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Chacun Pour Soi and Allaho still in Tingle Creek

Willie Mullins has left both Chacun Pour Soi and Allaho in Saturday’s Betfair Tingle Creek Chase at the confirmation stage.

The Closutton handler announced last week that he intends to be represented by five-times Grade One winner Chacun Pour Soi in the two-mile highlight at Sandown, but he still has a second string to his bow in Allaho, who won the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival before being beaten by his stablemate at Punchestown.

Mullins also had Energumene in the Tingle Creek, but he has been taken out of the race along with Shishkin, who Nicky Henderson ruled out last week.

There is a third possible Irish challenger in the Henry de Bromhead-trained Captain Guinness, who won the Poplar Square Chase on his most recent run.

Nube Negra is set to clash with Chacun Pour Soi at Sandown
Nube Negra is set to clash with Chacun Pour Soi at Sandown (Tim Goode/PA)

The home defence is headed by Dan Skelton’s Nube Negra, a thoroughly impressive winner of the Shloer Chase on his return to action at Cheltenham’s November meeting.

Skelton is looking forward to the challenge, saying: “It is a Grade One and Willie is bringing over Chacun Pour Soi who is very good and though it’s his first start of the season I wouldn’t think he will be needing the run.

“We beat him at Cheltenham in the Champion Chase, but he beat us on slower ground at Punchestown at the back end of the season.

“I’ve got our horse as well as I can have him. The forecast looks like it will give us decent ground which suits us a lot. We know we have got a big task on, but I’m really looking forward to it.

“A repeat of that Cheltenham run will put him very close and with Chacun Pour Soi there he will maybe need a little bit more, but I think he has improved a bit.”

Greaneteen has big-race form in the book at Sandown
Greaneteen has big-race form in the book at Sandown (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Paul Nicholls has two to choose from in Haldon Gold Cup second and fourth Hitman and Greaneteen, while Defi Du Seuil could try to get his career back on track for Philip Hobbs after a disappointing reappearance at Ascot.

The Jennie Candlish-trained Cheddleton rounds out the eight contenders.

Chacun Pour Soi on course for Tingle Creek outing

Willie Mullins has confirmed Chacun Pour Soi as an intended runner next week’s Betfair Tingle Creek at Sandown.

The nine-year-old could finish only third when a hot favourite to provide the most successful trainer in Cheltenham Festival history with his first victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase last season, but bounced back to his brilliant best to beat esteemed stablemate Allaho at Punchestown in April.

Mullins has three entries for the Tingle Creek – a race he won for the first time with Un De Sceaux in 2016 – with Chacun Pour Soi joined by Energumene and Allaho.

All three are also in the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase the following afternoon, but Mullins revealed on Friday Chacun Pour Soi will be crossing the Irish Sea.

“Chacun Poi Soi will definitely run in the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown next week – I haven’t decided about my other entries yet,” Mullins told www.sportinglife.com.

Following the high-profile defection of Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin earlier this week, Chacun Pour Soi is likely to be a hot favourite to make a winning start to his campaign at Sandown.

His potential rivals include Paul Nicholls’ dual Tingle Creek winner Politologue and Dan Skelton’s Nube Negra, who beat Politologue in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham earlier this month and was a length ahead of Chacun Pour Soi when runner-up to Put The Kettle On in the Champion Chase.

Chacun Pour Soi crowned best chaser as ratings reflect Irish domination

Chacun Pour Soi has been crowned the best chaser trained in Britain or Ireland in the 2020/21 Anglo-Irish Jumps Classification.

The Willie Mullins-trained nine-year-old won four of his five starts during a tremendous campaign, his only defeat coming when third in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

He bounced back to winning ways in the William Hill Champion Chase at Punchestown the following month, a performance which earned him a mark of 176 and saw him end the season as the highest-rated chaser in training.

Second on the list is Henry de Bromhead’s WellChild Gold Cup hero Minella Indo, who is only a pound behind Chacun Pour Soi on 175.

The eight-year-old got the better of stablemate A Plus Tard (172) in the blue riband, with Al Boum Photo (170) finishing third in his bid for a historic third consecutive Gold Cup victory.

Allaho earned himself a rating of 174 with a brilliant display in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, while the Paul Nicholls-trained Clan Des Obeaux is the highest-rated British-based horse after being given a mark of 172 for his thrilling Punchestown Gold Cup triumph.

Martin Greenwood, BHA Steeplechase Team Leader, said: “With Irish domination a running theme throughout the 2020/21 season, it is no surprise that they head nearly every division in the latest Anglo-Irish list, limited to performances rated 150 and above for the first time.

“Chacun Pour Soi is narrowly rated the top chaser on 176, with stable companion Allaho rated 2lb lower on 174 – topping the middle-distance division – and Minella Indo splitting the pair, while finishing in pole position in the staying category. Aintree and Punchestown winner Clan des Obeaux is the only British-trained horse to feature in the 170s.”

Andrew Shaw, Senior Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board National Hunt handicapper, said: “There was a clean sweep for Irish‐trained horses in all three steeplechase categories.

“Allaho put in a spectacular display of jumping when powering his way to victory in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham. Minella Indo produced the best staying performance of the season in the Gold Cup, and Chacun Pour Soi’s electrifying display in the Champion Chase at Punchestown sees him top the overall chase division.”

Shishkin and Energumene lead the way in the novice-chase division, both earning marks of 169 during campaigns full of promise.

Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin was undefeated in five starts in his first season over fences, culminating with victories in the Arkle at Cheltenham and the Maghull Novices’ Chase at Aintree.

Shishkin enjoyed a flawless campaign
Shishkin enjoyed a flawless campaign (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The Mullins-trained Energumene missed Cheltenham, but won the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown and a Grade One at Punchestown.

Greenwood added: “There are plenty of potential superstars in the novice ranks, topped by Energumene and Shishkin in the two-mile division, the pair both rated 169 and both unbeaten, the only disappointment being that they did not get the chance to race against each other.

“Three horses in the longer-distance divisions are the next best, all rated 163. Royale Pagaille finished the season on a low note after finishing lame in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and both Envoi Allen and Monkfish blotted their copybooks at Punchestown.”

Champion Hurdle heroine Honeysuckle leads the way over hurdles with a rating of 165, a pound clear of a trio of fellow Irish-trained starts on 164 – Sharjah, Stayers’ Hurdle winner Flooring Porter and Klassical Dream.

Honeysuckle after winning the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham
Honeysuckle after winning the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham (David Davies/Jockey Club)

The leading novice hurdlers were wide-margin Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Appreciate It (160) and the brilliant Bob Olinger (159), who dominated his rivals in the Ballymore at Cheltenham, while Monmiral (153) rates as the season’s best juvenile following success at Aintree.

Shaw said: “Honeysuckle was the standout hurdler of the season in an unbeaten campaign which resulted in four Grade One victories from as many starts, with the highlight being her scintillating display in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, earning her the season’s highest mark of 165.

“Her rate of improvement over the past couple of years would indicate that there is every chance she could better that figure next season.”

Chacun Pour Soi back to brilliant best

Chacun Pour Soi bounced back to his brilliant best to land the William Hill Champion Chase at Punchestown.

The nine-year-old was a red-hot favourite to provide trainer Willie Mullins with a first victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham last month, following three runaway victories earlier in the season.

However, after hitting the front on the run to the final fence there, Paul Townend’s mount faltered up the hill and passed the post only third.

With Ryanair Chase-winning stablemate Allaho and Dan Skelton’s Champion Chase runner-up Nube Negra in opposition this time, Chacun Pour Soi faced a far from straightforward task in his bid to get back on the winning trail – but he could hardly have been more impressive.

Having disputed the early running with Allaho, Townend sent the Rich and Susannah Ricci-owned winner to a clear lead with over a circuit to race – and they were then never headed.

Having looked outpaced back over this shorter trip before the home turn, Allaho attempted to close the gap in the straight, but 6-5 favourite Chacun Pour Soi was ultimately far too strong for his stablemate and passed the post with five and a half lengths in hand.

Nube Negra was some 19 lengths further behind in third.

Mullins said: “I think they were just on song today, both himself (Chacun Pour Soi) and Paul.

“They gave an exhibition of jumping and racing. He just had horses out of their comfort zone from very early on.

Paul Townend celebrates on Chacun Pour Soi
Paul Townend celebrates on Chacun Pour Soi (Niall Carson/PA)

“Cheltenham was disappointing – I felt it wasn’t the Chacun Pour Soi that we know.

“I don’t know why he did what he did at Cheltenham, and maybe we just weren’t positive enough on him.

“Anyhow, he was disappointing, but it’s good to see that he’s back to himself.”

Townend, who returned to the saddle earlier in the day following a spell on the sidelines with injury, was hugely impressed.

He told Racing TV: “That was a proper performance – that was the real Chacun.

“We were all disappointed in Cheltenham. The horse didn’t fire there, but there was no hiding place today – and he jumped for fun.

“His jumping kept me in my comfort zone at all stages – he was electric. That just allowed me to fill him up as we went along, and he was a joy to ride and gave me a serious thrill.

“They’re animals and not machines. He didn’t fire at Cheltenham, but he fired today.”

Allaho and Chacun face off in vintage Champion Chase at Punchestown

Top-class stablemates Allaho and Chacun Pour Soi lock horns in a mouthwatering clash for the William Hill Champion Chase at Punchestown.

The Cheveley Park Stud-owned Allaho was a brilliant winner of the Ryanair Chase at last month’s Cheltenham Festival, while Chacun Pour Soi could finish only third when a hot favourite to provide trainer Willie Mullins with a first victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Allaho drops back to two miles for the first time over obstacles in the hands of Rachael Blackmore, but Mullins does not expect the shorter distance to be a problem.

He said: “I love horses that jump as quick as him and if you can jump that quick, usually you can come back in trip a bit.

“He’s by No Risk At All – the sire of Epatante (Champion Hurdle winner). I think No Risk At All gets more faster horses.

“I think Allaho has the jumping technique to jump with two milers and he gallops well enough, we all saw that in Cheltenham.

“It’s worth a crack I think, we’ve got to ask the question in Punchestown and then we will know where we want to go next year.”

The Closutton handler feels tactics may have been to blame for the Cheltenham defeat of Chacun Pour Soi, who will be once again ridden by Paul Townend after the champion jockey won his race to be fit for Punchestown following injury.

Chacun Pour Soi (pink) in action at Cheltenham
Chacun Pour Soi (pink) in action at Cheltenham (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“I just didn’t think we made enough use of Chacun Pour Soi (at Cheltenham),” said Mullins, who also runs Cilaos Emery.

“Maybe our tactics just let us down on the day. It is easy be wise afterwards.”

Townend himself is delighted to be back in time for the showpiece fixture – which he starts four ahead of Blackmore in the jockeys’ title race.

He said in his Ladbrokes blog: “It’s great to be back from injury in time to ride at the Punchestown Festival. I injured my foot in a fall at Fairyhouse on Easter Sunday.

“The injury took a bit longer to get over than I had hoped and it’s been fairly hectic since getting treatment, but thankfully I got a lot of support and it’s paid off. I rode work in Willie’s the last couple of mornings and everything feels good.

“It was very hard to be sitting on the sidelines through the Grand National Festival, but the Punchestown Festival is such a huge week and a very important fixture and I am very glad to be back to take part in it.

“I’ve missed plenty of winners through being off and Rachael has closed the gap in the jockeys’ championship, but I’ve a better chance of winning it now I am fit again.

“My priority is to win my races this week. If I can do that, the championship will take care of itself.”

Of Chacun Pour Soi, he added: “There is no getting away from the fact that Chacun was disappointing at Cheltenham. He is a horse I love. He gives me a huge feel every day I ride him. He didn’t seem to go through with it at Cheltenham for whatever reason.

“I thought he underperformed on the day. Go back to his Leopardstown form and it is rock solid. He was explosive there.

“Allaho obviously put in a huge performance when he came back to two and half miles in Cheltenham, but he has to come back another half a mile here and has to prove himself at this trip.”

If Chacun Pour Soi is to return to winning ways, he will need to reverse form with Dan Skelton’s Champion Chase runner-up Nube Negra.

The seven-year-old proved his defeat of Altior in Kempton’s Desert Orchid Chase in December was no fluke with a tremendous effort to beat all bar Put The Kettle On at Cheltenham and Skelton is relishing the prospect of taking on the Irish in their own back yard.

“Nube Negra is in great order, I’m very happy with him,” the trainer told Sky Sports Racing.

“We know how much pace he’s got, the track will be fine and the ground will be ideal.

“We’re under no illusions how hard it’s going to be, we’re taking on some exceptionally good horses in their back yard.

“But when you’ve got a good horse, you’ve got to run in the best races and that is what we are doing.

“We’re going to be a competitor in the race we think he deserves to be in.”

First Flow winning the Clarence House Chase at Ascot
First Flow winning the Clarence House Chase at Ascot (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

British hopes are also carried by Kim Bailey’s First Flow, who finished sixth in the Champion Chase last month.

Bailey said: “I’m looking forward to it. He’s a horse that has a preference for going right-handed, so Punchestown will suit in that regard.

“He came out of Cheltenham well. He ran very well there, even though he wasn’t going at any stage in the race left-handed.

“We are looking forward to being part of the Punchestown Festival.”

Castlegrace Paddy (Pat Fahy) and Daly Tiger (Noel Meade) complete the field.

Paul Townend back in action for Punchestown Festival

Paul Townend is set to return from injury with three rides on the opening day of the Punchestown Festival.

The reigning champion jockey has been sidelined since injuring his foot in a fall at Fairyhouse’s Easter meeting, but he has a trio of Grade One mounts to look forward to on Tuesday.

Townend will be aboard Chacun Pour Soi as he clashes with fellow Willie Mullins-trained runner Allaho in a fascinating renewal of the William Hill Champion Chase.

Mullins said: “Paul rode out yesterday and today. It’s great to have him back.”

Rachael Blackmore celebrates after winning the Ryanair Chase on Allaho
Rachael Blackmore celebrates after winning the Ryanair Chase on Allaho (David Davies/Jockey Club)

The pair along with a third Mullins runner, Cilaos Emery, are among seven declared for the Grade One over two miles and arrive on the back of contrasting performances at Cheltenham.

Townend’s title rival Rachael Blackmore partners Allaho, owned by Cheveley Park Stud, who won the Ryanair Chase over an extended two and a half miles. Chacun Pour Soi was only third in the Queen Mother Champion Chase when sent off the odds-on favourite.

Chacun Pour Soi, who had won two Grade Ones at Leopardstown previously, will have to turn the tables on Dan Skelton’s Nube Negra, runner-up that day.

The Kim Bailey-trained First Flow, who finished sixth, renews rivalry while Castlegrace Paddy and Daly Tiger complete the field.

Monkfish, who faces Envoi Allen at Punchestown
Monkfish, who faces Envoi Allen at Punchestown (David Davies/Jockey Club)

Monkfish and Envoi Allen will square up for an intriguing showdown in a four-runner Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase.

Townend will be aboard the Mullins-trained Monkfish. The seven-year-old has won all his four starts over fences, the latest coming in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.

Envoi Allen lost his perfect record over the bigger obstacles there when falling in the Marsh Novices’ Chase. Henry de Bromhead’s charge, wearing the Cheveley Park colours, steps up in trip to an extended three miles for the first time.

Mullins is also responsible for the two other runners in the race, Franco de Port and Colreevy, winner of the Mares’ Chase at Cheltenham.

Townend’s first ride back is set to be on Blue Lord in the other Grade One race on the card, the eComm Merchant Solutions Champion Novice Hurdle.

Mullins has a strong hand, saddling both Blue Lord and Echoes In Rain, but he does not run impressive Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Appreciate It.

The seven-year-old is entered in the Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle over two and a half miles later in the week, but is not certain to take his chance there either.

Mullins said: “We’ll see. We’re going to play it by ear.”

Just five horses have been declared with Colonel Mustard, Dewcup and Uhtred completing the line-up.

Allaho and Chacun facing Champion Chase clash at Punchestown

Willie Mullins is preparing to let stablemates Allaho and Chacun Pour Soi do battle for the William Hill Champion Chase at Punchestown.

Allaho came of age with a brilliant front-running display in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham last month, while Chacun Pour Soi could finish only third when bidding to provide his trainer with an elusive first victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase the previous afternoon.

Mullins is keen to test Allaho’s powers over two miles in the feature event on the opening day of the Festival next Tuesday to try to find out whether he could be a legitimate contender for the Champion Chase at Cheltenham next season.

“The William Hill Champion Chase could be a good race,” said the champion trainer.

“At the moment I’m looking at the race for Allaho. I’d just like to see what he can do over two miles – he jumps so efficiently and so well, that is where my head is at at the moment.

“I think this is the natural race for Chacun Pour Soi. There will be plenty of pace on and Cilaos Emery will probably go there as well, so we will be well represented in the race.”

Mullins is preparing another formidable team for the end-of-season showpiece meeting in County Kildare.

Also running on day one is Appreciate It, who will bid to follow up his brilliant win in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham with victory in the eCOMM Merchant Solutions Champion Novice Hurdle.

Appreciate It on his way to winning at Cheltenham
Appreciate It on his way to winning at Cheltenham (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

On plans for that race, Mullins said: “Appreciate It will definitely go, Blue Lord is in there as well and Echoes In Rain is interesting.

“She will probably go for the mares’ race, but her performance in Fairyhouse was very good and she is in the Champion Novice Hurdle on Tuesday getting a nice fillies allowance, so we’ll see.”

Tuesday’s Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase could stage one of the clashes of the season, with the Mullins-trained Monkfish set to lock horns with Henry de Bromhead’s Envoi Allen.

Monkfish was made to work a little harder than many expected when stretching his unbeaten record over fences to four in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham, but ultimately got the job done.

Monkfish is set to take on Envoi Allen next week
Monkfish is set to take on Envoi Allen next week (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“Monkfish didn’t jump with the same flair that he jumped (with previously) and he didn’t gallop with the same flair (at Cheltenham), but he’ll go for the three-mile race on Tuesday,” Mullins confirmed.

The Closutton handler expects Monkfish to be joined by at least a couple of stable companions, adding: “Colreevy has been covered by Walk In The Park and she will go. That will probably be her last run.

“The Flynns (owners) are out-and-out breeders and she is a fantastic looking mare and hopefully she’ll be lucky.

“From winning at Christmas over two miles, I think I’m going to put Franco De Port in over three miles and that will tell us where we are going next year.

“We’ll have a good hand in that race.”

Looking ahead to the rest of the Punchestown Festival, Mullins is looking forward to seeing Al Boum Photo and Kemboy renew rivalry in Wednesday’s Ladbrokes Gold Cup.

Ruby Walsh famously retired on Kemboy when getting the better of his dual Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning stablemate Al Boum Photo in the last running of the day two feature in 2019.

Cheltenham one-two Sir Gerhard and Kilcruit will lead the Mullins team in Wednesday’s ITM – Supporting Irish Store Sales Champion Bumper, while Sharjah, James Du Berlais, Klassical Dream and Saldier are potential runners in the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle on Friday.

Mullins also confirmed Energumene, who missed the Arkle at Cheltenham due to a late setback, is on course to return in the Ryanair Novice Chase on Thursday.

“Punchestown is what we always look forward to. There is huge prize money, fantastic racing, they always produce great ground and just the amphitheatre of Punchestown itself,” Mullins added.

“I often think there is no racetrack like it in the world when you see it laid out for five days racing. It’s just amazing and the whole concept of the Punchestown Festival is huge when you see the work and preparation that goes into it.

“There is fantastic prize money so we are not putting them out to grass just yet – they’ll get plenty of grass in the summer!”

Bookies claim score draw at half-time in Festival

Honours between backers and bookmakers remain level-pegging at the halfway point of the Cheltenham Festival.

After Appreciate It and Shishkin on day one, it was another dream start for punters with Bob Olinger (6-4) and Monkfish (1-4) rewarding favourite-backers, although the latter not totally in the manner expected, in what was a messy race.

Betfair went 9-2 about next year’s Gold Cup for Monkfish, with Coral a slightly more conservative 6-1.

All smiles for Rachael Blackmore, and the punters, after favourite Bob Olinger took the opening Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
All smiles for Rachael Blackmore, and the punters, after favourite Bob Olinger took the opening Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Michael Steele/PA)

In a mirror image of Tuesday, race three threw up a big-priced winner – this time Heaven Help Us at 33-1 in the Coral Cup – but in a twist from the opening afternoon, the feature Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase was also a great result for the layers.

Chacun Pour Soi had been all the rage as the 8-13 market leader, but he did not get up the hill as last year’s Arkle heroine Put The Kettle On (17-2) continued Henry de Bromhead’s spectacular week.

In contrast to previous years Tiger Roll (9-2) had bookmakers smiling in winning the cross-country chase, at the expense of Easysland, while 14-1 shot Sky Pirate was another good result for the layers in the Grand Annual.

The card finished with the Champion Bumper – and although it was a Willie Mullins-trained one-two, Sir Gerhard at 85-40 got the better of the odds-on Kilcruit.

Coral’s David Stevens said: “It felt like Groundhog Day when well-backed favourites Bob Olinger and Monkfish replicated what Appreciate It and Shishkin had done on Tuesday – and then as in the Ultima on day one, we got a great result in the Coral Cup.

“But then unlike Tuesday, the hot favourite for the day’s feature race, Chacun Pour Soi, could not do what Honeysuckle had done – and after Put The Kettle On’s Champion Champion Chase victory had dented plenty of multiples, even the Tiger rolling back the years in the cross-country was not too painful, and our fightback was completed when Sky Pirate landed the Grand Annual.”

Chad Yeaomans, for Betway, said: “Although the first two races for novices were very punter friendly, the handicaps were kind to us – and we end the day in front.

“The Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase was a thriller of a contest that was full of drama, and the favourite getting beaten was a good result across the board. Chacun Pour Soi would have been the biggest single loser of the day, especially because we’d ‘superboosted’ him to 6-4 this morning, so getting him beaten was imperative.

“Sir Gerhard has been well-backed all winter, so he gave punters something to smile about when winning the bumper. I get the feeling he could be there in 12 months’ time after winning the Supreme!”

Paddy Power spokesman Paul Binfield said: “For the second day running, a couple of short ones had us fearing the worst, but fortunately for the bookies Put The Kettle On emulated Black Tears yesterday by chinning a hotpot and averting any potential multiple mayhem.

“Chacun Pour Soi, as well as Kilcruit in the bumper getting beat, meant a fair day for us – and the layers are ahead. But in Euro 2021 year, it’s only half-time, and it’s a game of two halves.”

Envoi Allen will be a key player on Thursday for one Betfair customer
Envoi Allen will be a key player on Thursday for one Betfair customer (David Davies/Jockey Club)

Ladbrokes’ Jon Lees said: “It’s very much racing’s loss that Tiger Roll won’t be trying to land a third Grand National at Aintree this year, after he routed his rivals to win at the Cheltenham Festival for the fifth time. Who knows? Maybe next year.

“For once Tiger Roll was on the bookmakers’ side in dismissing the hot favourite Easysland in the cross-country. With Chacun Pour Soi and Kilcruit beaten at odds-on as well, we emerged from St Patrick’s Day narrowly in front, which was looking unlikely when Bob Olinger and Monkfish took the first two races.”

Looking to the third day, one Betfair punter stands to win £511,225 for a £5 accumulator bet should his last selection and hot favourite, Envoi Allen, win the opening Marsh Novices’ Chase.

Betfair spokesman Barry Orr said: “The customer is sitting on over half-a-million pound payout for just a £5 bet and told me he won’t be able to sleep tonight. I’d say that’s a massive understatement.

“He could take the cash out offer of £275,000 and sit back safe in the knowledge that regardless of what happens in the race he is £275,000 better off, or he can reject the offer and hope that Envoi Allen beats his seven opponents and also safely negotiates the 16 fences to land his incredible bet.

“Envoi Allen is 4-9 favourite, so he may well stick and let the bet run.”

Put The Kettle On sees off Chacun Pour Soi in Champion Chase thriller

Last year’s Arkle heroine Put The Kettle On beat the boys again in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

A surprise winner at the Festival 12 months ago, Henry de Bromhead’s mare had stretched her unbeaten record at the track to three on her first start of the current campaign in November.

But despite her excellent record in the Cotswolds, she looked to have her work cut out on her return, having proved no match for Chacun Pour Soi at Leopardstown over Christmas.

Put The Kettle On was in front for much of the contest, but looked booked for minor honours after 8-13 favourite Chacun Pour Soi hit the front approaching the final fence.

However, Aidan Coleman’s mount fought back on the run-in – devouring the hill once again to get up and score by half a length, becoming the first mare to win the two-mile showpiece.

Dan Skelton’s Nube Negra finished strongly to claim the runner-up spot from the Willie Mullins-trained Chacun Pour Soi.

Coleman said: “I jumped off to get a good start and wasn’t really sure where I’d sit as this was her biggest test, and I didn’t know if she’d be quick enough to be bang there.

“She was very good over the first three or four fences, and after I’d jumped four I was fairly confident that I’d stay there until at least turning in and then what will be will be.

“I had the partner with the attitude and ability. It’s fantastic.

“I don’t know what is about Cheltenham with her as this is the only place I’ve ridden her. As long as she can come here a couple of times a year and do the business we’re happy enough!

“If I could bottle what she has I wouldn’t have to ride again – I’d sell it, and be a rich man.”

He added: “These championship races – the Champion Hurdle, the Champion Chase, the Stayers’ Hurdle and the Gold Cup – are the races you grow up watching.

“If you’re lucky enough to ride in them it’s fantastic, and if you’re lucky enough to win one it’s even better.

“It was very special – pulling up was nearly emotional, because we all love these horses and we do it day in, day out for them.

Aidan Coleman gives Put The Kettle on a well-deserved pat
Aidan Coleman gives Put The Kettle on a well-deserved pat (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“When you ride something that loves it and wants to win as much as this, it’s just a pleasure.

“It brings you back to your roots and why you wanted to get into the game – and that’s the love of the animal.”

De Bromhead was winning the race for the third time, after Sizing Europe in 2011 and Special Tiara in 2017.

The Waterford trainer said: “She’s an incredible mare, I’m delighted for the owners, it’s just brilliant, the stuff you dream about.

“She’s so tough and Aidan was brilliant on her. He really asked her at the last three and that probably won him the race.

“I don’t know what it is about this place. A couple of weeks ago she just wasn’t herself, but we freshened her up as much as we could and she seemed much better. When she arrived her she was what we expected. She’s a bit mad actually.

Aidan Coleman can hardly believe it
Aidan Coleman can hardly believe it (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“I have to congratulate everyone at home, but especially Andrea who looks after her and puts up with her antics every day, it’s special for her. She’s quite wild at home, she’s a great character.

“Mid-February I was probably leaning towards running in the Mares’ Chase, but we all discussed it and I looked at the stats for the previous year’s Arkle winner in this and they are ridiculous so we said we’d give it a lash and see.

“Winning the Champion Hurdle and Champion Chase with mares especially, it’s the stuff of dreams. I’m just delighted.”

Skelton said of runner-up Nube Negra: “It’s gutting to be placed again, but nothing went wrong, apart from standing on his heel at the back of the last, which cost us a tiny bit. He’s travelled round super, jumped brilliantly and came up the hill, which was never in doubt.”

His rider Harry Skelton added: “He ran an unbelievable race. The winner was great, and she’s a top-class mare, but we are very proud of our horse.

“He jumped really well, travelled all of the way, and finished his race off. He just lost his footing after the last, but that didn’t cost us anything really. He’s still young and so hopefully he’s got a lot in front of him. He’s proved he’s top-class, if anyone had any doubts.”

Mullins said of the Paul Townend-ridden Chacun Pour Soi: “Paul’s feedback was that he ran a bit flat, which looked obvious. I’ve not seen any other reason to say that is not right. It’s disappointing. He had every chance to win the race but he didn’t.

“Usually in the middle of a race Paul gets a feel for him that he has plenty in the tank but he didn’t get that feel at all today. He thought he was flat from early on. I don’t know why he was like that.

“Paul more or less said before they turned up the hill that he knew he wasn’t going as well as he does at home or giving him the feel at home so I’m not sure I’m taking the hill as a big problem for him.

“It was him on the day that was the problem not the hill. Chacun Pour Soi was beaten by a course specialist so maybe he was just beaten by a better horse on the day.”

Cheltenham Festival day two – All eyes on Chacun and Monkfish

Day two of the Cheltenham Festival is headlined by the Queen Mother Champion Chase – the pinnacle of the season for the sport’s most highly-regarded two-mile chasers.

Sadly, Altior is absent for the second year running, meaning this year’s renewal of the Betway-sponsored feature really does centre around the seemingly unstoppable Chacun Pour Soi. It is not a one-horse race, though, and last year’s winner Politologue will have his say – as will Dan Skelton’s Nube Negra, one of the few horses to have beaten Altior when impressing at Kempton over Christmas.

Willie Mullins and Chacun Pour Soi’s owner Rich Ricci team up again with the mighty Monkfish, who has defeated all-comers since winning the Albert Bartlett last season and is all the rage for the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.

Wednesday is also the home of the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase, where Tiger Roll will line up for what could be his final race and the French raider Easysland will bid for a second successive triumph over the unique course.

The afternoon’s action is rounded off by the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, a race that provides a glimpse into the future as the next generation of National Hunt performers compete on the level for Grade One honours.

Bob Olinger another for dream team?

Bob Olinger is a strong contender for Ballymore honours
Bob Olinger is a strong contender for Ballymore honours (PA)

Bob Olinger tops the line-up for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, with the six-year-old bringing Grade One form to the table after winning the Lawlor’s of Naas Novice Hurdle on his last appearance. Trained by Henry de Bromhead and ridden by Rachael Blackmore, he will have an army of supporters. His chief rival is the Mullins-trained Gaillard Du Mesnil, who was also a Grade One winner last time out when triumphing at Leopardstown. Bravemansgame flies the flag for Paul Nicholls and heads to Prestbury Park off the back of an impressive 10-length Challow Novices’ Hurdle victory.

Monkfish riding the crest of a wave

Monkfish has been imperious over fences so far
Monkfish has been imperious over fences so far (PA)

Monkish takes centre stage in the the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase after a hugely impressive performance when winning the Flogas Novice Chase at Leopardstown. The victory was the chestnut’s sixth consecutive win and his suitability for the Cheltenham track was proven when he triumphed in the Albert Bartlett last year. He has scared off most of the opposition and the race looks his to lose.

Champion Pour Soi?

Paul Townend and Chacun Pour Soi at Leopardstown

The Ricci silks will be worn by the favourite again when the runners face the starter in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. This time it will be Chacun Pour Soi who carries his owner’s hopes as he bids to follow up his success in the Dublin Chase at Leopardstown – his fourth Grade One win over fences. Politilogue is defending his crown, while First Flow – who beat him at Ascot – would be a hugely popular winner for trainer Kim Bailey and jockey David Bass.

Will the Tiger stop rolling?

Easysland on his way to an impressive victory in the Glenfarclas Chase last year
Easysland on his way to an impressive victory in the Glenfarclas Chase last year (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Easysland travels from David Cottin’s French stable to attempt to retain his cross-country crown, a trophy he took from two-time winner Tiger Roll when prevailing by 17 lengths last year. Tiger Roll is also back, and his performance is likely to determine whether this is his last race. Hopefully that will not be the case, as this titan of the jumping scene deserves to bow in front of packed grandstands, not empty ones.

Mullins’ mighty bumper duo

Kilcruit is favourite to give Willie Mullins another Champion Bumper victory
Kilcruit is favourite to give Willie Mullins another Champion Bumper victory (Niall Carson/PA)

Mullins is synonymous with the Champion Bumper and has two major chances in Kilcruit and Sir Gerhard, the latter being a new addition to the yard after leaving the stable of Gordon Elliott. He is unbeaten and represents Cheveley Park Stud, who have won the last two runnings, most recently with the Mullins-trained Ferny Hollow. For his part, Kilcruit was completely dominant when winning the Grade Two bumper at the Dublin Racing Festival by 12 lengths.

Mullins looking to Chacun to end his Champion Chase wait

Chacun Pour Soi faces a critical Cheltenham mission as he bids to complete master trainer Willie Mullins’ full set of Festival titles in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.

The short-priced favourite will be joined by stablemate Cilaos Emery against eight other heavyweight contenders on Wednesday.

But there is no doubt the hopes of Closutton will be centred chiefly on Chacun Pour Soi to deliver the one Cheltenham championship event that has as yet eluded the Festival’s all-time most successful trainer.

Among his record-breaking tally of victories, at the start of business this week Mullins could count two Gold Cups – after Al Boum Photo conquered that Everest for him in each of the last two years – four Champion Hurdles, two Stayers’ crowns and three Ryanair Chase successes.

He has suffered only disappointment, though, in the top two-mile chasing division – including with his brilliant but fragile favourite Douvan in 2017 and 12 months ago when Chacun Pour Soi had to miss the race because of a last-minute stone bruise.

Since then, the lightly-raced nine-year-old has been imperious in three dominant victories on home soil against the best of his compatriots.

At the prospect of winning the great race for the first time, Mullins said: “It would be huge for the stable and everyone here to get that win and have all the championship races at the Cheltenham Festival.

“I hope he will give us a chance to try to put that away. He’s in great form since Leopardstown (in last month’s Dublin Chase) and does everything right at home, so fingers crossed.”

Mullins is not inclined to dwell on last year’s mishap – and neither was he at the time, because there were a string of other major races he needed to concentrate on.

Willie Mullins and Paul Townend have their sights on the Champion Chase
Willie Mullins and Paul Townend have their sights on the Champion Chase (David Davies/PA)

He added: “It hurts – but at Cheltenham, every 35 minutes it’s a new page, and you don’t really get to think about it or for it to sink in.

“Thankfully we had a good Cheltenham last year – so it’s history.

“It’s different if you had one horse – you would probably wallow in it – but as I said to the lads ‘just put it behind us and get on to the next race’.”

Chacun Pour Soi, who will be ridden by Paul Townend for owner Rich Ricci, developed a reputation for susceptibility to injury as well as brilliance on the track as he managed just four appearances in his first two campaigns for Mullins.

There has been no sign of any problems this season, however, and Mullins understandably has high hopes he can rise to his biggest challenge yet on his first attempt at Cheltenham.

He said: “He had his troubles early on in his career – but now everything has settled down, he just goes up the gallop every morning and does his work.

“He is one of the ones if you had to pick the top five or six travelling over, you’d say he is one that you are really hoping can bring his ‘A’ game there.”

Politologue had his deserved moment in the spotlight 12 months ago
Politologue had his deserved moment in the spotlight 12 months ago (Simon Cooper/PA)

He faces a clutch of top-class contenders – even in the absence of dual winner Altior, pulled out of the race for the second year running because of a late setback.

The challengers are headed by Paul Nicholls’ title-holder Politologue and Dan Skelton’s Nube Negra.

Festival stalwart Politologue had already finished fourth and second to Altior in the previous two Queen Mothers when he won emphatically last year.

The grey – who will be running at the meeting for the sixth time – started this season with a Tingle Creek triumph at Sandown, before finishing second to the vastly-improved and reopposing First Flow at Ascot in January.

“I think it was a good run in the Clarence House,” Nicholls said of Politologue’s most recent effort.

“The ground was probably testing enough for him that day, and he might be slightly better on spring ground – which is why Cheltenham suits him very well.

“He always gives his all. There was no excuse at Ascot – he got beaten by a better horse on the day. (But) he still ran to a very high level, which he’ll do in this race.

“He’s solid and jumps well and will give you a good run for your money.

“Being realistic, we’ve got a nice chance, but it will be hard.”

First Flow was a revelation at Ascot
First Flow was a revelation at Ascot (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Kim Bailey’s First Flow is unbeaten in his last six races, during which he has risen 25lb – often showing a liking for very soft ground.

His Cotswolds trainer reports jockey David Bass has great faith in his ability to compete at this highest level.

“David totally believes in the horse, and we both know that the horse stays well,” said Bailey.

“We’ve been arguing all season whether we ought to be running over two and a half miles rather than two, but David has been adamant two miles is the right trip – and he’s proved himself right so far.

“He probably just goes through soft ground better than everybody else. I think his last performance probably gave the horse confidence and the jockey confidence that he can handle better ground better than we thought.”

Nube Negra shocked Altior at Christmas
Nube Negra shocked Altior at Christmas (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Nube Negra has run just once this season – but that is by design, and his surprise Kempton victory over Altior at Christmas was a revelation.

Skelton said: “We come here fresh and well. He had a little gallop round Warwick three weeks ago, and I was happy with how that went.

“Nice ground will suit him, and we’re just really looking forward to it.”

Henry de Bromhead supplies two more Irish hopefuls, last year’s Arkle favourite and winner respectively, Notebook and Put The Kettle On.

He said of the former: “The first year he ran (at Cheltenham), he ran in the Ballymore, and he’s never looked as good over a trip as he has since we dropped him back to two miles.

“Last year, yes, he was disappointing – having set off favourite.

“He’s coming here off the back of one less run than last year, so hopefully that will stand to him. He’s a bit fresher, and I would say the better the ground, the better his chance.”

Put The Kettle On has a definite liking for Cheltenham
Put The Kettle On has a definite liking for Cheltenham (Andrew Matthews/PA)

While Notebook fluffed his Festival lines, finishing sixth and last, stablemate Put The Kettle On emphatically did not – at 16-1.

The mare won again at Cheltenham in November, before having to settle for third behind Chacun Pour Soi – and Notebook – at Leopardstown a month later.

De Bromhead said: “She was brilliant in the Shloer obviously, and then she ran very well at Leopardstown.

“We were planning to go to Kempton – but obviously with Covid we weren’t allowed to travel, so we were never convinced Leopardstown was going to be ideal for her. But she still ran really well.

“As we all know, she just loves Cheltenham, so hopefully that’ll improve her a couple of pounds as well.”

The remainder of the 10-strong field features Harry Whittington’s Rouge Vif, third in last year’s Arkle, the admirable Sceau Royal for Alan King and Nicholls’ second-string Greaneteen.

Chacun Pour Soi tops 10 Champion Chase hopefuls

Chacun Pour Soi will face nine rivals in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

Willie Mullins’ odds-on favourite missed the race after a late setback 12 months ago – as did Altior, and unfortunately the same fate has befallen Nicky Henderson’s star again with an unsatisfactory scope the reason he misses out this year.

Chacun Pour Soi has yet to run at Cheltenham but has been ultra-impressive in everything he has done this season. Mullins has also declared Cilaos Emery.

Chacun Pour Soi’s jockey Paul Townend is confident Cheltenham will suit the lightly-raced nine-year-old – despite doubts expressed by others on that score.

“I can’t find a fault in him that Cheltenham will expose,” Townend told Racing TV.

“I’m just really looking forward to him – and hopefully we can get him to the start this year.”

Mullins offered his sympathy to Henderson, having gone through the same emotions plenty of times himself.

“I’m sorry to hear Altior is out for Nicky Henderson,” he said.

“Chacun is in good order, so hopefully we don’t have any mishaps like last year.”

In Altior’s absence, Chacun Pour Soi’s main danger on Wednesday may be Dan Skelton’s Nube Negra – who beat Altior comprehensively at Kempton over Christmas.

Defending champion Politologue will also put up a fight for Paul Nicholls, with the grey looking to add his name to an elite list of multiple winners. Nicholls also runs Greaneteen.

First Flow gained a first Grade One victory last time out when beating Politologue. He represents Kim Bailey, who will have been pleased to see Sunday evening’s rain – which has turned the Cheltenham ground soft.

Last year’s Arkle winner Put The Kettle On and Notebook run for Henry de Bromhead, while Harry Whittington’s Rouge Vif completes the field.

Chacun Pour Soi and Altior on course for Queen Mother showdown

Red-hot favourite Chacun Pour Soi and dual winner Altior are among 11 confirmations for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Chacun Pour Soi was well-fancied to provide Willie Mullins with an elusive first victory in the feature event on day two of the Cheltenham Festival last season, only to be withdrawn on the morning of the race after suffering a setback.

Having won each of his three starts since – most recently dominating his rivals in the Dublin Chase at Leopardstown last month – the nine-year-old is all the rage to set the record straight 12 months on.

Mullins has also left in recent Grade Two winner Cilaos Emery.

Nicky Henderson with Altior
Nicky Henderson with Altior (David Davies/PA)

The Nicky Henderson-trained Altior, winner of the Champion Chase in 2018 and 2019, also missed out last season due to injury.

However, at the age of 11, he will return to the Cotswolds with something to prove after a lethargic display on his only previous start this season in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton.

Henderson has raised the possibility of Altior being fitted with cheekpieces for the first time to aid his bid to become only the second horse to win three Champion Chases, after Badsworth Boy in the 1980s.

Dan Skelton has been making positive noises about Nube Negra, who inflicted that shock defeat on Altior at Kempton.

The Paul Nicholls-trained Politologue is on course to defend his crown – and is likely to be joined by stablemate Greaneteen.

Henry de Bromhead is set to saddle last year’s Arkle heroine Put The Kettle On, as well as Notebook.

Champion Hurdle, Gold Cup and Grand National-winning trainer Kim Bailey would dearly love to add a Champion Chase victory his CV – and has high hopes for First Flow following his brilliant display in the Clarence House at Ascot.

Alan King’s Sceau Royal and Rouge Vif from Harry Whittington’s yard are the other hopefuls.

Cheltenham Festival 2021: Favourites – Bankers or Blowouts?

Pretty much the last spectator-attended action of last year was the Cheltenham Festival and, regardless of the 20/20 hindsight about whether or not it should have had the green light for crowds, this year's event will be contested behind closed doors. That it will be contested at all, and that the entirety of the preceding seasonal narrative has played out - weather notwithstanding - is a cause for celebration during these times where not a great deal has been worthy of such emotional uplift.

With just 21 days until tapes rise for the opening skirmishes of the 2021 renewal of #CheltFest (I can hear the grinding of traditionalists' teeth as I pen that incendiary soshul shorthand!), time is nigh to fix mental bayonets and consider, in the round, what may transpire three weeks hence.

In this piece, we'll look at the shorties: those favourites whose current top quote is 5/4 or tighter. Using the age old hackney of 'banker or blowout', and mindful that for geegeez readers (and value players everywhere) the very notion of a banker is anathema, I'll offer a view as to which side of the back/lay divide I'd currently like to pitch my punting tent.

A recent history of short priced favourites at the Cheltenham Festival

First up, a short history lesson. The main lesson of history is "don't believe the hype", a message that resonates far beyond Festival jollies but which was poignantly reprised twelve months ago when, of the six favourites sent off at 5/4 or shorter, five were beaten. Ouch.

If that was a storm in the 2020 teacup, how does a more extensive tract of past performance influence our appetite for piling in at the sharp end?

As can be seen from the table and summary row above, there have been good times and bad times since 2009, with the management summary being that this is one of the less bludgeoning methods of wagering self-harm. But, of course, not all shorties are made equal; so is there anything to be gleaned from dividing what is already a very small dataset still further?

Despite the answer to that question almost certainly being 'no', for the record here are a couple of logical splits:

A lot of data manipulation and a very short read later we can now say the answer is certainly 'no'; which is unsurprising given the maturity of, and liquidity in, these markets. Nevertheless, when the media cries "certainty" and the market posits 4/6, punters are well served to beware.

The full list of qualifying runners is below, and may bring back painful memories for some, yours true included!

2021 Cheltenham Festival Shorties: Banker or Blowout

There is a quintet of ante-post shorties for this year's renewal of the Fez (yet more trads reaching for 'off' switch!) and they shape up price wise like this:

Time to consider each horse's respective merits...

Arkle Challenge Trophy: Shishkin

Form this season

Unbeaten in three facile wins in novice chases, most recently in a brace of Grade 2's, with no horse yet landing a glove on him. In spite of the small fields - he beat a trio of rivals in each - the form is solid and the times have been good. His fencing style is economical and comfortable: he has barely put a foot wrong thus far.

Shishkin is now unbeaten in seven completed starts, having fallen on his hurdling debut.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Sent off 6/1 joint-third favourite for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle last year, he was hampered by a faller as the race was hotting up, but overcame that impediment to hold the late charge of Champion Hurdle fancy, Abacadabras. That was his only race at Cheltenham.

Obvious dangers

For a while this looked a matter of 'how far' assuming good health and a clear round, but the emergence of Energumene - an energumence? - as comfortably the best of the Irish has livened up the pre-race debate immeasurably.

On form, Willie Mullins' charge is a serious threat. But he does have a lot more questions to answer: how will he handle Cheltenham? Does he need to lead and, if so, how will he handle Allmankind? If he doesn't need to lead, he has yet to prove his effectiveness from further back. And how will he handle drier ground if indeed it pans out that way?

None of these are of concern to Shishkin, who looks sure to get his favoured lead - either from Allmankind, or that one and Energumene - and who will have every chance having dealt with all underfoot terrain, longer trips, and the Cheltenham contours already.

If Energumene and Allmankind lock horns on the speed, they may both pay for those exertions in the manner that Saint Calvados and Petit Mouchoir did in the 2018 renewal of this race, setting things up for a 14-length rout for Footpad. Shishkin is undeniably more of a horse than Footpad, and a tear up on the front end could see him record the largest winning distance of the meeting.

But if Energumene is ridden more conservatively, there are two possible dangers. The more obvious is that, in a fair fight, the Irish raider is simply better than the domestic challenger; the less obvious is that, by marking each other, the top two grant Allmankind - a very good horse in his own right - an easy and unassailable lead.

The other fly in the Shishkin ointment is the form of the Nicky Henderson yard, on the face of it at least: a single winner since 10th February, from 28 runners, is not the sort of record a Champion Trainer needs going into the biggest gig of the year. But, of course, we're not yet at the eve of Cheltenham and, in any case, that headline figure masks what have been largely acceptable (if not altogether pleasing) efforts from his Seven Barrows squad.

A place strike rate of 36% is more compelling, and a majority of runners have performed at least close to market expectation. Notably, the big guns - Chantry House, Champ - have run very well. Still, better will have been expected overall and better will be needed if Shishkin's price is not to flirt with odds-against between now and mid-March.

Verdict

Shishkin looks a superb athlete and a very fast horse. His trainer is having a wobble just now but knows better than anyone - even Willie M - how to campaign a precocious two-mile chaser. Having ticked the race conditions boxes, and with a pace setup almost certain to play to his A game, he looks a 'banker' (relatively speaking).

*

Mares' Hurdle: Concertista

Form this season

Lightly raced, as is often the modus operandi with Willie Mullins' better mares, Concertista has run just twice this term. She beat the same mare, Minella Melody, by nearly two lengths in a Grade 2 in November and then by more than six lengths in a Grade 3 at the turn of the year.

The hallmark of those runs, and indeed her run style generally, is being held together off the pace before cruising through to prevail comfortably. In so doing it is hard to peg the level of her form exactly, always leaving the impression there is more in the tank.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Presented off a layoff of eighteen months prior to the 2019 Mares' Novices Hurdle, Concertista saw off all bar Eglantine Du Seuil as a 66/1 chance that day. She had twenty rivals behind her and only a short head to the one in front. That singular race in the 2018/19 season meant she retained her novice status the following campaign and, lining up in the same race last March, she outclassed a similar 22-strong field by an emphatic dozen lengths.

This will be her third visit to the Festival and she offers very solid credentials on that score.

Obvious dangers

It very much depends who lines up on the day. If the ground dries out, it might be that connections of Honeysuckle decide to run over this two-and-a-half mile trip rather than the extended two of the Champion Hurdle. That would change the complexion markedly.

Likewise, though to a lesser degree, if Roksana stepped this way rather than to the Stayers' Hurdle, she would present a fierce challenge.

But there is very little depth to this field beyond the aforementioned three: they bet 9/1 Dame De Compagnie (who has been chasing, has four entries, and is far from a certain runner in this), 14/1 Verdana Blue (more likely for the County Hurdle, I think), and 20/1 bar (including Elimay, who more likely goes to the Mares' Chase).

Verdict

If Honeysuckle goes to the Champion Hurdle and if Roksana goes to the Stayers' Hurdle, Concertista could be the shortest priced favourite at the meeting. If Honeysuckle comes here, she may be 4/7 or so.

This is a ground dependant conundrum: drying ground would increase the chance of Honeysuckle running here, but decrease the chance of Roksana doing likewise. Concertista is expected to run here regardless (though she is still entered in both the Champion Hurdle and the Mares' Chase).

The way to play this, if you're so inclined, is to back Concertista at 6/5 and Honeysuckle at 5/4, both non-runner no bet. Most likely, you'll have 6/5 about an odds-on shot and money back on the other; second most likely is that you'll have 5/4 about a 4/7 shot and a poor value back up ticket. That may not sound exciting right now but it is odds on to look value on the day.

*

Brown Advisory (ex RSA): Monkfish

Form this season

Another Willie Mullins inmate, Monkfish has been imperious this season in brushing aside talented opposition with relish. Monkfish with relish: tasty!

Lousy puns aside, he won his beginners' chase in a canter before being merely pushed out to record a pair of Grade 1 successes in recognised trials, by three lengths and then eleven lengths from the talented Latest Exhibition. He is by some margin the pick of the Irish challengers.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Not only is Monkfish unbeaten in three chase starts this term, he is also the reigning Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle champ, earning a hard-fought verdict over... you guessed it, Latest Exhibition. That was his only visit to Cheltenham so he is unbeaten in one both at the track and at the Festival.

Obvious dangers

It is quite hard to find 'obvious' dangers to Monkfish. He has blitzed the best of the Irish this season, and he did the same to the best of the British and Irish here last season over hurdles.

Of course, he's a novice and the fences have to be jumped, so that's a possible issue.

In terms of potential rivals, Royale Pagaille has looked a mud machine this winter, but that one has numerous other possible engagements, principally the Gold Cup itself. Moreover, the two horses are in the same Ricci ownership and will surely attempt to divide and conquer.

The only other possible issue is ground: good to something would present a challenge met only once previously, when Monkfish was beaten into second on debut in a 2m2f bumper at the Punchestown Festival in May 2019.

Verdict

It's double digits bar Fishcake - as Nicky Henderson once flippantly (and very amusingly, imho) labelled the jolly - and Royale Pagaille; and, with options over longer and shorter for shying rivals, this could cut up dramatically. Monkfish looks very strong in this division.

*

Champion Chase: Chacun Pour Soi

Form this season

Three runs, three wins, in Grade 2 and Grade 1 (twice) company, beating the right horses with nonchalance. He travels like a dream, jumps very well and, if he faces the starter at Cheltenham, will have managed more runs this season than in the previous two combined.

His form this campaign is well clear of any other two mile chaser on either side of the Irish Sea.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

It was all going so well, but then... Chacun Pour Soi was pulled out at the eleventh hour last year and, as such, has yet to race outside of Ireland. That leaves question marks not just over the track but also about travelling generally: he did come over on the boat last year but was withdrawn with a foot abscess.

Whilst it may very much be a case of abscess making the heart grow fonder (sigh), it also nods to this fella's hitherto fragility. Against that we do have a trio of scores, and an absence of scares, so far this term. But we have still to conjecture about his ability to handle the idiosyncrasies of Cleeve Hill.

Obvious dangers

He himself is the obvious danger. Will he stay in one piece? Will he handle the travel? Will he handle the track?

Of the other horses in the race, each has eroded his or her case at some point: Arkle winner Put The Kettle On was bashed by Chacun, albeit after what was a very hard race at Cheltenham first up this season, and she may bounce back training up to the race; Altior is patently not the horse he was; Politologue has a rock solid Champion Chase profile but not against the calibre of CPS; and Defi Du Seuil is a binary chap, more zeros than ones in recent times.

The leftfield option is First Flow, who was exhilarating at Ascot last time. He'd need supplementing, very likely, but he'd also need to improve another eight pounds on current ratings - less likely.

Verdict

Chacun Pour Soi has to contend with himself. His form is in another postcode to his rivals in a market still trying to get him beaten with the wonderful but past his best Altior and a sizeable group of second division chasers. A horse like Fakir D'Oudairies, who is 20/1 NRNB in a place because he's more likely to fly Ryanair, might be a feasible hail mary in a race loaded with if's and but's.

Those imponderables extend to the favourite which makes him unplayable outright at the prices for all that he is the outstanding logical choice. [I did flag him in a derivative market at more appealing odds, as I don't really seeing him finishing second or third. He will win, or something will have happened between now and the finish line, is my wagering opinion.]

*

Marsh: Envoi Allen

Form this season

Three runs, three wins this campaign have meant Envoi Allen is now eleven from eleven lifetime under Rules (plus one point to point), all of them as favourite and only once at odds-against (the 2019 Cheltenham Champion Bumper). The middle leg of his 2020/21 hat-trick was a comfortable verdict in the Grade 1 Drinmore, and it was little more than a schooling round against Grade 3 rivals last time. I wasn't as impressed as some with that most recent effort for all that he still bolted up.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Two tries at the track, both at the Festival, have yielded two victories; the Bumper score was by a narrow margin, his Ballymore victory more unequivocal. He beat 13 rivals the first day and eleven the second and, well, he just keeps winning.

Obvious dangers

This looks another case of getting to the start line. Unlike CPS, EA has been slated to start twice and has started - and finished first - twice. He's had an incident-free prep thus far and has jumped really well in his three chase races to date.

Still, those fences need to be jumped, and he has to arrive pristine at Prestbury. It is hard to nominate dangers thereafter.

Verdict

The Brown Advisory would have meant a likely clash with Monkfish, the Arkle a ding dong with Shiskin, Energumene and Allmankind. The Marsh feels a bit like the coward's route for a horse boasting his CV. More generously, it is the best opportunity to extend the winning sequence.

You can bet double figures any other horse likely to run in this race - single digit quotes about Energumene and Monkfish don't even appeal NRNB especially - and there has to be some each way value, though I've yet to go through the fine detail to find it.

What is clear is that, on form, Envoi Allen is different kit.

**

Summary

Last year, five of the six horses sent off at 5/4 or shorter were beaten. This year, we look set to have at least five runners priced in that same bracket. Mishaps aside, it is hard (for me, at least) to make credible cases to oppose any of the quintet.

But mishaps do happen: in 2020, Paisley Park had a palpitation, Patrick Mullins was carelessly ejected from Carefully Selected (very harsh on the jockey, apols, poetic license for a play on words), Tiger was Roll'ed over by a heretofore unconsidered French assailant, Defi did the Defi thing, and 'mon dieu' Benie was beaten by Honey.

Any horse could come down or have a heart murmur in the heat of combat; Shishkin could get beaten by Energumene; a previously unsighted dark horse could emerge in one of the novice chases (though that feels unlikely).

In short, stuff could - and at some point probably will - happen. But I'd be hard pushed to bet against any of this quintet in the win slot if they trotted round at the start. That's my view, uncontroversial as it is. What about you? Which horse(s) would you hang your hat on? And where are you looking to get a hotpot beaten? Leave a comment and let us know.

Matt

 

 

First Flow building towards Champion Chase

Kim Bailey is gradually building First Flow back to his peak for a crack at the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

The nine-year-old has had a relatively easy time since booking his place in the two-mile showpiece with last month’s victory over reigning champion Politologue in the Grade One Clarence House Chase at Ascot.

With the Champion Chase now less than five weeks away, Bailey is preparing First Flow for the big day.

“He’s good. He’s started cantering this week, so I’m happy with him,” said the Cotswolds trainer.

“I won’t be taking him for an away day. He’s an easy horse to get fit.”

First Flow is a top-priced 14-1 for Festival honours, with Chacun Pour Soi a shade of odds-on after extending his unbeaten season to date with an impressive victory in the Dublin Chase at Leopardstown on Sunday.

It was another eyecatching performance from Willie Mullins’ charge, for which he has rightly been lauded – but all Bailey and others can do is prepare their contenders for the challenge ahead.

Asked for his reading of Chacun Pour Soi’s latest win, Bailey said: “I don’t think I need add to the accolades people have given him.

“Getting our horse there in one piece is the most important thing.”