Grand National meeting – Day 3

So here we are, the day when the whole nation has an interest in jumps racing. It’s Grand National day! Followers of my tips over the past couple of days have had a mixed time of things but importantly we’ve managed to score with a double digit winner each day to leave us ahead going into the finale. I can’t remember ever getting the winner of the National itself, and don’t expect to today (it’s hope rather than expectation), but there are plenty of nice chances that we can get stuck into…

1.45 Gaskells Handicap Hurdle

A fiercely competitive opener over three miles in which you can make cases for plenty including No Hassle Hoff, Barney Dwan and old favourite Zarkandar, who has Stan Sheppard on his back taking five pounds off. I’m going for No Comment though, a horse who has enjoyed a fine novice hurdling season, winning three times before a seventh place finish in the Martin Pipe at Cheltenham. A year ago Philip Hobbs’ six-year-old beat Henry De Bromhead’s Albert Bartlett runner-up Monalee at Punchestown, so he has plenty of ability. He runs in today’s race off a very fair mark of 137 and, although the trip is an unknown, usually travels well into his races and is sure to be in contention turning into the straight.

Recommendation – No Comment 10/1ew

2.25 Mersey Novices Hurdle 

Le Breuil is the horse that I have been looking forward to back more than any other this week. Ben Pauling opts to send him here rather than the three-miler yesterday and it could prove to be a wise choice at this young stage in the five-year-old’s career. A brilliant jumper, he has been mightily impressive in winning his two starts over hurdles to date, at Sedgefield and Newbury, and even though he hasn’t beaten anything of any note the manner of his performances have suggested that he’ll take the rise in class in his stride. He also arrives here fresh after skipping Cheltenham with this week in mind. The likes of Yorkhill and Simonsig have won this race in the past, whether Le Breuil is of that level is doubtful but not many are and I think he can bring more big race success over two and a half miles to Ben Pauling following his Neptune glory with Willoughby Court.

Recommendation – Le Breuil 6/1ew

3.00 Maghull Novices Chase

This race offers Charbel the chance to make up for his fall in the Arkle when he was giving the mighty Altior a serious run for his money. We’ll never know if he would have won at Cheltenham but he should do today and rates as a very confident selection. He was even money earlier in the week and I hope, like me, you filled your boots while he was.

Recommendation – Charbel 4/6

3.40 Betway Handicap Chase 

Henri Parry Morgan was second in the Grade 1 Mildmay Novice Chase at this meeting last year, finishing ahead of dual Ultima Handicap winner Un Temps Pour Tout and last year’s RSA victor Blaklion. He was just three lengths behind Native River (we all know what he’s done this season) and now arrives in this handicap off a mark of 138. Peter Bowen’s charge has been disappointing this term but if the Aintree air can reignite the memories of last year he must go close today.

Recommendation – Henri Parry Morgan 9/1

4.20 Liverpool Hurdle

The premier contest for staying hurdlers, this race was won by the brilliant Thistlecrack last year. There doesn’t seem to be anything of his class in the lineup this year and the favourite, Alan King’s Yanworth, is on something of a recovery mission after a very poor showing in the Champion Hurdle. This trip should be more to his liking but I’m still not convinced about him and instead am taking a chance on Coral Cup winner Supasundae. Robbie Power is flying at the moment, with his wins on this lad and Gold Cup winner Sizing John being followed up by success aboard Pingshou and Fox Norton yesterday. Trainer Jessica Harrington is also in superb form and doesn’t enter horses in these festival races willy-nilly, as shown by her amazing strike rate at Cheltenham last month. Supasundae wasn’t stopping in the Coral Cup so you get the feeling the step up in trip will suit and at his current price he is a cracking each way bet.

Recommendation – Supasundae 7/1ew

5.15 Grand National 

Picking the winner of this race is, fairly obviously no easy task, so all I can do is offer some reasons why four horses should be involved when the leaders reach the famous elbow. I think you need to have at least three or four runners as there’s nothing worse than seeing your selection crash out at the first fence. Vieux Lion Rouge and Ucello Conti both have valuable experience of the National fences, the latter having finished sixth last year and fourth in the Becher Chase in December, while the former was the winner of that race and finished seventh in last year’s National. My other two picks are based on class. More of That is the only horse to have beaten Annie Power when she’s completed a race when he won the 2014 World Hurdle. It’s fair to say he’s had his issues since then but has shown signs of coming back to himself this year, finishing sixth in the Gold Cup last time out. He’s the choice of Barry Geraghty and if he can bring his A-Game he holds strong claims. My final choice is O’Faolains Boy, who simply has to be backed at 66/1. Yes, he’s been woefully out of form but has reportedly had a wind operation and a revival to the form of last year when he was seventh in the Gold Cup and still challenging three out would put him right in the mix. He runs carrying just 10-11 and I think a chance has to be taken on him on these terms.

Recommendations: Vieux Lion Rouge 12/1ew; More of That 14/1ew; Ucello Conti 16/1ew; O’Faolains Boy 66/1ew

6.15 Conditionals Handicap Hurdle

Possibly a case of after the Lord Mayor’s show but this could be our biggest priced winner of the week, so pay attention. Two years ago The Grey Taylor was rated 140 and was running in the grade 2 Dovecoat Novices Hurdle. Since then he has embarked on a chasing career which, it’s fair to say, hasn’t seen him fulfill his undoubted talent. Today, however, he reverts to hurdles off a mark of 126, and with his jockey taking off a further seven pounds, goes into this contest carrying just 10-2. Ground is also key to The Grey Taylor and today he gets the good ground he needs. Everything is set for a big run and the best thing is he’s a big price too. 22/1 is still available (he was 33s yesterday) and should be taken. 

Recommendation – The Grey Taylor 22/1

Grand National meeting – Day 2

A pretty successful day one at Aintree with the success of Double W’s certainly the highlight. Was kicking myself to miss out on Dame Rose though, who was 100/1 earlier in the week. I was going to have a couple of quid but never did it. This truly is a game of what ifs. 

Different from first day, with a number of shorter priced fancies, day two offers much more in the way of punting opportunities at prices we can get stuck into. Here are my thoughts…

1.40 Alder Hay Handicap Hurdle

A race that novices have traditionally done well in, winning over half of the runnings since 2002. It is also a race that Nicky Henderson has enjoyed success in, winning two of the last four renewals, and my selection ticks both of the above boxes – Rather Be. Unseated early on in the Martin Pipe at Cheltenham, before that run he had shown a smart level of form, winning his first two races before finishing second at Sandown, beaten a head by Alan King’s smart juvenile Coeur De Lion. Ninth in the 2015 Champion Bumper, he is primed for a big run with conditions to suit and a fair weight off 136.

Recommendation – Rather Be 12/1ew

2.20 Top Novices Hurdle

It could be a quickfire double for Henderson with River Wylde the selection. The trainer has won five of the last seven renewals of this race, including last year with Champion hurdler Buveur D’Air. The winner of yesterday’s Aintree Hurdle finished third in the Supreme a month earlier, a place filled this year by River Wylde. Lightning can strike twice here with a horse who before Cheltenham gave his strongest performance at Kempton, a flat track like Aintree, when beating Alan King’s Elgin. The main danger would come from Moon Racer, who arrives off the back of a no show in the Champion Hurdle. Now back in calmer waters he is, at time of writing, becoming a very tempting price at 10/3 but might just fall short against the selection.

Recommendation – River Wylde 2/1

2.50 Mildmay Novices Chase

Henderson’s fantastic Friday could well be set to continue here with the trainer boasting the top two in the betting, with RSA one-two Might Bite and Whisper locking horns again. We’ll be in for a treat if we get a race half as good as that one and it does look like these are the two horses to concentrate on. The head says that Might Bite will follow-up, but we know how quirky he can be and I’m going to take a chance on Whisper getting his revenge. A key factor in my thinking is his Aintree record with back-to-back wins in the Stayers Hurdle in 2014 and 2015 on his CV. He’s been more consistent this year than at any point in his career and he rates as the more solid value selection than his unpredictable stablemate.

Recommendation – Whisper 5/2

3.25 Melling Chase

A wide open renewal of this race, which has been won down the years by Don Cossack, Sprinter Sacre and Master Minded. God’s Own came out on top last year and returns today to attempt to follow up. He comes with very solid claims too, but I’m going to take a chance on another past winner at this festival – 2014 Manifesto Novices Chase victor Uxizandre. The dreaded bounce factor may have done for Alan King’s charge at Cheltenham last month when he finished down the field in the Ryanair. Before that he had showed that all of his old ability seemed to be there with a fine second behind Un De Sceaux in the Clarence House. There’s no way he should be over double the price of God’s Own and Sub Lieutenant and rates a good each way punt.

Recommendation – Uxizandre 7/1

4.05 Topham Chase

Run over the Grand National fences, this is always one of the highlights of the meeting. Experience of the obstacles is key with nine of the past 13 renewals won by horses who had gone over them before, while seven of the last 11 had run in the race the previous season. The winner last year was Eastlake and he’s my selection to get back-to-back wins. If you look back a year a pattern emerges. At Cheltenham in 2016 he finished 9th in the Grand Annual, ten lengths behind the winner. A month later he won the Topham. This year he finished 10th at The Festival, 11 lengths back. Will he win the Topham? He has Barry Geraghty on board on the back of a double yesterday, clearly loves the fences and is a very tasty price, so let’s hope so!

Recommendation – Eastlake 16/1ew

4.40 Sefton Novices Hurdle

On Ladies’ Day there could be some pink in the winners’ enclosure and it could come courtesy of Noel Meade’s Moulin A Vent. The five-year-old skipped Cheltenham and this has been a successful route for previous winners of this race, with seven of the last ten having done the same. Meade has always held his charge in high regard and it may be that the better ground of Aintree will see him at his best. If you look back he beat Gordon Elliott’s Brelade on good ground at Galway in October, the pair 15 lengths clear, while he was 38 lengths clear when just beaten by Elliott’s Monbeg Notorious a month later. Then, after that it was he who won at Punchestown when the early season Mullins hotpot Senewalk bombed out. Last time out he was pipped by Mullins’ Tin Soldier, but that was on heavy ground and I think we will see the real Moulin A Vent again today. 

Recommendation – Moulin A Vent 14/1ew

5.15 Weatherbys Champion Bumper

As on day one, we finish with a bumper and it’s one that has conjured some champions in the past with the likes of The New One on the roll of honour. The selection is Tom George’s Black Op, who on his only previous run in this country beat Claimantakinforgan (easy for you to say!) at Doncaster in February. Nicky Henderson’s charge has since finished third in the bumper at Cheltenham last month, giving a big boost to the form. It is never a confident selection in a race such as this but on all known form this is clearly the best.

Recommendation – Black Op 4/1ew

Aintree Grand National meeting – Day 1

With Cheltenham now seeming a distant memory it’s time to get stuck into the second of the big three jumps festivals, as the national hunt set descend to Aintree.

Cheltenham proved fruitful for this tipster, with some big price selections, so here’s hoping for more of that (pun totally intended) this week. Day one, however, won’t be making us rich sadly with a number of short-price favourites who look to hold very strong claims. Triumph winner last month Defi du Seuil simply looks a cut above the other juveniles and cannot be opposed in the 2.20, while Buveur D’Air looks a good thing to follow up his Champion Hurdle success in the Aintree Hurdle at 3.25. I also expect On The Fringe to bounce back from his Foxhunters reverse in the equivalent race here, over the National fences at 4.05. I am, however, taking on the favourite in today’s opener…

1.45 – Manifesto Novices’ Chase

This race has been a graveyard for favourites with only one scoring since it was introduced in 2009. This year’s Gold Cup winner Sizing John was turned over last year, while Josses Hill, Oscar Whisky and Al Ferof have all also failed to beat the curse of the market leader down the years. This year that badge is worn by Nicky Henderson’s Top Notch, second in Cheltenham equivalent two-and-a-half mile challenge, the JLT, behind the brilliant Yorkhill. He had a hard race that day and my money instead is going in the direction of Malcolm Jefferson’s Cloudy Dream, who can get the north off to a winning start. Stepping up in trip after finishing second in the Arkle behind Altior last month, he ran a great race that day but Aintree’s flat track will suit him even better. With the combination of good ground also very much in his favour, I fancy him to put the famous Trevor Hemmings colours in the winning enclosure and give Brian Hughes a well-deserved success after a landmark season.

Recommendation – Cloudy Dream 3/1

2.50 – Betway Bowl Chase 

This time last year Cue Card won this race after falling three from home at Cheltenham in the Gold Cup a few weeks’ earlier. Remarkably he could do exactly the same today and what a popular success it would be. However, now 11, I fear that age might be finally catching up with him. This year I don’t think anyone can say he would have won at Cheltenham, with Paddy Brennan hard at work at his time of departure. Nevertheless he starts favourite today. I’m looking elsewhere and the one that leaps out is Gordon Elliott’s Empire of Dirt. In the lead up to the Festival Elliott was adamant that the Gold Cup was the race for his charge at Cheltenham, but it’s the O’Learys’ who pay the bills and they also happen to sponsor a race which they are desperate to win in that week. So it was that Empire of Dirt went for the shorter Ryanair Chase, and never looked like winning. He got taken off his feet that day with the faster pace and this extended trip should be much more to his liking. A close second behind Sizing John in the Irish Gold Cup over three miles in February, that form couldn’t look much better now and I think he can get his nose in front today against a group of rivals of which many are now on the downgrade from the top rank.

Recommendation – Empire of Dirt 11/4

4.40 Red Rum Handicap Chase

Named in honour of probably the most famous horse in jumps history, this race over just short of 2m is a fast and furious affair in the same vein as the Cheltenham Festival finale over the same trip – the Grand Annual. A few of the protagonists from that race lock horns again today, including Theinval (2nd) and Dandridge (4th). Double W’s took his chance in the longer Close Brothers Handicap but didn’t seem to relish the trip, after traveling well for a long way, and he’s my selection today dropping back to 2m. He will also love the spring ground and can give the Jefferson/Hughes combo a double on the day. Unfortunately most of the value has gone since I lumped on at 12s at the start of the week but he still offers the best chance to make some money today.

Recommendation – Double Ws 6/1ew

5.15 Mares’ Bumper 

Aintree’s bumpers usually throw up some classy individuals, much more so than the Champion Bumper at The Festival, with the likes of Barters Hill and The New One amongst the winners of the flat showpiece tomorrow. Today’s mares affair promises to be a highly competitive renewal and don’t be surprised if something jumps out of the pack to win at big odds. On form, however, the one to be with has got to be Petticoat Tails. Warren Greatrex had La Bague Au Roi in this race last year and she ran a bit of a stinker, so he will be keen to avenge that this time round. His 2017 model has won two of her three outings so far, with the only defeat being a narrow one in the listed mares bumper at Sandown last month to Cap Soleil. That pair pulled six lengths clear of anything else, so they are both clearly classy types. After Cap Soleil was pulled out yesterday the stage is set for Greatrex’s charge today.

Recommendation – Petticoat Tails 7/2

Avenir to provide Henry’s Sunday best

Couldn’t let today go by without bigging up the prospects of a couple of runners on either side of the Irish Sea. It’s fair to say it’s been pretty poor fair jumps-wise since Cheltenham, with the Flat very much taking centre stage yesterday. However, the national hunt game basks in the limelight once again today with some great action at Ascot and Fairyhouse, before of course Aintree dominates our thoughts with three spectacular days of action next week.

3.30 Fairyhouse

The best bet of the day by some way for me is Avenir D’une Vie in this 2m novice hurdle. It’s a competitive affair in which Willie Mullins saddles four, including Bleu Berry, who is the mount of Ruby Walsh. Last time out he beat Joseph O’Brien’s Outspoken by a short head – whom he reopposes today – but for me that form isn’t really top drawer. Gordon Elliott’s Brelade could certainly be argued to be in that bracket – seventh in the Neptune at The Festival last month and third in the Grade One Deloitte in February. However, I’m really keen on the chances of Avenir D’une Vie, who I’m pretty sure is definitely top class. Off the track since making his jumping debut at Fairyhouse in November, you couldn’t have failed to be taken by the way Henry De Bromhead’s six-year-old won that race, absolutely trouncing Mullins’ formerly classy Flat recruit Aussie Reigns by an eased down five lengths. One of the Gigginstown horses taken from Mullins at the start of the season, he also had some top drawer bumper form when trained at Closutton, finishing fifth in the big Grade One at Punchestown last April. I’m convinced he would have been a serious player in the Supreme had he been ready and the 11/2 on offer today just has to be taken.

Recommendation: Avenir D’une Vie 11/2ew

4.50 Ascot

Puffin Billy is one of my favourite horses in training and today comes back after two years off the track. Still only nine, it’s fair to assume he’ll come on for the run today but I still think he’s worth a punt at 12/1. The last time we saw him he completed a hattrick of wins at Ayr, beating last year’s Grand National runner-up The Last Samuri, while the time before that he won here at Ascot. Indeed he has a superb record at the track, winning on all four occasions that he has completed the course. He reverts to hurdles today on his return and despite being top of the handicap weights gets a very handy eight pounds taken off by jockey Harrison Beswick, in what is a race for conditionals. If he can show even 75% of the form of two years ago then he has to be in the mix for place money.

Recommendation: Puffin Billy 12/1ew

Look out for my Aintree selections in the coming days…

After the Gold Cup it’s time for a Golden Saturday

Winners at 25/1 and 14/1 gave followers of these pages a fruitful finale to the Cheltenham Festival and here’s hoping we can continue the form as we get back to reality from those magical four days this week.

2.25 Uttoxeter

The first selection comes in the form of Harry Fry’s American. It was a disappointing Festival for Fry with his Unowhatimeanharry well beaten in the Stayers Hurdle but he can bounce back here with a horse that would have lined up in the RSA Chase had the ground been softer. With conditions more to his liking here, he takes his place on the back of a perfect two out of two record since starting his chasing career in November. In the last of those he was an impressive winner against Champers On Ice at Warwick and he wouldn’t have skipped the Festival lightly if connections didn’t fancy him today.

Recommendation: American 2/1

2.40 Kempton

Tony Martin’s Golden Spear would have been among the favourites for Friday’s County Hurdle had he got into the race, but instead lines up here alongside others who also didn’t make the cut. He brings some excellent form into the race from big-field handicaps, in his four outings finishing third in the Coral.ie Hurdle at Leopardstown, fourth in the race formerly known as The Ladbroke at Ascot, first in the Irish November Handicap on the Flat and fifth in the Cesarewitch, also on the level. Clearly well handicapped, Donagh Meyler takes three pounds off in the saddle and he simply must go well. With Skybet paying six places it’s virtually an each way bet to nothing.

Golden Spear 9/2ew (Skybet)

3.00 Uttoxeter 

The final selection is Ordo Ab Chao, a horse who won a Grade 2 as a novice hurdler, beating Thistlecrack by 60 lengths! It’s fair to say that Thistlecrack improved somewhat following that defeat while Alan King’s horse endured a frustrating period off the track with injury. He made his return from almost two years off last month at Ascot, running well for a long way before getting tired. He’s likely to strip a lot fitter for that outing and could be very well handicapped off a mark of 134. He can win today before moving onto better things. Don’t be surprised to see him in one of the handicaps at Aintree next month.

Recommendation: Ordo Ab Chao 13/2ew

The Festival – Day Four

I started yesterday’s blog entry by saying that you shouldn’t be surprised if the Mullins/Walsh juggernaut gets back into gear and they not only did that on Thursday but they went straight from first to fifth with a stunning four-timer. Friday is obviously Gold Cup day and Mullins will be hoping his change of luck can continue to give him the prize he covets more than any other.

1.30 Triumph Hurdle

It’s very easy to look at some races too closely and this is just one of those. Charli Parcs went into the Adonis at Kempton last month with a huge reputation following a demolition job over Christmas at the same track. But a fall in that race, coming at a time when he seemed to be struggling, severely dented that. Nevertheless he’s been steadily backed this week after confidence from trainer Nicky Henderson, who still rates him as the best juvenile he has ever had. As I said though, sometimes it’s just better to go for the more solid option and there’s no doubt that in this contest that horse is Defi Du Seuil. Phillip Hobbs’ charge has been mightily impressive all season, winning five out of five and never being challenged. There’s a minor question mark over the ground but it didn’t inconvenience Un De Sceaux too much on Thursday and I don’t expect it to trouble DDS either. Anyway, the description when he won on his debut at Ffos Las was good and then it was good to soft at Cheltenham in November and December. 

Recommendation: Defi Du Seuil 9/4

2.10 County Hurdle

Always one of the most competitive handicaps of the week and this year’s renewal promises to be no different. Cases can be made for several of the runners but I’ve narrowed it down to two. Arctic Fire is a fascinating contender. Second in the Champion Hurdle in 2015 behind Faugheen, he’s had his problems since with injury ruling him out since January last year. It’s fair to say that if he would have been ready a couple of months earlier he would have been a leading contender for this year’s Champion Hurdle. However he wasn’t and instead he makes his return in a handicap off top weight. It’s a pretty hefty top weight too, eight pounds higher than anything else, but there’s still a small nagging thought that his class might be enough to get him involved. And surely Willie Mullins wouldn’t have just brought him here for a day out.

The second one I’m interested in is last year’s Triumph hurdle winner Ivanovich Gorbatov. He’s not been the same horse since that win but the return to the scene of his greatest day, on the good ground he needs, and most importantly dropping into handicap company for the first time could be a combination that gives him a very lively chance. J J Slevin rides and takes off five pounds, leaving him very nicely weighted. Remember he was ahead of two of this week’s winners, Apples Jade and Let’s Dance, in the Triumph, while the third in that race, Footpad, finished fourth in the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday.

Recommendations: Ivanovich Gorbatov 12/1ew & Arctic Fire 25/1ew

2.50 Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle 

Death Duty went into the Festival as one of the Irish ‘bankers’ of the week, but if you look at the history of this race it’s not been a good one for favourites, with only one obliging in the last five years. It’s often a war of attrition and a survival of the fittest up the hill where class isn’t necessary the most important ingredient. Death Duty may well go on to be a top class chaser next year but today I’m taking him on, and I’m doing so with one from the resurgent Mullins camp – Penhill. A top horse on the Flat for Luca Cumani, he wasn’t initially convincing when switching to hurdles for Mullins. This was until Christmas when the step up to three miles seemed to be the making of him, winning very well at Limerick against some smart rivals. With good ground also in his favour I think he’s ready to run a big race.

Recommendation: Penhill 14/1ew

3.30 Gold Cup

The blue riband and with no Thistlecrack it’s a wide open renewal. Djakadam holds serious claims of giving Willie Mullins a first Gold Cup, while Hennessy and Welsh National hero Native River will also be running on when most have cried enough. But I’m an old romantic and believe the fairytale story can come true for Cue Card. There surely won’t have been a more popular winner since Dessie’s stirring triumph in 1989 if he can do it, but aside from sentimental reasons there are also genuine claims that he is also the best horse in the race. We will never know if he would have won last year when he fell three out, but he would definitely have gone close. Then at Aintree he came back to convincingly beat Djakadam, who he reopposes today. He couldn’t be going into the race in better form either following a 15-length win at Ascot last month in a prep for this. The Tizzard yard hasn’t exactly been firing this week but Cue Card can change all that and at 5/1 he rates as a very solid each way play. 

Recommendation: Cue Card 5/1ew

4.10 Foxhunters Chase

On The Fringe has been an amazing horse over the past few years, dominating the hunter chases at the spring festivals, however he has never faced a horse of the class of Wonderful Charm in one. Rated 159 in his pomp, Paul Nicholls’ raider could not have won his first two hunter chases any easier in the run up to today’s showdown. He will love the ground too, and has a very able pilot on board in the shape of Katie Walsh. He rates a very confident selection to make the frame and I think he might have too much class for the favourite.

Recommendation: Wonderful Charm 9/2ew

4.50 Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle 

Another very competitive handicap but just as my Foxhunters selection might have a class edge I also think my choice in this race has one too. Second in last year’s Champion Bumper and then in the Aintree equivalent, Battleford started the season among the favourites for the Neptune and Albert Bartlett. It hasn’t been plain sailing for him since starting out over timber but he won at the Leopardstown festival at Christmas and ran to within four lengths of Henry De Bromhead’s well-touted Monalee last time out. Battleford goes into today’s race with bottom weight, while five more pounds from claimer Adam Short will make him feel has if he is running free. I think he has an excellent chance of making the frame here and giving owner Graham Wylie more success after Nicholls Canyon and Yorkhill.

Recommendation: Battleford 8/1ew

5.30 Grand Annual 

The traditional finale and it’s helter-skelter stuff over 2 miles. It might be a case of good things come to those who wait for champion trainer Paul Nicholls as Le Prezien goes into the race holding good claims. Twice a winner in his first season chasing, including once at Cheltenham, the key piece of form I want to focus on came in his chasing debut at Uttoxeter in October. Not the most glamorous race you may think, but in that beginners chase he faced both Charbel and Top Notch, beaten less than a length by the former, who of course gave Altior a mighty fright on Tuesday in the Arkle. Le Prezien beat Top Notch in that race, and he finished second behind Yorkhill in the JLT – its top form. He’s the choice ride of Sam Twiston-Davies and seems very fairly weighted, carrying 11-4. Paul Nicholls won this race last year with Solar Impulse and he has a good chance of repeating the dose today.

Recommendation: Le Prezien 7/1ew

The Festival – Day Three

1.30 JLT Novice Chase

It’s been a torrid first half of the week for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh but today I expect them to bounce back, starting with Yorkhill in the Thursday opener. Last year’s impressive Neptune winner has been on the end of all sorts of criticism over the past few months with people having a pop at his jumping and wanting to take him on here. It’s true his jumping hasn’t been perfect but I think he had lots more in hand than it may have seemed when winning at Leopardstown in January and is stocked to the brim with natural talent. His win at Aintree last April was evidence of that when he won despite doing everything wrong. Looking at the race today, he faces a stiff test from some talented opponents in Top Notch, Politologue and Noel Meade’s exuberant grey Disko, but I’m backing class to prevail and for the Mullins/Walsh axis to get back on track.

Recommendation: Yorkhill 11/8

2.10 Pertempts final

A devilishly difficult second race but I’m hoping I can pick a couple out at a price. Firstly there’s this season’s unluckiest horse – Barney Dwan. Fergal O’Brien’s seven-year-old started the campaign chasing and may well have won his first two outings but for some outrageous bad luck. Firstly, at Kempton in November, he was romping to an impressive victory before all but falling at the last and giving himself no chance of getting back up as he finished second. Then, four weeks’ later at Wincanton, he was travelling like the winner before being brought down by another faller three from home. This prompted a return to hurdles, but still the bad luck continued as he unseated Paddy Brennan two out when just about to launch a bid for glory. His only blemish-free run came last time out at Exeter when he finished fourth in a qualifier for today’s Pertempts final – objective achieved. This is a horse that won a grade 3 in March last year and despite being near the top of the weights has to have a good chance of being in the mix at the business end of the race. 

The other one I like is, I have to admit, a case of heart over head. In this game there are horses that you simply always have to back, and one of these for me is Fingal Bay. It’s fair to say he’s looked a shadow of his former self this season but there were signs of improvement at Exeter last time (6th in the same Exeter race that Barney Dwan ran in) and let’s not forget that he won this race at the 2014 Festival. That year he ran off 148. He’s now down to a mark of 140 and even though I admit it’s heart ruling head I still think if the old boy can show some spark he has to be involved and given a price of 50/1, surely worth a couple of quid.

Recommendations: Barney Dwan 20/1ew & Fingal Bay 50/1ew

2.50 Ryanair Chase

Now this is a race that I think you can make serious cases for at least four of the starters. Empire of Dirt goes for the flying Gordon Elliott yard, was a narrow second in the Irish Gold Cup last month and brings Festival form with last year’s win in the Plate. Un de Sceaux has been having a much better season following a dip last term, although you worry about the ground for him. Good to soft won’t be a problem for Josses Hill, whom I also give a squeak for Nicky Henderson, back at the trip he won the Peterborough so impressively in December. But, I’m just leaning the way of Alan King’s Uxizandre. A hugely taking winner of this race two years ago, he made a very encouraging return from a year off when second to Un de Sceaux in the Clarence House. Reported to be working well, he will love the ground and I think that could be the factor that gives him the chance to reverse the places with the Mullins horse this time around.

Recommendation: Uxizandre 4/1ew

3.30 Stayers Hurdle

The big race of day three and I’m taking on the favourite. I don’t know what it is about Unowhatimeanharry. He’s done everything right, winning eight on the bounce, including last year’s Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham, but I still don’t fancy him. Instead I’m liking the chances of 2014 Champion Hurdle victor Jezki. Back this season after injury last year, he showed signs all the old ability remains when winning his comeback run at Navan in January, before finishing second on ground that didn’t suit behind Tombstone last month. Now he’s got his ground and has reportedly been flying in his preparations for Jessica Harrington. I can’t see him finishing out of the first three and he rates as a top each way bet at his current price.

Recommendation: Jezki 8/1ew

4.10 Plate Handicap Chase

If you only have one bet today make it this one. Diamond King won the Coral Cup at last year’s Festival so brings that all important Festival form into the reckoning. He’s also trained by Gordon Elliott, who can do no wrong at the moment. Most importantly though, he’s back on the good ground he loves and could genuinely be a graded horse in handicap company. If you get a chance watch his chasing debut at Galway in October. I know he was entitled to win but the way he did it couldn’t have been more impressive, giving the impression that he definitely looks made for the larger obstacles. Since then he’s had to endure softer conditions and is clearly a very ground dependent animal. Davy Russell knows his way around Cheltenham and I think he can steer this fella to back-to-back Festival glory.

Recommendation: Diamond King 5/1ew

4.50 Mares Novice Hurdle

Following Yorkhill earlier, I expect this to be the race where Willie Mullins completes a double. Let’s Dance should have ran in the Neptune but instead they opted for this ‘easier’ option thanks to the carrot of a bonus that was offered for winning a race at Leopardstown over Christmas and one today. She’s been so impressive this season and wouldn’t have been out of place in Tuesday’s Mares Hurdle with stablemates Vroom Vroom Mag and Limini, so I expect her to be too strong for these younger rivals today. Mullins also has the unbeaten Airlie Beach in the race but I think Let’s Dance’s main opposition might come in the shape of La Bague Au Roi. Warren Greatrex has always held his charge in high regard and apart from a disappointing seventh on ground too soft in the big mares bumper at Aintree last year she has a perfect winning record. Three out of three since going over hurdles, she’ll love the ground and appears to have a huge engine with which to tackle the famous Cheltenham hill. At 8/1 she is a good each way alternative in case the favourite falls or performs below par – there are no certainties as we know from Douvan in the Champion Chase.

Recommendations: Let’s Dance 6/4 & La Bague Au Roi 8/1ew

5.30 Kim Muir Handicap Chase

Not a race you want to rely on if you’re looking to get out of trouble in the last. My tentative selection however is Neil Mulholland’s Southfield Royale. He was fourth in last year’s four-miler, a race in which he had Native River less than four lengths in front of him and Minella Rocco a further one and a half, and both of them run in Friday’s Gold Cup. As with many of the handicaps there isn’t much separating the whole field in the weights (10lb to be precise), meaning the better horses should come to the fore. A run in January should put him spot on for today and Mulholland was very keen on his chances in the lead up to the Festival.

Recommendation: Southfield Royale 8/1ew