Flagship Uberalles to continue winning way
Unless the evidence of an entire season has all the credibility of Cliff Richard at a heavy metal bash, then the second day of the festival will be the day of the hotpot. Flagship Uberalles and Monsignor may have a total of 24 horses running against them but it's hard to come up with any reasonable argument as to why either of them should be beaten. But then again, should is probably the most useless word in the language.
What we do know is that Flagship Uberalles, the white hot favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, has the clear beating of all his opposition on the form-book, is proven around the course and distance from last year's Arkle victory and has exhibited a stubborn hatred of losing that warms punters hearts. Put against that impressive CV a circuit of Cheltenham and a field of jockeys with eyes only for the slightest movement in the lanky frame of Joe Tizzard and maybe a shade of odds on does not overly appeal.
That is what Norman Williamson will be banking on. The rider of the second favourite Direct Route will have the best seat in the house as Direct Route has a hatred of the front that would do a general credit. The drying ground is also suiting Direct Route all the time.
Edredon Bleu will probably set scorch marks from the head of the field while the blinkered Irish hope Space Trucker will join Direct Route and The Outback Way at the rear. One serious mistake from the favourite will allow those horses right into it and change the complexion of the race. However, that is the negative way of looking at it and there have been nothing but positives about Flagship Uberalles all season. Expect it to remain that way.
If anything, Monsignor has an even bigger reputation with Williamson predicting last year's 50 to 1 Bumper winner is "a potential superstar" when he switches to fences. Unbeaten this season and with the form-book saying the English opposition are already beaten, Monsignor is being touted as a SunAlliance Hurdle winner in the mould of French Holly or Barton.
A slight worry is how could a potential superstar have been allowed to start at 50 to 1 at last year's festival but that is probably just a niggling quibble. Of more interest will be the Irish challenge from No Discount and Oa Baldixe. Just half a length and a stewards inquiry separated the pair at Naas last time with No Discount getting the verdict.
He will be just Charlie Swan's second festival runner as a trainer and a worrying tendency to jump to his right has been put down to a vertebrae problem in a wither. If that has been sorted out, he can confirm the form with Oa Baldixe who nevertheless should improve significantly. If Monsignor is as good as he might just be, it's hard to see either Irish horse actually beating him however.
In contrast there are high hopes of an Irish success in the SunAlliance Chase, a race in which the visitors have a poor record. Native Upmanship and Alexander Banquet are our pair but there are question marks against them which do not suit a first and second favourite. Native Upmanship is unproven at the trip and his jumping can be sloppy early, a tendency that will be ruthlessly exposed if repeated here, while Alexander Banquet was reported stiff last week after a piece of work. The Mullins horse could be the best of ours but a value alternative could be Soldat who has the early pace to travel well in a race like this.
All of which is not to say that the Irish are going to have a blank day. Far from it with Tony Martin around. Over the last two seasons, the Meath trainer has saddled 22 runners from 46 starters in his British expeditions. Three times a winner as a jockey here, he now looks poised to land a double of winners as a trainer. He rides Fandango de Chassy in the four-mile chase and this horse's pedigree suggests he is crying out for a trip. The pace should also suit his jumping and with Martin on board, he looks the bet of the day.
Martin could also provide the solution to the Coral Cup with the Swan-ridden Ross Moff who looks an ideal type for this ultra-competitive race while don't ignore Edward O'Grady's Nicholls Cross in the Mildmay Of Flete.