Go for a Hollow victory
Man On The Spot previews all the action from the second day of the Cheltenham Festival.
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Back In Focus must go on the shortlist for the longest race at The Festival as he won a Grade 1 over 3m at Leopardstown in December when Tofino Bay was a well-beaten fourth. Buddy Bolero has done nothing wrong so far but, like the in-form Emperors Choice, has more on his plate than when winning a handicap last time. Paul Nicholls' runners don't have a great record in this but Hawkes Point has some decent form to his name while stamina won't be an issue for Godsmejudge. Alan King's gelding was only caught close home by Rigadin De Beauchene in the Betfair Classic over 3m5f at Warwick in January and then outstayed Keppols Hill over 3m2f at that track last month. He may be the danger to RIVAL D'ESTRUVAL. The pedigree of the French-bred suggests he'll relish a thorough test of stamina and his jumping has improved with experience. Pauline Robson has booked leading Irish amateur Derek O'Connor, who rode Chicago Grey to victory in the race two years ago, for the ride and that is hugely significant. Highland Lodge looks best of the rest but his stable has been out of form for a while.
Simonsig finally ended Nicky Henderson's long wait for a winner of this Grade 1 last year and his My Tent Or Yours gave a big clue to the chances of Chatterbox in this with his run in the Supreme. The latter beat his stablemate at Newbury in December but his relative lack of experience could be a problem against some of these. We've a lot of respect for The New One, who was very impressive when sauntering clear in a Grade 2 at Warwick in January. The heavy ground probably contributed to his defeat by At Fisher's Cross here last time and he goes well on the track. But the Irish won't hear of defeat for PONT ALEXANDRE and we're also leaning towards Willie Mullins' five-year-old. He was conceding 4lb when easily accounting for Sizing Gold in a Grade 2 at Leopardstown in January and it will take a smart performance to lower his colours here on ground that will suit. Taquin Du Seuil is already a Grade 1 winner, at Newbury, but the form is a little suspect while Two Rockers looks an out-and-out stayer and you would be disappointed if one of the fancied horses couldn't outpace him over this trip. Rule The World easily has the beating of Minsk on Naas running but was possibly flattered by that result as the odds-on favourite was way below par. He's another who would probably appreciate a bit further.
Shocks in this aren't uncommon and the race often turns into a slog. With soft ground forecast, it could pay to look for something that will stay on when others have cried enough. Paul Nicholls saddled the five-year-old Star De Mohaison to score in 2006 and relies on Unioniste from that age group this time around. He handled the step up to 3m when short-heading Hadrian's Approach at Newbury last month but this is a much stiffer course and his stamina will be thoroughly tested. Experience can be a big factor and it's a little worrying that both Boston Bob and Goulanes have only run twice over fences so far, though the pair are unbeaten and open to further improvement. Goulanes was receiving 7lb when beating Super Duty narrowly at Wetherby however. LORD WINDERMERE and Lyreen Legend were hot on the heels of Boston Bob in a Grade 1 over 2m5f at Leopardstown last month. Jim Culloty's gelding should relish this first try over 3m as he's been staying on well in his races and, at the forecast odds, he may be the value if his jumping holds up as the others appear to have plenty to find on the form book.
Former champion Sizing Europe has won all five starts since unluckily losing his title to Finian's Rainbow here 12 months ago. He's clearly still a smart performer and has only finished out of the first two twice in 21 starts over fences and he was third on those occasions. But not many expect Henry De Bromhead's 11-year-old to be able to match strides with SPRINTER SACRE. Brilliant when beating Cue Card in last year's Arkle Chase, he's been just as impressive this season in extending his unbeaten record over fences and left today's rivals Somersby and Sanctuaire trailing in his wake in the re-scheduled Victor Chandler Chase here in January having earlier treated the latter with disdain in the Tingle Creek at Sandown. It's difficult to make a serious case for any of the others as Game Spirit winner Wishfull Thinking is comfortably held by Sanctuaire and Somersby on earlier form and all of the supplemented Mail De Bievre's best form in France is over further. Tataniano is likely to be outclassed.
Only one winner of this in the last eight years has been returned shorter than 10/1 which doesn't bode well for the chances of the well-backed Pendra, second in a Grade 1 novice event at Sandown last time after a couple of wins at Plumpton. A few gambles have been landed, however, so the market should be monitored. The Irish don't have as many entries as usual but Ruby Walsh partners Leopardstown winner Abbey Lane for Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott will be hopeful of a big run from Bondage. Master Of The Sea is on a five-timer for Nigel Twiston-Davies while Medinas will handle conditions, though was raised 8lb after winning on heavy ground at Ffos Las. HOLLOW TREE was well behind that day but that was a rare poor run from Donald McCain's five-year-old. He ran well in the Triumph Hurdle here last year and the handicapper may have finally given him a chance to recapture his smart juvenile form so he gets a tentative vote at decent odds given his yard won this 12 months ago and should know what it takes. In-form pair Mr Watson and Ericht could also be interesting if handling the longer trip but Any Given Day and Sadler's Risk have welter burdens to overcome and Black Thunder has been a little disappointing this season.
Another big field and a really competitive handicap in which a number are unexposed and open to further improvement. SAPHIR DU RHEU may well go off favourite off the back of a first win at Taunton. He certainly won't mind ground conditions and looks fairly handicapped so gets the nod racing off the same weight as stablemate Ptit Zig and Bangor and Sedgefield winner Counsel. Market Rasen winner Bordoni looks the pick of John Ferguson's trio on jockey bookings, though Ruacana had Blood Cotil behind when a fair third to Triumph Hurdle favourite Our Conor at Leopardstown and was ahead of Zamdy Man when left clear in the Finale Hurdle at Chepstow in December. Blood Cotil's stable companion Fatcatinthehat looks progressive but Pistol and Totalize will need to improve again to complete the hat-trick. Habesh has had an unusual preparation, racing twice on the Polytrack since winning at Listowel in the autumn. But he is capable of running well at decent odds with Paddy Kennedy taking off 5lb.
Willie Mullins often runs more than one in this but it isn't always the apparent first string that comes out on top. Sizing Tennessee may well come out best of his trio this time as he's still improving though Patrick Mullins, who rode Champagne Fever to victory 12 months ago, prefers the unbeaten Union Dues. David Pipe also has three entered and both the unbeaten Doctor Harper and Vieux Lion Rouge have decent claims but it speaks volumes that Tom Scudamore rides THE LIQUIDATOR instead. Well ahead of Sizing Tenessee on his debut at Fairyhouse last April, he gained valuable experience of the course when second in a Listed contest here in November before enjoying little more than an exercise canter at Exeter. He's being compared favourably with Liberman, who won this for the yard in 2003, and will have to go close to justify that belief. Golantilla impressed when making a winning debut at Cork in January and is another to consider while Shield is a rare runner at The Festival for Ballydoyle and won at Leopardstown 10 day ago. Purple Bay is held in high regard and overcame inexperience to win at Doncaster three weeks ago but Regal Encore's absence is a bit of a concern. Blackmail, Sgt Reckless and Le Vent D'Antan must have some sort of chance in a typically competitive bumper however.