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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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...