As always, the Festival gets off to a flyer, and I’ve got a great book of rides today. While it’s a lot to ask to repeat last year’s opening-day treble, I’m fortunate enough to have strong claims in all the main races.
The Champion Hurdle was supposed to see Faugheen marching on towards greatness, but fate stepped in to prevent that.
Annie Power has been drafted in to take his place, and will line up alongside stable companions Nichols Canyon and Sempre Medici.
There’s not much between Annie Power and Nichols Canyon, and Identity Thief’s form ties-in closely with theirs — for that reason I think the winner will come from those three.
We have never said Annie Power was a Faugheen or a Hurricane Fly, but she’s a very good mare, who gets a handy weight allowance.
She was second to More Of That in the World Hurdle in 2014 and fell at the last in the Mares’ Hurdle in 2015, so I’m hoping it’ll be third time lucky for her.
I have a lot of respect for Nichols Canyon, and the drying ground will suit him. Fair to say he’s coming here after two hard races, but he seems to have bounced right back to himself in the last fortnight, and will give a good account.
The improver in the race is Identity Thief, who stepped up a helluva lot from Down Royal to Newcastle. He had a very hard race behind Nichols Canyon at Leopardstown, but has been freshened up since.
Henry de Bromhead is a very good trainer, will have him primed for today, and should be bang there.
I think last year’s four-year-olds have not lived up to what people thought of them, and may struggle.
My Tent Or Yours, being a former runner-up in the race, brings the best piece of form to the table. His trainer, Nicky Henderson, is a master at bringing the best out of his horses at this meeting but getting this one to win after a near two-year absence would be the training performance of all training performances.
Long were the discussions of which of his stable companions would join Min in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Willie has gone with Bellshill rather than Yorkhill, and also runs Petit Mouchoir.
But that never mattered to me as I was always going to side with Min. He bolted in in a maiden hurdle, and followed up impressively in a Grade Two next time out.
The more the ground dries the more it will suit him. I’m not sure if he’s value at 7-4 but, that said, he’s the horse I want to ride.
Bellshill has four runs under his belt, and the fact the race is run at a very strong pace should suit as his stamina will come into play late on.
Bellshill is a good jumper and, even if he gets outpaced early, will be staying on late. Petit Mouchoir is better judged on his fine effort behind Long Dog than his latest run, which can be ignored.
He has each-way claims.
Of the opposition, Tombstone is a strong traveller but came up short in his last two races. Nicky Henderson has two big guns in Altior and Buveur D’Air. Altior was very good at Kempton, has pace and stamina, and is a very good jumper. Buveur D’Air is a fair sort, with solid form, but I’m hoping Min can bring his A-game, improve for decent ground and see them all off.
Douvan was brilliant when winning the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle here last year, and I’m hoping for a similar display in the Arkle. He was very good in all three starts over fences, his work is very good and he has schooled really well. While he is a ridiculously short price, he probably deserves to be.
He’s the best horse in the race. He just needs the average luck any horse needs in a chase.
Last year’s Mares’ Hurdle has painful memories, but I’m confident Vroum Vroum Mag can erase them this afternoon. She has done everything we’ve asked of her thus far but we still don’t know how good, or otherwise, she is. Her two runs over hurdles this season were very good, and her work has also been great. I think she’s really good and whatever beats her will win, though, honestly, I don’t think anything will beat her.
In fairness to her, she beat most of these at Ascot, and, though I shouldn’t say it, is the best mare in the race by a considerable margin. If this race was run at any other track at any other time of the year, you’d say she would be incredibly hard to beat. But this is Cheltenham, and that would always put a small doubt in your mind.
Willie also runs Gitane Du Berlais, but she has been in and out this season. Her last two runs were over fences, and she has been disappointing over hurdles. Realistically, Polly Peachum is the biggest danger.
Willie runs three in the four-miler, and Pont Alexandre looks the best of them. He won well at Punchestown, was second behind Roi Des Francs at Naas and would have been second behind Outlander at Leopardstown but for a bad mistake at the last. That form should ensure he goes very close. Measureofmydreams and Pleasant Company should appreciate this test, and have place possibilities.
I’m on McKinley in the Novice Handicap Chase, but it’s not your typical handicap as there are only four pounds between top and bottom weight and so, if the handicapper is right, this is going to be a very competitive race.
He will handle drying ground and, while he is in and out, he has won a Grade One hurdle. If I can somehow manage to get him doing his job, and he is on song, he could be well treated. He definitely has the class to go very close — if he decides he’s going to get involved.