1:10 JLT NOVICES’ CHASE
Invitation Only is rightfully favourite for this opener, and he has strengthened up in the market following the performance of Monalee and, to a lesser extent, Al Boum Photo in the RSA Chase yesterday. The Mullins horse finished just behind that pair and that probably is the best form in the race. However, you can make a case for a lot of horses here and, while there is no standout classy type, there is plenty of unexposed young chasers that could easily improve to win.
Terrefort is a major player for Nicky Henderson. He beat Cyrname in a very good time in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown and he has scope to improve on just his third run in Britain. Benatar hasn’t been seen in a while but is three from three over fences, having taken the measure of the talented Finian’s Oscar, who has had a topsy-turvy season.
Shattered Love is a Grade 1-winning mare and gets an allowance so is respected but at around about the same price, MODUS looks the one to be on. Paul Nicholls’ chaser doesn’t have the form profile of some of these but he is proven on soft ground and he has some very good Cheltenham form. He did produce a performance of significant merit to beat Kalondra at Wincanton earlier in the season and, in an open race, he could outrun his price which is around 8/1.
SELECTION: MODUS ALTERNATIVE: TERREFORT
Jonjo O’Neill took this race with a lightly-raced, unexposed, laid out horse in Holywell in 2013 and he has a horse with starkly similar profile in Forza Milan.
2:10 PERTEMPS NETWORK FINAL HANDICAP HURDLE
Irish-trained horses hold three of the top four places in the market for this three-mile handicap hurdle and will be bidding to win it for a third year in row. That said, the previous two winners of this race have been trained by Pat Kelly, who is not represented this season.
Glenloe is the favourite at the time of writing. Gordon Elliott’s horse is unexposed, has form in heavy ground and is the choice ride of Barry Geraghty, so should go close.
However the British horses are very much respected. Jonjo O’Neill took this race with a lightly-raced, unexposed, laid-out horse in Holywell in 2013 and he has a horse with a starkly similar profile in FORZA MILAN. Last seen finishing a creditable second to The Organist in a three-mile handicap hurdle at Newbury in December, he has been put away for this race since and has bundles of scope to improve on this, just his seventh run over hurdles.
A Great View was a little disappointing last time out but still gives the impression he could be well handicapped. But one at a bigger price worth considering is Sykes. Small time Somerset trainer Nicky Martin has done really well with this nine-year-old, who joined his stable at the beginning of the season. He has form in soft ground and his last run to be second to Black Ivory at Warwick is useful form.
SELECTION: FORZA MILAN ALTERNATIVE: SYKES
2:50 RYANAIR CHASE (GRADE 1)
UN DE SCEAUX really should take all the beating. The 10-year-old has long been a model of consistency and produced a quite remarkable performance in this race last season. He won despite pulling his way to the front, on his less favoured ground, in what was probably a better race than the this year’s renewal. This time he also has his soft ground and, though Ruby Walsh’s injury is a blow, Paul Townend knows him well and rode him to win his most recent race at Ascot.
Sub Lieutenant got closest to Un De Sceaux last season but comes here off a likely unplanned preparation - he hasn’t been seen since finishing third in the John Durkan 95 days ago. If you knew he was fit and well, he’d have a chance but we don’t know that. Balko Des Flos took his form to a new level when finishing third to Road To Respect in the Leopardstown Chase over Christmas but soft ground seems to be a negative for him. A win for Cue Card would bring the house down and he showed all of his old spark when chasing home the classy and much younger Waiting Patiently in the Grade 1 Ascot Chase last time but he is a 12-year-old and it’s just so hard for horses of that age to come and win top-level open races at Cheltenham.
Frodon is a much bigger price and might be worth chancing to give Un De Sceaux the most to do. Paul Nicholls’ gelding was a well beaten third in the aforementioned Ascot Chase but he is much better off now coming back to Cheltenham, where he was so impressive over this distance on his penultimate start.
SELECTION: UN DE SCEAUX ALTERNATIVE: FRODON
3:30 SUN BETS STAYERS’ HURDLE (GRADE 1)
It is no real surprise to see 17 horses declared for this race, the biggest field since Inglis Drever won 10 years ago (though Apple’s Jade will likely scratch), with trainers and owners more than happy to throw their hat into the ring in an open year. Sam Spinner is favourite and you could make a case that, if he was trained by a bigger name, he’d be a lot shorter price. Then again, he is making his debut at Cheltenham, faces his toughest test yet and may not get all of his own way up front.
It is real pity about the ground for Supasundae, with Jessica Harrington saying all season that he’d come alive on spring ground. Yet he has still ran to a seriously high level on soft ground through the winter and there is no doubt he is still a player. Bacardys and Yanworth come next in the betting but both have come here as an afterthought, having been rerouted from novice chasing campaigns.
UNOWHATIMEANHARRY was all the rage for this last season, when sent off the 5/6 favourite but only managing to finish third. In contrast, this year he is under the radar and significantly he teams up again with Noel Fehily whose record on Harry Fry’s gelding reads 111131. Fry reckons he has got the 10-year-old back to his best and we know that he prospers over three miles around Cheltenham. At 10/1, he looks a fair price.
Of the others, L’Ami Serge flatters to deceive - he has only recorded two wins from 14 runs to-date yet has been placed on all but one of the remainder of those runs, which tells you the story - while The New One has a big stamina question to answer. Penhill is a really classy sort and did extremely well to win the Albert Bartlett last season but hasn’t been seen since. All in all, I keep coming back to Sam Spinner, who just has a really nice progressive profile. He deserves to be favourite, so if you’re looking for the solid option - take him, but at the prices I’ll side with Unowhatimeanharry.
SELECTION: UNOWHATIMEANHARRY ALTERNATIVE: SAM SPINNER
He finished fifth in Yorkhill’s JLT Chase last season which was a brilliant effort when you consider the horses that finished around him - Disko, Politologue and Flying Angel - all went on to win Grade 1 races.
4:10 BROWN ADVISORY & MERRIEBELLE STABLE PLATE HANDICAP CHASE
This is one of the most open-looking races of the week and, at the time of writing, bookmakers are going 9/1 the field. Ireland’s best hopes look to be Gordon Elliott’s unexposed sort The Storyteller and Tully East, who won the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase here last season and has been trained for this race all season. The ground is probably a negative for the latter, which is a pity as he ran really well over an inadequate trip last time which looked like a perfect prep run.
All in all, nothing really jumps off the page from those at the top of the market. David Pipe has won this race three times in the last eight years and it would be no real surprise if KING'S SOCKS has been laid out for this. He warmed up for this with a spin around Kempton and, though failing to land a meaningful blow against the classy Modus, the run will have served its purpose. He will be a fitter horse now and, in a race which features plenty of exposed older horses, he sticks out as the potential improver, with the soft ground likely to be no problem.
King’s Odyssey is fairly exposed but he likes soft ground and he likes Cheltenham. He is a big price at 33/1 and could easily run into a place.
SELECTION: KING'S SOCKS ALTERNATIVE: KING’S ODYSSEY
The British handicapper actually has Maria’s Benefit 3lb ahead of Laurina, and though the Mullins mare has more scope to improve, surely there shouldn’t be the discrepancy in the market between the two, with Laurina odds-on and Maria’s Benefit available at around 6/1.
4:50 TRULL HOUSE STUD MARES’ NOVICES’ HURDLE
Laurina has been all the rage for this since she hacked up in a Grade 3 at Fairyhouse and there is no doubt she is the one to beat, especially given her trainer’s remarkable record in the two mares' races at the Festival. However, on the same day Laurina was winning at Fairyhouse, MARIA'S BENEFIT was winning at Doncaster, defeating the useful Irish Roe in a performance that was of the same standard of Laurina’s. It was her fifth win in a row and so she comes into this race on the crest of a wave. She is probably underestimated on account of her trainer and jockey, Stuart Edmunds and Ciaran Gethings. That is a factor when you’re going up against Mullins and Townend but the market can overplay such an angle.
The British handicapper actually has Maria’s Benefit 3lbs ahead of Laurina and, though the Mullins mare has more scope to improve, surely there shouldn’t be the discrepancy in the market between the two, with Laurina odds-on and Maria’s Benefit available at around 6/1. Edmunds’ mare is uncomplicated - she’ll go off in front and it will be a case of 'catch me if you can', and it would be no surprise if Laurina and the rest of the field can’t.
SELECTION: MARIA’S BENEFIT ALTERNATIVE: LAURINA
5:30 FULKE WALWYN KIM MUIR CHALLENGE CUP AMATEUR RIDERS’ HANDICAP CHASE
Two Irish horses top the market for this staying chase but both look worth opposing. Squouateur has long been presumed to be well-handicapped yet has provided little evidence of that while Mall Dini probably wants better ground to be at his very best.
At a much bigger price, FINAL NUDGE is interesting. This will be his first appearance at Cheltenham since he finished second to subsequent Albert Bartlett winner Unowhatimeanharry in 2015. That performance marked him as an out-and-out stayer and he has since represented his connections well in staying handicap chases, not least when third to Raz De Maree in the Welsh National this season. He handles soft ground, acts around Cheltenham and Irish champion point-to-point rider Barry O’Neill has been booked to ride.
The other two worth mentioning are Sugar Baron and Missed Approach. The former will be ridden by Katie Walsh and finished sixth in this race last season while the latter also ran well at last year’s Festival, chasing home Tiger Roll in the National Hunt Chase. Preference is for Missed Approach who looks potentially well treated, having seen his mark fall after two poor efforts at the beginning of the season. He seems in better form now, evidenced by his second at Musselburgh last time and he has undergone a wind operation since that effort.
SELECTION: FINAL NUDGE ALTERNATIVE: MISSED APPROACH
GET CHELTENHAM TIPS, RACECARDS & RESULTS EACH DAY ON THEIRISHFIELD.IE