Inside today’s main piece I continue to preview the Cheltenham Festival championship races. Today its on to Day 3 and the Stayer and Mares Hurdle.
Cheltenham Festival: More Big Calls
There’s one big positive heading to the start of the Cheltenham Festival. All the interminable reviews and podcasts on the festival are coming to an end. Don’t get me wrong I do tend to watch/ listen to most of those online. However, they usually end up providing plenty of hot air and very little light.
On to Day 3 of the Cheltenham Festival. The forecast rain means I’m getting more and more hopeful about Appreciate It in the Turners Novices' Chase. Granted he face a tough rival in short priced favourite Mighty Potter. Potter could have a considerable class edge on his rivals but Appreciate It will like the step up in trip.
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Shishkin will be many punters banker of the day if not the meeting in the Ryanair Chase. The 9-year-old was impressive when bouncing back to winning ways at Ascot last month.
Sadly, no Allaho but Willie Mullins looks to have the biggest two rivals to Shishkin in Blue Lord and Janidil.
Blue Lord heads here rather than go for the Champion Chase. Any rain will be welcome as will the extended 2m 4f trip.
Janidil runner-up to stablemate Allaho 12 months ago. He looked as good as ever when making a winning belated seasonal reappearance in a Gowran Park Grade 2 last month. That run should have put him spot on for this and if Shishkin under performs he’s the most likely to take advantage.
Paddy Power Stayers' Hurdle
A competitive looking Stayers Hurdle and it’s much better than 12 months ago. Blazing Khal returned from a 14 month layoff to win the Grade 2 Boyne Hurdle at Naas last month. That win saw him usurp Teahupoo at the top of the ante post betting. The latter has won both this season’s starts and has clear claims, but I think he needs very testing ground to win.
Given doubts about Blazing Khal’s troubled prep and Teahupoo ground concerns I am happy to take the pair on.
Plenty in with chance….
Marie’s Rock won the mares hurdle 12 months ago and made a winning return in the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle here on New Years Day. It looks like she will take her chance here rather than defend her mares’ crown. Stamina to prove but that 7lb mares allowance could be crucial.
Flooring Porter also has not had the smoothest of preparations but he’s a dual winner of the race and you can’t rule him out on his hat trick attempt.
Home By the Lee has won his last two including the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle (3m) at Leopardstown last time. He was only sixth in last year’s race but he’s much improved this season and a big player here.
Ashdale Bob was a three length runner-up Home By The Lee at Leopardstown. A good third in last year’s Coral Cup he ticks the festival form box. A 78-day absence shouldn’t be a negative as he has winning form off a longer lay off. Others may have stronger claims for the win but he can get into the places.
Klassical Dream was only caught close home by Teahupoo in the Grade 1 Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse in December. He was the 11/4 favourite when fifth in last year’s race but I don’t think he was quite right that day and I think he can get closer to Flooring Porter this time around. He goes well fresh and is very much in the mix at his best.
You must respect French challengers Gold Tweet and Henri Le Farceur. I was particularly impressed with the former’s win in the Cleeve Hurdle over C&D on Trial’s Day. There could be more to come from the 6-year-old over this trip and the generally available 12/1 looks a bit of value to me.
Stayers Hurdle Verdict:
It looks a wide open renewal and with question marks around the front of the betting I want to take on Blazing Khal and Teahupoo. I’m probably going to have a play at a couple, and the likes of Gold Tweet, Klassical Dream and Ashdale Bob, appeal at bigger odds.
Ryanair Mares' Novices' Hurdle
Nicky Henderson trained Luccia is a strong favourite for this Grade 2 contest. She’s unbeaten on four starts under rules and given she would have a good chance in the Supreme she should be hard to beat here.
Ashroe Diamond made it 2-4 over hurdles when winning a Grade 3 at Fairyhouse 47-days ago. Her form is strong and with no Luccia would be a strong favourite for this herself. Her stablemate Lot Of Joy got off the mark at the third attempt when winning at Fairyhouse last month. She is capable of more improvement in the sphere and gives Willie Mullins a strong hand in the race.
You Wear It Well runner-up to Hermes Allen in the Challow Hurdle, won a Sandown Listed race (2m 4f) last time. It is the same race that Love Envoi won prior to winning this race last year. She shouldn’t be inconvenienced by the drop back trip and could get into the places.
Princess Zoe, a classy stayer on the flat won a Grade 1 at Longchamp and finished runner-up in the 2021 Ascot Gold Cup. She dead heated on her hurdle debut at Punchestown in January. A better un race will suit her and given her flat form can’t be underestimated.
This year’s race is being run in the memory of Jack De Bromhead and there wouldn’t be a more heart-warming winner than his father’s runner Magical Zoe. I was taken with her performance in winning a Grade 3 mares novice hurdle at Down Royal in November. We haven’t seen her since that win but she’s won fresh and this will have been the plan.
Mares' Novices' Hurdle Verdict:
Luccia will be tough to beat but you can never rule out a Willie Mullins mare, he won the first five renewals of the race, so you have to respect the likes of Ashroe Diamond & Lot Of Joy. Princess Zoe can’t discounted, despite only having had one start over hurdles. Preference though is for MAGICAL ZOE to give Henry De Bromhead what would be an emotional success.
Its Carlisle, Wincanton and Thurles for jumps fans this afternoon. Although the first two named course must pass precautionary inspections in the morning. There’s also a couple of all-weather cards at Southwell and at Newcastle this evening.
Few solid betting opportunities on Thursday but I have a handful of speculative fancies that might be worthy of consideration.
7:45 – St Andrew’s Castle – Recent form is poor and in truth he has nothing to recommend him on his last three runs. His 1-20 career record shows he’s not the easiest to win with. But he is handily weighted if bouncing back to form in the reapplied cheekpieces. Jim Goldie has booked David Egan who stays around for the final race on the card.
1:30 – Stormy Flight relished the return to good ground when running out a 6 length winner at Taunton 16-days ago. He’s been raised 9lb for his latest win but remains on a competitive mark and is the most likely winner.
At bigger odds I have a bit of interest in Valsheda. He had looked a staying handicap chaser going places when winning for Nicky Henderson last March. Not much encouragement to be taken from two starts since joining Warren Greatrex but when he does come back to form, he’s handily weighted.
4:50 – If you fancy Zoffany Bay for Saturday’s Imperial Cup you will be hoping for a good run from the trainers Papal Lodge here. A promising novice handicap hurdler two seasons back when with Gordon Elliott. The 7-year-old seemed to lose his way with his previous yard and hasn’t quite been at his best on two starts since joining Peter Fahey. There’s a race to be won with him when the trainer finds the key to him and it could be today.
Three horses to consider. All three come with risks attached as to their well-being/current form. And the three could just as easily fall out the back of the telly as win. However, there all on good marks if/when they bounce back to form.
Dark Side Thunder (6/1) was a winning nap for the column on Wednesday. It’s not easy to pick one for today’s selection but if you force me to choose then it would be Papal Lodge. He’s a best priced 12/1 with Bet365 but I would expect him to be shorter if he’s fancied to win today.
4:50 – Papal Lodge – 12/1 @ Bet365.
Good luck with your Thursday bets.