Alan Thomson, the former Racing Editor at the Daily Record, looks at Cheltenham Day 2 and gives us five selections. View selections below
CHAMPAGNE FEVER (3.20) can keep the Willie Mullins juggernaut rolling along in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase. A true Cheltenham specialist, Champagne Fever enjoyed a nice confidence booster at Gowran Park last time out following an unfortunate final flight tumble when locked in a dogfight with Don Cossack, ante-post favourite for the Ryanair Chase. There are legitimate question marks over Sprinter Sacre and current champ Sire de Grugy, while Dodging Bullets – so impressive this season – has yet to prove his mettle at the Festival. Champagne Fever is trading around 5-1 and, given the red-hot form of the stable, you would struggle to knock him out of the frame with a baseball bat.
The Mullins team have very clear prospects of landing the opening Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle with favourite Nichols Canyon but second-string OUTLANDER (1.30) gets the nod. My selection, a five-time winner, travelled strongly throughout before asserting his supremacy over Martello Tower at Leopardstown in January. Nichols Canyon, formerly a class act for John Gosden, is the mount of Ruby Walsh and cut out much of the running when beating Windsor Park last month. Whether his stamina will last out in this 2m 5f test is the big question. On yesterday’s evidence, the British novices are lagging some way behind their Irish counterparts and Outlander looks sure to be in the shake-up.
Tony Martin landed the 2003 Coral Cup with Xenophon and BLACKMAIL (2.40) is an interesting contender at a nice price. A useful bumper horse, Blackmail mopped up a couple of races on the level during the summer before making an eye-catching return to hurdles on New Year’s Eve, finishing fourth in a decent contest at Punchestown. Blackmail is sure to appreciate good ground and is marginally preferred over Activial, a staying-on third in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury.
ALL YOURS (4.40) should be on the premises in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle. The same connections landed a monster touch in this race with Sanctuaire and All Yours followed the same successful route to Taunton in February as Paul Nicholls’ previous winner. All Along wasn’t disgraced behind impressive Beltor in the BetBright Adonis Hurdle at Kempton and should go close.
Gigginstown Stud have historically swerved the Weatherbys Champion Bumper but launch a double-pronged attack courtesy of Stone Hard and GENERAL PRINCIPLE (5.15). Gordon Elliott was doing handsprings when General Principle sauntered home by 22 lengths at Punchestown and later reported that his horse had ‘bags of speed.’ That will do for me. Stone Hard made top lot at the Goffs Land Rover Sale (£215,000) and although Mullins has made a scattergun attack on this event, Stone Hard could upstage some of his better fancied stablemates.
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