Tag Archive for: Festival Plate

Cheltenham Festival 2023: Day 3 Preview, Trends, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2023: Day 3 Preview, Tips

And so to the second half. Still 14 races to go at, including the Stayers' Hurdle, Ryanair Chase and, of course, Friday's Gold Cup. Lots of smaller supporting fish that might also taste sweet, starting with...

1.30 Turners Novices' Chase (Grade 1, 2m 4f)

A bigger field than last year's though, with just four then, that's not difficult!

We have a worthy favourite in Mighty Potter, who brings a four-race unbeaten streak and a career tally of seven wins from nine starts to the table. He's a Grade 1 winner on both his most recent spins, each over this sort of trip, and on form he is clear of his field. If you want a counterargument, it's this: in last year's Supreme he arrived similarly solid-looking off the back of a Grade 1 novice hurdle gold; but he was just not engaged on the day, pulling up a long way out. This will be only his second cross-water away day and, while a body of evidence of one race is hardly bombproof, it is a niggle.

If MP should falter, who may benefit? Most obvious would be Banbridge, winner of the Martin Pipe a year ago and second to El Fabiolo over an inadequate trip most recently. He was beaten ten lengths there, and 18 lengths the time before by Mighty Potter, so one might reasonably argue that the jolly will have to notably under-perform in order for that form to get spun around. It is also the case that Banbridge seems to prefer better ground, his two wins on soft coming in run of the mill novice hurdles where he probably outclassed his rivals.

A veteran at nine, in the context of a novice chase, is Appreciate It, winner of the 2021 Ballymore, second in the 2020 Champion Bumper, and only 10/3 in last year's Champion Hurdle, where he ran well for a long time before lack of race fitness told. There are no such fitness concerns this time after three seasonal outings, two of them wins, but he was comprehensively outpointed by Blue Lord last time and now steps up half a mile in trip. As a son of Jeremy it's not a foregone conclusion he'll stay, especially on rain softened ground; but he travels like he probably will (he did win a bumper over this trip very early in his career, and was a point to point winner before that, for whatever that form is worth now).

The first UK runner in the lists is Balco Coastal, a close up second to Gerri Colombe in the G1 Scilly Isles last time. He'd previously won a decent novices' handicap chase on soft ground lending credence to his claim to underfoot apathy, but his overall level seems a little below the Irish trio.

Stage Star has been a super horse for his myriad enthusiastic owners, and comes here having won seven of his 12 starts, including the G1 Challow Hurdle in 2021. He then pulled up in Grade 1's at both Cheltenham and Aintree, but has got back in the groove this term over a fence. To wit, he's notched three times from four starts - second on the other occasion, in Grade 2 company - and loves it soft. Conditions will be ideal but I'm not convinced he's up to this exacting level.

James du Berlais a hard horse to peg. He was second in Grade 1's at Auteuil and Punchestown over hurdles, and bolted up from the front in a beginners' chase on soft ground. But, in Mighty Potter's G1 last time, he was stuffed. It's possible he'll appreciate the softer ground but he'll certainly need to to reverse those positions.

Turners Novices' Chase Pace Map

This has pace, mainly from Stage Star, Appreciate It and Christopher Wood, but also Banbridge can go forward; so it'll be a true test. Mighty Potter is expected to be handy without getting involved in the battle for the lead.

Turners Novices' Chase Selection

There is every chance Mighty Potter just wins but he's an unexciting price after flopping so badly twelve months back. As such, it might be worth chancing the old man of the party, Appreciate It, in what could be a fair slog if it doesn't stop raining. I feel Banbridge might want better ground, and the rest of the Irish - and all of the British - don't look good enough.

Suggestion: Back Appreciate It at 4/1.

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2.10 Pertemps Final (Grade 3 handicap, 3m)

Another absolute melee. Coming into last season, the Irish had won the previous six renewals, and held most of the aces for a seventh. But it didn't play out that way. In fact, not only was Hughie Morrison's Third Wind first past the post, but home team runners filled out the podium and five of the first six places. Hmm...

Some of that will be down to happenstance and some at the hand of the BHA's handicapping team, who have recalibrated the relationship between UK and Irish ratings. Whatever, it's an interesting additional consideration to lob into the pot.

My shortlist is Thanksforthehelp, The Bosses Oscar, Level Neverending and Walking On Air. This quintet is trained and owned by 'the right people', has the right unexposed profile, and looks sure to handle conditions.

The Bosses Oscar was second in this off a nine pound higher mark two years ago. He pulled up in it last year but that was after a season chasing where he mainly pulled up. Back to hurdling this term he's been on the premises throughout, and a fast run big field is no problem to him. He's trained by Gordon Elliott, triple Pertemps winner between 2018 and 2020.

He also saddles Level Neverending for the same owners, Bective Stud. This one is far less exposed, having made his handicap debut in the Warwick qualifier, staying on into a qualifying position and never nearer. He's a big price dark horse for all that he might not be good enough against this level of opposition.

Walking On Air runs for Nicky Henderson and Mrs Michael Tabor - Doreen, in fact. He's another lightly raced sort who opened his handicap account in the Exeter qualifier. All form so far has been on a sound surface, which is a concern unless the track dries out pronto.

David Pipe is a Pertemps winner - twice in fact, with the same wonderful stick, Buena Vista. His old man won the race further back and 'Dave' has a good chance with Thanksforthehelp, facile winner of the Chepstow qualifier last time. The notion that last day winners 'have shown their hand' doesn't really fit with the fact that last day winners have taken ten Pertemps Finals since 1997, from 108 qualifiers, for a +11 SP profit. They've also hit the frame at a 26% clip. The flip side is that the last to achieve a winning double was Presenting Percy in 2017.

Lots of others to consider, naturally.

Pertemps Final Pace Map

Potentially furiously run, it will certainly be strongly run. That might suit the strong travellers further back, who can hold a position through the early heat and play their hand late.

Pertemps Final Selection

This is another race where extra places give us extra chances. In that spirit, I want The Bosses Oscar, Level Neverending and Thanksforthehelp on my ticket - and I don't mind splitting (unevenly) between three picks at all. If you only want to back one, take your choice from that trio or any of the other horses in the field!

Suggestion: Make sure you get all the extra places you can, and consider one or more of the three above.

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2.50 Ryanair Chase (Grade 1, 2m 4 1/2f)

The much maligned Ryanair is one of my favourite races of the week. I get the argument that it dilutes the Champion Chase and Gold Cup, but the corollary is that it produces a high class heat all of its own for those not fast enough for the former and without sufficient stamina for the latter: it is truly an intermediate Championship race.

Take Allaho in the past two years, for example; he's blitzed his rivals from the front and, in so doing, has recorded a pair of the best performances at those respective Festivals. Prior to that, Frodon and Bryony provided one of the stories of the week in 2019, and the likes of Un De Sceaux, Vautour, Cue Card, Imperial Commander, and Albertas Run give the roll of honour a robust look. So, no, not for me that the Ryanair is a misstep: it's a cracking race and, generally, a very good betting race.

Perhaps not this season, however, on the latter point at least. Because, in the absence of Allaho, we have Shishkin. The winner of a Supreme and an Arkle pulled up in last year's Champion Chase and flunked behind Edwardstone in this season's Tingle Creek: missing, presumed gone at it. Until, that is, a wind op and a step up in trip conspired to elicit a performance as good as he's ever produced in the Ascot Chase over this trip.

That level of form, and plenty of other from prior to last season's Fez flop, puts him a mile - or maybe half a stone in ratings terms - clear of his field here. But before going all in, consider that he was similarly well-fancied off a similarly rated prep a year ago. That big effort left its mark, albeit that the manner of the result was visually a lot more punishing, Shishkin going toe to toe with Energumene in a heavyweight scrap for our time.

So who, if anyone, can lower Shishkin's black and yellow checkerboard colours? With the news that Allaho would miss the party, Willie was never going to be troubled in shuffling his pack to find a sub. He's come up with Blue Lord, who looked world-beating at Christmas before failing to live with barn mate Gentleman De Mee at the Dublin Racing Festival last month. Prior to that, Blue Lord had done well to hold off former King George winner Tornado Flyer on his seasonal bow over the Ryanair trip. He's high class, but I'm just not sure what his trip is - two and a quarter miles, perhaps?

Janidil got closest to Allaho last year, having been held up away from the tearaways on the front. That turned out to be a good tactic as, although he got nowhere near 'the speed of the speed' Allaho, he plugged on past; but it's reasonable to argue he may not even have been second had Conflated not fallen two out. Janidil had two subsequent spring spins, both non-completions, and has had just one go this season. That was in the Grade 2 Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park, where he held off Haut En Couleurs in a small but fairly select field.

This distance may be the making of Fury Road, who has struggled to see out three miles at the top table on a number of occasions. He won a Grade 2 over 2m4f in early November last year before taking bronze in a brace of Leopardstown three mile G1's; further back, he was just outstayed by Monkfish in the 2020 Albert Bartlett.

What to make of Envoi Allen? Winner of the 2019 Champion Bumper and the 2020 Ballymore, he's actually won a couple of Grade 1's since including as recently as this season. He's six from eight at around this distance, hurdles and fences, and, if you can overlook a very poor showing in the King George, he's a place player.

I don't give the rest much of a chance.

Ryanair Chase Pace Map

Steady away here, most likely; Chacun Poir Soi, fabulous old boy, may be near the front but won't be tearing off. Should be a good even tempo.

Ryanair Chase Selection

This is Shishkin's race to lose. He looked very, very good in the Ascot Chase last time and a run with seven pounds of that is probably good enough. I don't really like the 'without' market so that's it - Shishkin.

Suggestion: Back 8/11 Shishkin to generate some eights for any spare elevens you have* - or just watch a champ in action.

*this does not constitute robust financial advice. Caveat emptor.

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3.30 Stayers' Hurdle (Grade 1, 3m)

The second highlight of day three is the Stayers' Hurdle, run over three miles. Bizarrely, it is not always the test of stamina the name suggests: in the last two seasons, Danny Mullins has ridden his rivals into a trance aboard Flooring Porter with, last season, his stop-start tempo on the front end before gearing up in the run to two out. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me thrice?

Although FP's form figures look a little less appealing this season, he's been running to a similar level of form and he seems to handle most ground. Trainer Gavin Cromwell will have again peaked him for this gig, but very few horses manage to win three Stayers' Hurdles (or indeed three of any Festival Championship race). That said, there isn't a bundle of obvious pace alternates in the field.

We haven't seen a lot of the seven-year-old Charles Byrnes-trained Blazing Khal, but what we have seen has typically been other horses following him home. Indeed, he's had just four races since 2020, three of them the following year and all of them victories. That two were achieved around Cheltenham is a boon to his prospects, as is his proven speed for shorter trips as well as three-mile winning form. This will be a first step up to Grade 1 company but, after three successive G2 scores, he's ready. Byrnes tends to know what he has and so the layoff - sole spin since 2021 was last month - isn't unduly concerning, though there is scope for the dreaded 'bounce' with that profile. There is a small niggle about his rider, the trainer's son, who will be unable to claim his allowance here.

Ex-French-trained Teahupoo was in the care of Gabriel Leenders prior to his rehoming at Gordon Elliott's Cullentra House yard, and his former conditioner has Gold Tweet in this year's line up. Let's deal with Teahupoo first. He's a typically early blooming French-bred who has won seven of his nine Irish starts, including this season's Hatton's Grace Hurdle, Grade 1. He was soundly beaten last term in both the Champion Hurdle and the Punchestown equivalent, but has resumed winning ways over further either side of the new year. Most of his good form is on soft or heavy ground so he won't mind any rain, and if it turns into a slog that ought to suit him.

Gold Tweet is another for whom wet ground holds no terrors: it was soft when he won the Cleeve, and very soft when he scored at Fontainebleu in November. But defeating Dashel Drasher and Paisley Park, both fantastic sticks but surely on the decline now, probably leaves him with plenty to find in this deeper field. Gold Tweet has never won above G3 in France (and that in a chase race).

Another I'm struggling to quantify is Home By The Lee. Joseph O'Brien trains this eight-year-old whose timber-topping form prior to this season was 218U113P100P226R; he's managed to put back-to-back wins together, in a Grade 2 and then a three mile Grade 1, so what gives? A charitable perspective of his Stayers' run last year would show that he stayed on having been outpaced mid-race; his case hangs on it being a thorough stamina test, which is by no means a given. In any event, he's short enough in a race of if's and but's.

Willie sends Klassical Dream and he might just be the over-priced one. Sure, he's quirky, and he probably needs to be delivered on the line because he travels a lot better than he finds when let down; but he's a six-time (SIX!) Grade 1 winner including three of his last four Grade 1's - so no back number - and comes here off the back of a narrow defeat by Teahupoo over an inadequate two and a half mile trip.

Of the rest, Ashdale Bob might be involved in making the pace - he's led or been prominent in his last three, and clung tough for 3rd of 23 in last year's Coral Cup - and is admirably consistent. His form in the last three seasons reads 11F912U373232342: almost always thereabouts when completing. I really hope he puts it up to Flooring Porter (though, of course, there will be others who wish the opposite!).

It's tough to make much of case for the stars of yesteryear like Paisley Park and Dashel Drasher.

Stayers' Hurdle Pace Map

Surely Flooring Porter doesn't get an easy lead for a third year running? Surely?! Maybe he does, though both Ashdale Bob and Dashel Drasher can go from the front, too. The French runner, Henri Le Farceur, led last time but is more typically waited with.

Stayers' Hurdle Selection

Very difficult indeed. I'm taking a chance on Klassical Dream, win only, in the hope that they go fast and he can cruise into contention. He's as likely to flop as to win so not an each way play, but hoping he'll give a run for the money.

Suggestion: Back Klassical Dream win only at 10/1.

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4.10 Festival Plate (Grade 3 handicap, 2m 4 1/2f)

Another borderline impossible handicap, this time a chase, and the first of two such races on the day. This is the least trends'y race of the week, with the Irish faring well enough, so too the Brits; young horses and old, exposed and unexposed, all getting on the roll of honour. It's a race that Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins have never won, Gordon Elliott has only won once and Nicky Henderson hasn't won since 2006! It's also a race where four of the last five winners were priced 5/1 or shorter, which is disappointing unless you fancy So Scottish.

That horse, in the care of Emmet Mullins, Plate winning trainer two years ago, looks an obvious contender for all that he's likely to face deeper ground and has been off longer than most winners; though Ballynagour in 2014 returned after the exact same 117 day layoff to win.

Il Ridoto was a soft ground winner over course and distance last time and, up eight pounds, still looks viable for Nicholls. He might again bid to make all. And a really interesting one if he stays is Frero Banbou. Trained by Venetia Williams, three-time Plate winner, this lad was desperately outpaced in last year's Grand Annual over two miles before making up ground on a fading field into eventual third. He's in the right hands and should be able to lie up with them more easily over this longer range. Venetia also runs Gemirande, a trip specialist who has progressed by more than a stone this season and, not out of the first two in his last six starts, may still be improving.

Millions of others with chances.

Festival Plate Pace Map

There's not a massive amount of early go, though Gemirande and Coole Cody will be there. So, too, perhaps Shakem Up'Arry and Embittered. Should be a fair chance for most.

Festival Plate Selection

The simple answer is So Scottish, and he might be a win saver. But, with as many bonus places as I can get, I'll be splitting my stake between the Brits Il Ridoto, Frero Banbou and Gemirande, and hoping for the best.

Suggestion: Take a couple of your choosing, and save on So Scottish.

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4.50 Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2, 2m 1f)

We all have a least favourite Festival race, and this one is mine. I'm generally accepting of the new races but definitely struggle with the mares' novices' hurdle. Anyway, that's my problem, and it will have a winner to find, so let's get on to that.

With seven renewals so far, Willie won the first five - sigh/wow! - before Henry de B took over with a 1-2 in 2021, where there was an Irish 1-2-3-4, none of them Willie. Then, last year, up rocked Love Envoi, trained by a Brit, Harry Fry, with another Brit in second, Willie third.

And it's a UK mare, Luccia, who is short at the top of the betting lists this time around. She's been an easy winner of all four starts to date, two bumpers and two novices, but hasn't jumped on softer than good ground yet. She could well be the winner; the problem is that this is one of those races where there are a number of unexposed types whose form lines are untested against each other.

Henry de Bromhead has options in a race named after his late son - poor family 🙁 - and it will be unbearably poignant if one of his can win. Chief among them might be Magical Zoe, herself unbeaten in three. She's won on soft in Grade 3 company and, while not as visually impressive as Luccia, she's expected to appreciate any stiffer test of stamina as a result of a fast pace. She was 18/1 that last day and beat the first two in the market into second and third: it didn't look fluky.

A really interesting contender, not to be confused with the de Bromhead runner, is Princess Zoe. You might know her from such as her Group 1 Prix du Cadran score or multiple Galway triumphs. She scraped home in a dead heat on hurdling debut over 2m4f, and it might be that a truly run two miles or so with a bit of cut is optimal. Her jumping lacked a little polish on that timber-topping bow, as it was entitled to do, and, if well schooled since, she's unquestionably high class.

Four of Willie's five Dawn Run winners were five-year-olds, which might just be coincidence; but more Dawn Runners tend to be six or older. Mullins' 5yo entry is Lot Of Joy, who has a Lot To Do on the ratings; but she looks a typical improver, having run up in her first two spins in huge fields before putting a dozen lengths between herself and the nearest of 14 rivals last time. She was 1/7 that day so did nothing unexpected, but that brings her to Cheltenham on an improvement arc and less exposed than many others.

You Wear It Well was second to Hermes Allen in the Grade 1 Challow, a race working out very well. I don't know how Hermes has done at time of writing, but a big performance from him in the Ballymore would clearly be a hint towards this mare's chance. She's fine on all ground and easily won a Grade 2 last time. Both the Challow and that G2 were over further, however, so the drop back in trip is not certain to suit.

Two more to mention, from a cast of 21, are Poetic Music and Halka Du Tabert. Poetic Music was a very good bumper filly, running sixth in Facile Vega's Champion Bumper as a four-year-old. She's taken well to hurdling, winning twice, though was no match for Luccia when they met three back. She wants a battle and she wants a strong pace, and she'll get both of those here: outside squeak.

Halka Du Tabert was well touted and showed the rumours to be on point when slamming Eabha Grace, a Grade 3 winner at the weekend, in a big field maiden. She was outpaced in a small field G3 last time, and this is much more her setup: she could be a contender.

Mares' Novices' Hurdle Pace Map

Hard to know how this will go with so many inexperienced mares. On what we've seen, Fox Girl and Halka du Tabert will be forwardly placed from the outset, while Luccia is more likely to track those trailblazers.

Mares' Novices' Hurdle Selection

Lots who will turn out better than they've had a chance to show so far, and Luccia - whilst an obvious win chance - is a measly price. Against her, I'll chance a couple each way: Magical Zoe and Halka Du Tabert. Both are likely to relish a strong pace and possess the battling qualities required for a scrum amongst 20+ inexperienced mares.

Suggestion: Back either or both of Magical Zoe and Halka du Tabert, each way a pleasure.

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5.30 Kim Muir Challenge Cup Chase (Class 2 Handicap, 3m2f)

The second handicap chase of the day, this one over three and a quarter miles and the exclusive domain of amateur riders. However, a quick squint at the winning jocks in recent years demonstrates the level of professionalism in the amateur ranks: just two of the last nine were claiming, and both have now gone professional. Jamie Codd has won the Kim Muir four times since 2009.

In betting terms, there were two 40/1 winners in the past eight years, both British-trained, and the other six were all single figure returns, four of them trained in Ireland.

Favourite this year is Stumptown, on the hat-trick and trained by Gavin Cromwell. He popped up at Sandown last time, eking out seven lengths over the second that day and earning enough of a ratings bump to book his Kim Muir ticket. Although he won a maiden hurdle on soft, his recent best has been achieved on a sounder surface; that doesn't mean he won't handle wetter as well as drier, just that he might not - and he's awful short if you're not sure.

Mr Incredible bids, I think, to be Willie Mullins' first handicap chase winner at the Festival. I believe he's 0 from 37 though he's had some placed. That's clearly not fuelling optimism and the horse - claimed by his rider to be a nutjob - has form figures that lurch from a Scrabble rack to a clutch of podium positions. Which Mr Incredible will show up today?

A horse we were interested in buying a couple of years back is Farinet, and he's been a fine servant for connections. He's trained by the first lady of Cheltenham Festival handicap chases, Venetia Williams, and wasn't beaten too far over course and distance on New Year's Day.

Beauport arrives here rather than the Ultima, and that may be the proverbial tip in itself. Trainer by the Twister, Nigel Twiston-Davies, he loves soft ground and a trip.

At the other end of the handicap, Ben Pauling - winning trainer of the Grand Annual last year - saddles a couple, the more interesting of which is probably Anightinlambourn. He's won three of his last four and was second on the other occasion; two of those runs were here over this sort of trip, but on quicker ground. If it dries out he becomes very interesting, I think.

And I've almost certainly not mentioned the winner!

Kim Muir Pace Map

It's Venetia to the fore and aft, everyone else in between. Farinet likely goes to the front while Chambard will be played late. Lots of other occasional pace pressers means this will be a stern examination of jumping over an exacting distance.

Kim Muir Selection

Tricky. Very tricky. I'm going to try Beauport and Anightinlambourn (good to soft or quicker only) against the field.

Suggestion: Back a couple against the field, with lots of extra places. Maybe the same two as me, and maybe not!

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It's a very tough day is Thursday at the Festival, so well done if you come out in front. If you don't, there's always Gold Cup day...

Good luck!

Matt

Cheltenham Festival 2022: Day 3 Preview, Trends, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2022: Day 3 Preview, Tips

And so to the second half. No matter how up or down your punting yoyo has been through Tuesday and Wednesday, we are only at halfway and there are fourteen further fiendish sudokus still to unravel.

After an unforeseen monsoon on Wednesday (it was a miserable day at the track), the going changed to heavy and much of what follows was based on an expectation of very different ground conditions. Do check whether the horse you fancy (or I've suggested) handles conditions!

1.30 Turners Novices' Chase (Grade 1, 2m 4f)

A small field as has been the feature of many novice Grade 1's this week so far, but this uber-exclusive four-runner party is going to get people wailing and gnashing their teeth.

Still, never mind the width, feel the quality.

Here, in what looks a match to all intents and purposes, is the gallant galloper Galopin Des Champs up against the barrelling Bob Olinger. The tale of the tape shows that both have a Festival hurdle gold to their names, and both have two easy chase verdicts under their belts, too.

Bob Olinger first. He waltzed home in last year's Ballymore, a race which comprised just seven runners; and has similarly come clear of his fields in a beginners' and a Grade 3 chase. There were some good horses well beaten off in those fencing assignments but nothing remotely of the calibre of Galopin Des Champs.

Naturally enough, similar comments apply to Galopin, whose Festival win was in the Martin Pipe, a 22-runner rush that bears no resemblance to the matter at hand this time. In between, he's looked absolutely electric in a couple of Leopardstown chases, first when strolling 22 lengths clear of his closest pursuer in a beginners' chase and most recently when hacking up in a Grade 1 at the Dublin Racing Festival.

Both Bob and Galopin would prefer to take a lead but neither is averse to making the running if necessary. And both can be expected to stride on from what they've displayed so far in this sphere.

The other two - El Barra and Busselton - don't really count for win purposes though a few wily judges have El Barra each way with three places ante post. Good luck keeping that account open!

Turners Novices' Chase Pace Map

This could be tactical between the big two, and could end up with a sprint to the line from a couple of fences out. I'd not be at all confident about that, however.

Turners Novices' Chase Selection

There is not much in the way of betting angles in this year's Turners, it appearing a straight shootout between the top two in the market. I favour Galopin Des Champs but not by a lot.

Suggestion: Sit this one out from a betting perspective and enjoy what will hopefully be a right dingdong between two very high class horses.

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2.10 Pertemps Final (Grade 3 handicap, 3m)

Another contest where I'm cutting to the chase and using historical profiles to make that incision. My shortlist is Winter Fog, Alaphilippe, Tullybeg and Born Patriot.

Winter Fog hails from the shrewd, very shrewd, yard of Emmett Mullins. A second season hurdler who was a big price when breaking his maiden at the third time of asking for former trainer Daniel Murphy and, after a single further run for Murphy, transferred to Emmett Mullins. For his new conditioner, he was a big eyecatcher in the Leopardstown qualifier, where he finished second having been backed from 22/1 into 8/1. He showed plenty there, and was clearly expected to be involved, but that cost him a ten pound rise in the weights.

In fact, he kind of needed that sort of elevation to guarantee a berth, as his prior mark of 128 would not have got a run. He's unexposed, represents smart connections, has shown he can handle a big field and looks a big player.

Alaphilippe has, like Winter Fog, had just the one run this season, in the Warwick qualifier; and, despite being sent off short enough at 7/2 he was a no show in fifth, eight lengths behind the winner. The first six in the qualifiers are eligible to race here so that was a job well done by connections. Looking back to last season and, as a novice, Alaphilippe - trained by Fergal O'Brien - was good enough to be fifth in the Albert Bartlett with a BHA rating at that time of 143. That has declined to 138 now and this is the day for the horse named after a cyclist to show what he has if he can.

All Gordon Elliott Festival handicap entries command respect and only his third choice according to current betting is Tullybeg. That may be because the seven-year-old Sholokhov gelding has rather shown his hand with a couple of wins on good ground in the autumn. He then ran fifth in the Cheltenham qualifier and hasn't raced since. That could be a sign that the trainer was happy that the job of qualifying was done allowing sole focus on preparing for the big day. So many handlers leaving something to work on - doesn't make it easy, does it?

Peter Fahey runs Born Patriot, the trainer bidding to win a Festival handicap for the second season running after Belfast Banter claimed the County Hurdle a year ago. This fellow has a similar profile: also a six-year-old and lightly raced in handicap company, he was second in the Cheltenham qualifier before a quiet effort in a Sandown handicap in early February. That last run might have been to ensure the British handicapper was happy with Born Patriot's rating and didn't do anything rash in terms of extra poundage. And it might not, of course. He looks interesting at a price.

And, though the trends say he's too old, it is impossible to ignore Sire Du Berlais. Not just because he is the current favourite for this race but also because he has an awesome Fez record: he's attended the last four Festivals, something not many of us can claim, and has finished fourth in the 2018 Martin Pipe, first in this race in 2019 and 2020, and second in the Grade 1 Stayers' Hurdle last season. Naturally, a record like that brings plenty of ballast for his saddle but it's earned by the classiest horse in the line up. He shouldered top weight of 11-12 to victory two years ago and will bid to do the same again now.

In the same colours is Dame De Compagnie, whose case is slightly less easily made. She was sixth, beaten 96 lengths, in the Wincanton qualifier - remember sixth is the minimum placing to get a run here - and had endured an abortive chase campaign. But go back a little further, to March 2020, and you'll note that DdC won a handicap hurdle at the Festival when easily accounting for Black Tears et al in the Coral Cup off a mark of 140. She's off 139 this time and, though time waits for no man, woman, gelding or mare, nine is certainly not too old for another hoorah.

So many more with a chance.

Pertemps Final Pace Map

Potentially the thrill of a lifetime for Victoria Malzard as her mount, Kansas City Chief, looks most likely to lead this big field. She'll be chaperoned, doubtless, by a few, including potentially Dallas Des Pictons and Remastered. I'm expecting a relatively even gallop.

Pertemps Final Pace Map

Pertemps Final Pace Map

Pertemps Final Selection

This is very tough. The 'obvious' answer is Sire Du Berlais and he looks sure to give a run for your money but he's no sort of a price. Likewise, Winter Fog; but the one with some flesh on its odds still is Born Patriot and there are lots of extra places being paid here.

Suggestion: Try 22/1 Born Patriot each way, and/or the shorties Sire Du Berlais and/or Winter Fog at bigger than 5/1 win only

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2.50 Ryanair Chase (Grade 1, 2m 4 1/2f)

Nine go in the intermediate Grade 1 chase, the Ryanair, and they are headed by last year's winner and this year's strong favourite, Allaho.

Now eight, Allaho has won four of his last five races, the only horse to lower his colours being an on song Chacun Pour Soi over an inadequate two mile trip at last year's Punchestown Festival. At this sort of range and on this sort of going, he looks very strong as his price implies. So where are the credible dangers? Good question. The honest answer is that there may not be any, though I need to show my working out.

Conflated was a shock winner of the Irish Gold Cup over three miles at Leopardstown last month and runs here rather than the Gold Cup, which means the owner got his way rather than the trainer. I tend to agree with Michael O'Leary in that this greater relative speed test is probably more up Conflated's street than the stamina required for the Blue Riband, but can see Gordon Elliott's "there's only one Gold Cup" point, too.

Conflated was a good but not top class hurdler and has been chasing for two seasons now, but had shown nothing prior to that last day to suggest he was of this calibre. Was it a flash in the pan? Can he beat Allaho even if he's able to repeat that level? I'm not sure, but his price suggests he can.

Shan Blue was a legitimate Grade 1 novice performer last season but his sole start this term was when falling and injuring himself in the Charlie Hall with the race in the bag. 138 days have passed, it always being the plan to bring him back for a spring campaign if he recuperated in time. Seemingly he has, but this is a big ask off that preparation.

The horse to get closest to Allaho over this distance in recent seasons is Janidil. A Grade 1 winner last April at Fairyhouse, he was only two lengths behind the favourite here in the John Durkan in December. He appeared not to get home over three miles at Leopardstown twice since and this drop back in trip is a plus. Fair place chance.

Second season chaser Eldorado Allen has some very good runs to his name: as well as five wins, three at Grade 2 level, he's been the nearest at the finish to Shishkin twice, albeit at a respectful distance. A strong stayer at 2m5f, as his 2m7f Denman Chase verdict last time confirms, he looks mildly progressive and has a rating to get close to the frame. It is hard to see him challenging the jolly unless that one has a shocker, though.

Ten-year-old Melon has been a stalwart in the Graded races at the Cheltenham Festival, finishing second to Labaik in the Supreme (no, I didn't back the winner), second to Buveur d'Air in the 2018 Champion Hurdle, second to Espoir d'Allen in the 2019 Champion Hurdle and, you guessed it, second to Samcro in the 2020 Marsh/Turners. Last year in this, however, the seconditis was cured, Melon instead pulling up. He did win a Grade 2 in heavy ground last time out but the likelihood is his best is in the past. Lovely old stick, definitely deserved to have won one along the way.

The rest are even bigger prices. I'm not a fan of Mister Fisher, another who pulled up in an attritional renewal behind Allaho last season; nor especially of Saint Calvados who hasn't won since 2019. He was second in this in 2020 and ran a good race in the King George before running a bad race in the Ascot Chase. His 'A' game could threaten for minor podium honours. Fanion d'Estruval was fifth in this last year and has improved his rating a few pounds since, without hinting that he might be in the shake up now.

Ryanair Chase Pace Map

Allaho normally leads and I expect him to do that here, controlling the pace. Those closest to mount a challenge may be Conflated and Shan Blue while Janidil and Saint Calvados will more likely turn up fashionably late.

Ryanair Chase Selection

Allaho looks to have very sound prospects of a follow up, something which bookmakers consider more likely than not. I tend to agree. But after that they and I differ in terms of the next best: I think Janidil, two lengths behind Allaho in December, has a good chance to again get close and he can be backed either in forecasts or without the favourite.

Suggestion: Back Janidil each way without the favourite at 6/1.

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3.30 Stayers' Hurdle (Grade 1, 3m)

The Stayers' Hurdle is a Grade 1 run over three miles. That much is known. Thereafter it gets trickier to be confident about anything. Every horse in the field has a question to answer, most of them a series of questions. Which makes wagering difficult. It's a race to sit out from that perspective in truth but let's push on, just in case.

The reigning champion is Flooring Porter, who has done less wrong than many of his rivals since last year's Festival. He did pull up next time, at Punchestown's Festival, and fell when likely to win at Navan; and most recently he was two lengths behind Klassical Dream in the G1 Christmas Hurdle. And yes, that is still doing less wrong than most of these!

Klassical Dream looked relatively robust before running lamentably in the Galmoy Hurdle last time. Rumours are that Willie Mullins, his trainer, ran only to support his local track etc etc. If that's true, and the real Klassical Dream shows up, he's the one to beat, no argument. He'd previously beaten Flooring Porter as we know, and before that had dotted up in the Punchestown Stayers' Hurdle, another Grade 1. And those are his only three races at this trip. Assuming the Galmoy is a chuck out, which we're invited to believe, KD is the one to beat.

Best of the British might be Thyme Hill, who has been around quite a while now. He's mixed wins against the likes of Paisley Park and Roksana with defeats to the likes of Champ and, erm, Paisley Park. I quite like him as a horse but I don't really want to bet him.

So what of Champ? Intended for the Gold Cup even after beating Thyme Hill in the Long Walk Hurdle, he was diverted here even after losing to Paisley Park in the Cleeve Hurdle. Ultimately he looks to be somewhat 'of no fixed abode' in terms of appropriate Festival targets having been a less than fluent chaser even when winning the RSA Chase two years ago. He's another who could win, but probably won't.

Paisley Park is fifth favourite but in my book four of these could be co-second favourites behind Klassical Dream. He's been a fantastic story horse for his blind since birth owner, Andrew Gemmell, and it would be amazing if he could roll back the years. Since his emotional win on that unforgettable Thursday three years ago, he's been third mostly and seemingly regressive; that was before bashing Champ and 2020 Stayers' winner Lisnagar Oscar after completely blowing the start. He's just got too many negatives to be a bet, but he'll be a hugely popular winner if that can happen.

The mare Royal Kahala gets seven pounds from the boys and comes here on a hat-trick, better winning form than most. But the wins were in minor Graded races for all that the most recent was that Galmoy where she turned away Klassical Dream among others. That was her first try at three miles so she's unbeaten at the trip and as a winner of five of her ten career starts she has fewer knocks than most of her rivals.

The others are 40/1+ and deserve to be, even though Lisnagar Oscar is a former winner. That Championship score is, unbelievably, the only win in his last 17 races!

Stayers' Hurdle Pace Map

Should be an even gallop with any of three (Flooring Porter, Klassical Dream, Lisnagar Oscar) expected to be front rank. Klassical Dream is perhaps most likely.

Stayers' Hurdle Selection

Not a very attractive betting heat, though it could be quite the spectacle. If you insist on having a win bet, Klassical Dream requires only the forgiveness of a below par run last time; prior to that he was a proper Grade 1 stayer. At bigger prices, KD's vanquisher in the Galmoy, Royal Kahala, has been a trifle overlooked, I feel.

Suggestion: Small bet on 4/1 Klassical Dream perhaps, or 9/1 Royal Kahala each way.

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4.10 Festival Plate (Grade 3 handicap, 2m 4 1/2f)

Another handicap, another lunge for the trends in a half-cooked bid to find one that at least runs creditably. Thanks again to Josh Wright for doing the dirty work on racingtoprofit.co.uk, where I learned the following:

14/14 were at least 5lb higher than for their last win (were not: 0/115, 12p)
14/14 had 0-4 runs at track previously (5+ : 0/88, 18p)
14/14 had 0-3 runs in G3s (4+ : 0/81, 10p)
14/14 had 0-1 career wins over further (2+ : 0/54, 11p)
13/14 top 2 at least once last three starts (were not: 1/113, 14p)
13/14 had placed at least once last three starts (had not: 1/78, 8p)

That doesn't help especially and this is a very poor race for me historically. As such I'll spare you a deep dive in favour of a couple I think might be interesting. Simply The Betts, Celebre d'Allen, Imperial Alcazar, and Pistol Whipped all show up well and I think I'll split one point win only between them.

Festival Plate Pace Map

There's likely to be a good pace on early though front runners have done OK even in big fields at this trip. Wishing And Hoping will be doing just that about tactics, though he'll not be left alone in front.

Festival Plate Selection

This is too difficult for me. I'm having small interests on Simply The Betts, Celebre d'Allen, Imperial Alcazar, and Pistol Whipped. But I mean small! If one of them wins, I'll have been lucky, not good.

Suggestion: Good luck.

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4.50 Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2, 2m 1f)

Another race where I don't have any special interest or awareness. Actually, I do have one view. I think Brandy Love should be a bigger price and, related, Dinoblue should be a shorter price.

Expanding a little on that, both are trained by Willie Mullins and, while Brandy Love has been beaten twice in four starts, Dinoblue was a striking winner - by 15 lengths - of her maiden. After that, Willie decided he'd seen enough and has prepared her for this since. He knows what he has and I suspect we're soon to find out, too. Meanwhile Brandy Love was beaten in a Grade 3, which is not an ideal prep for a Grade 2, for all that it's a higher level of form than achieved hitherto by Dinoblue.

Gordon Elliott saddles Party Central, winner at only 7/4 of a 15-runner Grade B handicap hurdle last time. She has experience in her corner and has only been beaten when the ground was wet wet wet. Here it will be dry dry dry. Grangee is another spoke in Willie's wheel, highly tried behind Mighty Potter et al in a Grade 1 at Christmas before falling when just starting to look interested in a mares' Grade 3 last time. She has a fair level of form but not much upside.

Similar comments apply to Statuaire, another Willie wunner. She won a muddling Royal Bond (Grade 1, Impervious back in fifth)  but was then thumped in similarly lofty company at the DRF. Still, this is a lot easier and it might be that she didn't appreciate the soft ground last time. After three wins, and one top class clunk, she might be a bit of value at around 20/1.

Love Envoi is very game and has made hay in an unbeaten string of five, one bumper and four hurdles, most recently on heavy in the Grade 2 Jane Seymour at Sandown. She's progressive but has been climbing the ranks in hock deep mud, a very different terrain from that which she'll encounter here. It would clearly not be a surprise if she won again but I will let her beat me if she can.

I'm not especially excited about the rest, though Nurse Susan looked very good at Leicester before finding Love Envoi better than her in the mud at Lingfield.

Mares' Novices' Hurdle Pace Map

Hard to be conclusive though it does look as though Brandy Love will try to make all, perhaps assisted or harried by Tweed Skirt. The pace is expected to find plenty out.

Mares' Novices' Hurdle Selection

I don't normally bet in this race but I get the impression that Dinoblue might be pretty good. As such, I've had a small play at 11/4 which I think is reasonable for an interest. Statuaire can be forgiven her defeat last time and might be a touch of each way value if you can get loads of extra places.

Suggestion: Dinoblue could be special and I've bought a ticket to find out. Statuaire is a Grade 1 winner and that entitles her to each way respect at 20/1 with five places.

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5.30 Kim Muir Challenge Cup Chase (Class 2 Handicap, 3m2f)

Can trends be our friend? I very much hope so.

14/14 had 2-6 runs this season (did not: 0/65, 10p)
14/14 had 0-4 runs in Class 2's (5+ ; 0/84, 12p)
13/14 aged 7-9 (6: 0/16,2p, 10+ : 1/80, 12p)
13/14 sent off 16/1 or shorter SP (bigger: 1/187, 14p)
13/14 within 8lb of top rated (9lb or lower: 1/123, 12p)
13/14 carried 11-4 or more (exc jockey claims) (11-3< : 1/129, 12p)
13/14 had 0-2 chase wins (3+ : 1/129, 15p)
13/14 ran in races for 5yo+ and 6yo+ LTO: (did not: 1/93, 10p)
12/14 official rating 137+ (136< : 2/175, 18p)
12/14 had 0-7 runs in handicap chases (8+ : 2/132, 17p)
11/14 had run at G1 or G2 level in careers (had not: 3/132, 15p)

The shortlist includes both of the Irish plots, Frontal Assault and School Boy Hours. The former has top weight as a result of his strong novice chase form and tries a handicap chase for the first time. He was only 8th of 22 in the Martin Pipe behind Galopin Des Champs last season as a 16/1 chance and rates a good bit shorter here at a trip which ought to suit better than last season's Festival tilt. He represents the Gordon Elliott (and alter ego, Denise Foster) team who have won this the last two years, and three times in the last six.

School Boy Hours won a valuable handicap chase at Leopardstown last time which, conventional wisdom has it, is not the way to get the right mark to score at Chelto. But last day winners can double up in the Kim Muir, as Ballabriggs, The Bushkeeper, Honey Mount and Celtic Giant prove. The only one of those to do it since 2002 was Ballabriggs and that was in 2010, so it's not a positive for all that nor is it the home time bell to his chance.

Nicky Henderson is having a great meeting and one who fits the impossible to find historical profile is Janika, who has done the square root of foxtrot oscar in terms of advancing his case this campaign. A career record of 1 from 15 in Britain is hardly exciting but this horse was rated 166 in 2019/20 when he won a Grade 2 and ran second in a Grade 1; and he was fifth of 26 in the Coral Cup last season off a nothing prep. It's a Grand Canyon-esque leap of faith to back him on his current form but still, why not?

More obvious from the Hendo barn is Mister Coffey, on whom the galloping dentist, Sam Waley-Cohen, takes the ride. A non-winner of three this season, he's peppered the target without affecting his handicap mark one scintilla. A novice, he was last seen chasing home L'Homme Presse in the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase at Sandown. That was two and a half miles, this is three and a quarter, and the obvious stamina question remains unanswered. He's not really bred to go this far but it would only need to bring out a smidge of improvement for him to be a player: he'll travel easily at this more leisurely meter and then we'll see.

Henry de Bromhead saddles Ain't That A Shame, second to Galopin Des Champs and third to Stattler this season, granted at a daylight distance. Still, this is no Grade 1 and those are top class staying novices, so he can be expected to play a part if his stamina lasts out over a quarter mile further than he's raced before.

One proven at the trip is Omar Maretti, who has been progressive and looked better the further the race distance. Jockey Dale Peters may be a new name to some - he was pretty much to me - but he's won on four of his nine Rules rides this season, and on eight of 29 (28% strike rate) all told, so can be trusted in this context. Omar is ascendant from a lower base than some classier rivals but he brings proven stamina, a winning attitude, and is a square price. Interesting.

And no consideration of a Festival amateur riders' race is complete without a review of the mount of the professional's professional amateur, Mr Jamie 'JJ Codd-father' Codd. He's up top on Smoking Gun, whose Porterstown Chase win in November showed he both stays and handles quicker ground. He's a bit more exposed than your average Elliott handicap runner these days but his chance is clear enough.

Kim Muir Pace Map

It's hard to be confident on how things will go, with so many amateurs (for all that they're the best, most experienced in their peer group). Mindsmadeup is a perennial forward goer and he may be joined by any/all of Almazhar Garde, Red Infantry and Fakir d'Alene. Likely to be run at a testing lick.

Kim Muir Pace Map

Kim Muir Pace Map

Kim Muir Selection

Tricky. Obviously. I think Frontal Assault has to be on the shortlist though he's a dreadful price. Smoking Gun is hardly a sexy price either, though has a strong claim and both Omar Maretti and Mister Coffey are solid home team players.

Suggestion: Back a couple for small change with loads of places. Maybe Omar Maretti will continue his progress for the Alex Hales yard.

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It's a very tough card is Thursday's, even if you've found the previous two days challenging, but every race has a winner and perhaps we'll land butter side up somewhere through the afternoon.

Good luck!

Matt