TURFTALK: All roads lead to Cheltenham

By Paddy Grace


By Paddy Grace

We are now only two days away from the greatest show on turf and by God I can’t wait

We are now only two days away from the greatest show on turf and by God I can’t wait

Cheltenham is the highlight of every national hunt season both in Ireland and the UK. It is where the best horses in our beloved sport are sent for the ultimate test in jumping, it is our Olympics. Nearly a quarter of a million people will descend upon the Cotswolds town this week

with millions more watching around the world on TV and Internet. If you are not one of the 250,000, remember you can watch live coverage on channel 4 or Racing UK. If you are one of those making the pilgrimage I might see you there.

See below for a re-cap on Jim’s Horses To Follow plus a couple of Handicappers to cast your eye over

Kauto enjoys Wincanton spin

Kauto Star put himself firmly back in the picture for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup after what looked a perfectly satisfactory gallop at Wincanton.

The 12-year-old was described as “50-50” for the Festival showpiece last week after it emerged he had suffered a schooling fall at Paul Nicholls’ Ditcheat yard and the trainer was keen to see how he fared in a racecourse spin with stablemate Mon Parrain.

The pair went just a steady pace early on, with Ruby Walsh pushing to the front after half a mile, and though the pace upped a gentle notch down the straight, they raced upsides each other and neither horse was asked any real questions. Kauto Star passed the post around a head in front.

Big guns set for Champion showdown

Sizing Europe and Big Zeb, the first two home in the sportingbet.com Queen Mother Champion Chase last year, are on course for a rematch at Cheltenham next Wednesday.

The respective 2011 and 2010 winners are among 10 horses left in the two-mile feature at the confirmation stage.

Sizing Europe defeated Big Zeb by five lengths 12 months ago to follow up his win in the Arkle Trophy in 2010, and Henry de Bromhead’s stable star got the better of his old rival by 15 lengths in the Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown last month.

Willie Mullins has left in the progressive Blazing Tempo, who completed a hat-trick of victories at Fairyhouse, while the Noel Meade-trained Realt Dubh, third in last year’s Arkle Trophy, is the other Irish possible.

However, Meade has still to decide whether Realt Dubh, who has yet to run this season, goes in the Queen Mother or the Ryanair over five furlongs further.

“Realt Dubh is currently 50-50 to run in either the Queen Mother Champion Chase or the Ryanair Chase. I am not sure yet, but we think he is in great shape and he seems well. We have been really pleased with his work - he worked at Navan on Monday and we were very happy with him,” said Meade.

“He had a bit of a setback before Christmas, which took him some time to get over and it held us up so we haven’t had time to run him.

“We have often wondered if he would get the full two miles and five furlongs around Cheltenham, hence why he is in the Queen Mother Champion Chase as well. We are still very much open minded about it and it would also depend on what is going to run in both races.

“I think better ground suits him better. He is a very decent horse - he won three Grade Ones last season so he is a good horse.”

Heading the home brigade for the Champion Chase is the Nicky Henderson-trained Finian’s Rainbow, who was caught by Somersby in the Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot last time. Somersby is, however, more likely to take his chance in the Ryanair Chase on Thursday, unless there is plenty of cut underfoot.

Champs among RSA hopefuls

Sir Des Champs is among the 16 remaining entries for the RSA Chase at Cheltenham next Wednesday.

Unbeaten over obstacles and a winner at the Festival last year, Willie Mullins six-year-old, who also has the option of the Jewson Novices’ Chase, is joined on the list by stablemates Call The Police and Lambro.

First Lieutenant, winner of the Neptune last year, could run for Mouse Morris, while Tony Martin has surprisingly left in Bog Warrior, who is due to run at Naas at the weekend, along with Gift Of Dgab.

Invictus has suffered “a problem”, said trainer Alan King, but he has still been declared at the six-day stage.

The Barbury Castle handler told www.alankingracing.co.uk: “We will monitor the situation over the next 24 hours. Though I have confirmed the entry for the RSA Chase, Invictus has a problem and at this stage there has to be a doubt as to whether he would run. We will keep everybody informed.”

King has also left Walkon in the mix, and ante-post favourite Grands Crus still holds the option, although David Pipe has yet to decide whether or not he runs in the Gold Cup. Nicky Henderson’s Bobs Worth is likely to go off favourite if Grands Crus is absent and Henderson has left in Mossley as well.

Join Together is Paul Nicholls’ sole hope, with Mr Moonshine, Cannington Brook, Benbane Head and Saint Are completing the list.

Clonbanan team ponder Bumper bid

Clonbanan Lad is not certain to take his chance in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at Cheltenham next Wednesday.

The six-year-old floored fellow Champion Bumper contender Mozoltov by 12 lengths at Naas on his latest appearance.

Trainer Michael O’Connor told At The Races: “It’s 50-50 whether we go or not. The owner (Edward Walsh) is in Italy at the moment and he doesn’t know if he’ll back for Cheltenham. I don’t really want to go with the horse unless he can be there.”

Mozoltov is one of four trained by Willie Mullins, along with ante-post favourite Champagne Fever, Pique Sous and The Paparrazi Kid. Another prominent in the market to have stood his ground is Moscow Mannon, but Noel Meade has taken out Fickle Fortune.

Meade looks to Monk

Noel Meade intends on running Monksland in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham next Wednesday.

The five-year-old is unbeaten in three starts under Rules and won a Grade Two at Naas most recently.

He is still engaged in the Supreme, but Meade said: “Monksland is on course for the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle. We are very happy with him and touch wood everything has gone well so far. He has finished all his work now, so hopefully we will get him there.”

Boston Bob and Simonsig are two of the other standout names among 34 Neptune entries.

Willie Mullins has still not made his mind up over whether Boston Bob runs in this race over two miles and five furlongs or in the Albert Bartlett next Friday over three miles.

The champion trainer has a number of other possibles, including Felix Yonger, Make Your Mark, Marasonnien, Simenon and Sous Les Cieux.

Simonsig was given the green light for this race after Nicky Henderson chose the Neptune in preference to the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on the first day.

Tony Martin’s Grade One winner Benefficient and the Gordon Elliott-trained Mount Benbulben are others of note.

Kalann geared up

County Kildare trainer Sabrina Harty is set for a Cheltenham return next week with her progressive young hurdler Kalann.

The five-year-old Barathea gelding impressed at Prestbury Park in October when running out a 14-length winner from Tonic Mellysse.

He has been highly tried since, including in the Irish Champion Hurdle behind Hurricane Fly, and last time out he was second to Zaidpour in the Red Mills Trial Hurdle at Gowran Park.

Harty said: “We are leaning towards the Stan James Champion Hurdle.

“He has been in good form since Gowran, but he scoped badly afterwards so we put him on antibiotics and he is fine now.”

Nolan looks to Russell for Prince

Davy Russell is set for the ride on Noble Prince in the Ryanair Chase next week, if, as expected, Tony McCoy is required to maintain his partnership with dual winner Albertas Run.

McCoy has ridden Albertas Run to victory in the last two renewals of the Ryanair, and also the RSA Chase of 2008.

“It’s looking likely that AP will have to ride Albertas Run,” said Nolan, whose horse claimed the Jewson Novices’ Chase under McCoy 12 months ago.

“I’d say Davy Russell will ride our lad, if that’s the case. He’s a man in form, he’s ridden a lot of winners this season. Davy’s ridden our lad plenty, he won on him earlier this year at Naas. I believe there’s little rain forecast which is all in our favour and it looks like being better ground than last year.”

Ferdy Murphy has booked Noel Fehily to partner Kalahari King in the Ryanair, replacing Graham Lee, who suffered a dislocated hip at Southwell last month.

“Noel Fehily will ride him. He’s got a very similar style to Graham and when I mentioned his name to Graham he said he would be perfectly suited to him,” said Murphy.

Now an 11-year-old, Kalahari King’s Festival record stands up to the closest scrutiny. Fourth in the 2008 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, he was beaten a short head by Forpadydeplasterer in the Arkle and was third behind Big Zeb in the Queen Mother.

He also chased home Albertas Run in the Ryanair 12 months ago, but this season has not gone to plan after he cracked a splint bone at Ascot in the Amlin 1965 Chase, but Murphy believes he is now in great shape.

The West Witton handler added: “He’ll do his last bit of work on Friday, but I’ve been happy with him the last few weeks.”

Jim Gallacher’s Festival Update and Handicap Corner

Day 1: I went for Sprinter Sacre for the Arkle chase and after his most recent run at Newbury on the 17th Feb nothing has made me change my mind, it may not have been the strongest prep run however he did it without any fuss and that should put him spot on for the Arkle.

The Champion Hurdle I went for Hurricane Fly. He is the favourite and deserves to be, I thought Binocular was a great each way bet in double figures and he has since won at Wincanton beating Celestial Halo comfortably by 6 length. He has now been trimmed in the market and I still can’t see him out the frame.

Day 2: In the RSA I selected Bobs Worth he ran at Ascot recently and went down to Invictus, he showed that day he is a gutsy performer and I still believe the hill at Cheltenham will bring out the best in him. I do realise Grand Crus is in the race however I think connections are still considering The Gold Cup. Joint Together is still around the 8/1 mark, he hasn’t had a prep run so nothing to update with him.

In the Queen Mother Champion Chase Sizing Europe is still the hot favourite and I still believe he will come out on top? I thought Somersby would be a good Each Way selection however the more I look at it he will probably go for the Ryanair Chase.

Day 3: No change in the Ryanair Chase I have this down to Medermit and Somersby

In the World hurdle, all seems to be ticking along well with Big Bucks and I still think Mourad will be the one to get in the frame.

Day 4: The Triumph Hurdle I selected Douran around 20/1 each way, however I was impressed by the Alan King trained 4 year old Balder Success at Ascot on the 18th Feb. I think if he shows this form he will take the beating at Cheltenham.

The Gold Cup. Long Run has had a run at Newbury and he did what he had to do to win. It wasn’t his most impressive performance to date however he will be back Cheltenham and that could see him back at his best. As we go to press we do not know what is happening with Kauto Star after his fall but it will be a sad day if the former champion doesn’t make it after such a fantastic season, I also like the look of Grand Crus if connections take their chance in the big one it’s only a decision they can make but from my point of view I would love to see the grey take his chance.

Handicap Corner:

Firstly I don’t know anyone who was not impressed by the David Pipe trained Balgarry who made his British Debut over hurdles at Newbury on the 3rd March racing of a mark of 129. He made all, winning unchallenged by 3½ length to record a great weight carrying performance. He is entered in a couple of races at the festival and should be followed closely wherever he takes his chance.

Second one I like is the Emma Lavelle trained grey gelding Tocco Ferro. This 7 year old is likely to take his chance at Sandown on Imperial Cup day and if all goes to plan will go for the £75,000 bonus connections will receive if he wins any race at the festival .

Well that concludes my final column before Cheltenham. A couple of bets I think are value and I have had an investment on are

Top Trainer ​Allan King at around 14/1

All champions to regain their crown Sizing Europe, Hurricane Fly, Big Bucks and Long Run to come out on top again in the championship races. This paid around 28/1 on the exchanges 6 weeks ago. Hope you all have a profitable Cheltenham.