Meetings:

AS I type this the hands are still trembling from the excitement. What a day. From agony to ecstasy and all points in between today (Wednesday) as we lost the first race in a photo finish and then Might Bite….

Well, God himself only knows what was going on there. It looked like someone who had backed Whisper was leaning over the rail offering Might Bite polo mints after the last. Whatever happened he had virtually stopped and then started again to overturn nearly a 2 length lead that Whisper had picked up whilst Might Bite had stopped for his polo mints or Guinness or whatever it was. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it at the festival and if the day had started with two defeats in a row in a photo finish I’m not sure I could have gone on. Thankfully Might Bite landed the odds.

I couldn’t believe my eyes as Douvan lost the Champion Chase. It just goes to show you that nothing is certain in this game. Spare a thought for the lad who lost £500,000 on him. Or maybe he should be sparing a thought for us if he can afford to lose half a mill on a horse. It will be interesting to find out if there are any excuses for Douvan – that certainly wasn’t the same horse that won here last year.

I thought the day was going to end as a bit of a damp squib after such an exciting start but no, the Cheltenham Gods had another winner in store for me as Fayonagh recovered from a honking start to come absolutely haring up the hill. Take a bow Jamie Codd and Gordon Elliott, I should never have doubted that they could do the business with Cause of Causes either!

Thursday promises yet more thrills and spills and hopefully a few more winners…

JLT Novices Chase

  • 1.30pm
  • 2 miles 4 furlongs
  • Mostly first season chasers
  • Looking for a horse who can travel at pace but also has the stamina to get up the hill at the death

A race for novice chasers, similar to the Arkle on Monday but run over a further half mile (four furlongs).

The betting suggests that this one revolves around one horse – my old friend Yorkhill. Once again I have to put the emotional interest cards on the table – the good people of Yorkhill Children’s Hospital worked wonders on both my brother and I many years ago so the bookmakers of the UK have a lot to be thankful to Yorkhill for. Thankfully for me this is a horse with a personal connection who also happens to be one of the most exciting horses in training. He is an absolute madman (although he’ll go some way to out-crazy Might Bite) and there may be a few heart in mouth moments during the race but he really should win this.

His quality performance in the Neptune hurdle last year was matched by his jockey Ruby Walsh who gave him an absolute peach of a ride and the two of them made it look easy. Yorkhill was a bit ropey in a schooling session last week and Mullins hasn’t been the only show in town so far this year – even Douvan couldn’t win this year – so I wouldn’t make as forceful a case for Yorkhill as perhaps I have for other horses this week but I’ll be with him nonetheless.

Of the others in the race, Politologue definitely holds some appeal but his price is a little low now for an each way bet. Likewise Disko has some claims on his recent form but I would be looking for a bigger price to make him a real each way alternative. Flying Angel is probably the one with a decent each way price that might be able to run into a place, particularly with good hurdles form at the festival (2nd in the Martin Pipe last year) and if you’re not with Yorkhill he might be the one to go for. He also has the benefit of man-of-the-hour Noel Fehily on his back.

Recommendation

  • 2 pt win – YORKHILL – 5/4 with 10Bet

Pertemps Network Final

  • 2.10pm
  • Run over hurdles
  • Competitive handicap
  • Run over 3 miles but they go at a frantic pace so stamina is essential as is accuracy over the hurdles
  • Horses qualify over the course of the season in satellite races

As I said last year, this can be a race for handicap ‘plots’ – horses who have been trained exclusively for this race at the expense of better performances elsewhere. You also need one with enough experience to cope with the hurly burly and the stiff test of stamina coming up the hill.

I feel like I have a good angle into the race this year and there are a few key qualifying races that can give us some good clues. One of those is the most recent qualifier at Chepstow where Gayebury bolted up – perhaps to his own detriment in terms of his handicap mark – and the second that day was one I have had my eye on for a while by the name of JURY DUTY. I tipped him up last week and see no reason to change my mind now that he has become favourite. He was given an easy time of it by David Mullins that day and I think there is a good bit more to come from him going forward.

In terms of alternatives there are plenty in what is of course a very competitive handicap. The one at a bigger price that could be great value is CAID DU BERLAIS for Paul Nicholls. Stan Sheppard gets an apprentice weight allowance of 5lb which helps on a horse who has been chasing lately, including on Tuesday when he ran in the Ultima and fell at the very first fence. He was always a better hurdler and has good form at the festival back in 2013 and 2014 so if we assume he is ok after Tuesday’s fall I think he could be a value bet.

Jury Duty remains the main bet though.

Recommendations

  • 0.5 pt e/w CAID DU BERLAIS – 33/1 with 10Bet
  • Already advised: 2 pt e/w – JURY DUTY – 17/2 with 10Bet Ryanair Chase

Ryanair Chase

  • 2.50pm
  • Chase run over fences
  • Run over 2 miles 5 furlongs
  • A good option for chasers who might not get the distance of 3m 2f in the Gold Cup

The 2 miles 5 furlongs almost feels like 3 miles by the time you take the uphill finish into account and there is no doubt that horses need to be solid staying chasers to win this.

Un De Sceaux and Empire of Dirt are the two who have been prominent in the betting for the last few months and it remains that way at the time of writing. Un De Sceaux has serious pedigree over 2 miles, winning the Arkle Chase two years ago and then a very respectable second in the Champion Chase to the legendary Sprinter Sacre last year. Some people have concerns that he wont see out the longer trip for this race but he has won a hurdles race in France over a similar distance and I don’t see it as a major problem.

The major concern would be the condition of the ground. There hasn’t been a drop of rain and the ground looks like good spring ground whereas Un De Sceaux is definitely better on soft ground. I’m very reluctant to take a price this short for a horse who has a major question mark on good ground and that’s before you start to examine the form of the stable at this year’s festival.

I am far more inclined to take the 5/2 about Empire of Dirt who has solid form over course and distance last year, winning a good handicap at the festival in some style. Gordon Elliott fancied him for the Gold Cup but the owners are keen to support the race that they sponsor so here he is. With Elliott in such fine form it is hard to ignore his chances.

Uxizandre is a possible alternative – winning here two years ago in a tear-jerking last win for AP McCoy at the festival – but his win last time out was the first run of any significance from him since that day in March 2015 so there are concerns about whether he can repeat the victory.

Recommendations

  • 3 pt win – EMPIRE OF DIRT – 5/2 with 10Bet

Stayers Hurdle

  • 3.30pm
  • The pinnacle for staying hurdlers, run over 3 miles
  • Won by the magnificent Thistlecrack last year

Thistlecrack emerged last year as the new superstar of the staying hurdle world but he has now gone chasing and we find ourselves looking for a new superstar.

Unowhatimeanharry could very well be that guy. His form over hurdles has not been dissimilar to Thistlecrack last year and if he can win as well as Thistlecrack did then inevitably people will start to make comparisons. I doubt he is that good but he should be good enough to win this. Unfortunately the market reflects that position and a price like 11/8 or thereabouts isn’t going to buy us a racehorse.

SNOW FALCON is one that I think is overpriced. He has finished very close to Shaneshill and Vroum Vroum Mag on his last two starts and before that he fell three out when travelling well and might have challenged Unowhatimeanharry at Newbury in November. I’m tempted to take the favourite out of this and look for the each way value in the ‘without the favourite’ market and that lets us put Harry in our accumulators without being conflicted. I was surprised to see Snow Falcon as big as 10/1 in that market last week and that is the sensible way to play this race I think. He is a better horse than he has shown so far and this might be the day he manages to show us.

Recommendation

  • Already advised – 2 pt e/w – Snow Falcon – 10/1 ‘without Uknowhatimeanharry’

Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate

  • 4.10pm
  • Handicap chase over fences
  • 2 miles 5 furlongs
  • Competitive chase with a classy field

Diamond King is very short for this, last year’s success in the Coral Cup still fresh in people’s minds. He has looked decent as a chaser and he has an obvious chance but I can’t be taking 9/2 or the like in a race like this.

BARON ALCO is the one I tipped last week and I’m still happy with that selection. He is a solid jumper and looks better as a chaser than he was as a hurdler. I think he will be there or thereabouts coming up the hill and although he doesn’t have the turn of foot that others might have he is a battler. You can still back him at a nice price.

There’s another one that I just can’t ignore either. THOMAS CRAPPER looked in absolutely fine form at Newbury 12 days ago and won very easily. It’s hard to tell how good that race was but he has gone up 11lb in the handicap as a result. Crucially though, he doesn’t carry all of that extra weight here and is therefore very well handicapped. He also has solid form at the festival and I can’t let him go unbacked.

I had my eye on Tango De Juilley who goes well fresh and hasn’t run since he was second in this last year. His jockey Charlie Deutsch seems to have been around for ages but remarkably still has a 3lb weight allowance so that is also very helpful given that he is a very capable young jockey. I will stop short of tipping three horses in the race to avoid ridicule from the betting purists but if you’re not averse to having another punt in the race then this would be my other each way play.

Recommendation

  • 2 pt e/w – Thomas Crapper – 9/1 with 10Bet
  • Already advised: 1 pt e/w – Baron Alco – 12/1

Trull House Stud Mares Novice Hurdle

  • 4.50pm
  • Distance just over 2 miles
  • Only novices can enter
  • Exclusively for mares
  • Limini won the first ever running last year

Willie Mullins is having an absolute stinker so far this week and he saddles the top two in the market here. Normally so reliable with his mares, neither Limini nor Vroum Vroum could get past Apple’s Jade on Tuesday and until I see evidence to suggest that there isn’t a widespread issue with the Mullins yard I can’t get too excited about the chances of these two here.

The one I like at a double figure price is FORGE MEADOW for Jessica Harrington who had a lovely winner with Supasundae on Wednesday. Forge Meadow was a good performer in bumpers and after a poor performance at Fairyhouse in December (she may have had excuses to be fair) she has bounced back with two good runs in February. The price looks a little too big to me. I also wouldn’t put anyone off backing the Warren Greatrex horse La Bag Au Roi who has rock solid form in the UK.

I tipped COILLTE LASS last week and she is still available at a big price (now as big as 25/1 with 10Bet) although I am less confident now following the poor performance of Lifeboat Mona on Tuesday. Paul Nicholls had been confident about both Mona and Coillte Lass so I am now thinking that his confidence might have been misplaced. We’ll see.

Recommendation

  • 1 pt e/w – FORGE MEADOW – 10/1 with 10Bet
  • Already advised: 1 pt e/w – Coillte Lass – 14/1

Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase

  • Amateur riders only
  • 3 miles 2 furlongs
  • Run over fences
  • Won last year by Cause of Causes

I had a nice winner in this last year in the shape of Cause of Causes who of course popped up to win the Cross Country on Wednesday. That was an incredible training and riding performance given that the horse never looked suited to the Cross Country stuff at all. Gordon Elliott and Jamie Codd head the market again here with Squouateur who has been absolutely smashed in the betting in the last few hours. The same thing happened before the Martin Pipe last year when he ended up going off at 9/4, which is ridiculously low in a Cheltenham handicap. Needless to say he was hardly sighted and finished 7th.

Will the same thing happen again this year? Or will the incredible form of Elliott (and Codd) continue? His handicap mark is fair compared to his hurdles form but it is also important to note that Squouateur has never won a chase. The fact that I still have no idea how to pronounce his name is perhaps the deciding factor – I’ll pass him by and look for some value elsewhere.

Followers of the Voice of Value (all three of you) will note that I tipped MALL DINI for the Ultima on day 1 and we got our money back because he runs here. Katie Walsh is an eye-catching booking and although he is a good deal shorter in the betting than he was for the Ultima I am tempted. Last year’s form was excellent and although he hasn’t performed particularly well in his chase runs in Ireland this year there is no doubt he was being aimed at the festival and he comes here with a fair handicap mark. Crucially, the better ground was one of the reasons that he performed so well last year at the festival and he hasn’t had good ground since then.

Further down the betting we have a very interesting contender. My old pal ALVARADO, who has had some great performances at Aintree in the Grand National, finishing placed two years in succession, has sneaked in here at the bottom of the weights. He is unlikely to get in at Aintree this year and this could well be his target this season. He does tend to sit out the back and arrive late and he would benefit if they had to go round for an extra circuit of the course but he looks well handicapped and if he doesn’t get detatched early on he will be staying on up the hill when others have run their race.

Another notable one is Venetiin De Mai at a monster price. He has the useful Patrick Mullins on board but the horse is generally better on soft or heavy ground so I am passing him by unless there is a downpour.

Recommendations

  • 2 pt e/w – MALL DINI – 7/1 with 10Bet
  • 0.5 pt e/w – ALVARADO – 25/1 with 10Bet

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