We are approaching that time of the year again; the Cheltenham Festival is coming into view! To be honest, I’ve normally had a couple of ante post bets by Christmas, but not this time around and I feel a little more relaxed having not thought about the Festival until the New Year and after all, there is more to the National Hunt season than those four days in March!
Arkle Novices’ Chase
Six of the last eight winners of the Arkle have gone off as the odds on favourite, so even by this time we can often have a fairly strong market leader. This year has a slightly different look to it, with it being 4/1 the field. Notebook and Fakir D’Oudairies will renew their rivalry at the Dublin Racing Festival, but I’m liking the look of one much closer to home.
Olly Murphy has risen through the training ranks in pretty extraordinary fashion. He has never hidden the regard in which he holds Brewin’upastorm and he didn’t let him down at the festival last season with an excellent fourth in the Ballymore where I’m not sure he truly stayed the trip.
His highest RPR came in the aforementioned contest – 149. In two chase starts so far, he remains unbeaten and has comfortably produced a couple of career best efforts on figures with RPR’s of 157 and 158. The form probably isn’t Grade 1 standard, but he showed last season he can mix it at the top level.
I’ve been pretty taken with how he’s jumped in the main for a novice, he got in close to the last at Taunton but was quick enough over it that he didn’t lose any momentum. But before that on debut at Carlisle, I’m still not sure how he won. An error at the fourth last put him on the back foot and he had a lot of ground to make up on the leader. He continued to close and narrowly got up to beat a talented rival (now rated 146) who got the run of the race.
He stays strongly at two miles but is certainly not short of pace and I’d say he’s the best of the British challengers. There was only one Irish horse ahead of him in the Grade 1’s last season and that was City Island. I think the 14/1 available is definitely worth a go.
Back Brewin’upastorm @ 14/1 Each Way
It seems as though we’ve been saying the same thing about the Champion Hurdle for a few years now and there once again doesn’t look to be a standout contender. However, there is potential to be a star in here but the only thing is she might not run.
Honeysuckle has been nothing short of exceptional in her career so far, a perfect form book and two Grade 1 wins already from just six starts over hurdles. In winning the Hatton’s Grace last time, she travelled all over her rivals and kept on drawing clear in the straight. The manner and ease in which she got the job done that day was that of sheer class. She’d be dropping back in trip if going to the Champion Hurdle rather than the Mares’ Hurdle, but watching her race it looks as though every trip will come alike to her.
As I’ve said, she’s far from a certain runner which is why I’ve gone a little bit more cautious and backed her using the Non Runner No Bet concession. But, she’s set to take her chance in the Irish Champion Hurdle and is the 15/8 favourite, if she were to win then surely the temptation of the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham would be too much to ignore for connections. If she wasn’t to win at the Leopardstown, then she probably would go the Mares route at Cheltenham anyway, which is why the Non Runner No Bet is worth using in this instance.
I’m really excited about this Mare, the size of her and the power she has under the bonnet is that of a supreme talent.
Back Honeysuckle @ 9/2 (Non Runner No Bet)
Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
Envoi Allen has carried all before him the past season and a half. £400,000 is a hefty price tag in jump racing, but he’s well on the way to justifying that if continuing on the trajectory that he’s on. The form of the Champion Bumper bumper is solid as well as his hurdling form this season. Abacadabras, who he beat in the Royal Bond, subsequently won at the highest level and is favourite for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
But the price (6/4) is not tempting me one bit. It’s so easy to get carried away with horses these days and with social media, people hype them no end. Yes he’s clearly a sublime talent, but this is horse racing and bubbles can be burst.
I’m supporting one at a bigger price, who is also unbeaten and looks to be a youngster with a very bright future. Although he hasn’t achieved as much as Envoi Allen (yet), The Big Breakaway is a really exciting horse. The Tizzard’s seem to have been blessed the past few years with some very nice animals, and this looks another one.
Costing a whopping £360,000 in May last year, he sauntered to victory by eight and seven lengths respectively in his opening two runs for his new yard. Already rated 144, which is a pretty striking figure considering he’s only won two novice hurdles, but the authority in which he’s done so has been the most fascinating. Such professionalism for such a young horse.
Missing his intended run at Cheltenham on trials day is a slight concern, however comments from Joe Tizzard suggest the setback is nothing serious and they’ll find a suitable race for him in the coming weeks.
There’s something about this fellow and he could be pretty special. The way he moves I’d say he could possibly be better on a sounder surface as well, despite winning both races under rules so far on soft ground.
I’m more than happy to take him each way at 14/1 as if Envoi Allen is the real deal then it’s still a pretty decent return for a place.
Back The Big Breakaway @ 14/1 Each Way
One of the races of the festival last season, Frodon and Bryony Frost landed an emotional, hard fought victory and may well go for a repeat this season. At the top of the market, A Plus Tard got the better of Chacun Pour Soi at Christmas and could well go for the Champion Chase. But Willie Mullins won back to back renewals in 2016 and 2017 with Vautour and Un De Sceaux respectively. Min, in my opinion, would have a superb chance of finally getting a deserved Cheltenham Festival victory, having chased Altior home on two occasions before a change of tactics didn’t suit him last season.
He’s obviously been very good over two miles, but his form figures at a mile and a half read 12111, including a career-best when demolishing the field by twenty lengths in the Melling Chase at the end of last season. His latest win over the trip came in the John Durkan at Punchestown, where he showed his staying power as despite making a number of significant mistakes, Min rallied at the final flight and hit the line strongly.
That was a pretty remarkable win considering how he jumped. But I’m not overly concerned about that aspect as he’s usually much more assured in that department. This has to be the target for him with the stable having a number of possibles for the Champion Chase. Min has produced his best run over the trip and I’d say it’ll have to be a monster performance from something else to beat him.
Back Min @ 6/1
Carrying all before him over the past eighteen months, I’m not sure anyone can argue that Paisley Park too short at as low as even money for the Stayers Hurdle. He was pretty good in beating Thistlecrack at Newbury on his reappearance and he simply gets the job done, despite appearing to struggle at some point during his races.
But again, I’m taking on the short priced favourite. Harry Fry certainly knows how to train a top class stayer, with his Unowhatimeanharry a four-time Grade 1 winner and finishing runner-up at the top level as a twelve year old on his latest start.
If The Cap Fits could be the horse that his stablemate passes the torch onto. He’s been very consistent at a high level, finishing outside of the top two only twice in his twelve race career. He gained his first Grade 1 win in the Liverpool Hurdle at the Aintree Festival over three miles on his final start last campaign. Having clattered the final flight, he showed a tremendous attitude to battle on and get up to deny Grade 1-winning mares Roksana and Apple’s Jade.
Fry’s gelding made a successful seasonal return when winning the Ascot Hurdle for the second year running. He gave 6lbs to Call Me Lord who franked the form by winning the International Hurdle next time out. He still has loads of potential, especially at more stamina sapping trips. One run and one win at three miles is very much a positive and he’s got guts and a willing attitude, which are underrated qualities in racehorses in my opinion.
If any horse is going to challenge Paisley Park this season, I think it’s this lad and he’s got great credentials.
Back If The Cap Fits @ 8/1
Whilst in the last five years the Foxhunters has been won by a horse whose age has been in double digits, it’s not to say that youngsters can’t win it as Salsify was a seven year old when claiming the first of his two successes in the race back in 2012.
Some Man is the same age and is a huge price to land Cheltenham glory, but could just be being missed by the bookmakers at this point in time. He was part of the dispersal of the Gretch & Parkin operation, as he was owned by them when in training with Paul Nicholls. Things didn’t quite go to plan as he failed to place in three novice hurdles, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.
I actually remember watching him run at Cheltenham in 2017 when he finished fifth. He travelled well amongst some good horses that day with Western Ryder, Lalor and Summerville Boy all finishing in front of him, which is hot form.
Not only that, Some Man has won three Point To Point’s from as many attempts and won comfortably on his first start for David Christie in a Hunter Chase at Clonmel. After that contest, his new handler said “Some Man is a proper horse and I think he’s as good as I’ve had. He stays well but he’s got gears. I’ll try and qualify him for Cheltenham.”
Those comments are extremely positive and it’s a great sign that the plan is to qualify the horse for the Cheltenham Festival. He’s a natural over fences, his unbeaten record backs that up and is definitely entitled to keep getting better considering he’s only seven with just seven runs under his belt.
To add icing on the cake, he’s a half-brother to Nicky Henderson’s Grade 1-placed mare Polly Peachum and his dam is a sister to the mighty Denman. So talent runs in the family!
Back Some Man @ 40/1 Each Way