Alex Hammond: Sprinter to star
Alex Hammond's race-by-race guide to the second day of the Cheltenham Festival.
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John Oaksey National Hunt Chase
It's difficult to be too specific about some of the runners in the day two opening contest as a couple of the market leaders have alternative engagements. Boston Bob is also in the Jewson and the RSA Chase and looks unlikely to run here.
That is probably a good thing for my selection, Rival D'Estruval who is trained by former leading point to point rider Pauline Robson.
She has made a very positive jockey booking too as Derek O'Connor rides, he won this race on Chicago Grey in 2011. Rival D'Estruval hasn't run since December, but goes well fresh and is expected to stay this trip well.
Back In Focus, like stablemate Boston Bob, has alternative engagements at the Festival. Godsmejudge is a tough stayer and would be one of Alan King's better chances this week.
Emperor's Choice represents the inform Venetia Williams and leading amateur Will Biddick rides. This horse won the Surrey National at Lingfield on testing ground and he wouldn't run here unless he gets sufficient cut in the ground.
Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle
I think this race is Pont Alexandre's for the taking. Willie Mullins (him again) has trained him to win all 3 starts over hurdles. He is the winner of G1 and G2 races on his last two starts. I take the point that he is yet to show what he can do on better ground since coming over to Ireland, but he had form on better ground in France and Mullins feels he will be suited by a sounder surface.
It has to be of concern that the Nigel Twiston-Davies yard has come down with a bug at the worst possible time and three of their leading fancies for the festival have been ruled out. Apparently all is well with The New One, so let's hope he is A-OK on raceday. He has had a few issues with his jumping but he is learning with experience. He certainly got into a scrap last time out when just touched off by At Fisher's Cross (runs Friday) who was given a typical by AP McCoy ride at Cheltenham. That was his first defeat over hurdles. He will be suited by better ground at the festival.
Taquin Du Seuil has claims for Jonjo O'Neill. He won the Challow Hurdle last time out and appears to have a nice attitude. He is also in the Albert Bartlett.
Rule The World is another smart Irish contender. Another for the Gigginstown Stud he is trained by Mouse Morris. He was the comfortable winner of Grade 2 Novice Hurdle at Naas last time over 2m4f. Rule the World is a big, raw horse who will be exciting when he goes chasing.
With Dynaste absent, I fancy Unioniste for Paul Nicholls. He is only a five-year-old but won a big handicap at Cheltenham in December. However, he only scraped home in a Novice at Newbury on his last start. He will probably be better suited by stronger pace he will get here though.
Sportingbet Queen Mother Champion Chase
Sprinter Sacre has scared off most of the opposition in the Champion Chase and it looks like it will be an uncompetitive renewal. Again this horse looks like a banker for the Henderson camp. He has won 11 of his 13 starts and comes here with an unblemished record over fences (7/7).
He won the Arkle last year beating Cue Card and the latter has avoided a clash with his rival by heading for the Ryanair Chase instead. Sizing Europe also had the option of the Ryanair but runs here. He won this in 2011 and was second to Finian's Rainbow last year. He has won his last five starts since over 2m - 2m 4f and seems as good as ever at the age of 11.
Sanctuaire is the Nicholls hope, but he was well beaten behind Sprinter Sacre in Victor Chandler Chase last time.
Pendra is a horse I like in this. A JP McManus horse, this five-year-old has only had four starts in his life, winning three of them. He was beaten for the first time last time out at Sandown by Melodic Rendezvous in the Grade 1 Tolworth - not much wrong with that form. He looked to be crying out for a step up in trip and I hope he runs well here despite his relative inexperience.
Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
The Fred Winter is another ultra competitive handicap and it looks like Paul Nicholls could be the trainer to be with here. He saddles Ptit Zig and Saphir Du Rheu who both have strong claims.
The former won a maiden hurdle at Ludlow on his first start since coming over from France. It was a decent debut for the stable as he beat odds on favourite New Year's Eve. His long term future looks to lie over fences, but off a mark of 130 he can run well in this event.
Saphir Du Rheu is a horse I like. He had the one run in France before joining Nicholls. He disappointed on his British debut, but made amends at Taunton last time out.
Willie Mullins once again is mob handed with Fatcatinthehat, Blood Cotil, Djakadam, Dogora and Kalmann amongst the leading contenders.
John Ferguson trains Bordoni who has the advantage of having run on the flat which will have made him more street wise than some of his rivals. He was very impressive at Market Rasen last time out.
Megalypos is another that hails from Seven Barrows and he has also just had the one start in the UK having started his career in France.
His British start came in the G1 Finale Hurdle and he wasn't helped by being hampered at the last. This better ground may help him too. It's tough at this stage, but I fancy Saphir Du Rheu.
Weatherbys Champion Bumper
Finally on Thursday it's the Champion Bumper which has usually been a happy hunting ground for young Irish horses. Golantilla could continue that trend for trainer Tony Martin. He is the winner of a point and a bumper for Sean O'Brian and has since been bought by Barry Connell. The horse went through the ring unsold at £190,000 at the Cheltenham December sales, so they have obviously had to dig deep to buy him.
Le Vent D'Antan is the big hope for Liz Doyle. He's a smashing horse who is the winner of a Leopardstown bumper, he apparently works exceptionally well.
Willie Mullins ahas Union Dues, the winner of a Grade 2 Bumper in December, he hasn't run since. You always have to take notice of horses snapped up by JP McManus. Regal Encore is one such horse. He is trained by Anthony Honeyball and was bought by the owner after winning on debut in a Southwell bumper, he has since won again at Chepstow.
Sgt Reckless is trained by Mick Channon who has taken over Hen Knight's jump horses and is doing well with the horses he has run. One of which is this horse who is a winner at Wincanton and Lingfield.
But I've heard good things about Tony Martin's horse and he's my pick.