Last night I had the pleasure of attending the London Racing Club's Cheltenham Preview night. Always a considered evening, refreshingly bereft of "this is a certainty" and "will win" bluster, the panel comprised the notable nag noggins of Matt Tombs (MT), Lydia Hislop (LH), host Lee Mottershead (LM), and Unibet's Ed Nicholson (EN), who does a lot of media work with Nicky Henderson. Here's what they had to say...
Tuesday - Day 1
Supreme Novices' Hurdle
EN - Nicky is really very hopeful for Constitution Hill and favours him over Jonbon, but Ed prefers Jonbon's battle tested form to CH's bridle work.
LH - Would personally run Sir Gerhard in the Ballymore and the buzzy Dysart Dynamo in Supreme. Kilcruit could be a touch underestimated, while a strongly run race would suit Mighty Potter. Not betting until the final field is known.
MT - It should be a no brainer to split Sir G and DD as Lydia suggested. Constitution Hill not tested off the bridle, who knows if he'll find? Have some doubts about Kilcruit, who has perhaps had a physical issue. Feel Mighty Potter is over-priced based on the Grade 1 Christmas form beating Three Stripe Life. He could shorten between now and off time.
LH - Edwardstone is a sold favourite but short enough at 2/1, though would be a bet if drifting as far as 3's. Great jumper. Saint Sam might finish in front from the trio out of the Irish Arkle. Haut En Couleurs retains 'could be anything' status.
MT - Might take a chance on HeC: in a race lacking obvious star potential, he has untapped upside.
EN - Bookies will probably want to try to lay Edwardstone.
Ultima Handicap Chase
MT - Oscar Elite should be on your shortlist.
EN - Epatante has been hurdling really fluently in her schooling work and the Henderson team hope she can make the frame again.
MT - Honeysuckle about the right price. Too much made of her unremarkable but still clear cut win last time. Appreciate It has a mountain to climb trying to beat her first time out off a year's layoff.
LH - AI and Paul Townend should probably force matters and try to put Honey's jumping under pressure. Still think Honey will win, but struggling to find a betting angle into the race. Maybe if strongly run, Zanahiyr without the favourite is a play.
LH - Telmesomethinggirl the likeliest winner but short enough now. Queen's Brook could be a danger, and Burning Victory may be interesting at a price. Stormy Ireland is probably past her best now.
MT - Want to take Burning Victory on. She's been on the go for a long time.
EN - Marie's Rock has come back to form in her work and Nicky thinks she could be his best outsider of the week.
Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
EN - Champion Green and Brazil are both better value options than Gaelic Warrior and his mysterious handicap mark.
LH - Saint Segal looks like he has a lot of ability.
Wednesday - Day 2
Ballymore Novices' Hurdle
MT - Sir Gerhard looks like he'll have too much toe for this field and could go off something like 4/6 in the end.
LH - Agree with Matt
EN - Agree, likely to shorten
Brown Advisory Novices' Chase (formerly RSA)
LH - Not sure Bravemansgame likes Cheltenham. Ahoy Senor could be a Gold Cup player next season but unconvinced about his chance on the tighter track in this novices' race. L'Homme Presse was previously going to the Turners but now heads here: he might just be the optimal runner in the field as he should stay the longer trip and might even improve for it - he's been hitting the line strongly in his races. Gaillard Du Mesnil might be a little value as a street fighting slugger, the sort that often fares well in this race.
EN - Also favours Ahoy Senor over BMG, reversing Kempton Grade 1 form.
MT - 22 Kauto Star/Feltham winners have been beaten in the RSA, no Kempton G1 winner has won RSA; beaten horses from that race have won RSA numerous times. If Ahoy Senor gets into a jumping rhythm he will be tough to beat but only if he jumps well enough. If Capodanno is declared he could be the danger.
LH - Thought Energumene should have beaten Shishkin last time at Ascot where seemingly everything was in his favour. On Shishkin's home patch, the Arkle winner will be tough to beat. Not sure Chacun Pour Soi likes the track and worried that Willie Mullins says he has to train him at only 95%. Nube Negra each way or without the favourite is interesting because don't really like Energ or CPS and NN will finish strongly.
MT - Would rather back Energ at 7/2 than Shishkin at 8/11 but worried about him potentially jumping right at his fences.
EN - Nicky Henderson has won with all eight of his odds on shots at the Festival to date. Shishkin bids to extend that sequences.
Grand Annual Handicap Chase
LH - Coeur Sublime, if coming here rather than Arkle, has the right profile to be very competitive.
EN - Paul Nicholls very sweet on Thyme White, who he feels may appreciate the fast tempo to the race.
MT - Saint Felicien is a Grade 1 horse in a handicap. Had a very similar prep to other Elliott handicap winners and was still in the Champion Hurdle until quite late in the day.
LH - "Not a race for me, because I just don't know enough about the runners"
MT - 12 of the last 13 times Willie has had multiple entries in the Bumper, the most fancied has failed to be the first Mullins horse home. Not a positive for Facile Vega.
Thursday - Day 3
Turners Novice Chase
LH - Could be a VERY small field. Not sure Bob Olinger has improved for the switch to fences, for all that he was a very high class hurdler; but feel Galopin Des Champs is a better horse for chasing. Henry de Bromhead horses are always well schooled but GdC looks "the real deal".
LH - Eldorado Allen interesting against (or without) the favourite, Allaho. Shan Blue is a negative: think he wants a flat track.
MT - Mister Fisher, if he runs here, might be ridden to pick up the pieces.
EN - Not sure Mister F is running here.
MT - The race is "a muddle". Might take a chance on Klassical Dream even after his Galmoy Hurdle clunk. Have also backed Royal Kahala, as believe the Galmoy form has been under-rated a touch. She's progressive while plenty in this field look regressive.
LH - Backed KD because, at his best, he's the best in the field. Might bomb out but if bringing his A game, he is the one. Also wouldn't underestimate Royal Kahala who receives a 7lb mares' allowance.
Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle
LM - Sire Du Berlais is my bet of the meeting. Has a good amateur jockey in Rob James, who will claim 7lb, and SdB is a proper Cheltenham Festival horse.
Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Hurdle
LH - Dinoblue the bet of the meeting after Willie decided to send her straight here following a single run and win. Strongly against Brandy Love who is an awful price. Party Central may be more of a danger.
Friday - Day 4
LH - Wide open race. A Plus Tard is not getting away from his fences with any momentum whereas Minella Indo is made for this job. Respect Galvin who has a nice progressive second season chaser profile but is short enough. Don't think Protektorat is good enough. Would definitely be more interested in MI if Jack Kennedy gets reunited as he may force things from the front and draw out the horse's stamina.
MT - Feel like those to have run in previous Gold Cups don't have the progressive profile needed, while also think Galvin is short enough. Getting interested in Tornado Flyer given the possible steady pace.
EN - Chantry House has been a little hard done by. He is a pacey horse with an excellent win record including at the Festival last year. Granted, the Cotswold Chase is not a strong trial for Gold Cup generally.
MT - Trainer vibes vs form here: Willie is bullish about Vauban and Gordon about Fil Dor. But Pied Piper has the better form in my view. Spring Juvenile is the key trial though not necessarily the winner from that race. Pied Piper the play for me.
LH - Il Etait Temps must be highly regarded to have made his debut in the Spring Juvenile. Finished that race very strongly and could step forward notably from first to second run for the trainer (WPM). Willie is bullish about Vauban but I'm not so sure about that. IET a really good e/w bet in that he has strong place claims and could win.
Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle
MT - Like Hillcrest but want to bet a price in this race. Two of interest are Eric Bloodaxe, who bombed out last time but is a proper slogger, and Grand Jury who ran well over 2m4f and looks like he'll be suited to the longer trip. Win only at big prices.
LH - Against Matt's two! Love Hillcrest but kind of wish he was being saved for the Sefton at Aintree. Experience is a key requirement for the Albert Bartlett, and Stag Horn's flat catalogue as well as slick jumping and stamina make him of interest.
MT - My Mate Mozzie could be another Group horse in a handicap. Crying out for a fast run, fast ground two miler.
Gordon Elliott to be top trainer at 3/1 a great bet to keep the entertainment going for the week. Has bundles of entries and favoured horses in both conditions races and handicaps.