1:30 – Jewson Novices Chase
Dynaste (2/1) sets off as the favourite for the opener on St Patrick’s Day at Cheltenham for David Pipe, and on a day dedicated to the patron saint of Ireland it won’t go down too well with the men in green if the British horse were to claim the spoils. He has gone 3 from 3 in chases which account for his last 3 outings, one of which came here in November where he triumphed by 4 1/2 lengths amongst class 2 listed company. The only other entrant coming into this race off the back of a hat trick is Captain Conan (6/1) and to further bolster the claims of the Henderson horse is that he is 3 from 3 on Soft ground, which will suit him down to a T at this course. Sire Collognes (33/1) will be hoping to bounce back from a beating here in November where he was miles behind Our Father, which follows on from victory here in October, and a convincing win at Fontwell last May, however the latter did come in Class 4 company.
Benefficient (20/1) does have pretty mixed form recently, and has shown that he doesn’t handle Soft ground too well, but his claims on Heavy ground (2 wins from 5) most recently winning on that going by 20 lengths at Leopardstown, give him claims to potentially pull off the victory if the ground becomes more suitable. Changing Times (66/1) as an outsider could be threatening, he has shown that he can handle the soft ground, winning twice on that going before finishing 4th to Third Intention on heavy ground last month at Sandown, and could spring a surprise if at his best.
Selection – Dynaste (WIN) is very difficult to oppose off the back of his recent successes, but should conditions not suit him as much as he prefers then it could be down to Captain Conan (EACH WAY) to claim the spoils for the Henderson yard.
2:05 – Pertemps Final
It shows how wide open this race is when there are just two entrants of the 24 strong field who are at single digit odds, unsurprisingly enough I have a few at big odds, Jetson (16/1) is the shortest of these and could provide cheers for the Irish contingent should he be able to find the same form that has seen him win twice on soft ground from 5 starts, American Trilogy (20/1) is another with credentials, but he does only have a sole win on the soft ground, Junior (28/1) has seen his youthful years pass him by, but the 11 year old is solid over this ground, although his form over hurdles has seen him only win once in 15 starts. Catch Me (28/1) will be hoping that the rest of the opposition can’t do what his name says, but his age is a concern, and although he has 4 wins from 9 on soft ground, he is yet to win at Cheltenham. Fair Along (33/1) is another one whose best years have passed by, but 4 wins at this course, a 60% strike rate on Soft ground, and a win last time out all make for decent enough form going into this race.
Of the rest, Bouggler (33/1) has gone close plenty of times on soft ground, First Fandango (50/1) comes into this off the back of three solid outings, and American Spin (50/1) has gone off the boil, but does possess decent ability to perform well on soft ground, winning 2 out of 4 starts on the going.
Selection – It’s such a difficult race to find a winner in that any bets should only be for speculation, Jetson (WIN) is probably the strongest of the market leaders, but still pretty hit and miss, whilst Fair Along (EACH WAY) despite fastly approaching the end of his career, has managed to show some sort of form recently and could potentially pull off a shock if he performs to the best of his ability.
2:40 – Ryainair Chase
The decision to send Sizing Europe out in the Queen Mother Champion Chase has left the Ryanair Chase wide open, with nearly all of those entered having strong claims. Cue Card (7/2) will probably be many people’s choice given the decision to go for this race over the Champion Chase, he is unbeaten on Soft ground in the UK, a strong contender amongst the top grade with 4 wins from 10 in Class 1 company, and last time out at Ascot a month ago he won a 6 runner affair by 6 lengths, where he was over 30 lengths clear of a weakening Finian’s Rainbow (16/1) who finished last of the pack. Finian’s Rainbow returns to the Festival following on from his Champion Chase success last year, but there are no omens that it could be another decent year for him this time around. He has shown that he isn’t the strongest on softer ground, and a large part of his success from last season could probably be put down to the conditions being slightly firmer than they are expected to be this year. Should it be a very dry evening and a pretty warm day then there’s every chance he could once again be a contender, but if not then it is probably safe to dismiss his claims.
Menorah (8/1) is quite the opposite to the Henderson trained Finian’s Rainbow, he will need conditions to be pretty Heavy in order to recreate his best form, otherwise he shouldn’t be too much if a challenge for the likes of Cue Card, whilst Riverside Theatre (6/1) is probably where Henderson will have the most faith as he has every opportunity to bounce back to the same sort of form that saw him claim the title here last year after two poor outings since then on Good-Soft ground at Kempton when finishing 6th and behind Ryanair rival Champion Court, and also when pulling up on heavy ground at Ascot last April.
Selection – Despite not looking too handy in his two runs since, it’s hard not to fancy Riverside Theatre (WIN) to retain his title here, considering he is yet to be beaten over the distance. There are a few strong claims for others to go well, but of those at a bigger price it could be worth some interest in going for a Henderson one-two with Finian’s Rainbow (EACH WAY) if conditions end up being very similar to those which saw him triumph on the Wednesday in 2012.
3:20 – World Hurdle
The main attraction for Day 3 of the festival is the World Hurdle, Oscar Whisky (4/1) is the unsurprising favourite based on his 10 wins from 15 starts over hurdles, and again, Nicky Henderson is the trainer and Barry Geraghty the jockey for last years fifth place horse, which Geraghty said afterwards just didn’t get home. He was beaten here in November by rival Reve De Sivola, but on best form it is very difficult to oppose him. Peddlers Cross (10/1) is well worth watching as he has 4 wins from 4 on soft ground, and 7 from 9 over hurdles, Donald McCain & Jason Maguire team up for him as a pairing who have gone from strength to strength over the last couple of years. Solwhit (10/1) leads the surge for the Irish he either seems to finish first or second on outings and has solid ground on Soft, Soft-Heavy & Heavy going where overall he has only managed to miss out on at least a placing once from 14 outings, and has a 55% career strike rate in jumps races overall. As for outsiders, Celestial Halo (50/1) is probably the pick of the bunch, his last win came 4 outings ago, but 4 wins from 6 on soft ground for the Nicholls horse makes him a contender, and although he has only won 6 from 21 races amongst class 1 company, he does have 7 places to go with it.
Selection – Oscar Whisky (WIN) is definitely the pick for the World Hurdle, he may have been overturned by Reve De Sivola back in January, but the ground is slightly less heavier than it was that day which should turn the tide in Oscar’s favour. Celestial Halo (EACH WAY) has credentials for a place in the big race of the day and is hard to ignore considering the price.
4:00 – Byrne Group Plate
Ballynagour (4/1) heads the market as the 4/1 favourite here, he won last time out on the soft ground at Warwick, but arguments could be made that favourtism comes on the back of that result, prior to that victory he hadn’t shown much in the way of form, with only one victory in 6 outings, and was well beaten when pulled up in a 17 runner field back in July last year over in France, it could be argued that there are others which pose more of a threat, and one such entrant to whom that may apply is Hunt Ball (8/1) . The Kieran Burke trained runner put in a decent performance when finishing third here in January (although he was a country mile behind second placed Imperial Commander), he is 6 from 8 over the distance, and has won twice from 3 starts on Soft ground.
Vino Griego (14/1) has won on his last two outings, the first of which was at this course, finishing well clear of the chasing pack, and the time before that he finished second at Plumpton on Soft ground. Tartak (20/1) hasn’t shown much recently, but previous performances have shown that he has the ability within him to throw down the gauntlet to the field, whilst from the outsiders, Poquelin (25/1) has had his fair share of success at this course (5 times from 16 outings), and Hector’s Choice (50/1) has won once on his three outings here, but his price can be justified by the fact that it’s been a long time since he pushed for the spoils
Selection – It has probably not been enough to convince me that Ballynagour warrants his favourite status on the back of his recent success, and so for me the win selection should go with a more proven runner in Hunt Ball (WIN). Vino Griego (EACH WAY) looks decent proposition on the basis of those two recent wins and could go close again once more if things fall into place
Swing Bill (25/1) will be hoping to put 2 fourth placed finishes behind him when he heads out of the David Pipe team, he managed to pick up a victory on Good to Soft ground here in November as with the course looking set to be similar, he could once again pull a victory out of the bag at a price. Harry The Viking (16/1) is another at a price that’s hard to turn down, he hasn’t been at his best recently but has previously put in strong performances and Paul Nicholls will be hoping that the 2 wins from 3 starts on Good-Soft ground will suit him.
Frisco Depot (16/1) could be dangerous, he’s another who been out of sorts, but the ground is likely to be a major problem.
Galaxy Rock(16/1) seems to find his best at this course, especially on similar conditions to today if a second in November and a victory the year before are anything to go by, whilst Becauseicouldntsee(16/1) is another that’s been out of sorts, but has done reasonably well on the going
Selection – Swing Bill (EACH WAY) looks solid for at least a place, whilst for a hail Mary its Galaxy Rock (WIN) that gets the nod based on past success here
5:15 – Cross Country Handicap Chase
I have found it hard to find claims for a lot of runners in this field, including the two market leaders Arabella Boy and Outlaw Pete, Uncle Junior (8/1) and Bostons Angel (9/1) follow next in the market, but despite both having very strong claims (probably the latter more so than the former), they could be more suited to racing with a fair bit of rain overnight. Any Currency (14/1) is well worth watching out for, he pushed on for 4th at Catterick back in January and has placed on soft ground 7 times from 9 outings. Shakervilz (25/1) has won 2 from 3 outings on soft ground, and finished 5th behind Arabella Boy, Big Shu and Uncle Junior at Punchestown last month on heavier ground, but the softer touch here could be a leveler for the 10 year old.
Selection – Despite being beaten by both Arabella Boy and Outlaw Pete in the last year, Bostons Angel (WIN) should be fancied to rectify from second places at both Punchestown in November (Arabella Boy) and here in a Cross Country chase back in December (Outlaw Pete) to overturn the result against both an claim the spoils. SHAKERVILZ (EACH WAY) has shown he can race with the best of the field here on ground more suited to them, and he may well be worth an outside interest given the ground being more suited to him this time around