Sky Sports’ Alex Hammond marks your card on day two of the Cheltenham Festival: | Skybet Bet £5 Get £20 Free
NEPTUNE INVESTMENT NOVICES’ HURDLE
Nichols Canyon is favourite for this for Willie Mullins. The horse was a strong stayer on the flat for John Gosden and the step up to this 2m 5f shouldn’t be a problem. He bounced back in the Deloitte last time out after flattening a flight of hurdles and unseating the time before. Front running tactics suited, he stays very well and could gallop these into submission. I’d be concerned about his jumping, and he’s a horse that shows little at home, so you just don’t know what he’s capable of.
There has been plenty of support for his stablemate, Outlander. Leg problems have kept him off the track in the past, but he’s fulfilling his potential now. Parlour Games is the best of the British for trainer John Ferguson. He won the Challow Hurdle last time out. The hood has made a huge difference to him on his last couple of starts and they’ve worked hard to get him to settle.
Windsor Park is the horse I’m siding with though for the master trainer, Dermot Weld. He was 2nd to Nichols Canyon in Deloitte and stayed on well that day after struggling early and he should be wiser for that outing. The better ground is certain to be more up his street, as is the step up to this trip.
We now know that both Don Poli and Very Wood run in this for Gigginstown House Stud. I’m a huge fan of the Willie Mullins trained Don Poli who won the grade 1 Topaz Novice Chase over Christmas. He beat Apache Stronghold and was immaculate that day and is a leading contender. In fact, I wouldn’t put you off backing him for next year’s Gold Cup!
Kings Palace represents David Pipe and he has an impressive record with seven wins from 10 starts. His Cheltenham record is good too with four wins from five. Had been jumping like a pro in first couple of starts over fences, but made mistakes at Newbury in two-runner race last time. He should have learned from that and remains a leading contender.
Coneygree is Mark Bradstock’s stable star and is also in the Gold Cup. He’s apparently not the most robust so they may take view that Gold Cup chance too good to be missed. He has really impressed me with his jumping, which should come as no surprise as the trainer’s son, Alfie Bradstock, is a leading showjumping rider with Graham Fletcher. I think this is his best chance of winning, but expect we’ll see him on Friday instead.
The Young Master deserves a mention for Neil Mulholland and Barry Geraghty. This is the horse that was disqualified from the Badger Ales Chase after he was not qualified to run. He’s an improving young chaser.
The buzz horse in this race is the Paul Nicholls trained Aux Ptits Soins. This French import has never run in the UK and as a result is a nightmare for the handicapper to assess. He has won both his starts over hurdles in France and whilst this will be a different kettle of fish to anything he has experienced in his native country, he must be respected.
Tony Martin’s Quick Jack is another to watch if he runs here. He has multiple entries and may not get in, but he’s an out and out flat stayer that finished third in the Cezarewitch last year. That was his last outing, with his last hurdle run was in the 2013 Boylesports Hurdle where he was third to Gilgamboa. This trip will suit much better. He’s also in the County (2m 1f) & Martin Pipe(2m 4f).
BETWAY QUEEN MOTHER CHAMPION CHASE
This race is a nightmare! Sprinter Sacre is bidding to win the race again, but Nicky Henderson will have worked miracles to get him back to his best. Having said that, he looked in great health at a recent press open day and physically looks great, but I don’t think horses ever come back from such serious problems.
Sire de Grugy hasn’t been without his problems either and Gary Moore will be hoping his recent run at Chepstow hasn’t left its mark. It was a brave move to run in handicap at Chepstow, but it paid off as he got the confidence booster he needed. It was far from ideal that he got rid of Jamie Moore in the Game Spirit, but he looked more like his old self at Chepstow. It has to be a worry that the race is only 2 ½ weeks before this, but it was important he got a confidence boost before this race.
Dodging Bullets is having his best season for Paul Nicholls and he took advantage of a ring rusty Sprinter Sacre in the Clarence House. His stomach ulcers have been sorted out since last season, but he is only playing for minor honours in my opinion. The horse that could run a big race is Champagne Fever who has a great festival record. Willie Mullins trained him to win the Supreme and he was just touched off in the Arkle last season. He comes here full of confidence off the back of a win in the Red Mills Chase and I hope he can avenge that defeat from last year.
The horse that could run into a place is Mr. Mole. We know the Paul Nicholls trained horse is enigmatic and he proved that when giving AP McCoy his 200th winner of the season in the Game Spirit at Newbury. He whipped round at the start there, but the slow pace helped him make up that ground. He’s my idea of the each way bet in this race. He may be quirky, but he’s clearly got ability and he’s improving at a rate of knots.
GLENFARCLAS CROSS COUNTRY CHASE
I’m not sure the Irish challenge is up to its usual standard this year so I’m going for a rare French trained winner at the festival. Toutancarmont has good solid form and is a specialist in this sphere. He fell last time out, but prior to that he had an excellent record and has form on better ground too. Of the others, Duke of Lucca can run well for Philip Hobbs.
FRED WINTER JUVENILE HANDICAP HURDLE
Buiseness Sivola could give you a good run for your money here. Trained in Ireland by Willie Mullins, it’s interesting that he is running in a handicap as his trainer doesn’t tend to have too many runners in handicaps at the festival. This horse has had three runs in France and two in Ireland and he could be nicely handicapped off 134.
WEATHERBYS CHAMPION BUMPER
Nightmare! Take a look at the horse that Patrick Mullins rides, if he doesn’t know, then no one does!
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