As the Cheltenham Festival edges ever closer – it runs from Tuesday March 10th to Friday March 13th – here are my four selections to put into a Lucky 15 for the big meeting.
DON’T FORGET that Bar One Racing have been Non Runner/No Bet in all races at the Festival since 10am on February 10th and that they will be BOOSTING the price of the favourite on the live shows in every race at the Cheltenham Festival – see ads further down this page for more info.
NATIONAL HUNT CHASE (Tuesday 10th March)
Gordon Elliott looks to have a major contender on his hands here in the shape of CHAMPAGNE CLASSIC, who was a massive eye catcher behind Battleoverdoyen last-time out in the Neville Hotels Grade One over Christmas. Champagne Classic closed all the way to the line and looks the type to really improve for a thorough stamina test.
His form over the larger obstacles has improved from run to run and has a very nice look to it. The Ten Up Novice Chase at Navan in February 2019 is form that has been well tested and looks very strong. Chris’s Dream was the winner that day and since that he has won the Troytown, also at Navan, and last weekend (February 15th) he was impressive, winning the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park.
Any Second Now, who finished third in the Ten Up Novice Chase, went on to be successful at the Cheltenham Festival last season in the Kim Muir and he his well up the market for the Ultima this time around.
Champagne Classic has won two chases this season, beating Captain CJ and The Long Mile at Fairyhouse, who have both obliged since, and then had Roaring Bull in behind him at Wexford and we all know what Roaring Bull did at Christmas due to an excellent commentary by Jerry Hannon.
I’ll be intrigued to see what Gordon Elliott does with Champagne Classic in the coming seasons if he can win here. Does he have the class for a Gold Cup or is he a Grand National horse to follow in the footsteps of his stablemate Tiger Roll?
The National Hunt Chase looks tailor-made for him and it will take a good horse to get past him up the hill. Gordon has won this race three times – Chicago Grey (2011), Cause Of Causes (2015) and Tiger Roll (2017).
One of the bets of the week for me.
(Price as at 2pm on Monday 17th February – 4/1)
BALLYMORE NOVICE HURDLE (Wednesday 11th March)
Anyone who attended the Dublin Racing Festival on Sunday February 2nd must have been very impressed by ASTERION FORLONGE and how well he got the job done moving up from a maiden hurdle to graded company on just his third run.
With Shiskin in the same ownership, it is likely that Asterion Forlonge will go head-to-head with Envoi Allen here and I am more than happy to take on one of the talking horses of the Festival.
Envoi Allen could possibly head to the Champion Hurdle, which could really leave the door ajar for the Willie Mullins inmate to be successful at Prestbury Park.
With the added bonus of Bar One Racing going Non Runner/No Bet on all 28 Cheltenham Races, it looks worth taking a chance at the forecast odds. Asterion Forlonge is an absolute beast in the flesh and looks like he will be a lovely chaser for next season. He quickened clear in the style of a very good animal under Derek O’Connor at Oldtown in his point-to-point and he looked one to keep a close eye on.
He proved that right when justifying very short odds of 1-4 to land his bumper in Thurles. He went to Naas next time out and absolutely bolted up by ten lengths and had Paul Townend suitably impressed.
The one noticeable thing for me is that he jumped right at times, which showed how green he was and still learning on the job. He took the Chanelle Pharma Grade One as his next step and won going away by nine lengths. Danny Mullins said after the race that he jumped both right and left throughout but had plenty in the tank and looks to have an engine.
I am excited by this horse as he could be very very good. The likes of Faugheen, Douvan and Vautour have all been superstars at Closutton and I think that, after Cheltenham, we will know much more about Asterion Forlonge and how good he really is.
My banker of the week.
(Price as at 2pm on Monday 17th February – 5/1)
CHAMPION BUMPER (Wednesday 11th March)
ISRAEL CHAMP has been on my radar since he won his point-to-point at Monksgrange and was touted as a horse to follow with a big reputation. The bubble slightly burst on his first run under Rules at Worcester, where he led off a slow pace and it didn’t really suit him at all. He had earplugs in that day as well so it suggested to me that maybe he was a bit fresh and would come on for the run.
That proved to be the case when he was very impressive at Cheltenham next-time out, where he made all the running and galloped them into submission. The form of that race doesn’t have an overly-strong look to it as Time Flies By, who finished second, has failed to produce anything decent in a couple of runs since. Bellevarde Express, who finished seventh that day, has won since so that is the only positive look from the race that we can take.
Israel Champ then turned up at Ascot in a Listed bumper and was even more impressive for me. The one thing that this horse will do is gallop and he just had them all at it and won very nicely.
David Pipe has opted to send Israel Champ straight to Cheltenham without another run and hopefully this will be vindicated.
The bumper division this season has yet to really catch fire. Willie Mullins may have the ace in the pack with Appreciate It but I would be happy enough to take him on at the forecast odds.
Israel Champ will be one of the bets of the week for me and I will be disappointed if he is not in contention turning for home and give them plenty to think about.
(Price as at 2pm on Monday 17th February – 10/1)
CROSS COUNTRY (Wednesday 11th March)
All the attention will be on Tiger Roll in this race, and that will be understandable as he has won the race for the last two years and could put in a bid to land a third-successive Aintree Grand National. However, the thing for me is that his French opponent, EASYSLAND, looks to be on the upgrade and could well give him a decent race.
He has recently been acquired by JP Mc Manus and is unbeaten in his last six starts. He arrived at Cheltenham in December and absolutely blew me away with the manner of his victory. He jumped and travelled away and galloped clear to win by seven lengths under Jonathon Plouganou and it was a superb run to say the least.
I have taken some fancy prices ante-post for this race and, for me, Tiger Roll will need to be on his A Game to get close. Easysland is only a six-year-old so there is plenty of improvement to come. His battling success last-time out at Pau last time out is something I wanted to see, he got into a battle and stayed on strongly when asked to win going away.
I am aware that the opposition will be more than just Tiger Roll at Cheltenham and that it will be a very competitive race, but I think Easysland is one of the up-and-coming Cross Country specialists and JP Mc Manus is aware of that and could have acquired a very special recruit to wear his colours.
(Price as at 2pm on Monday 17th February – 3/1)