The opening race is always very competitive and this year’s renewal looks no different. In the recent past you wouldn’t have gone too far wrong following Willie Mullins’ most fancied runner – with four winners and two seconds in the last seven years.
Asterion Forlonge looks to hold very strong claims to add to Mullins’ resume. A £290,000 purchase after impressively beating the now 140-rated Assemble in a point, he was sent off at 1/4 favourite for his bumper debut at Thurles, but made hard work of landing the odds.
The sharp track wouldn’t have suited him though and on his hurdles debut at the more galloping track at Naas, he was extremely impressive when beating Pencilfulloflead by 10 lengths and he’s won well since to frank that form.
On his step up to Grade 1 company at the Dublin Racing Festival, he went head-to-head with Easywork from a long way out and stayed on really strongly to win by nine lengths. The stiff finish at Cheltenham looks sure to suit him and it will take a good one to beat him in the Festival opener.
Philip Hobbs’ Deise Aba also holds and entry in the amateur riders’ Kim Muir on the Thursday, but I think he might end up in the Ultima. Novices haven’t a bad record in the race and Deise Aba looks like he’s getting his act together at just the right time.
A point winner, he was quite impressive when striking at the first time of asking over hurdles at Chepstow in a race that looks quite strong form now. His form tailed off a little after that win but his fourth at Chepstow under a penalty wasn’t a bad effort at all.
Disappointing on his first two starts over fences, a trip up to Catterick for a novice chase against one rival seemed to instil a bit of confidence into him. He then went to Sandown for a decent looking handicap and he travelled really well before winning nicely off a mark of 135.
A 7lb rise might well underestimate him and looks a very fair price for a runner whose form could be about to take off.
Nick Williams’ charge also holds an entry in the Pertemps Final, but would make appeal if taking his chance in the Albert Bartlett instead. Second season novices have a decent record in Friday’s Grade One contest and while many have latched onto Ramses De Teillee, it is One For The Team that interests me.
Beaten in two hurdles starts over 2m 4f last season, his form has taken off for the step up to 3m. A second at Worcester behind the useful Big Shark was followed by an unlucky second on his handicap debut off a mark of 126 at Newbury behind Champers On Ice.
He was a very solid third at Warwick in a Pertemps qualifier before really appearing to appreciate a bit of better ground when bolting up at Newbury off a mark of 130 last time. His mark has gone up to 142 and there is every chance he could run in the handicap off that mark, but he is only a six-year-old and it could be that he is just improving quickly and his stamina is assured.
He is a very lively outsider if taking his chance here.
Willie Mullins has won this race four times since 2012 and there is every chance he can win a fifth if sending Allaho to this – rather than to the RSA. A lightly-raced six year old, he was third in the Albert Bartlett on just his second hurdles start and followed that up with a good second behind Minella Indo over three miles at Punchestown.
On both occasions he didn’t really shape like an out-and-out stayer and has run over 2m 5f on both starts over fences. He was beaten by Easy Game first time out at Leopardstown but badly needed the run that day. That form looks strong now with Easy Game running Faugheen close in a Grade One next time.
On Allaho’s next start he made all, jumping well when winning by 21 lengths at Fairyhouse. The Marsh Chase looks a fair bit weaker than the RSA and were Allaho to turn up in the shorter race, he could go off a lot shorter in the betting.
He will take a hell of a lot of beating in the Marsh Chase.
A former Champion Bumper winner in 2018 when storming up the hill to catch Carefully Selected on the line. She didn’t look a natural over hurdles, but did manage to get off the mark at Naas on her second start and then finished fifth to Commander of Fleet in a Grade One at last year’s Dublin Racing Festival. Her poor jumping cost her dearly – but she did stay on well.
She was subsequently switched to Colm Murphy’s stable and was off the track until a few weeks ago, but her reappearance effort was full of promise. The seven-year-old was held up out the back, where she jumped fine, but probably wasn’t best positioned as the principles were ridden more prominently.
She did stay on well for fourth and with a mark of 137 and is sure of getting a run.
Colm Murphy was out of the game for a while but famously trained Big Zeb and Brave Inca to Festival success previously. If Relegate returns to anything like her bumper form, she looks a big player.
*Prices and entries are correct at publication but are subject to change. Prices are part of Paddy Power’s non runner money back offer.