Cheltenham Festival tips: Donn McClean five to follow

Paloma Blue: Taken to run well at a big price in Sky Bet Supreme
Paloma Blue: Taken to run well at a big price in Sky Bet Supreme

Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott may be the dominant forces in Ireland, but Donn McClean identifies five horses trained elsewhere who could strike next week.

Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott between them dominated the 2017 Cheltenham Festival. The two Irish trainers had six winners each during the week, with no other trainer having more than three, and Elliott taking the Leading Trainer award, with three seconds to Mullins' two.

But last year’s Cheltenham Festival was not the exclusive preserve of Mullins and Elliott from an Irish perspective: there were 19 Irish-trained winners in total, an unprecedented tally. With similar strength in-depth apparently among the visitors’ ranks this year, here are five horses from other Irish yards who could make their presence felt in Grade 1 contests next week.

Road To Respect (Noel Meade)

Road To Respect was a progressive novice chaser last season, but he stepped up on everything that he had done before when he ran out an impressive winner of the Brown Advisory and Merriebelle Stables Plate at last year’s Cheltenham Festival.

The Noel Meade-trained gelding made a fairly significant error at the first fence that day, but he still moved well through his race, he travelled like the most likely winner from a long way out, and he probably won with even more in hand than the six-length winning margin.

Just a six-year-old then, the Gigginstown House horse has progressed this season as you hoped he would. Winner of a Grade 3 chase at Punchestown on his seasonal return in October, he was a little keener than ideal and he was a little out to his left when he was just beaten by Outlander in the Grade 1 JNwine.com Champion Chase at right-handed Down Royal in November. He stepped forward from that last time, however, in the Grade 1 Leopardstown Christmas Chase. Fitted with a first-time hood and back on yielding ground and back on a left-handed track, he travelled well through his race for Sean Flanagan, he jumped well, and he stayed on strongly to win nicely.

He is probably going to have to step forward again if he is going to win a Cheltenham Gold Cup but, still just seven, like Sizing John last year and like Kauto Star and War Of Attrition and Kicking King before him, he still has potential for progression as a staying chaser. He will appreciate the fast pace that he should get in the Timico-sponsored Gold Cup and, a Cheltenham Festival winner, as long as the ground does not come up too soft, he could run a big race.

Gold Cup contender Road To Respect
Gold Cup contender Road To Respect

Presenting Percy (Pat Kelly)

Like Road To Respect, it was at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival that Presenting Percy put up the best performance of his career up to that point, when he ran out an impressive winner of the Pertemps Final.

His chasing career got off to the best possible start when he won a beginners’ chase at Galway in October, a race that has a rich history, boasting, as it does, China Rock and Jessies Dream and Lyreen Legend and Last Instalment and Don Cossack on its roll of honour.

Disappointing next time in the Grade 2 Florida Pearl Chase at Punchestown, Philip Reynolds’ horse bounced back from that to land the Porterstown Handicap at Fairyhouse in December off a mark of 145, a novice among handicappers, and carrying top weight of 11st 10lb.

Given a short break after that, he returned at Gowran Park in January to land the Grade 2 Galmoy Hurdle, and he went back to the Kilkenny track last month, when he ran a cracking race to get to within a length of Irish Grand National winner and Gold Cup aspirant Our Duke.

His road to Cheltenham has not been an orthodox one for an RSA Chase contender, but Pat Kelly knows what is required in order to win at the Cheltenham Festival, having won the last two renewals of the Pertemps Final, and you can be sure that he will have Presenting Percy primed.

Presenting Percy (near side) challenges Our Duke
Presenting Percy (near side) challenges Our Duke

Petit Mouchoir (Henry de Bromhead)

The Racing Post Arkle is shaping up to be one of the most intriguing races at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, even in the enforced absence of Sceau Royal. Footpad sets a high standard but, while Petit Mouchoir is closer to Willie Mullins’ horse in the market than he was a week ago, he probably should be closer still.

These two are old sparring partners. They met three times over hurdles and, on each occasion, it was Henry de Bromhead’s horse who came out on top. They have met once over fences, in the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival last month, and Footpad won by five lengths.

Footpad is a classy horse who is a superb jumper of fences. After just three chases, he is already rated 5lb higher over fences than he is over hurdles. And he was third in a Triumph Hurdle and fourth in a Champion Hurdle. He has Cheltenham Festival form.

However, Petit Mouchoir was a better hurdler, and he is also a very good jumper over fences. He does have those five lengths to make up on Footpad on their Leopardstown running, but he made a significant mistake at the second fence that day. Also, that was just his second run over fences and his first since October. There is every chance that he will get closer to Footpad at Cheltenham than he did at Leopardstown.

There may not be much between them in this year’s Arkle and, on that basis, the disparity in their respective odds is probably still greater than it should be.

Footpad has the measure of Petit Mouchoir
Footpad has the measure of Petit Mouchoir

Supasundae (Jessica Harrington)

The case for Supasundae in the Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle looks solid. He won the Coral Cup at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, and he looks like an improved horse since then.

Beaten a length by Yanworth in the Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree last year on his first run over three miles, he ran a cracker to get to within a half a length of Apple’s Jade in the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown on his second. Then last time, he dropped back in trip to two miles and beat Faugheen the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle.

So Faugheen was obviously not at his brilliant best that day, but there was still a lot to like about the performance that Jessica Harrington’s horse put up in beating him. His jumping was good, and he stayed on strongly for Robbie Power up the run-in to put two lengths between himself and the 2015 Champion Hurdle hero, with nearly five lengths back to the talented Mick Jazz, who had won the Grade 1 Ryanair Hurdle on his previous run. It was a classy performance by the winner.

A Cheltenham Festival winner, the Galileo gelding is progressive, he will be better on the better ground that he should get at Cheltenham, and he should stay the near-three-mile trip. It is a strong case.

Supasundae had Faugheen's measure, but it was Mullins' day regardless
Supasundae had Faugheen's measure and goes up in trip at Cheltenham

Paloma Blue (Henry de Bromhead)

Paloma Blue could be an interesting outsider in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Second to Fayonagh in the Champion Bumper at the Punchestown Festival last April, it has taken Henry de Bromhead’s horse a little while to get his eye in over hurdles this season, but he stayed on well to get off the mark in a maiden at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival on his third attempt.

Chris Jones’ horse stepped up on that last time when he finished third behind Samcro and Duc Des Genievres in the Grade 1 Deloitte Hurdle at Leopardstown. That is high-class novice hurdling form even on the face of it, with Whiskey Sour, Real Steel, Debuchet and Sharjah all behind him. But he can probably be marked up on the bare form of the run. The pace was not strong, and he was keener than ideal through the early stages of the race. Even so, he was still travelling well as he moved back to the front as they levelled up for home.

He and Samcro moved away from their rivals on the run to the final flight and, while he could not match Samcro’s finishing kick, he was only run down by Duc Des Genievres for the runner-up spot on the run-in as his early exertions probably took their toll.

The Stowaway gelding should do better behind the fast pace that he will surely get in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, and he could out-run his odds by a fair way.

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