This, along with the RSA, are always tough to iron out a bet a week or more away from raceday as it’s always unclear as to where certain horses will be running. Unfortunately the horse that I’d been inclined to tip up for a while, Willoughby Court, suffered a setback and won’t be taking part. Therefore I’ve had to go back to the drawing board. Invitation Only has been installed as the new favourite for Willie Mullins and although he’s already won a couple of chases (one Grade 3) he was on both occasions left alone upfront and never really challenged. The two times he has been taken on for the lead was when he fell on chase debut and when a good third behind Monalee and I’m certain he won’t get too much rope upfront in this. If Monalee is to swap to run in this then I think he confirms the form with the aforementioned and he won’t be going off at 13/2 (current price of writing). If the ground goes soft Henry de Bromhead has stated that he’ll probably go for this and if he lines up here he’d be the bet for me. I’m going to assume that he’s not running here though. Modus has won some small field events so far since chasing with a fall sandwiched in between two smart performances and although they were against no more than three opponents he has got some decent form in big fields over hurdles and if his jumping holds up then he’s definitely got the quality to figure. I thought they might let Finian’s Oscar have a longer break and try again next season after a summer on his back but Colin Tizzard looks likely to give the six-year old a crack at this. His campaign over fences has been hit and miss though won well here in November and would have a viable chance if his jumping holds up but slight preference goes to BENATAR who defeated him at Ascot by a short head. Gary Moore’s gelding is 3/3 over fences, his jumping has been very tidy so far and although his handler doesn’t have many winners here this six-year old could provide him with a big success. As said earlier if Monalee runs that would be my fancy but I’m happy to have a punt on Benatar each-way.
Recommended Bet: BENATAR (10/1) – 1pt ew
- Benatar (10/1)
- Invitation Only (4/1)
- Modus (15/2)
Willie Mullins has won this race the last two years and Un De Sceaux is back to retain his crown and he won the Clarence House for the second year running nicely at Ascot back in January. His victory last year was one of the best of the week for me, he jumped beautifully and kept on gamely to win. He’s likely to be going off a short price on the day with the doubt surrounding Waiting Patiently turning up as it’s been said that a flatter track suits him better. It’d be a shame if he doesn’t go here and chance his arm as he’s been excellent this season and he’d have a great chance if taking to the undulations. Top Notch would have something to find with him but has gone close twice at the festival before going down by a length to Yorkhill in the JLT and by an even smaller margin of a neck in the Triumph behind Peace And Co the year before so can’t be dismissed. I think the roof will come off if the old boy Cue Card is able to replicate his victory in the race back in 2013 and he was brilliant in defeat at Ascot behind Waiting Patiently and if arriving here in similar form he will certainly give you a run for your money. If the ground is to remain on the soft side then I think the six-year old Frodon is overpriced at 16/1 for Paul Ncholls. He bolted up in a Grade 3 handicap over course and distance on Trials Day and though held behind two of these in third recently he’s open to plenty more improvement at a track in which he’s won a couple of times before. The bet for me though is BALKO DES FLOS who was in the process of running a big race in last year’s JLT before coming down 4 out after jumping nicely in the build up. He was a close second in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown at huge odds of 66/1 over three-miles and now back to a preferred trip in which he’s won a couple of times has a decent chance in a race that is potentially falling apart. The better the ground the better the chance for this seven year old who’s younger legs could see off the challenge of the popular Un De Sceaux and leave favourite-backers’ wallets lighter.
Recommended Bet: BALKO DES FLOS (10/1) – 1pt ew
- Balko Des Flos (10/1)
- Un De Sceaux (11/4)
- Frodon (16/1)
Feature race on Day 3 is the Stayers’ Hurdle, a race completely dominated by Big Buck’s for four consecutive years. Recent winners include Thistlecrack and the late Nichols Canyon last year and I’m after finding the next victor here. The six-year old Sam Spinner has been a revelation for Jedd O’Keefe & James Collier with five wins from seven starts (second on other two occasions) and would be a sensational achievement for this stable if he were to win this, his first runner ever at Cheltenham let alone the festival. His 17-length Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle victory at Haydock was backed up by winning the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot with a few of these in behind when making all both times. He may be taken on for the lead here though with The New One who tackles this trip for the first time. He’s definitely got the form to figure but at the age of ten, like Unowhatimeanharry, may get caught out by younger legs. I always harp on about how course form is key at the festival and Wholestone definitely boasts plenty of that with figures of 1-2-1-1-3-1-2 at Prestbury Park and if the ground comes up soft/heavy then he’ll have a great chance. He was beaten seven-lengths in last year’s Albert Bartlett by Penhill but the winner will need better ground again though I feel if he’s to score again here. It looks as if Alan King is going to revert Yanworth back to hurdles for a crack at this lucrative prize but his tendency to race rather lazily might be an issue especially on soft ground. He did win on his only attempt at this trip (good ground) though at Aintree last April when holding off SUPASUNDAE by a length but it’s Jessica Harrington’s eight-year old who is the bet for me. He won the Coral Cup last year and has been even better on his last two outings this season. Apple’s Jade had to pull out all the stops to get up to beat this gelding over Christmas (three miles) before he went one better when out-staying Faugheen back over two-miles in the Irish Champion Hurdle. Stamina and speed are two attributes, which if you have, bode very well in a race of this nature and this horse certainly has shown he has both and I’d be surprised if he doesn’t finish in the three at least and on better ground I think he just wins.
Recommended Bet: SUPASUNDAE (4/1) – 1pt win
- Supasundae (4/1)
- Sam Spinner (11/2)
- Wholestone (16/1)
‘MARES’ NOVICE HURDLE’
This is only the third running of the novice equivalent of the Mares’ hurdle with Willie Mullins saddling the winner of both renewals with Limini and Let’s Dance and surprise surprise he has the odds-on favourite again here which comes in the form of LAURINA. She has been impressive in both starts so far with the latest in a Grade 3 when winning by 11-lengths and the second that day has since won and finished a close second. She looks a good thing again here so it’ll be an each-way punt or in the w/o market for me. There’s not currently a price in the w/o market at time of writing but I feel that MARIA’S BENEFIT would be the one to chase her home, she’s rattled up a five-timer (only other hurdling start saw her beaten by a 1/2 length). The first four of those wins were pretty dominant but she showed how tough she is the last day when fending of Irish Roe at a course the latter thrives at. She should have the measure of her again despite conceding 5lb. Countister is on a hat-trick but came up short behind Fergal O’Brien’s Cap Soleil prior to that but is weighted to go closer. At a bigger price I’d be inclined to have a small stake on the five-year old Cap Soleil at around 12/1 currently, but for me Laurina just wins.
Recommended Bet: MARIA’S BENEFIT (6/1) – 1pt ew
- Laurina (4/6)
- Maria’s Benefit (6/1)
- Cap Soleil (12/1)