IT’S Stayer’s Hurdle Day at the Cheltenham Festival and with many hot pots already turned over this week, would there be any louder cheer than if Faugheen were to return victorious at 3.30pm this afternoon?
Paisley Park has been a warm order for this race, having run out an impressive winner of the JLT Hurdle, at Ascot, and the Cleeve Hurdle, at Cheltenham, already this season.
However, on both occasions, he beat West Approach, a horse that really doesn’t seem Grade 1 calibre.
I have a funny feeling that the English form just doesn’t stack up and that the old warrior might teach the young dogs a few tricks in this race.
Ever since Mullins’ reigning champion, Penhill, was withdrawn, due to injury, the vibes from Closutton have been positive for their former Champion Hurdle star.
A point-to-point winner in his youth, Faugheen was regarded as a Gold Cup horse of the future; he just happened to have enough pace to excel at two miles.
Now, at the age of 11, this might be his last chance to prove he can excel at extreme distances and on soft ground.
I wouldn’t bet against him making the frame in a Stayers’ Hurdle that doesn’t look terribly strong.
The JLT Novice Chase gets proceedings underway in what appears a straight, two-horse affair: Lostintranslation versus Defi Du Seuil.
At numerous preview nights, Robbie Power spoke in glowing terms of Colin Tizzard’s charge, saying that the son of Flemensfirth has improved with every run, not to mention his love for the track.
The pair have met twice this season and the score is one win apiece, but Lostintranslation seemed to outstay Defi Du Deuil up the Cheltenham hill on their most recent clash.
The JLT was won by Shattered Love last season — a dower stayer and I think Lostintranslation fits that bill.
The quicker they go, the stronger he will finish. Handicaps are far from a man’s best friend, but JP McManus has a better relationship with them than most.
He has numerous representatives in the Pertemps Network final, but a certain Sire Du Berlais stands out among the 24 runners.
This lightly raced seven-year-old has the profile of a horse that could either win at Cheltenham or get beaten at Tramore.
He’s a maiden since joining Elliott, back in 2016, but still finished a good fourth in the Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle (off a mark of 144) at the Festival last term.
Since then, he has had three extremely average runs in handicap company and runs today off a mark of 142. Like I said, he will either win or pull up.
The best race on today’s card is probably the Ryanair Chase — 12 runners and much more depth than the Champion Chase.
Ruby Walsh may have got off Un De Sceaux to ride Footpad, but I’m staying loyal to the tried-and-trusted front runner, especially on conditions he thrives on.
Footpad has put in two below-par runs this season, whereas Un De Sceaux ran a super race, behind Altior, in the Tingle Creek, at Sandown, before Christmas.
Second in the race last year, Edward O’Connell’s flag-bearer has an enviable career record — 22 wins from 30 starts and has only once ever finished out of the top-two places when he’s stood up.
He definitely represents value against Road To Respect and Monalee and while it will take a serious performance to regain his crown, it’s very difficult to see him finishing out of the money.
A field of 22 lines up for the Mare’s Novice Hurdle and while Willie Mullins usually farms races of this nature, I really fancy Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty to prevail in this year’s renewal.
Epatante has been dominant in her two hurdle starts, since joining Henderson from France, and such was the impression she made at Kempton, in November, that connections left her in the Supreme until the very final stage.
An AQPS Grade 1 bumper winner at Saint-Cloud, Epatante has won on all terrain and despite her relative inexperience over obstacles, she has always raced like a professional under Barry Geraghty.
She could be anything and I expect a big performance from her this afternoon.