Seven high-profile contenders whose target is still in balance
Cheltenham is just 11 days away and yet the final target remains unknown for many of those prominent in the betting. We take a look at seven fancied horses whose festival targets remain up in the air.
Neon Wolf Supreme (best-price with NRNB: 9-1) and Neptune (5-2)
Harry Fry's impressive Grade 2 winner Neon Wolf is entered in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle and the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle and, depending on who you listen to, is a certainty for one and cannot possibly win the other. Colin Tizzard faces a similar predicament with his Tolworth Hurdle winner Finian's Oscar and both will likely leave it late.
The stronger gallop in the Supreme would arguably suit both, but the pair have also won point-to-points over three miles and were introduced to hurdles over extended trips so clearly have the stamina for the Neptune.
Neon Wolf has already been labelled a future staying chaser, much like recent Supreme winners Menorah, Al Ferof, Champage Fever and Vautour, while Finian's Oscar is out of a half-sister to Finian's Rainbow and subsequent two-milers Peddlers Cross, Simonsig, The New One and Faugheen all won the Neptune.
Yorkhill Arkle (7-2), Champion Hurdle (7-2) and JLT (6-4)
Yorkhill is causing a real conundrum for ante-post punters because such is his talent he casts a shadow over three festival races and where he goes will change the complexion of the races he does not run in as much as the one he does.
He is second favourite behind Altior for the Racing Post Arkle, the race Ruby Walsh nominated while still on his back after thumping Yanworth in last year's Neptune, while he is the 7-4 favourite for the novice chasing equivalent, Thursday's JLT.
He is also favourite with some bookmakers who are non-runner, no bet for the Champion Hurdle, but Willie Mullins said recently that while he could go back over hurdles next season he will stick to novice company this year and avoiding Altior looks the most likely option.
Singlefarmpayment Ultima (10-1), RSA (25-1) and Kim Muir (12-1)
Tom George's novice Singlefarmpayment has the option of the RSA, but he has been progressing through the handicap and is potentially well-treated off 142.
The seven-year-old was brought down at the track on Trials day when sent off the 5-1 joint-favourite along with the similarly-treated Champers On Ice - who has a mark of 143 and entries in the four-miler and JLT as well as the Ultima, RSA and Kim Muir - and the pair would be a major factor if turning up in one of the handicaps.
The Kim Muir is over a furlong further, on the more testing New course and limited to horses rated 145 or lower meaning the Ultima is arguably a classier race while the Kim Muir is better suited to strong stayers, such as subsequent Grand National winner Ballabriggs.
Peregrine Run Coral Cup (12-1) and Albert Bartlett (20-1)
Peter Fahey's stable star Peregrine Run has a string of 1s next to his name and a red-hot piece of form that makes him of great interest wherever he turns up - if he turns up at all.
He needs good ground, but as long as he gets it the horse who beat Albert Bartlett 7-1 and 6-1 chances Wholestone and West Approach at Cheltenham over 2m5f on the Old course has to be a threat.
That he is 25-1 for the rematch is surprising given he dug deep and battled well that day for a one length success off level weights, but then it could owe as much to the fact he is 12-1 co-second favourite for the Coral Cup and although he is 38th on the list he should get in off a mark of 142. Given Wholestone and West Approach now carry official ratings of 145 and 157 it is easy to see why connections are tempted by the handicap option.
Whisper RSA (8-1) and JLT (9-1)
At nine Whisper is older than your average novice chase winner at the festival, you have to go back to subsequent Grand National winner Miinehoma in the 1992 RSA for the last time one won at the festival, but then not many try it - or possess Whisper's class.
A former festival winner - he landed the 2014 Coral Cup - and a dual Grade 1 winner over hurdles, he is two from two over fences this year and has the option of the JLT, for which he is 12-1, and the RSA.
His two wins this season have come over the JLT course and distance, but his Grade 1 wins over hurdles came at three miles (the RSA Chase distance). That his trainer Nicky Henderson has RSA favourite Might Bite and JLT second favourite Top Notch means he is unlikely to mind too much which race owner Dai Walters favours and his retained rider Davy Russell is on record as preferring the RSA, for which he is 8-1.
Empire Of Dirt Ryanair (5-1) and Gold Cup (16-1)
Gigginstown love to have runners in the race they sponsor, the Ryanair, and Empire Of Dirt looks the most likely of their Gold Cup battalion to be redirected.
He is a course and distance winner, having run away with last year's Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate, and has subsequently stepped up to three miles and added a similarly impressive win in the Troytown to his CV.
His second in the Irish Gold Cup, beaten just three-quarters of a length by Sizing John but ahead of Don Poli and Carlingford Lough, would be enough to book his place in the Gold Cup if owned by anyone else, but he is not - so his target is still undecided.
Let's Dance Supreme (18-1), Mares' Hurdle (8-1), Neptune (10-1), Mares' Novices' Hurdle (7-4) and Albert Bartlett (9-1)
Willie Mullins' five-year-old mare Let's Dance is entered in the Supreme, OLBG Mares' Hurdle, Neptune, Trull House Stud Mares' Novices' Hurdle and Albert Bartlett and is priced between 2-1 and 25-1 for all of them, such is her talent.
Her versatility, combined with the mares' novice hurdle being her trainer's strongest division this year, means she could well be redirected away from the contest for which she is shortest.
Mullins is on record as stating stamina is her forte, as is often the case for horses capable of finishing fourth in a Triumph, and the fact she retained her novice status gives her a whole host of options this season. If taking on the boys she will get a handy 7lb mares' allowance, and given her form compares favourably with the top novices without it, she would be a contender even in the Supreme.