Nube Negra can put Chacun in the shade at Cheltenham on Wednesday

Nube Negra can put Chacun in the shade at Cheltenham on Wednesday

Harry Skelton riding Nube Negra (left). Nube Negra can cause a minor surprise in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase. 

NUBE NEGRA can cause a minor surprise in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday afternoon.

Backing against Chacun Pour Soi may prove folly, of course, but as yet the big-race favourite still needs to prove his appetite for the Cheltenham hill.

While Willie Mullins' hotpot has been beaten just once in Ireland since his move from France in 2016, in all that time we have only seen him in action seven times.

Nevertheless, as a nine-year-old he should be at his peak now - although there is obviously a fragility about him, which reared its head 12 months ago when he was ruled out on the morning of the race.

What gives hope for those taking him on is the fact he was outstayed by A Plus Tard in December 2019, his sole defeat for Mullins, and if he is off the bridle before the last his supporters may know their fate.

Nube Negra is the unknown quantity really. 

If he is as good as he looked when beating Altior at Kempton then his odds are very big indeed - and while the general consensus seemed to be that Altior was not fit, that theory does not hold water.

Nube Negra had been off the exact same amount, and Dan Skelton's seven-year-old is surely on the up.

A bit like the favourite, Nube Negra also has to prove he has the right attributes for the Cheltenham hill - because he travelled like the winner in the 2018 Fred Winter only to finish third. 

But he was a weak four-year-old then and looked a completely different proposition when making Altior look decidedly slow at Kempton.

The opening Ballymore Novices' Hurdle looks at the mercy of Henry de Bromhead's Bob Olinger.

A 10-length bumper winner this time last year, he was already in plenty of notebooks and then went into just about every other one following his hurdling debut at Gowran in November.

Racing over two miles, which was always going to be on the sharp side given he had already won a point-to-point, he made Champion Bumper winner Ferny Hollow pull out all the stops.

Unfortunately that rival picked up an injury which has prevented him from running again, but Bob Olinger has done his own bit for the form - winning twice since, including a Grade One.

That came at Naas in a race which through the years has produced many winners of this contest - and while the likes of Bravemansgame and Gaillard Du Mesnil are Grade One winners in their own right, Bob Olinger just seems to have that something extra.

It appears a thankless task trying to get Mullins' Monkfish beaten in the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase.

He is already a Festival winner in the Albert Bartlett, has seemingly oodles of stamina but also the pace to win a Grade One over two-miles-five - and he has yet to make anything noteworthy of a mistake.

Some may say he has been beating the same horse in Latest Exhibition - and although that is true, if you take Monkfish away Paul Nolan's charge would have four Grade Ones to his name, and we would be talking about him in the same terms we are now Monkfish.

Tiger Roll has a fantastic Festival record, and can notch a fifth win at the meeting in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase.

The dual Grand National winner is seemingly up against it after one lacklustre Flat run and two disappointing jumps spins - including over this course back in November - so far this season.

However, connections have not yet lost faith - and while an Aintree hat-trick has been ruled out, a third win in this race is not beyond the realms of possibility because Tiger Roll has come alive before at this venue.

Zanza holds strong claims in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase.

Philip Hobbs' novice faced an unenviable task in trying to give weight to Allmankind earlier in the season but was then a very easy winner of a Newbury handicap.

He came down on his most recent effort - at Cheltenham - which is obviously not ideal, but his schooling sessions since have reportedly gone very well.

At the right end of the weights, he looks one of the more likely winners.

It is hard to get away from the claims of Kilcruit in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, given his laughably easy win at the Dublin Racing Festival.

He is the one Patrick Mullins is most upset about missing because of the current ban on amateur riders.

The Coral Cup looks fiendishly difficult, but Craigneiche looked way ahead of his mark when winning at Ascot.

Up 12lb, he is still set to carry a lovely racing weight.


CHELTENHAM: 1.20 BOB OLINGER (NAP), 1.55 Monkfish, 2.30 Craigneiche, 3.05 Nube Negra, 3.40 Tiger Roll, 4.15 Zanza, 4.50 Kilcruit.

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