Cheltenham 2018: Ireland’s major Grade One hopes
All eyes on the stunning Samcro while quite a few throw their hat into Gold Cup ring
Samcro is one of the Irish bankers of the festival. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty
Tuesday March 13th
1.30 Skybet Supreme Novices Hurdle:
Getabird (W Mullins) 11-8 Fav
Mengli Khan (G Elliott) 8-1
Debuchet (M Mullins) 33-1
Paloma Blue (H De Bromhead) 12-1
Sharjah (W Mullins) 10-1
Suncroft (A Fleming) 33-1
Us And Them (J O’Brien) 40-1
Whiskey Sour (W Mullins) 25-1
Two of Willie Mullins’s finest stars, Vautuor (2014) and Douvan (2015) won the festival opener in style. Getabird also carries the colours of American owner Rich Ricci and won the same Punchestown race Vautour and Douvan did on-route to Supreme glory. If anything he won it even more impressively - beating Mengli Khan with aplomb.
Getabird surprised connections with the speed he showed that day and if predictions for softer than usual Day One ground are correct Mengli Khan could struggle to bridge the gap. Kalashnikov is rated best of the home team based on his big handicap success at Newbury last month. That looks a standard the top Irish hopes can best.
2.10 Racing Post Arkle Trophy:
Footpad (W Mullins) 11-8 Fav
Petit Mouchoir (H De Bromhead) 9-4
After Footpad’s winning debut over fences his trainer described him as being as impressive a jumper of fences as he’s ever had. That sort of billing guaranteed attention on his two subsequent Grade One starts and the former high-class hurdler hasn’t fluffed his lines.
He beat Petit Mouchoir in the Irish Arkle last month. Improvement is expected from the grey who had Footpad’s number over hurdles. It looks a different story over fences though. Footpad will be an ‘Irish banker’ for many.
3.30 Unibet Champion Hurdle:
Faugheen (W Mullins) 6-1
Melon (W Mullins) 12-1
Mick Jazz (G Elliott) 18-1
Wicklow Brave (W Mullins )14-1
Identity Thief (H De Bromhead) 100-1
Yorkhill (W Mullins) 8-1
Prior to Christmas the prospect of Faugheen V Buveur D’Air promised to be the clash of the festival. Faugheen’s November return to action after almost two years off looked like one of the highest-rated Irish hurdle stars ever was back to his imperious best. Then he ran at Christmas and had to be pulled up. Ever since this has looked Buveur D’Air’s to lose.
The reigning champion’s credentials look bombproof. In contrast faith in Faugheen requires a level of forgiveness that most serious punters will struggle to find. His subsequent Irish Champion Hurdle run was better. But Faugheen in his pomp would have kicked Supasundae out of his way.
And if Faugheen is a puzzle, Yorkhill looks a head-wreck. Brilliant but temperamental, he has flopped in two starts over fences this season. Maybe the switch back to hurdles will reignite that brilliance. But it’s impossible to predict that with any confidence.
Their stable companion Melon looks fragile and another, Wicklow Brave, is hard to catch. Mick Jazz took advantage of Faugheen’s Christmas flop. That might have been his day. Logically Buveur D’Air is impossible to oppose.
4.10 OLBG Mares Hurdle
Apple’s Jade (G Elliott) 4-6 Fav
Benie Des Dieux (W Mullins) 7-2
Meri Devie (W Mullins) 12-1
If Apple’s Jade lined up in Thursday’s Stayers against males she would likely start favourite given the 7lb sex allowance. Against other mares she will be banker in many festival accumulators. She won the race last year and has looked better than ever this season. Benie Des Deux is one of Willie Mullins contenders and is an ‘unknown factor.’ She and faces a form challenge to beat the very much known Apple’s Jade. They all do.
Wednesday March 14th
1.30 Ballymore Novices Hurdle:
As You Were (A Fleming) 25-1
Next Destination (W Mullins) 4-1
Tower Bridge (J O’Brien) 20-1
Samcro (G Elliott) 4-5 Fav
Real Steel (W Mullins) 18-1
Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated runner of the week won’t be in the Gold Cup or Champion Hurdle but rather it is the unbeaten novice Samcro. When Michael O’Leary tries to quell hype by insisting his young star isn’t Jesus Christ, there’s something unusual happening. But if Samcro wins like so many hope and expect even the Ryanair boss might concede he has something special.
Given the Gordon Elliott-Willie Mullins rivalry, the scene could be set for a classic head-to head up the hill as Next Destination is also a proven top-flight winner and comes with a big reputation too. But reputation-wise nothing goes to Cheltenham with a bigger one than Samcro. Plenty have been labelled a ‘second coming.’ You’d think we’d have learned by now but the hope remains Samcro can live up to his billing.
2.10 RSA Chase:
Al Boum Photo (W Mullins) 8-1
Bonbon Au Miel (W Mullins)14-1
Dounikos (G Elliott) 10-1
Monalee (H De Bromhead) 3-1
Presenting Percy (P Kelly) 5-2 Fav
Snow Falcon (N Meade)12-1
Rathvinden (W Mullins)14-1
Davy Russell’s commitments to owner Philip Reynolds means the season’s top jockey is on Presenting Percy rather than Monalee. Presenting Percy won the Pertemps in style last year and has hardly followed the traditional RSA route, winning a lost distance handicap chase in December, then a Grade Two hurdle and last month coming up short against the Gold Cup hope, Our Duke.
Through the winter one firm have been quoting prices on Monalee winning next year’s Gold Cup. After a fall at Christmas the former high class hurdler bounced back to win a Grade One last month. Black Corton looks to be the best of the British. But if Monalee really is a future Gold Cup contender he should be a major player in this.
3.30 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase:
Douvan (W Mullins) 7-2
Min (W Mullins) 11-4
Special Tiara (H De Bromhead) 14-1
Ordinary World (H De Bromhead) 33-1
Anyone tempted to think the English hot-pot Altior is past the post already should recall Douvan started a 2-9 favourite last year and never landed a blow. A pelvic problem was subsequently discovered and Douvan hasn’t had a race since. Yet after being ruled out for the season, and then not, the horse Willie Mullins reckons the greatest talent he’s trained is back ready to go.
Whether he can beat Altior off such a preparation is another matter. His stable companion Min was beaten here by Altior over hurdles two years ago and has never fully convinced in the top-rank. The defending champion Special Tiara runs in the race for a fifth year in a row. This looks a hot renewal but nothing is guaranteed at two-miles over fences.
5.30 Weatherbys Champion Bumper:
Blackbow (W Mullins) 6-1
Carefully Selected (W Mullins) 12-1
Rhinestone (J O’Brien) 10-1
Squadron Commander (W Mullins) 16-1
Tornado Flyer (W Mullins) 14-1
Felix Desjy (G Elliott) 14-1
It is five years since Willie Mullins had the last of his eight victories in this race and he is pursuing No. 9 in strength. The trainer had appeared to be particularly sweet on Hollowgraphic but he misses out. Blackbow represents similar connections to the 1997 winner Florida Pearl. Tornado Flyer didn’t win by far at Fairyhouse but the form has been boosted. He could be the best option.
Thursday March 15th
1.30 JLT Novices Chase:
Invitation Only (W Mullins) 4-1 Fav
Kemboy (W Mullins) 20-1
Shattered Love (G Elliott) 9-1
Invitation Only figures among the best Irish novice form, finishing third to Monalee at Leopardstown last month. Willie Mullins has won this for the last three years with Yorkhill, Black Hercules and Vautour. Shattered Love is a Grade One winner at three miles and gets a sex allowance. She can be a major player too. Modus and Terrefort look best of the home team.
2.50 Ryanair Chase:
Balko Des Flos (H De Bromhead) 6-1
Sub Lieutenant (H De Bromhead) 16-1
Un De Sceaux (W Mullins) 7-4 Fav
Michael O’Leary has finished runner up in his own race on four occasions and is anxious to finally get the job done. Balko Des Flos is a Galway Plate winner so the better the ground the better his chance. He also proved his Grade One credentials with a fine run behind Road To Respect at Christmas.
Ordinarily Balko Des Flos’ profile would look encouraging. But he’s up against no ordinary defending champion in Un De Sceaux. He isn’t quite the tearaway of yore but anything that manages to get past him will earn it. Un De Sceaux will be both a sentimental and financial favourite for many.
3.30 Sun Bets Stayers Hurdle:
Bacardys (W Mullins) 14-1
Penhill (W Mullins) 8-1
Supasundae (J Harrington) 7-2 Fav
Let's Dance (W Mullins) 10-1
Augusta Kate (W Mullins) 16-1
Ordinarily winning the Irish Champion Hurdle means Cheltenham’s Champion Hurdle is next on the agenda. However Supasundae’s surprise defeat of Faugheen last month hasn’t persuaded his trainer Jessica Harrington to swerve her season long plan of targeting this three-mile prize.
The son of Galileo won the Coral Cup last year, has placed Grade One form at the trip and is in the form of his life. Very soft ground however would not help him or last year’s Albert Bartlett winner, Penhill. The improving mare La Bague Au Roi could be an each way option on soft going.
Friday March 16th
1.30 JCB Triumph Hurdle:
Farclas (G Elliott) 7-1
Mr Adjudicator (W Mullins) 6-1
Sayo (W Mullins) 33-1
Saldier (W Mullins) 10-1
Stormy Ireland (W Mullins) 8-1
Scolardy in 2002 remains Willie Mullins’s only success in the juvenile championship but the champion trainer has realistic ambitions of bridging that gap. Mr Adjudicator has Grade One form but Stormy Ireland doesn’t have just topicality on her side. A 58 length win at Fairyhouse in December was spectacular. It could turn into a battle of the fillies as Apple’s Shakira, a sister to Apple’s Jade, is unbeaten and still looks on the upgrade.
2.50 Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle:
Ballyward (W Mullins) 14-1
Chris’s Dream (H De Bromhead) 12-1
Carter McKay (W Mullins) 16-1
Duc Des Genievres (W Mullins) 6-1
Duc Des Genievres did best of the rest when chasing home Samcro at Leopardstown in the Deloitte. A stamina test should be no trouble to him. We know for certain stamina is no problem to Chris’s Dream who pulverised admittedly weak opposition in a Clonmel Grade Three recently. On very soft ground he can be a major player. Chef Des Obeaux also handles heavy ground well and is proven at the trip. In a race that often turns into a war of attrition that could be crucial.
3.30 Timico Gold Cup:
Anibale Faly (T Martin) 25-1
Bachasson (W Mullins) 33-1
Djakadam (W Mullins) 16-1
Edwulf (J O’Brien) 14-1
Killultagh Vic (W Mullins) 8-1
Our Duke (J Harrington) 7-1
Road To Respect (N Meade) 9-1
Total Recall (W Mullins) 14-1
The temperamental favourite, Might Bite, has form at the track, both in terms of winning and ducking around. The reigning champion Sizing John is injured and will miss the festival. Native River may lack a little class so it’s not surprising quite a few are throwing their hat into the Gold Cup ring this year.
Sizing John’s trainer Jessica Harrington is still armed with Our Duke but his jumping is a concern around this stiff test while the same comment applies to Killultagh Vic who also lacks experience. If ground conditions dry out sufficiently, Road To Respect could be the each way option. Last year’s runner up Minella Rocco was fourth to Road To Respect at Christmas. Back to his best on better ground he looks a big price.