Andy Holding has five selections on day three of Cheltenham, including a 2pt e/w NAP
Irish-trained horses have dominated this prize in recent years and with the Leopardstown qualifier over the Christmas period providing the last two winners in the shape of Delta Work and Sire Du Berlais, the race at the Dublin track clearly deserves the closest scrutiny.
The feature of that three-mile contest 75 days ago was the time comparison alongside the Grade 1 event won by Apples Jade and it revealed the handicap was run at a significantly stronger gallop – particularly the final circuit. The difference, which becomes even more stark when you imply the split screen technique (running two TV’s simultaneously) – was so heavily in favour of the Pertemps Qualifier that even some of the horses well down the field still finished way ahead of the likes of Apples Jade, Unowhatimeanharry and Penhill. Unsurprisingly, given those findings, it’s come as no shock to see the winner, Treacysenniscorthy - along with many others - back up the numbers with victory over the same C&D next time out, so it makes sense to delve a bit deeper into the performances of certain individuals in that tear-up and of them, THE STORYTELLER (NAP) (best price 11-2) comes into focus the most.
Catching the eye with the way he stayed on late after being well down the field heading out on the final circuit and it came as no surprise to find his final circuit sectionals work out as well as anything in the field. Moreover, he wasn’t exactly ridden within an inch of his life to do so, and having been put away to stay fresh in the interim period (similar to Sire Du Berlais last season), it’s safe to say Gordon Elliott’s inmate couldn’t have had a better preparation. On top of his obvious chance based on his run that day and the numbers he posted, it’s also worth pointing out that the son of Shantou beat two subsequent winners in his previous hurdles race at Clonmel, one being Thyestes hero Total Recall, and if you take into account his chase mark of 158 (third in a Grade 1 on his last start over fences), he looks to be nicely treated here off a rating of 149. A previous Festival winner, it would come as a big disappointment if the nine-year-old isn’t heavily involved in the shake-up. Others to come out of that big-field handicap on December 28 are last year’s winner Sire du Berlais, along with Tout Est Permis and A Great View and they are all worth including in some sort of exotic permutations.
It goes without saying Paisley Park has been head and shoulders above all other opposition in this division for some time now and his dominance doesn’t look like abating any time soon. Having beaten most of today’s rivals comprehensively in the last 18 months, it’s hard to see how any of them can turn around the form with Emma Lavelle’s mighty stayer and he thoroughly deserves to be trading at odds-on to retain his crown. That said, most workaday punters will probably be looking towards playing something each-way or maybe in the ‘without the favourite’ markets for a bit better value and there could be an Irish raider that might fit that particular requirement.
RONALD PUMP (best price 10-1) (w/o Paisley Park) isn’t a horse most UK will be too familiar with, but he’s shown many times in the past that he’s got a huge amount of ability and he’s certainly capable of a bold display here despite his odds suggesting otherwise. Coming out the best horse from that Pertemps Qualifier run at Leopardstown over the Christmas period judged by the weight he carried and his final lap sectionals, in turn, Matthew Smith’s gelding ran miles better in comparison to the likes of Apples Jade, Penhill and Bacardys over the same C&D, so based on those findings, he should be able to hold his own against that aging trio at the very least. Looking at the rest of today’s line-up and there are holes to be punched into the performances of Summerville Boy, and Emitom to single out another two and as for some of the others, none of them make that much appeal either. Not scopey enough to make the grade as a chaser, a least for the time being, the seven-year-old chestnut has proven himself very much at home in a big-field, strongly-run environment (won last year’s 23-strong Irish EBF Final very easily) on numerous occasions and with the ground also being to his liking, he makes plenty of appeal in the without the favourite market as he’s strongly fancied to punch way above his weight.
As suggested in this column on day one using Imperial Aura as a guide, the form line of the novices’ handicap won by SIMPLY THE BETTS (best price 4-1) here on trials day is one of the strongest of the season based on times figures and Harry Whittington’s gelding rates a confident choice to justify the decision to take advantage of his current handicap mark rather than the Grade 1 Marsh Chase tomorrow.
Winner of his first two starts over fences, the son of Arcadio immediately looked natural, and he was strongly fancied to maintain his progressive profile when sent to Kempton for his outing on Boxing Day. In a race run at a true gallop, the seven-year-old, however, never travelled with his normal fluency and, having given up plenty of ground by also jumping out to the left, he could only manage an honourable second to Commanche Red. That said, even allowing for the fact he wasn’t himself; his performance still came out well on the figures and that is testimony to his raw ability. On to today’s C&D for his most recent outing on Trails Day, he extinguished the memories of his slightly below-par display at the Surrey venue with an authoritative display and safe with the knowledge that his final lap sectionals were by far away superior to the other handicap chase won by Cepage over the same C&D (five seconds quicker), he clearly is a very talented novice. A big strong unit that has the physique to cope with the gluey ground that has materialised since the track has endured all the rain, Simply The Betts can hopefully provide his Sparsholt handler with his first Festival winner.
Willie Mullins has yet to hit the heights normally associated with the champion trainer (Ferny Hollow his first winner of the week in the bumper yesterday), but the Closutton handler looks to have a strong hand with four lively contenders in this competitive mares’ contest and of those, CONCERTISTA (best price 6-1) makes the most appeal at the prices.
Although amazingly still a maiden over hurdles, her body of word stands up to the closest scrutiny and her second in this race last year off the back of a 620-day absence just shows what sort of ability she possesses. Undone by the trip on heavy ground first time out this season, the daughter of Nathaniel has gone on to run to nice races since and with her latest performance coming in one the strongest mares’ handicap run so far this in Ireland, she looks to be peaking at the right time. If it wasn’t for a bad mistake that caused her to lose her place down the straight, she may have well beaten the eventual winner Black Tears, and with her conqueror going on to run a huge race here yesterday, the form appears rock-solid.
DEISE ABA (best price 9-1) seems to have really found his sweet spot judged on his last two runs and he looks to be improving just at the right time to make an impact in a race of this nature.
An easy winner of a match at Catterick two starts ago, Philip Hobbs’ inmate faced a much sterner test in a competitive handicap at Sandown last time out and in what turned out to be a very strongly run race for the trip and grade, he passed his bigger examination paper to date with flying colours. The feature of that performance at the Esher venue was the backend sectionals compared to the other chase races over shorter distances and that should stand him in good stead for this similar test. Still nicely handicapped and with one of the better amateurs on board, the son of Mahler is worth a small each-way interest to provide owner Trevor Hemmings with another winner in this race.