JP McManus probably has upwards of 400 horses in training at any one time. Racing is a game of numbers and with that sort of firepower it is little surprise that he has a horse or two near the top of the betting in many of the high-class contests this week. But JP didn’t earn his nickname ‘The Sundance Kid’ by winning Grade One hurdles and Champion Chases and there is little doubt that the satisfaction he gets from having one ready for a big handicap still brings him his truest joy in racing.
It goes without saying that he has multiple entries in many of the handicaps this week and separating the geese from the swans is always an intriguing sub-plot at the festival. Here are four possibilities from the labyrinth that could play up into a lucrative green and gold ‘yankee.’
Dame De Compagnie (Coral Cup, Handicap Hurdle, today; Trainer: Nicky Henderson. Latest odds 11/1).
Although slightly long in the tooth at seven, Dame De Compagnie has only ever made six visits to a racecourse since moving from France to Nicky Henderson and in three of these, she was victorious. A classy looking mare with a good cruising speed and plenty of stamina, she won a listed event at Cheltenham in April 2018 before spending the next year and a half sidelined by injury. She ran very promisingly when a tenderly-handled fifth in her reappearance in the Greatwood Hurdle at the November meeting, normally one of the hottest handicap hurdles of the season. She confirmed her wellbeing next time out when easily landing a gamble, again at Cheltenham, and earned a rating that should get her safely into her chosen race this week. She hasn’t been seen since.
The Coral Cup always requires a horse with the tactical speed to manage the inevitable hurly-burly of a pacey contest and yet keep enough petrol in the tank to repel fast finishers up the hill. Dame De Compagnie seems to have these traits in abundance, and comes here lovely and fresh from a yard that knows how to hit the target after a lay-off.
Champagne Platinum (Kim Muir Handicap Chase, Tomorrow, 5.30, Trainer: Nicky Henderson. Latest odds 14/1).
A relatively lightly raced six-year-old son of Stowaway, Champagne Platinum has two remaining entries this week and is more likely to get into the Kim Muir on Thursday. He was bought at the Aintree Grand National sale for £250,000 after easily winning his only point to point start at Quakerstown.
Sent to Nicky Henderson, he won his first two races over hurdles before blowing out badly behind Klassical Dream in the Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown and wasn’t seen for nine months before embarking on three moderate chasing efforts this winter. In the last of these he was third to Itchy Feet, the long-term ante-post favourite for the Grade Two Marsh Chase tomorrow. He was dropped two pounds by the handicapper despite running on with more resolution than he’d previously shown and his rating of 135 gets him in near the bottom of the handicap. He wasn’t knocked around in any of his races and he could prove dangerous off this mark.
Front View (Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle, Friday; Trainer: Joseph O’Brien. Latest odds 6/1).
Unusually for a progressive five-year old handicap hurdler rated at 134 (plus 5lbs for the British levy on Irish trained horses), Front View has only one entry this week and that is in the concluding race, the Martin Pipe Hurdle. A decent bumper performer at four he opened his season with a promising second to the potentially great Envoi Allen at Down Royal after a six-month lay-off and followed this up with a solid looking win against two dozen opponents at Cork. He wasn’t seen again until running second in a Grade 3 at Thurles a couple of weeks ago when he was unluckily short of room when he came to make his challenge two furlongs from home. It was an eye-catching effort and good enough to earn a rating sure to get him into Friday’s race and if better luck is on his side this time, he should go close.
Ciel De Neige (County Handicap Hurdle, Friday; Trainer: Willie Mullins. Latest odds 10/1).
The racing secretary at Cheltenham must be running some kind of mischievous vendetta against punters and their patience by scheduling the County Hurdle and the Martin Pipe on the same afternoon, both needing PhD study routines to work them out. Like many other horses, Ciel De Neige has entries in both but the expectation is that the five-year-old son of Authorized will take his place in the County Hurdle.
Yet to win in four attempts for Willie Mullins since being acquired in France, his form nevertheless is rock solid. Third of 21 at this meeting last year behind Band of Outlaws in the Boodles (ex-Fred Winter) he had nine months rest before returning at the Fairyhouse Drinmore meeting last December. Easy to back he stayed on well close home, despite his rider having lost his whip at the second last.
Unlucky again to be short of room when subsequently runner up at Limerick next time out he then came close to winning the lucrative Betfair Hurdle at Newbury, but was left in front at the last which, ran around on the run in and was caught by the immensely talented Pic D’Orhy from the Paul Nicholls stable. There is absolutely no question that Ciel De Neige day will come and has surely a big pot in him somewhere in him. If things at last go his way, Friday could be the day.