Cheltenham Festival 2020: Day 3 Preview, Tips
The second two quarters are upon us and, for many, the weakest day, from a quality perspective, is Thursday, Day 3 of the Cheltenham Festival. But last year was a sizzler with that brilliant Frodon Ryanair and the equally emotional Paisley Park Stayers' Hurdle. Both are back to defend their crowns, each with numerous challengers. We start as always at 1.30 with a name change...
1.30 Marsh Chase (Grade 1, 2m 4f)
A new name but the same deal: horses lacking the speed for the Arkle and/or the stamina for the RSA; or, some might say, lacking the class for either. Looking at the roll of honour, which includes Defi Du Seuil, Yorkhill, Vautour and Sir Des Champs from just nine renewals to date, that seems like typical racing snobbery. This newish race is up to par already from a standing start.
All that said, it's a wide open race this season and might be one of the less compelling from a quality perspective. As ever, that tends to mean it's a fiendish betting puzzle.
Itchy Feet is the favourite, Olly Murphy's six-year-old arriving here off the back of Sandown Grade 1 Scilly Isles success, the same path trodden by last year's winner, Defi Du Seuil. Before Defi, Terrefort, Top Notch and Bristol De Mail all finished second in the Marsh/JLT having won at Sandown. Simply, it is a very strong trial for this.
Itchy's form isn't all about that one race, either, as he was third to Klassical Dream in last year's Supreme, and is unbeaten in his two chase starts. The horse closest to him at Sandown was Midnight Shadow, himself previously the main beneficiary of Champ's late tumble in the Dipper Novices' Chase. Things are nicely corroborated by that line and Olly's horse must have a great chance.
The one for money this past week has been Mister Fisher, trained by Nicky Henderson. The record of the master of Seven Barrows is not great in this: he's nought from ten, three places - silvers for Terrefort and Top Notch, and bronze for L'Ami Serge.
The case for Mister Fisher is made off the back of two small field novice chase wins, the latter in the Grade 2 Lightning Novices' Chase where he beat Al Dancer. That one was 20/1 in the Arkle while Mister Fisher is around a quarter of those odds for this. Strictly speaking that doesn't make him good enough. He had previously beaten Good Boy Bobby at Cheltenham, a race from which he is the only winner eight subsequent runs. He is also the only one to place from that race - not promising.
The Irish team are headed by Samcro, Faugheen and Melon. Ireland has won seven of the nine JLT/Marsh's to date so their entries have to be taken seriously. Samcro, once vaunted as being of invincible ability, has not been able to vindicate that reputation on the track. Indeed he's been sent off no bigger than 13/8 in a 14 race career that has yielded eight wins, but only one from his last seven starts. That was at 1/3 in a Down Royal beginners' chase.
In his defence, he was running a bold race in the Grade 1 Drinmore, falling at the second last when upsides Fakir d'Oudairies spotting that one eight pounds. A subsequent ten-length second to the resurgent veteran Faugheen pegs his prospects somewhat.
What of twelve-year-old Faugheen? The former Champion Hurdler has looked good, really good, in winning three novice chases, two of them Grade 1's. Most horses his age are lobbing around in hunter chases, the better ones in veterans' chases, and yet here he is a first season chaser, and winning the big pots! He's a legend of a horse and quite hard to write off. Most people will be sufficiently invested emotionally in his success: if there's one horse you'd let beat you and still cheer, it's surely this bloke.
So, while it kind of feels like he should be watching daytime TV in a retirement home somewhere, his track form has been a genuine joy to behold this season. He was unambiguous in slamming Samcro, and gallant in repelling Easy Game: in spite of his age, he has genuine win prospects.
Melon has looked a hurdler and he's looked a two-miler. While his record at the Festival is quietly impressive in defeat (222 in the Supreme and two Champion Hurdles), I'm not at all convinced his conversion to fences.
Marsh Chase Pace Map
Faugheen looks set to bowl along in front and he's going to be great fun to watch.
Marsh Chase Selection
As always it comes down to whether the Irish or the British are the better crop. At this stage (written before Tuesday's racing), it looks like the Brits might hold sway - in this interim distance division at least. The Scilly Isles is a rock solid trial for the Marsh and Itchy Feet was a good winner, beating a reliable yardstick. I quite like him.
As fine a story as Olly winning his first Festival race would be, how awesome would it be if former Champion Hurdler Faugheen prevailed? Well, although that question was initially rhetorical, let me tell you, in the words of Michael Caine: it would blow the bloody doors off!
Suggestion: Back Itchy Feet to win at 7/2 general. Consider a saver to allow you to scream home Faugheen at 6/1 general
2.10 Pertemps Final (Grade 3 handicap, 3m)
Three miles, 24 runners, a handicap: let's keep this brief.
The last four winners were Irish-trained, the last two by Gordon Elliott. Davy Russell, as good a waiting rider as there is, has ridden three of the last four winners, which is quite remarkable, especially when you consider he didn't have a run the other year!
Last time out winners are 10/100 since 1997 and have by far the best win and place strike rate. What is surprising is that they've also been profitable to back at starting price. Those rested between one and three months have the best win and place strike rates.
Looking at well-rested last day winners leaves two: Third Wind and Skandiburg.
Skandiburg is up only a stone for a second and two wins in handicap company, the most recent of which was over course and distance. A win for him would make it the ultimate 'happy hour' for owners Kate and Andrew Brooks and trainer Olly Murphy.
Hughie Morrison's second season hurdler, Third Wind, hasn't looked back since an aborted a novice chase campaign. He won the novices' handicap hurdle final at Sandown this time last year (soft), and has most recently won a heavy ground qualifier on heavy. Clearly, then, juice in the turf is no issue. A rise of four pounds may also not stop him and, if it is deep on the New Course on Thursday, he looks set to run well.
The pick of the Irish could be The Storyteller. Trained by Gordon Elliott and ridden by Davy Russell, he has the right connections. A sixth place in the Leopardstown Pertemps qualifier last time was the optimal qualifying effort - you have to be sixth or better! - and he'd previously beaten Mary Frances, herself the winner of the Punchestown qualifier thereafter. The Storyteller won the Festival Plate in 2018 under Davy Russell, and was pulled up in the Ryanair last year.
Pertemps Final Pace Map
Not bundles of pace here, but a few likely to take things along at a good even gallop.
Pertemps Final Selection
7/1 about The Storyteller is not a massive bargain but he looks sure to run well. The above named pair of British-trained horses are all vaguely statistically interesting, and both are backable prices.
Suggestion: Back The Storyteller win only at 7/1, and either or both of Third Wind (16/1 general) and Skandiburg (12/1) each way with as many places as you can get.
2.50 Ryanair Chase (Grade 1, 2m 4 1/2f)
Just eight go to post for this year's Ryanair. If that seems a little underwhelming, the clash between A Plus Tard, Min, and last year's winner, Frodon, is far from it.
Bryony's ride, and her subsequent interviews, when winning last season will live long in the memory. She was plastered all over the front pages of the next day's newspapers, something which is an all too rare occurrence - in a positive light at least - for the sport. Frodon came into that race off the back of two impressive course wins and was a slightly generous (especially with the benefit of hindsight) 9/2 chance.
This time he's about the same price but with no such recent form to support the case. Of course, he does have last year's triumph, which was against a deep-looking field. This term, Frodon has played away matches only, at Aintree, Haydock and Kempton, and not quite set the world alight. He was good enough to win the Grade 2 Silviniaco Conti Chase in his final prep and a return to the slopes of Cleeve Hill can be expected to bring about a chunk of seasonal improvement.
But here he faces two tough rivals - one emergent, the other established, both Irish - in the form of A Plus Tard and Min. The former was sent off 5/1 favourite in the novices' handicap chase at last year's Festival and duly obliged... by sixteen lengths! In a Festival handicap! An immediate class elevation followed, and A Plus Tard ran a respectable third to Delta Work in a Grade 1 at Punchestown.
This season he's been second to Ballyoisin in the Fortria Chase (G2) at Navan and then beat Chacun Pour Soi in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown over Christmas. I, like everyone else, was spellbound by that novices' handicap chase win last March, but I've not been nearly so sold on his two runs since: I can't shake the perception that Chacun might have been undercooked at Christmas and that that form line may not be all it seems. There is also the fact that it was achieved at two miles, whereas this is two and a half.
Betwixt Frodon and A Plus Tard in the betting is Min, a Festival hardy perennial who steps up in trip for this fourth visit. Previously, Min was second to Altior in the 2016 Supreme, second to Altior in the 2018 Champion Chase, and only fifth to, you guessed it, Altior in last year's Champion Chase. Those races were all at two miles, but his form at this 2m4f range is 12111, a string that includes Grade 1 successes at Aintree and Punchestown twice. It feels very much like this is his trip.
He was recently beaten about the same margin by Chacun Pour Soi as that one was beaten by A Plus Tard at Christmas, which gives him six or seven collateral lengths to find; but I perceive that Willie's Dublin Racing Festival team was a lot closer to readiness than his Leopardstown Christmas team, a contention that makes me wary of these collateral lines. Regardless, I don't think there's much between them.
Of the rest, Riders Onthe Storm is unbeaten in his last four completed starts, though did fall behind A Plus Tard in the novices' handicap chase last season and pulled up in a similar race at the Fairyhouse Easter Festival thereafter. Soft ground suits but he has maybe seven pounds to find with the pick of these. As a progressive seven-year-old he may find them.
Aso has no such progress in him but he does have a fine record in this race. Last year, in spite of more feted rivals, he got closest to Frodon; and he was third in the 2017 Ryanair, too. Now ten years old, he might just have lost a bit of his ability, but he is a more interesting longshot than many across the four days.
Both Duc Des Genievres and Shattered Love are previous Cheltenham Festival winners, Duc in last year's Arkle and Shattered Love in the previous year's JLT/Marsh. The last named seems a touch lost in the wilderness and couldn't be countenanced, but Duc Des Genievres has not been so obviously regressive. That said, it is still too big a leap of faith to envisage a second Festival win.
Saint Calvados is a bit more credible than the two former winners, his new held up tactics proving more successful than the absolutely bonkers lead-at-all-costs approach taken in his abortive 2018 Arkle bid. He was most recently beaten the narrowest of margins, a nose, in a Grade 3 handicap chase over course and distance and, if Frodon and Min did here what Saint C and Petit Mouchoir did in 'that' Arkle, Harry Whittington's runner could hit the board. Owned by the Brooks' - who also have Itchy Feet and Skandiburg - it could truly be a red letter day for them.
Ryanair Chase Pace Map
Frodon will make a bold bid from the front again, with Min in close pursuit. There should be no hard luck stories from a pace perspective.
Ryanair Chase Selection
I've backed Min. I think it's taken connections a long time to realise his best trip, and I think he has the best form. So far. It is perfectly possible that A Plus Tard can improve past Min's level, though that eventuality seems well factored into his odds. Frodon will be a terrific result for the reporters - and for the sport - with a gushing Bryony a thing of beauty, but I have to let him, and her, beat me. Saint Calvados is probably the most credible of the rest, especially if ridden to pick up pieces.
Suggestion: Back Min at 11/4 general
3.30 Stayers' Hurdle (Grade 1, 3m)
The Thursday feature, and another defending champion in the form of Paisley Park, trained by Emma Lavelle, ridden by Aidan Coleman, and owned by the excellent Andrew Gemmell. 'Double P' comes here unbeaten in his last seven, six of which have been by less than three lengths: he gives his rivals a sniff and then slams the door in their faces. What a devil!
He's a top price of 4/6 which implies he's a certainty, but is that really true? The level of his form in last year's Cleeve was much higher than the level he achieved in this year's renewal of the same race. That was in large part a factor of the way the race was run, comments which apply similarly to his previous start this season, in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury.
Of course, the argument goes, he won despite the steady pace and he can be marked up accordingly. That is entirely plausible but, as punters, we have to be forensic, all the more so when faced with what is ostensibly being presented as an 'open and shut' case. The fact is that, for whatever reason, Paisley Park's form this season is a seven pounds below his form of January and March last year. It doesn't mean he can't rediscover that prior level, it just means I don't want to take odds on about it.
The next question is who might be able to step in should PP come up short in the Stayers' Hurdle, this year sponsored by PP? That is a tougher one to answer, though the rewards for a correct response would be far greater. Those lovely bookie types have Summerville Boy and Emitom as the most likely pair to lower the champ's colours.
Summerville Boy got closest last time, in that steadily run Cleeve, and he'd previously beaten Roksana et al in the Relkeel over two and a half miles here. Like so many who end up in the Stayers' those form lines appear after a failed novice chase campaign.
Emitom is a horse I love. He's a strong travelling high class animal who was second to Champ in a Grade 1 novice hurdle at Aintree last spring. This season, he flunked desperately on his debut behind Summerville Boy but proved that to be all wrong when bolting up in the Rendlesham at Haydock. That was on heavy but he does not look ground dependent and is not slow.
The pace will likely be dictated by Apple's Jade, a mare whose popularity is well deserved but whose ability has been on the wane for some time. The horses she beat in the Grade 1 at Christmas - two of which, Penhill and Bacardys, re-oppose here - have looked shy of top class and/or regressive. She's been third and sixth at the last two Cheltenham Festivals and I don't see her on the podium.
Last year's Ballymore winner, City Island, arrives here off a failed novice chasing programme. In his favour he is a Grade 1 winner here, and he has the sort of tactical speed that is often the hallmark of a Stayers' Hurdle winner. But his last hurdle run was ten months ago.
Penhill is a dual winner at the Festival, first when scoring in the 2017 Albert Bartlett and then in this race two years ago. Having missed all of last season, Willie Mullins' nine-year-old has managed to race four times this term - the same as his last two campaigns combined - but he's yet to get his head in front. It seems clear that this has been the target all along, and Penhill has run acceptably in defeat; it wouldn't be the biggest shock if he went close but he's not for me.
It's 20/1 bar those, with the likes of Bacardys - who has suckered cash from me in this race in the past - usually giving himself too much to do from the back of the field. It's not impossible I will be mugged into another small bet but I couldn't possibly suggest anyone else do likewise!
Stayers' Hurdle Pace Map
Apple's Jade is very likely to lead but she may not have it all her own way with Summerville Boy and perhaps Donna's Diamond handy racers. Paisley Park will be ridden midfield probably.
Stayers' Hurdle Selecton
I want to be against Paisley Park but it's really not easy to find one to beat him. The way to play might be 'without the favourite' and in that context I'll happily have a go at Emitom and, less happily, at City Island.
Suggestion: Back Emitom and/or City Island without the favourite
4.10 Festival Plate (Grade 3 handicap, 2m 4 1/2f)
The last two winners of this handicap chase were price 5/1 or shorter, the previous five were 12/1 or bigger. Ireland used to have a dreadful record but have won three of the last four, their sequence broken last year here their two runners, both 33/1 shots, were unsighted. They are represented sixfold this year, with Ben Dundee - another for the Elliott/Russell axis - the main market hope.
Third in the novices' handicap chase last year off 141, Ben Dundee ran top four in two valuable handicap chases since prior to an eye-catching effort when seventh of 25 in a two mile handicap hurdle. Wrong code, wrong trip, right prep and a mark of 147 doesn't look unduly punitive.
Nick Williams won this last year and he has an excellent record in Festival handicaps. Siruh Du Lac won this last year, the final leg of a handicap chase four-timer. Since then, his only seasonal start was when pulled up in the BetVictor Gold Cup over this sort of distance on the Old Course in November. Connections are respected but it's asking an awful lot to win off an extended layoff and from a nine pound higher mark than twelve months ago.
Loads more with chances. Obviously.
Festival Plate Pace Map
Last year's winner, Siruh Du Lac, will bid to make all again. There doesn't look to be much competition for the lead which should help him - and Lizzie - to stay there for a long way.
Festival Plate Selection
I haven't really got a clue in here, if I'm honest, and I'll have a small 'clueless' bet on Ben Dundee for a bunch of people who know far better than me how to find the winner of this.
Suggestion: Put the kettle on. Or back Ben Dundee for a small interest at 10/1
4.50 Mares' Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2, 2m 1f)
Won by Willie Mullins all four times it's been run to date, last year was a bit of a shock insofar as, for the first time, it wasn't the short priced favourite who passed the post first. Rather, 50/1 Eglantine Du Seuil beat the same stable's Concertista, herself a 66/1 chance. Epatante, Champion Hurdle favourite this year, was the beaten jolly in this last season.
Mullins is clearly the man then and he saddles four this time around. Colreevy is the shortest, her defeat of Abacadabras in a Grade 1 bumper reading very well. She's most recently been turned over in a seven-runner mares' Grade 3 by today's jolly, Minella Melody, but it is possible she didn't appreciate the steady tempo in that short field. With 22 runners here it's likely to be faster and that is likely to set up better.
Minella Melody has to be respected: she's won her last three, all in smallish fields, on varying ground. But she wasn't quite as good as the Mullins mare in bumpers and she's yet to score above G3 company.
Nicky Henderson saddles Floressa, a mare who has good form in open mares' company, for all that she too has to prove she handles the hustle of a big field over hurdles. That said, she was second of 15 in a Grade 2 bumper here last spring, and outclassed a field of modest maidens at Worcester in October.
Last year's second, and still a novice, Concertista returns to try to go one better. The pick of her form is in big fields, as evidenced by a good third in a 27-runner handicap hurdle last time. The slight drop in trip looks good for her, and she's a fair price given conditions are proven.
A handful of other interesting novice mares but this isn't especially a race that excites me.
Mares' Novices' Hurdle Pace Map
This is quite pacy and I'm hoping Colreevy doesn't take too much contention for the lead. If she does it will likely compromise her chance, but she'll be tough to beat if getting it nearly her own way.
Mares' Novices' Hurdle Selection
Not one to go mad in, I don't think. Willie Mullins' record is clearly worthy of respect and there are grounds to believe Colreevy can reverse form with Minella Melody. Concertista, second last year, also looks set to run well again.
Suggestion: Back Colreevy 7/1 general and/or Concertista 12/1 each way.
5.30 Kim Muir Challenge Cup Chase (Class 2 Handicap, 3m2f)
Amateur riders in a 24-runner handicap chase. Ouch. The best riders tend to win this year after year, with Jamie Codd having an especially impressive record (three wins). Codd rides top weight and last year's National Hunt Chase winner, Le Breuil, who sneaks in here off 145 having dropped the requisite five pounds in two fair chase efforts this term. Lugging top weight won't be easy but Ben Pauling's charge has shown he handles the track and has class, and he looks fairly treated.
Derek O'Connor rides Champagne Platinum. Nicky Henderson trains, and J P McManus owns so he has the right connections. A promising novice hurdler last season, he ran a bold third to Itchy Feet in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles last time and drops into handicap company for only the second time. Cheekpieces for the first time and steps up six furlongs in trip. He's by Stowaway out of a Roselier mere, which is a good pedigree for stamina.
There are more than twenty further chances in a race where I'm not trying too hard to be clever.
Kim Muir Pace Map
A massive field and it could get messy. Not oodles of pace but enough for an end to end gallop. Derek O'Connor on Champagne Platinum will be playing late.
Kim Muir Selection
I've not looked deeply at the form, so even more caveat emptor than usual applies. I like the plotty look of Champagne Platinum, a horse who was third in a Grade 1 last time and who steps up markedly in trip for Champions League connections.
Suggestion: Back Champagne Platinum for a bit of interest at 8/1 general
It's a trappy Thursday and maybe not one to go mad for. But if we're lucky enough to get one and a half winners we should be close to level as we head into Friday, Gold Cup day.