Dan Skelton and Co offer some tempting odds outside of the Mullins favourites
Some interesting double-figure contenders in this 10 to watch
With a little more luck Gordon Elliott may have won two Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdles. He looks to set to run this novice who struggled to win at long odds-on at Musselburgh last time so he won’t be hit by the handicapper. He was in front for a long way and idled in the closing stages.
He is better than that and will be appreciate being buried between horses in a big field. His smart novice form in Ireland includes finishing second to Thomas Hobson and Up For Review. The impression left by his trainer is that a handicap mark in the 130s is going to be very workable in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, if he squeezes into the race.
Last season’s Arkle third was not confirmed for the Champion Chase back on February 17th so it looks like he will take his chance in the Ryanair Chase. Although in receipt of 7lb from God’s Own in a graduation chase at Kempton over 2m4½f, he won in good style to the tune of eight lengths. To begin with, it looked like we might see another unconvincing round of jumping but after he jumped three obstacles he was then big and bold and quite a sight when he met one on the right stride. Although the runner-up was produced to challenge at the penultimate fence, it was a short-lived effort and Josses Hill powered on to win very well. He certainly took a good cut at many of his fences and, if he can do that on a left-handed course, then his natural talent makes him an interesting double-figure-priced contender.
The Betfair Hurdle over 2m has featured three winners and two runners-up of the Coral Cup on the last 11 occasions when it has been run. Kalkir stayed on well to finish sixth at Newbury having being held up in rear early on in the third renewal running where it paid to be on the pace so he might be interesting if they raise him in trip. He was also second in the Coral.ie Handicap Hurdle over 2m at Leopardstown. Interesting that three of the five races to have had most impact on the Coral Cup over the last 13 years took place over two miles so winners had the potential to improve beyond their handicap rating for an increase in trip.
Could this four-year-old be the first of many winners for Dan Skelton at the Cheltenham Festival in years to come? He was Triumph Hurdle favourite after he won at the Hennessy Meeting but deposed when beaten 12 lengths by Fixe Le Kap and Tommy Silver attempting to give that pair 10lb at the same course the following month. Although he then won at Market Rasen narrowly beating the favourite, Wolfcatcher, where he shaped like a strong stayer on heavy ground, the Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle is now his aim according to his trainer where he could hold a class advantage over his rivals.
Looks an interesting contender for Nicky Henderson in the Coral Cup. A promising novice last season, though he missed the Festival as they felt he wasn’t ready for it, he was in the process of making a good return at Ascot until falling two out when holding a narrow lead and going well. On his only subsequent start he caught the eye back in sixth in a Grade 3 handicap hurdle at the same course when raised to 2m3½f having been set a fair amount to do. The longer trip is expected to suit having won on his point-to-point debut over 3m and he is open to loads more improvement on just his fourth start under Rules.
The Foxhunters’ Chase needed a shot in the arm to prevent it from being a cakewalk for On The Fringe following the defections of Long Run and Prince De Beauchene (second and third favourites) in quick succession, and it got it when Mendip Express won the Willoughby De Broke at Warwick.
Now in the care of Philip Hobbs having won seven point-to-points before going on to be a smart novice chaser for Harry Fry, being rated 146 he was entitled to win that hunter chase in the manner he did but it was good to see it anyway. That hunters’ chase has featured three Foxhunters’ winners since 1998 which is an excellent return when we consider it has been abandoned on six occasions in the last 13 years.
Messire Des Obeaux
Qualified for the Fred Winter when having his third hurdling start in the Victor Ludorum, finishing on the heels of the Triumph Hurdle-bound pair of Frodon and Fixe Le Kap. That was his first start for Alan King since being imported from France and he has plenty of good juvenile hurdlers to weigh him up against. On that Haydock run he is entitled to have a stab at the Triumph but his owner is already well represented in the 4yo hurdling championship so the handicap option looks more likely and his trainer has few peers when it comes to preparing juvenile hurdlers for the Festival.
Has been kept for the Grand Annual by Neil Mulholland having finished an unlucky second in the 2m handicap chase at the Paddy Power Gold Cup Meeting at Cheltenham in November where it is likely that he would have won but for being hampered three out. Given a very confident ride by Noel Fehily on that occasion, he was a good 8-10 lengths back and yet to be asked a question at the time of meeting trouble in running but flew once he turned for home and only went down by a length to Keel Haul. A horse who prefers decent ground, he was given the winter off and will be at the right end of the handicap in a race where the class acts have struggled.
Has deliberately been minded by Warren Greatrex for the Pertemps Final since he won the Newbury Qualifier in November in fine style by 12 lengths from a decent-looking field. Heavily backed on that occasion, he is evidently well regarded by connections and his only defeat in five starts in point-to-points, bumpers and hurdles, came at the hands of the classy Three Musketeers, who he was sent off an odds-on favourite to beat attempting to give that winner 7lb on his penultimate run. He remains open to plenty of improvement on just his sixth start.
New To This Town
Jessica Harrington is no stranger to Champion Bumper success having won it with Cork All Star and her five-year-old by Milan can be expected to improve for better ground on breeding so his two wins from as many starts should be marked up having been recorded on a very testing surface.
After causing a surprise on his debut after which his trainer commented that he felt he would be too raw to win first time up, the form of his second victory was boosted when the runner-up, Avenir D’Une Vie, then hacked up on his next start and he showed a particularly willing attitude on that occasion at Gowran Park. The runner-up on that occasion would be near enough favourite if he ran here.