1.30 – Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
The closer we get to the Cheltenham 2016 curtain raiser, the more I think MIN is a good thing. The fact that Willie Mullins and co have opted to avoid him with Yorkhill speaks volumes as I rate the latter as the likely winner of the Neptune on Wednesday. This year’s Supreme looks deep enough at first glance, but while I respect the Nicky Henderson trained duo of Altior and Buveur D’Air, Hendo’s last winner in the race was way back in 1992 when I was still running around in nappies, despite having plenty well fancied favourites since. Tombstone was described as a ‘dog’ by his owner, so it’s acceptable for me to echo his thoughts on this talented but highly reluctant sort. The one I’d like to make a case for against Min is SUPASUNDAE.
I’ve been chipping away at this horse since Christmas and think he has a stonking good chance of making the frame. Realistically, he’ll need MIN to underperform to land the big pot but I really fancy him to chase the son of Walk In The Park home. Johnny Burke must be sick of chasing Ruby’s backside up the Cheltenham hill but he can feel free to do so again tomorrow and there’ll be a pint or two in it for him if he does. Henry de Bromhead’s charge was a bit unsettled last season, to say the least, after switching stables no less than three times and making the trip across the pond on two occasions. Despite this, he ran a cracker in the Champion Bumper, leading the field to the furlong pole and gassing late on after being far too lit up early on in the race. He was impressive in the second half of his Leopardstown win over Christmas and you can be certain de Bromhead has done ample schooling with him since. He’ll appreciate better ground; he has course form and let’s not forget he made light work of beating Yanworth in an Ascot bumper at the backend of 2014. He’s still a double figure price in the betting W/O MIN market and which looks more than fair to me and who knows, he might just pick up the pieces should the favourite underperform.
2.10 – The Arkle
DOUVAN is one of the best horses we’re likely to see for some time. He oozes class and when looking at him up close it’s clear he knows how good he is. He’s got winning course form from last year’s Supreme and he jumps fences as quick as he jumps hurdles. I’m by no means putting him up as betting proposition at 2/5, but if I had a spare £50K I know what I’d be doing with it. The market that I’ll be playing in once again is the betting W/O the favourite market. I make SIZING JOHN the clear favourite to chase Douvan home but the market seems to think Vaniteux is the most likely runner-up. I never warm to horses that go chasing as a second thought, which is exactly what this horse has done. They tried to make him into a top class hurdler, but he wasn’t good enough and they’ve gone chasing as a plan b. On the contrary, Sizing John was always going to make a better chaser than a hurdler and despite a no-show on horrible ground behind Douvan at Christmas; I expect a massive performance from the son of Midnight Legend here. He thrives off better ground; he jumped like a stag in his first two starts over fences and he has course form. He’s around the 2/1 mark in the betting W/O market and I’d be very surprised, upset and broke if he doesn’t oblige.
2.50 – The Ultima Handicap Chase
Anyone got a pin? This is an ultra-tough Ultima and you should get paid out twice for picking the winner of it. Nobody will think any worse of you for firing a few bullets at this so feel free to split your stakes up. The horses my darts have landed on are Morning Assembly and Southfield Theatre. The former has a lot of back-class; he’s a Grade One winning hurdler and even lowered the colours of Gold Cup favourite, Don Cossack, in a Grade 2 novice chase in 2013. He followed that effort up with a cracking run in the RSA behind O’Faolains Boy and was sent off favourite to win the Irish version at Punchestown a month later. He suffered a setback after that and was off the track until making a pleasing return behind Bridgets Pet, who is a good yardstick, at Fairyhouse in January. There was no shame in finishing second to Smashing in a Grade 2 a couple of weeks later and off a mark of 150 he could potentially be thrown in. Davy Russell knows him well and his trainer, Pat Fahy, wouldn’t be running him here if he didn’t think he could win. The latter is a good horse in his own right too and he chased home Don Poli is last year’s RSA. Admittedly, he has been disappointing in two runs this season but Paul Nicholls thinks he has got him back to his best and if that’s the case, he too is dangerous off a mark of 150.
3.30 – Champion Hurdle
Let’s be realistic, this is a dire renewal of the race but it’s still a Champion Hurdle, in name at least, and there still needs to be a winner. You can pick holes in the form of every single runner and I would be here until Christmas slagging off The New One so let’s jump straight to the selection, SEMPRE MEDICI. His form to date isn’t good enough to win a Champion Hurdle, but he has age on his side and has improved with each run this season. He travels really well in his races, so a fast run race should play to his strengths and he’s fitted with a tongue tie for the first time which should help him finish off his races that bit better. On a strict line through Identity Thief, who he trounced by 5.5L’s at Fairyhouse this time last year, he’s a stonking price at 25/1 and it would be no surprise if he found the required improvement to make the frame.
4.10 – Mares’ Hurdle
VROUM VROUM MAG beats Polly Peachum and The Govaness, probably.
4.50 – National Hunt Chase
Whatever wins this race, I’m going to be licking my wounds saying “Black Hercules would have hammered that” as I had a big ante-post position on him, only for my hopes to be dashed, not for the first time, by a late change of plan. However, there’s still potential to profit off the ‘Black Hercules form lines’ and the two horses of interest here are Definitly Red and Measureofmydreams. The former has some cracking form behind Black Hercules and Blaklion who are both bound for the more prestigious novice chases at the festival. He looks a dour stayer who will improve for this test of stamina, which is hard to say about the majority of this field. He’s a Grade 2 winning hurdler, so he has some class too and at a double figure price he represents decent EW value. The latter is trained by Willie Mullins and fortuned from the demise of Black Hercules in the Ten Up chase at Navan. Had BH stood up, he would have won but even still, this horse wouldn’t have been too far behind him. He beat Noble Endeavor fair and square and that horse is half the price in places. He has a good jockey on his back in Katie Walsh and I don’t expect him to be too far away.
5.30 – CHAPS Novices’ Handicap Chase
Another stick a pin in it job. I’ve backed Willow’s Saviour and Double Shuffle ante-post but it’s not a race I have an overly strong opinion on. However, I’ll be throwing a few quid at Bridget’s Pet at a likely massive price at some stage during the day.