Bumper profits thanks to Mullins
Our Man On The Spot previews all the action on the second day of the Cheltenham Festival.
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Willie Mullins, trainer of FAUGHEEN, should know where he stands against Red Sherlock as the stable's Rathvinden, who also lines up for this, was second to David Pipe's unbeaten gelding over the course and distance in January. Ruby Walsh's mount is held in very high regard and can get the Irish off to a flying start on day two in a race in which Royal Boy looks to be the only other with a realistic chance. He's one of three trained by Nicky Henderson and has done very little wrong since reverting to hurdles, beating a subsequent winner at Ascot in December and following up over 2m at Kempton - the yard won this in 2012. Lieutenant Colonel might be suited by the step up in distance and could be the pick of the remainder ahead of Ballyalton, a little disappointing when only fourth here last time.
This could turn out to be one of the best races of the week with most of the 15 declared runners having some sort of chance on their best form. Several have already met this season with O'Faolains Boy beating Many Clouds in a Grade 2 at Wetherby last month with Gevrey Chambertin pulled up. The runner-up is 4lb better off here, however, and might turn the tables though he'd lost out to Black Thunder at Haydock in November and that line of form suggests the unbeaten Corrin Wood may have his measure. Sam Winner reversed earlier course running with Le Bec over a longer trip here in December and was giving SMAD PLACE 3lb when beaten two lengths at Newbury last month. But we fancy Alan King's improving grey, a classy staying hurdler, to confirm the form and he'll be a threat to all if still in contention coming down the hill for the final time so gets the nod. Annacotty won the Feltham at Kempton on Boxing Day and has run well here since but winners of that Kempton feature have a poor record in this. Ballycasey beat Don Cossack four lengths in the Moriarty at Leopardstown last month but Carlingford Lough was challenging when hampered and unseating his rider at the last and had earlier beaten Morning Assembly in a Grade 1.
Son Of Flicka won this in 2012, beating Get Me Out Of Here, but is starting to look a light of former days. Dunguib is a former Festival winner and showed he was no back number in a Grade 2 at Navan last month but Cotton Mill has come to grief on both previous visits to the track. Whisper ran Saphir De Rheu close in a Listed handicap at Ffos Las last time and arrives in good form, as does betfair Hurdle second Dell' Arca, while last year's successful stable are represented by National Spirit Hurdle runner-up Meister Eckhart and Vendor. Waaheb won at Cork in January and should stay this longer trip while there are also possibilities about Ascot scorer Kaylif Aramis and a back-to-form Calculated Risk. CLONDAW KAEMPFER has been very well supported in both starts this season and looks as though he has more to offer. He jumped a lot better when third at Aintree in December and, though 3lb higher, might still be well handicapped. He could prove to be a good spare ride for Richard Johnson. Bayan hasn't raced since second to Sametegal over 2m here in October but looks to have been laid out for this.
Sire De Grugy has outstanding credentials having won the Tingle Creek, the Desert Orchid and the Clarence House Chase since narrowly failing to give Kid Cassidy 11lb here in November. He should reverse that form here and again beat third Special Tiara but there is a nagging doubt that he doesn't really like Cheltenham's undulations and he's been easy to back. CAPTAIN CONAN was more than seven lengths behind Sire De Grugy at Sandown in December but was making his seasonal reappearance that day and ran well until lack of condition told. A better guide may be the novice chase he won here early last season when he stayed on too strongly for Gary Moore's stable star and he gets the vote to come out best today. Arvika Ligeonniere has smart form in Ireland but was a leading fancy for last year's Arkle Trophy and weakened quickly on the final circuit before being pulled up. Baily Green finished second in that race and has each-way claims if back to his best but former winner Sizing Europe doesn't look the force of old and they may go too quickly for Wishfull Thinking. The others have plenty to prove on this season's form if they are to figure.
Balthazar King loves the challenge of these cross-country fences and has now won six times around here, including this contest in 2012. He was last seen beating Uncle Junior by a length over track and trip in November, though the runner-up is a couple of pounds better off today and has also won here in the past. Last year's winner Big Shu has 11lb more to carry this season but made a promising reappearance behind Love Rory at Punchestown and there shouldn't be much between the pair of today's terms. Sizing Australia, the winner in 2011, lines up again and Any Currency was a bit unlucky when beaten half-a-length by Sire Collonges over course and distance in December and should be thereabouts again. Hey Big Spender, Duke Of Lucca and Diamond Harry all have ability but Enda Bolger's runners in this are always worth a second look. As well as Love Rory, he saddles Quantitativeeasing, Quiscover Fontaine and STAR NEUVILLE. The latter looks very well treated and can be a fifth winner in 10 years for the stable.
There have been four long-priced winners of this in its short history, including the last two renewals, so the market isn't always the best guide. Noble Inn and Arzembouy Premier look closely matched on Gowran running so it's no surprise that Ruby Walsh has chosen Ivan Grozny, fourth in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown last month. Paul Nicholls, who trained the winner in 2010, has three entered with Daryl Jacob on board Katgary who makes his UK debut. Gordon Elliott has two with the consistent Clarcam possibly the pick and Nicky Henderson is hopeful of a good run from Dawalan, who had Certification behind when winning at Newbury in December and had earlier finished ahead of Baradari at the same track. Goodwood Mirage could be interesting having been highly tried since making a winning debut at Kempton but we were impressed with ASTRE DE LA COUR at Ascot and this lightly-raced type could represent a bit of value. Second Handiwork enjoys a big turnaround in the weights but is a hard-puller and may not get home here, though the overall form of that race has a solid look about it.
Five-year-olds generally hold sway in this and Willie Mullins has a fantastic record, though it's not always the apparent first choice that comes out on top. The unbeaten Black Hercules and Shaneshill run for the same ownership and have scope but we were very taken with KILLULTAGH VIC'S wide-margin defeat of Golantilla at Naas last month and, though he's unlikely to be allowed an uncontested lead here, the Old Vic gelding could be the best of his trainer's entries and is taken to complete the hat-trick. Dermot Weld's pair, Silver Concorde and Vigil, look nice prospects and Value At Risk could also go well in a race in which raiders from across the Irish Sea may well dominate. Pick of the home team may be the well-bred Third Act, though A P McCoy is an interesting booking for Definitly Red who had Mountain Of Mourne and Seven Nation Army behind in a Newbury Listed event last time. The four-year-old Modus looks best of the rest.