Friday 6.00pm Main activity on the Cheltenham front being in the mare’s novice hurdle with Paddy Power now going Evens Let’s Dance and 9/2 Airlie Beach!
Here’s a thought shared by two wise men:- Rory Delargy Retweeted Marten Julian @martenjulian “I call tomorrow Black Saturday. The day trainers give their Cheltenham hopes that final piece of serious work. Can precipitate a problem.”
@RacingPost Coney Island, 6-1 second favourite for the RSA Chase and a 10-1 shot for the JLT Novices’ Chase, will miss the Cheltenham Festival. Bruised foot.
Declan Rix @HawkWing2002 Kim Bailey has confirmed Charbel for the Arkle. Right call for me, looks a proper two-miler.
Cheltenham Previews according to twitter!!
Someday for Jessica Harrington is the best bumper horse in the country according to Davy Russell
Saturday Lucky 15
Newbury 1.30 HELLO GEORGE 6/1general
Newbury 3.15 OLDGRANGEWOOD 3/1 general
Doncaster 3.35 DEFINITLY RED 10/3 WH 3/1 general
Newbury 4.25 GALA BALL 7/4 general
and here’s why
Newbury 1.30 HELLO GEORGE Philip Hobbs must be liking these “Senior” handicap hurdles having won the last one at Taunton with the lightly raced Verni and he seems to have a similar type in 8yo Hello George. Back in the day Hello George was sent off at just 6/1 to win the Listed Lanzarote handicap hurdle but his last run on New Years Day was his first for fourteen months and although not without promise he could ‘bounce’ but the mercurial Hobbs normally manages to find improvement. Could be well in here off just OR121 and Richard Johnson in the plate. Hello George seems to go on any ground, the trips ideal and if he has retained his ability he’s better than Class 3. Wouldn’t surprise me if Dan Skelton’s 10yo warrior Willows Saviour is the main danger.
Newbury 3.15 OLDGRANGEWOOD Was going to put this up Ante Post but didn’t think it big or clever putting up the favourite for a Saturday handicap but quite happy to put him in the Lucky 15. He was unlucky when brought down at Haydock when travelling like a winner otherwise he would be chasing a five timer. Probably one of the most solid performers in the Skelton yard this season, he jumps, travels, has a high cruising spirit and a large will to win. I love him.
Doncaster 3.35 DEFINITLY RED Just like Oldgrangewood I was going to put this up Ante Post but didn’t think it big or clever putting up the favourite for a Saturday handicap but quite happy to put him in the Lucky 15. Thought he was unlucky to unseat in the Peter Marsh at Haydock when hampered three out as at the time I thought he was the one who would have got closest to Bristol De Mai. Don’t think the handicapper has completely got him and3m2f round Town Moor on rain softened ground is spot on. Ellison has some useful NH horses in his yard currently and this is one of the best and not many riding better in the North than the very positive Danny cook.
Newbury 4.25 GALA BALL As with many from the Hobbs yard he could do with brushing up his jumping! He has the engine and I think will progress beyond C3. So with the Champion jockey riding and just four opponents I think Gala Ball can learn on the job and simply outclass these. Could make up into an Aintree player.
Friday Lucky 15
Nice start then two who weren’t off a yard! Probably the ground. Still just about doubled your money especially if on last night at guaranteed prices.
Doncaster 2.50 TIQUER 1st 3/1
Another Fehily master class. Raced three wide by choice, led five out, kicked on and race was over, saw it out well.
Newbury 3.50 BEHIND THE WIRE 1st 7/2
Prominent throughout, lot of time in the air over fences but safe, big drift in the market but outstayed these.
Newbury 4.20 HADFIELD 5th 10/1
Held up in rear, beaten three out. Never competitive,
Newbury 4.55 BALLY GILBERT PU 6/1
Took it up after the first and led to three out when he fell in a hole and was eventually pulled up.
Cheltenham News starts right here!
Donn McClean picks out Irish handicappers to follow March 02 2017, 19:4Isleofhopendreams (Willie Mullins)
Presenting Percy has been the fashionable Irish horse for the Pertemps Final for a while. Owned – like last year’s Pertemps hero Mall Dini – by Philip Reynolds, and trained by Pat Kelly, who produced last year’s winner at concert pitch on the day, the Sir Percy gelding ran an encouraging race to finish fourth in the Punchestown qualifier in early February, and he put up a good performance to win over two and a half miles at Fairyhouse on Saturday. However, he was raised 10lb by the Irish handicapper for that run, and he was raised another 6lb by the British handicapper, which leaves him on a mark of 146 for the Pertemps. That leaves him with a minimum of 11st 10lb to carry, and that is a hefty weight. He may still win it as he is highly-progressive, but he is short and Fingal Bay is the only horse to carry 11st 10lb or more to victory in the Pertemps since Good Prospect in 1976. Donn McClean picks out Irish handicappers to follow March 02 2017, 19:40
Isleofhopendreams may be a better option at a bigger price. Willie Mullins is not renowned for his prowess in handicaps at Cheltenham – of his 48 Cheltenham Festival winners (yes, 48), only six were in handicaps – but Isleofhopendreams could add to that tally. A little unlucky not to win the Leopardstown qualifier over Christmas, he stayed on well to win that Punchestown qualifier in early February, the one in which Presenting Percy was fourth.
The Irish handicapper raised him 11lb for that to a mark of 131, and the British handicapper has given him another 8lb, most of which he probably needed in order to assure him of his place in the Pertemps. The Punchestown qualifier is working out well. As well as Presenting Percy’s win on Saturday off a 1lb higher mark, the runner-up Sutton Manor ran out an impressive winner of a three-mile handicap hurdle at Thurles last week off a 4lb higher mark. Sutton Manor could be a player in the Pertemps too if he takes his chance, but Isleofhopendreams would meet him on 2lb better terms compared to their Punchestown run despite the fact that he beat him by over two lengths. Mullins’ horse is 10 years old now, but he is an unusual 10-year-old in that he has raced just 11 times over hurdles – he has had two lengthy spells on the sidelines – so he still has scope for further progression. And this is one of the handicaps in which older horses can do well. Donn McClean picks out Irish handicappers to follow March 02 2017, 19:40
Mall Dini (Pat Kelly)
It is disappointing on the face of it that Mall Dini has not managed to win in five runs over fences this season so far, but he could still be a big player in the Kim Muir, or in whichever race he contests at Cheltenham. Sent off as favourite for his last four races, all beginners’ chases, Philip Reynolds’ horse was probably going to finish just third behind Great Field at Gowran Park at the end of January before General Principle fell at the third last fence. However, that was over two miles, a distance that should have been well short of his best. Stepped back up to two and a half miles back at Gowran Park last time, he just kept on over the last two fences to finish third behind easy winner Bachasson with General Principle splitting the pair. Importantly, however, all five of his runs over fences have been on soft or heavy ground. Also, four of them have been over two or two and a half miles. He should do better back on better ground at Cheltenham and stepped back up in distance. The British handicapper has given the Pat Kelly-trained gelding a mark of 143, which is fair enough, just 2lb higher than his Irish mark. His Pertemps Final win tells you that he can operate at Cheltenham and that he can handle Cheltenham Festival conditions and, a seven-year-old who has run just five times over fences, he has plenty of scope for progression as a staying chaser. Donn McClean picks out Irish handicappers to follow March 02 2017, 19:40
Peregrine Run (Peter Fahey)
Peregrine Run has never run at the Cheltenham Festival, but he did win at the November meeting on his only run at the track. Peter Fahey’s horse was very good that day in winning a Grade 2 novices’ contest. Always travelling well through the race for Roger Loughran, he hit the front at the final flight and he kept on well up the hill to get home by a length and three and a half lengths from Wholestone and West Approach, with the three of them clear. The form of that race has obviously worked out really well since, with Wholestone going on to win two Grade 2 novice hurdles and West Approach running big races in the Long Walk Hurdle and in the Cleeve Hurdle in open competition. Those two horses are now rated 145 and 157 respectively. They were probably less exposed than Peregrine Run going into that race in November, but Peter Fahey’s horse is still feasibly handicapped on a mark of 142, just 2lb higher than his Irish mark. He may struggle in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle, but he would be interesting off that mark in the Coral Cup if connections chose to go down the handicap route. The King’s Theatre gelding didn’t run badly at Warwick last time in finishing third behind Willoughby Court and Saturday’s impressive winner Gayebury on ground that should have been softer than ideal for him. That was his first run since Novrmber and, back on better ground and back at Cheltenham, he could step forward again. Donn McClean picks out Irish handicappers to follow March 02 2017, 19:40
Diamond King (Gordon Elliott)
Diamond King is fairly obvious, but it would be difficult to leave him off this list. Gordon Elliott’s horse was a game winner of the Coral Cup at last year’s Festival under a typically patient ride by Davy Russell. His jumping in his beginners’ chase at Galway in October was really accurate for a chasing debutant, so it was no real surprise that he was sent off as favourite for the Grade 1 Drinmore Chase at Fairyhouse in early December on the back of that. It was a little disappointing at the time that he could only finish fifth in that, but it is strong novice chasing form. Coney Island won the race and A Toi Phil was back in sixth, and Diamond King probably would have been close to Alpha Des Obeaux in third place had he not made a bad mistake at the final fence. You can allow him his only run since, fourth behind Bellshill in the Grade 2 Shannon Airport Novice Chase at Limerick over Christmas, as the ground would have been softer that ideal for him. His BHA mark of 150 is 4lb higher than his Irish chase mark, but it is 5lb lower than his hurdles mark, and that gives him a chance. He has the potential to go beyond that mark now as a steeplechaser.
Diamong King holds an entry in the JLT Chase, but he would be of greater interest in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate. He should arrive at Cheltenham nice and fresh, having not run since that Limerick run on St Stephen’s Day. It is not insignificant that he went to the Festival last year for the Coral Cup off a similar break. Donn McClean picks out Irish handicappers to follow March 02 2017, 19:40
Dinaria Des Obeaux (Gordon Elliott)
Dinaria Des Obeaux would be an interesting outsider in the Triumph Hurdle, but she would also be of interest if she took her chance in the Fred Winter instead. The Gigginstown House filly was impressive in winning her maiden hurdle at Cork in December on her debut for Gordon Elliott, coming home well clear of her closest pursuer Tout Est Permis and clocking a decent time. Stepped up in class for the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown in February, she could only finish third that day behind her stable companion Mega Fortune and Bapaume, 10 lengths behind the winner. However, she would have finished closer to that pair had she not made a significant error at the second last flight, and there was a lot to like about the manner in which she kept on up the hill after that mistake to take third place. She needed the assistance of the stewards to win the Grade 3 juveniles’ contest at Fairyhouse on Saturday, but the first horse past the post that day, Ex Patriot, is a progressive sort, and the pair of them finished well clear of Landofhopeandglory and Mengli Khan. That is solid juvenile hurdling form. Her BHA mark of 139 is 6lb higher than her Irish mark, but she should still be competitive off that mark. She would have plenty of weight in the Fred Winter if, as expected, some of the top horses take up their Triumph Hurdle option, but a high weight is not a barrier to success in the Fred Winter. Seven of the 12 winners carried 11st or more, and Crack Away Jack won it under 11st 10lb in 2008. Dinaria Des Obeaux has run just the requisite three times over hurdles, she should appreciate the stiff test that Cheltenham presents, and Gordon Elliott knows what it takes to win the Fred Winter, having won it with Flaxen Flare in 2013. Donn McClean picks out Irish handicappers to follow March 02 2017, 19:40
Stable Talk with Neil Mulholland Friday 3rd March
We will start this week by looking back to a brilliant Saturday, with Pilgrims Bay winning the Betbright Handicap Chase at Kempton. He was a big price but it didn’t come as a surprise to me that he ran well, as I suggested he might in this column last week. The plan was for him to be held up in the early stages, and thankfully it worked out perfectly thanks to an excellent ride. The horse has always been a touch quirky as everyone knows, but that made it all the sweeter for James Best, who thoroughly deserved the biggest success of his career. We have been having a great season this year, with 91 winners to our name at the time of writing, but all trainers want those big Saturday winners so it was fantastic for the whole yard and connections to be able to pick up a nice pot. Pilgrims Bay has come out of the race in good form and the plan for him is the Ultima Handicap Chase on day one of the Cheltenham Festival.
Peter The Mayo Man ran a very solid race in the Dovecote Novices Hurdle to finish 3rd, and he continues to perform at a high level. Punchestown remains the main target, but he is entered for the Martin Pipe race at Cheltenham, so we will consider that over the next couple of weeks with one eye on the ground. We had an excellent day at Wincanton on Wednesday with Sleep Easy putting in a lovely display to win the 2m5f handicap hurdle. I was very happy with him and he could also go to the Martin Pipe race in a couple of weeks provided he gets in. I’m just thankful that I gave the horse an entry in the first place now!
Also on Wednesday, I was pleased to be at the Cheltenham handicap weights lunch where, as ever, the facilities were terrific. I can have no complaints about how the handicapper has assessed our horses, and now we will be keeping our fingers crossed they can all make it there in one piece. The Ultima Handicap Chase is looking particularly competitive on the first day of the Festival, with some very good horses likely to struggle to get a run. It could be the best renewal of that race ever, and with The Druids Nephew winning it 2015, we are hopeful he can make his presence felt once again. Elsewhere, Southfield Royale is in good form at home and he will go for the Kim Muir, whilst Impulsive Star is also ticking along nicely as he builds up for his tilt at the Pertemps Final. I have been asked plenty of questions about Shantou Village over the last few days, and at the moment his target does remain up in the air. He will be left entered in all the races until the last minute, with the ground the key to deciding where he appears. Looking ahead to the weekend, Goulanes will run at either Newbury or Doncaster and we are hoping he will have improved for his last run at Chepstow. He has been given an entry for the Midlands National, which is a race he won in 2014, so this weekend will hopefully be a stepping stone towards Uttoxeter.