Find out who our experts are tipping for day two of the Cheltenham Festival 2023
This race at the intermediate trip is caught in the space between possible runners who could drop to 2m for the Supreme or go up to 3m for the Albert Bartlett and, perhaps more than ever, this year’s final field is hard to predict. Sir Gerhard or Dysart Dynamo would assume favouritism if sent here by Willie Mullins, but as usual the festival’s top trainer has plenty of options, including Kilcruit, State Man and El Fabiolo. He also has Minella Cocooner, who looks one of the more likely candidates after his Grade 1 win over 2m6f at the Dublin Racing Festival. Henry de Bromhead has Journey With Me in the Bob Olinger colours, Gordon Elliott’s chief candidate is Grade 1 winner Ginto and another interesting possible is Grade 1 Challow winner Stage Star for Paul Nicholls.
This is shaping up as another fascinating Britain v Ireland battle with Paul Nicholls’ Bravemansgame for the home side and the Willie Mullins-trained Galopin Des Champs for the visitors. There is little between them on Racing Post Ratings and both are Grade 1 winners over fences, just as they were in their novice hurdling campaigns, although Galopin Des Champs is the only one with a festival victory to his name, having landed the Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle last year. Bob Olinger, last year’s Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle winner, would have a big chance here for Henry de Bromhead but looks set to go for the Turners Novices’ Chase on Thursday. Lucinda Russell’s Ahoy Senor, whose career score against Bravemansgame stands at one-all, would add another intriguing element if he is sent here, although he could be held back for Aintree. Mullins has other possibles in Capodanno and Jungle Boogie, while Nicholls also has Threeunderthrufive, and there are several Gigginstown-owned stayers in the mix, including the Gordon-Elliott-trained Fury Road.
Only three favourites (outright or joint) have won this highly competitive handicap hurdle in 28 runnings. The most recent was Dame De Compagnie (5-1 in 2020), who was only the third winner at single-figure odds since 2004. This race tends to suit younger, less exposed types, and the number of hurdles runs is a key factor. Son Of Flicka in 2012 (with 22) is the only winner in the last 14 renewals to be into double figures. Last year Heaven Help Us was having her seventh outing over hurdles and came to the festival after winning a competitive mares’ handicap hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival that featured two other festival winners last year (Telmesomethinggirl and Mrs Milner). That same mares’ handicap hurdle went this year to the Gordon Elliott-trained Party Central, who has scored over 2m4f and could run here, although the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle looks more likely. Elliott has other possibles including Grand Roi, I A Connect and Saint Felicien. Good Time Jonny (Tony Martin) and Winter Fog (Emmet Mullins) are in the reckoning for shrewd Irish trainers. British hopes include Ascot handicap hurdle winners Good Risk At All (Sam Thomas) and Unexpected Party (Dan Skelton).
Shishkin v Energumene II promises to be a festival highlight after the first instalment in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot lived up to all the hype. Only a length separated the top-class two-milers at the line as Shishkin swooped late under Nico de Boinville to deny the pace-setting Energumene and Paul Townend. That leaves the Nicky Henderson-trained Shishkin’s unbeaten record intact as he heads to the rematch on a 11-race winning streak, including festival victories in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Arkle Chase. Willie Mullins’ Energumene has yet to run at Cheltenham, having missed an Arkle clash last year through injury, but his connections and fans will be hoping the shorter trip here will help him to turn the tables from their Ascot showdown. Let’s not forget Mullins has another highly rated challenger in Chacun Pour Soi, who is back for another go after last year’s disappointing third as odds-on favourite. The Dan Skelton-trained Nube Negra, runner-up last year, also tries again and so does Paul Nicholls’ 2021 fourth Greaneteen, but really most eyes will be on the big two as they square up to each other again.
This unusual event has had classy winners recently with triple scorer Tiger Roll (2018, 2019 and 2021) and the French-trained Easysland, who beat Tiger Roll into second by 17 lengths in 2020 before the placings were reversed just as emphatically (18 lengths) last year. Both have been rated close to Grade 1 standard at their peak. Tiger Roll’s trainer Gordon Elliott has been the one to watch since the race was changed to a conditions event in 2016, having previously been a handicap. He had the runner-up in 2016, a one-two in 2017, two wins with Tiger Roll (last year Elliott was suspended and his yard’s runners handled by Denise Foster) and the second and third (Tiger Roll and Out Sam) behind Easysland in 2020. Tiger Roll and Easysland (who has moved from France to Jonjo O’Neill’s yard) are set to renew their rivalry but they face a stiff challenge from some new rivals. Chief among them is the six-year-old Prengarde, who became the new French star in this discipline and was bought by JP McManus (also Easysland’s owner) to join Enda Bolger, while Elliott is also set to run the high-class Delta Work.
With the move from Friday to Wednesday, this race had a significant change last year by switching from the New course to the Old. The Old course is slightly sharper and tighter, favouring a quicker, strong-travelling type, and 14-1 winner Sky Pirate was described in the Racing Post comments as “prominent on inner” and “travelling strongly”. The quality of this 2m handicap chase has improved year on year and nine of the last 11 winners were rated at least 140 (2019 winner Croco Bay was just below at 139). Nine of the last 13 British-trained winners had won at Cheltenham before, including Sky Pirate. This has been a good race for novices with 14 winners since 1983, with Sky Pirate adding to the total last year. The big stables have likely types in Ciel De Neige (Willie Mullins), Coeur Sublime (Henry de Bromhead) and Buddy Rich (Gordon Elliott) but there is plenty of hope for other yards with Brave Seasca and Frero Banbou (both Venetia Williams), Amarillo Sky (Colin Tizzard) and the returning Sky Pirate.
This race has long been dominated by the Irish and in recent years it has developed into a battle between Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott, their top two trainers. Between them, they have saddled the last five winners and Sir Gerhard’s victory for Mullins last year came only after a late switch to his stable following Elliott’s suspension. The two big rivals have the standout candidates again in the Mullins-trained Facile Vega, son of festival legend Quevega and an impressive Grade 2 scorer at the Dublin Racing Festival, and Elliott’s American Mike, who has been kept fresh since putting down his own strong marker at Navan just before Christmas. Mullins, who is going for his 12th success in this race, has his usual long list of options including Redemption Day, James’s Gate and Mercurey, while Elliott also has recent winners Music Drive and Imagine. Britain, which had the most recent of its rare successes in 2016, has outside chances in Our Jester (Hughie Morrison), Poetic Music (Fergal O’Brien) and Mullenbeg and Rosy Redrum (both Milton Harris).