Day 2 of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival is packed with great races and visitors to the Gloucestershire racecourse will be having a whale of a time, on Wednesday! Here are previews of Wednesday’s races. RaceBets now offers ‘Non Runner No Bet’, on all 28 Cheltenham races. If your horse doesn’t start then your stake will be returned!
Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle Race
Willoughby Court won last year’s renewal, under a fine ride from David Bass. On The Blind Side looks very-likely to start and Nicky Henderson’s talented 6-year-old made it 3 from 3, with a comfortable win in Grade 2 company at Sandown in December. Both White Moon and Red River were made to look very ordinary in that contest and his trainer clearly likes what he has seen, so far.
“He has got a great temperament for it and a lovely attitude. I would say the Ballymore will be his race at the Festival at the moment.”
Next Destination and Getabird could both line-up for Willie Mullins and the latter of that pair is now unbeaten in a quartet of appearances, following a decisive victory over Mengli Khan in the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown last Saturday. Gordon Elliott’s horse was already beaten when he made a mistake at the last and Getabird travelled very-well throughout. However, we don’t know yet whether Mullins will aim the horse at this race, or the more-prestigious Supreme Novices’ Hurdle which takes place on Day 1.
Santini, another Henderson horse, will have put ante-post punters on alert after his eye-catching victory at Ascot. It followed a win in his sole point-to-point outing and Ascot may be the stepping-stone to this year’s Festival.
Others of interest include Duc Des Genievres, Samcro, Western Ryder and Colin Tizzard’s Slate House.
Top Pick: On The Blind Side – 5/1 Non-Runner No Bet!
The Coral Cup Hurdle
William Henry made life a beach for connections, last Saturday, by winning the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton. He will be punished 6lb by the handicapper, but the win puts the Nicky Henderson-trained 8-year-old right on track for the 2018 Coral Cup. Owner, Dai Walters, won the race with Whisper in 2014 had a quiet word in the ear of reporters following the Lanzarote victory.
“We’ll probably keep him hurdling this season and go back chasing next year. I’ve not really had chance to speak to Nicky, but he will most probably go down the same road as Whisper at Cheltenham.”
Olly Murphy has decided to send Hunters Call directly to Cheltenham, after watching him win the valuable Racing Welfare Handicap Hurdle at Ascot. The trainer will be assessing his options, as both the County Hurdle and the Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle look equally realistic targets but if you think this race is the more likely destination then now is the time to get your money on at a big price.
Another available at tempting odds is Alan King’s Who Dares Wins. This remarkable all-rounder has been switching between flat and hurdle racing for over two years now and finished 3rd in last year’s Coral Cup, despite being sent-off at 33/1. 3rd place in his seasonal reappearance at Kempton looked about par given the opposition and this 6-year-old seems to take just about anything in his stride, so keep an eye on him.
Others in contention include Master Dancer. Old Guard, Ivanovich Gorbatov and Harry Fry’s Bags Groove.
Top Pick: Hunters Call – 14/1 Non-Runner No Bet!
The RSA Steeple Chase
The Henry de Bromhead-trained Monalee has thankfully emerged unscathed from what looked an appalling fall at Leopardstown, over the Christmas period.
He came to grief in the Neville Hotels Novice Chase and fellow competitors were happy to kick Monalee while he was down! While de Bromhead remains happy, a cautious approach to the next couple of months has been adopted.
“It was a horrific fall but he seems good again now. We’re taking things very slowly with him but he seems okay… I just want to make sure he’s right before deciding what to do.”
Both Fountains Windfall and Ms Parfois could represent Anthony Honeyball’s yard, although Ms Parfois does seem to need soft ground to do her best work and the National Hunt Chase may be a more-realistic target if conditions aren’t totally in her favour. Honeyball has made clear that this is his preferred race for Fountains Windfall.
“We want to make the most of his novice year. Hopefully we’ve got a Grade One horse and hopefully next November you’d be looking at races like the King George. It’s all talk at the moment, but we’ve got to make the most of his novice status. The RSA is plan A, to get him on the start line for that with a race like the Reynoldstown at Ascot, we’d love to run in that. If it turned up too soft there, we could end up back at Kempton in the Pendil, but that does get a bit tight for the RSA. We might have to think outside the box again and run outside of novice company in a graduation chase or something like that if we were looking for another run. It’s very exciting.”
Presenting Percy is finding plenty of friends in the market and was very impressive when beating Forever Gold by 11 lengths in the Porterstown Handicap Chase, at Punchestown in early December. Patrick Kelly’s charge landed the spoils in last year’s Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle and was too good for De Plotting Shed in a beginners chase at Galway in October.
However, this year’s RSA looks wide-open at the moments and solid cases can be made for the chances of Yanworth, Invitation Only, Willoughby Court, Sutton Place, Black Corton and others – should they start.
Top Pick: Fountains Windfall – 9/1 Non-Runner No Bet!
Queen Mother Champion Chase
This is obviously the feature contest of Day 2 and it was won by a 10-year old in both 2016 (Sprinter Sacre) and 2017 (Special Tiara).
That seems unlikely to happen in 2018, particularly if Nicky Henderson’s Altior has shaken-off the wind problem that has dogged the UK’s best 2-mile chaser in recent months. Henderson will hope to get him right in time for a prep race at Newbury, on February 10th (the Game Spirit Chase), but may not be granted his wish. You get the feeling that the trainer is prepared to move heaven and earth to get Altior to the Festival, in fighting form.
“Whatever happens, if he’s not quite ready for the Game Spirit I’d be asking Richard [Osgood, Newbury’s clerk of the course] if he could come and have a gallop. He’ll probably need two racecourse gallops and that would be the perfect timing for the first one.”
Any uncertainty can only give a boost to connections of Politologue, Paul Nicholls’ inmate. Following victory in the Tingle Creek, he was an easy winner of the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton in December. Special Tiara was a faller in that race, but Nicholls is in no mood to test him a great deal further before Politilogue faces his date with destiny.
“That was job done for us, really, as it means I can give him a little holiday now. I’ve been a bit hard on him and peaked him for the Tingle Creek and I’ve ticked him over for this. He will have a break and we will use the Game Spirit a bit like the Haldon Gold Cup, then have him at his very best for Cheltenham as that was always the plan. He is progressive and I can’t wait for the spring with him.”
Willie Mullins has plenty of options, including Yorkhill, Min, Un De Sceaux and of course Douvan but the trainer has never won this race and it’s tempting to conclude that other Cheltenham encounters are simply more appealing to him. Others that could feature include Waiting Patiently, Fox Norton and Kim Bailey’s Charbel.
Top Pick: Special Tiara – 16/1 Non-Runner No Bet!
The Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase
This unique encounter has become a Festival favourite and the colours of JP McManus tend to dominate what is a real helter-skelter of a race. Cause Of Causes won for him last year under Jamie Codd. The 10-year-old is trained by Gordon Elliott and while he has only raced once since then (finishing runner-up in the Grand National), Cause Of Causes is likely to be backed heavily should he take part.
Cantlow went-off as the 9/4 favourite in the 2017 renewal, but was always up against it after hitting the 10th fence hard (the horse rallied and showed guts to finish 3rd). He’s been a lot busier than Cause Of Causes, since then, but victories have been elusive. Treo Eile beat him by just a head in the Punchestown Cross Country Chase (April) and he never looked like getting past Bless The Wings, in the Cross Country Handicap Chase (Cheltenham, December). Gilgamboa, Josies Orders and Auvergnat are others capable of carrying the green and yellow silks to the winners enclosure.
It’s certainly not easy to look far beyond the horses trained by Gordon Elliott and Enda Bolger, but Michael Scudamore’s Kingswell Theatre could tempt those looking to oppose their charges. He won November’s Cross Country Handicap Chase here and while the fall of Auvergnat certainly made the job easier, it was impressive to watch the 9-year-old make all and stay on so strongly.
Urgent De Gregaine, Southfield Vic and Vicomte Du Seuil are others of interest.
Top Pick: Bless The Wings – 9/1 Non-Runner No Bet!
The Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle Race
Despite being burdened with a penalty, Mitchouka proved to good for stablemate Veneer Of Charm at Fairyhouse this week and Gordon Elliott feels that this is 2-mile encounter is the race for him.
“He’s a grand, honest horse and hasn’t done anything wrong all year. He’s probably a horse more for the Fred Winter but as long as he keeps picking up prize-money we’re happy. The Fred Winter is only about half a stone between top and bottom now, and you can’t be clever in handicaps there anymore because you won’t get in if you are. He’ll be entered in Leopardstown (Grade One Spring Juvenile Hurdle) and we’ll see where we go.”
Elliott won this race with Flaxen Flare, back in 2013 and also has Farclas as a potential runner.
Paul Nicholls is the leading trainer, with 3 wins under his belt. Act Of Valour looks his best hope for 2018, as things stand. He disappointed in Grade 2 company, at Doncaster, but that may just have been a bad day at the office as he looked a useful sort when defeating Look My Way at Newcastle prior to that poor display.
Plenty of others can be considered and they include Famous Milly, Nube Negra, Gumball, The Statesman and Solo Saxophone.
Top Pick: Act Of Valour – 20/1 Non-Runner No Bet!
The Champion Bumper
This is a flat race, run under National Hunt rules, for young horses not yet deemed quite ready to compete over hurdles. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is something of a novelty though, as this is a Grade 1 contest that will feature the likely stars of the next few seasons.
Nick Gifford’s Didtheyleaveuoutto, an impressive winner at Ascot last month, is among the favourites. With Barry Geraghty on-board, the Presenting-sired gelding showed a menacing turn of foot before being eased home, with Bullionaire comfortably held.
Rhinestone is another that has got tongues wagging. Owned by JP McManus and trained by Joseph O’Brien – a young man who is wasting no time in stepping out of his father’s shadow – he destroyed odds-on favourite, Sancta Simona, by 19 lengths at Thurles.
Willie Mullins has yet another smart-looking prospect, in the Flemensfirth-sired Colreevy. She’s only had a single outing, so far, but the fact that she began that 12-runner contest for 4-year-old fillies as the 4/11 favourite tells you that Mullins hasn’t managed to keep this one under his hat! She did swish her tail, 2 furlongs from home, but won comfortably enough.
Hollowgraphic is another young gun that Mullins has in his holster. Others being talked-up include Downtown Getaway, Stay Humble, Time To Move On, Invincible Cave and Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Good Boy Bobby.
Top Pick: Rhinestone – 12/1 Non-Runner No Bet!
The odds mentioned were correct at time of publishing on 19th January 12:59 pm and are non-binding and without guarantee.