We move into the second half of the Cheltenham Festival on Thursday which means we leave the Old Course behind and focus on the New Course at Prestbury Park, on an afternoon where the highlight is the Stayers’ Hurdle.
We have already previewed that race elsewhere but the support card includes a couple of excellent looking Grade 1s and a trio of tough to solve handicaps. Away from the Stayers, we’re parking the Grade 1 interest on Thursday and focusing on those handicaps.
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2.10 Cheltenham: Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle
A maximum field of 24 go to post for an incredibly handicap hurdle over 3 miles. There’s 2 or 3 challenging for favouritism but all look to have flaws.
Relegate is massively inexperienced. He was the winner of the Bumper here 2 years back but there has to be a question over his ability to handle the bustle of a race like this. Welsh Saint won a Haydock qualifier on heavy but there’s only been 2 winners this century that have early won a qualifier, whilst The Storyteller looks too short at around 5/1 but did run 6th in the big Leopardstown qualifier over Christmas which is a race I’m focusing on for the first 2 of my bets.
Tout Est Permis was favourite for that race & finished 2 places in front of The Storyteller but is now around 4 times the price. His next hurdle run was again full of promise, finishing 4th again behind the same horse so he has the form. Last time out, he ran in a chase, preserving his mark, so this switch back to hurdles along with the big field should help. He’s rated 153 over fences too (5lb lower than The Storyteller) but he’s 13lb lower than that same horse over hurdles; add to that the 7lb claim of his jockey, he could be seriously underestimated by the handicapper.
6th in this race 2 years ago was A Great View and he comes here again with a massive chance. He’s bidding to gain Cheltenham compensation as, that day, he was in with every chance before blundering 2 out. He showed that run was no fluke as he won a 25 runner handicap at Punchestown Festival next time up. Since then, he’s been lightly raced and was 10th in that Christmas qualifier at Leopardstown when again making a slight mistake at a critical point. His last run saw him finish 1 place in front of Relegate in a qualifier, yet he’s 3 times the price. Hard to win with and can make a mistake but his price is too big to ignore.
Our 3rd and final bet is Skandiburg, a horse that has the ideal profile for the race being a progressive 6 year old coming here off the back of a win outside of a qualifier. He started out this season finishing a short head 2nd to Honest Vic who was 5th in the Coral Cup before following it up with 2 wins once stepped to this trip. Both of those wins have seen him outbattle his rivals and staying all the way to the line, including last time over course and distance. Cheekpieces are added today and they could eke out that further improvement, making him a cracking each way bet.
Back Skandiburg (e/w) for a 0.75/10 stake at 11.00 Betfair Sportsbook BOG (⅕ odds 1-6)
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Back A Great View (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 19.00 Paddy Power BOG (⅕ odds 1-7)
PLACED – Back Tout Est Permis (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 21.00 Paddy Power BOG (⅕ odds 1-7)
4.10 Cheltenham: Brown Advisory Plate Handicap Chase
It’s all about the big fields with another maximum field of 24 in a race where a shock isn’t uncommon. Only 3 of the last 22 winners have carried over 11st2lbs and it is worth noting that French breds have a good record in the race.
Simply The Betts is the favourite; he’s a progressive type that won 3 of his last 4 (2nd in the other) but he’s now out of novice company for the first time so the 7/2 puts me off. It’s 10/1 bar and, of the bigger prices, I think Blazer could go well but has a poor win record whilst Not Another Muddle is a good type but hasn’t been seen for a year.
The bet, a risky one, is the big priced Vision Des Flos. He’s a French bred, carrying exactly 11st2lbs and hails from a yard that often gets the best out of a chaser. Let’s get the negatives out of the way; he’s quirky, often a sketchy jumper and may not appreciate the Cheltenham atmosphere. However, if he puts it altogether, his price is ridiculous. He is a very good hurdler rated 155 and is a Grade 2 winner, having been Grade 1 placed. He’s only had 4 starts over fences, 3 of those this term. His first run saw him run RSA winner Champ to 8 lengths (finishing 5th) where he finished lame and was noted as running too free. He then won a 2-runner race easy enough before putting in a poor performance in the Scilly Isles. He was still well fancied for that which says it all about his ability but hitting a couple of fences hard early put paid to his chances. He will appreciate the better ground here and if he polishes up on his jumping, we may just have found a decent big price each way shot.
Back Vision Des Flos (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 23.00 Skybet BOG (⅕ odds 1-6)
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4.50 Cheltenham: Mares Novice Hurdle
It’s the turn of the girls and 22 run in a race that has been totally owned by Willie Mullins.
Mullins has saddled all 4 winners of this race, 3 at very short prices and the other at 50/1. He runs 4 here in a bid to make it 5 from 5.
3 of his runners are in the front 5 in the market where I’m sure the winner will come from. Concertista was 2nd in this last year but is now winless in 4 starts and I don’t see that changing here. Colreevy and Dolcita are closely matched on their run in the Solerina behind today’s favourite Minella Melody. It’s hard to pick out who’ll come out on top today.
Instead, I’ll side with the 1 of the front 5 that isn’t trained in Ireland. That horse is Floressa who is the 2nd highest rated in the race and looks a definite improver. She’s won 2 of her 4 hurdles races; she hacked up on her debut before an unlucky 2nd to Silver Forever on her next start when pecking on landing at the last and failing by a short head. She turned the tables in a Listed event where her past conqueror was back in 3rd. I’d class her as unlucky on her last start when she was close up in 3rd behind the highly experienced Lady Buttons in a Grade 2 where there were shenanigans over the final hurdle & the run-in. She has form at this track too having finished runner-up in a Bumper last year so she has top claims from a yard in good form.
Back Floressa (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 9.00 Coral BOG (⅕ odds 1-4)
5.30 Cheltenham: Kim Muir Handicap Chase
Closing the day is a 23 runner handicap chase for amateur riders over the Gold Cup trip. 4 of the last 5 winners were well fancied & none of them had won earlier in the season. The other thing to note is that those at the top end of the handicap normally come out on top.
This would probably narrow the field to 2 but first, let’s discuss the favourite, Champagne Platinum. He’s a novice, raised in mark despite finishing last on his most recent handicap start and is judged on his 3rd in the Scilly Isles. Quite often a poor jumper, he represents no value.
Le Breuil is one of the 2 on the shortlist and with good reason. He’s from the top of the handicap, is ridden by JJ Codd has ridden 3 of the last 9 winners of the race and is back to the mark of his victory in the NH Chase here 12 months ago. That said, he’s been out of form so far this term.
Instead, and at double the odds, Fitzhenry is the one. He has a top amateur aboard but what most impresses me is his record in big field handicap chases; 2nd of 17, 3rd of 27, 2nd of 23, 2nd of 27 and 13th of 24. That’s as solid as it comes and his winless run has protected his mark somewhat. The 2nd of 27 was when sent off favourite for the Paddy Power Chase, a top quality handicap. It’s also easy to ignore his last run when 13th as he was in with every chance coming over the 2nd last before being badly hampered. But for that, he’d have been right in the mix; his misfortune has kept his mark broadly unchanged & this looks a great opportunity to gain compensation at a decent each way price.
Back Fitzhenry (e/w) for a 0.75/10 stake at 13.00 Betfair Sportsbook BOG (⅕ odds 1-5)
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