We continued our fine run of form at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival on Thursday with two winners in Min and Simply The Betts, leaving the Preview articles +41.23pts across the three days so far. The final day of the Cheltenham Festival means we are onto Gold Cup Day, and I cannot wait to attend my first blue riband event. Good luck!
Gary Moore’s Goshen has been a revelation since starting his three-year-old campaign at Brighton in June, bolting up in three successive Handicaps on the Flat to see his official rating climb 24lbs. This improvement materialised from a combination of stepping up in trip and allowing him to race much more prominently, tactics which have played perfectly into his hands over Hurdles. What has followed is three wide margin successes in small field Juvenile Hurdles, where he has made virtually all on each occasion. The first of those came at Fontwell when winning by 23 lengths, then Sandown by 34 lengths, and finally Ascot by 11 lengths. Goshen raced keenly on each occasion, but most worryingly in regard to his Cheltenham chances is his jumping out to the right. On Goshen’s sole start going left-handed over Hurdles he jumped right at all nine Hurdles jumped. Since that debut run, he’s ran twice at right-handed tracks in Sandown and Ascot, where he jumped right at 9/16 Hurdles taken across both runs. A particular habit Goshen has is to get progressively worse as the race goes on, with him running down the last two flights and jumping dramatically right on all three starts over timber. With this jumping tendency in mind, he could not be on my radar stepping up to Graded level for the first time at Cheltenham.
Another tearaway who would have a much better chance in my eyes is Dan Skelton’s Allmankind. This 86 rated Flat Horse joined Lodge Hill from Michael Bell, having undergone a wind-operation before starting his career under National Hunt rules. Making his debut at Warwick in November, Allmankind pulled like a train under Harry Skelton, but absolutely bolted in by a massive 37 lengths. Although clearly on the day Allmankind didn’t seem to beat much, the form has technically taken a boost from distant-fourth Galahad Quest, who has since won a the Grade 2 Triumph Trial at Cheltenham on Trials Day. Regardless on the form, Allmankind was impressive on his debut, and proved that he is a good Horse when stepping into Grade 2 company at Cheltenham himself in December. Lining up against some nice Juveniles such as Botox Has (139), Allmankind made all on the Old Course at Prestbury Park, despite losing his left fore shoe. This impressive performance was then followed up at the highest level on Welsh National Day, with Dan Skelton’s Sea The Moon gelding winning the Grade 1 Finale Juvenile Hurdle on Heavy ground. Once more making all under Harry, Allmankind gave us a first real comparison to the Irish contingent, beating Joseph O’Brien’s Cerberus by an impressive nine-lengths.
That brings me perfectly on to Aspire Tower, who looks to head a fairly weak looking Irish challenge. This Henry de Bromhead charge is another to graduate from the Flat with an official rating of 86, and is another who likes to go from the front – making all at Punchestown on Hurdles debut to score by thirteen-lengths. Like Allmankind, this Son of Born To Sea was stepped up into Grade 2 company following on from his Maiden success, where once more he made all to score by an impressive 18 lengths, in the Grade 2 Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown on Boxing Day. Heading back to that track for the Dublin Racing Festival last month, Apsire Tower was sent off as a short-priced favourite to continue his unbeaten record over obstacles. Racing keenly under Rachael Blackmore, this four-year-old didn’t have his usual long lead coming down to the second last flight, and was joined before the last when taking a fall. The Horse who joined him that day was Cerberus, well beaten by Allmankind on his previous start. Although he ended up pulling himself up and not winning the race, I did find it worrying that the first time Aspire Tower found himself under pressure he made a mistake – and he now has a massive stat to overcome heading to Cheltenham. No Juvenile Hurdler has won the Triumph Hurdle having fallen on their last start over the past ten years.
Clearly of the trio mentioned, Allmankind would have been my selection on form – but it’s hard to get away from the well cited fact that each Horse likes to get on with the race from the front, which could cause a frantic pace and mean that at least one of the three boil over. Aspire Tower seemingly has the better temperament of the trio, but I cannot envisage Allmankind or Goshen settling anywhere other than in the lead. Considering this potential pace burn-up in combination with my thoughts that the Juvenile Hurdle division needed a stand-out Horse to emerge, the performance of Solo in the Adonis took my breath away.
Solo made his Hurdles debut at Auteuil in October for legendary trainer Guillaume Macaire – responsible for the likes of Long Run, Vautour and Master Minded just to name a few. Chasing the leaders that day, Solo was travelling extremely well between the final two flights, but couldn’t quicken when asked for an effort from Adrien Fouchet, finishing second to Stratagem – a Horse who’s since joined Paul Nicholls and won at Kelso last month. Despite not winning on his first start over Hurdles, Solo made amends under no uncertain terms at the same track in November, going well clear after the fourth Hurdle and winning by an impressive 15 lengths. Shortly afterwards Solo was purchased by Johnny de la Hey, to go into training with Paul Nicholls. The Champion Trainer is no stranger to having top quality French Juvenile recruits, perhaps most famously training Zarkandar to win the Adonis before Triumph Hurdle success – and that’s the exact route Solo will bid to emulate. Connections have had to take their time with Solo considering he is unusually a Colt, who only joined Ditcheat in November. Having had time to acclimatise, Solo was due to run at Wincanton in a Novices’ Hurdle before the meeting had to be abandoned – meaning the Grade 2 Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton was his last real chance of having a run before the Festival. Settling well to chase the leader, Solo was travelling powerfully and was forced to take up the running from the fourth flight. What followed was a scincillating success under Harry Cobden, with the pair readily pulling clear to score by thirteen-lengths, beating the useful Fujimoto Flyer (135). Although the Handicapper has seemingly gone overboard handing out an official rating of 157, the manor of Solo’s success on just his first start over obstacles in England was simply breathtaking.
Solo will clearly need to take another step forward at the Cheltenham Festival, but his running style of being able to settle in behind the leaders will be perfect considering the previously discussed front-runners. The fact that Solo was forced to take up the running four from home at Kempton suggests he will be suited to a stronger gallop, and he looks like a potential superstar in the making.
Solo 3pts Win @ 4/1
I’ve had my eye on Aramon for this two-mile Handicap since the entries came out, especially as he ran well when eight-and-a-half lengths 5th in the Grade 1 Irish Champion Hurdle last month – form which has since been boosted no end thanks to Honeysuckle (Mares winner) and Darver Star (Champion Hurdle third). The form looks even stronger when you consider Aramon beat stablemate and subsequent Champion Hurdle second Sharjah by two-and-a-quarter lengths at Leopardstown. This Grade 1 winning Novice Hurdler ran well on ground which wouldn’t have suited to take sixth in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham last year, and a mark of 148 should be exploitable under Paul Townend.
Aramon 2pts Each/Way (6 Places) @ 15/2 +1.2pts
Gordon Elliot’s Fury Road won his Maiden Hurdle at Down Royal in November by a facile eighteen-lengths, and he followed up in a Grade 3 at Navan on his next start with another easy success. Fury Road was stepped up into Grade 2 company for his next start at Limerick over Christmas, contesting a 3m Novice Hurdle for the first time. The ground was desperate over the Christmas period at Limerick, but Fury Road travelled through the race supremely well. When looking like he was going to power away to once more win impressively, Fury Road belted the final flight under Davy Russell and was needed to be shaken up – but once he did he went on again to score by a cosy length. Stepped up into Grade 1 company for the first time at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival last month, Fury Road stepped back in trip to 2m6f. Jockey Davy Russell never really looked happy that day, but Fury Road plugged on into fourth – just getting outpaced over the shorter trip by faster Horses. Stepping back up to three-miles in the Albert Bartlett should be perfect for this six-year-old. who has plenty of experience from 9 trips to the racecourse to date (two point-to-points, three bumpers, four Hurdles).
Reigning Gold Cup Champion (and last year’s selection…) Al Boum Photo has enjoyed the exact same preparation for his 2020 effort, which stands him in great stead to retain his crown. Al Boum Photo’s only start of the season came at Tramore on New Year’s Day, where this Joe Donnelly charge hacked around to score by a comfortable six-lengths. That form has actually since been boosted by stablemate Acapella Bourgeois, who won the Grade 3 Bobby Jo chase at Fairyhouse last month. Considering many of these rivals come into the Gold Cup having had gruelling tests earlier in the season, Al Boum Photo makes strong appeal as a mark leader under Paul Townend, for the genius that is Willie Mullins.
Al Boum Photo 2.5pts Win @ 10/3 +8.33pts
Lostintranslation is one of my absolute favourite Horses in training, and he was extremely impressive when beating Bristol De Mai in the Grade 1 Betfair Chase at Ascot in November. Although disappointing in the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day, Lostintranslation has been given ample time to recover, and has been laid out for the Gold Cup. The drying ground will suit this Colin Tizzard Horse, who I’d love to see bounce back to form.
Lostintranslation 1pts Each/Way (5 Places) @ 8/1 +1pt
Caid Du Berlais ran awfully at Cheltenham last season, but he’s had a much better preparation this time around with 54 days between runs. Despite pulling up 12 months ago, Caid Du Berlais still turned up at Punchestown to bolt-up by 28 lengths. If he’s in similar form tomorrow, he can make 14/1 look like a massive price.
Caid Du Berlais 1pt Each/Way (5 Places) @ 14/1
Eclair De Beaufeu won well at the Dublin Racing Festival last month under top conditional Sean O’Keffee, and this 5lbs claimer can help to repeat the trick here despite a 9lbs.
My first selection for the Martin Pipe unsurprisingly hails from the Gordon Elliot yard, who has a formidable record in the past three runnings; 1st and 3rd in 2017, 1st and 4th in 2018, 2nd and 3rd in 2019. Both Champagne Classic (2017) and Blow By Blow (2018) wore the famous Maroon jacket of Gigginstown House Stud, and connections can make amends for hitting the crossbar twelve months ago with Column Of Fire. This six-year-old started his career when second to stablemate Commander Of Fleet (149) in a 2018 Punchestown Festival Bumper, returning to that scene at Navan in November 2018 when bolting up by thirteen-lengths. Making his debut over Hurdles at Fairyhouse a month later, Column Of Fire was sent off a warm favourite – but some scruffy jumping meant he could only manage a third place finish behind Lone Wolf (133). Having been brought-down on his next start two weeks later (in a fairly hot race which included Dunvegan 138 and Swordsman 130) Gordon Elliot decided to call halt on his Jumping career for the season – instead sending Column Of Fire to a Bumper at Naas in February 2019, where he finished second to the useful Midnight Run.
Although clearly taking his time to warm to Hurdles, Column Of Fire resumed his career over timber at Naas in November, where again he made mistakes at a crucial part of the race – but he still stuck on to finish third behind Elixir D’ainay (146) and Longhouse Poet (142). These are two high quality Novice Hurdlers, and Column Of Fire re-opposed the latter when meeting again at Navan in December. Putting in a much sounder Jumping display, this Gordon Elliot charge reduced the distance to Longhouse Poet from thirteen-lengths at Naas to just one-and-a-quarter lengths, despite there being no weight swing. This clear improvement has also since been boosted by the third-placed Opposites Attract, who won a Maiden Hurdle at Down Royal over Christmas by an easy eight-lengths, and followed up under a penalty in a Novice Hurdle at that track this week. With lots of nice pieces of form in the book, Column Of Fire was sent off favourite on New Year’s Day to shed his Maiden tag at Fairyhouse, and was travelling well into the lead when taking a crushing fall at the second last under Davy Russell. Although you cannot definitively say he would’ve won the race, the form does look fairly strong as the winner had previously ran behind Tiger Tap Tap (136), and the second Aione has since won easily at Gowran Park.
Column Of Fire finally shed his Maiden tag over Hurdles earlier this month at Punchestown, when sent off as the even-money favourite. Ridden once again by Davy Russell, Column Of Fire cruised through the race tracking the leaders, taking a lead from the second last. That would be the last Gordon Elliot’s improving charge would see of his rivals, bolting up by thirteen-lengths eased-down. This half-brother to Cheltenham Festival winner Tully East would’ve received a massive confidence boost from finally getting his head in-front, and he won his race in the style of a good Horse. The Irish Handicapper has since given Column Of Fire a mark of 132 over Hurdles, so accounting for the British Handicapper adding a bit extra, this mark should get him perfectly into the Martin Pipe.
Column Of Fire fits into the majority of trends outlined above; he’s trained by Gordon Elliot in Ireland, is a six-year-old potentially well ahead of his mark, and has a good amount of experience behind him. Connections currently have the option of running Column Of Fire in the Grade B William Fry Handicap Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival on Sunday, the race which was won by last year’s Martin Pipe runner-up Dallas Des Pictons off 130 twelve months ago. Clearly if Column Of Fire does repeat the trick (or run eye-catchingly) then he would be a much shorter price for the Martin Pipe, so it looks worth taking the 16/1 available now. Ultimately as long as Column Of Fire isn’t tailed off or an impressive winner, then he should receive a fair mark from the British Handicapper, and will take some beating in the main event. Gordon Elliot has been using top Irish Conditionals such as Sean O’Keeffe and Conor McNamara recently, with the former riding for Gigginstown on numerous occasions this season – so he would be my nomination as a potential high-class Jockey booking.
Column Of Fire 1.5pts Each/Way (6 Places) @ 13/2 [16/1 Ante-Post]
My second selection for the Martin Pipe hails from the Joseph O’Brien yard, in the form of JP McManus’ Front View. This highly talented five-year-old ran an extremely eye-catching race at Thurles on Thursday, and He looks the perfect Horse for a Cheltenham Handicap. Starting his career for Joseph O’Brien off at Gowran in January last year, Front View finished second in a Gowran Park Bumper on Thyestes Chase Day. The runaway winner in that race was the impressive Blue Sari, who was subsequently purchased by JP McManus and finished second behind Envoi Allen in the 2019 Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival. Front View looked set to build upon his promising Bumper debut when running at Naas in February last year, but rather unusually was brought down when cantering along at the three-furlong marker. This was extremely unlucky as the Horse ahead of him clipped heels and slipped up, but Front View made amends at the Punchestown Festival in April. Travelling powerfully once more under Derek O’Connor, the pair hit the front from the three-furlong marker, and never looked like being caught – with this inexperienced Horse just dossing around out in front to score by a length.
Front View returned from his Summer break to make his Hurdles debut at Down Royal in November, when facing the arduous task of taking on Champion Bumper winner Envoi Allen – who was also making his first start over obstacles. This young Horse seemed to learn plenty on his way around with his Jumping getting better as the race went on. Although never troubling subsequent Grade 1 winner and Ballymore favourite Envoi Allen (154), Front View ran on strongly after the last to finish second – putting four-lengths between himself and better fancied stablemate Entoucas (131). Front View’s next start came in another Maiden Hurdle, this time at Cork just 15 days later. Tracking the leaders as usual this Son of Konig Turf hit the front before the third-last under JJ Slevin, and kept on strongly on the run-in to beat stablemate Uhtred by one-and-three-quarter lengths. That Gigginstown Horse has since gone on to land a Listed Bumper at Navan in December, and seven lengths back in third was Willie Mullins’ Jon Snow – another well-regarded type, so the form is strong.
Front View wasn’t seen for 95 days after his Maiden success, but finally made his return to the track (after twice missing a race at Punchestown due to adverse weather causing abandonments) at Thurles on Thursday in the Grade 3 Michael Purcell Memorial Novice Hurdle. Settled in the rear by Mark Walsh, Front View did meet a lot of trouble in running – but started to make very strong headway approaching the home straight when briefly shaken up by his Jockey. Travelling better than anything in the race, Front View quickly joined leaders to make a line of four at the second last. Despite going so well however, Jockey Mark Walsh seemed at pains to push the button on this Grey – as winning the race in any sort of smart fashion would’ve meant connections could kiss goodbye to any Cheltenham Festival Handicap ambitions. Luckily for the Jockey, Willie Mullins’ Five O’Clock was also going well approaching the final flight and slightly cut across Front View, forcing him back into third place. Front View then landed on all fours at the final flight, but stayed on strongly up the run-in to regain second place on his first start stepped up to 2m5f. Admittedly I had made an error in putting this talented Horse up to win the race as in hindsight He only needed one more run to Qualify for Handicaps at Cheltenham – and the drift from 3/1 in the morning out to 13/2 SP said everything you needed to know about connections plans.
This Grade 3 contest has actually produced two of the last three winners of the Martin Pipe, with Blow By Blow winning both races in 2018, and Champagne Classic finishing third at Thurles before landing the 2017 Martin Pipe. This is a particularly good omen for Front View, who’s second place finish is completely irrelevant considering the amount of fuel he seemingly had left in the tank. JP McManus is arguably the master of having a plot job in a Cheltenham Handicap, and these same connections pulled off a Martin Pipe raid last season – with Joseph O’Brien’s Early Doors winning off 145 under Jonjo O’Neill Jr. This talented young conditional could be set to link up with Joseph once more come the final race in March, where it would be a shock not to see Column Of Fire and Front View involved in the finish. Five-year-old Horses have a decent enough record in the race, but the main point is that Front View is clearly ahead of his current Irish Handicap mark of 134, and is still completely unexposed over the Martin Pipe trip.
Front View 2.5pts Win @ 9/2 [12/1 Ante-Post]
Day 4 +1.98pts
2020 Cheltenham Festival Total = +43.21pts
Good luck! – Jake Price