Lydia Hislop has a couple of likely types in mind for the Plate at Cheltenham as she previews the action on the third day of the Festival.
The Cheltenham Festival, presented by Magners: Day Three
JLT Novices' Chase
Defi Du Seuil and Lostintranslation have each beaten each other once. If both are ridden to best advantage here, there probably won’t be much between them. Barry Geraghty held onto the former that bit longer when winning the Grade One Scilly Isles last time out and that seems to be the key to the 2017 Triumph hero these days.
Lostintranslation probably wasn’t best suited by making the running on that occasion at Sandown but had been able to rally past that rival over this course and distance in the Grade Two Dipper Chase on New Year’s Day. Connections believe he’s better on a sounder surface but his form suggests he’s versatile enough. There might not be much between them.
After finishing third behind this pair at Sandown, trainer Kim Bailey’s initial reaction was to again sidestep the Festival – missed in 2018 due to sore shins – with Vinndication but a recent impressive schooling session caused him to change his mind. However, it will be this likeable horse’s first attempt racing left-handed and he was inclined to jump right last time. That’s a concern.
Willie Mullins fields three, of which Real Steel looks his best chance after showing improved form to win at Thurles last time. But the mare’s 7lb allowance brings Pravalaguna into calculations – she largely jumped well to a wide-margin success in the Opera Hat last time.
Yet Ruby Walsh rides Voix Du Reve, who was being challenged for the lead when falling at the last against injured Arkle ante-post favourite Le Richebourg last time. He’s stepping back up in trip here, which should be fine, but I worry that his jumping is a shade sketchy all round when rivals are upsides.
It’s notable that Paul Nicholls has supplemented improving handicapper Capeland for this race. He’s shown improved form following a wind operation but needs to find more again here. Gordon Elliott, who got two winners on the board on Day Two after drawing a blank on the Tuesday, has opted to step Mengli Khan up to 2m4f in the hope that aids his jumping.
However, I’m coming around to the chance of Kildisart, who was much improved last time and whose Ascot form was franked this week by Activial in the Ultima. Even his last-time defeat of Highway One O One actually doesn’t read too badly as that horse would have been better off in the two-mile Grand Annual than the 2m4f Close Brothers Handicap Chase.
Trainer Ben Pauling has enjoyed a good Festival to far, with Le Breuil winning the NH Chase and Bright Forecast finishing an excellent third in the Ballymore. Kildisart looks the kind of horse who improves with each run – Pauling has confirmed he likes his grub but is the fittest he’s been all season. He can add to his trainer’s haul in an open-looking (famous last words) race.
Although this column won the ante-post battle (at the second attempt) in this race, we may not have won the war. 7/1 about Footpad is obviously a good price but anything shorter doesn’t factor in the concerns attendant to his chances. Put starkly: his jumping fell apart in a stupidly run Arkle last year and he hasn’t produced form good enough to win this race in either start this season.
Add to that the creeping feeling last term’s two-mile novice chasers weren’t much cop and the acknowledgement that Footpad was never that smart over hurdles either. It’s also a shade worrying that Min – with whom he was vying for consideration for this race or the Champion Chase – flopped so badly on Wednesday.
However, the race could set up ideally for him and Ruby Walsh has overlooked Un De Sceaux in his favour. Although the 2017 winner has been a relentlessly top-class horse, that makes you wonder whether the stable’s chief jockey believes his powers are on the wane. I thought he was brushed aside a little too quickly for comfort (admittedly by Altior) in the Tingle Creek.
Both Monalee and Frodon are likely to go forward because, as strong stayers at the trip, their best chance lies with an aggressive ride. That could draw an error from Monalee, who’s prone to the odd lapse of concentration, but he does have a good Festival record, having finished second in both the 2018 RSA and 2017 Albert Bartlett.
Paul Nicholls got cold feet over Frodon’s Gold Cup bid, believing this race – over a course and distance at which the horse excels in handicap company – an attainable success rather than a merely honourable effort in Friday’s stamina test. The known trip will enable Bryony Frost to ride him attackingly at each fence rather than have to restrain him, as she did last time in the Cotswold Chase.
However, it’s still going to be a different test for that horse against the speedy class of rivals such as Un De Sceaux, who at his best possesses a powerful mid-race move. Aso and Charbel also like to go forward, so this race might set up for a hold-up contender like Footpad.
Road To Respect has also been switched here from the Gold Cup by Gigginstown and that looks the right call for a horse whose stamina is stretched over 3m2f, especially in soft ground. He’s a dependable Festival dish, having won the 2017 Plate and finished a creditable fourth in last year’s Gold Cup. He’ll be justifiably popular for this race and may prove the main threat.
Last year’s victor Balko Des Flos – another Gigginstown representative – is a dangerous floater at 14/1 but he hasn’t been in anything like the same form this term. It had initially looked as though trainer Henry de Bromhead, who also fields Monalee, was slowly building him up for a potential Gold Cup bid but instead of a crescendo, he’s crashed and finished with sore shins last time.
Last year’s Plate winner The Storyteller might enjoy arriving late on the scene after a strong pace starts to dissipate and might pick up a place, even if I’m not convinced he’s entirely straightforward. The rest appear to be up against it, with Terrefort looking a shade dull this season, Coney Island not seeming to have the class for it and Sub Lieutenant below his best of late.
Sun Racing Stayers’ Hurdle
The defection of Lil Rockerfeller to the Coral Cup made me initially fear yet another three-mile crawl around Prestbury Park, with the task of front-running left solely to Sam Spinner. The troubled Joe Colliver set a self-defeatingly slow pace on that horse last year and although he is now more experienced, his mount has shown signs of reluctance this term. Relying on this combination alone would be a shaky prospect.
However, both Coquin Mans (albeit he jumps persistently right) and Nautical Nitwit (albeit the latter’s jockey is also relatively inexperienced) like to go forward and Keeper Hill might opt to press the pace, so the race may not be totally bereft – albeit you might worry how long this trio can credibly maintain their position.
The underlying point is that a strong pace is critical to favourite Paisley Park’s anticipated dominance. He won the Grade One Long Walk without one but was only truly able to express his superiority in the Cleeve Hurdle, the course-and-distance Grade Two he won in January that was carted along by Sam Spinner and Lil Rockerfeller.
Without pace, he is more vulnerable than his price reflects. Otherwise, this is a fine staying hurdler, cut from the cloth of multiple past winners, Big Buck’s and Inglis Drever, in the way that he appears to hit a flat spot before responding generously. Frankly, I hope he wins it – but he’s too short for me.
If this race turns into a repeat of last year, in which pretty much the entire field was in contention at the final hurdle, that brings Top Notch right into play. His stamina for three miles is unproven – he finished almost six lengths behind Paisley Park at Ascot but it was his seasonal debut and he had more important chase targets on his agenda at the time. Since then, the plan has changed.
He’s run well at every Festival he’s contested – second in the 2015 Triumph, fifth in the 2016 Champion Hurdle and second in the 2017 JLT – and crucially was not switched here after disappointing over fences. He won at Kempton last time but his Ryanair preparations were interrupted by equine flu and, after much prevaricating on the part of connections, he heads here instead. At 14/1, he’s an interesting contender.
A less searching test would also remove any lingering stamina doubts about Faugheen, the 2015 Champion Hurdle hero who beat the absent Stayers’ Hurdle titleholder Penhill over three miles at Punchestown last term. However, almost the entire field gave him a race-winning start that day so his suitability for this task was never really tested. He also took a purler of a fall against Apple’s Jade last time out.
Perhaps the best horse best-equipped for these circumstances is Kilbricken Storm, who took last year’s Albert Bartlett under an enterprising ride from Harry Cobden but then backed up that form at Punchestown. He suffered a pelvic injury when tailed off behind Santini over fences last time but trainer Colin Tizzard has reported him to be thriving in work since.
The fourth horse to consider in a crawl scenario is Petit Mouchoir, good enough to be third in the 2017 Champion Hurdle and given no chance when embroiled in a speed-duel in last year’s Arkle. Trainer Henry de Bromhead has given Rachael Blackmore the task of settling this jittery horse this season, with this new task in mind – he’s never raced beyond 2m1f under Rules – and it’s largely worked.
De Bromhead has succeeded before in transforming a Champion Hurdle also-ran into a Grade One-winning stayer (admittedly at Liverpool rather than at Cheltenham) in Identity Thief but this horse’s temperament presents a trickier task. There’s no doubt Petit Mouchoir has ability, though.
If all this musing is redundant and the pace is in fact good, the horse that strikes me as over-priced for each-way consideration is Kilbricken Storm’s stablemate West Approach. He’s chased home Paisley Park the last twice and his best form is over this course and distance, although not at the Festival. At 40/1, Cheltenham-loving Wholestone is also over-priced in this scenario.
Of the rest, I fear Supasundae had his chance last year and a first-time tongue-tie might not evince what’s required to make the critical difference, while Black Op might well get closer to Paisley Park on his second attempt at the trip but makes too many errors. Bacardys is a potential place player, too, but has jumping issues. Bapaume is as yet unproven at the trip, ridden accordingly and was flattered last time; a crawl-sprint is also his best chance of bagging a place.
I’m going to take a couple against the field in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate. The first is River Wylde, who was set to win on his first race for a year when falling at the last at Haydock in November. He was third in the 2017 Supreme and shaped well for a longer trip over fences here last season. Clearly, he’s had a troubled preparation but Nicky Henderson brought William Henry back to win in the Coral Cup on Wednesday with a similar profile.
The other is Spiritofthegames, who was conceding weight to both Kildisart and Highway One O One when third over this course and distance in January. That effort suggests he’s well capable of winning from his current mark.