Cheltenham Festival Day One 2020 Preview

The International Hurdle is a good form line for the Champion Hurdle. (JTW Equine Images)

By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22) and Luke Keena (@Lukekeena1)


The Cheltenham Festival is upon us! We’ve got four days of top quality National Hunt action to savour.


Day one looks excellent, with Samantha and Luke previewing the card from an English VS Irish point of view! Make sure to keep an eye out on our social media for exciting content right from the track!


Enjoy…

Supreme Novices Hurdle (Grade One)

The Supreme Novices Hurdle is for horses who had their first wins over hurdles this season and is raced over a trip of two miles and eighty-seven yards.


English-


The leading English Challengers in this race come from the Nicky Henderson stable. He last won the race in 2016 with Altior and he has three entered- Shishkin, Chantry House and Allart. Shishkin is highest up the market as he won by eleven lengths in a listed event at Huntingdon. He fell and won before that and he goes on pretty much any ground. Chantry House beat Edwardstone on rules debut at Warwick. His debut over hurdles was good and he quickened clear impressively at Newbury to win by four and a half lengths. Both of these are really exciting prospects. Henderson’s other runner is Allart. He fell in behind Ecco at Ascot in November. He didn’t run again until January when he won by nine lengths at Ludlow and, in February, by fourteen lengths at Doncaster. He has a bit to find on official ratings.


Fiddlerontheroof is the highest rated of the English at 154. He’s never been out of the top three in his seven race career. He ran three times in Ireland before moving to the Tizzards and coming second to Thyme Hill in the Persian War. Next, he was second over two miles behind Edwardstone then he finally got off the mark over obstacles. He won the Tolworth in good style too. Edwardstone runs in this and was second on his first three starts, one of those behind Chantry House. When he beat Fiddlerontheroof, he was extremely keen and was so on his next two outings, one beating Harry Senior, subsequent grade two winner, and then second in a grade two. The fast pace they should go will hopefully let him settle. Fiddlerontheroof may get caught for speed when push comes to shove.


Sam Twiston-Davies is a notable booking on outsider Mario De Pail for Sam Thomas. He had a few starts in bumpers, the best of those at Ffos Las when beating subsequent impressive winner Getaround. Next time, he won at Kelso and then lost out by a short head to Eden De Houx. Jabbaar, despite being a huge price, is a big ride for young rider Connor O’farrell. His maiden win was good and he was behind decent horses the last twice.

Irish-

The shortest priced Irish horse in the race is the Willie Mullins trained Asterion Forlonge. This unbeaten six year old has passed every test so far in his career. He started life on the track this year in a bumper at Thurles when he was far from impressive, he just got the job done under a strong ride from Patrick Mullins. Next time out was when we got to see a better horse, he won his maiden hurdle at Naas by ten lengths, the second has since won by a similar margin in a maiden at Punchestown. Asterion Forlonge then stepped into Grade 1 company next time out and won very impressively. He was given a very positive ride by Danny Mullins to get he better of Easywork by nine lengths. He will have a good chance but I think he will be the second best of the Irish runners. Abacadabras is a horse I have liked for this race for some time now. He brings in the best Novice Hurdle form in the book in my opinion, which is the Royal Bond form from Fairyhouse. He was a length and a half behind Envoi Allen and two and a half lengths in front of Darver Star. He was impressive next time out in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown when winning by eight lengths. He will sit off the pace and come with a late run. I think he is the one to beat in this year’s festival opener.


Samantha’s Selection – “ABACADABRAS has ran to really high form lately. He was second to Envoi Allen on his penultimate start and in third was subsequent Irish Champion Hurdle second Darver Star. He won a grade one last time in good style.”


Luke’s Selection – “I think ABACADABRAS is the one to beat in this year’s Festival opener.”

Rouge Vif At Warwick. (JTW Equine Images)

Arkle Novices Chase (Grade One)

The Arkle Trophy, named after the legendary racehorse, is the first novice chase of the meeting and is raced over two miles.


English-


The Arkle could kick off a good week for Olly Murphy with Brewin’upastorm. Champion jockey Richard Johnson rides. This horse was fourth in the Ballymore and then second to Reserve Tank. In a grade one. Both of those were obviously over further but he won by a head on fences bow, beating a good field of Good Boy Bobby, Midnight Shaddow and Global Citizen. Last time, he won by four lengths beating a subsequent winner over two miles two. They must think he is speedy enough. After Global Citizen got beat by Brewin’upastorm, he beat Rouge Vif and Al Dancer in a grade two at Kempton at Christmas. He’s not ran since but goes we fresh. He won the Dovecote last term so is a classy individual. Al Dancer was well-fancied for the is at the beginning of the season after showing he was smart in the Betfair Hurdle. He won by four lengths on fences bow and then came second to Put The Kettle On, both times at Cheltenham. Next time, he was fourth to Global Citizen and then second when last seen.


Esprit Du Large had had three starts over fences. The first was when second, beaten half a length by a subsequent winner. He probably needed that because he won well at Exeter next time. Next time, he strongly won the Henry VIII. It probably wasn’t the strongest of renewals but he beat Nube Negra one and three quarter lengths. That horse was second to Rouge Vif in the Kingmaker, beaten seven lengths. We’ve not seen Esprit Du Large since the grade one but the trainer has wanted to keep him fresh. He could’ve gone under the radar. Rouge Vif won by seven lengths on Chase debut but he was then last of four behind Put The Kettle On and Al Dancer next time. He was second to Global Citizen before getting back on track in the Kingmaker, which was a great run.


The English mare Maire Banrigh has great form figures to her name. She’s won her last six, two hurdles and four chases. The first of those four was by fifteen lengths ;then she beat the smart Thomas Darby and then she went to Doncaster and won by thirteen lengths. She was stepped up to listed company at Huntingdon and scored by eleven lengths. She would prefer good to soft. Last to mention is Our Merlin. No disrespect to this horse or connections but he’s a bit out of his depth here.


Irish-


I think the Irish runner hold the key to this race. Notebook, Fakir D’oudairies and Cash Back all line up in what will be an intriguing race. I think Notebook is the horse to be with in this race. He has improved no ends since switching to fences. He has ran four times over fences and came out on top on each occasion. He has got the better of Cash Back and Fakir D’oudairies in his last two races. Beating Fakir D’oudairies giving him seven pounds on his penultimate start, they now race off levels which should put Notebook further ahead. He is a magnificent jumper who can get a bit buzzy in the prelims. He is going to wear earplugs on the way to the start which should help him settle. I think he will take a lot of beating.


Samantha’s Selection – “I think that FAKIR D’OUDAIRIES is fabulous jumper and that will aid his cause. He’s a grade one winner over fences too. Admittedly, he’s been beaten by Notebook but I think the form will be switched around at Cheltenham.”


Luke’s Selection – “I think NOTEBOOK is the horse to be with in this race.”

Cogry (left) (JTW Equine Images)

Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade Three)

The Ultima Handicap Chase is a three mile and one furlong chase and is the big handicap on day one.


English-


Two of my 20 To Watch run in this ultra-competitive handicap – Mulcahys Hill and Cepage. Everyone who follows me on any sort of social media knows of my love for this guy! He’s a second season novice but got off the mark over fences at this track in October. He disliked the Becher and he probably should’ve won the Two runner race last time. After his Tolworth second, I’ve always thought he had a good prize in him. Cepage had been knocking on the door in three grade three handicaps this year before carrying a huge weight to win over two miles four at this course. He proved his class that day and, until a certain point, he had Gold Cup and Ryanair entries. I hope the occasion doesn’t get to him.


The Nicky Henderson yard won this last year. He’s represented by Brave Eagle and Burbank. Brave Eagle won two nice races over the summer but hadn’t been seen since coming eighth in the Ladbrokes Trophy, in which The Conditional came second and Mister Malarky sixth. The Conditional jumping could’ve lost him the race that day. He was well-fancied for the Classic Chase last time out. He was a good forth but this trip is better for him and he won here in the autumn. Mister Malarky pulled up in a listed handicap at Ascot after Newbury but ran brilliantly to win at Kempton last time. He’s hard to judge. Burbank was fifth in December in a class three, then won a similar event at Newbury and, last time, he was eighth in the SkyBet Chase. Cobra De Mai and Quarenta finished in the two places ahead. Cobra De Mai last won in April 2019 of this same mark but was behind Vinndication earlier this season. Quarenta won nicely at Fontwell in December but isn’t quite up to this.


In last year’s race, Vintage Clouds was second, Big River fourth and Activial sixth. Vintage Clouds hadn’t won for a long while before Haydock in January when he won the Peter Marsh impressively. Last time, he ran in the Grand National Trial but the trip was probably too far. Big River has PP1 next to his name but his win last time was decent. He’s been as short as 8/1 for a Scottish National. Soupy Soups ran all through the summer and won at Perth. He’s not been seen since coming second in the Badger Beer which was a great run!


Nigel Twiston-Davies has two runners – old favourite Cogry and Townshend. Cogry is the pick of Sam Twiston-Davies. This horse was third to The Conditional at the beginning of the season and then won here. On New Year’s Day, he came second and it would be great to see him win at the Festival. Townshend won on seasonal reappearance at Ascot in January. He used to be with Willie Mullins but he’s now in the ‘Splash Of Ginge’ colours and will be ridden by the owner’s son.


Vinndication heads the field. He was a good novice chaser and followed in Defi Du Seuil twice in the backend of last year. He won at Ascot in November, in good style, but hasn’t been seen since due to an injury. We’ve not seen Atlanta Ablaze for ninety four days when she came fourth in a mares listed chase. Before that, she won at Market Rasen. Kildisart won at the Aintree National meeting but has struggled to win since. He followed in Mister Malarky last time. He’s a talented horse but is 2lbs higher than his Aintree win.


Who Dares Wins is very classy, having won on the flat, hurdles or fences. He won the Pendil last time so it is very interesting that he is running in this. No Comment hasn’t won since January 2017. He’s not ran badly since but fell in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas. We haven’t seen him since. He’s still a novice over fences. Not sure why he’s still as short as 10s. At the bottom is Ice Cool Champs and Vivas who are 66/1.


Irish-


The last Irish trained winner of this race came in 2006 when the Tony Martin trained Dun Doire won the race. The bad record in the race doesn’t put me off the Paul Nolan trained Discorama who is part owned by Andrew Gemmell. His best run of the year came at Wexford when he finished second behind Champagne Classic. He slightly lost his way from there finishing well bet in his next two starts. He has been freshened up for race. This was the first time he hadn’t won on his first outing of the season, so freshening him up should help him to recapture his form. He finished second on this card last year behind Le Breuil in the National Hunt Chase and if he returns to that form I think he can get the Irish a rare win in the race. Elwood is the other Irish runner but I think he will struggle to get up the hill.


Samantha’s Selection – “I’m going with MULCAHYS HILL here. Not just because he’s my favourite but also because he’s still got a lot left to come over fences and I’d love for him to win the race his owners sponsor! Cepage is my second choice.”


Luke’s Selection – DISCORMA goes well fresh and has been off since his run at Christmas. He was second in last year’s National Hunt Chase and, if he returns to form, I think he will go close.”

Unibet Champion Hurdle (Grade One)

The Unibet-sponsored Champion Hurdle threw up a shock last year when Espoir D’Allen landed the odds. Raced over two miles, this is as open as it has been for a while.

English-


Nicky Henderson has won this for two of the past three renewals and has four this season – Epatante, Fusil Raffles, Call Me Lord and Pentland Hills. Epatante is the head of the market because she easily won a listed race in November and then she won by five lengths in the Christmas Hurdle, beating Silver Streak, Ballyandy and Fusil Raffles. She’s been reported to be coughing and boiled over at the Festival last season. Fusil Raffles won the Champion 4YO Hurdle at Punchestown and won at Wincanton in November, in a grade two. He pulled up in the Christmas Hurdle. Call Me Lord started the season coming second to If The Cap Fits over two miles three. He won the International Hurdle, beating Ballyandy, Pentland Hills, Gumball and Le Patriote. Last time, he got turned over at odds-on.


Pentland Hills won the Triumph and Aintree equivalent last season. He probably needed it when behind Call Me Lord and Ballyandy at Cheltenham. Last time, he ran against Ballyandy, Cornerstone Lad and Darasso at Haydock. He led down to the winning post but got headed on the line by a tenacious Ballyandy. The latter has been a revelation this season and deserved that success. He’s been putting in some super performances against some of the best English challengers. He won the Champion Bumper here so is a player. At Haydock, Cornerstone Lad was only beaten a length into third. Before that, he beat an injured Buveur D’Air in the Fighting Fifth. He’s so consistent and a big runner for the yard.


The same can be said for Silver Streak. He won a listed at Kempton at the beginning of the season, then came third in the Fighting Fifth. He probably hated the ground then but it wasn’t too bad at Kempton when he came second. He was third in this last year and then was fifth behind Supasundae. Not So Sleepy was a good horse on the flat but absolutely hacked up on his second start of the campaign in a grade three. He stayed on gamely to the line. Last time, he didn’t get a good position and stropped his way round in the Betfair Hurdle. If he’s allowed to stride out in front, hell be hard to peg back. Gumball and Le Patriote look out of their depths.


Irish-


The Irish have a strong team of horses heading for this wide open race. Willie Mullins reverts Cilaos Emery to hurdles after a spell over fences, and also runs Sharjah who is the highest rated horse in the race. Gavin Cromwell has the significant improver Darver Star. Also running for the Irish are Coeur Sublime, Petit Mouchoir and Darasso. The horse I like is the Jessica Harrington trained Supasundae. This ten year old son of Galileo may have age against him, but in an open renewal I think he could be the pick of them. He brings the best two mile form into the the race. He finished second behind Buveur D’Air at Punchestown. Every year he comes back needing the run and ran a nice race in defeat at Leopardstown in the Irish Champion Hurdle. I think he will improve plenty for the run and go close at a decent price.


Samantha’s Selection- “The start will be crucial for NOT SO SLEEPY but he has so much speed and should enjoy this test!”


Luke’s Selection- Epatante is a worthy favourite. I will take a chance on Supasundae. He has won at the Festival previously and if he can handle the fast tempo of the race he should run well.”

Close Brothers Mares Hurdle (Grade One)

This is a mares-only race over nearly two and a half miles. It is a smaller field than normal due to the top two in the market being extremely talented.


Three English trainers have runners. Phillip Kirby has Lady Buttons and Desaray Girl. Lady Buttons is one of the most popular horses in training. She’s a darling little mare. She dabbles successfully between fences and hurdles and won a grade two last time. Desaray Girl completed a treble at the turn of the year but has so much to find. That’s the same for the Fergal O’Brien trained pair of Cap Soleil and Crossgalesfamegame. Dan Skelton round up the field with last season’s winner Roksana. She was second to Top Notch is November, fifth to If The Cap Fits and second to Summerville Boy. The Irish mares are much superior.


Irish-


This race looks to be between the Irish trained pair of Benie Des Dieux and Honeysuckle. I’d side with Benie Des Dieux and I think she is one of the Irish bankers of the week. Since joining Willie Mullins in 2016 she is unbeaten when standing up. She fell in last years race when looking to have the race at her mercy. She won in great style last time out and will be very hard to beat in this race.


Samantha’s Selection- Honeysuckle is a nice mare but BENIE DES DIEUX wins for me.”


Luke’s Selection- “I’d side with BENIE DES DIEUX and I think she is one of the Irish bankers of the week.”

Northern Trust Company Novices Handicap Chase (Listed)

This is a really tight race for novice chasers over a distance of two miles and four furlongs.


Mick Channon has a nice horse in Hold The Note. He was a very good second at Warwick in January and was only just beaten. He finished ahead of Whatmore and Highest Sun. He was second last at Newbury last time so will need to improve from that. Dan Skelton has two representatives and Beakstown seems to be the favoured. He earned his place in my 20 To Watch because he looked a ready made chaser last season. He’s been beaten by Sam Spinner, Champ and Mister Fisher. This is a more winnable race. Knight In Dubai won at Bangor and Doncaster before coming second to Sam Brown in a grade two. Champagne Court goes for a small yard and he won at Sandown and Plumpton before coming fifth to Simply The Betts at this track when Imperial Aura and Jarveys Plate ran. Imperial Aura was second. He’s so consistent and has been knocking on the door behind good horses.


Previous Cargo has top weight. He’s been second and third in grade twos on the last two occasions. Top weight will be difficult. Espoir De Guye has won his last two at Exeter and Ascot. He’s only six and has more to come from the Venetia Williams stable. Champagne Mystery has lots of 2s beside his name but he’s been significantly beaten on all occasions so it isn’t an attitude issue. He’s an unexposed sort. De Plotting She’d won by a neck to subsequent grade two winner Who Dares Wins at Plumpton for Suzi Best. He’s no mug.


Irish-


Five Irish runners head to post and none look as well handicapped as Galvin. The Gordon Elliot trained horse showed promise over hurdles and finished sixth in last years Ballymore at the festival. He switched to fences this season and showed bits of form. Last time out he finished second behind Salsaretta at Punchestown in November. He has been off since and I think this could have been the long term target. He runs off a fair mark of 142 and I think he will go close.


Samantha’s Selection- “I think BEAKSTOWN should hopefully be suited to this kind of race but it’s hugely competitive.”


Luke’s Selection- “I think Galvin could be well-handicapped.”

National Hunt Challenge Cup (Grade Two)

Purely for amateurs, this races conditions have been revised lately and it is now ran over three miles and five furlongs.


English-


The leading contender from the home team is Lord Du Mesnil. The owner owns a pubs nearby and it would be a lovely story for him to win. He’s gone from 122 to 153. Sam Waley-Cohen rides. Ocean Cove has Lisa O’Neill riding which instantly boosts his chances. Noel George is a good jockey and hasn’t partnered Springfield Fox before but the horse has won his past two. Lamanver Pippin won comfortably last time and is from the Colin Tizzard camp.


Irish-


Four Irish runners head to post with three of them towards the top of the betting, Carefully Selected, Ravenhill and Forza Milan, who has got the eye catching jockey booking of Derek O’Connor. This race has cut up badly and I think if Carefully Selected gets around he will win. He is unbeaten over fences but hasn’t been impressive with some rather bad jumps along the way. He made a very bad mistake last time out three from home and was lucky to stay on feet. He beat Forza Milan on that occasion and I would expect him to uphold the form. Providing he gets around he looks to be another possible Irish banker on day one.


Samantha’s Selection- “Carefully Selected will be so hard to beat.”


Luke’s Selection- “Carefully Selected has had a few jumping scares but if he gets round he goes close.”

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