Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase (Grade1) 3m2 1/2f Cheltenham (New) Friday

gold cup chase

Could the great Tom Dreaper’s record be equalled?

Tom Dreaper, with his 5 victories, Prince Regent 1946, the immortal Arkle’s three consecutive wins, 1964, 65, 66, and Fort Leney in 1968 remains the most successful trainer in the history of the great race, but more than a few think that his outstanding record could be equalled this year by the Master of Ditcheat, Paul Nicholls. His Clan Des Obeaux was a most impressive winner of The King George V1 last time out and Paul will be hoping the French bred son of top NH stallion, Kapgarde, can add to the victories of See More Business, Kauto Star twice, and Denman.

A winner of 6 of his 17 starts over fences, the 8yo has yet to win over further than 3 miles, and his stamina did seem to run out in last year’s renewal. He travelled really well throughout the race and looked to be going at least as well as any jumping the second last in third place, but could find no more from the final fence and finished fifth. It was a similar story 20 days later when he again appeared to be outstayed by Kemboy in Aintree’s Betway Bowl Chase, (3m1f) . Stamina is certainly an issue on Friday, but now a year older, he looked as if there was plenty left in the locker at Kempton where he won the strongly run heat by an impressive, eased down 24L, and his Master trainer certainly knows what is required.

The Willie Mullins trained Kemboy has certainly got his act back together again since unshipping David Mullins at the first In last year’s renewal. He has won 2 of his 4 starts,  both Grade1 events, including a 2L decision over stable companion Al Boum Photo at Punchestown in May. He has gone well in both starts this term, including a good 2nd to Delta Work in the Irish Gold Cup last time. However, he has never finished closer than 4th in three Festival appearances, and showed a definite tendency to jump to his right in The Irish Gold Cup, so Willie’s best chance of back to back victories would seem to lie with last year’s winner, Al Boum Photo. The Co Carlow Maestro certainly seems to have trained him with just The Gold Cup in mind as he has followed the same route as last year. His only run since Punchestown in May being the same Listed Tramore event (2m5f Jan1 Soft) as the previous year, in which he had no trouble seeing off his stable companion, Acapella Bourgeois. Few animals manage to win the Gold Cup twice but there are few equals of Willie in the training stakes, and there won’t be too many surprised at Prestbury Park on Friday If he pulls it off.

Gordon Elliott won with Don Cossack 4 years ago, and will be hoping to follow up with Delta Work in the same colours, (he would be a third winner for the Gigginstown operation who also won with War Of Attrition in 2006) and this very progressive 7yo has to be on most people’s short list. Despite having to be switched twice in last year’s RSA he was only beaten 1/2L and 1 3/4L by Topofthegame and Fridays opponent, Santini. He went on to easily win the Grade1 Champion Novice Chase at The Punchestown Festival 48 days later where he had the now 166 rated A Plus Tard
14 1/2L back in third. He made no impression at Down Royal on his reappearance in November but 8 weeks later won Leopardstown’s Grade1 Savill Chase, outstaying Monalee to win by a Head, and 7 weeks later, beat the 177 rated Kemboy by 1 1/2L to land His biggest pot to date, The Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup. Only rated 139 when scraping home by the minimum distance in the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle at The Festival in 2018 as a 5yo, he is now rated 32 pounds higher over fences and I doubt if we have yet seen the limit of this young animals improvement.

The Henry De Bromhead (won with Sizing John 3 years ago) trained Monalee did make Delta Work pull out all the stops to win The Savill Chase in December and could represent some value at his current odds of 20/1. However there has to be a big question mark over his stamina as the furthest he has won over is 3 miles and that was in a Hurdle race at Clonmel over 3 years ago. However he has got a decision over the current market leader, Al Boum Photo, (Leopardstown Feb 2018 2m5f Soft) who he beat by 3/4L in the Grade1 event, and by Milan, out of a Glacial Storm mare, is certainly bred to get the trip.

After finishing 2nd in last year’s RSA the Nicky Henderson trained, Santini was retired for the season, and following a 242 days break, made a less than auspicious start to the new campaign, when getting up by a head to beat a 144 rated opponent at Sandown in November. However, following wind surgery, and a 76 days break he looked a different animal, winning the Gold Cup Trial, The Cotswold Chase, (3m1 1/2f Soft) here at Prestbury Park by a very comfortable 3 1/2L from last year’s Gold Cup 3rd, Bristol De Mai. Nicky, who has won Cheltenham’s Blue Riband twice before thinks there is plenty more to come from the lightly raced 8yo and I for one wouldn’t disagree.

Selection.           : Santini

Danger.               : Delta Work

John Gray

Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade1) 2 miles Cheltenham Tuesday

unibet champion hurdle
Historically 5yo’s haven’t had a great record in the race failing to register a single victory in the 30 years between 1986 and 2007, but their record has improved since, with Katchit winning the 2008 renewal, and last year, the French bred 5yo,
Espoir D’Allen, brought home the bacon. The generation is again quite strongly represented this time round, with the likes of Pentland Hills, and Coeur Sublime, but don’t ignore the longer priced 5yo Fusil Raffles.

Another French bred, he won one of his two starts for legendary Gallic trainer,
Guillame Macaire, (a modest provincial affair) but arriving at Seven Barrows at the end of 2018, Nicky Henderson threw him in at the deep end for his first race, Kemptons
Grade2 Adonis Hurdle, and connections must have been thrilled with the way he drew away after the last from a pretty useful field, for a facile 9L victory. He demonstrated emphatically, 70 days later, that there was no fluke about it when stepped up to Grade1
level for Punchestown’s Champion 4yo Hurdle, beating the talented Fakir D’oudairies by a very comfortable 2 3/4L. As the runner up had previously run Pentland Hills,         (Currently a 5/1 shot for the Champion) to a hard fought neck in Aintree’s Grade1 4yo Juvenile Hurdle, this was a pretty impressive note to end his first British season on. He made his seasonal debut in Wincanton’s Elite Hurdle in November, and while he won, the performance could be best described as workmanlike. Connections must have been hoping for better 47 days later when the son of Saints Des Saints, was sent off the 2/1JFav with his well backed stable companion, and current market leader,
Epatante, for Kemptons Christmas Hurdle. Alas they were bitterly disappointed as he raced far too keenly and was pulled up before two out. However it is much too early to write him off and if turning for The Champion, (also engaged in the County Hurdle) take note!

champion hurdle gordonFew trainers ever manage to win all National Hunts big three, The Gold Cup, The Grand National, and The Champion Hurdle and I wonder  if Irish Maestro, Gordon Elliott who has already won the first two, (The Grand National 3 times) will be tempted to run his unbeaten star, Envoi Allen in the Champion rather than in the Supreme Novices or The  Ballymore. Having won his only race between the flags, he went on to win all four of his NH flat races including the big one, The Grade1 Wetherby’s Champion Bumper at last year’s festival. His 3 runs over hurdles have followed a similar pattern winning all 3, the last twice at Grade1 level. He was clearly well suited by 2 1/2m last time when winning at Naas but was equally impressive when landing the top level, Royal Bond over 2 miles at Fairyhouse the time before. He may lack a little experience for Tuesday’s Showpiece but handled the demands of The Champion Bumper, (always a rough race) with aplomb last year and I’m sure connections know there’s only one “Champion”.

Since the end of the Second World War only 3 Mares, (Dawn Run, Flakey Dove and Annie Power) have won the race, but with 2 exceptionally talented females, Epatante and Honeysuckle, in contention this year, we may see a fourth. The former is trained by Nicky Henderson, (seeking his 8th win in the contest) for the legendary JP Mc Manus,
(looking for an amazing 9th win) and the 6yo mare has made giant strides in her last two races. Having been a big disappointment in last year’s Tattersalls Mares Novices Hurdle when sent off the very well backed 15/8 Fav, she finished a well beaten 9th, and was retired for the season. However the ex French mare has looked a different animal this term, winning both starts pretty easily, and was really impressive last time winning The Christmas Hurdle at Kempton by 5L. She must have been showing plenty at Seven Barrows beforehand, as despite the presence of her Stable companion, and joint favourite, Fusil Raffles, the serious money was all for her. Clearly very talented, ones main concern would be her poor performance on her only appearance at Prestbury Park last year.

While Eptante’s emergence as a serious candidate for Champion Hurdle honours has been relatively recent, Henry De Bromhead’s Honeysuckle’s talent has been obvious for some time. Unbeaten in her only PTP, the 6yo has contested 7 Hurdle races and is unbeaten in all of them. She was winning graded contests as early as January 2019 and won her first top level event at Fairyhouse last April. Two further Grade1 Victories have followed including against the boys the last twice, winning the Hattons Grace, (2m4f Y/Soft) at the start of December by 9L and the Irish Champion Hurdle, (Leopardstown 2m Yielding) two months later. It looked a little like hard work at the Co Dublin venue where she needed to pull out all the stops to see off the146 rated Darver Star, (also engaged in the Champion) but probably needed the race and it was the first time she had raced clockwise. However Mr De Bromhead, with his impressive CV certainly knows the time of day so expect to see a much sharper mare on Tuesday.

Selection.           : Envoi Allen.        If abs Honeysuckle
EW.                      Fusil Raffles