King Of Kingsfield could provide some value on Day 2 (JTW Equine Images)
By Jack & Tom Williams
Race 1 Wednesday – Ballymore Novices Hurdle
The Baring Bigham Novices Hurdle. Sounding more like a financial institution than a Grade 1 hurdle, this race has been one that has produced a very good horse in more ways than one. Usually, this race is a steppingstone for horses to make chasers the following season. However, in the cases of Faugheen and Bob Olinger, this race does have a tendency to produce high quality hurdlers in addition to next season’s top novice chasers.
The New One, Faugheen, Envoi Allen, Sir Gerhard, Istabraq, Hardy Eustace, Simonsig, First Lieutenant, Yorkhill, Willoughby Court, Samcro. All incredibly talented horses, and all have stamped their name into history by taking this race, run on the Old Course over 2 miles and five furlongs.
Whilst the last 10 renewals have seen Ireland strike 8 times, it is a British horse that currently top of the market in Hermes Allen. Winner of the Grade 1 Challow Novices Hurdle at Newbury on his most recent start, he looks to be the cream of the middle-distance novice hurdlers from this side of the Irish Sea. He also has form on the course and distance, having won the Grade 2 Ballymore (Hyde ) Novices Hurdle at the November Meeting in fine style.
He is also unbeaten over hurdles, winning all 3 starts to date. And whilst he is a worthy favourite, he does have a huge negative to disprove. History shows that no winner of the Challow Hurdle has gone on to win the Baring Bingham at the Festival, so if he is to break the hoodlum, he must be a serious contender, and a serious horse.
Chief rival from across the sea would appear to be Champ Kiely, winner of the Grade 1 Lawlors of Naas Novices Hurdle in January. Throw in some very interesting contenders from the Emerald Isle that include Inthepocket, Imagine and Irish Point, and it will certainly make a fascinating start to Wednesday’s action.
One thing is surely guaranteed – the winner will be a class act, and one to keep an eye on for next season, should they go chasing, or chase the highest honours a seasoned hurdler can bring, whether they drop down to 2 miles for the Champion Hurdle, or raise their trip to 3 miles and go for the Stayers Hurdle.
Race 2 Wednesday – Brown Advisory Novices Chase
The premier race for the staying Novice chasers, and those that will be contesting either the Ryanair Chase, or the blue riband Cheltenham Gold Cup, in 12 months’ time after graduating from the novice ranks. Horses such as Denman, Bobs Worth, Lord Windermere and the legendary Arkle have all taken this race, registered as the Broadway Novices Chase after the beautiful town to the north of the Cotswolds, prior to success in the greatest race of them all, the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
All the pre-race talk seems to be on the participation of a certain Gerri Colombe. Having racked up a win in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices Chase at Sandown Park last month, Gordon Elliott’s charge seems to be all the rage for the race. However, Richard Thompson of Cheveley Park Stud states that last year’s Ballymore Novices Hurdle and 2021 Champion Bumper winner Sir Gerhard will also run in this race.
Dipper Novices Chase winner The Real Whacker looks to feature in this race as well, providing he doesn’t dip and heads to Thursday’s Turner’s Novices Chase over 2m 4f. He may follow last year’s winner L’Homme Presse’s route in following his win in the Dipper on New Year’s Day at Cheltenham with a crack at the Brown Advisory.
And yes, all three contenders so far come from Ireland. Hardly inspiring for the home team.
Their best chance appears to be last year’s second in the Stayer’s Hurdle, Thyme Hill. A winner of the Persian War Novices Hurdle and the Feltham Novices Chase on Boxing Day last year. He hasn’t really done anything wrong over fences, and goes into Cheltenham fit and well, with a fair chance it would appear.
It would appear that the winner will be one of those. If anyone else has any of the field, all the best, but they may be playing for places.
Race 3 Wednesday – Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle
Ah yes, the Coral Cup. A mad cavalry charge, and the biggest handicap of the year.
To put in context, imagine a whole American Football team going for a winter cross country run. Mud flying and you’re in the middle of the pack, surrounded on all sides. It’s a hustle and bustle of a contest, and you have to have a horse that can carry the weight, and a lot of luck, if you are to find the winner of this epic betting contest.
And most of all, you have to be able to jump too. Accurately, efficiently, and clinically.
Currently, there are 4 7/1 co favourites for the race. Camprond, a capable hurdler and former winner of the Persian War Novices Hurdle, has been campaigned over fences this season, but has not taken to them like a duck to water, Instead, it appears he will be rerouted here, and given previous form over hurdles, he would appear to have a good chance off 10-9, albeit he will need 14 horses to come out to get a run.
Haut En Couleurs is running off 11-8, however you feel he is only in this race as an option. He fell in the Horse & Jockey at Thurles, in a race won by Fakir D’Oudairies, and the form of that race in January has taken a wallop, with the winner of the race in Ireland being smashed by Shishkin at Ascot last month. Furthermore, his chase form appears to be lacking behind top quality. And given he has only had 2 runs over hurdles, connections may have entered him in this to see where he is, rather than on if he has a logical chance.
HMS Seahorse has had a busy summer and only came back from a break of 118 days in January when scoring at Navan, but whether he possesses the ability to follow up art Cheltenham in March.
Run for Oscar won the Cesarewitch Handicap in October at Newmarket on the Flat, and then has been placed behind Botox Has in the Betfair Echange Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle at Haydock Park in November. Whether he has the ability to follow up is up for debate, especially as he would run off 11-4 if he did take his place.
Sometimes, it’s won by a horse with a bit of luck. But even to finish placed is a feat in itself. Get Me Out Of Here finished second in the Coral Cup twice, and was second in a Supreme Novices and a County Hurdle in addition to his performances in the Coral Cup. Truly unlucky not to win, but great for the placings.
One for yourself to look at, once the final field is provided.
Race 4 Wednesday – Champion Chase
The Queen Mother Champion Chase has been run since 1959 and presents the premier challenge for two mile chasers. Horses such as Master Minded, Sprinter Sacre, Moscow Flyer and Altior have all cemented their place in history by winning this race, named as such as a tribute in 1980 to the late Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, as a gift to her from racing on her support for the industry.
One trainer to have won the race is Gary Moore, who landed the race in 2014 with Sire De Grugy. He runs, for the same connections, Editeur Du Gite, who comes into the race off the back of a win in the Desert Orchid at Kempton and the Clarence House Chase, run at Cheltenham due to the abandonment of its usual place at Ascot the week before.
He fought off previous victor Energumene and last year’s Arkle winner Edwardstone, in the Clarence House, and he appears to be sneaking in under the radar. He may be the danger to the main two in the betting, as Blue Lord was not exactly enterprising at Leopardstown last month.
In theory, quite open. But Editeur Du Gite may just be the ace in the pack.
Race 5 Wednesday – Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase
12 months ago, the enigmatic “little horse” Tiger Roll was about to score another Cheltenham Festival success and retire in splendid isolation and to the adoration of his followers, all assembled in the pouring rain as the champion rose majestically up Prestbury Park’s iconic hill.
And yet again, some had not read the script.
Enter his most traitorous stablemate, Delta Work who had only been entered in the race as he had fallen out of love with the fences he usually jumped and was at a crossroads. He presumably thought he was the natural successor at Gordon Elliott’s stables at Cullentra once the illustrious king had retired, and simply wanted to show he was a suitable heir.
Only, he upstaged the king on the day of his big parade.
Whilst the baton for flagbearer may have been passed to him upon Tiger roll’s retirement, it seems that he has been once again aimed for this race, and then a crack at the Grand National in April. He returned to action at Punchestown’s banks course in November with a victory, and then went to Cheltenham where he was third on his first run on the course since March. A prep run in the Boyne Hurdle will see him spot on to try and defend his title.
The danger may well come from his own stable, with 2021 National Hunt Chase winner and last year’s Gold Cup 4th Galvin looking in prime contention to upturn the throne and usurp it from the resident king. He is another to have seemingly lost his way, with a poor show in the Ladbrokes Champion Chase at Down Royal in November perhaps indicating he is not quite up to Grade 1 level.
The UK contingent may be led by the Martin Keighley trained Back On The Lash, who won his prep race for this event over course and distance at the Festival Trials Meeting in January. He loves nothing more than a stamina test, and he is another that is sure to run well, if on his A-game. And being part owned by football manager Harry Redknapp, he will certainly be one with plenty of supporters, hoping he can score at Cheltenham, and not in the goals at the local football club…
2020 winner Easysland would usually be top of the list on any of these given the fact he has won it, but since he moved to Jonjo O’Neill there are more “P” and “U” against his name than the entire film about a house being floated around by balloons. He finished 9th on his latest run over the cross-country fences, so he may be one to watch instead of actually looking towards punting on.
Race 6 Wednesday – Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase
Named after the great Johnny Henderson, a masterful trainer and father of current leading trainer Nicky Henderson, this race is named the Grand Annual as it is the oldest race at The Festival, having first been run at Prestbury in 1834. It was originally run over 3 miles at Andoversford but was shortened to two miles when the Cheltenham Gold Cup was inaugurated.
The race has been run at courses such as Leicester and Warwick, before finally settling on Cheltenham.
Interestingly, in 1839 Lottery won the Grand Annual, when it was at the distance of 3 miles, after they had won the inaugural running of the Grand National at Aintree.
Aucunrisque, winner of the Betfair Hurdle, has been mixing it over fences and hurdles this season, and look unexposed at 11-6. He was second in the Grade 2 Wayward Lad Novices Chase at Kempton Park around Christmas, whilst he then stuck it to the field in the Betfair Hurdle and won it the difficult way, going from the front and letting the challengers come at them with all broadsides.
If the race has not taken much out of him, he will be one worth a punt on each way for fans.
Final Orders is looking at being run at The Festival in this race, rather than the Arkle, according to trainer Gavin Cromwell. Having made it 5 wins on the trot last month, he has done nothing but improve all season. Furthermore, he won a handicap chase over 3 miles at Down Royal on Champion Chase Day on November 5th but has won his next two races at 2 miles. Whether it be speed or stamina, this lad appears to have both in abundance, and is an absolute steal at 9/1 (at the time of writing).
Embittered has been primed and fancied for these the last two renewals, however a fall in 2021 and a seventh last year off similar levels aren’t too convincing. Likely to struggle again, it would appear.
This one looks to be wide open, and only the final field being revealed will see colours being nailed to the mast for many. However, I feel that the rise in grade for Final Orders is too much to ignore, and if a conditional jockey is placed on him to take some of the 11-9 weight off his back, he may well be home and hosed before you blink. His profile is similar to Hunt Ball, who was heavily backed for the now defunct Novices Handicap Chase in 2012 and duly delivered after going up through the handicap from a lowly 68 at the now closed Folkestone to a peak of 142 at Cheltenham as the season went on, eventually turning into a high-quality racehorse.
Race 7 Wednesday – Weatherbys Champion Bumper
A “Bumper” is a term for a flat race run over National Hunt rules. In times of old it used to be an affair where many inexperienced horses would bump around in the field as the race went on, hence the term. Whilst it is still for inexperienced horses who have not jumped an obstacle yet, it is usually where a star of the future can be unearthed.
Cue Card scored in 2010 at 40/1, running right away from the grey Al Ferof, who would overturn the result 12 months later in the Supreme Novices Hurdle. Willie Mullins normally unleashes a good sort in this race, with Champagne Fever, Briar Hill, Ferny Hollow, Sir Gerhard and Facile Vega all winners in this contest for him in it’s history.
Usually this is a race where the Irish do well in, seemingly farming the race for their high-quality young talents, with 8 of the last 10 renewals going to the Emerald Isle.
Unfortunately for the UK, the 2023 renewal looks to be going to them again, with horses such as It’s For Me, A Dream To Share, Fun Fun Fun and Better Days Ahead all featuring a 1 in their form at some point this season.
The UK’s best chances appear to be Favour and Fortune and Queen’s Gamble, both currently around 14/1.
It really is anyone’s race, but for value I quite like the look of King Of Kingsfield, who scored at Down Royal on Ladbrokes Champion Chase day. He did what he needed to do, and given he is a 3-mile winning pointer, he has both an engine and stamina. And whilst he disappointed last time out, when his trainer’s string was a bit under the weather, 20/1 is just too high a price to ignore, and I will be having some of that in due course.