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A race which has thrown up some brilliant winners in the past has been dominated by the Irish-trained contenders in recent years with six of the last seven winners scoring for the away team. Gaillard Du Mesnil and the well touted Bob Olinger will head another strong challenge but I’m siding with BRAVEMANSGAME to win one back for the home team.
It is no secret the regard trainer Paul Nicholls has for this improving hurdler. He has taken every step up in his huge imposing stride this season winning the Challow Hurdle by 10 lengths last time and can take another step forward here to land the day two opener.
In a week that will inevitably burst the bubbles of several so-called bankers, the one horse that looks infallible is MONKFISH. The hot favourite may have scrabbled home in the Albert Bartlett last year but his career as a chaser has looked altogether more assured.
His three wins were capped off by a breathtaking display at the Dublin Racing Festival where this huge horse travelled and floated over his fences with consummate ease. He looks like a Gold Cup winner in waiting and he’s a rock-solid banker to hand Willie Mullins a fifth victory in the race.
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Nicky Henderson has won this race for the last two years and has trained four winners in total of a contest that often falls to unexposed hurdlers with the potential for improvement. Amongst several lightly-raced contenders it was MONTE CRISTO that stood out as the one with potential to be much better than his mark of 145.
With only four runs under his belt for the master of Seven Barrows, he put a disappointing seasonal debut at Aintree on soft ground behind him when winning at Kempton last time on better ground to suggest he may have any amount of improvement in hand.
Willie Mullins seeks a first victory in the Champion Chase what is a rare big race omission from a glittering CV and the late pull out of four-time festival winner Altior has brought that elusive success ever closer. The Closutton-trained CHACUN POUR SOI has been utterly dominant in this division in Ireland but is yet to experience the unique test of Cheltenham.
Despite a niggling suspicion that the stiff uphill finish may not necessarily lend itself to a career-best he should still be good enough to land the spoils. Arkle winner Put The Kettle On may be overpriced with excellent course and distance form to her name and a decent third to her main rival at Leopardstown last time but in the absence of Altior its Chacun Pour Soi’s turn to finally claim the crown.
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If French raider EASYSLAND turns up in the same form as last year the rest of the field may as well start now! That said this season has seen him run only once when disappointing on better ground over these fences in November with his usual slick jumping was his weakness on the day.
However, two-time winner of the race Tiger Roll has not looked in the same form since landing his second Grand National in 2019. There are several former high-class chasers in the field including Balko Des Flos and Alpha Des Obeaux but both are making their debuts over these unique fences and I’m struggling to have faith in anything improving past last year’s winner Easysland.
He may have had a far from ideal build up but the softer the ground the better for him and he should have too much in hand for his rivals.
Often the trickiest puzzles of the week, the Grand Annual will present a slightly different test this year having been moved from Friday’s ‘New Couse’ to the sharper ‘Old Course’ in its new Wednesday slot. The hope of drier ground and a speed-favouring race should play into the hands of the strong travelling EMBITTERED who looks like he has been laid out for the race by his shrewd trainer Joseph O’Brien.
He has run some good races in four chase starts this year including behind Energuemene at Leopardstown in soft ground last time. He was third in the County Hurdle last year and looks to have an excellent chance of going two better in this year’s target.
Willie Mullins is looking for an 11th win in this race and with the move of the Cheveley Park Stud horses from Gordon Elliott two weeks ago he now adds SIR GERHARD to his already strong hand.
Kilcruit left the field trailing in his wake when setting a fast, relentless, pace on soft ground at the Dublin Racing Festival last time to further enhance his reputation with many pointing to the fact he beat the runner-up Letsbeclearaboutit by further than Sir Gerhard did when meeting the same rival at Navan.
However, with a more sedate pace and an unfavoured surface, the race at Navan wasn’t run to create such a visually dazzling success That said he has looked equally impressive to my eye and despite the late stable switch, I favour Mullins’ new inmate Sir Gerhard to land the race for the third time in a row for the Cheveley Park Stud team.
13:20 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle – Bravemansgame
13:55 Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase – Monkfish
14:30 Coral Cup – Monte Cristo
15:05 Champion Chase – Chacun Pour Soi
15:40 Cross Country – Potters Corner
16:15 Grand Annual – Embittered
16:50 Champion Bumper – Sir Gerhard
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