Here are Liam’s thoughts for Day 1 at the Cheltenham Festival. It’s always worth going through all horses (even if you don’t fancy them) and writing down some notes about them. Sometimes a horse you didn’t fancy starts looking appealing and some that you thought would run well don’t look as appealing.
All Cheltenham Festival Selections from Liam
Liam has been busy this year spotting those who he really likes for Cheltenham Festival races and he and our members are in great positions for plenty of races including having advised Discorama for the Ultima Handicap Chase at 33/1. To see all of his selections for the Cheltenham Festival to date sign up for a Premium or Professional Subscription (MONTHLY PREMIUM and PROFESSIONAL Subscriptions are currently 50% off for the first month)
Asterion Forlonge – won a Grade 1 comfortably last time out, form of his Maiden hurdle also worked out well. Looks to a future stayer and should be strong in the finish. Mullins has a good record with Deloitte/Pharma Hurdle winners at the Cheltenham Festival (Klassical Dream, Vautour, Nichols Canyon, Champagne Fever). I think he goes off favourite and is the one to beat.
Shishkin – clearly has a lot of ability, having won his last 2 starts over hurdles (arguably not beating as much as Asterion Forlonge but you can only beat what you are faced with). Last time out he was stepped up to an easy 2m3f so should have the required stamina (I feel you need to stay 2m2mf to get home here) to run a big race. Nicky Henderson has a really poor record in this race and although NO HORSE has in the last 25 YEARS run in the Supreme Novices Hurdle having won the Sidney Banks at Huntingdon, this might not be a negative for Henderson who may need to switch it up with his Supreme Novice contenders to find a winner. In my National Hunt Horses To Follow with this race as his target but I’m siding with Asterion Forlonge now.
Fiddlerontheroof – another very talented horse but probably needs soft or softer conditions to show his best. Currently he’s very likely to get this sort of ground. His record of 3 wins from 7 races is a concern and even if you take just those since trained by Colin Tizzard he’s only 2 from 4. His best run clearly came last time out in the Tolworth Hurdle although the runner up didn’t nothing to frank that form last time out when beaten in a Mares Handicap off 136. Calva D’Auge who was back in 4th is the only subsequent winner from (2 wins in Novice events) 5 runs. Calva D’Auge has been well beaten in a Grade 2 since.
Envoi Allen – if the ground comes up soft/heavy then it wouldn’t surprise me to see Envoi Allen run here instead of the Ballymore Novices Hurdle. He’s 7 from 7 and would obviously have a massive chance if he ran here. He’s won over 2m4f as well showing he has the stamina and would be finding all the way up the hill. His best run arguably came in the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse where he beatn Abacadabras & Darver Star. The former had won a Grade 3 and has now won a Grade 1 whilst the 3rd ran Honeysuckle to 1/2 length at Leopardstown. This bit of form looks to be the strongest piece of Novice form around. I actually think running in the Ballymore would be ducking and be significantly easier than here.
Abacadabras – is reportedly a possible absentee if the ground is too soft. Soft or softer and we could see Envoi Allen but no Abacadabras. His 2nd to Envoi Allen could be the strongest piece of form for those who are expected to run in this race although his trainer’s ground concerns would be a worry. He is a Grade 1 winner but you could argue this was a weak Grade 1 (2nd beaten in a Mares Listed, 3rd beaten in a handicap off 140, 4th pulled up in Grade 1).
Captain Guinness – became a Supreme Novice contender after finishing 2nd to Andy Dufresne at Punchestown in the Moscow Flyer Grade 2 Hurdle. Andy Dufresne has since been beaten (again) at Naas and may not be quite as good (at least over hurdles) as people first thought. Belfast Banter who he beat in a Maiden hurdle has since been beaten 3 times from 3 runs and doesn’t have that form frank like Pencilfuloflead did for Asterion Forlonge.
Edwardstone – has arguably done nothing wrong and could still be overpriced at 16/1. He won on hurdles debut BEATING Fiddlerontheroof who is half the price at 8/1. He then won at Aintree beating Harry Senior (2 from 2 since including a Grade 2) before getting caught on the line when hanging after the last at Haydock by Stolen Silver who was given a fantastic never say die ride from Sam Twiston-Davies. This came on very heavy and testing conditions. Stolen Silver had shown he is very useful on softer conditions having won at Ffos Las by 17 lengths in a Novice hurdle. His form mixes it with some useful horses who are hopefuls for the Supreme and Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle and he could have been overlooked here.
Chantry House has a strong form line with Edwardstone having beaten Stolen Silver at Cheltenham in December 2019. I do believe as the season goes on the then 4 year olds can get closer to the then 5 year olds (when 5 against 6 year olds) and Stolen Silver had pushed Chantry House a long way. Chantry House had also beaten Edwardstone in a NHF at Warwick back in March 2019 and the 3rd was the horse who finished 2nd to Shishkin at Huntingdon. Comparing to Shishkin and what rivals had achieved or have achieved, Chantry House looks much better form and I would argue that he’s the Number 1 for Nicky Henderson.
Arkle Novices Chase
Notebook – looks to have a very solid profile and looks the right favourite with the only niggle in the back of my mind being that he was sent off 50/1 for a Ballymore last year and was well beaten back in 12th (last finisher) beaten 51 lengths. Previous winners of the Arkle had finished 5th, 3rd, 1st , 1st , 1st , 3rd , 4th, 2nd in their Novice hurdle from the year before. It’s possible he was just a chaser and he was not really worked on as a hurdler, or did he hate the track? If he had finished in the top 5 of the Ballymore last year he would be close to being my NAP of the festival.
Fakir D’Oudaries ran a great race last year when 4th in the Supreme Novices as a 4 year old before finishing 2nd at Aintree and Punchestown in Juvenile Grade 1 events. He stepped up to fences in great style beating Melon on his first run and then comfortably beating 3 mile+ chasers at Fairyhouse. He was beaten at Leopardstown by Notebook and will be 7lb worse off at the Festival as he won’t get any weight for age allowance. He clearly has a lot of ability and I think will be even better next year but that 7lb could be very crucial.
Cash Back ran Notebook closer than Fakir D’oudaries and wont be worse off at the weights with Notebook at the Cheltenham and yet is a bigger price than Fakir D’Oudaries which is a bit strange. Cash Back when being allowed to lead 12112 with his defeats coming in a Grade 2 (beaten ¾ length) and in a Grade 1 (beaten ¾ length) and he certainly can’t be dismissed here. If he’s allowed an easy lead then he really isn’t going to be easy to pass.
Brewin’Upastorm finished 4th last year at the Festival in the same race that Notebook was a well beaten 12th. He came there around the outside going really well at the 2nd when fluffing it and losing ground. He quickly picked up again and was 3rd behind City Island Champ coming to the last before being run out of 3rd by Bright Forecast. A subsequent 2nd in a Grade 1 behind Reserve Tank at Aintree was a good run. Over fences he’s 2 from 2 including beating the Pendil Novices Chase runner up Southfield Stone. The 2m trip should suit, Cash Back should set the race up nicely and he only went off 11/1 for the Ballymore compared to 50/1 for Notebook. I like him a lot for this race.
Maire Banrigh has done NOTHING wrong at all for Dan Skelton. She’s won her last 6 races including a Listed Mares Chase (albeit at 1/4). Comfortably beat Baddesley Knight (giving him 3lb) who pushed Rouge Vif (off levels) a long way at Market Rasen and WILL get her 7lb Mares Allowance here. On that form line and allowance she should be a lot shorter than Rouge Vif who is 5th favourite for this race. The better the ground the better she should run.
Ultima Handicap Chase
Very frustrating here for me, Vintage Clouds at 50/1 has since won and is higher in the weights than ideal, Lake View Lad will miss Cheltenham and go straight to Aintree after a small setback. We do though have one that is being well supported the last few days.
Vinndication – made my Horses To Follow with a race at Ascot in mind and he duly won a good handicap at Ascot back in November but hasn’t been seen since. Wichita Lineman was the last horse to win this race having not run in the Calendar year. He’s clearly very talented with only his lack of a recent run (stone bruise prevented a return to Ascot earlier this year) the only negative. Whilst he has to carry top weight, Lake View Lad finished 3rd last year off top weight whilst Un Temps Pour Tout won this 2 years before that off top weight.
The Conditional – I feel should have won last time out and completely disagree he didn’t stay. He got a momentum stopping ‘block’ from Kimberlite Candy at a crucial time and was never able to pick back up afterwards. Crazily the handicapper dropped him 2lb for that effort and there really doesn’t look to be any negatives about him here to be honest. I think he goes very close here for David Bridgwater. Personally I would have skipped Cheltenham and targeted the more lucrative (£84k compared to £62k) Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown and very much prevented him from ‘bottoming out’ but obviously the draw of Cheltenham is a huge thing too.
Kildisart – arrives here on the back of a very eyecatching run when a fast finishing 5th over 3m at Kempton (easy 3m) off a 1lb higher mark and is 9lb better off with Vinndication from when they finished 4th and 5th in the JLT last year. They both looked like 3m+ horses that day and you can’t really say this 3m will suit Vinndication more than it will Kildisart. There doesn’t really look to be any negatives about Kildisart
Discorama – is one I like here and on at better prices and he’s been well supported in the last few days. After failing to qualify for the Pertemps Final (race was abandoned) he’s only got this one entry at the Festival. He looks very solid having finished 2nd in the Martin Pipe in 2018 and 2nd in the National Hunt Challenge Chase in 2019. When 2nd in 2018 he beat subsequent Cheltenham winners Early Doors and Sire Du Berlais. 2nds to Delta Work and Champagne Classic in April and October were good efforts before a reasonable effort at Navan when he never really got close enough having been sent off at 7/1. I think he can go very close again here , back at Cheltenham where he is clearly primed for.
Who Dares Wins – has bags of experience with wins and places at Wolverhampton, Sandown, Chester, Newbury, Newmarket, Aintree, Newcastle and importantly at the Cheltenham Festival when 3rd in the Coral Cup. He finished 5th in a good Pertemps Final back in 2018 off 149 and would run here off 147 despite winning a Grade 2 Pendil Novices Chase recently at Kempton. He is clearly very talented and should run a big race again. It’s whether there is an improver that is still ahead of their handicap mark.
Epatante – has run one bad run in her career when disappointing in the Mares Novice Hurdle last year where she was only 9th. She was clearly well thought of even then as she had won on British debut at 8/15 , won at Exeter on her next start at 1/6 and was sent off just 15/8 for the Mares Novice Hurdle. She was last seen winning on Boxing Day in the Christmas Hurdle. It may have appeared a weak Christmas Hurdle but she beat them comfortably and Ballyandy has won since giving the form some substance. It looks a weak Champion Hurdle with her main rivals having been beaten whilst Honeysuckle runs in the Mares Hurdle. Epatante is the right favourite and is definitely the one to beat.
Pentland Hills – from the same stable could be her biggest danger although he’s not kicked on like connections would have hoped this year. It’s possible he was good enough to win during his Juvenile season because he brought lots of experience from the flat. This year he was disappointing at Cheltenham when 5th behind Call Me Lord. He travelled well that day but found very little and arguably did the same at Haydock when run down by Ballyandy late on and although he will be 3lb better off, I think Ballyandy can run him down again however unsure what position that gets Ballyandy. It’s possible he needs another year before he finishes his races off well enough to go close in a Champion Hurdle.
Call Me Lord – narrowly won at Cheltenham in the Grade 2 Unibet International in December beating Ballyandy by a neck. He was disappointing on his next start at Sandown where he should have been beating Quel Destin however it’s possible he didn’t like the very heavy going (hadn’t won by far when winning a handicap on the ground in January 2018). I thought that day at Cheltenham he got the run of the race and some of his rivals were given poor rides and think he’ll find a couple too good here.
Verdana Blue – if the going had the word ‘good’ in it, I would be VERY keen on Verdana Blue who has been running very good efforts on ground that doesn’t suit. If the ground is soft then I think she’ll struggle to pick up and run her usual credible race without getting close to the winners. The Scottish Champion Hurdle again could be the main target despite being 6lb (currently) higher than last year.
Ballyandy – has been mentioned a few times here already. I think he can go very close here IF ridden right on the leaders. He stays further, simple as that so bringing his stamina into play has got to be the way to ride him here. When he failed to catch Call Me Lord in December he was given too much to do and was in front a few strides after the line. He was then not fast enough over 2m at Kempton (this is like a 1m4f race) before winning at Haydock when running down Pentland Hills where the ground brought his stamina into play. A strong pace, sitting on the leaders and the stiff uphill finish will really suit. He’s also got plenty of Festival experience (Bumper winner, 4th in Supreme, 3rd in Coral Cup).
This is quite a boring race in my opinion with 1 or 2 normally dominating and I think this is down to 2 (very unoriginal) with 1 or 2 fighting out the places. It’s not really a race I want to get involved at this stage.
Benie Des Dieux – was going to win this easily last year but dived at the last and fell. She bounced back at Punchestown winning comfortably before winning in France just 14 days later beating De Bon Coeur who is very very classy. Last time out she won by 21 lengths over 3 miles and showed she has plenty of stamina as well as speed and I think she would go very close in a Champion Hurdle and a Stayers Hurdle (I hope she runs in the Stayers Hurdle). If she runs here, I am confident she beats Honeysuckle but she has the ability to beat the boys.
Honeysuckle looks to be the 2nd best Mare around at the moment and was being touted as a Champion Hurdle horse earlier this season before the decision was made recently that she runs here instead. She’s won all 7 races she’s competed in so clearly very talented but her most recent win at Leopardstown was arguably the least convincing. She definitely hasn’t come up against a real big run who has run their race and Benie Des Dieux will be her biggest challenge to date.
Roksana – looked booked for 2nd , and a good 2nd when Benie Des Dieux fell at the last hurdle last year and should give another good account of herself here. She’s actually unbeaten in Mares races (4 from 4) but as I’ve said was fortunate last year in this race. She’s one that should be in the mix for the 3rd place (if both above run).
Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase
This was turned into a procession last year by A Plus Tard but I think this year it will be a much closer race with lots in with chances.
Imperial Aura – had only run 5 times and had finished a good 3rd in a Grade 3 Handicap at Chepstow when connections went over fences. This was eyecatching as they clearly feel he can be very useful over fences. He won on chasing debut at 1/25 before a good 2nd to Pym (our NagMe for that day so the form is strong) before finishing 2nd at Cheltenham over this trip beaten by Simply The Betts (our NagMe that day and the form should be strong). 3rd On The Slopes has since come out and won franking the form and Imperial Aura looks to have a massive chance here.
Galvin – has been well supported in the last week or so and we can certainly understand why. His best performance to date arguably came when a good 6th in the Ballymore Novices Hurdle last year. He’s been carefully campaigned this year and arrives still a maiden over fences but his mark of 142 looks workable. Salsaretta who beat him last time out has since won twice more over fences in good style and Galvin surely runs a good race here.
Hold The Note – would be running for the same connections as Mister Whitaker who won this race in 2018 and also had Knock House finish 5th in this race in 2015. Last season he ended finishing 2nd in a Novices Hurdle and returned straight over fences this year where he went off 13/8 and finished 3rd. The race at Kempton looked the plan in December (Glen Forsa for connections won it in 2018 and Mister Whitaker had finished 2nd) but he was hampered by a horse falling in front of him and pulled up soon after. He was stepped up to 3m on his next start at Warwick (where the fences take some jumping) and he ran a great race for 2nd. Turning into the straight he looked the most likely winner but arguably got outstayed and the drop back in trip should be perfect. He should go very close here for connections who know what it takes to win this race.
Sensulano – has done nothing wrong this season winning twice and finishing 2nd twice to the talented pair of Poker Play and Magic of Light. Her most recent run when 2nd to Magic Of Light looked very much like connections were trying to protect her handicap mark and she’s only rated 136 which looks workable. Getting into the race (36 when only 20 run) looks tricky though. If she gets in then I think she can go well here and she has won at Cheltenham so the track shouldn’t be an issue.
Tower Bridge – we were on last year in this race and if you took out the Grade 1 A Plus Tard he has won this well pulling away at the finish. Having not won over fences last season he retained his Novice status which allows him to run here again should they wish. This season he finished 4th to Tornado Flyer at Naas when not beaten far and looking like he needed the run. He’s since stepped up to 3m and pulled up the last twice in competitive handicaps. He’s only been sent off 7/1 and 8/1 for these races and so clearly is well handicapped. If there’s no Grade 1 animal in the race he could certainly run another big race here back in distance and back to Cheltenham where he coped with the hustle and bustle of last year.
National Hunt Challenge Chase
Carefully Selected – may only have to jump round safely to win here as many of his biggest rivals are going for the RSA Chase instead. His form is very good with his 3 defeats coming in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham (2nd), 3rd in a Grade 1 Bumper at Punchestown and 3rd in a Grade 1 Novice Hurdle at Punchestown. You could argue he should also be running in the 3m RSA Chase but connections have earmarked this 3m6f race at an early stage and are not swaying from this.
Copperhead – looked like he may have been the biggest danger having won the 3m Reynoldstown at Ascot in great style but recent reports suggest connections feel he does have the pace for the RSA Chase.
Ravenhill – is interesting as this morning (4th March) he has started to be supported for this race despite Gordon Elliott telling everyone at a preview that he was his best chance in a Handicap. This race isn’t a handicap. The 10 year old has been running well in good handicaps this year including finishing 2nd to Poker Part at Listowel in the Kerry National. If he does try further and run here, he looks to be the biggest danger to Carefully Selected but he definitely isn’t as good.