Energumene and Paul Townend win the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase for trainer Willie Mullins and owner Tony Bloom at Cheltenham. 16/3/2022 Pic Steve Davies/Racingfotos.com

Cheltenham Festival 2024: Day Two Preview, Trends, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2024: Day Two Preview, Trends, Tips

Day Two. Wednesday. The second half of the first half and a day when, seemingly, it has rained since time immemorial. After a full on drenching last year, the action may again be played out under sullen skies and over sodden swards. Be that as it may, we have a second septet of compelling skirmishes, each one an opportunity to play up - or down - our tank. Vamanos!

1.30 Gallagher Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m5f)

Previewed by Matt Bisogno.

Ah, the Ballymore Baring Bingham Gallagher Novices' Hurdle. Fair play to the new sponsors, who stepped in at the eleventh hour to support this race and who, I trust, got a commensurate discount as a result. It's a disappointing reality that sponsors are hard to come by at the pinnacle event - certainly the one where those hawking products and services can expect the most eyeballs and, therefore, traction - in the sport. By my count, and there might be reasons unknown to me for why they're not, none of the National Hunt Chase, Grand Annual, County and Martin Pipe have a sponsor. Crikey. Anyway, the Bally... Baring... Gallagher does, and good luck to them: they're an insurance company and Jockey Club supporter lest you didn't know.

Down the years, this race has been more of a kingmaker for the Champion Hurdle than the Supreme in spite of that one's recent alumnus Constitution Hill flying the flag for the day one curtain raiser. Gallagher simply looks at Ballyburn and says, "hold my drink"...

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There is little doubt in anyone's mind that, prior to the 2024 Cheltenham Festival, Ballyburn brings the best novice form. His pre-race RPR is 7lb superior to anything else in this race and 10lb clear of the top rated in the Supreme (Slade Steel, who he comprehensively beat last time). Five runs to date (six if you include his easy point win) have yielded two bumper scores, latterly at the Punchestown Festival, and, though beaten on seasonal debut by Firefox, he's since won a maiden (by 25 lengths from a good horse) and the Grade 1 two mile novice at the Dublin Racing Festival, by seven lengths and with another seven back to the third. He's got an almighty engine on him, and seems to be pretty versatile ground wise; the trip is fine and he can lead or race handily; and he's jumped very well in the main.

The only slight reservation I can think of - and it is really slight - is that he's not had to jump a hurdle at the business end in his last two races; so while he's been well on top each time, we don't know how he hurdles under pressure. I expect he'll be fine, but I don't know.

A better question might be to ask which horses can put him under pressure, so let's posit that one. Ile Atlantique, another Willie entry, was outstayed by yet another from Closutton in Readin Tommy Wrong in the G1 Lawlor's of Naas over two and a half last time. Tommy heads for the Albert Bartlett, rightly so as his effort in Naas was very much one of a stayer. It is often said of the Gallagher that it's more of a speed than a stamina test, with runners tending to settle into a steadier rhythm than, say, the Supreme - a two mile burn up from flag fall. That being the case, Ile Atlantique's two mile tactical speed could be valuable, though he's only run once over timber prior to his defeat last time. That was a maiden hurdle which he won by 19 lengths, beating little of consequence. He looks to have a good bit to find, though it's possible that he will locate at least some of the form deficit with Ballyburn for his ultra-shrewd owner, Tony Bloom (pictured above).

Predators Gold is a horse that interests me. He's a son of Masked Marvel, a sire I've bet on being 'the coming man' of the NH stallion ranks by acquiring and syndicating an expensive yearling filly with 50% his genes! It'll be a few years before we find out how good she is, and in the meantime I've become a full-time cheerleader for the Marvel behind the Mask. He's pretty good is this lad in spite of silver medals the last twice. Those were both in G1's, at two miles and then two and three-quarters, and this slight drop in trip on presumed slightly better ground could be the happy medium he seeks. In truth, I don't think he can beat Ballyburn - he's a touch more exposed than a couple of others in here - but he's a good chance of being on the podium again. Does it go without saying that he's a 42nd string to the wildly hirsute Mullins bow?

Best of the British could be Handstands, for Ben Pauling and former Gold Cup sponsor Tim Radford. He is an unbeaten domestic, defending a point and three hurdle scores, the most recent of which was in the Listed Sidney Banks at Huntingdon, where he beat the previous Grade 1 winner and subsequent Grade 2 second, Jango Baie. That form reads pretty well for all that it's probably a dollop below the pick of the Irish team. Still, he has very clear potential and might come out as the top home team runner (if you like sound bites, his trainer has apparently suggested Handstands is better than Willoughby Court, who won this race in 2017).

Nicky Henderson has Jingko Blue, three times a runner and twice a winner to date. A non-standard prep has seen him eschew Graded action in favour of a Class 3 handicap last time out; he fair bolted up there, seeing his official rating balloon from 124 to 140 in the process. Even allowing for the further progression that leap implies, he still has something like a stone to find with Ballyburn. And soft ground may not be in his favour, though the jury remains out on that score.

Willie has the outsider Mercurey, too, this one running in the Mr Blobby / Susannah Ricci colours. He's stepping up half a mile in trip and, by Muhtathir, that doesn't look the most obvious manoeuvre (that's easy for me to spell!). So far he's been beaten in two maidens before getting off the mark in a third such race, and that doesn't fit with this race. I can't see him at all.

Jimmy Du Seuil was picked up for €200,000 in October 2022 and then we didn't see him for more than a year - amazing how often that happens with Willie runners - before he just failed to reel in stablemate Asian Master in a maiden hurdle. He was the evens favourite that day so clearly felt to be at a good level, and he made no mistake a month later in similar company.

Having written about these two horses, I was curious as to how Willie's maiden winner to Grade 1 hurdlers have performed. In 2008, Fiveforthree bridged that class chasm as a 7/1 chance in the Ballymore - now Gallagher - i.e. this race. And in 2022, The Nice Guy did likewise at 18/1 in the Spuds race. Thirty others tried and failed, though you'd have got paid out on at least six of them for a place. In other words, market wise, they've probably fared no worse than any other Willie cohort; which is to say losing a little bit over time and the real longshots don't win.

Gallagher Novices' Hurdle Pace Map

More Willies out front than a Festival urinal, and one of them will tow Ballyburn into the race if he doesn't make his own running.

 

 

Gallagher Novices' Hurdle Selection

I am not going to be especially creative here. Ballyburn can lead or follow, handles the ground, has won at the distance, generally jumps fluently for a novice and has the best form. What's not to like? Again, he's not necessarily a bad price even though he's a short price. I like Predators Gold but not to beat the jolly.

Suggestion: Back Ballyburn or just watch the race.

TIX PIX: 'A' banker and maybe couple of C's

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2.10 Brown Advisory Novices' Chase (Grade 1, 3m)

Previewed by Gavin Priestley, FestivalTrends.co.uk.

All of the last 14 winners were rated 144+.

All of the last 14 winners had raced 2-5 times over fences.

All of the last 14 winners had run in the previous 25-80 day period.

All of the last 14 winners had finished top 3 on their last start (when completing).

All of the last 14 winners were aged 6-8yo (10/13 were 7yo's).

All of the last 14 winners had won over hurdles from no more than 10 hurdle runs.

All of the last 14 winners raced over 2m4f-3m last time out.

All of the last 14 winners had raced 6-16 times under rules in their career.

13 of the last 14 winners ran in a Grade 1 or Grade 2 race last time out.

13 of the last 14 winners had finished top 4 in all completed Chases.

10 of the last 14 winners had raced at a previous Cheltenham Festival.

All 27 horses fitted with headgear have been beaten this century.

The last mare to win the RSA was way back in 1981 (all 10 female runners this century have finished unplaced).

None of the last 14 winners had run on the flat.

A disappointing turnout for the race and yet again we have a Willie Mullins odds on favourite, Fact To File, to contend with but this time he doesn't quite tick all the trends boxes due to him going straight from NH flat races to chasing without running, and therefore winning, over hurdles. Although it's only a small chink in his profile it does give us some hope that we can get one of these Mullins hotpots beaten.

Paul Nicholls' Stay Away Fay won last year's Albert Bartlett Hurdle and has had a great start to his chasing career winning his first two and then running the race of his life when a close third in the Cotswold Chase last time out. Racing against hardened, more experienced chasers he battled all the way to the line to get within 3 1/2 lengths of the Grade 1-winning Mullins chaser Capodanno and last year's Brown Advisory winner The Real Whacker. Back down to novice company he should go well but wearing headgear is a big no no in the Brown Advisory and I don't like that Nicholls is reaching for the first time cheekpieces here.

If you take that pair out of the race there's very little to separate the other four runners on ratings so I'm going to take a big chance on the outsider of the field GIOVINCO who was a perfect 3 from 3 over hurdles, including a Listed win, and has done well over fences except a surprisingly poor run in the Kauto Star Novice Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day when racing on good ground. He'd previously been only 1 1/2 lengths behind Stay Away Fay on softer ground at Sandown where he travelled strongly through the race before being continously hampered by a loose horse around the 3rd last fence. He still cruised upside the eventual winner as the pair jumped the last and kept on nicely up the run in but wasn't quite able to keep a straight line and keep tabs with Stay Away Fay in the last 100 yards. He had his warm up for this when cantering home in a two-runner Limited Handicap at Newcastle, against a rival receiving 19lb, and I think he has every chance of outrunning his odds here. I just wish we had eight runners for that 3rd each way place.

Brown Advisory Chase Pace Map

An even pace likely, with Stay Away Fay expected to have his own way in front.

Brown Advisory Chase Selection

SELECTION: GIOVINCO EW 22/1

TIX PIX: A's, B's and C's

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Festival Trends

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2.50 Coral Cup (Handicap, Grade 3, 2m5f)

Previewed by David MasseyFor me, this year’s Coral Cup has been about one horse for quite some time now, and more to the point, whether he’d get a run. For a long time I thought he wouldn’t; then the confirmations were made, and I thought he had a chance, and as it turns out, Doddiethegreat (for it is he) has made it with a bit to spare. What were you worrying about? 

One maxim I always have in racing is this; if they’re brought back after a long absence, there’s usually a reason why, and for all that Doddiethegreat has the Scottish Champion Hurdle as the longer-term target, that doesn’t mean he can’t win this en route; and ever since his Betfair fourth he’s looked just the type to give Nicky Henderson a fifth win in the race. 

After an easy score at Ascot following two years off the track last November, he showed he had retained all of his ability when second to Go Dante over 2m1f here in December, form that’s worked out well, not least from the winner who bagged the Imperial Cup at the weekend. He improved again when fourth in the aforementioned Betfair Hurdle last time, not getting the best of luck in the run but staying on strongly after the last and looking for all the world like a step back up in trip would suit. 

He has already won a novice hurdle over 2m5f at Kempton back in 2021, and ground doesn’t seem to bother him. There are many ticks in boxes when looking at his overall profile, and it’ll be a big disappointment - mainly in terms of my ante-post bets - if he can’t go close. 

If he blows out, then what else? Well, classy types have a decent record in the race and Ballyadam, despite the steadier of twelve stone, has bundles of it. He’s also got Festival form, which is never a bad thing, having finished fifth in the last two editions of the County Hurdle, and I do feel this intermediate trip could be ideal after finishing third to Irish Point in the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown last time. A hard task off top weight, but definitely one for those exacta and trifecta mixes. 

Doddiethegreat might be Nicky’s main hope, but I’d not be dismissive of First Street either. Whilst we know him best as a two miler these days, he stayed this sort of trip earlier in his career, and he has won a handicap off a 3lb higher mark back in 2022. He’s run respectably against both Lossiemouth and Constitution Hill this year and comes into this off the back of wind surgery, something he seems to need fairly regularly; but he has won after the procedure before, and the way he’s finished off over hurdles on each occasion this year has suggested he requires this step back up in trip. Another class animal with the right sort of mark from which to go well. 

Others to consider for placepot and exactas/trifectas include Langer Dan, reigning Coral Cup champ and now back to that mark after some down-the-field efforts over trips too short, in the main; Sa Majeste, for so long one of the talking horses; and, at a bigger price, Supreme Gift, who has been chasing for much of the season but, back over hurdles at Ascot last time, went down fighting in a ¾l defeat: third home Astronomic View was an easy winner at Warwick on Sunday, so the form has had a boost. The visor, on that day, is retained, and Harry Cobden is hardly a negative either…

Coral Cup Pace Map

Bound to be a nice bit of pace on, and should be fair to most run styles.

Coral Cup Selection

Back Doddiethegreat at 7/1 with as many places as you can find (six generally, Skybet eight but a point shorter as I write).

TIX PIX: A's, B's and C's

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3.30 Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1, 2m)

Previewed by Matt Bisogno.

A Champion Chase that has been El Fabiolo's to lose for much of the season. And in the absence of his Closutton mate and reigning champ of the past two years, Energumene, he shows at odds on to register a third victory in a row for that man Mullins, who - let's not forget - had never won the QMCC prior to 2022. More sobering for those taking the short odds is that he'd saddled three odds on favourites, and six priced 9/2 or shorter.

Remember the brilliant Un De Sceaux? Beaten at 4/6 for Willie in 2016. The mighty Douvan? Fell at 9/2 in 2018, when Min was only second as a 5/2 shot, and - worse - 7th in 2017 as a 2/9 chance. Then, more recently, Chacun Pour Soi was returned 8/13 but could only return to the 3rd place area in the winners' enclosure. Since then, Energumene was sent off at 5/2 and 6/5 in his two recent winning years.

So has Willie now found the key? Or should we be wary of quotes of around 1/3? Well, the answer is possibly yes to both questions. A casual glance at El Fabiolo's form, which reads 121111111, four of them Grade 1's, might be enough for the less curious to conclude 'case closed'. There is, however, a small niggle...

We need to talk about El Fab's jumping. It's pretty clumsy and there's no getting away from that fact. If you don't believe me, I've copied the in-running comments from his six races over fences below. He's won them all, but that might be something to keep in mind if you're tempted to pile in at cramped odds.

 

 

In opposition are the usual suspects, pretty much. Jonbon heads them, as he did the rest of the field in last year's Arkle where he was five lengths second to El Fabiolo. After that, he won four on the spin, three of them Grade 1's, before coming surprisingly unstuck at 1-4 in the Clarence House Chase, diverted for the second year in a row to Cheltenham after Ascot was abandoned. His in-running comment that day was prefaced with "didn't jump well", a feature too of his most recent quartet of races. The surprise winner that day was Elixir De Nutz, a likeable and oddly progressive ten-year-old, who had previously been pulled up and midfield in the last two renewals of the Grand Annual: that hardly screams Champion Chase contender. But he has won three of his last four, each time when eschewing his customary front-running role (indeed, when leading early over fences he's won one from ten; when racing prominently early over fences he's four from six - you'd think someone would have mentioned that to connections...)

I mean, I expect this to be well run and the top two in the market - who are clearly the best two horses in the field - have had persistent jumping frailties. While they're comfortably the most likely pair for the exacta, that's not the way to bet.

Last time out, Edwardstone looked a new man under revised tactics. Sent forward in the four-runner heavy ground Grade 2 Game Spirit he barreled clear by 40 lengths from Funabule Sivola. Quite apart from the small field and deep ground, that result is flattering because Boothill looked booked for a certain second, within ten lengths or so of the winner, when ejecting two out. Connections mentioned after that 28th career start, Edwardstone's first as a ten-year-old, that they'd worked out how to ride him. What the... fertilizer? In any case, that chat is patent hogwash as a record of four wins from six completed starts - including the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices' Chase - when racing prominently asserts. Further, he won the Tingle Creek (G1) when held up so, you know, it's not about the run style, is it? That said, such a sound bite implies he'll want to go forward here and he is unlikely to be alone in that desire.

Getting back to Newbury, and that form line has a dubious look to it; the remainder of Eddy's 2023/24 catalogue is probably a fairer reflection of where he's at: he was twice second to Jonbon before failing to stay two and a half miles behind Banbridge. In his defence, he's the most consistently good jumper of the first three in the market. But I can't really see it.

Who's left? How about Henry de Bromhead's Captain Guinness? HdB is the best trainer at the Festival in recent years - yes, even better than Willie in my opinion - and this lad has strong place prospects. Second to Energumene twelve months ago - Edwardstone tailed off as second favourite, Funambule De Sivola failing to complete - he finished last term getting close to Jonbon in the Celebration Chase at Sandown. He's been campaigned seemingly with this in mind all season: after a G2 win on debut in November, he was pulled up (post race clinically abnormal) at Christmas in a Grade 1 before running on from an impossible position in the Dublin Chase behind El Fabiolo last time. I expect him to be ridden a little closer here, and to benefit from a rapid tempo, and I think he has a decent chance of making the frame. And, if jumping is the watch word, who knows?

That leaves Gentleman De Mee, perhaps the most likely pace angle. The second runner for Willie Mullins and a second for JP McManus, this lad beat Edwardstone in the Maghull Novices' Chase (Grade 1) at Aintree two years ago and won the G1 Dublin Chase of 2023, too, so he's got plenty of class. Both of those top level scores were on the soft side of good, though it might be a lot wetter here. I just feel that, if Edwardstone also goes forward, and with any or all of Jonbon, Elixir De Nutz, Funambule Sivola and El Fabiolo snapping at his heels, he's going to be vulnerable in the last quarter of the race.

All in all, it's a fascinating renewal of the Champion Chase, and one where jumping could well decide the outcome.

Champion Chase Pace Map

Gentleman De Mee looks the most likely to take them along, with Edwardstone also expected to go forward. Elixir De Nutz could press, too, ditto El Fab or Fumble de Siv. I think they'll go quickety quick.

 

Champion Chase Selection

As mentioned, this revolves around jumping and the unconvincing athleticism of the front two in the market. El Fabiolo is clearly the best horse in the race and, if avoiding serious error, should win. But given that eight of the eleven horses sent off at odds on in the Champion Chase this century have been beaten (5/6, 4/5, 4/5, 4/6, 2/9, 2/5, 8/13, 5/6) I'm looking to back a horse each way. It's unlikely that neither of El Fab and Jonbon will fail to complete so we're probably playing for minor money; but in that context I want to oppose Edwardstone and play Captain Guinness. I feel it might set up for a midfield runner to close into tired horses and he could get into the first two, and then who knows?

Suggestion: Back Captain Guiness each way at 16/1 or so.

TIX PIX: A with couple of C's

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4.10 Glenfarclas Chase (Cross Country, Class 2, 3m6f)

Previewed by Matt Bisogno. Sadly, this race has been abandoned.

The Glenfarclas Chase, a cross country event contested around three ever-decreasing circles before spinning off up the straight of the main track is not everyone's cup of rosy, it's fair to say. Me, I love it, which is not to say that in recent times I've been especially successful at finding the winner. The nature of the race has changed: inaugurated as a handicap in 2005 it graduated to a conditions event in 2016 since when its become a very happy hunting ground for former - and in some cases still - high class chasers.

We're talking the likes of Cause Of Causes, Tiger Roll, and Delta Work, all of them 'medalling' in the Grand National subsequently. And all of them trained by Gordon Elliott (by proxy in one case), a man who trained a National winner before he'd trained a winner in his native Ireland. His horses jump and stay.

Delta Work is the reigning champ, having retained his crown a year ago, and bids for the three-peat (as they say across the pond - yuk). He's knocking on a bit now, eleven years young, but that didn't stop his mate Tiger Roll from bagging his own hat-trick (that's better) at the same age. When Delta Work won this last year he prepped with a 13 length 6th of eight in the Boyne Hurdle at Navan; this year he's prepped with a 15 length 6th of eight in the same race, so we all know where we are with him. He handles wet ground fine - it's wetter on the infield track than the Old and New Courses - and knows his way home blindfold around there.

But there's a ton of back class in the field this time headed by Gold Cup winner Minella Indo, and Savills and National Hunt Chase winner Galvin. Add in this year's Troytown and former Thyestes Chase winner Coko Beach and a raft of credible place contenders at least and it makes for what is very likely the deepest field in Glenfarclas history.

Minella Indo won the Gold Cup in 2021 and was second a year later; pulled up in the Blue Riband twelve months ago, his sights have been lowered considerably and he had a reconnaissance visit in the December handicap over track and trip. There he conceded a stone and a half to Latenightpass but was beaten only five lengths or so. He'd started out this season winning a Grade 3 at Punchestown but was last of the four in the Grade 1 at Down Royal after which this new plan was hatched. He stays well, has class and is proven at the track and the Festival.

Galvin probably doesn't want it too wet. Most of his best form is on a sounder surface, as when fourth in the Gold Cup two years ago; but he's raced mainly on softer recently. Indeed, he was second to Delta Work in this race a year ago and was down the field in the two handicap chases over the track/trip late last year. Sent off 10/3 favourite for the November edition, he was never put into the race; but he did run a little better in the October variant, finishing a place and four lengths behind Minella Indo. This has obviously been the plan all season but I'm not at all sure he can bring his A game when water wings are needed.

One who loves it deep is Coko Beach. He's officially top rated in the line up, on 161, and this season has run 3rd in the Munster National, won the Troytown, been 2nd in the Becher Chase and bolted up in the PP Hogan Cross Country Chase at Punchestown. He stays well, jumps well and handles most ground; the only thing I don't like about his profile is that it's a very un-Gordon Elliott prep for the race! That said, Tiger Roll came to the race in good form when winning his second Glenfarclas in 2019, but it's a weird niggle I can't quite shake. He's taken a few of my quids nevertheless.

Foxy Jacks has run cross country here three times and failed to get round twice, though he did win on the other occasion! That was in the November handicap last year in which the heavyweights Delta Work and Galvin both went missing, presumed not off. The winner that day was in receipt of a stone but faces those old foes off levels here. He's not for me, thanks, and nor are any of the others. Stattler, representing Willie Mullins, might take a few betting pounds but his trainer is 0 from 15, four places, over the Festival banks and barrels.

Of the remainder, I'd give Waldorf more chance than Stattler, and the rest just need to keep out of the way by and large.

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Pace Map

Something at a big price will lead the dawdle until the third lap, at which point the class horses will pull on their running spikes and clear away. I think.

 

 

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Selection

Gordon Elliott has won six of the last seven (one of them under the pseudonym Denise Foster) Festival cross country races and has an iron grip on a bid for a seventh. And yet it's Henry de Bromhead who saddles the ante post favourite, Minella Indo. He's highly respected but not as much as Elliott's dominance - as well as six from seven winners since 2017, he's also saddled four of the second placed horses, a quite phenomenal record. Choosing between his entries is not easy and Delta Work might well be the one. But I've been drawn to Coko Beach, still relatively young at nine and in the form of his life. He's no longer an each way price so I hope he'll go very close to winning.

Suggestion: Try Coko Beach at around 4/1 in a cracking renewal.

TIX PIX: A's only

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4.50 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase (Grade 3, 2m)

Previewed by Rory Delargy. Two things to have uppermost in your mind regarding the Grand Annual are that the going is likely to be testing and tacky and that the switch back to the Old Course means that it is a kinder race for prominent racers, whereas the stiffer New Course was a benefit for hold-up horses (who can forget Paul Carberry on Bellvano).

There are lots of poorly handicapped horses in this race and it’s not hard to whittle the field down to horses well enough treated who can cope with the conditions and the Cheltenham fences. The significant gamble that such an approach rules out is Harper’s Brook, who is rated one of the best bets of the Festival by a couple of people I respect, but while he’s a talented horse, he strikes me as one of the very WORST betting propositions of the week.

Firstly, it’s well established that for all his talent he is ungenuine and has twice pulled himself up in front after trading at 1.01 on Betfair. I napped him on the latter occasion, so am unlikely to forget it. What really puts me off Harper’s Brook is his record at Cheltenham where he has raced four times without beating a single rival. I’ll be mildly surprised if he finishes the race and stunned, I tell you, STUNNED if he manages to win. I will have to lie down in a dark corner for quite a long time, in fact. A long time.

Saint Roi bids to become the seventh horse in Festival history to win a handicap over both hurdles and fences, but for a horse who was briefly ante-post favourite for the Champion Hurdle a few years back, his record since his County Hurdle win is disappointing, and his only win in his last 18 starts came back in December 2022. He’s capable of getting placed, but too expensive to follow.

Madara rates a mention as a progressive 5yo with a 3-3 record on testing ground, and he went to Ireland to spank the local handicappers at the DRF. I’m not dead against him here, but all the talk about his chances ignores the fact that he’s not only gone up 10lb for that win against largely unconvincing rivals (there really isn’t a great deal of depth to the two mile chase scene in Ireland beyond the top-class runners), but he is now not eligible for a juvenile allowance. That allowance was 6lb when he won at Cheltenham two starts back and still 3lb at Leopardstown but has now been eroded entirely. It won’t stop him, as such, but he’s effectively 19lb higher than when beating In Excelsis Deo two starts back, and I don’t think it has been factored into his price.

The two I like most are Libberty Hunter and Hardy du Seuil with the former looking really solid in the conditions. He would be unbeaten over fences but for overjumping on debut at Chepstow and has added wins at Wincanton and on the New Course here, beating Arkle hope Matata by a length in a 2m handicap in December. Those wins have come on heavy and soft ground and he coped well with the jumping test when scoring last time. Harry Cobden takes over from regular pilot Adam Wedge and that looks no negative, with the handicapper unlikely to have caught up with the son of Yorgunnablucky, who was bred by the shrewd Brian Eckley, who trained Libberty Hunter to win twice in bumpers before he was bought on behalf of the Ruckers for £160k.

Hardy du Seuil is lightly raced over fences having switched back to hurdles last season, but he has some solid form, and very much caught the eye when staying on into third behind Etalon at Sandown last month on his first start since April 2023. He was noted by m’learned friend Mr Massey as looking big and well (ie not yet fit) at Sandown, and he has a good record on his second start after a break, winning on his second start for Jamie Snowden over fences, and finishing third and first having needed his return last season.

His mark of 132 is 3lb lower than when an excellent second at Kelso on his penultimate chase start since when he has scored over hurdles, and the only time he’s been worse than second on soft ground since his debut came when a respectable seventh in the Imperial Cup last spring, with lifetime figures reading 22221723.

Grand Annual Pace Map

Always run at a harem scarem pace, and often suiting those not too far from the teeth of it, you may not want your pick to be too far back.

 

Grand Annual Selection

Suggestions: Try 13/2 Libberty Hunter, or 14/1 Hardy du Seuil
Suggested Place Lay: Harper’s Brook

TIX PIX: A's, B's and C's

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5.30 Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Grade 1, NH Flat, 2m 1/2f)

Previewed by John Burke, VictorValue.co.uk. Just when I was anticipating diving into the Coral Cup or the Grand Annual, Matt presents me with the Champion Bumper! However, upon closer inspection, it seems more like a handicap in terms of the betting.

The Festival Bumper is a good example of race trends evolving, and the trend is away from big-priced winners. Four of the last five winners were returned 7/2 or shorter and the outlier was the 11/1 Willie Mullins trained Ferny Hollow ridden by Paul Townend. All the last ten winners of the Champion Bumper where LTO winners and all of them were aged five or six.

Contenders:

A maximum field of 24 horses are set to compete in this year's renewal. Despite previous trends favouring shorter-priced horses, this year's contest appears to be wide open. The absence of a standout bumper horse from Ireland contributes to the race's unpredictability, reflected in bookmakers offering odds of 6/1 for the entire field at time of writing (Tuesday morning).

Willie Mullins fields the favourite, Jasmin De Vaux, who showcased promise with a victory at Naas on his stable debut in January. Partnered again by Patrick Mullins, he's expected to perform well. Mullins also saddles Cantico, ridden by stable jockey Paul Townend, who cruised to victory at Navan last month.

Gordon Elliott's contender, Jalon D'oudairies, boasts an unbeaten record in two bumper starts and is considered a strong prospect for the race after a victory at Leopardstown last time. He’s got a big chance. Elliott also saddles Romeo Coolio, an impressive debut winner at Fairyhouse who looks an exciting prospect for staying hurdles next season.

You Oughta Know, also trained by Mullins, heads the Racing Post Ratings but faces stiff competition from other contenders.

Fleur Au Fusil won a Naas bumper on racecourse debut and followed up in a Grade 2 mares bumper at Leopardstown last month. Given how keen she was it was notable that she was able to finish off her race as strongly as she did at Leopardstown. It’s not a total surprise that Mullins opts to apply the first time hood on the mare.

Among the British challengers, Teeshan from Paul Nicholls' yard showed promise with a victory at Exeter last month, while Ben Pauling's Sixmilebridge impressed on his stable debut at Sandown. Though primarily seen as a hurdling prospect for the future, Sixmilebridge shouldn't be overlooked in this race.

Champion Bumper Pace Map

Pinch of salt pace map...

 

 

Champion Bumper selection

It looks a minefield to be honest with most of the field potential improvers.  Fleur Au Fusil caught my eye with her recent Leopardstown victory, but she'll require the hood to help settle her if she’s to get home, although the faster race tempo should also help. Both Jalon D'oudairies & Romeo Coolio, trained by Gordon Elliott, stand out as strong contenders, and it's difficult to choose between the two. Teeshan appears to be the top choice among the British runners and can secure a place, or even victory, in the race.

In the end I'm wavering between Jalon D'oudairies and Teeshan, but I've settled on the former. The 13/2 available looks fair in a race which I have priced up at 6/1 the field.

 Suggestion: 0.5pt win - Jalon D'oudairies

 

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Good luck!

Matt

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