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day 2 cheltenham wednesday 13th march 2013


We have had the winner of this race for the last two years, so hopefully this will be the hat-trick. This race is a tough test for a novice and it certainly pays to follow the older generation as we have to go back to the 1980s to find a winner aged under seven. Also experience counts as the last 11 winners had run 66 times over fences prior to winning this race, with 9 winners having run at least 4 times over fences.

VESPER BELL has looked good so far over fences, jumping well on all three starts and looks and out and out stayer. After making a pleasing debut over fences, he stayed on very well to beat the useful You Must Know Me at Punchestown who had previously run Boston Bob close. He then stepped up in trip to three and a half miles and ran a respectable race to finish third under top weight in a handicap. Willie Mullins believes this horse will stay four miles and has targeted this race for some time and he has a touch of class (placed in Grade One over hurdles), so should run well. He may have most to fear from his stable-mate BACK IN FOCUS, who has looked very good so far over fences. I was very impressed with his debut over fences, where he jumped really well from the front and galloped his rivals into the ground. He then stayed on well to win at Punchestown and then showed a good attitude to win at Leopardstown over Christmas. He looks the best horse in the race, but looks well suited to heavy ground and it is just a question of how he handles the likely better ground, but this trip will make it a serious test of stamina which will help him. TOFINO BAY is another classy Irish raider to be given serious consideration. He has run six times over fences and run well each time, including defeating the useful Aupcharlie at Naas. He jumps and stays well and crucially he likes to run up with the pace, which I feel is an advantage in amateur races. Nina Carberry has the ride and I expect him to run very well.



Five and six year old really dominate this race and it is very important to back an inform runner as 28 of the last 29 winners finished in the first two last time out. That statistic is backed up by the fact that 10 of the last 11 winners started at 12/1 or less.

Two horses dominate the betting for this race and both look top class recruits to hurdling. THE NEW ONE was very impressive on his hurdling debut at Newton Abbot and then stayed on strongly to win at Cheltenham on ground that he is likely to face again in this. Next time out he looked top class when destroying a decent field at Warwick and even though he could only finish second last time out, it was a good run, as he quickened well to win the race, but the jockey admitted that he made a mistake and used his speed too soon. He will have learned from that and looks a solid contender for this. Pont Alexandre has also looked very good this season. A winner on good to soft ground in France, he looked exceptional on his Irish debut, easily winning a Grade One race on heavy ground. He then backed that up with another easy win and is clearly a very exciting horse. These two set a high standard, but it is not a two horse race and at a bigger price TAQUIN DU SEUIL is of interest. He has experience from the flat and in four starts over hurdles, he has been beaten just once and that was when trying to give My Tent or Yours five pounds at Ascot. He has since gone on to win the grade One Challow Hurdle and connections are confident that he will run very well.



This is a strong race from a trends point of view as only 3 winners this century had run less than 4 times over fences, only 2 were not seven year olds and only 2 had ever finished out of the first 3 when completing over fences. This is also backed up by the fact that all of them had finished in the first two, last time out. It is also very important to have run in the same calendar year, as we have to go back to the 1960s to find a winner that had not done so and proven class has become more important as the last 10 winners had already been placed in a Grade 1 or 2 race.

I have some serious doubts about the stamina of the market leaders, so am going to focus lower down the betting. HOUBLON DES OBEAUX has gained plenty of experience over fences and ran a fine race last time to finish second to the classy Rocky Creek at Ascot. He stayed on well that day, so this trip should play to his strengths. Earlier in the season he impressed when beating Poungach easily at Wincanton and was also not disgraced when trying to give weight to Harry Topper at Newbury. Another outside to consider is SIRE COLLONGES who stayed on well to win at Cheltenham back in October. He is a tough front runner that jumps well and appeals as the sort of horse who will thrive in this race and beat many of his higher profile opponents. TERMINAL is another outsider to consider. He has run well on all three starts over fences, improving each time and I was really impressed with him last time out when stepped up to three miles and pulling clear of the useful Tofino Bay. 33/1 is an insult to him and he can reward each-way punters.



There are a few strong trends in this race. Firstly, 8 of the last 11 winners won last time out, secondly 10 of the last 11 had won a Grade One Chase and thirdly no winner this century started at greater than 10/1. Also, Finian’s Rainbow is the only winner of this race since 1994 to have not already either won at Cheltenham over fences or won over at least 2m2f over fences.

SPRINTER SACRE sets a very high standard in this and is very difficult to oppose. So far he has run seven times over fences and won them all and has looked very impressive this season. His victory in the Tingle Creek was top class and he again impressed last time out in the Victor Chandler at Cheltenham. Arkle winners have a good record in this race and having already proved he handles Cheltenham well, it would be a major shock if he was to be beaten.



Another very competitive handicap, but my main fancy is PROSPECT WELLS. He was classy on the flat and has taken well to hurdles and stayed on strongly to finish fifth in the Supreme Novices Hurdle last year. The extra distance of this race should suit as shown by his good win last time out. COTTON MILL was in the process of going Simonsig a race of it last year at Cheltenham and having made such a pleasing seasonal debut, can be expected to put up a bold show and has to go on my short list.



There are a few interesting trends to consider here, firstly 5 of the last 7 winners, won last time out, secondly 7 of the 8 winners of this race were rated between 124 and 133 and finally 7 of the 8 winners had lost their first two starts over hurdles.

BORDONI fits the trends perfectly for this and both Denis O’Regan and John Ferguson are very confident about his chances. In fact at a recent Cheltenham preview evening I organised, John Ferguson put him up as his charity bet. A dual winner on the flat, including on good to firm ground, he has taken well to hurdling and was very impressive last time on soft ground. He was a good stayer on the flat, so should be suited by this test and clearly handles any ground. He is a fascinating runner. MEGALYPOS could prove a big threat as Nicky Henderson rates him as his handicapper to follow for the week. He ran three times over hurdles in France and was running a good race on his British debut, but was badly hampered in that Grade One race and could not recover. The handicapper therefore may not have been able to accurately assess him and he could be well-in.



There is a very interesting statistic for this race and it is that in 20 runnings of the race, it has been won by an Irish bred horse 16 times. It is also very important for your fancy to have won a race with 14 runners or more as 16 winners had done so and to be in form as 10 of the last 11 won last time out.

GOLANTILLA fits the trends well here and was very impressive on his sole run, where he pulled 13 lengths clear of the pack. He stayed on well that day and despite the ground being heavy, recorded a fair time. He should run well in this. REGAL ENCORE really impressed me at Chepstow last time out, where he cruised to an easy victory. The way he was ridden told me that McCoy knew he was on a really good horse and he should not be under-estimated. LE VENT D’ANTAN earned good reviews after his victory at Leopardstown and he falls into the `could be anything’ category. Connections believe he could be very good and he could run a big race.