For a lot of people, the race of the week takes place on Day 2. However, whereas a very high percentage of people would be referring to the Queen Mother Champion Chase – which I’ll get to in due course – for me, the race I really look forward to most every year is the Champion Bumper. Several times, winning wagers have been placed in the showpiece for the stars of the future. Even though many of them have never really lived up to expectations thereafter. There’s plenty of action to be got through before it comes up at 5.30.
BALLYMORE NOVICES HURDLE
Whatever about the Bumper being my favourite race, there’s no doubt that, even aside of the Champion Chase, one of the most talked about races of this or maybe any Festival (mind you, there’s plenty of competition for that title). Primarily due to the presence therein of ENVOI ALLEN . From the time the famous red, white and blue silks of Cheevley Park Stud entered the fray on the National Hunt scene it was clear it was going to be a major development.
That became obvious almost immediately when Malone Road lit up a few bumpers. He’s unfortunately been on the easy list for a long time now, but the highlighted steed has been a more than capable replacement. Thus far unbeaten in his entire career, his form over timber has been handsomely franked by the fantastic effort of Abracadabras in the Supreme Novices.
For all that, this is Cheltenham and there’s such thing as a penalty kick. Therefore, the also unbeaten SPORTING JOHN demands utmost respect. Indeed, there’s a third who falls into that bracket, the Colin Tizzard-trained THE BIG GETAWAY. The horse owned by the race sponsor Sean Mulryan, LONGHOUSE POET is also worthy of a mention. That said, there has been nothing to put me off ENVOI ALLEN.
RSA NOVICES CHASE
The trial race for those with aspirations for either the Gold Cup or Ryanair Chase in 12 months time. Again, the colours of the Thompson family (Cheevley Park) are likely to feature prominently courtesy of ALLAHO. Henry De Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore had a memorable first day and will have high hopes again in the guise of MINELLA INDO. A winner at the Festival last year, the son of Beat Hollow has looked accomplished again this season. Though some of the form doesn’t look as enticing now as it once might have, given the way Laurina has repeatedly flopped since.
Elsewhere, I cannot help thinking that BATTLEOVERDOYEN is greatly overpriced. Currently 16/1, Gordon Elliott’s charge is unbeaten over the bigger obstacles on any occasion he has completed. Mind you, the same can be said of CHAMP. Over the years, Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty teaming up for success at The Festival is nothing new and I’d be hopeful the trick can be repeated here.
CORAL CUP HANDICAP HURDLE
Another perplexing Cheltenham handicap where, mercifully, bookmakers will be paying extra places. From a punting perspective, it’s one of these races where you may as well throw a dart at a board and see where it sticks. There are pointers to be had though.
From a long way out, the Eddie Harty-trained KILFENORA has been on my radar for this contest. What wasn’t expected, admittedly, was for the 8-year-old to be carrying top weight. But then, horses don’t end top weight without good reason. Another JP McManus representative – which there are a plethora – ALFA MIX has form which ties in closely with the Harty charge, though the former is considerably better off at the weights.
Anything coming from the Charles Byrnes establishment must be taken seriously in a handicap. THOSEDAYSAREGONE is likely to give Kevin Brouder a good spin. Hearing Ruby Walsh flag anything up obviously would incline one to sit up and take note. On that premise, FRANCO DE PORT must enter calculations while Dan Skelton’s PROTEKTORATE also holds appeal.
In the end, though, a very hesitant each way flutter will be had on BLACK TEARS. The daughter of Jeremy seldom runs a bad race, is rarely out of the money and her form behind Elfile looks rock solid now with the Mullins mare having run a fine race behind Honeysuckle (in the same ownership) in the Mares Hurdle.
QUEEN MOTHER CHAMPION CHASE
While Altior’s late defection is a big blow for the horse’s connections and his many fans, my honest feeling is that the 10-year-old would have struggled to feature anyway. Nobody could doubt his quality or tenacity. It’s hard to escape the feeling, though, that a new wave had, at least, caught up with him, if not passed him out.
The new possie being undoubtedly led by DEFI DE SEUIL. Philip Hobbs’ stable star is a horse I’ve been very fond of since his days as a juvenile hurdler. He lost his way somewhat after his very commanding victory in the Triumph Hurdle, but was then completely rejuvenated when going over the larger obstacles and is now going in search of a third Festival success.
Nothing is done til it’s done, however. It’s probable that Rich Ricci’s CHACON POR SOI will give the favourite most to think about. Stock belonging to the flamboyant American being well fancied and subsequently doing well in early March is nothing new, but, having suffered a bit of a downturn for a while for various reasons, steeds like this lad have led the comeback for the trilby and sunglasses. Though an 8-year-old, you sense there could be much bigger and better things ahead. This should be Defi’s day though.
CROSS COUNTRY CHASE
There was a time the green writing heading this section would not only have looked well but almost certainly signposted the winner. Such was the dominance of the Enda Bolger/JP McManus axis in this discipline. Firstly with the aid of the aid of the late, great JT McNamara and then Nina Carberry.
The great Limerick combination will be strongly represented once again (indeed the green and gold hooped silks will be carried by one in the care of David Cottin in France) but they all may be fighting for place money this time.
TIGER ROLL is surely the most popular horse in training at the moment. In bare racing terms, his unique versatility and astounding CV of achievements make the son of Authorized more than a racehorse. He has become a phenomenon. Every so often, there are special steeds which transcend the sport. People who know little or nothing about racing, and may only bet once in a blue moon known of the 10-year-old.
Yes, winning two Aintree Grand Nationals will do that for any horse but in this case it runs even deeper. I realise that the favourite’s cramped odds won’t be for everybody, so, looking elsewhere for a bit of value, hardly surprisingly, we end up with the combination from the Treaty City once again. YANWORTH was a high class hurdler with Alan King in a past life and has taken well to his new job. He’s expected to outrun his current price of 18/1. Like the rest of us however, he may just have to sit back and watch the Tiger roar!
JUVENILE HANDICAP HURDLE
Like anything with the word Handicap in its description at this venue, there are people with college degrees for less than it takes to figure this conundrum out. Essentially, it caters for 4-year-olds just below the mark for the Triumph Hurdle on Friday. Mind you, there will have been contenders ‘laid out’ for this race as with any of the handicaps.
The Gordon Elliott-trained trio of TRONADOR, SAINT DOROUX and ARAMAX certainly fit into that category. However, the ground would appear to have gone against the first of the trio listed. Elsewhere, in what surely must be a unique development, Paul Nicholls starts Day 2 without having had a runner.
One of his entrants today, MICK PASTOR is worthy of respect in this race having been already assigned a rating of 140. Preference, however, is for the representative of his great rival, Nicky Henderson’s PALLADIUM Nico De Bonville’s mount ran to a decent enough level on the Flat and, as can often occur, has in fact stepped up a level since going jumping and, an ability to prosper in tough underfoot conditions may give him the edge here.
And so we come to my favourite race of the entire meeting. From a long way out, the Cheevley Park-owned FERNY HOLLOW was my main fancy here. However, one thing about the Bumper is that the picture therein can change quickly. Thus, when the Beat Hollow gelding took a few tries to get off the mark, some of the sheen was taken off his prospects.
Willie Mullins did, however, unveil an even more exciting type in the shape of APPRECIATE IT. The progeny of Jeremy has impressed progressively with each outing – his defeat of Risk Factor and Lieutenant Command being particularly noteworthy.
Another fascinating Mullins angle to the race is that of a horse who has actually left his care – PANIC ATTACK. She looked very impressive when, very unusually for a Closutton inmate, starting off in a Mares Bumper at Market Rasen, where she dotted up by 10 lengths. Sold quite quickly thereafter, the daughter of Canford Cliffs has since been taken over by David Pipe (something I wouldn’t agree with at all but that’s a tale for another day)
Admittedly, new owner Brian Drew has enjoyed considerable success with the Pond House operation in the past. Most notably with Moon Racer in this very contest. Pipe also holds reasonable claims courtesy of ISRAEL CHAMP.
A chance will be taken this time round with QUEEN’S BROOK from the Gordon Elliott yard for an each way flutter. The Shirocco mare put in two sparkling displays between the flags before dismissing what in fairness may have been an ordinary field in a Gowran card-closer with consummate ease.
What may be of even more significance is the fact that yard sponsor Noel Moran bought not only her (for €160,000) but also the third placed Who’s The Boss which gives some indication of the quality of the Point-to-Point. She’ll do for me.