John Doyle talks through his top tips for the first two days of the festival, where all races are run on the old course
The opening race of the Festival is always eagerly anticipated as the famous Cheltenham roar goes up at the start of the Supreme. The 2016 renewal sees anothershort priced wonder horse for this race. Willie Mullins is looking for his 4th straight win in the Supreme in the Ricci colours with Min. Min has been impressive in both starts and although the form leaves plenty of room for improvement, the horses from behind Min have continually enhanced his form, making him a strong favourite. Nicky Henderson provides Altior and his profile and form is very strong.
He has continued to impress with how he finishes his races but the problem on the old course at Cheltenham, it tends to favour speed types, so it is easy to see Altior losing his place as the pace quickens leaving Min a strong selection to get the Mullins team off to a flying start. The Mullins second string of Yorkhill has really strong form too and could be prominent too.
The Banker of the meeting runs in this year’s Arkle, Douvan. He has been super impressive, his jumping being of a very high quality with only the odd small blemish. His Timeform rating of 168p is already up there with the best winners of the Arkle recently. The competition for Douvan looks thin on the ground as plenty of the contenders you would normally expect in the Arkle are taking up other options. Vaniteux from the Nicky Henderson stable looks to offer the strongest opposition but really it should be a case of Douvan against the jumping test.
Ultimo Business Solutions Festival Handicap Chase
The Handicaps at the Festival are increasingly difficult to win and the trend is now appearing that these races are won by well handicapped younger, less experienced horses. For this race, the most obvious progressive Novice entered is the Warren Greatrex trained, Out Sam. Out Sam has won two of his four starts this season and turns up here from a rating of 139, looking very progressive. His win at Newbury was very impressive and he beat higher rated horses. The doubt would be his ability to handle the bigger field. The other Novice catching the eye is Doctor Harper for the David Pipe team. Doctor Harper has been campaigned like a plot horse and he will be suited to the big field and the step up in distance. It seems significant too that the Pipe team has come into good form just at the right time for the Festival.
Selection: Doctor Harper
This year’s race was looking boring up to the unfortunate news on an injury for Faugheen. Now the race has opened up to be the most interesting heat at Cheltenham this year. The Mullins team still looks to hold a strong hand with Annie Power (top) and Nichols Canyon also representing the stable. Annie Power looks to break her Festival duck following last year’s fall in the Mares Hurdle and her 2nd in the previous season’s World hurdle. She is likely to wear a hood again and with the mares allowance will have a strong chance. Nichols Canyon will be strong too if recovering from a few hard races. It is easy to see him going off in front and setting a real test for the others. The home team led by The New One and My Tent or Yours will need to show that they are back to a high level to be competitive.
Selection: Annie Power
With Annie Power now likely to run in the Champion Hurdle, the Mullins team is still likely to have the favourite for this race with Vroum Vroum Mag, a Mare unbeaten in 8 runs for the stable since arriving from France. After starting in Mares Novice Chases, Vroum Vroum Mag (left) has switched to Hurdling this season and continues to progress with real panache. She won easily at Ascot on her latest start, beating many of the opposition she will meet here. Polly Peachum was only just beaten in this last season and will need a big effort to get past Vroum Vroum mag, who rates one of the bankers of the week.
Selection: Vroum Vroum Mag
National Hunt Chase
The National Hunt Chase is attracting better quality runners each year and 2016 is no exception. Roi Des Frances has looked a strong stayer over fences this season and looks the strongest Gigginstown candidate for this race. Ruler of the World is another stamina laden individual Gigginstown has for the race too and will be well primed by Mouse Morris. Before AP McCoy retired, he indicated that there was one exciting horse he would be sorry to miss out riding, the Jonjo O’Neill trained Minella Rocco, who McCoy partnered to a couple of Novice Hurdle wins last season. Following a poor start to his Chasing career, Minella Rocco ran a super race in the Reynoldstown at Ascot and just afterwards, O’Neill indicated his only entry for Cheltenham would be this race. Likely to be ridden by Derek O’Connor, he will have top assistance and with his stable now in much better form, looks a likely gamble for the meeting. Noble Endeavour for the Gordon Elliott team and Native River for the Colin Tizzard team are other likely types to be considered.
Selection: Minella Rocco
Festival Novices Handicap Chase
This race for Novice Chasers is ultracompetitive. The Mullins team have entered McKinley and this is a horse you feel hasn’t yet shown us his true potential but he gets a regular mention from his trainer as one to look out for. The Warren Greatrex team has targeted Aloomomo at this event. Returning from a summer break, he rattled off three wins in Handicap chases before being put away for this target. To protect his mark, he had a run in a Novice Hurdle at Ascot, running really well against higher rated rivals while clearly in need of the run. He should now be spot on for this test. Thomas Crapper, Killer Crow and Willow’s Saviour are other interesting contenders you could make a case for.
Neptune Investment Novice Hurdle
This year’s renewal has the big home Banker Yanworth as very short priced favourite. Fourth in the Champion Bumper last season, Yanworth has progressed in his four unbeaten runs over Hurdles this season, winning impressively each time. On his last run over the course in January, his performance was electric and he is rated very highly. The only slight concern would be that the performance happened on very Heavy going. In all likelihood, the Willie Mullins team will be mob handed in this event and they will surely provide the main danger. Long Dog is unbeaten and continues to impress with his attitude while Bellshill looked a good type for this race before disappointing last time, when his stable companion Bleu ET Rouge, ran out an impressive winner. It looks like it will be the Mullins team ganging up on Yanworth but he looks good enough to cope.
The RSA Chase is building up to be one of the races of the meeting again this year. More of That is the prime home runner and has impressed with his jumping over the course in his two Novice Chase runs this winter, form that can marked up as his stable was out of form at the time. His win in the 2014 World Hurdle confirms his stamina is abundant, making him a strong selection for the race. No More Heroes is a big Irish hope for this race and he has been ultraimpressive in his Novice Chase runs this season. He jumps really well but the nagging doubt with him is his lack of tactical speed when the pace really quickens only became evident last year when he ran at Cheltenham last season. The Mullins team look to be considering running Black Hercules here too, so that will only add to the quality of the race.
Selection: More of That
Another super competitive Handicap, which has been won in the last couple of years by well handicapped Novices form the bigger stables. Kilcrea Vale is a lightly raced sort for the Nicky Henderson team who looks an ideal type. Following a fall at Ascot in a Conditions Hurdle, he returned to Ascot for a competitive Handicap and was noted staying on eye catchingly to finish 6th. Sure to be suited by the strong pace, he looks a contender. The Paul Nicholls team trained last year’s winner and has a similar progressive novice this season, Politologue. After an unfortunate unseat on stable debut, he has travelled well in both races to date and looks to have a strong chance. The Mullins team has a couple of options here with Blazer and Great Field, again relatively young horses with much potential.
Selection: Kilcrea Vale
The Champion Chase has very strong favourite in Un De Sceaux, the impressive winner of the Arkle at the 2015 Festival. This season, Un De Sceaux had a fall on seasonal debut at Leopardstown before being an impressive winner from Sire De Grugy at Ascot. Sire De Grugy ties the form together well as he was just touched off narrowly by Sprinter Sacre at Kempton over Christmas and beat Special Tiara in the Tingle Creek. Last year’s winner, Dodging Bullets, has been off the course with injury problems and was not impressive at Newbury on his seasonal debut. The tactics of this race will be fascinating as Ruby Walsh will not want to get into to a duel upfront or he could be vulnerable on run for home. With a blemish free round, Un De Sceaux looks a banker on all known form this season.
Selection: Un De Sceaux
Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase
The Cross Country Chase has the usual array of suspects this year but it is the Enda Bolger team who hold the ace hand. Josies Orders has really taken to the discipline with a couple of impressive wins over the course this season. He looksa really progressive type and has the edge as a young horse, so improvement can be expected. The Bolger team also field Quantitativeeasing who was unluckily taken out through the rail towards the end of last year’s race. He has his chance too but you would expect Nina Carberry to ride Josies Orders, making him a strong selection. Balthazar King has a tremendous record at the course but he is a 12 year old now and he is returning from his horrific injuries in last year’s Grand National. The one left field contender is Foxrock for the Ted Walsh team. This is a decent class Chaser who would be very competitive if taking to the uniqueness of the discipline.
Selection: Josies Orders
Fred Winter Handicap hurdle
This race is a handicap for 4 year olds and is tough to figure out with these horses open to any amount of improvement. Gordon Elliott looks to have been targeting this race since it began. His runner, Campeador looks to have similar profile to his previous winner of the race. He was well supported for his stable debut in a Grade 2 at Leopardstown over Christmas but never really got into the race. There has been sustained support for him in the buildup, suggesting he is well handicapped. The Paul Nicholls team has an unraced entry attracting support, Diego Du Charmil. This may be significant as the Nicholls 4 year olds look to be coming to hand.
The Champion Bumper is another lottery this year,making it a very hard race to decipher. The Willie Mullins team does not look as strong as usual. But if they send the Mare, Augusta Kate, they will have one of the favourites as she has impressed on both starts. Aspen Colorado has won nicely twice for Aidan O’Brien’s team and with stronger handling, could be a contender. From the home team, Ballyandy has the best Bumper form. But, again, it is hard to be convinced by him. A complete outsider sluicing up is not hard to foresee.
Selection: Augusta Kate