Finally, it has arrived; the biggest four days in National Hunt racing is upon us and I have aimed to find a suggestion for every race.
However you decide to play the Festival this week, please ensure you gamble responsibly. It is key to stay in control. I wish you the best of luck for the four days and hope my suggestions can help you have a profitable week should you choose to follow them.
Fiddlerontheroof – Each Way
The famous roar will go up and our first chance to see some future stars of jumps racing is off. The Supreme is usually quite a frantic affair with favourites in recent years having a mixed record.
Two winners have landed in the last twelve renewals of the race from the front of the market. If you are a regular reader of the blog, you may well already be on Shishkin at 25/1. I highlighted him as a potential Supreme type prior to his second run at Newbury where he dispatched Shakem Up’Arry with minimal fuss.
Since then, he has gone on to impress at Huntingdon and should give a good account of himself. The one niggle I have about backing him again at the current price is the trainer’s record in the race. Alitor is his only recent winner of the Supreme having ran plenty of nice types. Physically to my eye, he looks every bit a future chaser and I am sure he will be an even better horse in time.
The market is keen on Asterion Forlonge. Owned by the same connections as Shishkin, he was last seen pulling clear in style at the Dublin Racing Festival. Whilst there is plenty to like about the seven-year-old at 11/4, I am not sure he represents great value.
Whilst honourable mentions can be made to several alternative contenders, the selection I am going to opt for is Fiddlerontheroof. The seven-year-old started out the season finishing second to the current Albert Bartlett fav Thyme Hill. He was then behind 16/1 shot for this race Edward Stone.
Since that day, Colin Tizzard’s horse seemed to really step forward and has scored back to back wins at Sandown including the grade one Tolworth. Whilst that race doesn’t have the strongest record of producing Supreme winners, he looks a great each-way bet for a yard who have perhaps gone a little under the radar this year compared to previous seasons.
Notebook to win
Willie Mullins has been prolific in claiming this two-mile novice chase in recent seasons, Douvan, Un De Sceaux, Footpad and Duc Des Genieveres have claimed the prize for Mullins in recent seasons.
Cash Back represents his best chance of scoring yet another win but faces a tough task to reverse the form with favourite Notebook. The Irish Arkle historically has been a brilliant trial for this race. BetVictor ambassador Rachael Blackmore completed a famous grade one double at the Dublin Racing Festival on him and Honeysuckle last time out. He seems every inch the ideal chaser.
Like most of the horses the owners buy, he has scope and size with an impressive engine to boot. He arrives here having already dispatched Fakir D’oudairies on worse terms plus Cash Back last time out. It is hard to pick holes in him; last year he was looked after when finishing down the field in the Ballymore. That run some would pick out as a possible negative, but he has been a different horse since going chasing and can give favourite backers their first blood of the meeting.
Vinndication – Each Way
We come to our first handicap of the week and it certainly looks a tricky one. Given the place terms we have on offer, I am likely to fire a couple of darts at this chase over the three-mile trip.
Irish horses have a poor record in this event and both my picks come from the UK. You also want something towards the front of the market with seven of the last ten winners all being sub 11/1 or lower.
The first selection will be favourite Vinndication. Local trainer Kim Bailey has a select team at the Festival this year. He has been seen just the once so far winning at Ascot back in November. Trends suggest you would want to have had a more recent run to be in with a shout of claiming this race, which would be a negative, but he is by nature of being top weight the most classy in the field and I think will be ready to put up a stellar effort.
At a bigger price, it would be perhaps wise to just have a small nibble each way on Cogry, trained by another local based handler in Nigel Twiston-Davies. He has been a star round here for connections and scored at the November meeting in the BetVictor-sponsored grade three handicap chase. He gets the services of top rider Sam Twiston-Davies, who has had a great season and gets on with him well, having won on him six times.
Sharjah – Each Way
As renewals of the Champion Hurdle go, it is fair to say on paper this doesn’t look a vintage year. A lack of class does mean we have a very open field with plenty of scope for value plays in the showpiece hurdle race of the Festival.
Epatante shot to the head of the market after claiming the Christmas Hurdle. Whilst she looked impressive, that race has a horrible record of producing Champion Hurdle winners in the same season. She also has had slight health concerns coming into the race and at 7/2, I want to look elsewhere.
Stablemate Pentland Hills makes little appeal either at 5/1. The Triumph last year hasn’t worked out to be a brilliant renewal and given Ballyandy beat him last time out at Haydock, I find it hard to be too enthused about his chances.
If I am ruling out the front pair in the market, it really opens the race and makes me lean towards looking a bit further down the list for a value play.
Sharjah has been inconsistent but continues to catch my eye. This is a horse who has in the past beaten Supersundae and Faugheen. His recent form would perhaps be questionable but with Willie Mullins as trainer, I would never write him off. He is clearly tricky to catch right but I have no doubt will be primed to run well in this open Champion Hurdle.
Benie Des Dieux to win
We get a real showdown in this year’s Mares hurdle as Honeysuckle’s connections have opted to take on Benie Des Dieux who is a red hot favourite to make amends for her final flight fall twelve months ago.
One feels that Mullins has always been keen to right that wrong and I am a little surprised that Honeysuckle isn’t taking advantage of a weak Champion Hurdle. The trip does look ideal for Honeysuckle, who was made to work hard last time out when winning the Irish Champion over two miles.
Whilst I think that is a massive plus, I can’t see past Benie Des Dieux giving favourite backers a more pleasant memory than last year in this race. It is between the pair and Willie Mullins’ French import gets the nod from me.
Trainwreck – Each Way
The novice handicap chase here is always a competitive affair. It is also another handicap on day one that features a Kim Bailey-trained favourite.
Imperial Aura ran well when second to Simple The Betts, who is favourite later in the week for another Festival race. My selections will come slightly further down the handicap in the form of two runners I really like at the weights.
Trainwreck has been running well without winning. Last time out gave him good experience in running in a big field handicap chase. He finished a fair second then and has bumped into a few top-class horses in his chase career to date. He has the services of Rachael Blackmore, which is a big plus and can offer fantastic value at a double-figure price.
The other selection for the race is a horse I have been keeping an eye on all winter long – Beakstown for the Dan Skelton team. His novice chase career began with a second to Sam Spinner, who looked useful until injury cut short his season. Next, he went to Newbury and a little error ended any chance he had of beating RSA favourite Champ. His final novice race came here over the same trip and he just looked to weaken and was beaten by two very good horses that day.
Carefully Selected to win
The closing race on the card has always proved a popular betting heat and half the battle is often having one of the better amateurs on your selection.
Carefully Selected not only has that, but is trained by one of the best in the business coming from the Mullins yard. He has won three chases this season and was second in the bumper here, so we know he can travel over and handle the added pressure that running at Cheltenham can put on a horse.
I was lucky enough to see him on the gallops yesterday and he looked really well. This renewal is perhaps not quite as strong as previous events and the day can be rounded off with another winning favourite.