The Ballykisteen Hotel in Tipperary was the venue for this year’s charity Cheltenham Festival preview night. A shrewd panel looked at the major races of the festival and also gave their thoughts on the festival handicaps and a fancy for the festival top jockey. The panel on the night consisted of:
- Pat Healy
- Pat Brennan
- Enda Bolger
- Tom Mullins
- Tommy Lyons
- Tom Hogan
We’ve put together their thoughts on the 2017 festival:
Festival DAY 1
1.30 Tuesday – Supreme Novices Hurdle
Melon, trained by Willie Mullins has been this year’s “talking horse”. He is well regarded by his trainer and by the punters and the bookmakers who have taken cover and priced him up as favourite in a wide open but ultra-competitive opening race. The panel were not convinced by Melon’s maiden victory at Leopardstown and think he is underpriced in the market. The race could fall apart as some horses toward the head of the market may be re-routed.
Enda Bolger thinks C&D winner Moon Racer is the one to be with in this race. This horse was beaten just once in his injury interrupted career and that defeat came in a bumper last season. Both Tommy Lyons and Tom Hogan think Bunk Off Early can win this race for Willie Mullins and not the favourite. Just outstayed on ground that didn’t suit last time out against a strong staying stablemate, on good ground Bunk Off Early is fancied to prevail in the first. Although he may not run, Charli Parcs could take some beating if he runs, the 4yo is entered in the Triumph H’dle and a decision won’t be made on him until closer to the race.
2.10 Arkle Nov’ Chase
There was a unanimous verdict that Altior will win this race. The Nicky Henderson horse has beaten all before him this season and looks impossible to beat. Two horses that the panel think can outrun their big prices and finish in the money are Royal Caviar and Le Prezien. Both Enda Bolger and Pat Brennan think Royal Caviar is improving and can run a big race if getting over his fall last time out at Leopardstown. With lots of horses still to come out of the race, the panel felt at double figure prices Royal Caviar and Le Prezien can run well for e/w players.
3.30 Champion Hurdle
The feature race on day 1, the panel was split on their selections. Pat Brennan thought Irish Champion hurdle winner Petit Mouchoir is coming into the race in great shape and thinks he can take the spoils for Waterford trainer Henry de Bromhead and add to his two Grade 1s this season. Tommy Lyons thinks Yanworth can deliver for trainer Alan King and added that he felt the Champion Hurdle will be run to suit him with a strong gallop being set by Petit Mouchoir. Tom Hogan thought Buveur Dair can give Nicky Henderson a quick double on day 1. Due to the pace in the race, Tom felt that a stayer is needed to win a Champion Hurdle and fitting the same profile as previous winner Rock on Ruby, Buveur Dair looks the horse to be on for Tom Hogan.
Festival DAY 2
1.30 Neptune Nov’ H’dle
This race divided opinion and the panel argued their cases for a number of horses. A popular choice was the Harry Fry trained Neon Wolf who won impressively at Haydock. Although he has a number of entries, this looks the most likely race provided the ground is on the softer side of good. Pat Brennan and Enda Bolger felt that Bacardys is the standout bet at double figure prices. Tommy Lyons thought Let’s Dance is one of the bets of the festival whatever race she is entered in. A strong galloping horse, Let’s Dance impressed with the way she galloped away from the field on her last run under Ruby Walsh. Towards the head of the market, the panel felt that Finian’s Oscar was not impressive on his last run and is probably too short in a very competitive looking race.
2.10 RSA Nov’ Chase
The Noel Meade trained Disko proved to be quite popular with both Tom Mullins and Enda Bolger. A recent winner of a Grade 1 at Leopardstown, the bold jumping grey is fancied to run a big race at potentially double figure odds. Coney Island might line up in the JLT Nov’ Chase but he is currently second in the betting for this race and Pat Brennan spoke highly of his run at Christmas when going down by a short margin in probably the strongest Novice Chase over 3 miles to be run in both Ireland and England this season. Lots of runners will line up elsewhere so at the current prices, Disko was the most popular choice.
3.30 Champion Chase
As with Altior on day 1, Douvan is said to be unbeatable. At his current price of 1/3, this race won’t be a betting proposition for most but one horse that the panel thought could outrun his odds is God’s Own. The Tom George trained 8yo is fancied to run well on ground that will suit and the panel advised an e/w play or a bet without Douvan.
4.10 Cross Country Chase
Enda Bolger saddles a number of runners but the favourite Cantlow was discussed by the panel. A short priced favourite, he is sure to be a warm order with punters who will want to side with the trainer who has such a great record in this race. Enda himself spoke highly of Auvergnat and thinks he can run well over the 3m 6f as he just a 7yo. The younger legs may just prevail over the marathon distance and may be the one to trouble Cantlow.
5.30 Champion Bumper
The panel were convinced that this race goes to an Irish horse and focused on two horses in particular. Carter Mckay was an expensive purchase but has been a very impressive winner on both his starts to date. Tom Hogan spoke highly of this horse and said he is the best bet in the race while both Tom Mullins and Enda Bolger agreed. His win over 2m 3f ensures he will stay the trip and assured stayers go well in this race. At a bigger price Red Jack was the choice of both Pat Brennan and Tommy Lyons. A winner on his debut at Naas, at a double figure price he could be a great e/w bet.
Festival DAY 3
1.30 JLT Nov’ Chase
A competitive race to begin day 3, Yorkhill was deemed to be too short in the betting and value lies elsewhere. Coney Island will carry the hopes of Pat Brennan if he runs in this race while both Tommy Lyons and Tom Hogan thought Charbel can go very well at a double figure price. This horse was formerly trained by Tom Mullins who also backed up this horses claims. A horse who goes well fresh and will see out the trip, Charbel could be the e/w play in this race.
2.50 Ryanair Chase
Former winner Uxizandre made an eye-catching comeback from injury last time out. The “bounce factor” was spoken of as a worry for the panel but Tom Hogan thinks this C&D winner will improve from his first run back after a long absence. In front of Uxizandre on his comeback was Un De Sceaux who at the current prices was the pick of Pat Brennan. A winner of the Arkle and runner up in the Champion Chase last year, Pat thought that this horse ticks all the right boxes and will go off much shorter on the day. Tom Mullins thought Empire Of Dirt is one of the horses to back for the week. Owner Michael O’Leary has made no secret of his desire to win this race and after a win at the festival last year, Gordon Elliott will have this horse trained to the minute. Just beaten in the Irish Gold Cup last time out, he is primed for a big run.
3.30 Stayers H’dle
Shaneshill was the fancy of Pat Brennan for this race. A horse that boasts some great course form, the trip will be no problem and at the current prices, Pat thought this horse was the one to side with. Tommy Lyons thought Unowhatimeanharry is a worthy favourite and looks to be one of the bankers of the week. Tom Hogan agreed and called it one of his “bankers”. A winner of his last 8 races, Harry Fry’s horse has all the desired qualities one should for when trying to find a winner of this race. He is battle-hardened and can grind out a victory over the 3 miles trip. Snow Falcon was in the process of running a big race before falling 3 out against Unowhatimeanharry at Newbury in November and at the current prices he is fancied by Tommy Lyons to run well. Former Champion Hurdler Jezki looks more likely to turn up here than back over 2 miles and after a disappointing run at Gowran, Tom Mullins fancies him to improve vastly as he reckoned Jezki ran about 1 stone below his best. A return to good ground should suit and already a winner over 3 miles at Punchestown in 2015, he should run his race.
Festival DAY 4
1.30 Triumph H’dle
The panel were in agreement that this race revolves around the JP McManus owned pair Defi Du Seul and Charli Parcs. The Philip Hobbs trained Defi Du Seul has already won 3 times at the track and justifies his place at the head of the market. Charli Parcs is not certain to run here as he also has an entry in the Supreme Novices on day 1 but should he turn up in this race, Enda Bolger felt that he will be half his current price on the day. As an e/w bet at a double figure price, Pat Brennan thinks Dinaria Des Obeaux is sure to run a big race. Beaten by Mega Fortune at Leopardstown on his last run, Dinaria Des Obeaux made a very bad mistake a couple of hurdles from home before rallying strongly to finish 3rd.
2.50 Albert Bartlett Nov’ H’dle
Pat Brennan nailed his colours to the mast and made Death Duty his NAP of the week. Improving with every run, he has won his Grade 1, 2 and 3 this season and is one of the Irish bankers of the week at his current price. The Henry de Bromhead trained Monalee is a horse that Tommy Lyons thought can outrun his current double figure price. An impressive winner on terrible ground in Clonmel last time out, he will improve for the run and the better ground will suit him. The panel were in agreement that Death Duty is a worthy favourite and will take some beating.
3.30 Gold Cup
The feature race of the week sees Djakadam as the one that the panel have decided upon as the best bet in the race. He has had a better prep than last year and will arrive into the race fresh. Having been runner up in the last 2 renewals it could be a case of 3rd time lucky for Djakadam. Cue Card is deemed to be too old to win this race by the panel and current favourite Native River could turn up a tired horse according to Tom Mullins. He has been on the go since November and after some impressive performances carrying big weights, it could be that a fresher horse gets the better of him. Outlander was an impressive winner of the Lexus Chase at Christmas and he will be on many punter’s shortlist as he bids to give Gordon Elliott a second consecutive win in the race. Outlander had several of his Gold Cup rivals finish behind him at Christmas and at the current price he is seen as a solid e/w bet. After much debating, Djakadam was the majority vote by the panel.
4.10 Foxhunter Chase
On The Fringe is bidding to win this race for a 3rd time and Enda Bolger spoke highly of his horse. The yard are very pleased with how he is working and his comeback run at Leopardstown against a race fit Foxrock was very pleasing. Tom Hogan spoke highly of On the Fringe and said he felt the short priced favourite would have no problems in taking the race. Pat Brennan thought Wonderful Charm would give the favourite most to think about and rates a huge danger. Pacha Du Polder was in the headlines last year as he was ridden by Olympian Victoria Pendleton in this race. A 5th place finish was probably disappointing as he was full of running at the end and Tom Mullins rated him as having a serious chance at finishing a lot closer to the winner this year and maybe even beating him.
Panel Handicap Fancies
Pat Brennan – Diamond King – Brown Advisory Plate H’Cap Chase 4.10 Day 3
Tommy Lyons – Diamond King – Brown Advisory Plate H’Cap Chase 4.10 Day 3
Tom Hogan – The Storyteller – Coral Cup H’Cap H’dle 2.50 Day 2
Tom Mullins – Scoir Mear – Coral Cup H’cap H’dle 2.50 Day 2
Enda Bolger – Yanworth
Tom Mullins – Empire Of Dirt
Tom Hogan – Neon Wolf
Tommy Lyons – Let’s Dance
Pat Brennan – Coney Island (JLT Nov’ Chase) /Diamond King*
(If Coney Island does not run in the JLT, Pat’s selection is Diamond King)