Cheltenham Festival Day 3 Race Previews & Tips (Thursday)

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Wednesday’s action at Cheltenham was overshadowed by Ruby Walsh picking up another serious injury and we wish him a speedy recovery. Here are previews and tips, for all 7 of Thursday’s races.

JLT Novices Chase – Grade 1

For 5 year olds and upwards

Distance: 2m4f

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This race was only introduced in 2011 and Willie Mullins has already won it on 4 occasions. Invitation Only is one of two that are expected to start for him (the other being the unfancied Kemboy). Invitation Only fell on his seasonal reappearance at Punchestown, but bounced back with a win at Navan over Any Second Now. He was sent back to Punchestown, in January, for a Grade 3 contest and was too good for stablemate Koshari. 3rd in the Grade 1 Flogas Novice Chase looked about par and he will probably go-off as the narrow favourite.

Finian’s Oscar won the Steel Plate And Sections Novices’ Chase here, in November, defeating Movewiththetimes despite blundering at the first fence. However, he couldn’t live with the pace in the Cleeve Hurdle and that raises questions about his ability to be a major factor in this encounter.

Gary Moore’s Benatar arrives in tremendous form, having won his last 3 races including most-recently the Grade 2 Noel Novices’ Chase at Ascot. All 3 wins were on ground that was good/soft or better, but he did secure a victory on soft ground at the beginning of last year – winning readily on debut at Fontwell.

Terrefort, Modus, Shattered Love and Snow Falcon are others that can get competitive if the race pans out well for them.

Tip: Invitation Only

Jonjo O'Neill

Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle

For 5 year olds and upwards

Distance: 3m

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Jonjo O’Neill won this race with Holywell in 2013 and Forza Milan represents one of his best hopes of a victory at this year’s Festival. He finished runner-up in the Aintree qualifier (November) and was also 2nd in a valuable Newbury handicap that was won by The Organist.

Who Dares Wins won the Cesarewitch Trial Handicap, although he could only secure a 10th place finish in the big race 3 weeks later. Alan King’s horse qualified at Kempton, in November, finishing 3rd in a contest that worked out well for the horses that were carrying plenty of weight.

This will be an important race for Philip Hobbs, as both Wait For Me and Louis’ Vac Pouch both have a decent chance of winning. Glenloe, Sort It Out, A Great View and Protek Des Flos all carry jockeys wearing the famous JP McManus silks and any one of them could go close in this wide-open race.

Tip: Forza Milan

un de sceaux clarence house

Ryanair Chase – Grade 1

For 5 year olds and upwards

Distance: 2m5f1y

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Last year’s victor, Un De Sceaux, returns to defend his crown and most punters probably won’t be opposing Willie Mullins’ inmate. Sent-off in the Grade 2 Hilly Way Chase as the 4/6 favourite, he made those odds seem very-generous with a 25-length defeat of Top Gamble. He was even skinnier, for the Grade 1 Clarence House Chase and won by 7 lengths, although the game Speredek might have got a great deal closer if he hadn’t made a bad mistake at the 6th fence.

Colin Tizzard’s Cue Card is a firm Festival favourite, among the British at least and the 12-year-old can always be expected to make a race of it if he can get home. It’s been over a year since he last tasted victory, however.

Henry De Bromhead’s Balko Des Flos is perhaps the most interesting entrant. The 7-year-old finished runner-up in the Grade 1 Leopardstown Christmas Chase, despite being sent-off at 66/1!

Only 6 horses are expected to start. Cloudy Dream, Frodon and Sub Lieutenant are the others and none should be ruled out.

Tip: Un De Sceaux

unowhatimeanharry

Stayers Hurdle’ – Grade 1

For 4 year olds and upwards

Distance: 3m

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Some readers may not have even heard of Jedd O’Keeffe, but this Yorkshireman could well be saddling the favourite in Thursday’s feature contest. Sam Spinner won the Grade 3 Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle at Haydock, in November, crushing The Dutchman by 17 lengths.

He then found plenty in the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle, at Ascot, responding to L’Ami Serge’s challenge by finding yet another gear. By the end of the race he was actually pulling away again and O’Keeffe clearly has his hands on a very good horse.

Jess Harrington’s Supasundae looks to be the principal threat. Under Robbie Power, the 8-year-old won the Irish Champion Hurdle last time out and in doing so beat the likes of Faugheen, Mick Jazz, Melon, Defi Du Seuil, and Bapaume.

The Stayers’ certainly looks like being Harry Fry’s best opportunity, at the 2018 Festival. Unowhatimeanharry was 3rd in last season’s renewal (a somewhat disappointing result, given the pre-race hype) and he has beaten Nicky Henderson’s Top Notch in a 3-runner race at Aintree since then. Unowhatimeanharry finished 3rd in the Long Walk Hurdle though and over 10 lengths behind Sam Spinner.

Yanworth, Bacardys, Penhill and The New One are all set to run and this should be one of the best races of the entire Festival.

Tip: Supasundae

Brown Advisory Plate

For 5 year olds and upwards

Distance: 2m5f1y

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It’s hardly been a vintage campaign for David Pipe’s Yard, but he’ll be hoping to get back on the front-foot with King’s Socks in this one. Great Endeavour, Salut Flo and Ballynagour have all won this contest for him since 2010 and King’s Socks is a much better horse than we saw at Kempton, where his jumping wasn’t up to its usual standard. King’s Socks finished a close 2nd to Footpad, albeit in a 3-runner race (Grade 1), at Auteuil over a year and a half ago. The Kempton outing was his first since then and it’s of little surprise that he looked rusty.

Tully East won the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase here last season, beating Gold Present (a pound better-off) by just over a length. He was 3rd in the Sandyford Handicap Chase at Leopardstown last month, making a mistake at the 3rd-last that might well have cost him victory. Alan Fleming will be desperately disappointed in Tully East isn’t in the shake-up, at least.

There are plenty here that are likely to find friends in the market, including The Storyteller, Movewiththetimes, Last Goodbye and Ballyalton.

Tip: King’s Socks

Mares Novice Hurdle

For 4 year olds and upwards

Distance: 2m1f

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This race is only 2 years old and Willie Mullins won in both 2016 and 2017 (Limini and Let’s Dance) and this time he has a brilliant mare called Laurina, in his arsenal. She is unbeaten after a brace of starts and nothing could get close to her in the closing stages of the Solerina Mares Novice Hurdle, at Fairyhouse in January. Salsaretta will also represent Mullins’ yard and she has a good chance of at least placing.

Maria’s Benefit, trained by Stuart Edmunds, has a great deal more experience though and she’s unbeaten in her last 5 encounters. Irish Roe pushed her all the way in the Grade 2 Yorkshire Rose Mares’ Hurdle (Doncaster), out of which both horses emerged with a great deal of credit. It’s unlikely that Maria’s Benefit will go down, without a fight.

Fergal O’Brien’s Cap Soleil has made a flying-start to her career, winning 5 out of 6 races, but she hasn’t faced a test as stern as this before. Countister, Spice Girl and High School Days may appeal to each-way bettors.

Tip: Laurina

Kim Muir Handicap Chase – Handicap

For 5 year olds and upwards

Distance: 3m1f110y

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Warren Greatrex’s Missed Approach hasn’t won since January of 2017, but she was runner-up in last season’s National Hunt Challenge Cup and only Full Jack beat him in the valuable Edinburgh National Handicap Chase at Musselburgh last month.

Nicky Henderson’s Sugar Baron finished 6th in the 2017 Kim Muir and lost out to Benbens by just a neck in the National Handicap Chase, at Sandown. Pendra was also in the race and finshed runner-up to Domesday Book, but Charlie Longsdon’s charge hasn’t raced since then.

This race is for amateur riders and remains ungraded. It’s a chance for some of the lesser known trainers to bag themselves a Festival winner, so watch out for Pamela Sly’s Actinpieces, Kayley Woollacott’s Millanisi Boy and Turlough O’connor’s Racing Pulse.

Ballabriggs won the 2010 renewal and went on to win the Aintree Grand National, a year later.

Tip: Missed Approach

Good luck, if you are betting at Cheltenham on Thursday!

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