Find out who our experts are tipping for day two of the Cheltenham Festival 2021
The field for this year's Ballymore is much smaller than usual but there is no dip in the quality of the main form contenders. BOB OLINGER was nicely in command from a very talented yardstick when winning a Grade 1 at Naas two months ago and might be too strong for Leopardstown Grade 1 winner Gaillard Du Mesnil here. The other top-level winner in the line-up, Bravemansgame, also has a significant role to play.
Absolutely ran away with a Grade 1 contest last time out at Naas to follow up a visually stunning maiden win at Navan. Both of those are stiff left-handed tracks so Cheltenham should suit him perfectly. He travels strongly and gave the impression last time that there is an awful lot more to come from him which he can prove by getting day 2 off to the perfect start.
He gave the Cheltenham bumper winner Ferny Hollow a good race on his hurdles debut over 2m and has hardly put a foot wrong since, including when hacking up in a Grade 1 at Naas last time. The runner-up that day, Blue Lord, was beaten less distance by Appreciate It at the weekend and I don’t think we have seen the best of Bob Olinger just yet.
Some of these novice chasers are smart types who would hold every chance in any normal year, but MONKFISH is an exceptional talent and looks bombproof. The impressive RPR he recorded in the Flogas is already above the usual standard that's required to win this race, and he's still improving. The Big Breakaway may be the selection's closest pursuer, provided he jumps better than last time. Eklat De Rire and Sporting John are the other main contenders for runner-up honours behind the Mullins horse, who is well clear on ratings.
Winner of the Albert Bartlett at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, he has made a spectacular start to his chasing career, a perfect 3/3 over the bigger obstacles. He has a superb mix of speed and stamina which make him very hard to beat over three miles and will be regarded as many to be the most likely winner of the entire four days.
One thing most winners of this have had is Cheltenham form and so perhaps the pick of the prices at the current time is Colin Tizzard’s The Big Breakaway, who looked tailor-made for this race when winning on his chase debut over course and distance in November.
Nicky Henderson goes for a third consecutive win in this race and a fourth in eight years. He has a strong hand too, with MONTE CRISTO and Craigneiche having won in virtually runaway style last time out. They have been raised 12lb but are still in their infancy as handicap hurdlers with him and look open to further major improvement. Preference is for Monte Cristo. The best of the Irish looks to be Henderson's former charge Grand Roi, for whom the move back up in trip holds serious interest, and he may be the chief danger. Koshari is not the cleverest jumper but he looks very competitive with a clear round, which could also be the case with his very unexposed stablemate Dysart Diamond. The Betfair Hurdle sixth Guard Your Dreams going beyond 2m for the first time completes the shortlist.
The other one I must have a few quid on is the Emmet Mullins-trained Sneaky Getaway. Once rated over 100 on the Flat, Sneaky Getaway warmed up for this with a good run on the all-weather and the trainer has won two of the biggest handicaps run in Britain already this season.
Having already suggested backing Botox Has at a big price, I’m certainly not underestimating him, but I do think punters tend to shy away from those at the head of the weights in races like this and Thomas Darby is a Grade 1-class horse running in a handicap. He was second in the 2019 Supreme and put up an even better performance the only time he’s ever run in a handicap when giving 7lb and a beating to the now 158-rated Song For Someone at Ascot. This race looks tailor-made for him and he ran really well on his warm-up run considering he’s never been at his best at Kempton.
The other one I’m backing is Shakem Up’Arry, whose form took a bit of a knock when Metier blew right out in the Supreme, but who is still interesting upped to 2m5f. Metier beat him easily in the Tolworth and was well beaten in the Supreme, but he was done with a long way out, so that can’t have been his running, and in any case Shakem Up’Arry was quite eyecatching when eighth in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury having been dropped in for the first time. He certainly stayed 2m3f when a close fourth from the front at Haydock in November (useful chaser Umbrigado was second), and was making ground rapidly last time at Newbury. I can see him running well at a big price.
Dysart Diamond may be the Mullins third string in the betting, but she is much more interesting than odds of 25-1 suggest. This mare stormed home in a 2m handicap at Leopardstown over Christmas and was made just 7-2 favourite to defy an 11lb higher mark in a 20-runner handicap at the Dublin Racing Festival, but could manage only 15th. That tells only half the story, though, as she was only just starting to get going when a rival fell right in front of her two out and nearly brought her down. Not surprisingly she wasn’t given a tough time after that and, given she is bred to be at least as effective at this trip, she is surely worth another go.
A strong traveller, he should be well suited to the way this race is run. He absolutely tanked through the Grade 2 River Don at Doncaster before failing to get home over three miles. Took advantage of the drop back to this trip last time out at Fakenham, the third an impressive winner at Sandown on Friday to give the form a timely boost. He was too keen in front at Kempton on his sole handicap run when disappointing but should settle much better here with hold up tactics suiting him much better.
I’m a sucker for a Gary Moore-trained horse in a handicap hurdle and Botox Has looks to have been primed for this race all season long. He is two from three at Cheltenham and at the start of the season he beat Allmankind easily. Things haven’t gone smoothly for him since but he was a big eyecatcher at Ascot last time when upped in trip and a couple furlongs more is going to improve him again.
Provided he takes to this course, Chacun Pour Soi has a good chance of giving Willie Mullins a belated first success in the Champion Chase. It may be clutching at straws but the unknown factor of Cheltenham is one reason to oppose him at short odds and look for an each-way alternative. NUBE NEGRA fits the bill and Put The Kettle On is another to consider seriously. Admirable grey Politologue has a good rating but he was left with little opposition in this contest 12 months ago, while First Flow is progressive but may be disadvantaged by drying ground. It would be remiss not to mention notable absentee Altior, who unfortunately has again been forced to miss this race due to a late setback.
I think Nube Negra continues to be underestimated. I’ve seldom seen a horse jump better than he did at Kempton in December and, while everyone was concentrating on the demise of Altior, Nube Negra won with his head in his chest and there were loads of other good horses in behind. He took his form to a completely different level on that occasion and if he’s in the same condition, I’m confident he will give Chacun Pour Soi plenty to think about.
It was a pleasant surprise to see the ground look no worse than good to soft on day one, and that being the case it’s worth taking a chance on Rouge Vif each-way and without the favourite in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (3.05). A distant third to Put The Kettle On in last year’s Arkle on deep ground, he is a different proposition on a drier surface, as he showed when sauntering to a handicap success off a mark of 156 first time out this season. He didn’t run that badly when third in the Tingle Creek on softish ground next time, but was all at sea at Kempton after that and has been kept fresh since in the hope that conditions would turn in his favour. That’s certainly the case because while Shishkin is undoubtedly a brilliant two-miler in the making, he’s not good enough to be nearly 15 seconds faster than last year’s Arkle winner – the ground is much quicker than last year. Given a dry night it will be virtually good by racetime, and that is going to suit him as well as any other horse in the race. He’s a general 10-1 chance without Chacun Pour Soi, who is obviously the most likely winner despite having never been to Cheltenham, and I don’t think that reflects his chance given the number of horses ahead of him who want it slower.
All eyes will be on Chacun Pour Soi here and he is the one to beat but he is yet to really convince that there is much left under the bonnet late in his races. He is also yet to run here which puts him at a disadvantage compared to the selection. The winner of the 2020 Arkle here, she is a perfect 3/3 at Cheltenham and while she was behind the favourite last time, the return to her favourite stomping ground entitles her to far more respect here and she boasts very strong each way claims.
Easysland bolted up in this race last year and has strong claims even on his below-par fourth in a C&D handicap in November, when good ground may not have suited. However, this is his first run since and he tends to make the odd mistake, so there is uneasiness about backing him at a short price. 2018 and 2019 winner Tiger Roll needs to prove he remains the force of old and the same applies to former class acts Alpha Des Obeaux and Balko Des Flos. Therefore the most attractive wager is an each-way bet on HOGAN'S HEIGHT, who excelled over Aintree's National fences when winning the Grand Sefton last season and could relish this unique test. Easysland is the obvious threat, with December's C&D winner Some Neck next on the list.
Winner of his first start over this course back in December and arrives with outstanding each way claims. That was the best RPR he has produced in his life so the return to this quirky cross country track is a big plus. Of the two in front of him in the market, Easysland has not had a straightforward prep and Tiger Roll has looked a shadow of his former self. This is a typically weak renewal which doesn’t look like it will take much winning.
This can go to EMBITTERED (nap) who ran such an excellent race in the County Hurdle here last March and is likely to find this type of race more suitable after showing promise against some high-flying novice chasers in Ireland. Sky Pirate has gained impressive wins in his two handicap chases at this trip, against Ibleo here and Amoola Gold at Warwick, and he looks the main danger now that he is back in a handicap. Last year's winner Chosen Mate looked to be running into form on his latest run over this trip in January and is preferred of the remainder, though Zanza looked highly promising earlier in the season.
The one who looks to have been underestimated in the market is the Chris Gordon-trained On The Slopes. The key to his chance is his run behind last year’s Cheltenham winners Imperial Aura and Simply The Betts in a 2m4½f handicap earlier that season. He jumped and travelled superbly but went for home way too soon and clearly found the trip too far. A strongly run two miles with some give in the ground is going to suit him perfectly and he has been aimed at this race all season. It looked like his wind caught him out a bit when he was favourite for a good race here at the start of the season but On The Slopes has had that sorted since and he was given a blow out on the all-weather recently too. Last year’s winner Chosen Mate has clearly been primed for the race again and has a good claimer taking 7lb off. However, he was well backed on Monday and didn’t look in peak form the last time we saw him.
Entoucas is one I’ve had my eye on this season, but he is not exactly prolific and isn’t much of a price now, so On The Slopes is the latest suggestion. Having palpably failed to stay when third to subsequent festival winners Simply The Betts and Imperial Aura on trials day at Cheltenham last year, On The Slopes finished his season with two easy wins over 2m2f and 2m at Kempton, and much was expected of him this campaign. However, he was not seen to best effect in Class 2 handicaps here in October and November despite being well backed for both (particularly second time) and was sent for a wind op straight after that second effort. On The Slopes has run just once since, finishing third of four against some quality rivals in a jumpers’ bumper at Kempton, and that should have put him spot on for this. The second run after a wind op is an angle many people like, but whatever the case it is perfectly easy to argue On The Slopes is nicely enough treated on a mark of 140 given his form last spring.
Having first fancied Sky Pirate and then Entoucas, I now think Chosen Mate is going to beat both plus at least the vast majority of the others as he bids for back-to-back victories in the race. That would be a very rare double as only two horses have won two Grand Annuals and the only one to do it back-to-back was Top Twenty in 1958-9. However, when Chosen Mate landed an almighty gamble for Gordon Elliott 12 months ago he did so in such commanding fashion that you’d have had no problem backing him to win it again off a 9lb higher mark a week later. A year on and the case is not so obvious as Chosen Mate, now temporarily in the hands of Denise ‘Sneezy’ Foster, has not approached that form in six outings since, one on the Flat, two over hurdles and three over fences. However, he did not run at all badly when sixth of 18 in a good race at Fairyhouse in January, and he shaped with considerably more promise than a final finishing position of 16th of 22 at the Dublin Racing Festival last time out. That Leopardstown contest was over 2m5f which is way too far for Chosen Mate, but he cantered his way through it, jumping well from the back until running out of steam two out and that will have put him spot on for this. The handicapper has refused to give him any rope for those efforts and he remains 9lb higher than last year, so 7lb claimer Jordan Gainford has been called in. It’s his activity over the last couple of weeks that tells you a massive run is expected. Quite simply, there can rarely have been a 7lb claimer as busy as Gainford. His 33 rides in March mean he has had more mounts this month than all bar three of the top 20 jockeys in the Irish jockeys’ table, while there aren’t many outside of title-chasing trio Brian Hughes, Harry Cobden and Harry Skelton that have had as many in Britain. It’s simply a case of drilling as much competitive action into him as possible before the big day and if Chosen Mate is in the same form as last season, Gainford will go close to emulating Steven Clements, who took 7lb off the 2011 winner Oiseau De Nuit.
The aforementioned horse is Amoola Gold, who has enjoyed a fantastic season. He opened up his campaign with a pair of wins at Wetherby and Ascot, before narrow defeats to a pair of smart horses in First Flow and Sky Pirate. There’s certainly no disgrace in those defeats, going down by a neck and two lengths respectively. Speaking to At The Races about Amoola Gold, Skelton said: “Amoola Gold will certainly get in and he’s been very good this year and grown up and matured. We have been very happy with him and he’s improved beyond all recognition which is great“. Starting the season rated 127, Amoola Gold will run off a mark of 146 at the Festival, such is the level of improvement he’s shown. What makes his chance so interesting, however, is how well suited he’ll be to how the Grand Annual will be run.
Zanza jumped well at Cheltenham last time and was unlucky to come down after cantering into contention at the third-last. It’s hard to know what would have happened, but he would surely have been involved in the finish fought out by Sky Pirate and Ibleo.
Irish stables have won 21 of the 28 runnings of this and, also responsible for the first two home in the last four renewals, their dominance is hard to resist. Willie Mullins alone has won ten and he's sitting pretty again with Kilcruit and new recruit SIR GERHARD, who is a recent arrival from Gordon Elliott's. Kilcruit was catapulted to favouritism after breezing home without a care in the world at Leopardstown, beating the runner-up by over double the distance that Sir Gerhard did at Navan. However, Sir Gerhard has looked a bit special himself, despite his pedigree strongly suggesting that typical midwinter ground did him no favours. He can provide his owners with a third successive victory in the race. If there is one to challenge Team Mullins it could be Three Stripe Life, while Elle Est Belle looks the best of the British.
The bumper is always a race that is poured over in serious detail after the fact, looking for the top novice hurdlers for the following season. There are a whole host of interesting ones here but one of the most fascinating has to be the Richard Spencer-trainer Wonderwall. The winner of an Ascot bumper in November, he was green back at that track in December in a Listed contest that looks one of the strongest run so far this season over here. Both of those came on soft ground but his pedigree suggests he’ll be far better on a sound surface and the weather forecast looks in his favour to get that.
Irish trainers have dominated this 2m5f Grade 1 for novice hurdlers, with seven victories in the last ten years. Willie Mullins, the leading trainer in the race's history with four victories, provided two of those wins with Faugheen (2014) and Yorkhill (2016), while Gordon Elliott has been successful in two of the last three runnings with Samcro (2018) and Envoi Allen (2020). Six-year-olds have excelled with nine of the winners in the last ten years coming from that age group (five-year-old The New One was the odd one out in 2013). Proven ability to stay further than two miles has been imperative with the last ten winners having won over at least 2m4f beforehand. During that time, the winners have had an adjusted Racing Post Rating of at least 152. Four of the last ten favourites have obliged (Simonsig 2012, Faugheen 2014, Samcro 2018 and Envoi Allen 2020) and in that period only Willoughby Court’s SP (14-1 in 2017) was bigger than 8-1. Some legends of jump racing have been successful in the race, including Istabraq (1997), Hardy Eustace (2003), The New One (2013) and Faugheen (2014).
Last year's winner Champ broke a significant trend as he had gone into the race on the back of a fall in the Dipper Novices' Chase at Cheltenham, whereas the previous nine winners had recorded a top-three finish the time before. Achieving a high level of a form is a key requirement - all ten previous winners had contested a Graded chase and nine of them had an adjusted Racing Post Rating of 160. The race provides a stern test of a novice chaser and past experience is crucial, with nine of the past ten winners having had six to 12 starts over hurdles and fences. Champ was trainer Nicky Henderson's fourth success in the race - an achievement matched by Willie Mullins - and third in the last ten years following Bobs Worth (2012) and Might Bite (2017). The Festival Novices' Chase has an excellent track record of producing top staying chasers, including future Gold Cup winners. Since the turn of the century, three Festival Novices' Chase winners - Denman (2007), Bobs Worth (2012) and Lord Windermere (2013) - went on to win jump racing's most coveted prize the following year.
The Coral Cup has a reputation for being one of the trickiest races for punters to solve over the four days of the Cheltenham Festival. A big-field handicap hurdle over 2m5f, the race attracts plenty of gambles come the day, but big-priced winners are not uncommon as evidenced by the victories of Medinas (33-1) in 2013 and William Henry (28-1) in 2019. Last year's winner Dame De Compagnie was the only winning favourite in the last ten runnings after providing a record fourth win in the race for Nicky Henderson, previously successful with Spirit River (2010), Whisper (2014) and William Henry (2019). The ideal type in recent years has been an unexposed horse, having had no more than nine hurdle runs, and arriving at the festival after a bit of a break, as nine of the past ten winners had not run for at least 32 days. Seven of the last ten winners have been aged five to seven.
There are few finer sights in jump racing than the top two-mile chasers jumping at speed and hurtling around Cheltenham's Old course on the second day of the festival. The Champion Chase is one of the most prestigious races of the season and has been won by some of jump racing's most celebrated stars. Even since the turn of the century, the names of past winners such as Moscow Flyer, Master Minded, Sprinter Sacre and Altior send a shiver down the spine. The cream often rises to the top with four winning favourites and just two double-figure winners - Sizing Europe (10-1) in 2011 and Special Tiara (11-1) in 2017 - in the last ten years. During that time, trainer Nicky Henderson has dominated day two highlight with five victories, courtesy of Finian's Rainbow (2012), Sprinter Sacre (2012, 2016) and Altior (2018, 2019). You need a high-class performer on your side as all ten past winners had a Racing Post Ratings of 170 or above and nine had previously won at least one Grade 1. The Tingle Creek has always been a key trial for the Champion Chase and in the last decade Sprinter Sacre (2013), Sire de Grugy (2014), Dodging Bullets (2015) and Altior (2019) claimed Cheltenham glory having won the Sandown Grade 1 earlier in the season.
The 3m6f Cross Country Chase offers something a bit different to festival week, with the runners negotiating 32 obstacles, including banks, ditches, hedges - and even a pair of fences called 'the cheese wedges'. Although it is a unique test of a horse's capabilities, the ability to stay the marathon trip is vital, with each of the last ten winners having proved their stamina with victories over 3m or further. Seven of the last ten winners were trained in Ireland, but going even further back that trend is stronger with banks king Enda Bolger dominating the first few years of a race established in 2005. Previous experience is crucial with six of the last ten winners having won or placed in a cross country race at Cheltenham or Punchestown. Balthazar King (2012, 2014) and Tiger Roll (2018, 2019) managed repeat victories in the last decade, while Garde Champetre did likewise in 2008 and 2009.
The Grand Annual, one of the oldest races on the jumps calendar having been established in 1834, finds itself in another new slot this year. Having been switched from the last race of the meeting to the penultimate one in 2019, it has been brought forward to day two in a schedule shake-up which sees the introduction of a mares' novice chase at the expense of the Listed novice handicap chase. A tough and strongly-contested race over an extended two miles, the maximum field was reduced from 24 to 20 by the BHA in 2019 for safety reasons. Every one of the last ten winners was proven at the trip and nine of them were no older than nine. Interestingly, seven of the last ten winners had not won that season, so finding a horse ready to peak on the day rather than concentrating on form figures has paid off in the recent past.
The Champion Bumper has become a race trainer Willie Mullins has made his own as last year's victory with Ferny Hollow was the trainer's tenth in a race first run in 1992. Mullins is the first place to start as he frequently runs more than one contender and has had plenty of near-misses. As was the case last year, the market doesn't always get it right. In fact, Mullins' last four winners have been returned at 11-1, 25-1, 25-1 and 16-1. If it's not Mullins, it's usually one of his Irish counterparts and the prize has gone to Ireland in seven of the last ten runnings. A race with strong trends, the last ten winners had been successful last time out and were aged five or six. The 2m½f contest is the most prestigious bumper on the calendar and has produced future stars such as Florida Pearl, Cue Card, Champagne Fever and Envoi Allen.