Now that the Equine Flu scare has abated, the eyes of the sporting world this week will be focussed on Cheltenham with the latest running of the National Hunt Festival culminating with the Gold Cup on Friday. Four days of top class racing with 28 races, over £4.5 million in prize money attracting over 250,000 spectators generating around £100 million to the Gloucestershire economy, it is now firmly established as one of the major highlights of the sporting calendar.
Preview evenings are now very much part of itinerary leading up the Festival and I was fortunate to attend such an event at the very impressive Princess Hall at Cheltenham Ladies College on Thursday that raised £15,000 for WellChild. WellChild is the national UK children’s charity making it possible for children and young people with exceptional health needs to be cared for at home instead of hospital, wherever possible. Prince Harry is the Patron. WellChild is Target’s nominated charity and since 2017 we have raised over £13,000. We are delighted to be supporting them again this year running a number of activities later in the year including a golf day at Brickhampton Court in June.
The evening proved to be very entertaining and was expertly hosted by ITV Racing’s Ed Chamberlin (EC), who has been a WellChild ambassador since 2012. The rest of the panel included Kim Bailey (KB – trainer), Bruce Millington (BM – former Racing Post editor), Richard Hoiles (RH – ITV Racing commentator) and Richard Phillips (RP – trainer). Richard Hoiles also commentated on three charity races, humourously assisted by Richard Phillips for the third race. Somebody on my table, who shall remain nameless, managed to back the winners of all three races!
Last year the panel were in excellent form tipping ten winners including Summerville Boy 9/1, Tiger Roll 7/1, Coo Star Sivola 5/1 and Native River 5/1. Let’s hope they will be as successful this year! Below is a brief overview of the views and selections of the races reviewed.
Supreme Novices Hurdle (1.30)
Al Dancer is a hot favourite to win the opener but only one pundit went for him
BM – Al Dancer (approx. odds 11/4)
RH – Grand Sancy (10/1) each way
RP – Elixir De Nutz (7/1)
KB – Angels Breath (5/1)
EC – Vision D’honneur (16/1) – Ed rates this as one of his best bets of the week.
Arkle Novice Chase (2.10)
Lalor would be an emotional winner as Kayley Wollacott took over the training in license after the suicide of her husband last year. However, nobody fancied him to win despite being joint favourite.
BM – Glen Forsa (7/2)
KB – Kalashnikov (12/1)
RP & RH – Hardline (7/1)
RP – Us And Them (16/1) as an each way.
Ultima H’Cap Chase (2.50)
Coo Star Sivola won last year.
RH expects Coo Star Sivola (11/1) to go close again as he has a great record at the Festival.
BM – Mr Whittaker (9/1) to complete a first day double for Mick Channon (with Glen Forsa).
Champion Hurdle (3.30)
The panel agreed this was the race of the meeting with Buvair D’Air (15/8) attempting to win the race for the third time up against two talented Irish mares Apples Jade (2/1) and Laurina (7/2). However there was no agreement as to who would win!
RP – Buveur D’Air
KB – Apples Jade
BM – Laurina (expects her to drift in the betting and may be value).
EC – Laurina
RH – Espoir D’Allen (16/1) each way.
Mares Hurdle (4.10)
Not reviewed. Benie Des Dieux (5/6) hot favourite to win again.
Close Bros Nov H’Cap Chase (4.50)
KB – Huntsmans Son (25/1) – This is Kim’s strongest fancy for Day One.
National Hunt Chase (5.30)
BM – Ok Coral (5/2)
RP – Ballyward (3/1)
Ballymore Novice Hurdle (1.30)
Strong fancies for Irish challenger Battleoverdoyen (7/2).
Champ (11/4), named after AP McCoy, overhyped and poor value.
RSA Nov Chase (2.10)
KB – Drovers Lane (16/1) excellent each way value. Does not fancy Santini (3/1)– his lay of the week.
RP – On The Blindside (8/1)
BM – Delta Works (7/4)
Coral Cup H’Cap Hurdle (2.50)
The first of the five handicap hurdles at the meeting. In the last two years Irish trained horses have won 4 of these races each year.
BM – Farclas (20/1) who won the Triumph last year can go well.
Queen Mother Champion Chase (3.30)
All agreed Altior (4/11) would win and equal Big Bucks record of 18 consecutive wins in a row. However they all thought that he better over a longer distance and would be a good thing for the King George on Boxing Day.
RH – Gods Own (50/1) each way or each way without Altior as he has been 4th, 5th and 3rd in the last three years.
BM – Rates Min as the best horse without Altior at Evens.
Cross Country (4.10)
All expected Tiger Roll (Ev) to win his fourth race at the Festival.
EC reported good vibes for Ultragold (10/1)
Fred Winter Juvenile H’Cap Hurdle (4.50)
RP – Band Of Outlaws (5/1)
Only 7 Irish horses entered this year so might be won by an English trained horse for a change!
RH/BM – Keen on Get In The Queue (6/1)
JLT Nov H’Cap Chase (1.30)
Defi Du Seuil (11/4) strongly expected to win.
Pertemps H’Cpa Hurdle (2.10)
RH – Notwhatiam (16/1) – if he gets in one of his bets of the week.
RP – First Assignment (9/1)
KB- Runs Minella Warrior (25/1) although needs a few to come out to run.
Ryanair Chase (2.50)
All expect Frodon (6/1) to run in this race rather than the Gold Cup.
EC/RP – Very keen on Footpad (3/1).
KB – Runs Charbel (33/1) and expects him to run well.
BM – Un De Sceaux (6/1) each way.
RH – Gave Al Boum Photo (8/1) and Road To Respect (7/1) as each way selections.
Stayers Hurdle (3.30)
BM/RP – Both very keen on Faugheen (4/1)
KB – Bacardys (16/1)
Plate H’Cap Chase (4.10)
RH – Benator (20/1)
This is a race notorious for throwing up long price winners.
Mares Novice Hurdle (4.50)
RP – Reported that favourite Epatante (2/1) is a bit of a head case!
Kim Muir H’Cap Chase (5.30)
Not reviewed – amateur riders and often won by the best jockey – look out for the mounts of Jamie Codd, Patrick Mullins, Sam Waley-Cohen & Derek O’Connor.
Triumph Hurdle (1.30)
Bit of an injury scare for hot favourite Sir Erec (6/4).
BM – Expects Sir Erec to win.
EC – Good vibes for Adjali (1/1).
County H’Cap Hurdle (2.10)
BM – Wicklow Brave (20/1) – won this race in 2015 totally unfancied
RP – May run Totterdown; due to run in Imperial Cup on Saturday
Last four winners of this race have been priced at 25/1, 25/1, 20/1 and 33/1 so don’t be afraid to pick an outsider!
Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle (2.50)
RH – Derinross (16/1) & Dinons (20/1)
KB – Birchdale (7/1)
Gold Cup (3.30)
Clan Des Obeaux (7/2) and Presenting Percy (7/2) vying for favouritism.
All thought Clans Des Obeaux too short in the betting
Presenting Percy has had an unusual preparation but has won twice very impressively at the Festival.
KB – Presenting Percy (7/2)
BM – Presenting Percy (7/2), Kemboy (9/1) if he stays and Bristol de Mai (33/1) far too long a price
RP – Native River (9/2) to retain his crown although also liked Bellshill (10/1)
EC – Presenting Percy (7/2)
RH – Native River (9/2), Shattered Love (25/1) – good each way value
Foxhunters Chase (4.10)
BM/RP – Ucelli Conti (5/1)
Grand Annual H’Cap Chase (4.50)
RH – Bouvreuil (33/1).
Martin Pipe H’Cap Hurcle (5.30)
RH – Early Doors (16/1)
Conditional jockeys race which is now the new final race of the Festival.
BM – Min w/o Altior (Queen Mother – Wed) & Get In The Queue (Bumper – Wed)
KB – Drovers Lane (RSA – Wed)
EC – Vision D’Honneur (Supreme – Tue)
RP – Defi Du Seuil (JLT – Thu)
RH – Notwhatiam (Pertemps – Thu)
Good luck to everyone who is punting at the Festival. Let’s hope the week goes really well and all the jockeys and horses come back safely.