We’re already past the halfway point, but don’t despair as we’ve still got 14 fantastic races to look forward to including the JLT, the Ryanair and the Stayers just on today’s card alone as well as one of the best puzzles of the week in the Pertemps. The beauty of Cheltenham is how stuffed full of quality racing the week is and no matter how well you’re doing so far there is plenty of potential winners still to come. So with that in mind let’s find some for day 3.
JLT Novices Chase
Mengli Khan (17.5) is a horse that gets absolutely zero slack from the racing public, which is probably due to the fact he’s let punters down a few times at short odds. This is why he went off at a huge 15.0 in last years Supreme despite having solid form in his first three runs over hurdles. He finished a staying on third that day and proved a lot of people wrong.
He was ridiculously installed as favourite for the Arkle after an easy win in Punchestown on his chase debut, but has disappointed twice since then behind Le Richebourg. It was obvious to me that the quick ground and minimum trip was not in his favour so I’m delighted to see him lining up here instead of the Arkle.
Mengli Khan was always going to be a chaser, he is a huge horse and his third in the Supreme is the best hurdles form in this race. We already know he handles soft ground at Cheltenham and he is a great bet to win and place in this.
Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle
You have to love the Pertemps. Getting a horse qualified for this race without ruining its handicap mark is an art in itself. I think it is one of the greatest puzzles of the week and I’ve found three that have snuck in here with lovely runs last time out.
First Assignment (14.0) started this season as probably the best handicapped horse in the UK. He easily had over a stone in hand for his first two runs of the season where he duly bolted up at Cheltenham twice in the space of a month. The form of these runs was held in such high regard that he started favourite for a 3-mile hurdle at Haydock where he was beaten 2L by a certain Paisley Park.He was given a break after this and reappeared at Warwick in January in a Pertemps Qualifier where he ran a fine race to finish third.
I think he could have lined up in the Stayers Hurdle on his early season form but this is the target connections have selected and they must think he stands a chance of winning.
He has course form and loads of stamina and I would be very surprised if he wasn’t in the top 5.
Notwhatiam (14.0) absolutely flew home to grab fourth last time out at Warwick. It was a perfectly executed ride from Harry Skelton and comfortably got him in here near the bottom of the weights. He has been well backed in the last two weeks so I wasn’t the only one to notice and you can expect him to run a big race.
Culture De Sivola (30.0) did something similar at Exeter on her last run when she went from last to fifth in the home straight to secure her ticket to Cheltenham. She won well over 3m in a mares’ handicap hurdle at Kempton at Christmas and is a massive price for this.
Coney Island (34.0) was near the top of the market for the Gold Cup last season until he got injured in the Ascot Chase last February. He had excellent form as a novice chaser, the highlight being a win in the Drinmore Chase where he easily dispatched Road To Respect, Anibale Fly and Alpha Des Obeaux. His first run last season was a demolition job of Adrien Du Pont and More Of That over 2m5f at Ascot and it was that form that marked him out as a contender for the Gold Cup.
He has had two nice runs this year to get back some confidence and his trainer said the Ryanair was his target immediately after his run at Christmas so I took the big prices available with the opinion that he would go off a lot shorter.
This turned out not to be the case and he is still available at 34.0 to win! There is a lot of quality in this race, but it is hard to find one that you could consider progressive. Coney Island has not had the chance to show his hand fully yet and if he runs to his full ability he can bag another shock victory for Mark Walsh.
Supasundae (9.0) would be defending a Stayers Hurdle crown today only for the mighty Penhill, but he doesn’t have the reigning champ to contend with this year. Jessie Harrington’s horse has finished second three times this year over shorter trips and lines up here over what I think is his best trip.
He was 5L clear of the third-placed Wholestone in last year’s renewal and I think this will have been the target all season for them.
Paisley Park looked a class act in the Cleeve Hurdle, but he has essentially thrashed a field on handicappers and I’m more than happy to take him on with a rock-solid Grade 1 performer.
Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase
Last year was the first time in 10 years that a horse carrying more than 11st won this race, and while I’m not a huge follower of trends it’s definitely something to keep in mind. One of the horses that fit this trend is Eamon An Cnoic (13.0).
He ran a great race at massive odds in the BetVictor Gold Cup here over course and distance last November before finishing down the field to Siruh Du Lac at Exeter. He had wind surgery after that run and it seemed to do the trick when he won at Chepstow a few weeks ago after being well backed that day.
The 7lbs he was raised has got him in here off 10-7, which means he has an 11lb swing with Siruh Du Lac on their Exeter run and is almost twice the price of Lizzie Kelly’s mount. He has been well backed already for this so expect a big run.
Mares Novices Hurdle
Epatante (3.4) is two from two since joining Nicky Henderson’s yard and I don’t think we have seen her get out of second gear yet. She is given a huge advantage in this by the fact she is in receipt of 5lbs from her main market rival Posh Trish which makes her 3lbs well in on official ratings.
If there is market confidence in her that should be taken as a huge plus after she pulled very hard early on in her last race at Exeter. That run will have taken the freshness out of her, however, and should leave her spot on for this.
She is my banker of the day and I’ll be disappointed if she doesn’t romp home.
Kim Muir Handicap Chase
A horse in well-known colours, It’s All Guesswork (12.0) is hoping to go one better than Mall Dini did last for his owner Philip Reynolds in the Kim Muir.
He warmed up for this race with a very eye-catching run in Punchestown over hurdles a few weeks ago where he sat out the back until the final bend before making up a huge amount of ground to easily take third without ever being put under too much pressure.
He had previously won a beginners’ chase at Navan where he powered up the hill in the straight, which should bode well for his task at Cheltenham. It was touch and go for him to get into this but he has snuck in at the bottom of the weights and can give Barry O’Neill a deserved winner after he was so unlucky on Discorama on Tuesday.
- 1.30 – Mengli Khan (17.5) – 1pt Win, 1pt Place
- 2.10 – First Assignment (13.5) – 1pt Win, 2pt Place
- 2.10 – Notwhatiam (14.0) – 1pt Win, 1pt Place
- 2.10 – Culture De Sivola (30.0) – 0.5pt Win, 0.5pt Place
- 2.50 – Coney Island (34.0) – 1pt Win, 1pt Place
- 3.30 – Supasundae (9.0) – 1pt Win, 1pt Place
- 4.10 – Eamon an Cnoic (13.0) – 1pt Win, 1pt Place
- 4.50 – Epatante (3.4) – 2.5pt Win
- 5.30 – Its All Guesswork (12.0) – 1pt Win, 1pt Place
Your host Tom Stanley is joined by Sam Turner, Brendan Powell and Matchbook’s Micheál Deasy to preview Day 3 and 4 of the Festival with the Gold Cup of course leading to lots of different opinions.