Under starter’s orders: stage set for 2019 Cheltenham Festival
The 2019 Cheltenham Festival is upon us once again. Our racing expert John Doyle gives you the ones to watch out for on days one and two of the Festival.
Day One – Tuesday 12th March
Supreme Novices Hurdle 1:30pm
The start of the 2019 festival is a wide-open puzzle this year. Usually, one would expect a strong Irish favourite to be dominating the market, but that has not happened this year.
Al Dancer is a rapidly improving Novice who ran out an impressive winner of the Betfair Hurdle last time. Before that, he won easily at Cheltenham.
With Joseph O’Brien having a strong team of Juvenile Hurdlers, it looks like Fakir Doudairies will run here and will be a big danger with his 4-year-old allowance. However, he looks a horse who needs soft ground, so should be treated with caution.
At the beginning of the season Annamix was touted for this but has only posted one average run at Limerick, but could be an outsider to consider if turning up. Angel Breath and Elixir De Nutz complete the form horses.
Selection: Al Dancer
Arkle Trophy 2:10pm
The 2019 Arkle had been building up to be one of the races of the meeting, but over the last few weeks some of the major contenders have been withdrawn for one reason or another. Lalor is the current favourite for the race.
He made a super impressive debut at Cheltenham in November but hasn’t been seen since losing at Sandown in December. Expected to go well fresh, he could be the winner if repeating debut form.
Glen Forsa has emerged as a sound jumping novice over the season. He easily won a Novice Handicap Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, jumping brilliantly from the front.
That form has been enhanced with numerous winners. For his next start, he again jumped superbly from front to win Kingmaker at Sandown beating Kalashnikov easily.
Selection: Glen Forsa
Ultima Handicap Chase 2:50pm
The handicaps are so competitive at the Festival now that you need a young, progressive horse on your side.
With so many horses looking to run, it is hard for progressive Novices to get a run. Give Me A Copper fits this category as a lightly raced horse who returns from a period off well handicapped.
He ran a super race at Sandown and has been given plenty of time to recover. With the Nicholls stable in such good form, he will be hard to beat.
Minella Rocco for the Jonjo O’Neill team will also be a strong contender – a previous Festival winner who comes to form at this time of the year. Mall Dini is another to consider.
Selection: Give Me A Copper
Alternative: Minella Rocco
Champion Hurdle 3:30pm
This year’s race has potential to be the star race of the week. Buveur d’Air is going for a third win in the race to join the greats of Hurdling.
After his impressive win over Samcro in the Fighting Fifth, that looked to be a straightforward task but his loss in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton has created doubts.
Apples Jade has been super impressive all season and is not likely to head here, and will be a big player with the Mares allowance. Also heading here is Laurina, the unbeaten Mare for the Willie Mullins team.
While her form is not as strong as the others, everything about her screams superstar and with Mullins and Ruby Walsh eulogising about her at every opportunity, she could be the big danger to all. Sharjah continues to be underestimated and is an outsider to be considered.
Alternative: Buveur d’Air
David Nicholson Mares Hurdle 4:10pm
This year’s Mares Hurdle has a very weak look to it as the two top Mares, Apples Jade and Laurina, are being aimed at the Champion Hurdle. If either are rerouted here, they will be a strong favourite.
In the case they don’t run here, last year’s winner, Benie Des Dieux, will be a strong favourite as the opposition will be weak and the best of them will be her stablemates.
Willie Mullins is very good at preparing a horse without a run, so you can expect her to turn up ready to go. Stormy Ireland has a bit to find on ratings, but rates the danger.
Selection: Benie Des Dieux
Alternative: Stormy Ireland
Close Brothers Handicap Chase 4:50pm
This is an incredibly tight 0-145 handicap for novice chasers. Many of the runners are in the 137 – 145 range making the race almost level weights.
Clondaw Castle looks a progressive front runner who has jumped impressively from the front in his last couple of races, albeit in small field events.
He will need to cope with this much bigger field but his style of running and sound jumping gives him a great chance.
Riders on the Storm looks to be a well handicapped Irish runner here. He has shown himself to be a very good jumper of fences in top races before winning over too short a trip at Punchestown.
He will improve for the step up in trip, is owned by high profile connections and has all the hallmarks of a well-planned plot.
Selection: Riders on the Storm
Alternative: Clondaw Castle
National Hunt Chase 5:30pm
This is a 4-mile race for Novice chasers but in recent years, more and more good horses have taken part before going on to achieve much better things.
Significantly, this year the race is run in memory of JP McNamara, so it is inevitable that JP McManus will aim one of his better horses at this race.
The plot unfolded quite quickly at the start of the year when Nicky Henderson sent OK Corral to Plumpton for a Bonus series Novice chase, which he won to put him in line for £60k bonus to win any race at Cheltenham.
For his next race at Warwick, Derek O’Connor came over from Ireland to take the ride and immediately afterwards, this race was confirmed as the plan.
He is high class and will be tough to beat. Ballyward for the Willie Mullins team looks a strong stayer too and interestingly is the only horse the stable entered for the race.
Gordon Elliott looks to have a contender too with Champagne Classic, who looks like he will improve for the step up in trip.
Selection: Ok Corral
Day Two – Wednesday 13th March
Ballymore Novices Hurdle 1:30pm
The JP McManus team held onto the name Champ for a long time, so this horse has to be held in high regard to get this name.
This horse has shown incredible promise despite still being a work in progress. He pulls hard in his races but still finishes them off, indicating serious ability.
With the likely strong pace here, he should settle better and may be even more of a threat to all. Battleoverdoyen has won his races well in Ireland but also looks a work in progress and does look to possess the star quality of others.
City Island, for the race sponsor, has looked progressive and could well be involved.
Alternative: City Island
RSA Chase 2:10pm
This Championship race for the staying Novice chasers is usually a tough test. This year, it looks one of the races of the Festival with a string of strong contenders. Santini has been favourite for this race since the start of the season.
He made an impressive debut at Newbury in November before being placed over too sharp a track at Kempton.
However, caught up in the Equine Flu restrictions, he goes here with little experience. Delta Work won the Pertemps at last year’s Festival and has looked super over fences this season. He is very accurate and doesn’t over exert himself.
Topofthegame is a typical Paul Nicholls horse who has improved with time. He is a great big specimen who jumps well. The only concern is his tendency to be slow away. Not a great trait.
Selection: Delta Work
Coral Cup 2:50pm
Another super tough handicap to solve. The big stables will hold most of the fancied entries and have won the last few renewals. For the Willie Mullins team, Uradel looks a likely type for the same owners as last year’s winner.
He had good form on the flat and ran well over Hurdles at the Leopardstown Festival, which should put him spot on. Gordon Elliott has Cracking Smart entered and this horse has been slowly coming to form.
His novice form is strong, and he could be well handicapped if now ready to strike.
Alternative: Cracking Smart
Queen Mother Champions Chase 3:30pm
Altior is the standout performer in this division and has taken all before him this season, running out an impressive winner each time.
He will be tough to beat, barring accidents. Willie Mullins has the likely main danger with either Footpad or Min likely to be the toughest opponent.
Cross Country Chase 4:10pm
Last year’s winner, Tiger Roll, is back again as a strong favourite, well clear on ratings, and will be going for his fourth win at the Cheltenham Festival.
Tiger Roll continues to amaze with his performances, last time winning the Boyne Hurdle at Navan impressively. He will be hard to beat again.
Enda Bolger has Auvergnat and Josie Orders running for the stable and these are the likely dangers as they both have strong course form.
Selection: Tiger Roll
Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle 4:50pm
This has been a super competitive race since being introduced at the Festival. The big stables have run plenty of their lesser lights and this year, Joseph O’Brien has a strong team of Juveniles and will likely have fancied runners.
Band of Outlaws looks the strongest of his team and wouldn’t be out of place in the Triumph. Lurking down the weights for Paul Nicholls is Friend or Foe and this one could be well handicapped too.
Selection: Band of Outlaws
Alternative: Friend or Foe
Champion Bumper 5:30pm
The Bumper this year has a very open look to it. The only bumper horse to catch the imagination, Malone Road, is out injured.
Willie Mullins has only entered two this year and it is easy to pick holes in all the fancied runners. Blue Sari looked impressive at Gowran but is younger than your typical winner.
Envoi Allen is a giant horse who may not be suited by the course.
Get in the Queue surprised connections at Exeter, so this all points to looking for an outside. Mt Leinster was well touted earlier in the season so should be considered while the David Pipe trained, Eden Du Houx, could be under estimated too.
Selection: Eden Du Houx
Alternative: Mt Leinster
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