10 Cheltenham festival horses to watch
We profile the best Festival runners from trainers like Warren Greatrex
The winner of all three starts over fences this season, Warren Greatrex suggested after his latest victory at the Hennessy Meeting at Newbury that he would aimed at a handicap chase at the Festival via a prep race over hurdles so expect him to a major contender for his chosen port of call. Having started from a low starting base (he won off just 108 when successful at Uttoxeter in October) he will still be at the right end of the handicap wherever he lines up and travelled very strongly throughout when a ready winner the last time we saw him over fences. There is plenty more to come from this six-year-old.
Alpha Des Obeaux
Put himself right into the World Hurdle picture with an authoritative victory in the John Mulhern Galmoy Hurdle where a big feature of his success was how slickly he jumped and especially for a staying hurdler and on testing ground that didn’t play to his strengths. He did make a mistake three out but his otherwise-quick hurdling will be seen to better effect on faster ground so it’s a shame for his supporters that the last three quarters of a mile on the New Course is basically a flat race with just two flights to negotiate. Still, he is on an upward curve, has never finished out of the first two in nine completions and was giving Thistlecrack plenty to think about when he fell at the final flight at Aintree last April.
Will be one of the horses than is advantaged by the Cross Country Chase becoming a conditions race this season rather than a handicap and he has a big each-way chance if you can overlook his poor run here in December under Richard Johnson after which his trainer commented that he had found a problem. Runner-up in this race for the previous two years in tight finishes and also a runaway winner over this course last season, his record over these fences reads: 93224128 and he was sent off 5/2 favourite to beat the current favourite, Josies Orders, on his last start but is now approximately four times a bigger price. His chance would also be increased if his regular rider, Aidan Coleman, is back in the saddle as this 13-year-old is a tricky horse who certainly runs for him.
This Willie Mullins-trained filly has been a little forgotten about since she won the Grade 2 at Leopardstown over Christmas on her only start since coming over from France where she had Footpad (won a Grade 1 since) back in third. She wasn’t unsupported in the morning ahead of her victory at big prices suggesting that she had been pleasing beforehand and demonstrated a determined attitude to get the better of Jer’s Girl. Well-fancied fillies used to have a pretty good record in the Triumph aided by their weight allowance as we saw with Mysilv, Shawiya and Snow Drop, though not so much of late, and she is no forlorn hope to give Gigginstown a second Triumph winner in three years following Tiger Roll in 2014.
He won the same Grade 3 novice hurdle at Clonmel over 2m6f in February which for the previous two years had been won by Don Poli and Roi Des Francs for Willie Mullins and Gigginstown, who then went on to win and finish third respectively in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle. Beware if you think that Arkwrist will also head to the Martin Pipe for the same owner-trainer combination though as Mullins commented in not so many words afterwards that he is a dour stayer so he could be an Albert Bartlett type. He almost won the Albert Bartlett with a similar horse in Milsean last season for the same owner which developed into a slog so Arkwrisht could be a major player if it comes up testing.
A Toi Phil
It was billed as the battle of the three maiden winners from the Leopardstown Christmas Meeting when A Toi Phil lined up for a Grade 2 at the same course the following month but it proved to be anything but as he strode away to win by a long-looking 7l. You might recall that when Outlander won this race last year that he had three subsequent Cheltenham Festival winners behind him; Martello Tower, Windsor Park and Killultah Vic. A Toi Phil is a slow burner being a six-year-old French import having only made his debut ten months ago so there is likely to be plenty more improvement to come, whether it be in the Neptune or Albert Bartlett.
Injury denied her a chance in last season’s race when she was second-favourite in the ante-post lists and she returned with a promising run against the boys in the Relkeel Hurdle splitting Cole Harden and Top Notch when fourth in the Relkeel Hurdle gaining some valuable course experience. I think it is fairly safe to say that she then failed to stay 3m on her first attempt at the trip at Ascot where she didn’t help herself by being a little enthusiastic when she moved up to second place in the back straight, as is her way. She went out very quickly from three out and was then looked after by Barry Geraghty riding her for the first time. The jockey booking caught the eye as J P McManus has no entries for the Mares Hurdle so maybe that was a getting-to-know-you exercise?
He took the Listed bumper at Newbury in mid-February which last season witnessed Barters Hill beat Buveur D’Air and Altior. I very much doubt that this year’s just-seven-runner renewal was anything like as deep a race as 12 months ago but they were very well strung out (9, 6, 7 and 11 lengths separately the first five home) and this was Ballyandy’s second Listed bumper success having won at the Paddy Power Gold Cup Meeting so he sets the standard of the British defence for Nigel Twiston-Davies for the Champion Bumper. The Brits supplied the 1-2-3-4 last year and the Irish bumper scene has been quieter than usual this season.
If you don’t fancy the short odds about Limini for the new mares’ novices’ hurdle then this Nicky Henderson-J P McManus representative, who has won her last seven starts, will make each-way appeal to many punters despite not being the biggest physically, so this could be her time. Five of those successes were achieved in bumpers before she landed a hurdle race at Auteuil over 2m2f and then won nicely enough at Taunton back over 2m½f on her British debut where she jumped well and battled well but gave the impression that there was more left in the locker if required.
There was a big word for this Alan Fleming-trained six-year-old ahead of the Fred Winter two years ago but unfortunately for his supporters he was balloted out. The Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle is the obvious race for him this time where he should just about squeeze in off his current handicap mark and connections may well have restricted his runs to just one at the time of writing this season to protect that mark. That sole start this campaign saw him win at Fairyhouse in November and that form has been subsequently franked in no uncertain terms with the second, fourth and fifth all winning good races.