Cheltenham Festival 2014 – Wednesday

So on to day two and it’s Ladies Day !

  • 1.30 Neptune Investment Novices Hurdle

Just like yesterday, the first race sees a Willie Mullins trained, Ruby Walsh ridden favourite and this one is an even shorter price. Faugheen ( touted during the preview circuit as  ‘ a Faugheen Good Horse ‘ ) should start the race shorter than 2-1, in part due to his talents but also because of the withdrawal of Royal Boy early this morning. Some have criticised Faugheen’s jumping but i think it’s been overstated. He smashed yesterdays Supreme Novice runner up Josses Hill by 22 lengths almost a year ago on decent ground and has such an engine that one or two minor mistakes won’t be enough to stop him. Cup Final is a beautifully bred horse and will improve here, and Red Sherlock is unbeaten.

14 of the last 16 winners had contested pattern races over hurdles. 26 of 28 winners started in the first six in the betting whilst 29 from 30 had finished in the first two last time out.

  • 2.05 RSA Chase

The Gold Cup for novices and there’s some good each way value here. The last 14 winners had run at least three times over fences so favourite Ballycasey will have to jump against the stats to win. He’s probably short enough at 6-1. Barry Geraghty has won this race before and thinks highly of O’Faolain’s Boy. The horse won well last time and although that was on soft winter ground, he should be equally at home on this quicker surface. The same applies to Paul Nicholl’s charge Just A Par. Highly regarded, he was expected to be amongst the favourites for this race earlier in the season but after winning comfortably at Newbury, he flopped badly in the Feltham at Kempton. Never begrudge a horse one bad run, especially a novice, and he has also undergone a breathing operation. The former champion trainers horses are always to be feared after being treated for such problems and this smart horse is available at around 28-1 today. Far too big and could run a place at least.

  • 2.40 Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle.

A hot handicap and here are some stats : 7 of the last 9 winners were second season hurdlers. 11 of the last 13 winners had won no more than one handicap. 7 of the last 11 winners won last time out and 11 of the last 13 winners carried no more than 11-2. It’s possible to back a few in this as plenty of horses come into the race in good form but one who surely has to be considered is a baguette, the French bred Smashing, trained by Willie Mullins. His first start in Ireland showed that this is a smart horse, twice denied a run before quickening up to win easily. Won his next race before competing in one of the most competitive races of the season in the Betfair hurdle, never really put into the race and staying on to finish within eleven lengths of the winner. Should be much better today and will like this ground. Calculated Risk is another at big odds who should be coming to hand at just the right time.

  • 3.20 Queen Mother Champion Chase

The obvious starting point with this race is that the best horse in training will not have the chance to defend his crown. Sprinter Sacre is recuperating at Nicky Henderson’s Seven Barrows stable and should be back racing soon. This leaves Sire De Grugy as favourite and the highest rated horse in the race. Two runs at Cheltenham have been met with defeat and it’s no secret this horse is better running right-handed. The same applies to Arvika Ligeonniere and most of the other horses are stepping up in class or have something to find. So maybe it is advisable to return to the Henderson stable and rely upon Captain Conan. Talented, a good jumper and having his first run since being treated for a minor ailment which affected his performance last time when finishing third behind Sire De Grugy in the Tingle Creek. At 9-2 he’s also very backable each way.

  • 4.00 Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase

It usually pays to choose something with course experience as 25 of the last 26 winners had contested one of these events before. The two to concentrate on are probably Balthazar King and Big Shu. The latter has looked impressive at around 4 miles so ran well enough when finishing second over 3 miles at Punchestown over a month ago. That should have put him spot on for this. He is unbeaten when racing beyond 3 1/2 miles and is also a year younger than his main rival. He should run a big race.

  • 4.40 Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle

Previous runnings suggest we should be looking for an improving, well-bred horse who might not have appeared a superstar at first as 7 of the 9 winners were beaten on their first 2 starts over hurdles and 6 of the last 7 winners were sired by a Group 1 winner on the flat. Dawalan has been well touted for this and trainer Nicky Henderson has won the race before so knows what it takes. Astre De La Cour won well last time and should run well but the selection here is Katgary. This will be his first run on an English racecourse but if his latest winning performance in France is anything to go on, he’s a smart horse. Trained by former champion trainer Paul Nicholls with this race in mind, he should be well handicapped having lost his first two runs over obstacles before winning his next two. The switch to English racing should be a successful one.

  • 5.15 Champion Bumper

No obstacles here, other than trying to find the winner ! 19 of the 21 winners won last time out and 16 of the 21 winners had won a bumper with at least 14 runners. Willie Mullins has trained a record 8 winners of the race and has three very smart horses lining up today. However, opinions on the best of those seems to differ and change almost by the hour and Willie seems to prefer Killultagh Vic whilst son Paddy, who rides most of these bumper horses, prefers Black Hercules for today’s test. However, i’m taking them on with the Dermot Weld trained Vigil. The trainer Dermot Weld doesn’t have the greatest of records at the course but this is a very smart horse. The win last time at Leopardstown is also encouraging as the stiff finish there will stand him in good stead for the Cheltenham hill. Barely came off the bit during that win and there’s plenty more to come. Available at around 7-1, he should be backed each way as this is competitive.

cheltstand

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