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Sunday 2 April 2023

Cheltenham Festival 2023 - the Review (part 3)

With the novice hurdle and chase championships looked at, let's move onto the graded races; and first-up is the Champion Hurdle over and extended 2-miles.  What more can be said about Constitution Hill? He is an absolute monster of a horse, and just 6yo; right now anything is possible. Just how good was the performance? Well, in my opinion it was  much better than that by the ill-fated 5yo winner Espoir D'Allen in 2019, and 10lb better than any other winner until you get to Hurricane Fly in 2013; so it was immense. What next for the horse?  He can run-up a sequence of wins in the Champion Hurdle, and it's easy to see him winning this race another couple of times - but what would that prove? Consider trainer Nicky Henderson; he's 72yo and he's been given the horse of a lifetime - he will want to win a Gold Cup with him.  I expect Henderson (with the agreement of the horse's owner) to campaign Constitution Hill in a way that could establish him as one of the very best there has been. Expect CH to go chasing next season, with a Gold Cup attempt in 2025 as an 8yo.  Therefore, it's no surprise to see him heading the Arkle betting at 7/4; and I cannot see him going for the "Turners" over 2m4f.  There is an outside chance he may go for an audacious attempt at the QM Champion Chase; but that's unlikely in my opinion. The runner-up in the Champion Hurdle, State Man, possibly isn't as good as his OR166 official rating, and I much prefer the "Ballymore" winner Impaire Et Passe for the 2024 Champion Hurdle, and it is no surprise that the odds of 6/1 have now gone, and the best available is now 4/1.  That said, I would not ignore State Man as I expect him to remain hurdling in 2023-24 and if events don't go as expected, current odds of 7/1 could look interesting next March.

Yet again, the QM Champion Chase was virtually gifted to Energumene when his main rivals failed to show their best form. This was a better performance that last season, but not by much, and this race looks primed for a new "champion" chaser to emerge, especially as Energumene will be a 10yo next year. That is likely to be El Fabiolo who won the Arkle in tremendous style, and I cannot see any other horse emerging other than Constitution Hill, and (as I wrote above) I don't think that's likely.

Thursday, and the 3rd day brings us the Ryanair Chase and of all the Grade 1 chase races, this is always he most open as the trip of 2m4f & 127yds is an odd one. This year, the hot-fav Shishkin never looked like he was enjoying the experience, jumped badly, and just sheer class pulled him into 2nd on the run-in. For me, Shishkin needs to prove himself again at top-level as he's only won 1 of his last 4 races and he's nowhere near hi official rating of OR173. Quite how the punters allowed Envoi Allen to go off at 13/2 and record his 3rd Grade 1 Cheltenham Festival win, I will never know.  I did think his class would ensure a good run, but I placed a straight-forecast (advised on the blog) of Shishkin 1st, Envoi Allen 2nd - the right horses, but the wrong way around!  The Exacta paid £17.70 and the CSF paid £13.47 - there was value to be had. Envoi Allen has now won 5 of his 7 chase races at about this trip, and he was the 4/9 Fav to with the "Turners" in 2021 when falling at the 4th fence. Yes, he's won a G1 over 3-miles, but (to be fair) this is his trip, and I think he had more in the tank winning this race, but didn't need it. There is 10/1 available for the 2024 Ryanair (Paddy Power), and that looks fair. In 3rd we had Hitman who I reckon ran a career-best, but this was the 14th chase run for the 7yo and he's never going to win a Grade 1 chase.  The handicappers French Dynamite and Ga Law were firmly put in their place and shown to be not good enough, but they are consistent and give depth to the overall rating of the race. 

Next on the card was the Stayers' Hurdle over 3-miles, and what a turn-up for the book when the 11yo and multiple Festival winner Sire Du Berlais stayed best of all on the run-in to take this Grade 1 race.  Let's be honest, we all thought going into the race that it was wide open, and that this season's form for 3-mile hurdle races was all over the place. As such, I put my faith in Flooring Porter (who was going for a hat-trick of victory's in the race) and Klassical Dream (a G1 winner and trained by Mullins), and never gave a 2nd-thought to Sire Du Berlais, which was an error as he had form in the book. He was 2nd in this race in 2021 (to Flooring Porter), and he had twice won the Pertemps (Final) h'cap hurdle over C&D; and he had beaten Flooring Porter over 3-mile at Aintree in April-2022.  Unfortunately, he hadn't won since that day in 5 subsequent races and it looked like he was going downhill with age - how wrong we were! This wasn't a top-class event, and the 10yo Dashel Drasher coming 2nd underlined that, as he's never really been a 160+ horse, but he is game, and he went into this on OR153 and ran to that level (in my opinion). In 3rd was the fav Teahupoo who had everything in his favour, yet still couldn't win; he was staying-on but the winner stayed-on better. The 8yo Flooring Porter ran exactly the race we expected, trying to make-all, but lack of fitness did for him in the end. Even so, it was his best run this season, and I expect if he goes onto Aintree he will be a fitter horse there and could take all the beating. Home By The Lee ran to the level he did in this race last season, and he's just not good enough at at Grade 1.  I keep saying that horses do not suddenly find pounds of improvement, but pundits, journo's, and tipsters seem to think they do. The rest of the field were outclassed, which considering this was as bad a Stayers' Hurdle as when Lisnagar Oscar won in 2020 is not a good omen. I can see Flooring Porter coming back again next season as a 9yo and having a decent chance, but Teahupoo needs soft ground and that's not guaranteed. What I find amazing is that odds of 25/1 are available on Flooring Porter for the 2024 Stayers' Hurdle, and if he runs well (likely) at Aintree, then he's right back in the picture for next season.  Remember, both Inglis Drever and Big Bucks won as 9yo's recording their 3rd and 4th wins in the race, and while Flooring Porter isn't as good as that pair, I don't think he needs to be considering the level of opposition. 

I've already reviewed the Gold Cup result in depth on 24th March, so let's consider a Fantasy Festival Yankee for 2024. Had I reviewed the Festival a bit quicker, I would have immediately pencilled in Impaire Et Passe for the Champion Hurdle, but the early 6/1 has gone and the best now available is 4/1 which isn't good value, but still interesting. I'm much more confident in El Fabiolo in the QM Champion Chase, as I think he's a better horse than Energumene, and thoughts of Constitution Hill going for this race as a novice chaser are fanciful. Best odds available are 7/2 (Coral) on El Fabiolo in the QMCC and he's in the Yankee. As I've written above, for the Ryanair Chase the odds of 10/1 available on this years' winner Envoi Allen look very decent, and he goes into my Yankee.  Finally, I'm taking those huge odds available on Flooring Porter for the Stayers' Hurdle. 

FANTASY YANKEE: (placed with BetVictor) Sunday 2nd April 2023
Champion Hurdle: IMPAIRE ET PASSE @ 4/1
Ryanair Chase: ENVOI ALLEN @ 10/1
Stayers' Hurdle: FLOORING PORTER @ 25/1
Two winners guarantees a profit.

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