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Tuesday 27 March 2018

Cheltenham Review 2018 - Day 3 (Blog 998)

I usually find Day 3 to be the most exciting of the week (for me) but this year the day did not really capture either my imagination or that of the crowd.  Certainly the reception for the winner of the Ryanair Chase, which was the feature race of the day, was muted. I was there on-course in the "Best Mate" stand and I think that area affords the best view of the course.  Being the cheapest enclosure, it attracts plenty of people who go to the Festival only to get legless, but they mainly stay in the drinking areas, and (in my opinion) the remainder of the crowd there to watch the racing are a decent, knowledgeable bunch.

Regarding this review of the Cheltenham week, I've decided that when it's finished I will cut and paste all the pages together and have a permanent tab for it (on the right) so that readers can easily refer to the notes.  I've also decided that during the course of the next 12 months I will add more notes to it so that readers are able to have a more complete reference going into the 2019 Festival.

JLT Novices Chase run over 2m4f
There is no doubt that this race has had stronger fields in the past, and last years field of 8 had 5 runners with on official rating above OR150.  This year a field of 9 runners included only 4 with a rating above OR150 so, for my race selection, I went with the horse with the highest official rating in Modus (OR154) as he'd run well at the 2017 Festival in the 2m5f Coral Cup (handicap) hurdle and I thought he had the "class" to succeed - I was wrong.  Despite winning 3 of his 4 novice chases (fell in the other one) he'd only beaten 6 horses in the process and, in this race, he was outclassed completely. The same could be said for Invitation Only (OR152) who made a serious error 4-out that cost him any chance, but he was in last place when that happened anyway.   Finian's Oscar (OR152) is well thought-of at home but the 6yo is yet to show sufficient ability on the course as a chaser and he was another that was outclassed.  The only other horse rated OR150+ was Henderson's Terrefort, who arrived from France and had quickly won 2 races over this 2m4f trip and was a worthy 3/1 fav.  Unfortunately (for him) he came up against a proven stayer, and Grade 1 winner, in the mare SHATTERED LOVE.  Normally, I would suggest ignoring a horse with winning form over 3-miles for this race, but Shattered Love relished the soft/heavy ground and stamina was necessity. Prior to this race, her only defeat was by stablemate Jury Duty last November, but 12-lengths back that day was non-other than Presenting Percy who had won the RSA Chase so easily on Tuesday - the form was in the book! She was brought to challenge 2-out by her jockey Jack Kennedy (this was his only ride of the day, and the 2nd-leg of a unique treble over 3 days of the Festival for Jack) and never looked like not winning. Being a mare with a 7lb allowance she was effectively running off 151 (her OR144 plus 7lb allowance).  The future looks bright for Shattered Love, and the 5yo Terrefort should also develop into a top-class chaser.

Pertemps Network Final (handicap) Hurdle run over 3-miles
Never the most easiest race to fathom for the punter, but they got it right this year as the fav and 2nd-fav were 1st and 2nd and could only be split by a nose on the line.  What's more, both horses were trained by Gordon Elliott - the man of the moment. The race winner was DELTA WORK a 5yo who'd looked nothing out of the ordinary until stepped up to 3-mile on 29Dec where he ran 2nd in a Grade 2 novice hurdle. He ran 3rd for the qualifier at Punchestown and to be the 6/1 2nd-fav for this he must have been showing good form on the home gallops. Beaten a nose into 2nd was stablemate Glenloe
who had run well without winning this season and came here off a break of 77-days.  Typically, the winner of this race comes off a break of 35-days and having not had a run since 28Dec may have cost this horse the race. That Elliott could proved the 1st & 2nd in such a competitve hanndicap demonstrates the strength in-depth at his disposal, and English trainers Nicholls, Pipe and King - all capable of providing a handicap coup - must be pulling their hair out. Connetable in 3rd is a good yardstick and this was his 18th hurdle race, but he's not won a hurdle since Feb16 and is one-paced. While David Pipe's 8yo Taj Badalandabad  ran out of his skin to be 4th, the foiled coup must be that of Alan King's Who Dares Wins who came into this race off a break of 122-days since running in the qualifier on 13Nov. He led jumping the final flight but could not stay up the hill on ground that was a bit too soft for him. Back in September, Who Dares Wins won the Cesarewitch Trial over 2m2f at Newmarket on the flat and going back to last years Festival, he was 3rd in the Coral Cup.  He is much improved and I expect he will now go for the Chester Cup, a race he was 4th in last year after that Coral Cup run.

Ryanair Chase run over 2m5f
On paper, this looked a stronger race than last year when it was won by Un De Sceaux who was virtually unopposed.  This year, we had the 12yo Cue Card in the field who had shown he wasn't far off his best when chasing home Waiting Patiently in the Ascot Chase over 2m5f on 17Feb. I thought that race was the strongest form on offer, and made Cue Card my selection on that basis.  Personally, I think Un De Sceaux has led a charmed life as a chaser but when he's met a true Grade 1 performer he's not been up to it - beaten by Fox Norton at Punchestown, twice beaten by Sprinter Sacre.  Sure, he's beaten Sire De Grugy twice, but he was past his best when they met. Unfortunately, we never found out whether Cue Card was capable of winning this race, as he never looked happy from the off and pulled-up with 6 fences still to jump.At that point, Un De Sceaux took up the lead jumping exuberantly, but I've always thought his stamina as a chaser was suspect as apart from his win in this race last year (and that was a very weak race) he's not won another chase race over a trip longer than 2m1f.   Sure enough, BALKO DE FLO who had chased home Road To Respect in the 3-mile Grade 1 Christmas Chase on 28Dec (with a good few top-class staying chasers behind them) was eased into the race taking-up the running 3-out after which his stamina ensured he was in command and Un De Sceaux had no response. The winner did make a mistake at the final fence but he never looked like losing on the run-in.  The good yardstick Cloudy Dream stayed-on into 3rd and I've rated the race via him as he is - in my form book - a rock-solid 150 performer.  That puts Un De Sceaux on 158, which is exactly the same rating I gave him for winning the race last yera, and Balko Des Flo is rated 163 (I awarded him 160 for his 2nd in the Christmas Chase).  I cannot see BALKO DES FLO everr winning a Gold Cup except in a weak year, and this 2m5f trip seems to be his optimum, so I expect he will be back again to defend his title next year.

SunBets Stayers' Hurdle run over 3-mile
Since this race was dominated between 2005-12 by Inglis Drever and Big Bucks who won on 7 out of the 8 years in the period, this race has had a fairly open look about it, mainly as top-class 3-mile hurdlers are thin on the ground.  The race this year looked more competitive (than last year) and there were 6 horses of the 15 runners with ratings of OR160+.  Unfortunately, two of them (The New One on OR161 and Yanworth on OR163) had earned their ratings over shorter trips than 3-mile, and a third (the 10yo Unowhatimeanharry on OR163) had undoubtedly seen better days. The remaining trio however, all looked strong contenders: Sam Spinner (OR164), Supasundae (OR164), and Wholestone (OR161). As it happened, none of those won the race as the winner of last year's Albert Bartlett novice hurdle over 3-miles - PENHILL - took the race despite having been off the track since 26 April last year. The horse was held-up in last place for much of the race and clearly benefitted from the slow pace set by the 9/4 fav Sam Spinner as when the pace quickened for the final 6-furlongs, Penhill (a top handicapper over 12-furlongs on the flat) easily picked-up the leaders and led going into the final flight.  Because of the slow pace of the race, I don't think we saw the best of Sam Spinner who could not quicken on the run-in and came home in 7th, but the 6yo was only having his 8th hurdle race; he will be a better horse next year.  The very consistent Wholestone was 3rd, but I felt he wasn't helped by the slow pace either, however he did stay-on strong on the run-in when he saw some daylight as he looked boxed-in on the run-up to the final flight. I'd expect Wholestone to go chasing next season. Possibly the unluckiest horse was the runner-up Supasundae (who won the Coral Cup handicap hurdle at last years Festival) and came to win the race before the final flight, but the winner had too much stamina. This was his 3rd try at 3-miles and each time he's run 2nd, but this 8yo has not stopped improving since joining Mrs Harrington in Nov16 and he could be one to follow at either Aintree or Punchestown on better ground. This is not an easy race to rate because of the slow pace for the first couple of miles, and I've given the winner PENHILL a rating of 160.

B A & M Stable Plate handicap chase run over 2m5f
As with the other handicap at the Festival, this race is gradually getting better in quality.  Last years' winner was Road To Respect who was rated OR145 at the time (and is now rated OR168 and finished 4th behind Native River in the Gold Cup). I doubt this years' winner The Storyteller can repeat that feat, even though he came into this race rated OR147 however, this was only his 4th chase race so we could see plenty of improvement and he's bred to be a 3-mile chaser. What, in my opinion, holds the form back is that we had 3 older horses in the 10yo Splash Of Ginge, 9yo King's Odyssey, and 11yo Ballyalton filling the minor places. The trip and ground were perfect for Splash Of Ginge who ran to his form when winning here in November, and that suggests The Storyteller ran to a rating of 152 (Racing Post rates him at 161).  In 3rd, King's Odyssey again demonstrated his love for Cheltenham and I remember seeing him win the Timeform Novices Chase over C&D in Jan16 but he's not come close to matching that run since but he's not far off it now and if he stays on this mark of OR139 he could find a handicap before the season ends. Ballyalton won the Novices handicap chase over 2m4f at the 2016 Festival, but was then off for 18-months due to injury. He also loves Cheltenham and he is very consistent.  I note that he holds an entry for the Topham Trophy at Aintree over 2m5f and that race looks perfect for him especially as he stays on OR138.

Mares' Novices Hurdle run over 2m1f
The winner of this race LAURINA completely dominated proceedings, and ran away a very easy 18-length winner.  I've rated the race via the runner-up Cap Soleil and that puts Laurina on 153, but she could easily be 160+.  The disappointment of the race (for me) was Maria's Benefit, but she had already disputed the lead with another Mullins' trained mare Cut The Mustard and that tactical manoeuvre did for her chances.

Fulke Walwym Kim Muir (Amateur riders) handicap chase run over 3m2f
This race is one of my favourite's of the Festival and I've had some good luck in it. I've been following MISSED APPROACH all season, and though he's run well, he hasn't won in over a year.  He did though run well to be 2nd in the 4-mile NH Chase last year, and I've since thought this trip of 3m2f would suit him best.  Sure enough, he made all - although when he hit the last fence I had my doubts that he'd last up the hill. This run was as good as his effort in the NH Chase last year and Missed Approach could win again this season.  In 2nd was Mall Dini who won the 3-mile Pertemps Final handicap hurdle in 2016.  He ran a cracker and is also handicapped to win NTO.
I didn't know what to make of Squouateur coming into the race as although he started fav for this last year, and was running off the same OR135 rating, he had yet to win from 10 chase races. He does have some good form in the book and his rating was fair, but I'd say he's a grinder and a bit one-paced.  Old timer, the 12yo Double Ross ran a cracker, up with the pace throughout and this was his best run since coming 3rd to Native River in the 2016 Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury. He's entered in the Grand National and while that trip may be beyond him as a likely winner, he could hang on to be in the places. Finally, the 7yo mare Actinpieces was given a cracking ride by the jockey on last years winner of this race, Gina Andrews. This trip is probably a tad longer than she wants but a return to a 3-mile trip should see Actinpieces back in the winners' enclosure.
As usual, jockeyship is key in this race and it was no surprise to see JJ Codd (3rd), Zac Baker (4th), Gina Andrews (5th) and Sam Waley-Cohen (6th) involved in the finish.

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