Cheltenham Festival 2019: Day 3 Preview, Tips
And so to the second half, historically the trickier segment of the meeting. After two fiendishly trappy days on Tuesday and Wednesday, that does not bode well! Typically the weakest of the four days, though that of course is relative, Thursday brings us the Stayers' Hurdle, Ryanair and JLT Chases, as well as a trio of impossible handicaps and a mares' novice hurdle (all lower case) that has no place at the Festival in my opinion.
Finding winners should be faintly possible in the Grade 1's, and that is where the bulk of the words that follow will be focused.
1.30 JLT Chase (Grade 1, 2m 4f)
A curious little contest which revolves in large part around the form of the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase, a Grade 1 over this sort of trip run at Sandown in early February. That day, Defi Du Seuil beat Lostintranslation and Vinndication, the trio now comprising 60% of the top five in the betting and 100% of the top two.
Defi was a very good winner of the Triumph Hurdle, or so it seemed at the time, but he subsequently got stuck in the mire of Philip Hobbs' stable virus last season. This campaign has been better, highlighted by that Scilly Isles win and also featuring a defeat of Topofthegame (though that one had excuses). Moreover, the record of the winner of the Sandown race in this contest is 35F222, beaten the last thrice by an Irish runner.
Lostintranslation is closely pegged to Defi Du Seuil on his last two runs. He's a consistent horse with second placed efforts in two Grade 1's, but is a bit of a bridesmaid. Contrast him with Vinndication, who was expected to miss the Festival due to injury but has apparently been working the house down in recent days. Kim Bailey's Vinnie Roe gelding had won all six career starts prior to his close third in the Scilly Isles and he is entitled to improve a little more still.
The front three at Sandown were close together and I'm prepared to take a chance that the Irish will prevail again: they've already shown their two mile brigade is best, with a 1-2-3 in an eventful Arkle. They have a four-pronged attack with which to fork the home team, the highest rated of which is Real Steel. He's won his last two, in ungraded company, and wasn't good enough as a hurdler to make the frame in four attempts at G1 company.
Stablemate at the Willie Mullins yard, Voix Du Reve, interests me: he was third to Le Richebourg and Us And Them in the Racing Post Novice Chase, form advertised in the absence of the winner by the second who filled the same spot in the Arkle on Tuesday. He was in the process of running a bigger race than that, Us And Them and Mengli Khan behind, when tipping up at the last in the Irish Arkle: that form looks decent in this context. His jumping is a bit of a worry but he also has a Grade 2 verdict over beaten Arkle favourite, Hardline, to his name so is clearly near the head of the Irish chasing ranks. He's an appealing price.
Mengli Khan has been good enough to win a Grade 1 novice hurdle and to place in last year's Supreme on heavy ground; but he's not shown enough in three chase starts to suggest he can be the best of the Irish. As a son of Lope De Vega, he also has to demonstrate the requisite stamina having never raced beyond seventeen furlongs in twelve National Hunt starts. Pravalaguna, a third string to Willie's bow, rounds out Team Ireland (not that they're a team at all, obviously). She comes here on a hat-trick, her two chase wins achieved in Listed grade or lower, and looks to have a bit to find.
I'm struggling to see the appeal of classy handicapper Kildisart. He was getting weight from the second and (errant-running) third in a novices' handicap chase on Trials Day and that looks below what is required.
JLT Chase Pace Map
JLT Chase Selection
This boils down to whether you like the British or Irish form, and I like the Irish based on Tuesday's Arkle. On that basis, I'm siding with Voix Du Reve to add to Willie Mullins' tally (he's won four of the eight renewals to date). He has experience, he has classy chase form and, though he fell last time, he looks a very big price at 14/1 (or 20/1 if you can get on with Boyle).
Suggestion: Back Voix Du Reve each way at 14/1
2.10 Pertemps Final (Grade 3 handicap, 3m)
Another impossible handicap which will probably be won by an Irish novice that has run in a Grade 1 or 2 earlier in the season. Using that lazy man's route in - well, I could do the work and find a loser, too? - brings me to a shortlist of ... none.
Do some work I must, as yoda might say. A slightly different tack is to look for the 'not off' horse from the Leopardstown qualifier. That angle screams the chance of the Gordon Elliott-trained Sire Du Berlais, who jogged around before picking off enough of the beaten horses to bag sixth place and thus qualification for this final.
The lightly raced seven-year-old was fourth in the Martin Pipe last season off a mark of 144 and races here off just a pound higher. 6/1 is a horrible price in a race like this but his case is easily made.
Ian Williams' First Assignment has been consistent and progressive this season, including when winning a three mile handicap hurdle at the track in November. He's since given Paisley Park a race and will not be fazed by soft ground. Arguably more exposed than some, his conditioner is a wonderful target trainer. Again, though, he's well found in the betting.
At a massive price is Coole Cody. Michael Blake is unfashionable, but his runner has a Cheltenham handicap win on soft ground in a big field to his name. Just three pounds higher here, and coming in off the back of a fine second in a big field soft ground Grade 3 handicap hurdle, 50/1 is bigbigbig for smallsmallsmall money. He may try to make all, a trick which has proved surprisingly effective in such races: I can immediately recall Buena Vista doing that here, and Fountains Windfall doing it at Aintree.
If you like something else, fair play. I'll be going 20 deep in the placepot.
Pertemps Final Pace Map
Pertemps Final Selection
The favourite, Sire du Berlais, has his chance on the form of his fourth place in a handicap at last year's Festival; and I'd love to see Ian Williams win with First Assignment. I'll have a tiny tickle on that one and also on Coole Cody, who is over-priced even if he is probably also over-faced.
Suggestion: Back First Assignment (10/1 general) and Coole Cody (50/1 general) each way for very small money.
2.50 Ryanair Chase (Grade 1, 2m 4 1/2f)
Lots of old friends line up for what should be an enthralling renewal of the Ryanair Chase where they bet 4/1 the field. Clinging on to favouritism is last year's Arkle winner, Footpad. He was the beneficiary of some bonkers riding up top that day and shouldn't have been beaten by the capable old stick Simply Ned last time. Even given the form Willie is enjoying, I can't have him on my mind against a deep field although he's likely to be suited by softish turf.
Monalee is one of a group challenging for market primacy, and looks a more reliable place play at least. He beat stout stayer Anibale Fly last time and has form with the likes of Kemboy, Presenting Percy and Al Boum Photo that would put him close to the Gold Cup picture. I like him but I think he might just lack a gear.
Un De Sceaux is eleven now, and that's a big 'x' in my book. 11 year olds just don't win Festival races (Moscow Flyer in 2005 is the only horse older than ten to win a Grade 1 at the Cheltenham Festival, from 75 to try, since at least 1997), and this is very far from a penalty kick. The going, trip and track are all in his favour, but age is significantly against him. He'd be a tremendous winner but I can't see it in spite of some high class form as a ten-year-old last year.
The gallant and superb Frodon also lines up. He produced one of the weight-carrying performances of recent times when lugging 11-12 off a mark of 164 in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup and even managed to win over a trip-too-far extended three miles last time. His Cheltenham record reads 3801150211. That said, he was well beaten in last year's Ryanair and also on his only other Festival appearance, in the 2016 Triumph Hurdle.
The one I like - actually, the one I love - is ROAD TO RESPECT. He travelled off a fast pace like the winner in the Gold Cup last year before failing to stay so this shorter trip looks spot on. Soft ground will suit him better than the quicker surfaces he's been racing on which, allied to a Grade 1 win at the trip, and a pace setup that looks tailor-made, and a price of 5/1, makes him just about nap material.
It's 20/1 bar this group, a price which brings in last year's winner, Balko Des Flos, and the Brown Advisory winner, The Storyteller. The latter gets his ground which might make him more competitive than he's been most of the season, but he's probably a touch shy of what's needed to lift this pot; the former has been AWOL all campaign but may again be at least partially revived by wetter turf. Neither are for me, mind.
Ryanair Chase Pace Map
Ryanair Chase Selection
I got a bit carried away when wagering this race and have convinced myself that Road To Respect is one of the bets of the meeting. It's a race which will define my Cheltenham, so here's hoping Noel Meade's eight-year-old brings his A game. If he does, he'll take all the beating in what is a competitive race for the places.
Suggestion: Back Road To Respect at 5/1 (bet365, Boyle)
3.30 Stayers' Hurdle (Grade 1, 3m)
To that I'll add the pace map, which shows Faugheen may get some contention from Sam Spinner but perhaps not much else and might just be able to dictate the fractions:
4.10 Festival Plate (Grade 3 handicap, 2m 4 1/2f)
The Plate. Any chance of gravy? Not really, no...
Although not saddling a winner in the last four years, Venetia Williams, David (and before him, Martin) Pipe, and Nicky Henderson have excellent records in this race. Between them they run five this time: Eamon An Cnoic (Pipe), Gardefort, Didero Vallis (both Venetia), Janika and River Wylde (both Henderson).
Eamon An Cnoic - Eamon hereafter - was ninth in last year's Ultima. That's typically a better race than this and it is run over a longer trip, one which he appeared to fail to see out. Back in distance, with a win last time out over two miles and a prior course spin this season he'll be on plenty of tickets.
The six-year-old Didero Vallis has snuck in at the very bottom of the weights and comes here looking for a third win of the campaign, having prevailed twice at this range on soft before coming unstuck over further and on quicker last time. Perfect preparation in many respects. This ex-Willie Mullins-trained chap has plenty of upside, no weight and comes from the right trainer.
La Williams also runs Gardefort, whose mark has been moving in the opposite direction thanks to a Scrabble rack of form figures this term. 0PU is hardly the sort of sequence to get the pulse racing, and it's not the sort with which Venetia has got it done previously either, but a rummage a little deeper into Gardefort's profile reveals that he was second in the 2017 Grand Annual (two miles) at the Festival. Very lightly raced since, he was 142 then and is 137 now. Back class is the angle if you want to make a case for him.
Then there's Nicky's pair. Janika is just about favourite, the six-year-old running second on both UK starts since notching a hat-trick at Pau and Auteuil. He looks a pretty classy sort though he'll need to be to lug top weight and at least six pounds more than the rest. Obviously he wouldn't be a surprise winner but 6/1 is tight enough.
Second in the weights is the other Hendo horse, River Wylde. He's been plying his trade in Grade 1 and 2 hurdle and chase company and makes his handicap debut here. Third in Labaik's Supreme (2017), he was leading when coming down at the last in a graduation chase over a little further than this at Haydock last time. Good to soft would be fine for him though I don't think he'd want it too wet; with the ground drying out currently he could be interesting at twice the price of his stablemate.
The Irish have won the last three renewals, from very few entries, after an extremely long drought previously. They bring just two ten-year-olds to the table this time: Valseur Lido and Polidam. The former gets a drop in Festival grade having run third in the 2015 JLT and second in the 2016 Ryanair, both at around this trip. A mark of 145 is 16lb lower than his career top, though it's more than two years since he won. He represents the A Plus Tard connections of de Bromhead and Blackmore.
Polidam is a Willie Mullins runner that has been rattling around his current mark for a couple of years. He doesn't obviously have anything in hand of the 'capper though he's been fairly consistently in defeat.
Festival Plate Pace Map
Festival Plate Selection
It's another deep handicap where I've probably failed to mention the winner. Janika will go close if able to carry his big weight, but at the prices I'm more drawn to the chances of Eamon An Cnoic and River Wylde, as well as perhaps Didero Vallis. All represent savvy connections.
Suggestion: Take your each way pick of Eamon An Cnoic (20/1 Hills), River Wylde (14/1 Hills), and/or Didero Vallis (25/1 general).
4.50 Mares' Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2, 2m 1f)
A more competitive renewal this year, but not a race I believe should feature at the Festival. Personal prejudices aside, it is a decent wagering heat.
For the first time since its inception Willie Mullins doesn't have the favourite this year. That honour goes to Epatante, a French import trained by Nicky Henderson. She's bolted up on her two UK starts and won an AQPS Grade 1 bumper in France, though quite what that means in the context of this race is anybody's guess. It was a super-impressive victory, however, and she's not been troubled by anything to this point. She might just be a superstar.
Others have done more on the track and deserve a mention, most notably Posh Trish. She's had five runs this term, winning four of them, but this is a fair step up in grade; she was found out a little in Grade 2 bumper company last spring but had had a long season by then. Similar comments could apply this term.
Mullins may not saddle the favourite, but he is represented by SEVEN mares, the most prominent in the betting being My Sister Sarah. Winner of three of her four starts in ordinary company, she has a stone to find on ratings. But these are highly progressive youngsters and one has to respect the trainer. Pick of his septet at the prices might be Sancta Simona, who chased home Aramon in a Grade 1 against the boys last time. She was 5/2 there and is 16/1 here - that looks too big about a Grade 3 winner that handles any ground.
Second to Posh Trish at Newbury, having beaten her over the same course the time before, is Lust For Glory. She looks above average but may have a little to find against some of these. For fans of chat, her owners, Grech and Parkin, were talking her up as their best horse at the start of the season. She's not done much wrong.
In the same yard as Lust For Glory and Epatante is Elusive Belle. She has a tendency to find one too good but has posted some decent time figures. And Stuart Edmunds' Queenofhearts was a good winner of a Grade 2 at Sandown last time. She has been racing over further but, if they go quickly (and they probably will), she might not be out of it; she handles any ground.
Mares' Novices' Hurdle Pace Map
Mares' Novices' Hurdle Selection
In spite of myself I am drawn to the favourite, Epatante, on potential more than track performance. It is the manner of her victories that takes the eye. Her French G1 score was achieved with panache, nonchalance and other words which have been adopted into the British idiom, and I suspect this lass is going to be one about whom we speak in revered terms in future. Her name translates as 'amazing', though in an old-fashioned context (there's a French journo sitting next to me!), so perhaps more like 'spiffing', and she is probably just that. I'll take a rare chance at the top of the market on her.
Suggestion: Back Epatante to show that she's the real deal at 2/1 general
5.30 Kim Muir Challenge Cup Chase (Class 2 Handicap, 3m2f)
Amateur riders. Three and a quarter miles. Two dozen horses. Fences. Yikes.
The best jockeys tend to fare best, a cause and effect symbiosis where success breeds success. Jamie Codd has won this four times, and he rides Gordon Elliott's Measureofmydreams. Supported from 33/1 into about 5/1 now, the connections certainly wouldn't put you off; his three prior Festival jaunts have ended 830, the 3 recorded in the National Hunt Chase. A stout stayer who has had plenty of time off - just one run since spring 2017 - he is ten pounds below his peak rating and will get the ice cold Codd patient ride.
Only one of the last ten winners has been sent off bigger than 16/1 so it's not a race in which to get too gung ho. Others at the head of the market include the aptly named It's All Guesswork, Any Second Now, No Comment and Sky Pirate. Dealing with the Guesswork first, he's a second string to the Elliott bow who has been consistent all season but perhaps isn't as well handicapped as some as a consequence.
Any Second Now is quite interesting. He seemed to be outpaced in the Close Brothers last season and has been staying on in his three mile races this term. The extra range here and the booking of the excellent Derek O'Connor looks a beneficial combination.
No Comment has been very lightly raced though has run creditably at the last two Festivals, finishing seventh in the Martin Pipe in 2017 and sixth in the National Hunt Chase last year. Clearly seen as a stayer, this will be his first handicap chase spin.
Sky Pirate was travelling like the winner when coming down over a similarly extended three miles here at the November meeting. A warm up spin at Exeter last month will have put him spot on for this main challenge, and he's another that is interesting if not missed in the market.
At bigger prices, Se Mo Laoch would appeal if getting a run. The second reserve has been first or second in each of his last six races, and in the first three in each of his last nine. Incredibly, he's elevated from a mark of 82 (!) to 130 and seems to handle big fields and long distances with aplomb.
And there's just room for an honourable mention for Squouateur, perhaps the unluckiest horse in training, certainly in terms of his Festival performances. With a name made for Scrabble, his form figures of BPP0F also fit that bill. But he was (an unlucky in running) 3rd in this race last year off a 3lb lower mark, and was just getting into it when unseating three out in the Kim Muir of 2017. With a clear round, something that, granted, seems fairly unlikely, he might be a 'forgotten' horse. Faller insurance would be a smart concession to avail of if you otherwise like his chance.
Kim Muir Pace Map
Kim Muir Selection
As with all the handicaps, it's no more than a token pick in another deep deep heat. I'll plump for Any Second Now, for whom the trip might be ideal.
Suggestion: Back Any Second Now each way at 10/1 (1/5 12345 Hills, Victor, Unibet)
That's the shape of Day 3, Thursday. My fate for the day, and maybe the week, will be sealed by the Ryanair Chase; so please think of me regardless of the result of there!