Timing expert Graeme North has five selections on the third day of the 2023 Cheltenham Festival.
Thursday’s Cheltenham card has an extremely daunting look to it from a punting perspective with 72 runners across three handicaps as well as 21 lining up for the Jack de Bromhead Mares’ Novice Hurdle. Careful selection as well as plenty of luck in running will be needed in those races, so I’ll start this preview in calmer waters.
The Paddy Power Stayer’s Hurdle is the feature race on Thursday. I put forward Flooring Porter for this contest 12 months ago and he retained his crown under a masterful front-running ride from Danny Mullins.
The 163 timefigure he recorded in this race two years ago still sets the standard and once again he is facing several rivals he has beaten in previous years. The downside this time around, however, is that his preparation hasn’t gone quite so smoothly and though he has been campaigned similarly to previous years in that he is coming here fresh from the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown, his participation was in doubt until recently.
A troubled preparation hasn’t been uncommon among his rivals either. Willie Mullins wasn’t hopeful just a few weeks ago that Klassical Dream would make the line-up, and only last week Charles Byrnes revealed that that Blazing Khal had recently missed a week’s work. Both are set to run, with preference among the pair on the clock going to Klassical Dream who has a 160 timefigure in his locker (Punchestown Festival 2021) compared to Blazing Khal’s 126.
The latter's form doesn’t stand up to close inspection for me, for all he will relish the heavy rain that is forecast to fall Wednesday night, but I can’t help thinking the winner will come from elsewhere. Former winner Paisley Park might be into the veteran stage now but he’s no back number as his 158 behind Champ in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury in November showed.
All the same it would be disappointing if something younger doesn’t have the legs of him, and though Home By The Lee (sixth last year and not beaten far) ought to be thereabouts again he doesn’t have any big figures on the clock and I can’t help feeling the winner will be either Teahupoo or Gold Tweet.
Both have very similar profiles being unexposed at the trip, each having won their only race at the distance having spent their previous careers over shorter (there are next to no opportunities to run in Grade 1 races at three miles in France anyway) and both have displayed a smart turn of foot.
Teahupoo ran a 159 timefigure in the Red Mills Trial Hurdle last year on heavy ground, and Gold Tweet’s 139 timefigure in his easy Cleeve win gets upgraded to 156 once his sectional upgrade is included. In a race where most have doubts about them, I find it very hard to split them, so will be backing them both.
The opening Turners Novices’ Chase has a very short-price favourite in Mighty Potter and probably rightly so. He was very impressive in the Ladbrokes Novice Chase at the Dublin Racing Festival when routing his five rivals, all of whom were trained by Willie Mullins, and the 156 timefigure he posted there is enough to set the standard here.
He’s won seven of his nine races, but he didn’t run well here last year when pulled up in the Supreme and though both his defeats have come on ground that Timeform called ‘good’ he’s unlikely to be inconvenienced by underfoot conditions given the forecast.
All the same, he doesn’t appeal greatly at 11/10, given both Appreciate It and James du Berlais posted bigger figures than he managed over hurdles.
2021 Supreme winner Appreciate It (157 timefigure) is an interesting contender having looked ready for a step up in trip behind El Fabiolo in the Irish Arkle last time, form that looks even better than it did at the time after Tuesday’s Arkle, and I fancy he’ll reverse Irish Arkle form with Banbridge who was never in contention at Leopardstown and only snatched third as Appreciate It paid for trying to go with Dysart Dynamo and El Fabiolo.
He’s impressed with his jumping in all three chases he’s contested, not something you can level at Mighty Potter, and though the ‘trends’ persons will point to his age as a negative he's very low mileage for a nine-year-old. He pretty much looks an each-way bet to nothing.
Shishkin ought to win the Ryanair doing handsprings but whether you want to take odds on just 26 days after a lung-bursting effort (timefigure 173) in a tongue strap back from a breathing operation and a break I’ll leave you to decide. He’s a long way clear on the clock against a ragbag of rivals, and the main interest for me will be seeing how Fury Road, still very close to Galopin Des Champs jumping the last at the Dublin Racing Festival, gets on with Friday’s Gold Cup in mind.
Bear Ghylls heads the Pertemps runners on the clock, as does Fugitif on recent efforts in the Magners Plate and Musical Slave in the Kim Muir but I’ll swerve those minefields and look to the Mares’ Novice for my final selection.
Anyone who has followed my weekly Watch And Learn column this jumps season will know I’ve long been keen on Luccia and though she has claims as good as any on the clock I can pass her over at 5/4 facing twenty rivals not least having learned recently she is another who hasn’t had a trouble-free preparation.
Lot Of Joy, a horse I wrote about last autumn ahead of the Irish Cesarewitch, is one I have a big ante-post position on and she owes me one after I backed her ante-post for the Cesarewitch only to find she wasn’t running, but I can’t make a case for her on the clock on her efforts so far over hurdles for all I think she’ll go very close.
The two that interest me at the prices are Magical Zoe and Halka du Tabert. The former has undoubtedly been laid out for this race and might well get an even more thunderous reception than Honeysuckle if she pulls it off and there’s plenty of reason to think she can.
Unbeaten in three starts, she posted a 128 timefigure (just 3lb off the best in the field) at Down Royal in November on her latest start, passing all her rivals in the short straight, and that form has been franked several times with three of the five from that race to have run since winning next time out. She looks too big at the 14/1 available in several places, as does Halka du Tabert at 12/1.
Halka du Tabert might not be the next Honeysuckle for all she runs in the same colours but all the same she has made a very good start to her career and a 122 timefigure when thrashing a big field at Naas in December gives her every chance.
She could be rated much higher on the three horses that followed her home that day, not least runner-up Eabha Grace who won a Grade 3 Hurdle at Limerick last weekend, and her subsequent third behind the more experienced Ashroe Diamond (who misses this race) and Jetara looks a smart piece of form.
A really imposing sort, she’ll probably end being better at two and a half miles than two miles but this race looks set to be a real test and I’m not expecting Davy Russell to be making the running on her this time.
Published at 1520 GMT on 15/03/23
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