Cheltenham Update 12 Jan
Tue, Jan 12th, 2016
Mark has updated his Cheltenham Portfolio.
Whilst we had no on-course clues this week to digest, there was news from the Willie Mullins camp that Faugheen is likely to be joined in the line-up for the Irish Champion Hurdle by stablemates Nichols Canyon and Arctic Fire. This sets up a repeat of the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown which saw Faugheen beaten for the first time in November. Arctic Fire also looks likely to revert back to two miles having tried three miles for the first time in the Christmas Hurdle over Christmas. The plans depend on all three horses working this week but at this stage it looks as though all of them are likely to have 24th January in their diaries.
Nicky Henderson also delivered news of his two Champion Hurdle contenders with Peace And Co likely to head to Haydock for the Champion Hurdle Trial as he bids to get his campaign back on track. He also confirmed that he was making progress with My Tent Or Yours who has been off the racecourse for over eighteen months and commented that 'he'd have the pace to sit on Faugheen's tail but whether he'd have the pace to go past him is another thing'. He hopes to get a run into the nine-year-old before the Festival and reiterated that both were on course to make that engagement.
They could be joined in the line-up by impressive Relkeel Hurdle winner Camping Ground who is likely to be given an entry in the Champion Hurdle when the entries close in just over a weeks' time. His trainer Robert Walford has confirmed that it would probably need to be soft in order for him to run in the Champion but Leighton Aspell was impressed with how he travelled that day and felt it was worth having the option of going down the two mile route.
The entries for the Clarence House Chase at Ascot on 23rd January were confirmed last week with eight horses including Willie Mullins' Un De Sceaux who also has the option of the Tied Cottage Chase in Ireland the following week. Willie Mullins has confirmed that he is keen for the current ante-post favourite to have another run before the Festival and there aren't too many other options for the eight-year-old.
He is likely to be face the Gary Moore duo of Sire De Grugy and Traffic Fluide with their trainer reporting the 2014 Champion Chase winner to be in the form of his life and is on course to run at Ascot. His stablemate hasn't been since the Spring and this race is likely to 'put him straight for a tilt' at the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury.
However whilst Sprinter Sacre did feature amongst the entries for Ascot in a couple of weeks' time his trainer Nicky Henderson confirmed at Doncaster on Friday that he is likely to head straight to Cheltenham now. The master of Seven Barrows believes that he is best fresh these days and plans to have him ready for the Champion Chase in just over a couple of months' time.
Away from the Clarence House entries, Tom George delivered news that God's Own who is around 33/1 for the Champion Chase is likely to head straight there as connections are waiting for better ground with him. He ran a great race in the Arkle last year behind Un De Sceaux and having gone well fresh in the past, he looks likely to wait for optimum conditions to surface.
There was a bit of a nibble in the week on Alpha Des Obeaux in the World Hurdle market who finished second to Prince Of Scars in the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown. His trainer believes that on better ground he will be much better and confirmed that the six-year-old was still very green last time. He has only had eight starts under rules and is likely to have one more run before Cheltenham where the World Hurdle will be his aim.
John Hales also confirmed that Aux Petits Soins had returned to the Ditcheat yard of Paul Nicholls as he begins his preparations for the World Hurdle. He won the Coral Cup on his first start for the yard last year and will be going straight to Cheltenham in search of a similar success.
Cheltenham Gold Cup
The one for money in the Gold Cup market in the last couple of days has been Don Cossack who is set to run at Thurles on Thursday in the Kinloch Brae Chase. The nine-year-old won the race last year before finishing third in the Ryanair and his trainer hopes to test the horse's jumping before the Gold Cup at Cheltenham. He also reassured any doubters who felt that his horse didn't handle Prestbury Park citing how well he has travelled in the last two years before bad luck has cost him his chance. He is now as short as 5/1 for the Gold Cup and a clear round of jumping later this week could see him shorten further for all that he is unlikely to face anything of note at Thurles.
I also wanted to mention Ruby Walsh's comments about Vautour which he made in his Racing UK blog and he explained that it was hard to say whether he will stay the Gold Cup trip until he tries it. He did say that Djakadam does stay but whether that gives us an indication as to whether he is leaning towards Vautour's stablemate is up for you to decide. I personally would be steering Vautour down the Champion Chase route but that would mean that Walsh would have to decide whether to ride him or Un De Sceaux so that may not happen.
Thankfully Huntingdon beat the weather on Wednesday and the 3m Novices' Chase proved an informative one as Ben Pauling unleashed another smart prospect in the shape of Drumacoo. The upwardly mobile Pauling stable have a few nice novices and this seven-year-old had won three times over hurdles for Michael Hourigan but had been off the track for over a year before making his chasing debut. However, wearing a hood for the first time, he travelled and jumped at good speed for most of the race and put the challenge of Fletchers Flyer to bed in a matter of strides. He ran on strongly to the line to win by 38 lengths and was introduced at best price 25/1 for the RSA at the Festival.
Fletchers Flyer just couldn't sustain his challenge having raced with the winner for much of the contest and he is probably one for handicaps rather than Grade contests. Dan Skelton's Value At Risk also lined up here but once again found jumping difficult and got as far as the second fence before depositing Harry Skelton on the floor. Clearly his jumping needs some work and he might have to revert to hurdling for the time being.
There was also a good novice chase at Doncaster on Friday where Paul Nicholls' Bouvreuil got the better of Nicky Henderson's Vyta Du Roc. Nicholls' five-year-old was keen early on but was still travelling well before being asked for an effort on the run to the final fence. He found plenty for pressure to win going away and he could return to Doncaster for the Grade 2 Lightning Novices' Chase in a few weeks' time. The runner-up lost little in defeat, conceding 11lb to the winner but looked a little one-paced in the closing stages of this contest suggesting that a step up in trip may see him in a better light.
On the other side of the Irish Sea, Grade 1 winning hurdler McKinley got off the mark at the second attempt over fences with a taking display at Fairyhouse on Sunday. He was beaten by Jessica Harrington's Walk To Freedom in December but jumped much better here and does have the option of going up in trip in the Spring.
Looking ahead, Gordon Elliott confirmed that all was well with current RSA favourite No More Heroes and whilst he could run in the Flogas Chase on 6th February, he is more than likely to head straight to Cheltenham. As well as the RSA, he will be entered in the 4 miler and the Gold Cup in case anything should happen to one of his Gigginstown stablemates but the main target remains the RSA.
Harry Fry also outlined plans for Bitofapuzzle and Activial with the mare likely to go over to Ireland next month for a Grade 2 Mares' Novices' Chase. Her stablemate will also be stepping up in Grade next time when he goes to Haydock and his trainer is keen to build the horse's confidence over the bigger obstacles before planning a spring campaign.
The eagle-eyed ones amongst you may have noticed that Willie Mullins has entered three of his novice chasers in the 3m chase at Warwick on Saturday. Black Hercules, Pont Alexandre and Roi Des Francs are the three in question and whilst it is unlikely that all three will come over I wouldn't rule out him leaving one in at the final declarations stage. Mullins is 4 from 6 at Warwick in the last few seasons and it might be worth keeping an eye on the declarations for that race.
Only one horse has been on everyone's lips this week at that is Willie Mullins' Min whose trainer has described him as one of the biggest bargains of his career. The Rich Ricci-owned gelding took his record to two from two in Ireland with a smooth success in the Moscow Flyer Hurdle which has been won by Vautour and Douvan in the last two seasons. There was money around for him in the week in the Supreme market but having eclipsed his rivals by nine and a half lengths on Saturday, he is now as short as evens to win the opening race of the Cheltenham Festival.
He was keen once again in the hands of Ruby Walsh and having gone to the front at the third hurdle, he built up a good lead before allowing his rivals to close on him. However, Walsh still had plenty underneath him and quickened up well as the field turned for home, running on strongly to the line to win well. His trainer was pleased afterwards and also believes that he will be seen to better effect on Spring ground. Personally I now think he is a bit short at the head of the Supreme market and will suggest an alternative selection at the foot of the end of the page.
It was otherwise a fairly quiet week but for a smart performance by Le Prezien at Doncaster on Friday who justified short odds to win for the second time over hurdles. The five-year-old ran into Yanworth at Warwick in November but has now won twice since and his trainer has indicated that he will get an entry in the Betfair Hurdle when that closes tomorrow.
On the juvenile front, the Grade 1 Finale Hurdle at Chepstow on Saturday has offered Cheltenham clues in the past but I'm not sure this year's race was a vintage renewal. In very testing ground Adrien Du Pont came out on top, getting the better of Richard Hobson Chic Name who was having his eleventh start over hurdles on Saturday. The Triumph was mentioned for the winner but he was disappointing at Cheltenham last time and I would be surprised if he were able to find enough improvement to win a race of that nature.
The one to take out of the race could be the third Coo Star Sivola who once again ran well on ground which he wouldn't have enjoyed. He seems to be improving with experience and whilst he is probably below the level of a Triumph Hurdle horse, he could be a live contender for the Fred Winter if connections decide to go down that route.
An outside chance for the Triumph Hurdle could be David Dennis' Seven Kingdoms who won well on his hurdling debut at Kempton on Saturday. In truth it probably wasn't the best race but he travelled well and quickened clear readily in the closing stages to win by 17 lengths at the line. He won by eight lengths on his flat debut in June so clearly has ability and whilst he will need to build on this, I could see him lining up at Cheltenham.
BUVEUR D'AIR (Supreme) – 1pt e/w @ 12/1 (SportingBet, Ladbrokes, Betfair)
As I mentioned above, I now feel that whilst Min was impressive on Sunday, he is far too short at around 5/4 and I think that Nicky Henderson could hold the key to the challengers, as he has both Altior and Buveur D'Air in his stable. The latter has not been seen since running out a wide-margin winner at Newbury's Hennessy meeting and is due back out in the next few weeks. He beat subsequent winner Wait For Me by eleven lengths that day and the fifth After Hours has also come out and won since.
In bumpers, Buveur D'Air only found Barters Hill too good on his British debut before finishing fourth in the Champion Bumper at Aintree. Henderson clearly holds this five-year-old in high regard and whilst the Neptune is an option, his trainer's comments about the horse having so much speed would indicate that he will stick to two miles for the time being. He finished in front of stablemate Altior in a bumper last year and I think his reappearance run in a few weeks' time will confirm that he is a live contender for the opening race of the meeting. 12/1 looks about right at the moment and should he win on his next outing, he will no doubt be much shorter on the day.
VANITEUX (Arkle) – 1pt e/w @ 10/1 (General)
MY TENT OR YOURS (Champion Hurdle) – 0.5pt e/w @ 20/1 (bet365, Stan James, Betfred)
THISTLECRACK (World Hurdle) – 2pts win@ 3/1 (Boylesports, Sportingbet)
DON COSSACK (Cheltenham Gold Cup) – 1pt win @ 7/1 (BetVictor, 32Red)
SOUTHFIELD ROYALE (National Hunt Chase) – 1pt e/w @ 12/1 (Betway, Paddy Power)
GIBRALFARO (Triumph Hurdle) – 1pt e/w @ 20/1 (Paddy Power, Ladbrokes, Coral)
ACTIVIAL (JLT) – 0.5pt e/w @ 25/1 (SkyBet, Racebets)
BUVEUR D'AIR (Supreme) – 1pt e/w @ 12/1 (SportingBet, Ladbrokes, Betfair)
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