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Friday 8 March 2024

Cheltenham Festival 2024 update - 8th March

We've not long to go now, and big news is coming thick and fast.
Ballyburn now has the confirmed race target of the "Gallagher" hurdle on Wednesday over 2m5f (and NOT the Supreme Hurdle). I've thought this would be the case for some weeks, and posted this on my blog on 12th February with a recommendation to take the odds of 2/1 NRNB that were on offer at the time. Ballyburn looks virtually 'bombproof' for the "Gallagher", and that's reflected in the current betting.
It is also certain that Gaelic Warrior is running in the "Arkle" and not the "Turners" on Day-3 of the Festival which, to be honest, I kind of expected as I think Gaelic Warrior has the potential to being the best 2-mile chaser that Mullins has trained - but he's to prove he can win going left-handed first.

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Wednesday at the Festival opens with the Turners Novices' Chase over 2m4f; and this year's race does not look like being as competitive as last year. This is one of the few Grade 1 "championship" races that I've not had a wager in yet. The current fav is Ginny's Destiny who is trained by Paul Nicholls who sent Stage Star to win this last year. This horse certainly looks the part on form, and deserves to head the market. But I like Grey Dawning a little more, and so does the official handicapper who has him 6lb higher on OR153.  The well respected Facile Vega would definitely win this were it a hurdle race, but his jumping lets him down, and I don't think he will stay this trip well enough to figure at the finish. If Iroko runs, then he has to be respected, but I'm not sure that's going to happen; and there's not many horses that can win a Grade 1 at the Festival having not run this side of Christmas. The rest of the entries look decidedly outclassed, apart from Giovinco who I think is well-handicapped on OR146 so if he skips this for a handicap I will be well pleased; and the 9yo Letsbeclearaboutit who has been in some decent races in Ireland. Trainer Gavin Cromwell is no mug and this horse has the pace and stamina to stay involved to the finish. I think I will wait until the day as I should be able to better the current 7/2 on Grey Dawning; but I'm taking the NRNB available on the latter couple mentioned: Giovinco at 25/1 and Letsbeclearaboutit at 40/1 (Paddy Power) - both ew. Unfortunately the 40/1 has gone, best now is 33/1 NRNB with Paddy Power.

The Ryanair Chase is a race that for some reason I always seem to read wrong - I think the only time I've been on the winner is when Cue Card romped home back in 2013. I've already taken 6/1 about Stage Star following his win in the Paddy Power Gold Cup last November. I also took the odds of 10/1 that were available last April after Envoi Allen won this race at the last Festival - yes, 10/1. He's been given a very light season by his trainer, de Bromhead; and as he won this race last season - beating Shishkin, no less - after being beaten out of sight in the "King George" at Kempton, that he's not run since just failing to win the Grade 1 Drinmore over 3-miles in November is no worry to me. The form of Banbridge is also strong, and you cannot fault his last 3 runs; he could be the best of these but, given how close they are matched, his current odds of 3/1 offer (to me) no value. The only other horse capable of mixing-it in this race is Protektorat: he's not won a race since being gifted the Betfair Chase in Nov22 (18 months ago), but his form this season has been his best ever and he's consistent. He was available at over 20/1 a few weeks ago, and I wish I'd availed myself of some, but 12/1 is available with Bet365 (he's 10's everywhere else).  I'm expecting Stage Star to win this race. Bit of late news that Ga Law has been supplemented, but he needs to find about 7lb on his recent win at Cheltenham in January to win this, and possibly a tad more. Had he run to form last season (when 5th in this race) he would probably have come 4th - but that's still 5 or 6 lengths off last years winner. 

One of my favourite races of the Festival is the Stayer's Hurdle over 3-mile, as I've found the winner a number of times in recent years. Last year was a complete blow-out, but then the form of this division had been erratic all season - which culminated in the 11yo Sire Du Berlais winning at 33/1 with the 10yo Dashel Drasher in 2nd at 40/1. That leads me to dismiss Teahupoo who, if he couldn't win last year with the ground in his favour (the softer the better for him) he's unlikely to win this year. The rumour is Irish Point will run in the Champion Hurdle (2nd pays £95k) and as he's not guaranteed to stay 3-mile at this level, I think he will run on Tuesday. Crambo just isn't good enough by a long way, remember he was 3rd in a handicap hurdle over 3-mile on 25Nov off OR139 - he should have won that by 15-lengths is he really is capable of winning this race on Thursday.  Horses don't find 15lb of improvement overnight as a 7yo. I can see why some think the answer is Noble Yeats, who has abundant stamina, but he merely ran to his rating of OR152 in the Cleeve Hurdle, but what he does have tho' is a turn-of-foot which can win a muddling race. If I thought Sir Gerhard would stay 3-mile he would be my choice, but that's a questionmark, although he will enjoy soft ground. If you are considering Monkfish after pretty much 3 years on the sick list, then you are dreaming. The more you look at this race, the more you see how weak it is and lacking depth - yet there's a proven horse at the trip and on the course: Flooring Porter. He had a lot of problems last season, and still ran 4th in this race last season beaten just over 3 lengths. He's looked very fit and well this season: he just isn't as good at jumping fences as hurdles. Gavin Cromwell has brought this horse along very quietly, and he could be in-line for  massive gamble on the Thursday. For me, it's Flooring Porter all the way; he's 12/1 NRNB.

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