IT’S Cheltenham day three of four and just like prizefighters, we have taken a few hits and plundered a few riches, but today is key to staying in the fight.
Racing kicks-off with the Marsh Novices Chase (better known as the JLT). Since it was first run in 2011, Irish-trained horses have dominated it, winning it seven times, and our main hopes this afternoon rest with the mighty Faugheen and the enigma that is Samcro.
Were the 12-year-old Faugheen to win this afternoon, the roof may just come off the stands here at Cheltenham. He’ll appreciate the soft ground and seems to have held his form well, considering his age. That said, I’m siding with younger legs, in the shape of Itchy Feet.
Half the age of Faugheen and third in the Supreme last season, to Klassical Dream, Itchy Feet, Olly Murphy’s charge, stayed on strongly in the Grade One Scilly Isles last time, ultimately a facile winner on the day.
Mister Fisher is also a serious contender, for Nicky Henderson, but I’m convinced he prefers a sounder surface. The heart screams Faugheen, but the head rules with Itchy Feet, for Cork jockey, Gavin Sheehan. He’s the young improver against the heavyweight titan: what a race we have in prospect!
The Ryanair Chase was won in emphatic style by Frodon twelve months ago and, on official ratings, he will be difficult to dethrone today.
A Plus Tard was a novice handicap winner at the meeting last year and has improved immensely since then, culminating in Grade 1 glory at Leopardstown over Christmas, when he beat Chaquen Pour Soi. This is a horse on the up and we know he will handle every challenge Cheltenham has to offer. Henry de Bromhead has enjoyed a fantastic week, thus far, and I’m hoping this horse can keep the Waterford trainer in lights this afternoon.
It’s lovely to see a Grade 1 race in which two lady riders are aboard the favourites purely on merit.
Nobody is related to anyone and nobody is seeking a story. Rachael Blackmore and Bryony Frost have proven themselves on the biggest stage and I expect them to be duelling out the finish of the Ryanair Chase this afternoon.
The Stayers’ Hurdle completely revolves around Paisley Park. He’s the best horse in the race and features in almost all ante-post accumulator bets. He’s not a betting proposition, but something must finish second.
Glengoura Jockey Jonathan Burke takes the ride on Summerville Boy, for trainer, Tom George, and I give him a genuine, each-way chance, considering he is already a Cheltenham Festival winner (won Supreme Novices Hurdle).
The newest race at the Festival is the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle. The race has been run for four years and, to date, Willie Mullins has won every renewal... until today!
Mullins is sublime with his mares, but, this year, I really fancy the chances of Minella Melody. Representing the same connections as Honeysuckle, this daughter of Flemensfirth won her point-to-point in Boulta, for John Nallen, before performing to a high level in bumpers last term.
She’s progressed over hurdles this season and boasts rock-solid form.
All of Willie Mullins’ former Mares’ Novice winners have been French-bred and he is, once again, represented by Colreevy, Concertista, Dolcita, and Yukon Lil, but I’ll be cheering on the Irish-bred mare to give connections another day to remember, following the brilliant win of Honeysuckle on Tuesday.
The Kim Muit brings the curtain down on another day at Prestbury Park and I’m tipping Plan Of Attack to thwart his rivals in what is a typically open affair.
Third at Leopardstown last time, he found himself in front far too soon, before being worn down close to the line, ultimately finishing third. I expect Barry O’Neill to ride a stalking race and play his cards late. Hopefully, those tactics can sign us off on a winner.
1.30pm: Marsh Novices Chase, Itchy Feet, Gavin Sheehan, Olly Murphy
2.10pm: Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle, Kilbricken Storm, Harry Cobden,Colin Tizzard.
2.50pm: Ryanair Chase, A Plus Tard, Rachael Blackmore, Henry de Bromhead.
3.30pm: Stayer’s Hurdle, Paisley Park, Aidan Coleman, Emma Lavelle.
4.10pm: Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase, Siruh Du Lac, Lizzie Kelly, Nick Williams.
4.50pm: Mares’ Novice Hurdle, Minella Melody, Rachael Blackmore, Henry de Bromhead
5.30pm: Kim Muir Handicap Chase, Plan Of Attack, Barry O’Neill, Henry de Bromhead.