We were back at Cheltenham for their third fixture of the season last weekend, the International meeting. There was no Grade 1 action on offer, but some key races nonetheless with the International Hurdle being the main one. As well our own Festival clues, professional punter Gavin Lynch has his latest antepost tips alongside David Jennings in Upping The Ante – Episode 5.
Apparently the only horse that can keep tabs on Altior at home is Brain Power, which is a clue to his ability in itself. But he has perhaps been less consistent on the track than on the gallops. Sent off at just 13/2 for the 2016 Champion Hurdle, he trailed home a disappointing eighth. Following a curtailed campaign over fences last season, where he completed just two of five starts, this return to the smaller obstacles was instantly rewarded at Cheltenham on Saturday. Travelling superbly into the contest, he coasted to victory, stamping his superiority. Obviously there was nothing of Buveur D’Air‘s quality up against him, but he looks to have matured and on offer at 20/1 for the Champion Hurdle, Brain Power might be worth taking a chance on. A fascinating addition to the field would be Apple’s Jade; see what we make of her chances if she were to line up in the Champion Hurdle here.
Conceding twelve pounds and upwards to the entire field is difficult in any race, let alone a high quality handicap. You have to be a very good horse to do so and Frodon displayed not only his ability, but his guts and determination when winning the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup off a mark of 164. Another tilt at the Ryanair Chase beckons and he can easily be forgiven last seasons effort given the underfoot conditions. At just six years of age, he may still be improving and having produced two impressive RPR’s of 177 and 176 at Cheltenham, it’s clearly a track he loves. 12/1 is certainly fair with his attitude and general consistency in a race that could cut up.
A horse not to give up on is Rather Be, who was sent off the 7/2 favourite for the aforementioned Grade 3 contest at Cheltenham on Saturday. Despite staying on into fifth, he was never really travelling or jumping with any real zest so it can easily be perceived he’s capable of better than that. The Brown Advisory And Merriebelle Stable Plate would be the likely race for him at the Festival.
The Worlds End has been a bit of a talking horse for some time following his Novice Hurdle campaign which saw him fall when travelling well in the Albert Bartlett before winning the Grade 1 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree. A disappointing season followed but he’s taken well to fences in his first three starts. Winning by twenty six lengths on Friday, good ground conditions could be the key to him and if getting that in March, he could definitely be in with a shout at a current 16/1 for the RSA Chase.
Drovers Lane was another winner at Cheltenham to advertise his RSA claims. In taking his record to three wins from four starts over fences, Rebecca Curtis’ charge is firmly on the upgrade and despite winning over two and a half miles on Saturday, he looks to have plenty of stamina. A PTP winner and victorious over three miles on his chase debut, a return to that trip will prove no problem whatsoever.
But arguably the horse that enhanced his RSA claims most was one who didn’t even race – Santini. On chase debut he beat Le Breuil (second to Drovers Lane) and Rocky’s Treasure (an emphatic seventeen length winner of a Grade 2 at Doncaster), which gives the form a very strong look.
Al Dancer took his record to four wins from five starts since joining Nigel Twiston-Davies with a resounding handicap success on Friday. Winning by eleven lengths off a mark of 129, he is developing into a Supreme candidate. As is Elixir De Nutz, who won earlier on the Cheltenham card conceding a double penalty. However, slight caution has to be taken as in both latest wins he’s been given an easy time of things on the front end. Battleoverdoyen was an impressive victor at Navan on Sunday to maintain his unbeaten record. A test in a higher grade next time out will tell us more about him, but he is exciting and may well take high rank amongst the Novice Hurdlers. Another winner at Navan but in slightly different style was Easy Game in the Grade 2 under an excellent Ruby Walsh ride. The horse has a very tough, willing attitude and stayed on strongly to win over two and a half miles to suggest that a further step up in trip could suit him. He’s been kept busy, but is one to keep a note of for potentially the Albert Bartlett or possibly even the Ballymore.
A £400,000 purchase, connections of Envoi Allen must be tremendously excited about this classy recruit. A ten length PTP winner, he’s unbeaten in two starts in Bumpers, asserting late on in both in the style of an extremely talented prospect. He’s cemented himself as 6/1 market leader for the Champion Bumper as it’s unlikely the same owners’ Malone Road will run due to a setback.
Friday and Saturday at Ascot is undoubtedly the highlight this week as the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle takes centre stage, a key race in the staying division. A couple of Grade 2 Novice contests on the first day of the fixture should see some Cheltenham Festival contenders emerge.