There is no doubting the potential and ability of Samcro and a positive effort from Paloma Blue in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle gave the form of the Deloitte Hurdle a handsome boost on day one. That was the third of three wide-margin victories over hurdles this winter and he boasts a potent combination of speed and stamina allayed with a sound hurdling technique. He will clearly be very difficult to beat, but there look some decent novices in opposition not least NEXT DESTINATION (Best price 4-1) who has looked a very useful operator in his own right this winter. There is a chance Next Destination is in danger of being underestimated despite being unbeaten in all three hurdles, the last victory achieved in Grade 1 company. He too boasts a sharp turn of foot for a stayer, usually travels smoothly and jumps well and represents a stable that have four of the last 10 renewals.
The Flogas Chase, which has provided four of the last nine winners, is well represented here with winner Monalee, runner-up AL BOUM PHOTO (Best price 7-1) and DOUNIKOS (Best price 8-1) all taking their chance. Monalee jumped and raced with great enthusiasm at Leopardstown, showing no ill effects of his fall at that venue over the festive period and he displayed a terrific will-to-win to fight off a host of challengers. The only slight reservation is his stamina at the trip on really deep ground. With that in mind, both Al Boum Photo and Dounikos look as though they may find serious improvement granted a stiffer stamina test and it is difficult to separate the duo. The former did well to finish so close considering he didn’t jump particularly well and, if his technique holds up, he could well be in the mix. Dounikos was doing all his best work at the death having been tight for space at a crucial point in the straight and this severe examination should be perfect.
The Coral Cup has rarely been a friend to me and just talking about Native Dara’s agonising defeat at the hands of What’s Up Boys years ago brings me out in a cold sweat. However, stubbornness is a trait my wife tells me I possess so it is time to strap on the shin pads and have a crack at MOUNT MEWS (Best price 16-1) and RIVER FROST (Best price 22-1) to end the hoodoo. Connections have wisely aborted a chasing campaign with the former which was stuttering and stumbling even if the selection was trying to mix it with the likes of Black Corton and Wotzizname at Ascot and Doncaster respectively. There is also a school of thought that Mount Mews may appreciate coming back in trip given he possessed the pace to finish second to Pingshou in an Aintree Grade 1 Hurdle over two miles last spring. Today’s test on very soft ground should be ideal and he makes plenty of appeal. River Frost takes more explaining as his last run was an abject one but he was beaten eight lengths in this race 12 months ago, could be a live one at a price given his connections. His reappearance in a warm Chepstow handicap couldn’t have worked out much better and a repeat of that effort could see him go well.
Rarely can this race have seen so much drama before the tapes have even been released with hot ante-post favourite Altior undergoing an 11th hour scare and Douvan making the field against all the odds. The former has suffered with a wind issue this season and in recent history there have been 106 horses which have undergone a similar campaign to him and only one has won, Riverside Theatre, trained by Nicky Henderson. Any breathing issues could well be exploited by the gruelling conditions and, at his price, he is reluctantly overlooked in preference of MIN (Best price 4-1) who has seven lengths to find with Altior on running the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, but the latter’s fitness is seemingly assured and he has looked a smart chaser in waiting this winter, not least at Leopardstown last time when he was imperious.
CAUSE OF CAUSES (Best price 11-4) must be on the verge of writing himself into Cheltenham folklore as his Festival record over fences reads 2111, statistics which are virtually unparalleled in the modern day. He has built a terrific association with Jamie Codd who has been onboard for all three successes and the duo routed a decent field which included Bless The Wings and Auvergnat in this event 12 months ago. The 10-year-old boasts a sharp turn of foot for a stayer and that was again in evidence last year as he came readily clear of his rivals and he could well take all the beating once more.
As a relative of useful stayers Thomas Campbell and Coeur De Lion, LISP (Best price 16-1) could prove the answer to one of the toughest races of the week as he has already proven handling a stamina test is within his capabilities. It is open to question whether the selection really wants deep ground, but that applies to many of his rivals and he could be worth chancing given he should relish the prospect of a big field and the opportunity to gain some cover, a luxury which eluded him at Haydock. In the circumstances he ran a blinder after pulling too hard and rates a fair bet here. Both Nube Negra and LOOK MY WAY (Best price 12-1) have tackled Triumph Hurdle favourite Apple’s Shakira at this venue and look huge contenders given they have track experience and have enjoyed good preparations. Preference is for the latter as any horse that can cope with soft ground at Ffos Las shouldn’t find today’s conditions beyond him.