Championship Play-Off Final: Michael Owen’s View
The rain duly arrived at Cheltenham on Tuesday, but the rain is forecast to abate and be replaced by 50+ mph winds for the second day of the Cheltenham Festival. Let’s hope there is no structural damage to the temporary facilities at the track, with Clerk of the Course Simon Claisse suggesting the infrastructure was more robust than was the case in 2008 when racing was abandoned for the day.
Today’s card begins with the Grade 1 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle and Nicky Henderson’s Champ -named after the legendary jockey AP McCoy – has been the market leader since landing the G1 Challow Hurdle at Newbury in December. That form has taken more than a few knocks, however, and he is short enough at 5/2.
The Irish have won four of the last five renewals and Battleoverdoyen, who will make a terrific novice chaser next year, will appreciate any further rain. Few novices’ have created as favourable an impression on me this term, however, as City Island (1.30) and he gets the each way vote this afternoon at 9/1 (four places). Do note his owner sponsors this afternoons valuable contest.
The selection is unbeaten over timber and I know there are a number of judges close to the Gordon Elliot yard who feel Dallas Des Pictons is a good thing for the Martin Pipe Hurdle later in the week. That novice was readily brushed aside by City Island over the minimum trip earlier in the season and I will be disappointed if Martin Brassil’s exciting hurdler does not run a big race.
I have been with Santini for the RSA Chase all season, but he has not had the ideal preparation and I am jumping ship at the 11th hour. I still feel Santini will be the best of British but Delta Work (2.10) has won all three starts over fences for Gordon Elliot and encounters good to soft/soft ground for the first time over the larger obstacles.
The selection won the Pertemps Hurdle 12 months ago and is going down the same route as Gold Cup favourite Presenting Percy who did the Pertemps/RSA double in 2016/17. The selection is 15/8 at BetVictor and looks a worthy market leader.
Uradel has been the best backed horse in the Coral Cup and the 11/2 favourite looks to have been laid out for the race by Willie Mullins. The each way vote, however, goes to Knight In Dubai (2.45) who ran a very good race at Newbury last time when runner up from a 4lbs lower mark. The selection is 20/1 (five places).
In the feature Champion Chase, Altior (3.30) cannot be opposed but at 2/5 he makes little appeal as a betting proposition. Nicky Henderson’s chaser is unbeaten over fences in his 12 previous starts including this corresponding race 12 months ago. Min finished runner up to Altior in 2018 and is 8/11 in the market without the favourite. He can again follow Altior home.
Tiger Roll is 6/5 to win at the Cheltenham Festival for the fourth time having won the Triumph Hurdle in 2014, the NH Chase in 2017 and the X-Country in 2018 as well as last year’s Grand National. He is an absolute superstar and a worthy market leader in the X-Country Chase but the each way vote goes to French raider Urgent De Gregaine (4.10).
The selection was two lengths behind Tiger Roll 12 months ago and at 10/1 – each way 4 places – he can again reward each way support.
I would be concerned if the ground became extremely testing for Joseph O’Brien’s Band Of Outlaws (4.50) in the Juvenile Handicap Hurdle although he has long been my fancy for the race. The each way selection is 13/2 (5 places) and was an impressive winner of two of his three starts over timber looking a strong stayer in each of those runs despite being just a miler on the level.
Gordon Elliot’s Lethal Steps (7/1 from 10s at BetVictor) is fitted with cheek-pieces for the first time and has attracted plenty of support in the market in recent days. Indeed, it would be no surprise if he went off market leader come post time. Note Elliot has saddled the winner of the race twice in the last half-dozen years.
Willie Mullins is normally mob-handed in the concluding Bumper and saddled four of the first five home 12 months ago, but he relies on just the 4-y-old Blue Sari (3/1 fav). The last winner from his age group was the brilliant Cue Card who went off 40/1 back in 2010.
The each way vote goes to Sempo (5.30) who is 12/1 and created a favourable impression when showing improved form to win by 15L at Thurles last month. Joseph O’Brien saddles two with Meticulous (8/1) long considered the yard’s leading chance, but I just prefer the chance of his bigger-priced stablemate.
City Island (1.30) Each Way 9/1
Delta Work (2.10) 15/8
Knight In Dubai (2.45) Each Way 20/1
Altior (3.30) 2/5
Urgent De Gregaine (4.10) Each Way 10/1
Band Of Outlaws (4.50) Each Way 13/2
Sempo (5.30) Each Way 12/1