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Sunday 26 March 2023

Cheltenham Festival 2023 - the Review (part 1)

When looking back over the results of the Cheltenham Festival, one of the things I like to do is see which trends were highlighted in the days beforehand, which ones came right and which ones fell flat. From my own perspective, I like LTO winners and horses that have run since Christmas Day; more than 84 days off the track (12 weeks) is usually enough to scupper the chances of nearly every horse. However, that trend came unstuck in the opening race.  I'm not going to look at every race in this review, for two reasons (1) it will take me about 4 weeks to do a proper review that I'd be proud of; and (2) there is an excellent race-by-race review of the Festival that has been written by Paul Ferguson of Weatherby's. 

The Supreme Novices' Hurdle was won in some style by Marine Nationale, sent into the race by owner-trainer Barry Connell, and this horse had not run since winning at Fairyhouse on 04Dec, but he was a LTO winner. I actually thought the horse would be more suited to the Ballymore Hurdle over 2m5f, but the Supreme was perfect. He looks like there's still more improvement in him and he could easily be a 160+ hurdler.  I reckon this was as good a performance as that put in by Shiskin when he won this race in 2020. The Mullins-trained Facile Vega, have flopped badly LTO when 4th, and was put in his place behind the winner.  He probably needs to step-up in trip now if remaining a hurdler - and he should have no problem staying 2m4f; but I expect this horse to be a novice chaser next season with the "Arkle" being his target.  The surprise of the race for me was Diverge in 3rd. Also trained by Mullins, this gelding was sired by Frankel and (given he pulled so much in the early part of the race) he finished really strong - he could improve a lot on this, and looks exciting for next season. Both Inthepocket and Il Etait Temps look horses that need 2m4f, and they will likely go chasing next season.

The Arkle Novices' Chase was the highlight of the Festival for me, as my antepost selection El Fabiolo came good (as expected) and won in devastating fashion. This is a tricky race to rate, as are all races when the winner spreadeagles the opposition. If we assume Jonbon was considered by Nicky Henderson to be capable of winning an Arkle, then he's likely to have run to 160, which is about the minimum level of performance required, but most Arkle winners run to 160+.  At 160 for Jonbon, that puts El Fabiolo at 167, and that makes his performance one of the best in the Arkle for some time - and this does have the look of being a vintage Arkle. El Fabiolo will have no problem staying 2m4f judging by his breeding, and Willie Mullins has a problem many would love to have looking forward to the 2024 QM Champion Chase, as he also trains Energumene.  I'm not sure where Jonbon goes now, as he looks outclassed at the top-table of 2-mile chase races, but would still be the best we have at the trip this side of the Irish Sea.  He's good, but he doesn't look as good as his half-bro' Douvan who won the Arkle, and I can't see him enjoying a step-up in trip and an attempt at the Ryanair Chase suiting.  The 3rd past the post Saint Roi is another who will be tough to place next season, as he's handicapped to the hilt, and just not good enough to race at Grade 1 level in 2-mile chases.  Dysart Dynamo is a horse who we could see back over hurdles next season; he possesses bags of pace, but his jumping is more hopeful than skilful and his riders just hang-on in hope. 

From the initial couple of races, the winners both look a bit special. With Marine Nationale, his future is largely dependent on what Constitution Hill does, as if CH remains as a hurdler (he could go chasing) then Marine Nationale looks a potential Champion Hurdler in the making, but the best odds available (10/1 with Boylesport) are not attractive. Regards El Fabiolo, he doesn't need another horse to step aside as I expect him to be a better 2-mile chaser than his stable companion Energumene this time next year.  As such, the best available odds about him for the QM Champion Chase of 7/2 (Corals) and 100/30 (Bet365) are interesting for multiple wagers.  To compare the novices, hurdle and chase, I'm going to abandon tradition and jump to Day-2 and the Ballymore Hurdle, and to Day-3 and the "Turners" Novices' Chase.

The Ballymore Novices' Hurdle was  a very strong race on paper, and only the 9/4 fav Hermes Allen failed to shine, but (as I wrote on my blog several times) I didn't think he would; he will be a better chaser.  The race was dominated by Mullins-trained horses, with 3 of his 4 runners filling the 1st-3 places. The winner Impaire Et Passe is easily the best novice hurdler he has, and when you realise that he is only a 5yo and that this was just his 3rd hurdle race, then what a future he must have!  As I held odds of 10/1 on "Impaire" for the Supreme, I'm a bit gutted that he didn't go for that race - and I also had odds of 25/1 on Supreme winner Marine Nationale - right horses, wrong races. With time on his side, Impaire Et Passe is more certain of having a hurdling campaign next season, and odds of 6/1 for the 2024 Champion Hurdle (offered by Bet365 & Coral) look very fair.  Considering he is a better horse than State Man, if Constitution Hill goes chasing then "Impaire" could easily start the Champion Hurdle fav next year.   The runner-up Gaelic Warrior is also a 5yo, and with Mullins thinking he could stay 3-mile, perhaps a try at the Stayers Hurdle before going chasing is possible; he's generally 20/1.

What looked like being one of the races of the Festival, and yet again going to an Irish-trained winner, instead drew Paul Nicholls to the winners enclosure. The Turners Novices' Chase could possibly have been run at a stronger pace, and the eventual winner Stage Star was able to dictate from the front. Given he was proven over C&D, this was a tactical error by rival jockeys; and when the winner struck for home they had no chance of catching him. My immediate thoughts post-race, was that Stage Star was Nicholls "Gold Cup" horse for 2024, and there is plenty of stamina in his pedigree. The odds of 25/1 (Paddy Power) look very generous considering Bravemansgame is unlikely to better this years' performance (when 2nd in the GC), and promising novice Gerri Colombe needs soft ground. The surprise of the race was Notlongtillmay who came into this race on OR142, and ran a cracker. I expect this horse to stay ahead of the handicapper, and I reckon he could win a couple of 3-mile chases in the autumn.  Unfortunately, Mighty Potter was exposed here, this is as good as he gets over this trip, and as he was staying on (under a hard drive) he may also may need to step-up to 3-miles.

What do we have from these novice races going forward? 
Marine Nationale could probably be best-placed going chasing next season, in which case the "Arkle" would be the most likely target; however, the early odds of 5/1 being offered are not generous.
As Impaire Et Passe is more certain of hurdling next season, current odds of 6/1 for the 2024 Champion Hurdle (offered by Bet365 & Coral) look very fair, and probably should be taken.
El Fabiolo looks to be a better 2-mile chaser than his stable companion Energumene.  As such, the best available odds about him for the QM Champion Chase of 7/2 (Corals) and 100/30 (Bet365) are interesting for multiple wagers.
Stage Star? While, he looks an interesting horse for 2023-24, and I can see him running in the Gold Cup next March, he will need fortune on his side to figure in the finish of that race. 

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