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Cheltenham Festival: Day Two

Buveur D’Air successfully defended his Champion Hurdle crown but only just as Melon pushed him all the way in a thrilling day of action on Cleeve Hill.

Footpad was well ridden by Ruby Walsh, who allowed Petit Mouchoir and Saint Calvados to go off like scolded cats which meant they softened each other up before Walsh was able to sweep through despite a horrible mistake in the back straight.

The day started with Summerville Boy beating Kalashnikov in another close finish, which franked their Tolworth Hurdle form.

Coo Star Sivola was the plot job in the handicaps when landing the Ultima in good fashion from Shantou Flyer while Mister Whitaker, who just snuck into the Close Brothers was produced perfectly on the line by Brian Hughes to defeat Rather Be.

It was a good day for Willie Mullins, who had the hat-trick. Footpad was followed into the Winners Enclosure by Benie Des Dieux in the Mares Hurdle after she lowered the colours of Apples Jade, who didn’t give her true running. Then Rathviden took the National Hunt Cup under Patrick Mullins.

13:30 – Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle

Samcro has proved to be very good so far and he could take himself to the next level if producing the same devastating displays that he has in Ireland.

The son of Germany has proved he has everything so far. The fluent jumping ability and then his effortless turn of foot have put races to bed quite quickly.

In the Deloitte Hurdle at Leopardstown, he cruised around and won easily, in the end, to take his record to 3-3 over hurdles and under rules 6-6.

He is the banker of the meeting for many and you can understand why – he’ll take a special horse to beat him on the evidence so far.

Next Destination is one that could serve it up to Samcro. Willie Mullins inmate was fourth in last year’s Champion Bumper and that fits one of the trends about a top-six Grade 1 bumper finish.

He was very impressive on his hurdling debut at Naas when bolting up by 13 lengths and has since won a Grade 1 and Grade 2 contest over this trip on deep ground.

Mullins has teamed up with Ruby Walsh to win this race four times in the last 10 years and if he runs up to his form then he could mount a challenge.

I’m interested in Duc Des Genievres this week but he could end up in the Albert Bartlett. The grey finished strongly behind Samcro in the Deloitte Hurdle over a reduced 2m trip, so the extra distance could help bring the best out of him.

He made a winning debut in France before joining the Mullins yard and his two starts in Ireland have seen him place in Grade 1 events. The grey outran his odds on debut for the stable when only beaten four lengths by Next Destination when running on late and that effort came on the back of an eight-month break.

Black Op was narrowly beaten over course and distance in a Grade 2 race when blundering through the last when looking the most likely winner.

He travelled strongly through that race and did respond well to pressure and stay on in the closing stages but it was the mistake that cost him. He looks to stay well and handle conditions but he’ll have to be foot perfect here to land a challenge.

Tom George got off to the perfect start with Summerville Boy in the Supreme yesterday and this is another top novice they have on their hands.

Vision Des Flos finally showed his true colours when landing a Listed race at Exeter last time and that came on the back of him having a wind operation.

He would likely have won at Hereford in December if not making a mistake when in-front but if the wind operation has worked the oracle then he could be a different animal than the form he’s shown, so is one that has potential to prove a threat.

It is hard to be against Samcro with what he’s done in his career so far. From an each-way perspective, I’d be interested in Duc De Genievres if taking his chance here because he looks to have more to offer and plenty of stamina to boot.

Samcro – 8/11
Duc De Genievres e/w – 12/1

14:10 – RSA Novices’ Chase

The Irish hold a strong hand in this race with the top three in the market all representing trainers over the Irish Sea.

Patrick Kelly has a good chance with last year’s Pertemps Final winner Presenting Percy who hasn’t done much wrong over fences and only went down by a length in the Grade 2 Red Mills Chase behind Gold Cup chance Our Duke.

That was over 2m4f and stepping back up to 3m should be in his favour after outclassing his rivals over further than this on handicap debut at Fairyhouse and he proved his relish for this trip when being impressive in the Galmoy Hurdle in January.

This seven-year-old looks to have the makings of a very good chaser and handles the track. He won at Gowran Park on heavy ground in January but Davy Russell did put the ground down to his defeat in the Grade 2 Florida Pearl, so if it was to turn tacky then it could blunt his jumping.

Monalee is a very nice horse and one of the more obvious pacesetters in this race. He has standout claims on the back of his win in the Grade 1 Flogas Novice Chase at Leopardstown last time when dictating the fractions from the front.

He did that well after falling at the same track the time before that. The manner in which he put his head down when Al Boum Photo loomed up was taking and showed his guts.

It’ll be a similar path for him trying to make all this time around and given he was second here in last year’s Albert Bartlett is a positive too given that race has produced five of the last eight winners for this.

Despite the fall I think there is plenty going for him here and think he can notch the win under Noel Fehily.

On the back of their second and fourth efforts in the Flogas Novice Chase then Al Boum Photo and Dounikos both enter the picture.

Neither were beaten by far but just bumped into a game horse on the day. The former came down at Limerick on Boxing Day in a race won by Dounikos and wasn’t always fluent in the Flogas, so I’d swerve the Mullins charge in this.

Gordon Elliott’s Dounikos does need to find a bit more to reverse that form but should relish conditions given how he won in a Beginners Chase at a big price at Gowran Park in November. He’s yet to win over further than 2m4f but has shaped like the extra four furlongs would suit.

Britain’s best chance is Black Corton, who loves it around here. He is made of sturdy stuff and has an iron constitution.

He has had 11 starts over fences with eight wins and three seconds. He’s continually improved under Bryony Frost’s handling in the saddle and he was comfortable in winning the Grade 2 Reynoldstown at Ascot last time. He looked good when landing the Kauto Star at Kempton on Boxing Day too, so his season has ticked over nicely in a bid for this.

The seven-year-old is the top-rated runner in this race but that comes from all of his experience compared to his rivals. He can go from the front to test Monalee and he has all the necessary tools to put in a big run. He’d be the one from an each-way angle in the race because he has been continually underestimated so far.

One more point on him is that he’s won on both starts over this course and distance, so does enjoy his visits here.

Monalee – 7/2

14:50 – Coral Cup

This is always one of the trickier puzzles to solve across the four-days and the first of my fancies come from the yard that won this in 2015 with Aux Ptits Soins.

Topofthegame was fourth in the Grade 2 Novices’ Hurdle in January last year and has been lightly campaigned since then having had just four runs since with one of them coming over fences.

He was behind William Henry in that race here last year and was beaten by him in the Listed Lanzarote Hurdle but I do think he can reverse that form here with having stamina on his side in these likely testing conditions.

With them usually going off at a strong gallop then it could fall to one of the stronger stayers in coming through the field late and he fits that profile after his win at Sandown last time when asserting his presence on the race late on.

He is 8lb higher in this but I still think there is much more to come from him given how he has been campaigned by connections.

William Henry has obvious claims after winning the Lanzarote Hurdle and he has fairly solid course form too, so his chance is for all to see.

He does look one-paced at times and conditions may not be ideal for him but he has the exceptional talent of James Bowen in the saddle taking 3lb off to enhance his chance.

Springtown Lake won a match race at Leicester last time out and the handicapper hasn’t been able to assess that race due to its nature but he ran off 139 here on New Year’s Day when getting stuck in the mud.

He does have a light enough weight with champion jockey Richard Johnson in the saddle but he is one that would like better ground.

There are a couple here returning from chasing and both have realistic chances. Mount Mews is the first of them and he was a useful novice hurdler when winning a Grade 2 at Kelso on heavy ground.

He followed that up with a second in the Top Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree over 2m and he made good progress through that race to suggest stepping up in trip would suit.

After three goes over fences he returns over timber off a mark of 142, which looks fair enough and with a trip that is likely to strongly suit he could be an emotional winner for the yard.

The other one is Royal Vacation who has more letters than numbers in his recent form but that’s because of some breathing issues, which look to have been treated by a wind operation.

If he is able to return to somewhere close to his best then he could be well treated off 1lb lower than when winning over course and distance in a Novice Handicap Chase back in January 2017.

The eight-year-old has won twice on testing ground and further than this, so if the wind op has put him spot on then he is feasibly treated and at a big price is worth chancing ON the back of Tizzard’s good form?

Le Breuil was disappointing at Aintree last time when beaten six lengths on heavy ground but he was stylish last March when beating Benatar at Newbury. He’s highly regarded by the yard and if living up to his reputation then 139 could be a snip of a handicap mark.

Topofthegame e/w – 12/1
Royal Vacation e/w – 20/1

15:30 – Champion Chase

The Champion Chase is a race where I’d easily have been with Altior but the news on Monday of an infected hoof has slightly tempered enthusiasm.

If that has been fully resolved and according to a trainer on Twitter stated the issue can clear up in 24 hours, so he may be fine.

Altior has been electric and he’s only been beaten twice but they came in his bumper days. He’s taken his form over fences to another level and when you consider he beat Min by seven lengths in the 2016 Supreme then we could see a franking of that form.

Given everything he’s achieved so far, he sets a very high standard, but the questions are all surrounding his wellbeing.

Douvan has been seen since suffering a pelvic injury in this race last year and we know Willie Mullins can get them right for the big day and if he does it’ll be some training performance.

We know how good this eight-year-old has been but that injury may have taken something out of him and we’re taking him retaining his ability by the fact Ruby Walsh has chosen to ride him over Min.

It’ll be Paul Townend in the plate of Min who hasn’t done much wrong so far other than getting demoted to second in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown in December.

That day he was pushed by Simply Ned, who was awarded the race in the steward's room, but in February he responded with an emphatic victory with the same opponent trailing 12 lengths behind.

He’s rated 3lb lower than the aforementioned pair but is the one that arrives here with the least question marks surrounding well-being. Min measures his fences well and is able to quicken.

Politilogue is the best of the rest and if something happens to be amiss with the three main protagonists then he could be the one to capitalise for Paul Nicholls but he has four lengths to find with Altior on their Newbury race.

Min – 7/2

16:10 – Cross Country

The unique Cross Country requires somewhat of a specialist and last year’s winner Cause Of Causes will be a popular figure as he looks to bid his fourth race at the Festival.

His only effort this season was a quiet one in a Leopardstown chase that saw him eased down but that will have freshened him up and blown the cobwebs away. He was second in the Grand National and having won this we know he’s a stout stayer, so reunited with Jamie Codd could prove hard to beat.

The Last Samurai an interesting sort now trying this discipline having run a number of fine races, including second in the Becher Chase in December. He was runner-up in the 2016 Grand National and if taking to this then could have the class to go well.

He’s had a sighter of the course and has jockey David Bass, who will be riding in his first Cross Country contest around Cheltenham. He has potential.

Veteran Bless The Wings won here in December and the 13-year-old has placed in this race in each of the last two years. He’s generally consistent but age could become a factor in the closing stages of this race.

Cause Of Causes – 11/4

16:50 – Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle

Plenty of trends can point you to the way of the winner here such as three runs to qualify and being a French-bred or French import, which have won eight of the 13 renewals.

Nube Negra fits the three-run mould but was an import from Spain where he remained a maiden on the flat. However, he’s taken well to hurdles winning twice and his only defeat came with credit when only defeated by three-and-a-half lengths by Apple’s Shakira.Dan and Harry Skelton’s charge has the flat speed to deal with the track and shouldn’t mind the tacky dead ground, so he ticks a few boxes.

Look My Way represents northern trainer John Quinn and he has a fair opening mark for what he has achieved. He also bumped into Apple’s Shakira here in the Finesse Juvenile Hurdle when beaten by eight lengths.

He won a flat handicap on heavy ground at Ffos Las before coming over hurdles and he has the assistance of Brian Hughes, who won the Close Brothers yesterday with his only ride of the day.

 Gordon Elliott’s Mitchouka is more exposed having had seven starts but he brings a good level of form into the race having won four times, including a Grade 3 when odds-on last time.

A mark of 139 looks fine after than win at Fairyhouse but this is far more competitive. He ticks the French import box and won on the flat over there on heavy ground, so shouldn’t have any problems.

Espirit De Somoza represents last year’s winning trainer Nick Williams and this son of Irish Wells could have the necessary tools to outrun his odds.

His second start saw him lower the colours of early Cheltenham hope Gumball in quite taking fashion when coming off a strong gallop. Last time at Taunton, he never got on terms with eventual winner The Russian Doyen but Lizzie Kelly wasn’t hard on him.

Three runs and French-bred, so ticks those boxes plus Williams can target one at a race as we saw with Coo Star Sivola yesterday.

Grand Sancy might go under the radar and he can be given a small squeak on handicap debut. He was fourth behind Redicean in the Adonis when taken wide before making a couple of errors.

He was outpaced in that race, so these setting off at a furious gallop could help him find the bridle and travel round much better. His opening mark of 127 does give him a lightweight and if running to the level of his form at Taunton when bumping into one then he could hit the frame.

Nube Negra e/w – 9/1
Espirit De Somoza e/w – 14/1

17:30 – Champion Bumper

The Irish trainers look to have a strong hand in this race with a number of leading fancies including Blackbow who has won both bumpers under Patrick Mullins.

In his first start, he showed his turn of foot while last time he showed a different side to his character when digging in and hold off the re-opposing Rhinestone. The most recent win came in Ireland’s premier bumper, so that would suggest he brings the best form to the table.

I’m interested in Carefully Selected, also for Willie Mullins, with Ruby Walsh getting the leg-up. This six-year-old has won both bumpers over different distances and that should help him come up the hill strongly.

The way he won at Naas saw him in command from the front before fully asserting in the closing stages. Over 2m4f on his debut, he travelled well in midfield before quickening nicely. He’s proved versatile to ride in terms of tactics and is one that has to be on the shortlist.

Acey Milan looks to be Britain’s best hope for Anthony Honeyball after he has won his last three bumpers all in very good fashion. The last two have been in Listed company, including one here over 1m6f when he showed no signs of stopping up the hill.

He was impressive at Newbury last time when winning by 11 lengths and will be suited by conditions to put one on the board for Britain in the Prestbury Cup but despite those wins, he may need to take his form to another level.

It’s the sort of contest where Fergal O’Brien has done well of late and Mercy Mercy Me made a winning debut at Sandown in November and there was plenty of promise in that win.

Carefully Selected e/w – 10/1

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