Back to being the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle after spending eight years named the Neptune Investment and this year throws up a Willie Mullins hot-pot, Samcro. He’s looked very smart in winning a couple of novice events over in Ireland and is highly thought of in the yard so looks a worthy favourite. However, he’s yet to tackle Cheltenham’s undulations and on that reason and that reason alone I’m after finding some value in the race. Next Destination arrives having won his last three but is going into unknown territory in regards the trip and may prefer a bit of cut in the ground which he might not get. Black Op ran one of the leading Albert Bartlett fancies Santini close here on Trials Day and the pair pulled 30-lengths clear of the rest and his price looks tempting for each-way purposes as well as the unbeaten Vinndication who is 4/4 and recently won a listed event at Huntingdon. The one I’m taking Samcro on with though is the progressive ON THE BLIND SIDE who has improved on each start this season. He won a trial for this back in November (all finishers that day have come out and franked the form) before going onto batter his opponents at Sandown when giving weight away and with that course form under his belt this big, strong son of Stowaway could provide us with some value and upset favourite backers as I know that his yard are very sweet on this gelding.
Recommended Bet: ON THE BLIND SIDE (6/1) – 1pt win
- On The Blind Side (6/1)
- Samcro (4/6)
- Black Op (16/1)
Last year we saw one of the craziest finishes to not just a festival race but of any race when Might Bite went for more than a little wonder before getting back up to pip Whisper on the line but I’m sure we won’t witness such entertainment this year, though should still be a cracker. Presenting Percy won last year’s Pertemps and was recently just denied by Our Duke – fancied for the Gold Cup and on that evidence holds a strong hand especially as he looks a thorough stayer. Monalee kept on bravely in the Flogas Novices’ Chase to fend off Al Boum Photo and I’d expect Henry de Bromhead’s charge to confirm that running having ran a blinder when second in the Albert Bartlett last year, though there’s a possibility he may re-route to the JLT where he’d have a solid chance. The one who I can’t desert though is the much-loved BLACK CORTON for Paul Nicholls. I saw this horse win nicely at Worcester back in July but if you’d have told me that he’d win eight chase starts from ten this campaign I wouldn’t have believed you. He seems to just improve and improve on each run and he landed the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase on Boxing Day (a race won last year by Might Bite) before easily winning the Reynoldstown latest and although Bryony Frost can’t claim in this she gets one hell of a tune out of this gelding and for me is the one to be one with course and distance form always a positive at the festival (2/2 here).
Recommended Bet: BLACK CORTON (8/1 – Betfair) – 1pt win
- Black Corton (8/1)
- Presenting Percy (11/4)
- Monalee (7/2)
‘QM CHAMPION CHASE’
We’ve seen a whole list of top quality horses claim this crown over the years and the one for me that surpasses them all was two years ago when my all-time favourite Sprinter Sacre defied the odds to regain his crown when after suffering setbacks looked unlikely to ever reach the heights he’d once achieved. This year his trainer Nicky Henderson holds very strong claims again with ALTIOR who bids to make it three successive festival victories after winning the 2016 Supreme before taking last year’s Arkle. This eight-year old remains unbeaten since his bumper days and returned to the track after almost 300 days off with a comfortable success ahead of Politologue in the same prep race he had before winning the Arkle. He beat Min cosily in the Supreme but it’ll be their first meeting over fences and Willie Mullins’ inmate has only lost once since switching to the larger obstacles where he was first-past-the-post before the placing were reversed due to interference. He battered the field in the Dublin Coral Chase recently and you’d have to think he’s the real danger as stablemate Douvan (if running) may find it tough to get close to the principles after a year off through injury. If he is back to his best then of course he’d have to be taken very seriously and his price will be too big much like Sprinter Sacre back in 2016 but that will have to be taken on trust. Of those at bigger prices you’d be foolish to rule out SPECIAL TIARA running another big race in this despite being well held by Min the last day as his form reads well in this race over the past four seasons. He won last year’s renewal and the other three outings read 3-3-6 so is worthy of another go and is sure to put up a bold bid from the front. On his form in this race I’m willing to take a smaller staked punt on Henry de Bromhead’s 11-year-old to sneak a place at rewarding odds, but only a small stake.
Recommended Bet: SPECIAL TIARA (16/1) – 0.5pt ew
- Altior (8/11)
- Min (3/1)
- Special Tiara (16/1)
Since this race was introduced to the Festival back in 2005 it’s been heavily dominated by the Irish with them landing this unique race 11 times out of the 13 runnings (Balthazar King being the only UK horse to win this having done so twice). Five-time winning trainer Edna Bolger is again mob-handed with four entered. Josies Orders and Auvergnat are closely matched on their recent Leopardstown showdown where the latter won by a short-head receiving 2lbs. They’re off levels here and although the former has a much better course and distance record (3 wins and a third) I can see the younger legs of Auvergnat being his handlers main hope. It’s another Irish-trained pair though that I’m concentrating on which includes last year’s hero and one of my favourite horses Cause Of Causes who’s been installed as the favourite. He’s only had the one run this season mind and though he’s undoubtedly got a good chance of following up I personally think his main target is the Grand National where he’s a pound lower than last year’s second so I’m taking him on with stablemate TIGER ROLL. I may get this completely wrong but this eight-year old has had a similar preparation than the aforementioned did this time last season. He ran over track and trip (first outing in this sphere) in January where he was ridden well off the pace to get a feel for this quirky course and has since returned for a behind closed doors schooling session in which he reportedly worked very well. There’s just too many similarities to last year for me to ignore the chances of the Gigginstown runner and he has two festival wins on his CV already having won the National Hunt Novices’ Chase over four-miles last season as well as the JCB Triumph Hurdle back in 2014 proving that he has both stamina and speed in abundance, so is worth chancing here in my opinion.
Recommended Bet: TIGER ROLL (8/1 – SportingBet) – 1pt ew
- Tiger Roll (8/1)
- Cause Of Causes (10/3)
- Auvergnat (9/1)
Always a tricky finale on day two for punters with some big priced winners over the years, most notably the great Cue Card’s success at 40/1 (yes FORTY!) back in 2010. It’s again a very open looking contest and Willie Mullins unsurprisingly has seven entered at this stage. Blackbow remains unbeaten from two starts and was the victor of Rhinestone at Leopardstown last month and the pair both have viable chances here whilst Hollowgraphic was conceding weight to a subsequent winner when scoring by 13-lengths and his only previous start saw him go down by a neck to Vision Des Flos (entered in Supreme & Ballymore) both at Punchestown. Didtheyleaveuoutto has impressed on both outings and left a good impression when quickening away close home in a listed Ascot event before Christmas and is closely matched on collateral form with ACEY MILAN but it’s the Anthony Honeyball runner who gets the vote. He followed up a Wincanton win with a listed course and distance success before hammering the field (again in listed company) by 13-lengths in very testing conditions at Newbury when staying on smartly. It’s that previous bit of course form, along with the fact he gets a weight-for-age-allowance, that gives him the edge here and hopefully with the assistance of Aidan Coleman in the saddle can go well as it’ll take a decent horse to conceded 8lbs to this quite mature four-year old. Another who has won over track and trip is Crooks Peak and the form of that win has been franked – he could provide some each-way value at decent odds of 25/1.
Recommended Bet: ACEY MILAN (10/1) – 1pt ew
- Acey Milan (10/1)
- Didtheyleaveuoutto (8/1)
- Hollowgraphic (6/1)