Cheltenham 2021, Day 1: No fans but still lots to roar about
By JONNY BROWNE
1:20 Supreme Novice’s Hurdle
Appreciate It is understandably favourite given that he’s unbeaten this year over two miles, the most recent two of which were Grade 1s at Leopardstown.
The main concern with him is that he’s likely to encounter better ground here than at any of those races and the question is if he’ll have the speed to keep up with the pace?
There isn’t a huge amount of depth to this with unbeaten Metier next in the market. He does appeare to be a soft ground horse but the Grade 1 he won at Sandown looked pretty desperate.
Soaring Glory is clearly an improver but Ballyadam is definitely one who could improve for the better ground and then hope he’ll get up the hill.
Blue Lord finished off his race well at Leopardstown (3rd, beaten 6 lengths by Appreciate It), and if he was ridden a bit more positively, it could see him coming home strongly.
Conclusion – Appreciate It – if it’s soft or worse he looks very hard to beat
Blue Lord each way.
1:55 Arkle Novice’s Chase
This was shaping up to be a bit of a cracker, until Energumene’s withdrawal so Shishkin looks a very hot favourite.
He won the Supreme last year, the only slight concern is the possibility of hitting a flat spot. But you would expect this race to be run with a bit of pace which will suit him – literally down to the ground.
Allmankind is the fastest horse in the race, but he ran a poor race in the Triumph last year and the flatter track at Aintree might suit better than Cheltenham’s hill.
Captain Guinness was running a big race in the Supreme last year before being wiped out at the third last. Rachael Blackmore had previously said she’d love another shot on better ground and I think he’s worth backing.
Conclusion – Shishkin
Captain Guinness is worth an each way bet.
2.30 Ultima Handicap Chase
Happygolucky looks to have everything in his favour – a three times raced novice who has won over course and distance and over fences, and was a staying on 4th having been hampered at the last in the Martin Pipe last year.
Aye Right is definitely going to run his race – he’s already been placed in three big races this year. He might be lumping top weight here but looks a good shout for a place.
Vintage Clouds has run in this race the last four years and has been placed twice. He’s 8lb lower than last year, and with all the withdrawals could be a shout for a place at a good price.
Conclusion – Happygolucky looks a worthy favourite, while Aye Right looks guaranteed to run his race.
3:05 – Champion Hurdle
You would be forgiven for thinking this race wasn’t much to write home about before Christmas with no real challenger to Epatante, but things have changed.
Her defeat at Kempton and the emergence of Honeysuckle and Goshen in the last few weeks makes this year’s champion race a lot deeper than was previously the case.
Epatante is the reigning champion, but I do think she got the run of the race last year when they went quite slow and it was her turn of foot that won it then.
The likely faster pace this year with Aspire Tower, Goshen and Silver Streak all saddling up may suit others better than her.
Honeysuckle blew her opposition away in the Irish Champion last month. The question about her is likely quicker ground. She’s proven people wrong before and has answered everything ever asked of her.
Goshen looked like the winner of the Triumph last year until coming down after the last and although his last run was a step in the right direction, I believe he still needs to improve to bag this.
Silver Streak is possibly one of the most underrated horses in training, producing a career best when pounding Epatante on Stephen’s Day. If the ground comes on the good side of soft, he has a smashing each way chance at18/1.
Abrakedabras and Aspire Tower look good chances for each way money with many paying out five places in a ten-horse race.
Conclusion – Honeysuckle is the most solid choice.
Aspire Tower each way.
3:40 – Mares Hurdle
Concertista is very hard to oppose but doesn’t mean you should back her.
Dame De Compagnie was an impressive winner of the Coral Cup off 140 last year so does like the course and distance.
Black Tears was a close 4th in the Mares Novice in 2019, just 2 lengths behind Concertista – might be the option taking her in the without favourite market.
Indefatigable won the Martin Pipe off top weight last year and if there was a strong pace she might pick up the pieces.
Highly fancied Roksana might just find the pace a bit too hot in this renewal, which is not a great one in honesty.
Conclusion – Black Tears in the without market might be the way to go but only if I have to.
4:15 – Boodles Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
Houx Gris looks the obvious candidate for the Boodles master Paul Nicholls.
He’s only had one run in the UK, in a Grade 1 no less, where he was beaten 23 lengths into 3rd by Adagio but he was right there two out before making a mistake and weakening.
Saint Sam has the requisite form in graded races and Glorious Zoff looks to have been laid out for the race since his maiden win in October.
There has been a lot of chatter about Coltor in the last few weeks but while he’s definitely well in here, although he’d probably prefer it even softer.
Balko Saint would also be of interest winning a novice hurdle just 13 days ago.
Conclusion – Houx Gris looks to have a lot going for him.
Glorious Zoff, Balko Saint and Coltor make up the shortlist (in that order).
4:50 – National Hunt Chase
Paul Nicholls decided to run Next Destination in this race instead of the Brown Novices Chase (RSA) as it seems the ground has come up trumps – good to soft, and is a well deserving favourite.
Escaria Ten may be his main competition coming in off decent form, winning his second last run at Thurles and coming in second last time out to the improving Eklat De Rire.
The Mighty Don should have run this race last year but ran the Stayers Hurdle and was utterly outpaced. He’s been running well over 3m this season, and nabbed Enrilo on the line at Chepstow in October. That’s decent form for a high price in the market.
MacGiloney at 125/1went into my notebook when outstaying Doctor Duffy over 3m1f in July, and he won well only 11 days ago on bad ground, again staying on well and the ground and trip look in his favour.
Conclusion – Next Destination
The Mighty Don and MacGiloney are as likely to end up with either a pulled-up or unseated on their formcard as they are getting into into the money.