Paul Ferguson, editor of the Weatherbys Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide, reveals five horses on his March shortlist.
GLEN FORSA (Mick Channon) - Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase
The first of my five to follow for Cheltenham, at this early stage, was an impressive winner at Kempton on Boxing Day, when he jumped superbly – as he had done on chase debut at Chepstow – and he looks the ideal type for the novices’ handicap, a race the same connections won last year with Mister Whitaker.
Upped another 9lbs for that latest success, Glen Forsa needs one more run to qualify for the concluding race on day one of the Festival and that is likely to come in the Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase on Trials Day. This race was also won by Mister Whitaker last year and, given his current mark (134), Glen Forsa will probably need to win again to be sure of making the cut for the Festival race.
If he goes and wins on Trials Day, I would expect him to be clear favourite for the Close Brothers, and he's 7/1 Non-Runner-No-Bet with Sky Bet. If he fails to win – or certainly go very close – he is unlikely to run at the Festival. Available at 14/1 with other firms, the seven-year-old looks really progressive and strikes me as a horse who can hold his own at a higher level.
PRESENTING PERCY (Patrick G Kelly) - Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup
We might not have seen Presenting Percy since him impressive victory in last year’s RSA Chase, but that form was made to look a whole lot stronger over the festive period, with Monalee finishing second to Kemboy at Leopardstown, Elegant Escape winning the Welsh Grand National off a mark of 151, and Al Boum Photo making a winning return to action in a Listed contest at Tramore.
A winner at the past two Festivals, his limited chasing experience shouldn’t be viewed upon as a negative, with seven of the past nine Gold Cup winners having had nine or fewer starts over fences, plus both Bobs Worth and Native River have proven in recent years that the Gold Cup can be won on the back of just one run.
Where that run will be is unknown at present, but his shrewd trainer is sure to find the right opportunity for him en route to Cheltenham and he would be my idea of the winner at this stage, in what appears a very open year. Presenting Percy is available a 4/1 NRNB with Sky Bet.
SANTINI (Nicky Henderson) - RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase
Another rather obvious selection, the huge Santini has taken really well to fences, beating Rocky’s Treasure on debut before the runner-up advertised that form by winning Doncaster’s Grade Two December Novices’ Chase by 17 lengths next time.
Sent off the short priced favourite for the Grade One Kauto Star at Kempton on Boxing Day, the track appeared to be his undoing, as he came home in third behind the high-class mare, La Bague Au Roi. The way he stayed on up the straight suggested that returning to a more galloping track ought to suit and, although his two Cheltenham runs over hurdles came on the New Course, I don’t envisage this track being to his disliking.
Nicky Henderson’s three RSA winners were all beaten in the Kauto Star (or Feltham as it was) – although Might Bite would have won but for a final fence fall – and I would expect him to head to Ascot next for the Reynoldstown, a race in which Henderson saddled Bobs Worth to finish second before he won the RSA.
A Grade One-winning novice hurdler, Santini looks the pick of the British-trained contenders for the RSA and, given that several of those in behind in the market could head elsewhere, he could be a shade shorter come the day. I would certainly expect him to consolidate his position as favourite if winning at Ascot and he is currently available at 3/1 NRNB with Sky Bet.
SKY PIRATE (Jonjo O’Neill) - Kim Muir Challenge Cup
The second handicapper that I have in mind for the Cheltenham Festival is Jonjo O’Neill’s Sky Pirate, who was brought down by the ill-fated Jameson two out in the amateur riders’ handicap chase at the November meeting. He looked as though he had been delivered just at the right time by Patrick Mullins and he surely would have gone close. The front two have failed to advertise that form, but the third Walk In The Mill won the Becher Chase next time.
Earlier in the campaign, Sky Pirate bumped into Drinks Interval (won next time) on his chase debut at Uttoxeter, before again meeting a subsequent winner when travelling much the best at Carlisle. He remains a maiden over fences, so there is the possibility that he will run in a beginners’ chase somewhere before the Festival, where I think the Kim Muir could be the ideal target.
If Willie Mullins doesn’t have a runner, Patrick could once again take the ride and the extra furlong on the New Course might well prove ideal, given how he went through that last race. If he were to go and win in the next few weeks, the Ultima or even the National Hunt Chase could be considered, but his current mark (134) would have got him into the last 10 renewals of the Kim Muir and this is the race that I would target.
Available at 16/1 in places, Sky Bet are offering 12/1 with their NRNB concession.
STAND UP AND FIGHT (E Bolger) - Foxhunter Chase Challenge Cup
Trainer Enda Bolger saddled the classy On The Fringe to land the Foxhunter in both 2015 and 2016, and he looks to have another leading contender on his hands this year, in the shape of the lightly-raced Stand Up And Fight. The winner of a maiden hurdle at Punchestown in October 2016, he went on to contest three graded novice hurdles, latterly in April 2017, when he finished a four-length second behind Al Boum Photo at the Fairyhouse Easter meeting.
The seven-year-old returned to action in an open Point at Dromahane in November and he supplemented that impressive success by beating a decent looking field in a 2m6f hunter chase at Down Royal on Boxing Day. The trip at Cheltenham poses a slight question mark, but he rates a seriously exciting prospect for this division and it isn’t difficult to envisage him easing into contention under Derek O’Connor.
Sky Bet are offering 5/1 NRNB about Stand Up And Fight and if he is to turn up, I’m sure he would be a fair bit shorter on the day. After Cheltenham, I would love to see him tackle the big fences at Aintree, when the shorter trip could prove even more suitable.