Cheltenham 2020. Surely we’re sunk if the future is cinq.

Over the last 96 hours, I have sacrificed the remaining parts of my working anatomy to your collective cause. I have dined with Nicky Henderson and Nick Luck; I have sat with Haggas, Jarvis, Beckett and Balding and then remembered they weren’t a firm of National Hunt solicitors. I have drunk a huge amount of claret with a bookmaker, three syndicate managers and a dozen owners and I have as far as I know swerved shaking hands with anyone from a Chinese cruise ship that had stopped off in Italy. I have given dozens of people in gentlemen’s lavatories, birthday greetings as they washed their hands and I can honestly say that despite my search for info, I have never been less certain about 28 race outcomes in over half-a-decade of Cheltenham.

I am certain, however, that our collective goose (and I’m including National Hunt Racing) might well be cooked if we have five days of Cheltenham. There is a falling interest in arena sport on a number of fronts, a diminishing leisure pound, a demographic that needs considerable work, and a perception even amongst the most loyal of fans, that there is too much emphasis on the road to Cheltenham, rather than the Season. As far as the punting goes, we start the usual round of shock last-minute news regarding withdrawals, horses appearing in the race you didn’t expect and so on. The worst news of all, so far, is that ALTIOR is lame because that means that the QMCC is unlikely to be the best race of the meeting.

The weather forecast suggests Tuesday is for ducks, Wednesday for waders and Thursday and Friday for Mud-larks. Anyway, let’s crack on and see whether we can find a couple of swans – see what I did there? [get on with it: Ed.]

[OK but please don’t expect this level of coverage for the rest of the meeting. It’ll be tips rather than explanations. CK]

[OK: ED]

Tuesday 10th March
13:30 – Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) (Class 1) (4YO plus) 2m ½f

Hard to look past the first four in the market, so it’s really a case of finding the negatives. I simply can’t see that SHISHKIN has beaten anything of real merit to date, unlike ASTERION FORLONGE. He’s won his two hurdle races by 9 and 10 lengths and both races have produced winners since. Charlie Morlock had a positive word to say about CHANTRY HOUSE whose form looks pretty solid, but I wonder whether he might need 2½m. I also take into account that JP could have run Sporting John in this – but has instead selected Chantry to be his principal representative. His second runner is ELIXIR D’AINAY, who looks on paper to be ordinary – but bearing in mind, he was 3½l behind Envoi Allen, he might be a long-shot. However, for a podium finish, I prefer Tolworth winner, FIDDLERONTHEROOF for Colin Tizzard.  He absolutely creamed his rivals on the day and while it looked briefly as if he might face a challenge from Hang In There and Jeremy’s Flame, the afterburner was turned on and they all disappeared backwards.

ASTERION FORLONGE wins – CHANTRY HOUSE e/w – FIDDLERONTHEROOF For forecasts

14:10 – Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) (Class 1) (5YO plus) 2m

Harry Whittington was “sort-of” solid the other night, on ROUGE VIF in e/w terms, but I suspect he was trying to formulate the words, “he’ll hate soft ground and he doesn’t like a hill”. In fact, he should ideally be entered for the Maghull at Aintree. If the ground dried and he remained at around 16s, I might have a tickle, but not yet. I noted AL DANCER at Donny in January (when he was beaten by Mister Fisher), as possibly needing a stronger pace and a bigger field, so wouldn’t be surprised to see him improve. NOTEBOOK was in my notebook until he arsed about at the Dublin Festival bolting on the way down to the start and at 11/4, do I really want to see him boil over in the stockpot of Cheltenham? He is a beautiful jumper – I’m just marking your card, that he looked to have a bit of spite in him – it will be interesting to see his tack. GLOBAL CITIZEN is interesting at the odds and he’s nippy, although I wouldn’t want the ground to be too sticky. He’s also beaten a number of these in The Wayward Lad at Christmas – and don’t forget he was thought good enough to run in the Champion Hurdle last year, BUT he’s only raced twice since then. BREWINUPASTORM has been mentioned by a number of people, not least when he cost me a couple of ante-post bob when swerving the Kingmaker. He was 4th in the Ballymore last year and 11/2 seems fair. I can’t be having FAKIR D’OUDAIRES and there are plenty who had Joseph O’B as a future NH trainer of the year. His single figure strike rate in chases is not attractive. I thought he’d have been better entering him in The Marsh – and under 5/1 for him is unattractive. I’ve saved the best to last and push you gently toward ESPRIT DU LARGE who at 14/1 is a proper punt. This will be his ninth career start and as one of the wise men points out, his time in the Henry VIII, LTO at Kempton was similar to Defi du Seul’s time later in the day over ground and distance. In brief, therefore, I’m suggesting:

BREWINUPATORM wins – ESPRIT DU LARGE e/w – GLOBAL CITIZEN e/w

14:50 – Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3) (Class 1) (5YO plus) 3m 1f

THE CONDITIONAL caught the eye LTO when he looked like a winner and travelled well. Then he smacked a couple quite hard and lack of fitness left him 4th. DISCORAMA passes all my trends, was runner-up in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle in 2018, and again 2nd in the National Hunt Chase at the Festival last year. He has had a wind operation since his last run at Christmas, as has ATLANTA ABLAZE for Henry Daly. KILDISART has been 4th to Defi du Seul in the JLT and won the G3 Betway Hurdle beating MISTER MALARKEY by 4l. This term however he’s run like a dog, looking unhappy and I wondered whether he actually liked the ground which has been heavy on a couple of runs. I’d fancy him more if it came up proper GS ground. But the one I shall back for winning money is CEPAGE who loves Cheltenham and whilst untried at 17f+ has turned down a number of other opportunities. His breeding suggests he’ll get it easily.

CEPAGE e/w – DISCORAMA e/w – KILDISART for exotics

15:30 – Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1) (Class 1) (4YO plus) 2m ½f

Another race where we’re trying to find reasons to support rather than eliminate horses. SUPASUNDAE I feel is too old, albeit his record reads 67127 on the course. Good, not impossible but only for place money. COEUR SUBLIME and PENTLAND HILLS have both had wind operations after their last race, and both are maybe too young, (both five-year-olds). FUSIL RAFFLES, the other five-year-old, will hate the ground – which will be bottomless. EPATANTE was running, wasn’t running, was coughing, wasn’t and as Nick said; “I’m damned if I say nothing and I’m damned if I do”. The clever writer would say “I’ll be damned if he doesn’t win” – but I’m not clever and the odds are way too short for me, albeit she picks up a valuable 7lbs allowance. There’s value elsewhere, but it is hard to see. CILAOS EMERY was a G1-winning novice hurdler three seasons ago and has since become a top-class chaser, winning G2 and G3 chases in Ireland, and falling in the Dublin Festival’s G1 LTO saw him win Gowran’s Red Mills Trial at Gowran by 9½l from Darasso, and he was supplemented last week, much as expected. The reality is that on current ratings and known form he’d be bonkers not to have a go and 6s seems fair. I’m also going to have a pop at CORNERSTONE LAD, from Micky Hammond. He’ll relish the ground and won the Fighting Fifth from the front and was within a length of both BALLYANDY and PENTLAND HILLS LTO again on Heavy. He should be no bigger than 12s and I’ll happily take the 25/1 on offer from many places.

CILAOS EMERY wins – CORNERSTONE LAD e/w – EPATANTE and BALLYANDY for exotics

16:10 – Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle (Grade 1) (Registered As The David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle) (Class 1) (4YO plus) 2m 4f

This might well turn out to be the emotional race of the day, with hundreds of fans for both BENIE DES DIEUX and HONEYSUCKLE. The former of course could have won this race last year for the second time, but for coming down at the last. Every race appears to be a breeze-up and she’s won the Mares Champion Hurdle at Punchestown and the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran, beating Penhill by 21l LTO. It was entirely credible that she held an entry in the Champion Hurdle as well as The Stayers. HONEYSUCKKLE is unbeaten and won the Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse by 9l from Bacardys, before capturing the Irish Champion Hurdle, despite being headed at the last. last time. She too has decided to come here and gets Ms Blackmore to steer. Sadly that probably won’t be enough, because when BdD remains on her feet, she is probably a couple of seconds faster than any of her rivals. I get my time figures from both Timeform and Dr Peter May. The latter has a degree in Mathematical and Computer Science; a Masters in Expert Systems; and, a PhD in Artificial Intelligence and is the author of “Forecasting Methods for Horse Racing”, a book which has been read by several people with brains the size of a planet – but by nobody I know. Timeform’s figures are BdD 175 – Honeysuckle 170 – Roksana and the rest are 165, 164 and 163 onward. Dr May’s figures are BdD 172 – STORMY IRELAND 159 – ELFILE 157 – HONEYSUCKLE 153 – ROKSANA 145 etc etc. The pattern is pretty clear, regardless of the clock used, Benie des Dieux is quicker.

BENIE DES DIEUX wins HONEYSUCKLE straight forecast.

16:50 – Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase (Listed) (Class 1) (5YO plus) 2m 4f

Kim Bailey has been talking about IMPERIAL AURA for some time – and for some time I thought Kim would send him to the RSA. He remains placed on each of his last eight starts and caught my eye – see elsewhere in the website – when just shy of beating Simply The Betts LTO. That race has always been something of a guide to this. The handicapper hasn’t done him any favours and there look to be a couple of plot horses in this. He does, however, have a chance. Gordon Elliott has targeted GALVIN at this and he isn’t the most fluent of jumpers – however, the big fella obviously feels he’ll cope with the fences. He’s had a wind op and will arrive here fresh – my fear is the ground, I’m not sure he’ll like it heavy.  ESPOIR DE GUYE will love the ground and relished the heavy conditions when winning at Ascot in December but we’ve not seen him since. CHAMPAGNE COURT, Jeremy Scott’s seven-year-old looks like he could be a decent price. A decent pointer for Roisin Hickey, he was fourth in the Martin Pipe last year and he’s had a number of decent Festival entries behind him in Chepstow’s G3 Silver Trophy in October. Finally, some chat about HOLD THE NOTE from Henrietta Knight and I quote: “HOLD THE NOTE is a bit of a character but I think he will run a big race in the novices’ handicap chase on Tuesday. ” This will that then.

CHAMPAGNE COURT e/w – HOLD THE NOTE for forecasts (too short to do e/w) – IMPERIAL AURA for forecasts (too short to do e/w)

17:30 – National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase (Grade 2) (Class 1) (5YO plus) 3m 6f

Patrick Mullins gets to ride CAREFULLY SELECTED (Nominative determinism at its best!) and if you want to see what a shire horse can do to timber this one should be watched. Raceform has some of the best descriptions – but the word safe keeps recurring. Astonishingly he has not fallen – indeed he remains ignorant of the words fourth fifth etc, I think he is simply oblivious to the possibilities, He is a proper, exciting, national hunt horse, that you might see fly a wall with the Ward Union Hunt. RAVENHILL’s second in the Kerry National makes him competitive – on good ground; while SPRINGFIELD FOX could put young Mullins under pressure as he’ll run from the front and has shown decent form at Chepstow and Exeter.

CAREFULLY SELECTED wins SPRINGFIELD FOX for the forecasts

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