer's Mikael d'Haguenet, Vautour, Douvan and Min, amongst others. The first of those named won the Ballymore next time, while the other three all went Supreme (two of them winning, Min running second to Altior). So it is arguably the trusted prep for Mullins' top novice hurdlers, although the Grade 1 at the DRF is a more obvious candidate in that regard.
A winner of his maiden hurdle by 18 lengths, in a field of 24, that form looks very ordinary: none of the runners behind that day have won since, and they've collectively amassed 42 starts! Still, that's hardly Impaire Et Passe's fault as he fulfilled his end of the bargain by going so far clear. In that Moscow Flyer, run this year on heavy ground, he jumped well in the main though was a little clumsy at the last. The key thing with his chance, given that on form he has a bit to find, is the stable confidence. Mullins has a raft of talented novice hurdlers and yet this is the one seemingly most talked up: he must be good. But he is inexperienced and, as I say, does not yet have the best form.
Mullins also saddles Gaelic Warrior, second in last year's Fred Boodles and winner of all three of his starts this term, including in a valuable handicap hurdle, shouldering top weight, at the DRF. That form has already had some lustre added to it and, where IEP is a tad shy on experience, GW brings much more as a second season novice.
Splitting the Willie pair in the betting is the Paul Nicholls-trained Hermes Allen. Triumphant in all three of his races so far, he must have surprised a few at Ditcheat because he started out in a Stratford maiden hurdle before claiming the Grade 2 Hyde Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham and the Grade 1 Challow at Newbury. That Challow form has worked out superbly well, with the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th and two of the pulled up also-rans winning since; not only winning, but three of them scoring in Pattern company. Hermes Allen is already a heck of a hurdler, but he could be a monster over fences next season.
The third string to Mullins' extremely stringy bow is Champ Kiely, winner of the Grade 1 Lawlor's Of Naas Novices' Hurdle last time. There he beat Irish Point, who won a Grade 3 at Naas on Sunday; the overall level of that form looks below others in the field, however. That said, the Champ handles any ground and has won four of his five career starts to date.
Barry Connell, boutique trainer of his own horses, has not just Marine Nationale in the Supreme but also Good Land in this. He's winner of his three completed starts this term, having unseated at the first in his hurdling debut. He was last seen winning the Grade 1 Nathaniel Lacy over 2m6f at the DRF, and that is normally top form as illustrated in this article by Jon Shenton. [For info, the best novice hurdle run annually in Britain or Ireland tends to be the one at DRF won this year by Il Etait Temps].
Ho My Lord is a further Willie wunner, and is unbeaten in completed starts, a French bumper and an Irish maiden hurdle either side of a tumble at Leopardstown at Christmas. He completely unexposed, and as such wouldn't be a total shock winner; but his known level of form is stones below that in the book for some of his rivals.
I liked American Mike for the Supreme after his Champion Bumper second last year, but he seems to have completely lost his way since. It's not unheard of for horses to rediscover their best form at the Festival, but it is usually slightly more planned by connections - who were aiming at a handicap until running out of time to get the requisite fourth run under their belts. Mike looks somewhat homeless in terms of race fit this year; hoping he'll be back next season over a fence.
Ballymore Pace Map
Plenty of early dash, with Hermes Allen and American Mike, along with probably one or more of the Mullins lesser lights. Might be a little quicker than normal in the early stages.
Ballymore Novices' Hurdle Selection
I have come round to the hype surrounding Impaire Et Passe, a horse who will have plenty of peers against which to compare his level at home. His stablemate Gaelic Warrior has the best public level of ability but the vibes are all for IeP. Still, the Warrior will likely be hard to keep out of the three and represents a fairly solid each way tickle.
Suggestion: Probably a race to bet Impaire Et Passe, even at relatively skinny odds. 5/1 Gaelic Warrior is a solid-looking each way alternative.
2.10 Brown Advisory Novices' Chase (Grade 1, 3m)
Widely recalled as the RSA Chase, this is in fact the Broadway Novices' Chase, currently sponsored by Brown Advisory, an independent investment management firm apparently. No matter: it always has been and presumably always will be a three mile novice chase and an early opportunity for chasers to advertise future Gold Cup credentials: in that context, it's typically a very good race. The last couple of winners, L'Homme Presse and Monkfish, have absented for the following year's Gold Cup; but going back a decade, Bobs Worth and Lord Windermere were back to back Broadway/Gold Cup doublers.
This year, the most fancied runner is Gerri Colombe, and not without good cause. He's already a dual Grade 1 winner, in the Faugheen at Limerick at Christmas and in the Scilly Isles at Sandown last month; and, though both of those races were over half a mile shorter than he'll face here, he's been going on to assert at the finish each time. Still, he's not guaranteed to stay in a top class test such as this. One asset that will help is his jumping, which was outstanding at Sandown: long or short, he was always clever and didn't tickle a twig at any of the 17 fences. Gerri is a very worthy favourite.
One thing the jolly has not yet done is race around Cheltenham; the same cannot be said of The Real Whacker. Patrick Neville's seven-year-old is unbeaten in two chases at the track, most recently when beating Monmiral three lengths in the Grade 2 Dipper. He, too, has been very good at his obstacles to date and may have more to give: perhaps he'll need to as a line through Monmiral gives him a bit to find with GC - though it's fair to say the collateral horse wouldn't be a reliable yardstick even if reliable yardsticks were a reliable yardstick, if you see what I mean. In any case, his defeat of Thunder Rock (reopposes) was much more in line with Gerri C's margin over the same horse, so if you're into collateral you can choose your poison.
Philip Hobbs has recently announced a joint licence plan whereby long-time assistant Johnson White will share the honour; but before that Thyme Hill will test his mettle for the current sole licensee here. A couple of years the senior of Gerri and the Whacker, Thyme Hill has been a top class staying hurdler, running second in last year's Stayers' Hurdle as well as winning the G1 Liverpool Hurdle, the G1 Challow as a novice, and running third in the 2019 Champion Bumper here. He was also fourth in the Albert Bartlett of 2020, giving him Festival form of 342 in Grade 1's.
Although it feels like this feller has been around forever he only spent three seasons hurdling; and the manner of his Feltham/Kauto Star win at Kempton on Boxing Day - by 15 lengths from McFabulous - was striking. The form however has plenty of question marks with the second pulling up as odds on favourite next time; and the other two runners at Kempton failing to complete. Thyme Hill came from off a sizzling pace that day to barrel away from a couple of tired rivals, an approach that perhaps again gives him a chance to pick up pieces here.
Remember Sir Gerhard? Sporting the union flag colours of Cheveley Park but raced in Ireland for better prize money (sigh), he cost four hundred grand at the end of the 2019. That looked a fairly chunky price tag but he's since recouped more than half of it, which is more than most racehorses achieve! A win here would add another hundred bags to the total and offer the prospect of him getting his nose in front financially (obviously, ignoring training and transport costs - who bothers with those?!).
More materially, what of his form chance? Well, he infamously 'stole' the 2021 Champion Bumper from Kilcruit (pocket talk) and went on to win last year's Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at the Festival. This season he's been sighted just once, when bagging a beginners' chase by 38 lengths from the occasionally-very-good-but-not-on-this-particular-occasion Largy Debut. That was in spite of a horlicks of an error, which would be a concern here in terms of chasing experience. Yes, he won a point to point back yon but this wouldn't be the gig to come in underdone. Still, he's plenty of class and ability, so is not easily discounted.
The aforementioned Thunder Rock has been beaten by both Gerri Colombe and The Real Whacker so what chance has he here? Both of those defeats were at around two and a half miles, and the run behind the Whacker was at Cheltenham (2m5f, soft) where the closing comment was, "stayed on final 110 yards". That doesn't really tell the full story: Thunder Rock was last of five three furlongs out and closed all the way to the line. Meanwhile, The Real Whacker - who'd led them a merry dance from flag fall - was getting to the end of his soap-on-a-rope. This extra three furlongs is what brings Olly Murphy's charge into the picture, and he's a price against the top of the market.
The mare Galia Des Liteaux seems to be very well regarded by the Skelton yard, and has looked very good a couple of times this term. Her best run was her most recent, when surging 13 lengths clear of her field in a Grade 2 three mile novice chase at Warwick. The going was heavy that day, as it was when she won a Listed novice chase at Bangor earlier in the season, and that appears to be the key to her: the wetter the better. She was pulled up in the Kauto Star/Feltham when failing to get into a rhythm; that can happen to a horse without necessarily being the death knell to its Festival chance - see for example Bobs Worth.
By contrast, Adamantly Chosen has plenty of good ground form. In his latest pair of races, he's been second in two and a half mile Grade 1's to Mighty Potter and Gerri Colombe - not beaten comprehensively either time, and staying on both times - which puts him in the picture here. He's been supplemented for this, another indication that his chance is credible.
RSA Chase Pace Map
Likely just an even gallop here, with Harry Skelton the prime contender to take them along on Galia Des Liteaux. The Real Whacker has gone forward the last twice, however, so there's a chance of some early contention.
RSA Chase Selection
A race where Gerri Colombe is an obvious and legitimate favourite but a bit on the skinny side pricewise. Of his rivals, I quite like the claims of Sir Gerhard, Galia Des Liteaux (soft ground only), Thunder Rock and Adamantly Chosen (good to soft or quicker), and I think it's an each way sort of a race - though we may end up playing for the place part behind Gerri.
Suggestion: Consider 15/2 Galia Des Liteaux (soft or heavy) or 18/1 Adamantly Chosen good to soft or quicker) each way or without the favourite.
2.50 Coral Cup (Handicap, Grade 3, 2m5f)
A big field handicap hurdle, inscrutable in the extreme to these peepers. A bit of 'black box' shortlisting leaves me with HMS Seahorse, Beacon Edge, Captain Conby, and Bold Endeavour.
HMS Seahorse runs for Paul Nolan, the trainer of Mrs Milner, last year's Pertemps Final winner. He seemed to improve a good bit when
needing a few extra pounds to get in here stepping up in trip last time; and he won in the style of a horse with a good bit more up his sleeve.
The Noel Meade-trained Beacon Edge was third Stayers' Hurdle favourite Blazing Khal in the G2 Boyne Hurdle last time, and was a G2 winner at this trip a couple of years ago. He's handily weighted for this handily-cap debut.
Eddie Sheehy is the sort of 'no name' trainer whose runner slips a tad under the radar in races like these; and who can get the job done a la Peter Fahey and Paul Hennessey two years ago. Captain Conby is tough and consistent, and was good enough to still be in the mix in the G1 Mersey Novices' Hurdle when coming down at the second last a year ago. He seems to handle any ground, too.
Best of the home team might be the Nicky Henderson-trained Bold Endeavour, who reverts to hurdles after running second (of three) in the G2 Reynoldstown last time. He looks on a very fair mark so, although the last Festival handicap hurdle winner to have been chasing on its most recent start was Andytown in 2009, that horse was trained by Hendo - and returned a similarly fat price to this one's likely SP. The King of Seven Barrows has attempted the feat eleven times since, faring no better than 7th (in 2021, Mill Green, 40/1) - that obviously tempers enthusiasm.
Coral Cup Pace Map
Probably not crazy fast early despite the huge field, with Bold Endeavour a possible designated driver. Could be a bit of elbows out action turning into the straight with doubtless a dozen and more still holding chances.
Coral Cup Selection
Skybet are *eight* places on this race and that feels the way to go, as long as their win price is competitive with best available. I'll be perming 12/1 Captain Conby, 10/1 HMS Seahorse and 12/1 Beacon Edge - another three very possible place prospects and three darts at hitting the win jackpot.
Coral Cup Suggestion: Split your stake three or four ways - and bet each way with as many extra places as you can find.
3.30 Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1, 2m)
The Champion Chase is the championship speed test for high class steeplechasers. Remarkably, when Energumene claimed the spoils a year ago, it was Willie Mullins' first Champion Chase success at the 15 time of asking. The other 14 included Un De Sceaux (2nd at 4/6), Douvan (7th at 2/9), and Chacun Pour Soi (3rd at 8/13), so it will have been good for him to get that monkey off his back. This year, Mullins saddles only one: Energumene, the reigning champ.
Energumene comes here off a less than convincing prep in the G1 Clarence House in late January (run here rather than its usual Ascot home). There, he was still in the mix before a shocker at the last curtailed his claim. Prior to odds on disappointment there he'd won ten from eleven, the only blemish being a narrow defeat in 'that' race with Shishkin at Ascot. It is reasonable to assume he was not quite at concert pitch in January and further reasonable to say that he will be this time, in which case he may be the one they all have to beat.
Gentleman De Mee - who misses the race with an infection - previously had an Aintree G1 verdict over Edwardstone, while that one won convincingly in last season's Arkle at Cheltenham. And Edwardstone was imperious in the Tingle Creek earlier in the season, though he himself has since been turned over by Editeur Du Gite.
The management summary is that any of a number of these could conceivably win the Champion Chase, a race that is likely to be further confuddled by a pace profile featuring a broad cast of prospective forward-goers. All of this makes for a fascinating and thrilling spectacle but a nightmare of a punting puzzle.
Further down the lists are very-good-on-their-day types like two mile specialist Funambule de Sivola (chase form of 1121121126451 at or around two miles), whose season took a marked turn for the better with a bold front-running display in the Game Spirit; Greaneteen, who was closest to Edwardstone at Sandown but a bit floppy behind Funambule at Newbury; and Nube Negra who all but won the 2021 Champion Chase but has been in and out since.
And then there's Captain Guinness, representing three-time Champion Chase-winning trainer, Henry de Bromhead, who of course suffered the ultimate distress not long ago: what a phenomenal story it would be if the Captain could get home in front. Heart-warming, but unlikely.
Champion Chase Pace Map
Two or three who can go forward but, with none of them needing to do so, it's not clear how this might play out. Editeur Du Gite and Energumene will fancy their win chances to may rein back slightly off Funambule de Sivola, whose prospects are more wild card. Still, I'd expect it to be at least truly run.
Champion Chase Selection
This might just be a straight shoot out between Edwardstone and Energumene, and it might not. As unhelpful as that sounds, I'm not really sure where to go with it. If Energumene tracks the pace rather than contests it, he gets first run on Edwardstone who will be played later. In that scenario, he might win; or he might set it up for the last challenger, probably Edwardstone.
Editeur Du Gite's chance may be compromised by a duel with Funambule de Sivola, another fast horse early, and another classy contender (though not quite in the Eddie/Energ quality category).
Incredibly, perhaps, this is a no bet race for me. It ought to be a cracking watch all the same.
4.10 Glenfarclas Chase (Cross Country, Class 2, 3m6f)
Another of the 'not for the purists' races, arguably; but I have to concede to very much enjoying the different spectacle of a big field of often familiar names jogging around quirky ever decreasing spiral before shaking loose onto the main course for the sprint to the line. In the olden days, this used to be the almost exclusive province of Enda Bolger but, since 2017, there's been a new sheriff in town. Gordon Elliott (and, in 2021, his proxy, Denise Foster) has won five of the last six renewals of the Glenfarclas Chase and saddled the second and third in the year he didn't win during that spell.
This season, he will be responsible for the first two in the betting, Delta Work and Galvin. Now ten, Delta Work was fifth in the 2020 Gold Cup and was the panto villain a year ago when beating everybody's darling, Tiger Roll, by less than a length. He followed that up with third in the Grand National and he's a worthy and obvious favourite. If there is a vulnerability in his profile it might be that he much prefers wet ground: it was heavy when he bested the Tiger but looks unlikely to be that deep this time.
His stablemate Galvin by contrast prefers top of the ground, though he was good enough to claim silver in the 2020 novices' handicap chase at the Festival on soft. A year later, having retained his novice status, he won the NH Chase; and, last year, he was fourth in the Gold Cup. That's very classy form against this field.
And there is another top tier entry this season in the form of Franco De Port, trained by Willie Mullins. He's run respectably in Grade 1 three mile chases the last twice, a level good enough to mix it with Elliott's duo, but he's never raced in public over cross country fences; that's a knock. He looks sure to stay, however, on the basis of his fine third in the Grand Steeplechase last May.
To be honest, I'm struggling to make a case for anything else. Back On The Lash won the cross country handicap in January here but he's 20-odd pounds wrong with Delta Work, and has fluffed his Festival lines in this exam last season (may have hated the ground, in fairness) - any chance he might have is ground dependant. Snow Leopardess would be a very popular winner, and she did have a sighter over the track in January and arrives on the back of a very good run in the Grand National Trial handicap chase last month. She was fourth in Galvin's National Hunt Chase of 2021, handles genuine soft ground and could be a bit of each way value if/when the bookies offer five places.
Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Pace Map
This will be run at its usual sedate pace for the first three miles or so, with Lieutenant Rocco and Back On The Lash the most plausible for name checks throughout. The gorgeous white mare Snow Leopardess will be easy to spot and may not be far from the front, while Galvin, Delta Work, and especially Franco De Port, will probably be further back during the first half of the race.
Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Selection
It looks a straight shootout between the Elliott pair Delta Work and Galvin. On good ground, it's the reigning champion's to lose; soft or heavy would tilt the scales in favour of Galvin; while good to soft would render it pretty much a coin toss between the pair. I don't see anything else representing much value, nor am I mad about punting the short ones at the top at their current prices. I would be tempted by Galvin at bigger than 9/4 on soft ground though that may be asking too much from the layers. If you want an each way with extra places, that might be Snow Leopardess, who looks very likely to improve on her first gallop round this unique circuit.
Suggestion: Back Galvin at 5/2+ if the ground is soft; consider 25/1 Snow Leopardess each way with bonus places, or in any 'without the front two' markets.
4.50 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase (Grade 3, 2m)
Impossible. For me, at least. I've backed Coeur Sublime after his 'not quite off for the lot' fourth in a Grade 1 two back and his 'still not quite off' second in a Grade 3 last time out. It's possible he has too much weight or is not good enough - of course it, perfectly possible - but I think this has been the plan all season. He's been second in a Triumph Hurdle and was only 12/1 for a Champion Hurdle so he's classy all right.
Aside from Coeur, the market is a little over-enamoured with the Irish challenge given that the raiders have won just twice since 2014, though they did have the 1-2-3 in 2020 and the second horse home in the two runnings since. Andy Dufresne was one of those silver medallists, last year, and he has been laid out for this since. He'll need to have been because his recent track efforts have been lamentable. On his full body of work, however, he has a clear chance even off top weight (and the same mark as twelve months ago).
I feel as though Joe Tizzard may go close in a handicap this week and he has Elixir De Nutz in this one. Easy winner of a Class 2 handicap a couple of spins back, he was no match for Champion Chase-bound Funambule de Sivola last time, though of course he'd got a qualifying mark by then. Elixir runs in the same Terry Warner colours as former winner (and third placed on another occasion) Oiseau De Nuit, who was trained by Joe's dad, Colin. He's a Grade 2 winner at the track over hurdles, but wouldn't want too much rain.
Grand Annual Pace Map
Fast and furious always. Last year's winner, Global Citizen, and my fancy, Elixir De Nutz, need to be careful not to compromise each other's chance; especially with fancied runners like Final Orders and Dinoblue snapping at their hooves. Expect it to be frenetic.
Grand Annual Selection
I have backed Coeur Sublime and think he can run a nice race; and if it's not too wet - it might be - I'll have a small each way bet on Elixir De Nutz with as many places as I can find.
Suggestion: Your guess is better than mine. I'm guessing 11/1 Coeur Sublime and 16/1 Elixir de Nuit, and hoping to be lucky rather than good.
5.30 Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Grade 1, NH Flat, 2m 1/2f)
Some shrewd judges go to the bar when this is on; even shrewder judges make a lot of paddock notes for future reference. It's not really a betting race, with whispers and hearsay trading far more strongly than form lines - on the basis that most of the horses have very few of those, and even the ones they do possess were earned in vastly different circumstances.
To offer a hint into the opaqueness of the race, how many do you think Willie Mullins has entered this year? Five? Six? Nope. Ten. TEN!!
One who has shown top class bumper form is A Dream To Share and that's why he's favourite. At least you know he can run fast and good. Obviously, plenty of the others are capable of running faster and gooder than ADTS, we just haven't seen that yet.
Better Days Ahead is a Bective Stud/Gordon Elliott entry, and was a good winner last time from Chapeau de Soleil ("gwarrn the sun hat!") in a small field. Who knows that form amounts to?
Willie has won this with some of his unexposed bigger priced runners, such as Briar Hill (25/1, ridden by Ruby Walsh), Relegate (25/1), Champagne Fever (16/1) and Ferny Hollow (11/1). So the advice is to split a small stake between a few of the unexposed Mullins bombs, and hope to be lucky.
Backing all last day winning Willie Bumper runners at bigger than 10/1 in this would have yielded six winners and six more places from 42 starters, and an SP profit of 67 points! A point each way would have returned a surplus of 77.4 points, and that before you include the two fourths and three fifths that some bookies would have paid out on. You'll be taking a good few this time around but it's a less annoying way to play things than betting the buzz horse and watching it crawl home midfield.
Champion Bumper Pace Map
Pinch of salt stuff here, but for what it's worth, this is what we've discovered about the field so far in terms of run style.
Champion Bumper selection
Suggestion: Bet the big priced Willies. Perhaps 16/1 Western Diego and 20/1 Westport Cove, e/w with five places in a couple of shops.
These seven skirmishes will deliver us to our half time cup of tea. We might need something stronger by then! Regardless, we've another 14 chances at redemption / further glory / giving it back* [*delete as applicable]