Paul Townend gives us the inside track on the Willie Mullins' runners on Thursday.
1.30 JLT Novices’ Chase
Black Hercules was going to win easily until he fell last time but that accident hasn’t left any lasting impression judged on his homework and this is the right race for him. However, it’s a slight concern that he ran so badly in the Albert Bartlett last year, although he did run well in the Bumper the year before. For me, Outlander
has the better chance of the pair. Fences have really brought out the best in him and his form over fences is rock solid – especially the Grade One win last time. There is a question mark over his ability to be as effective on drying ground but I don’t see why he won’t handle it fine.
Outlander - 1pt @ 9/2
2.10 Pertemps Hurdle
This is tough but if I had a choice I would like to ride Leave At Dawn
, whose trainer has a great record at targeting horses at this meeting. I’ve been hearing good things about his preparation and he’s got a nice racing weight. It looks significant that Barry Geraghty has chosen him over the other JP McManus runners.
Leave At Dawn - 1pt @ 7/1
2.50 Ryanair Chase
This looks all about Vautour
who has been rerouted from the Gold Cup. His recent homework hasn’t been his best, but we all think that even a 95% Vautour would be good enough to win this race especially as this trip could be perfect. He faces a lot of older horses, many of whom ideally want 3m+ nowadays, and it looks a great opportunity for Vautour. Road To Riches wouldn’t be quick enough to live with Vautour over this trip so I think the best each-way option in the race is Smashing, whose form took a boost when Morning Assembly, who was 11l behind Smashing at Gowran Park last month, hit the frame in the Ultima Handicap Chase on Tuesday.
Vautour - 1pt @ 4/5
3.30 World Hurdle
Alpha Des Obeaux looks easily the pick of the two Irish runners but this looks all about Thistlecrack
whose form this season is on a different level to his rivals. I actually think the better ground will suit this horse and he looks different class to this field. The ground has come right for Cole Harden who looks the outstanding each-way bet if you want to take the favourite on.
Thistlecrack - 1pt @ 6/5
Ruby Walsh’s mount Ballycasey has never lived up to his early billing and he just hasn’t reproduced his brilliant homework out on the track. He looks up against it on what he’s done on the track this year and I quite like the chance of the Paul Nicholls’ runner Stilletto
who was seriously impressive at Leicester last time and a 10lb rise could have let him in lightly.
Stilletto - 1pt @ 12/1
4.50 Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle
This should be booked for Limini
who is yet another brilliant mare from Willie’s stable. I ride her in a lot of her work and I was on board when she won her maiden hurdle at Punchestown last year, where her jumping was far from fluent. She’s improved immeasurably on that front after intensive schooling and although this will be her stiffest jumping test by far, I’m much more confident now than I would have been earlier in the season. She has the potential to be another Quevega or Annie Power and there will be some long faces at the yard if she doesn’t win this. Smart Talk looks the best of the home challengers.
Limini - 1pt @ 5/6
5.30 Kim Muir
Willie’s runner Sambremont was a bit lucky to win last time and I’d be surprised if he were good enough to win a race like this. I can pass on a strong word for Cause Of Causes
who won the NH Chase at this meeting 12 months ago. I’ve done a few Cheltenham preview evenings in the past week or so and I know that Tony McCoy thinks this horse is one of the best bets of the whole week. Who am I to argue with the legend AP McCoy?
Cause Of Causes - 1pt @ 11/2