Cheltenham Festival 2018 Preview (Full)
Well folks it’s that time of year again, that’s of course the phenomenal spectacle that is the Cheltenham Festival.
I honestly can’t believe how quick it’s come around again. It only feels like last week that me and my mates were trying to fit all seven of us in a normal taxi in a last ditch attempt to get the last train home on the Friday evening of Gold Cup Day. Yet here we are just two weeks away from it again.
My full Cheltenham Festival Preview is here including all of the handicap races, updated fields and prices.
So, sit back, relax, and I hope you enjoy.
DAY 1 (Tuesday 13th March 2018)
1.30 SKY BET SUPREME NOVICES HURDLE – (Class 1) (Grade 1) (2m)
The opening contest of the week is of course the Supreme Novices Hurdle. A Grade 1 contest over two miles which is a race which often see’s future stars emerge. It was won last year by Labaik for Gordon Elliott, a shock result at 25/1. He beat Melon of Willie Mullins into second and River Wylde of Nicky Henderson back in third.
There’s a lot of these that you could make a case for and some horses have started to emerge in the betting on the back of the current change in the going to Soft, Heavy In Places.
None more so than than First Flow for Kim Bailey, the soft surface will likely play hugely into his hands. I think Summerville Boy should be a lot closer to Kalashnikov in the betting too on the basis of their run in the Tolworth of which Summerville Boy came out on top.
I’m actually siding with the market leader though here in GETABIRD for Willie Mullins and the Ricci’s. He was very impressive the last day when powering away from Mengli Khan to win the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer. I think there’s still a bit to come from him and he’s got what it takes to win this.
The other one i’ve sided with here is the other Mullins/Ricci horse in SHARJAH. Now connections believe that the ground is a big concern for him now it’s turned on the soft side but he’s got two wins to his name in testing conditions and I’m still of the belief he can run a decent race at a big price.
GETABIRD – 13/8 –
SHARJAH – 20/1 EW –
2.10 RACING POST ARKLE – (Class 1) (Grade 1) (1m 7f)
The second race to take place on Day 1 of The Festival is none other than the Arkle. A Novice Chase that is contested over a mile and seven furlongs. Won last year by the mighty Altior for Nicky Henderson.
There’s another potential chasing star heading affairs here and it’s another hot favourite for Willie Mullins in Footpad. He comes here off the back off a tremendous first season chasing where he’s looked pretty faultless so far.
Footpad was last seen when beating current second favourite Petit Mouchoir in the Irish Arkle at the Dublin Racing Festival. Petit Mouchoir was returning from a lay off and will more than likely improve massively from that run.
Brain Power for Nicky Henderson unseated that day at Sandown as well as falling the last day at Ascot. Before that he was a wide margin winner on chasing debut and could be an interesting entry here.
Obviously Footpad is a very warm order on the back of his performances this year and it goes without saying he is the one to beat and the most likely winner. However I think this is really hot renewal of the Arkle a real brilliant race.
If you don’t want to take the short odds of Footpad I think SAINT CALVADOS for Harry Whittingham is a very solid contender. The conditions for him won’t be an issue at all and he’s likely to make this a real test from the front.
SAINT CALVADOS – 7/2-
2.50 ULTIMA HANDICAP CHASE (Class 1) (Grade 3) (3m 1f)
The Ultima is one of the many very tough Handicap puzzles to get your head around of the week, it’s a Handicap Chase ridden over three miles and a furlong and can be as many as these handicaps are a cruel mistress for punters.
The one I like here though is COO STAR SIVOLA for Nick Williams and Lizzy Kelly. He’ll relish the conditions here as his best form comes on soft surfaces. He’s also carrying a lot less than some of the other market principles and with the talent Lizzy Kelly taking off a further three pounds it’s likely to play a big part in what could be testing conditions.
COO STAR SIVOLA – 11/2 (E/W)
3.30 UNIBET CHAMPION HURDLE – (Grade 1) (2m)
The feature race of Day One and it’s none other than the Champion Hurdle a Grade 1 contests over two miles which has seen some legendary stars go toe to toe in the past.
This year’s renewal is somewhat a below par one on previous contests but we still see a clash of two hurdling giants in last year’s winner Buveur D’air for Nicky Henderson and 2015 winner Faugheen for Willie Mullins. Nicky Henderson’s charge comes here the red hot favourite having comfortably won all of his outings this term.
Now obviously, it goes without saying that Buveur D’air will probably win this as he’s the solid selection whereas the rest have a lot of question marks over them. However he is 1/2 and that’s no kind of price.
I’d love it if Faugheen was to come back to his old self and win this, i’d honestly be at Sprinter Sacre level of emotional if he did. I love Faugheen, it was great to see him return in the way he did in the Morgiana but he hasn’t quite been right since.
Therefore my selection here is MELON for Willie Mullins. He produced what was arguably his best run here when third in The International behind The New One and My Tent Or Yours in December. A lot of people will be thinking I should be collected by the men in the white jackets for putting this one up for the Champion Hurdle but hear me out. He clearly wasn’t on a going day the last day in the Irish Champion Hurdle and still finished 5th. He’s a lot younger than some of these and still has progressing to do. And he’s a best priced 20/1 shot. You could probably get decent odds in ‘Without The Favourite’ market.
MELON – 20/1 (E/W) –
4.10 – OLBG MARES HURDLE – (Class 1) (Grade 1) (2m 4f)
The Mares Hurdle saw a fascinating contest take place last year with Apple’s Jade toughing it out to fight off the Ricci/Mullins battalions of Limini and Vroum Vroum Mag to claim victory for Gigginstown and Gordon Elliott.
Willie sends Benie Des Dieux here this time around who’s also owned by the Ricci’s. She’s a talented sort that connections think very highly of. She’s however been campaigned over fences this season but does have form back in France over hurdles.
I find it very hard to oppose APPLE’S JADE here if truth be told. I think La Bague Au Roi and Jer’s Girl maybe the each way alternatives but I think this AJ is one of, if not the banker of the festival.
APPLE’S JADE – 4/6 –
4.50 – NATIONAL HUNT CHALLENGE CUP (Class 1) (Grade 2) (3m 7f)
The National Hunt Challenge is up next on the Tuesday often known by many as the ‘four miler’. It’s a race that’s a real endurance test and will be possibly be even more of one if the going is on the heavy side.
The one i’m siding with here is RATHVINDEN for Willie Mullins. I think you can excuse his last couple of runs as he’s generally a consistent performer. He was also second to Faugheen here in the then named Neptune in 2014. He’s a general 7/1 shot and I think he has a very decent chance to get involved.
RATHVINDEN – 7/1 (E/W)
5.30 – CLOSE BROTHERS NOVICES HANDICAP CHASE (Class 1) (Listed) (2m 4f)
It’s yet another Handicap that ends the card on the first day of the Cheltenham Fesitval and that’s in the form of the Close Brothers Novice Chase ridden over two miles and four furlongs.
I’ve been torn between two here and the first of these is ANY SECOND NOW for Ted Walsh. He comes here with really impressive form to his name when contesting hot races this season. He’s likely to give a very bold showing here and can be found trading at a general 7/1.
The other one I like is DE PLOTTING SHED for Gordon Elliott. He comes here looking very well in at the weights and despite the ground potentially being a concern he looks a live player at 13/2.
ANY SECOND NOW – 7/1 (E/W)
DE PLOTTING SHED – 13/2 (E/W)
DAY 1 NAP & NB:
NAP: Apples Jade – Mares 4.10 (4/6)
NB: Getabird – Supreme 1.30 (13/8)
DAY 2 (Wednesday 14th March 2018)
1.30 BALLYMORE NOVICES HURDLE – (Class 1) (Grade 1) (2m 5f)
The Ballymore is where we start for Day Two of the meeting and it’s headed by a horse that is seen by many as the potential next superstar an that’s of course Samcro for Gordon Elliott and Gigginstown.
Willie Mullins has also stated that Next Destination is set to go here. He’s also won all of his starts this season and has looked impressive in doing so.
I don’t think this will be massively straight forward but I do think SAMCRO will win this and enhance his reputation some more. He was mightily impressive the last day in the Deloitte and if he turns up in that kind of form as he’s done all season he’s going to be hard to peg back.
If you don’t want to take the short odds of Samcro I think the each way alternative is BLACK OP for Tom George. He was unlucky here the last day and I think he’s got a bit more to give and could well get into the frame here.
SAMCRO – 4/6 –
BLACK OP – 9/1 (E/W)
2.10 RSA CHASE – (Class 1) (Grade 1) (3m)
One of the most competitive contests of the week comes in the form of the RSA Chase. A Grade 1 contest ridden over three miles and it’s headed by last year’s Pertemps winner Presenting Percy for Gordon Elliott. He comes the here in great form and has come on leaps and bounds this season.
One of the biggest stories this jumps season has been that of the partnership created between Black Corton and Byrony Frost. It’s quite phenomenal how much this horse has improved from seemingly a summer horse to being a general 10/1 shot with a fairly decent chance in this.
As much as Presenting Percy has been hyped up for this and to his credit has done well this season my focus here is on MONALEE. I think he’s a very classy animal and can cement himself as a solid top end Grade 1 performer and take this.
MONALEE – 4/1 –
2.50 – CORAL CUP (Class 1) (Grade 3) (2m 4f)
The Coral Cup is up next which is a Grade 3 handicap contest ridden over two miles and four furlongs. It’s another extremely competitive handicap contest at The Festival and is very hard to get your head around.
The one i’ve narrowed it too here is LE BREUIL for Ben Pauling. He was last seen when giving a load of weight away to the eventual winner in desperate conditions at Aintree yet still running well. I was there that day and I certainly think there’s more to come from this one, connections think very highly of him. Max Dynamite is an obvious danger if turning up here off a handy mark back over hurdles.
LE BREUIL – 14/1 (E/W)
3.30 QUEEN MOTHER CHAMPION CHASE – (Class 1) (Grade 1) (2m)
One of the feature races of the meeting is none other than the Queen Mother Champion Chase and it’s headed by another horse who’s seen as banker material by many and that’s of course Altior for Nicky Henderson. He made his long awaited return at Newbury when defeating Politologue who is also said to go here in comfortable style.
The powerhouse duo of Min and Douvan for the Ricci’s and Willie Mullins are next up in the betting but both come here in very different situations. Min comes here off the back of a fantastic display when destroying a talented field the last day at the Dublin Racing Festival whereas we haven’t seen Douvan since he was soundly beaten in this contest last year.
Obviously Altior is the most likely winner here as the betting suggests in his price of 4/6 however i’m going to try and take him on and i’m going to do that with MIN. He was very impressive the last day and made up for his run when getting disqualified, a time when Willie’s horses just weren’t firing. I think there’s a lot more to come from this one and I certainly think he’ll give this Nicky Henderson monster at least something to think about.
MIN – 7/2 –
4.10 GLENFARCLAS CROSS COUNTRY CHASE – (Class 2) (3m 6f)
I’ve been lucky enough to see a couple of the Cross Country events in the winter meetings at Cheltenham on the build up to this contest at The Festival and they really are some spectacle to watch especially if you make your way over to the middle of the track to watch from there.
This year’s renewal is headed by Cause of Causes for Gordon Elliott in attempt to retain his crown from last year’s race and win yet again at The Festival. He really does just love it around here and you can find him trading at a general 3/1.
Edna Bolger once again has a strong hand in this with Josies Orders, Auvergnat and Gilgamboa all said to represent him in this as things stand.
Auvergnat for me poses the biggest threat out of the Bolger runners in my opinion just ahead of Josies Orders. However I can’t see past the Elliott pair. I think Tiger Roll will run him very close but i’ll just side with CAUSE OF CAUSES. He isn’t getting any younger and this ground really won’t be too his liking but he loves it round here and i’m still of the belief that another bold showing is likely to be on the cards.
CAUSE OF CAUSES – 3/1 –
4.50 – BOODLES FRED WINTER JUVENILE HANDICAP HURDLE (Class 1) (Grade 3) (2m)
The Fred Winter is next on Day Two and it’s a Grade 3 handicap hurdle contest for juveniles that’s ridden over two miles.
It’s another fiercely competitive renewal of which a case could be made for a lot of the field but the one i’ve narrowed it down to is NUBE NEGRA for Dan Skelton. He was second behind Apple’s Shakira here back in December and followed that up with a comfortable victory at Doncaster the last day. That win also came on soft ground.
NUBE NEGRA – 8/1 (EW) –
5.30 – WETHERBYS CHAMPION BUMBPER (Class 1) (Grade 1) (2m)
The final contest of Day Two is none other than the Champion Bumper, a Grade 1 National Flat Race ridden over two miles.
There’s a lot of these of which you’ll see coming into the race on the back of a couple of victories however the one that takes my eye most is BLACKBOW for Willie Mullins. It’s a shame his stablemate Hollowgraphic doesn’t run however I think this one is more than capable to fill his boots. He’s been very impressive on his two starts for Willie and I think another bold showing is on the cards here. I think Rhinestone is his main danger.
BLACKBOW – 6/1 (E/W)
DAY 2 NAP @ NB:
NAP: Samcro – 1.30 Ballymore (4/6)
NB: Blackbow – 5.30 Bumper (6/1)
DAY 3 (Thursday 15th March 2018)
1.30 JLT Novices Chase – (Grade 1) (2m 4f)
Following the withdrawal of Al Boum Photo from this race i’m going to go out on a limb and put FINIAN’S OSCAR as my selection. He’s had a questionable campaign to say the least and needs to improve on his jumping however with Robbie Power back in the saddle he might just do that. He’s a general 7/1 shot.
The majority of the field are live dangers here the one i’d point out more than any is Terrefort as the one to beat.
FINIAN’S OSCAR – 7/1 (E/W) –
2.10 PERTEMPS NETWORK FINAL HANDICAP HURDLE – (Class 1) (Grade 3) (3m)
The Pertemps is the second race on Day Three of The Festival it’s a Grade 3 handicap contest that’s ridden over three miles.
The one I like here is SORT IT OUT for Edward Harty. He hasn’t won in a good while however he’s still lightly raced for a nine year old and has a lot of experience on running in testing conditions. He’s a general 12/1 shot.
SORT IT OUT – 12/1 (E/W)
2.50 RYANAIR CHASE – (Class 1) (Grade 1) (2m 5f)
The Ryanair is up next on Day Three of The Festival which is another Grade 1 contest that this time contested over two miles and five furlongs.
It see’s the almighty Un De Sceaux attempt to regain his crown in what was one of the best performances i’ve ever seen in last year’s renewal of this. He was up in distance that day and pulled Ruby Walsh to the front and subsequently dominated the race with some breathtaking jumping. He’s a general best priced 6/4 to repeat that performance again this time around.
I believe his main dangers come in the form of the old boy Cue Card and Gigginstown’s Balko Des Flos. They both come here off the back of impressive runs and both have the ability to serve it up to UDS.
I do think it will be another victory in this race and at Cheltenham for Willie Mullins and UN DE SCEAUX. The likely heavy conditions will be music to his ears and he’s going to make it hard to peg back when galloping on relentless through the mud.
UN DE SCEAUX – 6/4
3.30 SUN BETS STAYERS HURDLE – (Class 1) (Grade 1) (3m)
The Stayers Hurdle of 2018 has been somewhat of confusing puzzle all season as horses have been rerouted here left right and centre mainly from failed chasing campaigns. This year’s renewal see’s Irish Champion Hurdle winner Supersundae head affairs following his eye catching victory at the Dublin Racing Festival when lowering the colours of Faugheen.
The highly progressive Sam Spinner is up next in the market for Jedd O’Keeffe who has been mightily impressive so far this season.
We have the likes of Penhill and Bacardys as the likely challengers for Willie Mullins and Yanworth has been rerouted here following a chasing campaign throughout this season.
It’s one of the toughest races to call at The Festival in my opinion is the year’s Stayers Hurdle but i’m going to go with a tentative call here and side with YANWORTH. I honestly don’t know why this race wasn’t the plan from the start of the season following the win at Aintree when he was upped in trip. He’s obviously not the most trustworthy in the world but is a serious player on his day and I think he’ll go well here.
YANWORTH – 5/1 (E/W) –
4.10 BROWN ADVISORY & MERRIEBELLE STABLE PLAT HANDICAP CHASE (Class 1) (Grade 3) (2m 5f)
Moving onto the Brown Advisory which is another extremely competitive handicap, it’s a Grade 3 contest this time ridden over two miles and five furlongs.
I’ve got two selections for this if they turn up here and the first of these is MOVEWITHTHETIMES for Paul Nicholls. He hasn’t quite lived up to the heights of what was first expected of him this season but he has more than enough ability to go close in this. I was here when he ran Finian’s Oscar close earlier in the season and he should be competitive in this.
The other one I like PATRICK’S PARK for Willie Mullins. He won a very decent handicap the last day and isn’t on a too harsh mark here. He likes soft ground and has more than enough ability to go close again in this.
MOVEWITHTHETIMES – 10/1 (E/W)
PATRICK’S PARK – 10/1 (E/W)
4.50 TRULL HOUSE STUD MARES NOVICE HURDLE – (Class 1) (Grade 2) (2m 1f)
The Mares Novices Hurdle is where i’m going to take my attention next and this a Grade 2 contest over two miles and a furlong. Won last year by Let’s Dance for Willie Mullins it’s the Irish Champion Trainer who has the strong favourite this time around in Laurina.
Laurina was very impressive the last day when winning very comfortably and has looked very smart since joining the Mullins yard. Connections do think very highly of this one and this is backed up in the betting as she’s a best priced 6/5 shot.
Maria’s Benefit is up next in the betting who comes here on the back of five wins on the bounce for trainer Stuart Edmunds.
I think this contest can once again go to Willie Mullins with a win for LAURINA. Maria’s Benefit looks a live danger but I think there’s a lot more to come from this Irish raider and she’ll take the world of beating in this.
LAURINA – 10/11 –
5.30 – FULKE WALWYN KIM MUIR CHALLENGE CUP AMATEUR RIDERS HANDICAP CHASE (Class 2) (3m 2f)
The final race on Day Three of The Festival is the Kim Muir which is a handicap contest ridden over three miles and two furlongs and is a race for amateur riders.
The one I like here in this competitive affair is SQUOUATEUR for Gordon Elliott. He hasn’t won for a while however his last win did come on heavy going and isn’t too harshly treated here.
SQUOATEUR – 6/1 (E/W) –
DAY 3 NAP & NB:
NAP: Laurina – 4.50 Mares Novice (10/11)
NB: Yanworth – 3.30 Stayers (5/1)
DAY 4 (Friday 16th March 2018)
1.30 JCB TRIUMPH HURDLE – (Class 1) (Grade 1) (2m 1f)
As we approach the last day of The Festival the race that kicks off Gold Cup Day is of course the Triumph Hurdle a Grade 1 affair thats ridden over two miles and one furlong.
The race was won last year by Defi Du Seil for JP McManus and Phillip Hobbs and it’s another JP horse that heads affairs this time around in the form of Apples Shakira this time trained by Nicky Henderson. She’s looked very smart this season winning all of her starts for Nicky and comes here the 11/4 favourite.
Redicean is up next in the betting who’s also looked very smart so far for Alan King. I’ve become a real fan of this horse watching his performances as he seems to have a real engine on him.
Willie Mullins has a strong team of juvenile hurdlers this year and he’s a strong hand in this contest. The likes of Mr Adjudicator, Stormy Ireland and Saldier all look to be representing the Irish Champion Trainer.
This race looks to be a fascinating renewal and i’m going to side with APPLE’S SHAKIRA. She’s certainly not going to find this as easy as her previous contests this term and will need to step up to beat a whole host of smart rivals. But connections know how to win this and she’s certainly the one they all have to beat.
APPLE’S SHAKIRA – 11/4
2.10 RANDOX HEALTH COUNTY HURDLE (Class 1) (Grade 3) (2m 1f)
This is the first of several races on Friday of which my original selection has been rerouted elsewhere.
Therefore my selections in the County Hurdle now is MERIE DEVIE. She bounced back to form the last day in a Mares Listed Contest and was originally the choice of Ruby Walsh before he got injured. A bold showing may well be on the cards at a decent price.
MERIE DEVIE – (14/1) (E/W)
2.50 ALBERT BARTLETT NOVICES HURDLE – (Class 1) (Grade 1) (3m)
Onto the Albert Bartlett now and again my original selection is now a non runner therefore my selection here is now the Nicky Henderson trained SANTINI.
He won here on Trials Day when beating Black Op who subsequently went on to run a great race earlier on in the week in the Ballymore behind Samcro in second. Santini also won a point over three miles so the trip shouldn’t be an issue.
SANTINI – 4/1
3.30 TIMICO CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP CHASE – (Class 1) (Grade 1) (3m 2f)
We now the showcase event of the entire week and that’s of course the Gold Cup. Won by Sizing John last year for Jessica Harrington this year’s renewal looks as competitive as ever.
Might Bite heads affairs for Nicky Henderson on the back of his Boxing Day exploits in the King George and can be found currently trading at a general 3/1 chance.
Last year’s winner Sizing John is a bit futher down in the market at around the 8/1 mark, he didn’t give his true running the last day but was found to be ‘clinically abnormal’ after this race.
Other contenders see the likes of Native River for Colin Tizzard return for another shot at the race. as well as first attempts at the race for the likes of Road To Respect, Our Duke, Killultagh Vic and Total Recall.
I feel this is somewhat the hardest Gold Cup of a long time to call but i’ve got a couple of selections for it and i’ll start off with let’s say the most plausible one. That comes in the form of NATIVE RIVER for Colin Tizzard. He made his return at Newbury and looked impressive in an albeit weak race. I think if Richard Johnson rides him more aggressively here in a style that he loves riding in he could well be hard to peg back.
Now anyone that follows my work regularly will probably of guessed where this next selection is going. Queue the cyber bullying and calls of ‘get the men in white jackets on the blower’ but yes i’m going there again. Despite him being somewhat below par this season I still think that the two time John Durkan Memorial Chase hero DJAKADAM has an outside chance in this. A close up fourth in this last year, and previously second place in both 2016 and 2015. He’s a huge prize for a horse that carries a lot of experience.
NATIVE RIVER – 6/1 (E/W) –
DJAKADAM – 33/1 (E/W) –
4.10 – ST JAMES PALACE FOXHUNTERS CHASE (Class 2) (3m 2f)
The race that comes directly after the Gold Cup is of course none other than the Foxhunters Chase. Ridden over three miles and two furlongs it a race that saw On The Fringe become the king of these contests before having his colours lowered by Pacha Du Polder last year.
The one I like in this though this time around is BURNING AMBITION for Pierce Michael Power. A prolific winner in Points and relishes a testing surface. I think everything is set up for an almighty run from him.
BURNING AMBITION – 10/3 –
4.50 – MARTIN PIPE CONDITIONAL JOCKEYS HANDICAP HURDLE (Class 2) (2m 4f)
Another race, another non runner. My selection now in the Martin Pipe comes in the form of DEAL D’ESTRUVAL for Willie Mullins.
I actually put him up for the county at the beginning of the week but he now finds himself here and I still believe he’s got a great chance. He was second the last day in a big field handicap and won on heavy the time before that.
DEAL D’ESTRUVAL – 8/1 (E/W)
5.30 JOHNNY HENDERSON GRAND ANNUAL CHALLENGE CUP HANDICAP CHASE (Class 1) (Grade 3) (2m)
This is quite possible the most upsetting of all of my non runners. I was really fancying the chances of Dandridge in here in the Grand Annual but he’s not going to line up.
The one i’ll now be siding with is BOUVREUIL for Paul Nicholls. He is far from the most prolific but often runs well in hot handicaps at The Festival and might just relish the drop back to two miles.
BOUVREUIL – 14/1 (E/W)
DAY 4 NAP & NB:
NAP: Apple’s Shakira – 1.30 Triumph (11/4)
NB: Burning Ambitiion – 4.10 Foxhunters (10/3)