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Where the second day of the Cheltenham Festival points us for rest of the week

Sky Pirate put early-season Cheltenham form to good use when landing the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap on Wednesday
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Bob Olinger and Monkfish brought more joy for favourite-backers early on but some of the other winners were a little harder to find. As we head into the final two days of the Cheltenham Festival, what lessons can be drawn from what we've seen so far?

Wet Cheltenham winter means even less of a home advantage

The loss to the weather of two meetings in January was mitigated at the time by the BHA's swift rescheduling of key graded races.

But the suspicion after the first two days of the festival is that, in addition to a concentration of top talent in the major Irish yards, the home defence could be suffering from the loss of the advantage they usually enjoy from gaining extra match practice around Cheltenham. 

After an opening day dominated by horses with past festival form it was more of the same on Wednesday, with Monkfish, Put The Kettle On and Tiger Roll all putting their experience to good use, while even Coral Cup skinner Heaven Help Us had been seventh to Shishkin in last year's Supreme.  

That may mean even more money heading on to Sire Du Berlais (Paddy Power Stayers' Hurdle, Thursday 3.05), The Shunter (Paddy Power Plate, Thursday 3.40) and A Plus Tard (WellChild Gold Cup, Friday 3.05) among the fancied Irish runners. 

A rare glimmer of sunlight for the home trainers came with Sky Pirate's success in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual and it is notable that Jonjo O'Neill sent him to Cheltenham for both the November and December meetings. 

Fusil Raffles has run three times at Cheltenham this season

As for British hopefuls in the Grade 1 novice events over the final two days, David Pipe will hope his planning can be vindicated with JCB Triumph Hurdle (Friday 1.20) hope Adagio having clocked up two good runs at Prestbury Park before Christmas, while Fusil Raffles (Marsh Novices' Chase, Thursday 1.20) ran at each of the three meetings there before the turn of the year and boasts two wins.

Blackmore continues to give a lesson in avoiding trouble

Rachael Blackmore once again demonstrated that daylight can be just as precious as a ground-saving trip round the inner when landing the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle on Bob Olinger, 24 hours on from her Champion Hurdle success aboard Honeysuckle.

Having briefly tucked back in behind Bravemansgame so as not to get to the front too early, she angled out between the leader and Bear Ghylls going to two out and it was Paul Townend who was briefly left short of room on Gaillard Du Mesnil turning for home.

Townend deserves no criticism since his mount needs covering up, while after the Betway Champion Chase Daryl Jacob must have been left cursing his luck following the nightmare passage endured by Sceau Royal. 

Bob Olinger: set to be sent over fences by Henry de Bromhead

Whether the greater stamina demands of the New course will reward such tactics remains to be seen but we have another two days where the novice races have smaller fields than is usually the case, with eight in both the Marsh and the Triumph. 

It will be interesting to see if such thoughts enter Nico de Boinville's mind ahead of the WellChild Gold Cup, given he probably won't want Champ to get much clear-sailing early in the race. 

Making all in Grade 1s is tough at the festival

One year on from her success in the Arkle, Put The Kettle On was again as brave as a lioness from the front in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, while Sir Gerhard also dictated the fractions in a slowly-run Champion Bumper.  

Punters will also have been drawn to the fine ride Richie Condon gave Heaven Help Us in the Coral Cup, but there is a world of difference between the handicaps and the Grade 1s when it comes to trying to wind it up from the front. 

Bravemansgame suffered the same fate in Wednesday's Ballymore as Allmankind and Captain Guinness had in the Arkle a day earlier and in general life has looked tough in the Grade 1s for out-and-out front-runners.

Sir Gerhard (left) established a clear break on his rivals turning for home but it has not all been plain sailing for front-runners in the Grade 1s this week

On livelier ground than most have encountered all season, the challengers just aren't falling away in behind, while in the case of Sir Gerhard, Blackmore was able to play him for speed turning in. 

That certainly presents a challenge for backers of Frodon and Native River in the Gold Cup, since their pursuers are unlikely to give a King George winner and a former Cheltenham hero much breathing space.


Read more of Wednesday's Cheltenham Festival reports . . .

'What a bloody legend' – Tiger Roll joins elite club with fifth festival win

A nuts race won by a 'nuts mare' – Put The Kettle On comes to the boil yet again

'The most nerve-racking race I've watched' – Mullins relief as Monkfish scores

Rachael Blackmore at her finest once again as Sir Gerhard wins from the front

Is Monkfish a Gold Cup winner in waiting? Our experts give their verdict

Condon brands Paul Hennessy 'a genius' after Heaven Help Us romps to victory

Rachael Blackmore flattens another Grade 1 field with brilliant Bob Olinger


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It is notable that Jonjo O'Neill sent him to Cheltenham for both the November and December meetings
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