Our flagship Cheltenham column continues with Lydia Hislop's race-by-race guide and recommended bets for day two of the Festival.
The Cheltenham Festival, presented by Magners: Day Two
Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
A lack of out-and-out front-runners might – not definitely – mean this race turns into a classic Ballymore crawl – which would be bad news for the keen favourite Champ.
The pace possibilities include Dunvegan (who was reported to be clinically abnormal after being thumped last time) and City Island, owned by the sponsor Sean Mulryan and whose rider Mark Walsh has said is a galloper, without a change of gear, in need of a positive ride.
Beakstown, who will probably ultimately thrive over further, is also going to need to be towards the fore, while both the dependable Easy Game and Notebook are relatively versatile tactics-wise. Bright Forecast has made the running in the past but as he’s trying a new trip, I suspect jockey Nico de Boinville would prefer to take a lead.
Brewin’Upastorm, who has four lengths to find on Champ on their Challow form, tried to make all until falling at the last at Cheltenham on his latest outing, would be more suited to chasing the pace than doing his own dirty work, too.
Jockey Jack Kennedy is confident the rain that finally arrived at Cheltenham on Tuesday will suit the unbeaten Battleoverdoyen, who’s scopey and likeable. He gives his hurdles some air, like the nascent chaser he is, but looks a proper player.
Sam’s Profile, who finished second to him in a Naas Grade One last time, has twice caught my eye and trainer Mouse Morris’s Festival runners are worth taking very seriously. He got shuffled back at a crucial time on that occasion before rallying strongly and is progressive. My fear is the odd slow or scruffy jump could cost him dear but he’s got a big future.
Easy Game earned his place in Willie Mullins’ Festival via a series of grafting efforts culminating in his best-yet success in a Grade Two at Navan in December. He’s now more than just that: he’s the yard’s number one contender and has Ruby Walsh on his back. He lacks the fanfare that many a Closutton contender has brought to this table but is likely to outrun odds of 25/1.
I found this race tough to call, to be honest – unlike most Festivals races!?! In the end, following the excellent 2-3 for Olly Murphy in Tuesday’s Supreme, I’ve decided for a price-related play on Brewin’Upastorm who would have been less well suited to a trappily run race in the Challow than was Champ, was (probably) set to win when falling here in January and is about twice his price.
Back now: Brewin’Upastorm each-way at 7/1
RSA Insurance Chase
Had Harry Cobden held onto Topofthegame a bit longer in the Grade One Kauto Star – much as he did an hour later on Clan Des Obeaux in the King George – they’d have had a better chance of beating all-conquering mare La Bague Au Roi, whjo rallied gamely to deny him. Perhaps the result would have been the same but I wouldn’t be dogmatic about it either way.
Nonetheless, that performance suggested Topofthegame possesses the ideal blend of speed and stamina required for three miles around the turning Old Course at Cheltenham. Although this track will suit third-placed Santini much better than did Kempton and he should be more of a threat, he’s been a martyr to his feet since pulling off a shoe when schooling at Newbury two Sundays ago. That backdrop is far from ideal for a horse widely acknowledged to be stuffy.
Admittedly, both horses are short on the wealth of chasing experience often required to grind out an RSA – particularly one on soft ground. But the unseasonally quick ground that has prevailed for much of the season, as well as equine flu and/or the new six-month vaccination rule, might mean such trends are less applicable this year.
Trainer Paul Nicholls deliberately sidestepped the Reynoldstown with Topofthegame whereas Nicky Henderson was forced to miss it with Santini, so one trainer appears to be more concerned on this front than the other.
It’s been suggested Topofthegame might be a bit iffy – an argument being based on him shying at the tape at Exeter on his seasonal debut – but (uncharacteristically, I will admit) I’m prepared to forgive him this. He’s always been a bit gawky but was good enough to finish second in last year’s Coral Cup when still immature and appears to be coming of age over fences. I’m happy to stick with my ante-post position.
Delta Work is a proper threat, although he would also have benefitted from more match practice. He dodged the Dublin racing Festival due to unsuitably quick ground and can jump a shade scruffily but he does appear to just do enough, as when scrambling home in last year’s Pertemps when both he and the runner-up were overcame differing in-running disadvantages.
The pace should be sustained, with Top Ville Ben – who’ll be better racing left-handed and is over-priced at 33/1 – in the line-up. Drinks Interval, who has the mare’s 7lb pull but whose feasible rating seems based on perhaps outdated form, and Now McGinty, who also needs to find more, also won’t be too far away.
This is bad news for The Worlds End, who has seemed most at ease over fences when able to dominate his field. Others who’ll be chasing or pressing the pace are the seemingly exposed Count Meribel and Drovers Lane, who’s had a breathing operation since he last raced and shouldn’t be underestimated.
Both Mister Malarky and Mortal will probably be patiently ridden and will get into it late if good enough. I suspect the former has a fair chance of grabbing a place, as he’s peaking at the right time. The cheekpieces will have to enliven On The Blind Side quite markedly because he’s been sluggish early on with his jumping; if they don’t work, his race might be over quite quickly.
Already advised 20/12/18: Topofthegame e/w 16/1
Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase
Obviously, the magnificent titleholder Altior should win this and bring his winning streak – unbeaten over obstacles – to the equal of Big Buck’s straight 18. The only doubt in my mind is the way he jumped persistently left-handed at Ascot.
Such concerns have been brushed aside by trainer Nicky Henderson and jockey Nico de Boinville but it’s impossible to construe this hitherto unseen trait it as a positive. We’re talking about a 2/5 shot, after all.
Last year, Altior was briefly in trouble when Min was travelling powerfully turning for home. That flat spot – a characteristic – has been overplayed but I’d have liked to have found out what would have happened had the eventual runner-up, a strong stayer at two miles, gone for home at that point and asked a larger question. He might well have been beaten further, of course, but we don’t know that.
Ruby Walsh is riding Min this year, replacing Paul Townend who (along with David Mullins) has actually to date conjured the horse’s best performances. However, Walsh might have greater belief in his mount’s powers after his impressive victory in the (admittedly depleted) Dublin Chase. He might even might have some new ideas on how to tackle the task of reversing Min’s two defeats by Altior as a result of eyeballing him on Un De Sceaux in the Tingle Creek.
These are just mights, clearly, and the likeliest result is another honourable second but, having played Willie Mullins Bingo and won, I think I might go home now! There’s no need to add to this column’s each-way position on Min.
Walsh will be looking to Saint Calvados to provide the good pace Min needs. Gavin Sheehan should oblige, with no spoiler to muck them around up front (as he was in last year’s Arkle) and first-time cheekpieces to provide extra pep.
Those looking to play each-way now in the betting-without-Altior market might consider Ordinary World, who’s one of the outsiders and will be ridden to pick up the pieces. God’s Own has been a popular choice in this market – understandably, given his solid Festival record – but he’s 11 years of age now and younger legs might be sticking on better.
Already advised 17/01/19: Min e/w 12/1 or 10/1
Given he was good enough to finish a narrow second in the Cesarewitch, Uradel is of obvious interest in the Coral Cup – especially as he shaped last time as though he’d improve for stepping up in trip. But Dancing On My Own tried to put it up to the Supreme winner Klassical Dream in a Grade One at Leopardstown last time out, his good jumping and persistent attitude keeping him in the game until the home turn. On breeding, a step up in trip might prompt further progress.
For the Boodles Fred Winter, Fine Brunello shaped well for handicap targets when second at Cheltenham last time out and stablemate Fakir D’Oudairies didn’t let the form down (albeit he was comfortably held) when fourth in the Supreme.
I’m going to pair him with Coko Beach, who caught my eye behind Band Of Outlaws last time. Admittedly, the winner breezed by but Gordon Elliott’s representative has a 5lb pull, looked capable of better and would benefit from more of an end-to-end gallop.