HORSE RACING: Top Pundit Paul Ferguson, author of “Jumpers To Follow” previews all the top racing ahead of day two at the Cheltenham Festival on Wednesday 17 March 2010 at Prestbury Park.
The real Master Minded returned to action at Newbury last month and he can land his third consecutive Queen Mother Champion Chase for Paul Nicholls and Ruby Walsh.
Despite winning four Grade One’s from four outings last term, he never quite produced a performance to mirror his stunning victory in this race two years ago. But, at Newbury in the Game Spirit Chase, he looked to travel with that same zest as he had done when also winning that contest in 2008.
He did make one error last time and it was a shocking one, too, when he failed to take off at the last and ploughed through it, with Walsh doing well to sit still and retain the partnership. Jumping hasn’t been a problem with this seven-year-old since his early days and I would put that down to a one-off. I expect him to win and win well.
An Irish winner on St Patrick’s Day will be most welcome and their best chance, apart from the concluding bumper that they are likely to win again, looks like being Rite Of Passage in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle.
Dermot Weld’s charge hasn’t achieved a great deal in winning both starts over timber to date, so you could argue that his price is skinny enough, though this horse has the potential to be a top-class hurdler and he has high-class form both in bumpers and, even more so, on the Flat.
After finishing third to Dunguib in the Festival bumper (sent off favourite having won two bumpers in Ireland), he flopped on heavy ground in May before winning a maiden on the Flat in September. Handed a mark of 88 after just one start, the shrewd Dermot Weld took advantage of that rating by running him in the Leopardstown November Handicap and he simply routed his 20 rivals. Eight-lengths adrift in second was Champion Hurdle outsider Donna’s Palm, to whom Rite Of Passage was conceding 7lbs, and it is worth noting that Solwhit won that race in 2008 before improving over hurdles.
Rite Of Passage has since won both starts over hurdles, without much fuss, and he can complete the hat-trick here.
Another horse arriving at the Festival searching for a hat-trick is last year’s World Hurdle second Punchestowns who has won both starts over fences to date. Readers of Betting Monthly will know I am a huge fan of this horse and I put him up for the RSA Chase at 10/1 earlier in the season.
Everything seemed to be going to plan, as he effortlessly won on his chase debut and then he followed up in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles’ at Sandown last month, where he recovered from a serious error to win handsomely.
He learned from that mistake and was safe over the remaining fences and did well to reel in a smart front-runner.
The worry in the build up to the contest was starting to look like his stable-mate Long Run, who has created a deep impression since arriving from France, but the threat he may pose became the secondary concern on Friday when it was announced that Punchestowns was lame at Nicky Henderson’s Seven Barrows yard.
We then learned on Saturday afternoon that Punchestowns cantered in the morning alongside Binocular and the trainer seemed hopeful that his hugely exciting seven-year-old would make the line-up on Wednesday week.
Clearly, even if he does make the RSA, this has not been the ideal preparation for Punchestowns, but there is no way that a trainer of Henderson’s calibre would risk such a talented animal, so if he makes the race we should believe that he will be up to performing to his best.
With that in mind, I can’t desert the chestnut at this stage and suggest taking Paddy Power’s 4/1 non-runner no bet, as I can’t see him being that price on the day, plus you are taking away the risk of him missing the contest.
If he does miss the race, the trainer is still the man to side with, as Long Run will then be the horse to beat.
Not only has the RSA given me a headache whilst putting this article together, but also so too has the Coral Cup, as my selection for that contest, Noble Prince, has been re-routed to the County Hurdle it was announced on Saturday.
I had actually decided to put forward two horses for this contest so we are now just left with Nicky Henderson’s Spirit River who was still in contention when blundering three out in the Totesport Trophy at Newbury last time.
Prior to that he ran an eye-catching British debut, again behind Get Me Out Of Here, when the slowly run race didn’t play to his strengths, and he duly gained compensation by running away with a Cheltenham handicap in December.
The way he raced at Newbury gave the impression that the step up in trip will suit and, racing off the same mark, he is well worth another chance.
One horse that had been prominent in the betting for that Newbury contest was Notus De La Tour and once he missed the race, I have had him pencilled in as the Pipe “bonus horse”. By that I mean I think he will bid to land the Imperial Cup on Saturday (keep an eye on the entries that will come out on Monday afternoon) and then follow up at the Festival, scooping the bonus that the sponsor’s put up – last year it was £75,000.
The French import holds entries in the Supreme and Triumph, but I think the Fred Winter will be his race, as he looks reasonably treated off a mark of 134.
Pipe landed this double with Gaspara back in 2007 and went extremely close with Ashkazar the following year, when he was only denied by Crack Away Jack.
Notus De La Tour has only been seen once in Britain, when beating the smart and subsequent Market Rasen winner Ranjobaie at Plumpton in January, having won by 20 lengths on his final start in France.
As he has various options, you may prefer to take 7/1 with one of the firms offering non-runner no bet rather than the 8/1 advised below.
One final horse to note on the second day is Clan Tara, who holds an entry in Thursday’s Jewson, but would be of great interest in the opening four-miler if allowed to take his chance.
Paul Nolan’s charge is currently available at 33/1 and, if you take in to account the fact that he was beaten just a head by one-time RSA fancy Pandorama, he looks over-priced.
The Kayf Tara eight-year-old hasn’t been seen since winning a beginners’ chase at Fairyhouse in mid-December, having earlier held every chance in a Grade 3 before blundering his way through the third last. He has stamina to prove over this marathon trip, but he has a touch of class and is worth a small investment if given the nod.
½ pt e/w: Clan Tara (National Hunt Chase); 33/1 (Victor Chandler)
1 pt win: Rite Of Passage (Neptune Novice); 3/1 (general)
1 pt win: Punchestowns (RSA Chase); 4/1 Paddy Power)
5pt win: Master Minded (Queen Mother); 10/11 (Coral)
1 pt e/w: Spirit River (Coral Cup); 14/1 (Stan James)
1 pt win: Notus De La Tour (Fred Winter); 8/1 (William Hill)
| “Jumpers To Follow – £9.95|
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This year’s Foreword is written by Charlie McCann, head of PR at Stan James, who describes the author as a “most articulate, informative and knowledgeable racing professional.”
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