Paul Ferguson has seven selections for us on Thursday; day three of the Cheltenham Festival.
Day three gets underway with a really warm renewal of the JLT Novices’ Chase, in which Outlander (1:30) is fancied to give Willie Mullins a third win in the race. The Stowaway gelding is three from three over fences and has looked a natural to date, idling once hitting the front when completing the hat-trick last time. Available at 5-1 overnight, Bryan Cooper’s mount should be backed each-way, given the competitiveness of the race. Garde La Victoire should relish the ground, while L’Ami Serge would have a big say in this, if bouncing back from his disappointing effort at Warwick last time.
The Pertemps Network Final isn’t usually a race that catches my imagination, but I like this year’s renewal, with Cup Final and Warriors Tale high on my shortlist. However, regular readers of my column will know that I have long been a fan of Our Kaempfer (2:10) and the drying conditions can help him see out this trip.
Charlie Longsdon’s seven-year-old has been rather unfortunate this season, but remains potentially well handicapped and can provide his trainer with a first festival success. Third behind Thistlecrack at Aintree last April, he was available at 14s and 12s on Wednesday evening, expect him to be delivered late. Irish-raider Mall Dini is another that should be considered at bigger odds, as he has caught the eye on more than one occasion this term.
Switched from the Gold Cup to the Ryanair Chase on Tuesday morning Vautour (2:50) really ought to return to winning ways and score at a third successive festival. Willie Mullins’ seven-year-old jumped like a stag when running away with last year’s JLT and, though the vibes indicate he might not be 100%, it is hard to imagine that connections would risk him if they weren’t happy with his wellbeing. If anywhere near the form of his King George second, he should be hard to beat here and the 10-11 on offer with Paddy Power seems fair.
Later on the card, Mullins, Ruby Walsh and Rich Ricci can strike again with Limini (4:50) in the inaugural running of the Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle. The winner of a really warm maiden hurdle back in May last year and a Grade 3 last time, the five-year-old needs to jump more fluently to take this, but she appeals very much as the type to flourish on quicker ground, being a smart Flat performer in France. Again, she was trading at a shade of odds-on overnight. In the same race, I think conditions will bring about significant improvement in Chocca Wocca, who looks all speed. Given how the Henderson horses have performed over the first couple of days, she could easily go well around the 16-1 mark.
The third short-price runner of the day that will form part of many multiples is World Hurdle favourite Thistlecrack (3:30) who is fancied to make it four from four for the season for Colin Tizzard and Tom Scudamore. The eight-year-old proved he handles a quicker surface when scoring at Aintree last spring and, though conditions will be ideal for last year’s winner Cole Harden (popular in the market overnight), it could be that Warren Greatrex’s runner just sets it up for the son of Kayf Tara. Thistlecrack was out to 11-8 on Wednesday evening.
Two handicap chases complete the card and another horse that regular readers will recognise is Stilletto (4:10) who is capable of going well in the ‘Plate’. Paul Nicholls’ seven-year-old has featured in this column on all four starts over fences and, though he has to prove himself on today’s better ground, he appeals as the type to go well in a big field. The son of Westerner clearly has his own ideas about the game and I, personally, would have considered the Grand Annual over 2m, as the closing stages of this race up the hill are a slight concern. However, he looks certain to arrive on the scene travelling strongly (assuming he jumps adequately) and looks worthy of each-way support at double-figure odds. He was trading at 12-1 on Wednesday evening.
Finally, Doctor Harper (5:30) heads the market for the concluding Kim Muir and the step up in trip is sure to bring about significant improvement in David Pipe’s novice. Will Biddick’s mount shaped with considerable promise on his first couple of starts over fences, before bolting up in soft ground at Leicester. The big step up in trip and much quicker ground aren’t a concern, given that the pick of his hurdles form was when winning a 3m handicap at Aintree’s Grand National meeting back in 2014, and the son of Presenting can send punters home happy on the penultimate day of the festival. Trading at 5-1 across the board, it is worth noting that Bet365 are paying 5 places to ¼ odds if you are playing each-way. The Jonjo O’Neill-trained Upswing is capable of shaking up the market leader judged on his second here at the Open meeting. He was available at 10-1 overnight, if you think Doctor Harper is on the short side.
1:30 Cheltenham Festival; Outlander; 5/1 bet365
2:10 Cheltenham Festival; Our Kaempfer; 10/1 Paddy Power
2:50 Cheltenham Festival; Vautour; 10/11 betvictor
3:30 Cheltenham Festival; Thistlecrack; 5/4 Stan James
4:10 Cheltenham Festival; Stilletto; 11/1 Coral
4:50 Cheltenham Festival; Limini; 4/5 Skybet
5:30 Cheltenham Festival; Doctor Harper; 11/2 Paddy Power
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