Thursday, 17 August 2017

Cheltenham Festival 2018: Wednesday's Early Favourites

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James Stevens previews what could be a great second day at Cheltenham, which could feature a clash between superstars Altior and Douvan. Check out the early favourites for Day Two here!

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Neptune Novices' Hurdle - Debuchet (16/1)
Last year's leading trainer Gordon Elliott has the favourite for both the big novice hurdles, with Fayonagh in the Supreme and this horse Debuchet for the Neptune. The latter finished second behind the current Supreme favourite in the Champion Bumper at the last Cheltenham Festival before going on to take a listed prize in convincing style. He looks better suited to the 2m4f trip than the 2m in the Supreme, and if he can prove his class over hurdles could be a leading figure in the Neptune.

With uncertainty about Fayonagh's (16/1) ideal trip, he could end up in the Neptune and is a co-favourite with his stable companion. Another for Gordon Elliott in the race is the unbeaten Samcro (16/1) , who has carried the Gigginstown colours to four victories. He was last seen winning easily at Fairyhouse. Nicky Henderson's Champion Bumper third Claimantakinforgan (20/1) , and Willie Mullins' Next Destination (20/1) who finished a place behind him are both Neptune chances.

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RSA Chase - Yanworth (12/1)
One of the classiest hurdlers in training is Alan King's Yanworth (12/1), and he could be a force if switched over fences next year. In the race won by leading Gold Cup hope Might Bite last year, Yanworth could only finish midfield when sent off favourite in the Champion Hurdle but landed two top level prizes last season in the Liverpool and Christmas Hurdle.

Henry De Bromhead's Monalee (16/1) finished second at the Cheltenham Festival last season, and could improve over fences. Finian's Oscar (16/1), who missed out on the Festival, could make amends in 2018 for Colin Tizzard. He established himself as a top horse when winning the Mersey Novice Hurdle, before losing out by a nose in a Grade One event at Punchestown. Neptune first and second, Willoughby Court (16/1) and Neon Wolf (16/1) are also chances.

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Queen Mother Champion Chase - Altior (13/8)
Undoubtedly if the Champion Chase features both Douvan and Altior it may be one of the very best renewals of the race in its' history. Altior (13/8) is the bookies favourite at a short price, and Nicky Henderson's seven-year-old has been a sensation. The former Supreme winner enjoyed a faultless campaign over fences last year, winning the Arkle at Cheltenham along with the Celebration Chase, Henry VIII.

Douvan (7/2) would prove a very popular winner of the race following his massive disappointment last year. Willie Mullins' superstar seven-year-old lost his 14 race unbeaten streak when found lame after this run, and hasn't been since. Mullins' team is boosted by Yorkhill (10/1) and Min (12/1) who could represent the County Carlow master. Fox Norton (14/1) , who was second to Special Tiara, is another with a chance for Colin Tizzard.

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Cross Country - Cause Of Causes
One of the Cheltenham Festival greats is Cause Of Causes (9/1) who will return to the Cotswolds in search for a fourth Festival success. A winner of the National Hunt Chase and Kim Muir, he hasn't enjoyed success anywhere else than the March showcase. He won this race by nine lengths last year, before going on to finish second in the Grand National. Gordon Elliott's nine-year-old would be fancied to reclaim the prize.

Josies Orders (10/1) won the race in 2016, but missed out all of last season. The nine-year-old is a specialist on cross country courses, and would be fancied to win the prize for a second time. Improving Foxrock (14/1) is another who could appear at the Festival, he's beaten the likes of On His Own and On The Fringe in hunter events last year. Bless The Wings (16/1) was second in this last year before finishing in the same position in the Irish Grand National. JP McManus' Cantlow (16/1) and Auvergnat (16/1) could go to the Cross Country.

Leading Festival fancy Airlie Beach out to prove Grade One winning credentials on the flat

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Airlie Beach, who lost her seven race unbeaten record at the Cheltenham Festival, is expected to break her flat maiden at Tramore this evening (8:20).

Willie Mullins' star hurdler hasn't tasted victory since her impressive victory in Fairyhouse's Grade One Royal Bond Novice Hurdle in December.

The seven-year-old was fancied in the Mares Novice Hurdle at the Festival, but was extremely disappointing when only defeating two rivals, in a race won by stable companion Let's Dance.

She wasn't defeated too far on her flat debut at Killarney, with Mullins' She's So Flawless beating her by just under a length before strengthening that form with a third place finish in the Connacht Oaks.

After an encouraging place in the Galway Plate, connections are confident of a solid performance from the former Grade One winner.

"Airlie Beach goes for the Ladies Maiden over two miles with Kate Harrington on board," said Mullins.

"She ran a fantastic race when third in the Galway Hurdle and this looks an ideal opportunity.

"It'll be disappointing if she doesn't collect."

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Airlie Beach will hope to follow in the footsteps of Detroit City, who won both the Triumph Hurdle and Cesarewitch in 2006.

She has a wide array of options if she wins as expected tonight, with a good handicap mark she could pick up some valuable prize money throughout the latter part of the flat season.

Although she would need to raise her mark to get in, the likes of the Irish and English Cesarewitch could be an option.

The likes of Leading Light and Detroit City have won the Newmarket handicap, after good careers over hurdles.

Airlie Beach is a 1-2 shot to take the final race at Tramore tonight.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Gordon Elliott's history-making Brutal tops Triumph Market after impressive Cork victory

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Cheltenham Festival’s top trainer Gordon Elliott enjoyed his first trained winner for Qatar Racing, as Brutal made a winning debut over hurdles.

Elliott, whose best horses have been with leading Irish owners Gigginstown, is one of the leading National Hunt handlers, and has paid back some trust for the Qatari’s with an impressive win at Cork.

The four-year-old skipped over hurdles with ease, before pulling clear of the field in impressive style under Davy Russell.

"It wasn't the strongest race in the world, but he did what he did and will improve from it and will have to improve going forward," said the County Meath handler.

"I think he's a nice horse and had a good (Flat) rating.

"I'd have to say a big thanks to Qatar Racing and Sheikh Fahad for sending him to me as it's my first runner in those colours.

"Like a lot of those juveniles after their first run, they will go up or down or stay where they are.

"We've often had horses that were rated 60 (on the Flat) and they end up being better than the 100-rated horses, so it's how they take to it the next day is how you know."

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Brutal was defeated by 3 1/2 lengths by Rivet in the Racing Post Trophy last October

Brutal has bags of potential after some top form as a juvenile, when with Ger Lyons he most notably  finishing fifth place finish in the competitive Racing Post Trophy.

The three-year-old has currently been installed as the 25-1 favourite for the Triumph Hurdle following his encouraging defeat of Grey Waters.

Espoir D’Allen also is vying for Triumph glory, he’s owned by JP McManus and won the same French bumper that last year’s hero Defi Du Seuil won before switching to Phillip Hobbs’ setup.

The one-time winner on the flat heads the market along with French raiders Empreinte Reconce and Grand Sancy.

Elliott may begin to train more Qatari horses in the coming years, and their illustrious pedigree could give them some force over jumps.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Galway Festival 2017: Who impressed, and who could be heading for Cheltenham?

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The Galway Festival is one of Ireland’s leading fixtures, boasting some of the countries’ best horses both on the flat and the jumps, but what stars could be heading to the 2018 Cheltenham Festival.

With Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott both enjoying six winners at last year’s Festival, and the Gold Cup heading to Jessica Harrington’s yard, Galway may have a few Cheltenham pointers.

Embed from Getty Images True Self (Won a Mares Flat Race on Saturday)
Willie Mullins has a brilliant record with his bumper horses, and this four-year-old made an exceptional introduction to the master of County Carlow.

Previously finishing second at Warwick, she easily defeated a good field to win by eight lengths, and her big margin win could’ve been extended. Her Galway test wasn’t the hardest, and she will have to prove herself; but wherever she goes after the manner in which she won the race.

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Balko Des Flos (Won the Galway Plate on Wednesday)
The Galway Plate is one of the most prestigious prizes in Irish sport, and it was good to see it go to a horse who has always gone close without winning in big races.

He fell when fancied in the JLT Novices’ Chase this season, but Henry De Bromhead’s seven-year-old was excellent in winning the handicap. Beating Shaneshill by almost five lengths, shows his true class and he will certainly be a good horse to follow next year.

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Housesofparliament (Won a novice hurdle on Tuesday)
JP McManus and Joseph O’Brien must be picturing some big days ahead with this four-year-old, after he finally got the hang of jumping. Formerly with father Aiden O’Brien, he enjoyed a terrific record on the flat. He was a winner at Group Three level, and finished third in the St Leger.

He’s had some tough days over hurdles, when second to Willie Mullins’ Meri Devie in a maiden contest and out of his depth in a Grade One event; but this time he was given a winning opportunity 
and grasped it well.

Although he didn’t win by a big margin, his first victory will give him his confidence for the rest of the season. He could be a real star.

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Airlie Beach (Third in Guinness Galway Hurdle Handicap on Thursday)
Another for Willie Mullins who caught the eye is Airlie Beach, who was beaten five-and-a-half lengths in what looked a competitive handicap.

She came to Cheltenham last season with a string of 1’s to her name, but despite her strong market support she could only defeat two rivals in the Mares Novices’ Hurdle.

She’s run okay in top level mares event since, before boasting two good efforts in handicap company. She is improving, and would’ve gone closer had she jumped better; her trainer Willie Mullins will win a few good handicap prizes with her.

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Le Richebourg (Won a novice hurdle on Monday)
Another for Joseph O’Brien who caught the eye was Le Richebourg, who does look like a very good novice hurdler. His bumper form was boosted when Debuchet, who he finished second to in a race at Leopardstown, went on to land the Champion Bumper this season.

He’s currently unbeaten over hurdles, winning impressively in races at Killarney and at this week’s Galway Festival. His wide margin win was both impressive and professional, he’s a top hurdler and Cheltenham will certainly be on his agenda.

Nigel Twiston-Davies hopeful as improving Red Riverman hopes to wash out opponents at Market Rasen

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Local trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies is hoping Red Riverman can urge forward towards the Cheltenham Festival, as the improving handicapper bids for a hat-trick at Market Rasen (3:00).

The nine-year-old made a brilliant return from a two-year absence to finish a close second at Catterick.

Remaining on a mark of 111, he improved from his outing at the North Yorkshire venue to win at Uttoxeter in impressive style.

When last seen at Stratford a week ago, he found a 6lb absence no problem to win a class two handicap by just under two lengths.

He faces only a 3lb rise from the handicapper, and Twiston-Davies, who owns and trains the horse, is looking forward to the hat-trick bid.

“He’s done nothing wrong this year, and we are really happy with him,” said the Gloucestershire-based handler.

“He won well last time, and has only gone up 3lb in the weights. He’s come out of that race well, so hopefully his good season can continue.”

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Zac Baker is one of the leading amateur jockeys in National Hunt racing

Red Riverman is rated 120, but has the potential to continue increasing that mark; potentially getting him into some of the Cheltenham Festival’s illustrious handicaps.

Promising amateur jockey Zac Baker takes the ride, and takes a valuable 5lb off. He enjoyed five wins last season, and has already visited the winner’s enclosure this season.

Harry Fry’s Innocent Girl looks the strongest of rivals, she hasn’t finished outside the top three since October and made a decent return back when third at Stratford.

Top weight Trafalgar Rock could also be a danger. Dr Richard Newland’s improving six-year-old won well at Southwell back in June and has been placed in his last two outing since.

Iconic Festival winning trainer Alan King is represented by Mille Nautiqu, who was last seen finishing second at this track, whilst Caroline Bailey runs the consistent McCabe Creek.

The six-runner field is completed by Domtaline for Northumberland trainer Peter Winks.

Monday, 31 July 2017

BHA Race Upgrades: Aintree re-name Grade Two chase in honor of Many Clouds,

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Popular Grand National winner Many Clouds has been honoured in the BHA's latest pattern race upgrades, with a Grade Two chase named after Oliver Sherwood's star.

The former Hennessy winner recorded Grand National victory carrying a huge 11st 9lb, becoming the highest handicapped winner of the signature steeplechase since Red Rum's second win in 1974.

Many Clouds tragically suffered died following his victory over Thistlecrack in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham.

“We’re delighted and honoured to re-name Aintree’s Listed Chase," said John Baker, Regional North West Director of the Jockey Club.

"The Many Clouds Chase, in honour of the 2015 Grand National hero and, as many people described, the people’s horse.

“I’d like to extend our gratitude to Trevor Hemmings, Oliver Sherwood and his team for allowing us to do so.”

Fingal Bay was one of the most popular winners of the Pertemps Network Final, when winning the prize in 2014 for Phillip Hobbs and Richard Johnson.

Elsewhere the Cheltenham Festival's Pertemps Network Final has been upgraded from a Listed race to Grade Three, in the BHA's annual pattern upgrades.

The handicap features on day three of the Festival, and previous winners include Fingal Bay, Holywell and Call The Cops.

Last year the prize was taken by Presenting Percy, providing both trainer Pat Kelly and Davy Russell a second consecutive victory in the race.

“The Pertemps Network Final, staged on the third day of The Festival in March, has received a deserved upgrade to Grade 3 status," said Ian Renton, Cheltenham Racecourse's director

“The three-mile handicap hurdle is ultra-competitive and there have been at least 22 runners for each renewal over the last 35 years.

"Pertemps Network, the backer since 2002, is a most loyal and valued supporter of the Final and its qualifying races.”

Cue Card won The Robert Mottram Memorial Trophy at Chepstow in 2011, four years later he was a King George winner.

Chepstow's Robert Mottram Memorial Trophy, which has been won by Cue Card in previous years, has been boosted from a class two to a Grade Two race.

In the Grand National meeting the Betway Handicap Chase has been upgraded from Listed to Grade Three, this season it was won by Sizing Codelco.

Three new Listed mares races has been added to the calendar, including a bumper at Market Rasen, novice chase at Newbury and chase at Perth.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Promising jockey Jack Sherwood teams up with Festival winning Henry Daly

Jack Sherwood has become the latest jockey on the move, as the pattern winner has switched to Henry Daly's Ludlow setup.

The teenage jockey enjoyed a sole Cheltenham Festival success in his four years at Paul Nicholls' Ditcheat setup, winning the Martin Pipe with Ibis Du Rheu.

The man who is also partnering Grade Two winning novice Present Man, enjoyed 17 victories last season but has already ridden a trio of victories this season.

Sherwood can boast being one of few jockeys to have beaten Hennessy and Welsh National hero Native River this season, he rode Silsol to victory in Wetherby's bet365 Hurdle back in October.

"Had my last day at Paul Nicholls today," Sherwood posted on Twitter.

"I enjoyed the last 4 years immensely! I will be moving home and Henry Daly will hold my licence.

"I will be forever grateful to Paul and team Ditcheat for all the big Saturday winners, Graded winners and a Cheltenham Festival one too."

Henry Daly saddled 21 winners last season

Henry Daly hasn't tasted Festival victory since his double in 2003, but has enjoyed Grade One successes with Hand Inn Hand and Mighty Man.

The Shropshire handler's most recent big race glory came with Quentin Collonges winning Sandown's feature bet365 Gold Cup four years ago.

He has enjoyed a fine start to the season, winning eight races and posting a 32% strike rate. His partnership with talented jockey Sherwood should improve that tally.