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Dublin: 13°C Saturday 19 September 2020

Mark Your Card: Cheltenham Day Two

Strap yourself in… here we go again.

Detail view of branding on Penzance on Centenary Day, during the Cheltenham Festival.
Detail view of branding on Penzance on Centenary Day, during the Cheltenham Festival.
Image: Tony Marshall/EMPICS Sport

THE GREAT THING about horse racing is that no matter how badly you’ve done on any particular day, there’s always the next afternoon’s card to look forward to.

Sizing Europe is sure to be popular to follow up on his assertive victory last year in the feature race of the day, the Queen Mother Champion Chase. He seems the obvious candidate given the lack of strength and depth in the division this term, but at odds-on it may not be worth getting involved considering that the stats suggest a 10-year-old will struggle to win.

Big Zeb has won some decent pots but the fact is he wasn’t beating top-class two milers, and at 11 he’s unlikely to improve on his second-place last term. Similarly Finian’s Rainbow has won and come second in his two starts to date; but a narrow victory over Wishful Thinking and a defeat to maiden Grade One scorer Somersby mean he is arguably no world beater either. Consequently it’s difficult to even recommend a value alternative. The day’s best bets lie elsewhere.

The opening race may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but the four-mile Diamond Jubilee National Hunt Chase represents a great opportunity for Willie Mullins to add to his victory with Quevega in the mares’ race yesterday.

His main chance in the race appears to be Allee Garde, who has a level of form that sets him apart from most of his competitors coming into this. Having achieved a very decent level of form over hurdles, the seven-year-old has come into his own over fences this term. His third behind Last Instalment in the three-mile Grade One over Christmas was very impressive, especially given that the winner went on to win the Dr PJ Moriarty at the Hennessy meeting.

Indeed Allee Garde may have hung on for second with slightly different tactics; he only lost second place in the final few yards after paying the price for serving it up to the eventual winner. Last Instalment was one of the favourites for the RSA Chase, as is the second-placed First Lieutenant; and there is nothing of that quality in this field.

While the selection disappointed slightly in his next race when finishing third in a very tight encounter at Naas, the steady pace wouldn’t have suited him and today’s step up in trip on good ground should see him in much better light. Teaforthree would rate as a big danger, but the current odds of 13/2 compensate for this.

Performance anxiety

It must be noted that some of Mullins’ string underperformed yesterday, so hopefully that was down to the individual horses rather than a general downturn in the form of the stable.

Megastar could well live up to his name in the Coral Cup. Having failed to impress in the early part of the season when novice chasing, his two most recent runs have shown some signs of promise. His second behind Owen Glendower was given a very timely boost yesterday evening when that horse finished third behind the improving Hunt Ball in the Pulteney Land Investments Novices’ Handicap Chase.

Now returned hurdling he may appreciate a return to the course and distance of his fifth-place finish in last season’s Neptune hurdle; where he ran eight-lengths behind First Lieutenant and Champion Hurdle winner Rock On Ruby. The form of that race is now looking particularly smart given the subsequent exploits of the aforementioned pair, along with So Young and Oscar Wells who filled the places ahead of the selection.

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Gary Moore’s charge has run some shockers over the winter, but the form of last year’s novice hurdlers is standing up to scrutiny and if he can build on recent runs then his mark of 136 is very lenient given how hot that race now looks. The fancy prices are beginning to dry up, but at the time of writing the 25/1 still offer is still very generous.


Elsewhere, the RSA Novices’ Chase seems to lack a bit of strength and depth – any winner outside of the first three in the betting would be a major shock. Grand Crus is a worthy favourite on what he has achieved over fences over date, but the fact that no winner of the race he claimed at the Kempton Christmas meeting has gone to claim this prize in 17 attempts is a major concern.

A chance therefore might be given to First Lieutenant. As previously mentioned, the form of his festival run last year has been well advertised. He has had his problems over fences, looking to be more of a safe than spectacular jumper of a fence. But his trainer Mouse Morris has made no secret that this has been his long term aim for the season, and he has been trained to the minute for it.

The experience he garnered earlier in the season will stand him to good stead, and it’s worth remembering that the winter break he is now coming back from is almost identical in length to the one he enjoyed in 2011 before his festival success.

His sire Presenting produces horses that enjoy good ground, and have a particularly good record in this race. While there is an element of trust in backing one of the lower-rated horses in the race at 5/1, it would be a major shock if he wasn’t to at least post a career best over fences today given his carefully planned preparation.

  • Allee Grade 1 pt win @ 13/2 best priced
  • Megastar 2 pts e/w @ 25/1 best priced
  • First Lieutenant 1 pt win @ 5/1 generally

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    About the author:

    Mark Hobbs

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