Happy New Year! We have a really exciting day of National Hunt Racing in store at Cheltenham on New Years Day and here’s my preview of the card.
12:15- Ballymore Novices Hurdle (Listed)
There are a lot of races with this title raced at Cheltenham and this is a Listed event. Redford Road won a grade two over three miles at this course eighteen days ago and he’s dropping back to two miles four today. He’s a wonderfully consistent horse and has won over this trip a few times. He’s penalised for last time and could be more of an Albert Bartlett horse. IMPERIAL ALCAZAR won at Aintree in October and then was unlucky not to win last time. His last win was over this trip and his yard is particularly good at this track.
12:50- Markel Insurance Handicap Chase
COGRY is my selection in this race. He’s won four times at this course, including last time in a grade three. This is an overall easier contest and top weight won’t be a problem.
13:25 Paddy Power Broken Resolutions Already Dipper Novices Chase (Grade Two)
Lostintranslation won this race last year and CHAMP is my selection for 2020. The son of King’s Theatre has ran eleven times, won eight and came second three times. He made a winning fences debut at Newbury and then avoided going the wrong way at the elbow to win quite well at the same track, in a grade two. He had Deyrann de Carjac in third and this field don’t look up to his standard. Midnight Shadow is next best in the market but he’s yet to win over larger obstacles. He’s a very good hurdler as he’s won the Relkeel Hurdle and Scottish Champion Hurdle.
14:00- Paddy Power Handicap Chase
This is a good quality Handicap. Kalashnikov has top weight and he has been second on both runs this term. The latter of which was behind Oldgrangewood at Newbury and he only went down a short head. That was Oldgrangewood’s first win in exactly two years and he’s been put up 7lbs. Magic Saint won at that meeting after hanging on grimly against a challenge by Desert Orchid Chase winner Bun Doran. OK Corral ran in the Ladbrokes Trophy and never featured. He lost a shoe that day, which won’t have aided his cause, but he was convincingly beaten. Derek O’connor rode him when he was favourite for the National Hunt Chase but instead he partners Ex Patriot today.
The Ellmarie Holden trained Ex Patriot was second in a grade three Novices Chase and third in a grade two behind subsequent grade one winner Battleoverdoyen. Outlander was a grade one winner for Gigginstown before being sold to Richard Spencer. Going on twelve, it would be excellent if this horse ran a big race but he’s not won for a very long while.
Lalor has been performing to his best of late. He won a grade two a year ago, as a novice, but has lost his way since, being well-beaten. Mister Whitaker won a grade two at the backend of last season and makes his seasonal debut in this. He’s a high-class performer and if on song he will be bang there. Poker Play hasn’t been seen since coming fourth to Wholestone in a novices chase and this will be his third run over fences. Ballyhill has been highly tried, following in some useful horses, and won this in 2018 off a 4lbs lower mark. Saint Calvados won a grade three at Naas last season, beating Footpad, and he’s a classy horse. He won here in October but that was over two miles.
I’m staying loyal to my 20 To Watch horse CEPAGE. He ran a cracker off a long absence on seasonal reappearance behind Riders Onthestorm and he wasn’t beaten far to be fourth eighteen days ago. He could be a bit high in the weights but at least he doesn’t have top weight.
14:35- Paddy Power 69 Sleeps To Cheltenham Handicap Hurdle
This race is made very interesting by the inclusion of Might Bite. This gelding has won a King George and RSA and has a mark of 160 over the smaller obstacles. They’re using this as a confidence booster after unseating last time out but the weight looks huge when you consider that half the field have just 10st. His stablemate Beware The Bear is yet another good chaser reverting to hurdles. Number three THE JAM MAN is looking for a fifth win in a row and carries 10st10. He’s gone from a mark of 114 in June to 114 and is definitely a horse on the up. Connections have said they’d run him against Paisley Park so they must think a lot of him. Last time, he was an easy winner of a Grade B Hurdle at Navan and hasn’t reached his ceiling yet.
15:10- Relkeel Hurdle (Grade 2)
Six runners remain in the Relkeel Hurdle and it is a tight little contest. Nicky Henderson is responsible for two of those horses – Janika and William Henry. Janika’s owners won this two years ago with Wholestone and this seven year old isn’t very exposed in the UK. He was second at the Cheltenham Festival in the Stable Plate and was fourth in the Topham over the National fences. His first UK win was in the Haldon Gold Cup and then he was fourth in the Tingle Creek. He drops down to hurdles in this race because the racing manager suggested it. He has a valid chance. William Henry makes his seasonal reappearance in this. He is a very good handicap hurdler, having won the Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival. That is a grade three and he likes it around here. He was fourth in the Stayers at Aintree, behind Roksana, and, despite the fact that he’s nearly ten and carries top weight, he will be there at the finish.
Roughly half his age is Quel Destin. Paul Nicholls’ five year old won over two miles, in a race that has put up some decent horses, over this course on heavy going. He was eighth in the Greatwood last time and didn’t make much of an impression towards the end. He’s a grade one winner and steps up to two miles four for the first time. He’s has 11st3 on board. Roksana won the Mares Hurdle at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival and was then second in the stayers grade one at Aintree. She’s a really willing mare and battled out her seasonal reappearance with Top Notch, who won, in a tidy little hurdle race. Last time, her run was very poor and I’m unsure why. The ground was quite tacky and she won’t want it very soft.
Summerville Boy won the Supreme Novices Hurdle in 2018. He hasn’t won subsequently over hurdles but he’s followed in the likes of Buveur D’Air, Brain Power and Supasundae. He made his chasing debut at Uttoxeter in November but fell in behind Esprit Du Large in a grade one. If he can return to his Supreme form, he has a chance.
I’m going to go with EMITOM though. This six year old was unbeaten for all of his first five starts in lower grade contests and then he put up a good performance in the grade one Sefton Novices Hurdle behind Champ. He was beaten three lengths into second that day and it was expected that he would go chasing this season but he got injured. He has had a long absence but connections will have him on top form.
15:50- EBF Stallions & Cheltenham Pony Club NH Flat Race (Listed)
BELLE DE MANECH went from the back to win at Warwick in November and she was a bit green in the closing stages. Her yard has won this before and I think this filly should run a good race with a tongue-tie for the first time.