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Tips for the Cheltenham Festival

Off and running

Michael Duffy

Day one

Grandouet can tame Hurricane

IT’S been a damp and dreary winter and the overcoat will certainly be needed for Cheltenham 2013 but expect Prestbury Park to be in pristine condition once that famous roar goes up today (Tuesday) at 1.30pm.
It’s always important to get off to a good start if at all possible for punters and in the Supreme Novices Hurdle it’s usually a case of deciding whether to lump the hotpot or seek each way value elsewhere.
The race has been a graveyard for favourites in the recent past and we have to go back to 2004 to see a favourite win (Brave Inca). This year’s talking horse is My Tent or Yours but like JP McManus’s other big chance, Jezki, his best form seems to be on soft ground and for me the forgotten horse of the race is Dodging Bullets.
He has two course wins here, was a fast finishing fifth in last year’s Triumph, and was only seven lengths behind the tragic Darlan in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton. He is great value at around 10-1.
The Arkle this year looks a three-horse race with Captain Conan likely to go for the Jewson. Simonsig is hugely exciting but it’s hard to justify his odds-on price based on the fact his two runs over fences have been on heavy ground and his win in the Neptune last year was over 2m 5f. Overturn ticks more boxes for me.
He was higher-rated over hurdles, was second in a Champion Hurdle and has an extra run over fences under his belt. Arvika Ligeonniere has arguably achieved the most over fences so far, having won a Grade One but Overturn might just have the guts to fend off all challengers.
Our first taste of handicap action comes in the competitive JLT Speciality Handicap Chase where likely favourite Our Mick looks a solid option. He was third in the race last year and although he unseated on his only run since, he remains unexposed and his trainer is bullish. Monkerty Tunkerty is the one at the lower end of the handicap that I like and he can run a big race for owner trainer Jessica Westwood.
It’s the big one at 3.20pm and the 2013 renewal of the Champion Hurdle is fascinating to say the least. Hurricane Fly and Binocular are bidding to become the first horses to regain hurdling’s blue riband event since Comedy of Errors in 1975 and the field going to post is likely to be the smallest since 1980. I believe that will suit Hurricane Fly but you have to wonder whether he will have the turn of foot at the age of nine to see off younger pretenders. On this ground, I believe a fit and well Grandouet can win.
Nicky Henderson decided to bypass Wincanton in February due to soft ground and if Barry Geraghty can keep this six-year-old on the steel until the bottom of the hill, his turn of foot could put the issue to bed.
The last three races of day one will feel like a bit of an anti-climax after what looks like being a special Champion Hurdle but all winners are special for connections at Cheltenham.
The Cross Country looks extremely competitive and its hard to separate those at the top of the market but it might be worth taking a chance on Any Currency who has nice pieces of form at Cheltenham and looks well in at the weights.
I really hope Quevega can win the David Nicholson for the fifth time and make a piece of Cheltenham history in the process. The only fear is that age is catching up with her but she is so lightly-raced that should not be an issue. Swing Bowler could be the one to chase her home if David Pipe runs her here.
Finally, the Novices Handicap Chase is not one to be banking on for a winner but Colour Squadron could be the class horse of the race and is taken to give JP McManus his first victory of the festival.


1.30: Dodging Bullets
2.05: Overturn
2.40: Our Mick
3.20: Grandouet
4.00: Any Currency
4.40: Quevega (nap)
5.15: Colour Squadron

Day Two

Mouse can Rule The World

DAVID Pipe can get day two off to a flyer in the National Hunt Chase with Buddy Bolero.
This seven year-old looked like a proper stayer when bolting up at Leicester back in January and his trainer believes he will improve again on better ground. He’ll be staying on when others are out of steam.
The Neptune Investment Novices Hurdle promises to be one of the races of the week.
Pont Alexandre and The New One could be superstars in the making and rightly head the market but Rule The World could also be a Gold Cup horse in the making and at the prices he makes real appeal. Mouse Morris is of the opinion that this six-year-old will improve on better ground and he fits all the other trends for this particular race. For me he is the value of the race at 8-1.
Dynaste has now gone for the Jewson instead of the Royal and Sun Alliance and for me that opens the door again for Paul Nicholls and his grey Unioniste, who looks like he may have too many gears for likely favourite Boston Bob. Lyreen Legend could run a big race for Dessie Hughes at around the 12-1 mark.
David Pipe’s stable star has been a joy to watch over fences and could go on to be a Gold Cup contender next year. Willie Mullins’ contenders may need cut in the ground so Unioniste is probably the main danger.
The Queen Mother would have been a race to savour had Flemenstar travelled to challenge Sprinter Sacre but, as it stands, it seems only a fall can stop Nicky Henderson’s star from repeat Cheltenham Festival victories. Sanctuaire could be the value to chase home the winner.
The rest of Wednesday’s card looks highly competitive and the Coral Cup has some high quality entries. The one that looks the best in at the weights for me is Charlie Longsdon’s Pendra, who was purchased by JP McManus after chasing home Melodic Rendevous in the Tolworth Hurdle. He could be one of the bets of the week.
The Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle is a race that has improved with age. It’s all about finding a horse with some form with the leading juveniles who may have got in at a nice weight. Gordon Elliott’s Flaxen Flare fits that bill perfectly and he’s a great price at around 20/1.
The last race of day two is the Bumper and the big challenge here will be finding a young horse who has form on decent ground. Sergeant Reckless has had two good efforts on decent ground and on the all-weather, and he would be a hugely popular winner for trainer Mick Channon and flat jockey Richard Hughes.


1.30: Buddy Bolero
2.05: Rule The World
2.40: Unioniste
3.20: Sprinter Sacre
4.00: Pendra (nap)
4.40: Flaxen Flare
5.20: Sergeant Reckless

Day Three

Skies the limit for Cue Card

DAY three should be renamed ‘Tricky Thursday’ as it contains six races that are supremely competitive. The opening race, the Jewson Novices Chase, has now firmly found its place at the festival and this is likely to be as good a renewal as last year’s race won by Sir Des Champs. Dynaste will probably go off favourite and should win for the David Pipe team. Another who could run well is Buckers Bridge in the Sizing Europe colours. He battled well in a tight finish with Twinlight last time out and he could be good each value at the 20-1 mark.
There seems to be general agreement that the best handicapped horse travelling to this year’s meeting is Sam Winner and that’s why he is 4-1 favourite for the Pertemps Final on Thursday. Trainer Paul Nicholls has kept his handicap mark specifically with this race in mind after a return from injury and if he runs up to his form, it’s hard to see him beaten. Another who looks well handicapped is Close House from the David Pipe yard and he can trouble the likely winner up the home straight.
The Ryanair Chase is now a firm favourite at the festival and has thrown up some cracking finishes since its inception in 2005. Irish challengers First Lieutenant and Sizing Europe have to be taken seriously if showing up here but the most likely winner is former Festival Bumper champion, Cue Card. If the ground is decent, I think he will have perfect conditions as 2m 5f seems to be his maximum and he may have too much toe for some of those dropping back from three miles.
The World Hurdle is perhaps the weakest of the Grade Ones in the absence of Big Bucks but it should be an exciting contest as a whole host of horses are fancied.
It seems unlikely Quevaga will run, even it she wins on Tuesday, and for me there are major questions to be answered by a number of the others at the top of the market due to the ground and distance. For that reason, I think two 14-1 shots are the value of the race in Grand Crus and Wonderful Charm, and preference is for the latter due to his recent good form.
This French novice won as he liked on his debut at Chepstow and though it was a nothing race, Paul Nicholls feels there is enough improvement in the horse to take what looks an ordinary Grade One. If Grand Crus returns to anything like the form shown in the 2011 race he wins this doing hand-stands, but that’s a big ‘if’ considering his last three runs at Cheltenham.
Ballynagour has been all the rage for the Byrne Plate Chase since dotting up at Warwick on his debut for David Pipe and he could be another handicap snip, but there is another novice a pound lower with good Cheltenham form that is nearly four times the price. Emma Lavelle is due a festival winner and Easter Meteor is good each-way value at 16-1.
The last race on day three is the Kim Muir Challenge Cup for the amateurs, and although the Irish do not have a good record in this race, I think Magnanimity has a great each way chance to give Dessie Hughes another Festival winner. He has some good place form with some classy animals this season and he was a close fourth in an RSA only two seasons ago, so he could have the class to see off his rivals here.


1.30: Dynaste
2.05: Sam Winner
2.40: Cue Card (nap)
3.20: Wonderful Charm
4.00: Easter Meteor
4.40: Magnanimity

Day Four
Ruby to grab Gold again

THE final day of the Festival gets off to a flyer with the fast and furious Triumph Hurdle. There does not seem to be much depth in the race this year and I think it is safe to say the winner will come from the top three in the market.
Both Rolling Star and Far West have the potential to go right to the top of the hurdling game for their major stables but providing he can handle the undulations of Cheltenham, I think Dessie Hughes’ Our Conor has the race at his mercy. Visually, he could not have been more impressive when trouncing a much hyped field at Leopardstown and he’s the banker for many of the Irish at the Festival.
The County Hurdle looks like attracting a quality field but I am very keen on Cotton Mill from the John Ferguson yard. He was in the process of running a cracker behind Simonsig at last year’s Festival and he made a fine return on ground he hated at Newbury last month. Ferguson feels this is the last time he will run in a handicap and wants to take advantage, so he has to have a great chance.
Plans for many horses are still up in the air for the Albert Bartlett but one horse who has made the race his target since a win here at Cheltenham over The New One is Rebecca Curtis’ At Fishers Cross. He seems to possess the perfect balance of speed and stamina for a race of this nature and he’ll relish the battle up the hill under AP McCoy. At a bigger price, Our Vinnie has run some cracking races for Charles Byrnes this season and he has the potential to run a very big race.
So 24 races in and we have reached the big one, the 2013 Gold Cup. Some arguments can be made for First Lieutenant, Long Run and Captain Chris, but for me this is battle between the three biggest stables in training, Nicholls (Silvinanico Conti), Mullins (Sir Des Champs) and Henderson (Bobs Worth). For me, Nicholls has the edge as his horse seems to be on an upward curve and has had the ideal preparation.
Bobs Worth may just lack for that bit of match fitness and I believe that Sir Des Champs’s form does not stand up to severe scrutiny and lacks the class to win a Gold Cup. At big prices, Cape Tribulation is in the form of his life and could well sneak a place for Malcolm Jefferson.
In the Foxhunters, I think Salsify is well-placed to record back-to-back victories, with the main danger probably coming from old rival Tammy’s Hill, while in the Martin Pipe Handicap Gervey Chambertain looks like one of the bets of the meeting for David Pipe in the his father’s race.
This horse is a half-brother to Grand Crus but looks more straightforward. He had entries in more difficult races but if he comes here, even with a big weight, he will be hard to stop.
Finally, the Grand Annual is a race for the speed merchants over fences and the winner of last year’s County Hurdle, Alderwood, looks to be very well in here and can send the Irish home smiling after what is sure to be another week to remember in the Cotswolds.


1.30: Our Conor (nap)
2.05: Cotton Mill
2.40: At Fishers Cross
3.20: Silvinancio Conti
4.00: Salsify
4.40: Gervey Chambertin
5.20: Alderwood

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