Tom Stanley: "Where next for Angels and one for the Ultima"

14 min

Tom assesses where Angels Breath should run at Cheltenham and has one for the first handicap of the festival.

A weekend of mixed emotions for Nicky Henderson and the team at Seven Barrows now have a decision to make re Angels Breath. Supreme or Ballymore?

First things first, his two performances to date are enough to suggest he deserves to line up at Cheltenham. Enough, too, to suggest that 17.0 in places at one stage about either race was generous.

I’d said here previously that I was keen to take the horse on at single figures for his intended target, the Supreme, before his Saturday run. He’s certainly a more sensible price now. Henderson was open about his desire to still run the horse in the festival opener, even after shaping as though further may suit.

The current champ trainer does have one for the Ballymore, after all. He has consistently praised Angels Breath’s speed too and, for all he has a wealth of talent in the two mile novice division, this horse has seemingly always been a yard ahead of the rest in his mind.

Nicky Henderson will have been disappointed but not too despondent with Angel Breath’s run on Saturday.

Worth pointing out, however, that he was due to run in the Sidney Banks over 2 miles 3.5 furlongs before ‘flugate’. Said development over the last few weeks could also explain a slightly less impressive display than market expectation. He received his flu jab eleven days prior to his weekend run. Not ideal and he will have needed this. Furthermore, two miles on good ground perhaps didn’t play to this horse’s strengths. The quotes prior to his debut win were that he wanted some cut in the ground.

So where to run?

The Dovecote, as a rule, wouldn’t be the best trial going for a Supreme tilt. The Racing TV Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide 2019 by Matt Tombs will tell you that only 4 Dovecote winners this century ran in the Supreme with only River Wylde featuring when third to Altior. The last Supreme winner from the Dovecote was Flown in 1992. There’s a Nicky Henderson theme developing here.

Additionally, only three of the last twenty-two winners of the Supreme were beaten on their last start and the last ten winners had run four or more times over hurdles. It (the Supreme) is a race where experience counts for plenty. That’s not something that Angels Breath has in spades.

The Ballymore, on the other hand, is a race where a lack of experience is not such an obvious negative. Yorkhill had run just twice prior to his 2016 win. The four winners wither side of him just three times. They start out on the middle of the course in the Wednesday opener and don’t go quite the lick of a Supreme (worth pointing out here that Angels Breath’s jumping has been very good to date and isn’t really a concern of mine).

The key question for Nicky Henderson and connections now is where to run Angels Breath at Cheltenham.

It’s also a race where proven speed is a big plus. Fifteen Grade 1 winners at two miles have lined up for the Ballymore in the last 21 renewals and seven have won. Backing all of those would have seen a nice return on investment and demonstrates that toe is important for the Ballymore. That’s something Nicky Henderson tells us this horse has plenty of. If he were to line up for the two and a half mile race, for which he’s currently 17.0, I’d be positive about his chances.

More so, I’d imagine, than that of the champ’s Champ. That said, and for all the current Supreme favourite carries the same colours as Angels Breath, I think Nicky is likely to get his Tuesday wish.

Solid Stone

Southfield Stone may have looked ‘novicey’ up the run-in on Saturday but a smart performance it was giving weight to the second. He’s a better horse on good ground and he franked that Grade 1 Tolworth form of Elixir Du Nutz (remember the only horse to have beaten EDN this year is Thomas Darby, at Cheltenham, a horse who has had four hurdles starts this year, won last time out, and is still 29.0 for the Supreme, shhhhhhh).

The Matchbook Imperial Cup under a four-pound penalty would be a very realistic target for Southfield Stone, particularly given his running style and the fact he’s only ever been right-handed in his life.

Southfield Stone could be a featured runner in the Matchbook Imperial Cup at Sandown in a couple of weeks

Handicappers of note

The handicap entries came out this week and there are two horses to flag up. First up, Montestrel has an entry in the Boodles Juvenile handicap. Connections have won it before and Montestrel had his third run, needed to qualify, on Tuesday at Taunton. He was weak in the betting and very disappointing. Disappointing for a Triumph that is, but not necessarily for a handicap. He had a flu jab a week before the race and this young horse wasn’t given a hard time when the race was beyond him. He’s available at a general 34.0.

I’ll hold off for now given he’s tricky for the handicapper to assess and it may just be worth waiting for the weights to come out given he could get anything from 126 to 140. Somewhere lower to middle on that range is likely given he can only be rated on his first run. That saw him beat the now 146-rated Quel Destin from whom he was getting nine pounds. The now 132-rated Elysees was eleven lengths back in third. Perhaps low 130s is wishful thinking…

King in the Ultima

Alan King has had some disappointing festivals of late but, with trebles in 2007 and 2008 and solo winners in 2009 and 2011, he’s no stranger to the Cheltenham winners enclosure. Last year he had Midnight Tour finish a half-length second in the mares. The yard had a low key January but Alan gives his horses their flu jabs in early January it’s an intentionally quiet month. There’s a chance his horses will be underbet at this year’s meeting and there’s one I want to have on side now.

King has won the Ultima twice, with novice Fork Lightning and with second season chaser Bensalem. The latter was running over fences for the first time that year having looked the likely winner the previous season when falling two-out. Fair to say he likes the race for a novice, a division who have a good record in the race. Coo Star Sivola, Un Temps Pour Tout, Holywell etc etc.

Ignore Alan King for Cheltenham at your peril.

I had Talkischeap in mind for the race this year but he’s not certain to go having run on Saturday.

Perhaps the fact he was beaten says he’ll be more likely to run.

I’m not sure. It’s difficult to be too encouraged by the performance though. Last Sunday, also disappointing was King’s Chosen Path but he was last of two in a very different sort of race and one which was run with a more positive proximity to the festival. This was his required third run (given he’s a novice) for a festival handicap and he went forward given the size of the field.

He didn’t jump brilliantly in front but he’s already rated high enough to get into the Ultima, his only Cheltenham entry, and I’d not be too disappointed with regard to his future claims. Furthermore, Chosen Path had beaten subsequent Reynoldstown winner Mister Malarky on his last start at Newbury. Mister Malarky is now rated twenty-pounds higher.

King mentioned the Ultima straight after the race and, now he’s confirmed as entered, I think the general 26.0 is a fair shout.

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Each week Tom is joined by guests such as Rory Delargy, Donn McClean, Sam Turner and Brendan Powell on Matchbook’s Horse Racing Podcast. Subscribe now to the podcast on iTunes, Spotify, SoundCloud, or on your preferred Podcast app by searching for ‘Matchbook Betting Podcast’.