We’ve had to overcome some obstacles in the build up the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, but we are racing, and it promises to be another exhilarating week of National Hunt action! Day 1 will get underway at 13:30 on Tuesday with the famous Cheltenham roar, and there really is no better curtain raiser in sport. The first day is traditionally my favourite of the four, with the feature Grade 1 Champion Hurdle taking center stage. It’s been well documented that this year’s renewal isn’t the strongest, and that notion is perhaps backed up by a field of 17 lining up, by far the largest entry in the last decade. Although coming into the race there doesn’t look to be a star, I do believe one will emerge – similarly to Buveur D’Air in 2017. Elsewhere on the card we have two further Grade 1s for two-mile Novice Hurdlers (Supreme) and two-mile Novice Chasers (Arkle), both packed with young improving Horses. To add further spice to proceedings, we’re also treated to a brilliant renewal of the Grade 1 Mares Hurdle, with the unbeaten Honeysuckle taking on superstar Mare Benie Des Dieux. It’s safe to say that I cannot wait to get to Prestbury Park!
13:30 – Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m½f
Day 1 kicks off with the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, a frantically run two-mile contest. This year’s Supreme looks like a red-hot renewal due to Envoi Allen scaring away opposition in the Ballymore, meaning analysis must be much more vigorous – in a different renewal many of these Novices’ would be strong selections.
Heading my list of negatives is Abacadabras. This Gigginstown House Stud six-year-old was a good Bumper Horse last season, finishing fourth in the Champion Bumper having ran-out on his previous start at Leopardstown. Since then he’s won his Maiden Hurdle at Gowran, before landing a 2m Grade 3 Novice Hurdle at Navan. Although beating Latest Exhibition easily that day, that Horse has shown bundles of improvement over longer trips, so it’s hard to take the form literally. By far the best piece of form that Abacadabras holds over obstacles is when second to Envoi Allen in the Grade 1 Royal Bond Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse in December, with Darver Star since coming out and finishing second in the Irish Champion Hurdle. That Fairyhouse run came on Yielding ground, however. Abacadabras was last seen at Leopardstown over Christmas when running in an extremely weak renewal of the 2m Grade 1 Champion Novice Hurdle, where he was pushed out to beat Heaven Help Us (136) by eight-lengths. That form would be nowhere near good enough to win a Supreme, and a mixture of soft ground and a stiff finish would be against this Gordon Elliot Horse, who you would have question marks over in a battle.
Fiddlerontheroof will appreciate every single drop of rain that Presbury Park gets, but with the current drying ground he’s also have to join my list of negatives. This useful Bumper performer ran an absolute stormer on his debut for the Tizzard’s at Chepstow in October, finishing second to Thyme Hill on their respective first starts over Hurdles in the 2m3½f Persian War Novices’ Hurdle. Since then he’s finished second to Edwardstone on good ground, before bolting up on Heavy at Sandown in December. Following that good run up a month later, Fiddlerontheroof impressively picked up Grade 1 honours in the Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle. Despite winning as he liked, he only beat Jeremys Flame (136) that day, which again is not form good enough to win a vintage Supreme.
From the more unexposed angle, Horse to Follow Chantry House is an intriguing runner. His Bumper form when beating Edwardstone looks very good now, and he made a very promising start to his career over Hurdles when beating subsequent Grade 2 winner Stolen Silver at Cheltenham in December. Having Cheltenham form is of course useful as a rule, but it is worth noting that this victory came on the New Course, whilst the Supreme is run on the Old Course. Chantry House was last seen on the track when bolting up in another Novice Hurdle at Newbury on Betfair Hurdle day. This JP McManus Horse was extremely impressive that day but will need to take a massive step forward heading into first time Graded company for Nicky Henderson.
That brings me perfectly onto Nicky Henderson’s other fancied runner in Shishkin. Another to feature on my Horses to Follow list for the season, Shishkin has been extremely impressive over Hurdles since falling on his debut at Newbury in December. Trying again at the same track a month later on Heavy ground, Shishkin absolutely flew through the line – putting 11 lengths between himself and useful rival Shakem Up’Arry in the matter of a few strides. This taking performance catapulted Shishkin into favouritism for the Supreme despite only having had one completed run over Hurdles, but once more he showed that he is a classy Horse when going to Huntingdon in February and bolting up by 11 lengths in the 2m3½f Listed Sidney Banks Memorial Novices’ Hurdle. Although on form it is hard to suggest that Shishkin is the best of these, the manor of his two victories to date suggest that this is a top-drawer Novice. Shishkin does have some statistics against him however, with Huntingdon runners 0/128 at the Cheltenham Festival over the past 17 years. It’s also worth noting that Nicky Henderson has only won the Supreme once since 1993, with the monster that is Altior. Whilst it’s not impossible for Shishkin to live up to that level, he may almost need to be in order to win this renewal of the Supreme.
One trainer who has no such problems with training a Supreme winner is Willie Mullins, who has won four of the last seven renewals. Before Christmas it looked as if the Closutton Handler would struggle to have a live contender for this showpiece two-mile Novice Hurdle, but Asterion Forlonge has really stepped forward for going Hurdling. This impressive Oldtown point-to-point winner made his debut in a Bumper at Thurles in November, and shaped as if he would really come on for the run when asserting close to home to score by three-quarters-of-a-length. This beautiful Grey was then left alone over the Christmas period, and was saved for Naas in January where he made his Hurdles debut. Asterion Forlonge wasn’t even sent off favourite for his first start over obstacles as the much more impressive Bumper performer Pencilfulloflead also lined up for Gordon Elliot – but Asterion Forlonge kicked that rival out of the way to bolt up by an impressive 10 lengths. Pencilfulloflead has since boosted the form by winning his Maiden by 12 lengths. Asterion Forlonge was stepped up into Grade 1 company for the first time on his next start at the Dublin Racing Festival, contesting the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle. A feature of this six-year-old’s winning Maiden at Naas was the fact that he jumped out to the right, but Asterion Frolonge was much better on the whole at Leopardstown. Disputing the lead with Easywork (147) throughout, this talented Grey kicked on under Paul Townend rounding the home bend, and quickly put nine-and-a-half lengths between himself at the Gigginstown runner. The ground will be perfect for Asterion Forlonge at Cheltenham, and this point-to-point winner should relish the stiff finish of the Hill. He is my nomination to get the week off to a perfect start.
Asterion Forlonge 2pts Win @ 11/4
14:10 – Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) 2m
The Arkle Novices’ Chase is always a contest I look forward to each year, and it has been won by stars such as Un De Sceaux, Douvan and Altior in recent years. Six of the last eight winners have all gone off favourite for this race, and Henry de Bromhead’s Notebook is the pick of these in my eyes.
It’s an old cliché that trainers are creatures of habit, but this is especially relevant in the case of Henry de Bromhead’s campaigning of 2010 Arkle winner Sizing Europe. This talented Horse started his career over fences by winning at Punchestown, before returning to that track a month later in the Grade 2 Craddockstown Novice Chase when once more victorious. The final stop en route to Cheltenham Festival success for Sizing Europe came in a Grade 1 Novice Chase at Leopardstown on Boxing Day in 2009 – where he kept up his unbeaten record. Some ten years on, this is more-a-less the exact same route which Notebook has taken. An impressive winner on Chase debut at Punchestown in October when beating Eclair De Beaufeu (148), a feature of this performance was his impeccable jumping. Once more putting in an exhibition of how to jump a fence under Rachael Blackmore, Notebook followed up his Maiden success with a very smooth victory in the aforementioned Grade 2 Craddockstown Novice Chase – comfortably beating stablemate Moon Over Germany (149) by five-lengths.
Stepping up into Grade 1 company for the first time over fences on Boxing Day at Leopardstown, Notebook took on Fakir D’oudairies and Laurina in the 2m1f Novice Chase. Chasing the leader in second, this Gigginstown runner once more put in a fantastic jumping display. Unlike on his first two starts over fences however, Notebook really showed his ability to battle when required, finding plenty for Rachael Blackmore who fired him at the last – sticking to the task gamely up the run in. Notebook beat JP McManus’ Fakir D’oudairies (154) by one-and-a-half lengths that day, but it is worth noting that rival was receiving a 7lbs four-year-old allowance at Leopardstown – something which he won’t receive in the Arkle. Despite the fact that he will be ridden differently at Cheltenham, this weight gain is a strong positive to the chances of Notebook, who has already beaten him on worse terms.
Notebook was last seen on the track at the Dublin Racing Festival in February, when lining up in the Grade 1 Irish Arkle Novice Chase. A race won by subsequent Arkle winners Un De Sceaux, Douvan and Footpad in recent years, this race is understandably a key Cheltenham trial – and Notebook passed the test with flying colours. Although Fakir D’oudairies was a late non-runner due to the drying ground, Notebook still faced a decent field headed by Cash Back (156), who took them along at a good gallop. Tracking the long-time leader in second, Notebook started to make his move at the second last and was travelling much stronger heading down to the final flight, where once more he showed his willing attitude in a battle to ensure a narrow victory. Although the margin of success was only three-quarters-of-a-length, Notebook has got to be massive value for this success considering he bolted in the preliminaries, which wasted valuable energy. As connections are now aware of potential pre-race antics at Cheltenham, I am confident that there won’t be any further issues – and this exemplary jumper can justify his position as the highest rated Horse in the Arkle. On a week where Rachael Blackmore and Henry de Bromhead have some fantastic chances, Notebook can get the duo off to a flying start.
Notebook 3pts Win @ 3/1
14:50 – Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 3m1f
The Ultima Handicap Chase has been a British banker in terms of the Prestbury Cup since 2008, with no Irish trained winner since Joes Edge in 2007. This year only two Irish Horses (Discorama and Elwood) are turning up to bust that trend, and I’d be against both. Whilst it’s by no means a negative to carry 11st+ in the Ultima, I’ve got two selections who will carry much less weight in a competitive heat.
My first selection for the Ultima is The Condtional, who has been in fantastic form since joining David Bridgwater’s Cotswolds yard. Back in Ireland this Horse had ran in some good races behind the likes of 2019 Arkle winner Duc Des Genievres and the 165 rated Chris’s Dream, even finishing fourth in the Grade A Leinster National this time last year. Since switching to this side of the Irish sea however, The Conditional has taken his form to a new level. Making his debut for the yard at Worcester in September, this eight-year-old ran well to finish third behind The Hollow Ginge (144), running in first time cheek-pieces under Brendan Powell. The idea of running in this Novices’ Chase was clearly to get fitness into him however, as he travelled really well and led briefly after the 12th fence before tiring and being eased close to home. This run set him up perfectly for a tilt at the 3m1f Class 2 Handicap Chase on Day 2 of the Cheltenham October meeting, where he ran from a mark of 131. The official going at Prestbury Park that day was soft, but there was an abundance of surface water due to persistent rain before racing. Making headway after the usual fourth last (one fence was omitted due to waterlogging), The Conditional stayed on extremely strongly to lead at the last flight, powering on up the hill to beat West Approach (149) by a length-and-a-quarter. Despite finishing tired, this is understandable considering the amount of surface water on the track that day, and he showed a game attitude to see out the trip.
With this good run under his belt, The Conditional’s next assignment came at Newbury in December for the Grade 3 Ladbrokes Trophy Handicap Chase. Travelling well in mid-division, The Conditional made smooth headway and tracked the eventual winner from the third last, taking second place before the penultimate fence, where he produced an awkward leap at the last when in a challenging position. Despite this mistake, The Conditional kept on strongly when joined on the run in by the fast finishing Elegant Escape (161) and last year’s Ultima winner Beware The Bear (159) to hold onto second place. The winner that day was Emma Lavelle’s De Rasher Counter (157), so this run from The Conditional off 137 was clearly a brilliant performance. Stepping up in trip to 3m5f at Warwick in January, David Bridgwater’s current stable star was last seen when running in the Grade 3 Classic Handicap Chase. Travelling sweetly as usual, The Conditional still held fourth place heading into the final fence of the back straight before being asked to close on the leaders by Brendan Powell. Getting back into the race on the inside running rail, The Conditional took second place rounding the home bend but stumbled on landing at the second last and lost all momentum, eventually finishing a tired fourth. Although probably not seeing out the extra few furlongs at Warwick, dropping back in trip to the same course and distance as his October Cheltenham success should really suit considering how powerfully he travelled to that point. The Handicapper has also helped The Conditional’s chances, as he was rated 142 for the Classic Chase, but has subsequently been dropped 3lbs back down to 139 – a mark he should be more than capable of exploiting. Having had a nice long break since January to get over that gruelling test, I’d be very keen on The Conditional, who will go in any ground.
The Conditional 1.5pts Each/Way (6 Places) @ 8/1 +14.4pts
Considering this is a 23 runner Handicap with 6 Places on offer, my second selection for the Ultima is a much bigger price in the form of Big River. Lucinda Russell’s ten-year-old has previous experience at the Cheltenham Festival having finished fourth behind Beware The Bear (159) in this race twelve months ago. Big River hit a flat spot at the 16th fence that day and was 15 lengths down at the third last, but he made strong headway up the Cheltenham hill to take a fast finishing fourth close to home. If you had backed Big River that day you would’ve completely given up hope of collecting, but it was quite extraordinary to see him make so much progress in the final few furlongs of the race. Stepped up in trip to four-miles for his next start in the Scottish Grand National at Ayr, Big River once more found himself miles back rounding the home bend before starting to stay on strongly. Although unable to get as close to the winner as he did at Cheltenham, Big River rattled home in fifth place – nine-lengths ahead of Vintage Clouds (151) whom he meets on 1lb better terms in the Ultima.
Since that Scottish Grand National effort, Big River has undergone wind surgery. Returning to Cheltenham in November, Big River did his usual thing of becoming detached from the field leaving the back straight, but on this occasion the Jockey decided to pull him up rather than persevere. Taken back up North in December, Big River was travelling strongly in a held-up last under Derek Fox before being brought down by a stricken Horse at the 14th flight. Although on paper this doesn’t exactly look like Festival winning form, significantly connections added first time cheek-pieces following on from his Cheltenham disappointment – designed to help the Horse concentrate on the task at hand. Given another chance in cheek-pieces on his last start, Big River showed a dramatic improvement in form to hit the front at the second last, and stay on strongly up the Kelso run in to score by a length-and-a-half. Winning from a mark of 137 that day, he beat Graeme McPherson’s useful Chaser Ami Desbois (143), but most importantly it seems that the application of cheek-pieces seem to be helping him travel better. With the Handicapper raising Big River to a mark of 141, this Horse looks to have a good chance in the Ultima now only 1lb higher than when a good fourth twelve months ago – and he looks worth an each/way play at a big price.
Big River 0.5pts Each/Way (6 Places) @ 25/1 +2pts
15:30 – Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1) 2m½f
You don’t need me to tell you that this year’s renewal of the Champion Hurdle isn’t a vintage one – countless pundits and writers have been saying the same thing for months now. It’s funny how much a year changes a division in National Hunt Racing; it was only 12 months ago that we were licking our lips at the prospect of Laurina vs Apple’s Jade vs Buveur D’Air! As it turned out, the first two flopped and the latter named former Champion got injured on his sole start this season. In addition to the sad loss of last year’s brilliant winner Espoir D’Allen, the already fairly undistinguished 2019/20 two-mile Hurdle division has been blown apart – crying out for a new Champion to arise.
The problem with many contenders this season is that it’s so far been hard to tell if they possess the ‘star-quality’ so often required. Although noble, the likes of Ballyandy, Supasundae, Petit Mouchoir, Sharjah and Call Me Lord are unlikely to be able to improve significantly on what they have already shown. Last year of course we did see a five-year-old score in the Champion Hurdle, but this feat has only been achieved twice in the past 33 renewals. The likes of Pentland Hills, Coeur Sublime and Fusil Raffles would hardly inspire confidence of this stat being broken two years in succession – especially as Espoir D’Allen had much better form to his name coming into the race.
Having already discarded most 2020 Champion Hurdle candidates, you come to the less exposes Horses who line up. Cilaos Emery makes the fascinating switch from Fences to Hurdles having already achieved a rating of 165 over the larger obstacles in just four starts, which clearly provides this Willie Mullins Horse with a class angle. Although making a nine-and-a-half length wining return over Hurdles at Gowran Park last month, it was worrying to see him jump without any real fluency – a trait you would have to feel he will need to improve upon to even win a substandard renewal of the Champion Hurdle. Having said this, with the Champion Irish trainer in your corner clearly anything is possible, and the Gowran run should have helped him massively in the transition back to jumping Hurdles. The vibes from Closutton haven’t exactly been bouncing when discussing Cilaos Emery being supplemented for the race however, and it does seem like a ‘nothing to lose’ throw of the dice.
The other contender who hails from the unexposed angle is Epatante, who has done nothing wrong since flopping at the Cheltenham Festival twelve months ago. It must first be said that this Mare did have excuses that day having endured a troubled build-up due to flu-vaccinations, as well as sporting a first-time hood – equipment that connections have not used since. Returning to the track at Newbury in November, Epatante bolted up in a Listed Handicap Hurdle off 137, before really announcing herself in the two-mile Hurdle division when winning the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton in impressive style once more. Trainer Nicky Henderson has casted slight doubt over her chances by going public about this Mare coughing (Friday 27th February), but he has since stated that she has stopped – information which although wouldn’t inspire confidence, needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. With Honeysuckle running in the Mares Hurdle rather than the Champion Hurdle, Epatante is by far the stand-out Horse in the race, and she will take some beating having already smashed the likes of Silver Streak, Ballyandy, Verdana Blue and Fusil Raffles at Kempton on Boxing Day. Owner JP McManus has won four of the last six Champion Hurdles, and Nicky Henderson is the leading trainer in the race, with seven victories to his name. Although right now some are looking at the race with despair, Epatante clearly has the potential to emerge as a heavyweight in the division.
Epatante 3pts Win @ 7/2 +10.5pts
16:10 – Close Brothers Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m4f
Although many will have their qualms about the Champion Hurdle, nobody can complain with the exciting match up in the Mares Hurdle, as superstar Mare Benie Des Dieux takes on the up-and-coming Honeysuckle for the first time in their careers.
Benie Des Dieux has been my selection in the Mares Hurdle for the past two years in succession, and she has done nothing to make me switch allegiances this time around. If you cast your mind back to 24 months ago, this Mare was sent off a 9/2 chance when lowering the colours of Apple’s Jade, before proving that victory to be no fluke when following up at the Punchestown Festival a month later. Last season Willie Mullins decided to go straight to the Festival with Benie due to a lack of rain over the Winter months, and once more she looked set for Mares Hurdle glory. Bounding into a three-length lead heading toward the last, Benie Des Dieux was going to hack up before agonisingly clipping the top of the Hurdle and taking a tumble at the last. Since that fall however Benie Des Dieux has been foot perfect; retaining her Punchestown Grade 1 crown before putting in a career best over in France at Auteuil, readily coming clear of former French sensation De Bon Coeur in the Grade 1 French Champion Hurdle. Unlike her preparation (or lack of) this time last year, Benie Des Dieux has had a run before heading to Cheltenham having hacked up by 21 lengths in the 3m Grade 2 Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park, where should put in a breathtaking performance. With a run under her belt and brilliant form to her name, Benie Des Dieux is a strong fancy to regain her Mares Hurdle crown – as she simply is the best Mare in training.
Despite my bullish words for Benie Des Dieux, it must be said that this is no penalty kick as top Mare Honeysuckle will also line up – a race that owner Kenneth Alexander has high on his list of targets. This Mare is another to have put in some good performances this season having won the Grade 1 Hattons Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse in brilliant style. Since her second Grade 1 success this Mare has caused connections a headache in terms of a Cheltenham target having won the 2m Grade 1 Irish Champion Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival, but she returns to her favoured 2m4f trip at Cheltenham. Although she clearly is a talented Mare, Honeysuckle still needs to prove she is up to the same level as Benie Des Dieux, who on official ratings is 4lbs clear.
Benie Des Dieux 5pts Win @ 4/6
16:50 – Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase (Listed) 2m4f
It’s been a long (and nervous!) wait since Hold The Note was given his Handicap mark of 145 on the 14th January, but our Ante-Post selection has escaped any further rises from the Handicapper to make his intended target – and of course shorten in price! Put up at 16/1 back in January, Hold The Note is a Horse I’ve had my eye on for this Novices’ Handicap Chase for a good six months. In my 2019/20 National Hunt Horses to Follow guide I noted ‘If not quite hitting the Graded level of success, I could still see him turning up for something like the Novices’ Handicap Chase at Cheltenham come March’… and that quote has been bang on the money.
Hold The Note was a good Bumper performer prior to going Novice Hurdling last season, bolting up at Newton Abbot on Heavy ground before finishing fourth to Master Debonair (149) and Thyme Hill (150) in a Listed Cheltenham Bumper in November 2018. Sent straight over Hurdles a month later, Mick Channon clearly didn’t want to waste any time getting this Chasing type over obstacles. In that division Hold The Note once more ran well behind some good Horses, namely I Can’t Explain (142) and Phoenix Way (140), but he got his head in front for the first time over Hurdles at Doncaster in December 2018, on his first start stepped up to 2m3½f. Although unable to follow up at Huntingdon in February last year when posed with the task of giving Breaking Waves (131) 11lbs, the Channons clearly were more excited about the prospect of going Chasing this season.
Starting his career over the larger obstacles at Ludlow in November, Hold The Note was pitched into a fairly decent Beginners’ Chase. Tracking the leaders under Adrian Heskin, this Tim Radford charge Jumped well in the main and was coming into the race nicely before getting tired and weakening from the second last. Although needing the run, Hold The Note shaped with good promise on his first start over the larger obstacles, and was beaten by the useful Western Ryder (140). Hold The Note was next sent to Kempton on Boxing Day to contest a Novices’ Handicap Chase which connections had won 12 months prior thanks to Glen Forsa, and they had also finished second with Mister Whitaker the year before that. Travelling and jumping well under Tom Scudamore on the inside running rail, Hold The Note was chasing the leaders before being badly hampered by a faller at the tenth flight – leaving his jockey with no option but to pull up.
Hold The Note was last seen on the track at Warwick in January when contesting the 3m Grade 2 Hampton Novices’ Chase. This was this six-year-old’s first attempt at three-miles, but he proved that to be no issue when travelling powerfully into the lead at the second last. Despite getting to the front however, Hold The Note was up against a dour stayer in Two For Gold (146), who simply out-battled this Jeremy Gelding to lead close to home. That rival has since gone on to finish second in the Grade 2 Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase behind Copperhead at Ascot, and the third placed (hampered) Whatmore (138) is another to have run well since, finishing fourth behind Mister Malarky in a competitive Grade 3 Handicap Chase.
Owner Tim Radford and trainer Mick Channon are no stranger to having Cheltenham Festival winners having won this Listed Novices’ Handicap Chase with Mister Whitaker in 2018, and they seemed to be plotting Glen Forsa to this race last year before he bolted up in a Grade 2 Novice Chase and ruined his Handicap mark. Clearly this race would have been on Mick’s mind for Hold The Note for some time, and dropping back in trip to a well run 2m4f with the stiff Cheltenham hill should be perfect conditions. You need a Horse who is ahead of their official rating to win the Northern Trust, and Hold The Note looks to have much more improvement to follow from his current mark of 145. Although he will have to carry top-weight, this is no longer an issue for the Novices’ Handicap Chase as it is an extremely competitive 0-145, with the bottom weight only carrying 6lbs lower (139). Jonathan Burke has been booked to ride following on from the pair running so well last time at Warwick, and he is still a strong fancy.
Hold The Note 2pts Each/Way (5 Places) @ 8/1 [Ante-Post @ 16/1] +1.2pts [+2.2pts]
17:30 – National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase (Grade 2) 3m6f
It’s no secret that I very strongly fancied Champagne Classic for the National Hunt Chase, and in truth it is a much weaker race without him running. Regardless of an Ante-Post pick gone wrong however, this is now an extremely open renewal of the National Hunt Chase. Regardless of opposition, I am still of the opinion that there is enough scope to take on the short-priced favourite and dodgy jumper Carefully Selected. Considering he is such a short price, there is a lot of value on offer. As with all Amateur races at the Cheltenham Festival, having the best Jockey does give you a fantastic chance, and it’s got to be something at the fore-front of your mind when making a selection. Despite Irish based Jockeys winning nine of the past ten renewals, that trend has a good chance of being broken this year thanks to 2009 winner Sam Waley-Cohen.
Sam Waley-Cohen is of course a top-class Jockey in his own right, having won the Gold Cup with Long Run in 2011 amongst other high-profile successes. With no runners under his Father’s ownership this year, Sam has been booked by Richard Hobson to ride Lord Du Mesnil. It’s hard to believe that a Horse with 17 Chase runs under his belt would qualify for what is a glorified Novices’ Chase, but this battled-hardened Horse can put that experience to serious use in the National Hunt Chase.
Second in a couple of Novice Handicap Chases at Stratford and Sedgefield early in the season, Lord Du Mesnil started what would turn out to be a sequence of victories at Newcastle in November when landing a Heavy ground Novices’ Handicap Chase over three-miles. Leading under Paul O’Brien that day, Lord Du Mesnil was headed when not fluent at the second last, but showed an extremely game attitude to rally on the run in and score by a neck – the exact quality you would want to see from a National Hunt Chase runner. Raised 5lbs for that Maiden success over fences, Lord Du Mesnil made his next start at Haydock in the Class 2 Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase, where he made all to score by an impressive thirteen-lengths. Amongst the Horses in-behind that day was subsequent Grade 2 Peter Marsh Handicap Chase winner Vintage Clouds (151), and Lord Du Mesnil boosted the form himself when once more winning a Class 2 Handicap Chase at Haydock – this time over 3m 4½f. Making most under Paul O’Brien, Lord Du Mesnil defied a 10lbs rise in the weights to continue his fine form over fences – beating Perfect Candidate by nine-lengths. Considering that was Lord Du Mesnil’s first start over an extended trip, you would have to be impressed with his stamina – yet another quality that a National Hunt Chase contender needs to possess.
Having recorded an impressive hat-trick over fences within a month, Lord Du Mesnil saw his official handicap rating raise 25lbs to 147 by the time he made his last start on the track at Haydock in February, contesting the Grade 3 Grand National Trial. By far his toughest assignment to date, Lord Du Mesnil raced prominently as usual before becoming a clear leader at the 10th flight. Jumping well throughout, Lord Du Mesnil was ridden approaching the second last and looked set to complete an unprecedented four-timer – but he was joined after the last by the fast finishing Smooth Stepper (now rated 144), who was carrying the minimum weight on his back. Although losing his winning sequence over Fences, Lord Du Mesnil lost nothing in defeat that day – once more proving that he has stamina in abundance.
With the ground set to just about be soft enough for this seven-year-old at Cheltenham, Lord Du Mesnil has a fantastic chance in the National Hunt Chase thanks to his stamina, jumping and experience. Although he’s clearly not an Irish raider with a sexy profile, this dour stayer could be all that is needed to win this year’s renewal of the three-mile-six-furlong contest. Looking at trends, seven of the last ten winners were rated 145 or above, so Lord Du Mesnil clearly fits that bill with his current official rating of 153 – the highest rated Horse in the race. If a 24-day break since the Grand National Trial is long enough for him to recover, then Lord Du Mesnil is a brilliant each/way bet with stamina guaranteed.
Lord Du Mesnil 1.5pts Each/Way (4 Places) @ 7/1 +0.6pts
Good luck! – Jake Price