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Cheltenham Festival Fever | View From Ireland | Donn McClean: Beach ready


Plenty of Cheltenham clues in Ireland over the last week and where should Coko Beach go now. Ultima or National Hunt Chase?

On The Radar:

Coko Beach - National Hunt Chase

Diol Ker - Paddy Power Stayers' Hurdle

Torygraph - Albert Bartlett

The Thyestes Chase is obviously a significant event in its own right, it is a prize of high esteem, but it can also be a big pointer to the future.

Arkle won the Thyestes Chase. Flyingbolt won the Thyestes Chase. Hedgehunter won the Thyestes Chase in 2004 and he won the Grand National the following year. Numbersixvalverde emulated Hedgehunter in winning the Thyestes in 2005 and the Grand National in 2006, taking in an Irish Grand National en route. Thyestes winners On His Own and Djakadam both finished second in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

There is a lot to like about Coko Beach, who landed the 2021 renewal of the Goffs Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park on Thursday. Gordon Elliott’s horse hadn’t won over fences in four attempts before Thursday, but he had promised lots. Stepped up to an extended three miles for the first time over fences and fitted with a pair of blinkers, he ran out an impressive winner.

There was a lot to like about the performance too. He missed the kick a little bit, re-routed after a false start, but he had the pace to get himself into a prominent position quite quickly. He settled into a lovely racing and jumping rhythm for Jack Kennedy from early, and he stayed on powerfully over the last three fences to win by four lengths from his stable companion Run Wild Fred.

He was the youngest horse in the race, the only six-year-old, and he lacked experience, with just four chases on his CV, but you wouldn’t have known it. His jumping was superb, accurate and efficient, and the manner in which he jumped the final fence and stayed on up the run-in suggested that he probably won with more in hand than the bare winning margin.

The Gigginstown House horse is of big interest now for the Cheltenham Festival. He has run at the Festival twice, and he has run well on both occasions. Second to Band Of Outlaws in the Fred Winter Hurdle as a juvenile in 2019, he wasn’t travelling badly in the Coral Cup last year when he was badly hampered at the second last flight. In the circumstances, he did well to keep on as well as he did to finish ninth, 10 lengths behind Dame De Compagnie.

He ran a big race on his debut this season too, his chasing bow, in a beginners’ chase at Galway in October when he ran his stable companion Pencilfulloflead to three parts of a length. That form was enhanced three weeks later when Pencifulloflead beat Latest Exhibition in the Grade 2 Florida Pearl Chase. Coko Beach himself didn’t built on that run in three subsequent chases, but he always shaped like a horse who would appreciate going out in trip.

It appears that he has two main options now at the Cheltenham Festival, the Ultima Handicap Chase and the National Hunt Chase. Of course, he is not as well handicapped now as he was before Thursday. A 12lb hike takes him up to a mark of 150, and that may make the National Hunt Chase the more attractive option. You can win the Ultima if you are rated in the 150s, Beware The Bear won it off 151 in 2019, Un Temps Pour Tout won it off 155 in 2017, but it isn’t easy. The eight other winners in the last decade were all rated in the 120s or 130s or 140s.

By contrast, a handicap rating of 150 would leave Coko Beach as one of the highest rated horses in the National Hunt Chase, should connections choose to target that race. Four of the last 10 winners of that race went into the race with an official rating of 150 or higher. A six-year-old who has raced just five times over fences, Coko Beach has lots of potential for progression as a staying chaser. He stayed three miles and one furlong well on Thursday, on very soft ground, and there is every chance that he will stay three miles and six furlongs all right.

Galvin tracking Doctor Duffy at Cheltenham

Of course, Gordon Elliott already has Galvin for the National Hunt Chase, but Coko Beach is officially rated just 1lb inferior to his stable companion, and the current disparity in their respective odds is probably greater than it should be.

Also at Gowran Park on Thursday, Sams Profile ran out a game winner of the Grade 2 John Mulhern Galmoy Hurdle. It was a fine training performance by Mouse Morris to get the O’Flynns’ horse back to this type of form. He was a classy novice hurdler two seasons ago, he finished second to Battleoverdoyen in the Grade 1 Lawlor’ of Naas Hurdle and he finished fifth in the Ballymore Hurdle at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival.

He missed all of last season, however, and he injured his ribs in a fall on his chasing bow at Thurles in November. Connections still regard him as a chaser in waiting, but it made sense to return to hurdles with him for now, at this relatively late stage of the season, retain his novice status for next season, especially when he can still be as good as this over hurdles.

Under a fine stalking ride by Philip Enright, Sams Profile made good ground in his first-time hood around the inside as they rounded the home turn, joined Diol Ker on the run to the final flight and stayed on gallantly on the attritional ground to get home by a half a length. This performance puts him right into the mix for the Stayers’ Hurdle.

It was a fine run by Diol Ker too, to go as close as he did. Noel Meade’s horse’s profile is not wholly dissimilar to Sams Profile’s, in that he was a talented novice hurdler who had a prolonged spell on the sidelines, and who has reverted to hurdles after a couple of attempts over fences.

He beat Monkfish and Escaria Ten when he won his maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse in November 2019, and he started favourite for that beginners’ chase at Galway in which Pencilfulloflead beat Coko Beach in October on his next run.

The Gigginstown House horse returned to hurdles at Limerick over Christmas, when he battled on well to get back up and beat Born By The Sea over two and a half miles, and it was significant that Sean Flanagan chose to ride him in front of Sixshooter on Thursday, stepping up to three miles for the first time under Rules. He stayed the trip well in his first-time cheekpieces, and he could do even better on better ground and off a faster pace. He could be a lively outsider for the Stayers’ Hurdle.

Allaho did what you hoped that Allaho would do in the re-scheduled Grade 2 Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase at Thurles on Wednesday. Willie Mullins’ horse didn’t have it all his own way in front, but he shook off the attentions of Balko Des Flos with a circuit to run and, from there, it was all very straightforward really. He was challenged by Elimay on the run to the final fence, but he picked up impressively when Paul Townend asked him to, and he came away from his stable companion on the run-in, and Elimay was miles clear of the rest.

The Cheveley Park Stud horse won a Grade 3 hurdle over three miles as a novice, and he finished third an Albert Bartlett Hurdle and in an RSA Chase, but the suspicion has been there for a little while that he could be a better horse over two and a half miles than over three, and this performance added further ballast to that suspicion. You can ride him aggressively like this over the intermediate trip, and it appears that it is under those tactics and in those circumstances that he is at his most effective. It wasn’t a surprise that some bookmakers made him joint favourite for the Ryanair Chase with Min on the back of this win.

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Elimay put up a really good performance to finish second, on her first run since she was beaten a short head by Buildmeupbuttercup in a listed mares’ hurdle at Punchestown in November, and her first chase since she won the Grade 2 mares’ novices’ chase on the same card 12 months earlier. The new Mares’ Chase is the obvious Cheltenham Festival target for her.

She is joint favourite in some lists for that race with her stable companion Colreevy, who was impressive earlier in the day in winning the Grade 2 mares’ novices’ chase, the race that Elimay won last year. Trainer Willie Mullins did say afterwards, however, that Colreevy could go for another Grade 2 mares’ novices’ chase at Limerick on the Sunday before Cheltenham.

Torygraph reportedly doesn’t do anything flashy at home, but he was game and gutsy in staying on strongly to win the W T O’Grady Memorial Novice Hurdle over two miles and seven furlongs, a race that last year’s Albert Bartlett Hurdle winner Monkfish won, and he is just the type of tough character who could go well at a big price in an Albert Bartlett.

Billaway ran out a good winner in the end of the Naas Hunters Chase on Sunday, a race that he won last year before he went to Cheltenham and finished second behind It Came To Pass in the hunters’ chase there. He is probably going to have to jump a little better than he did on Sunday if he is going to go one better at Cheltenham this year but, only just turned nine, you can understand why he is favourite.

Eklat De Rire built on the promise of his beginners’ chase win at Punchestown in December in making all to win the Grade 3 Naas Racecourse Business Club Novice Chase and hour earlier. Henry de Bromhead’s horse was quickly into a good jumping rhythm in front, and he stayed on well for Rachael Blackmore to repel the challenge of Escaria Ten, with Pencilfulloflead back in third.

He will probably have to improve again if he is going to be competitive in the Festival Chase, and his trainer said afterwards that he wouldn’t want the ground to be too good, but he is a really lightly raced and progressive young chaser who jumps well and stays well, and he deserves his shot at it.

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