Champion Bumper – Wednesday 17:30
In recent seasons, I have traditionally been sucked into backing one of the John Ferguson horses. The defeat of New Year’s Eve back in 2012 when trading at [1.38] was a bit of a kick in the teeth. At least he fared better than Purple Bay and El Namoose who also took my money. Despite that, the lack of Bloomfields horses these days is part of the game I miss.
That said, the Champion Bumper is a race I absolutely love, although I understand why it wouldn’t be everybody’s cup of tea in terms of betting. The market is not easy to read on the Exchange, but the Wednesday showpiece for the young horses is NRNB on the Sportsbook.
The Willie Mullins-trained Carter McKay heads the market at 3/1, and he has already beaten a couple of the horses in the top eight of the betting. His claims are pretty obvious – but then so is the price.
Carter McKay was given a bit of a race by Bakmaj on his winning debut at Leopardstown, but he looked fantastic when landing a hot bumper at Naas (over 19f), and oozed class that day. Only four ran in the latest victory, but he tanked through the soft ground. He is unbeaten in two starts and comes from a yard that have enjoyed great success in this Cheltenham bumper – with eight winners.
Mullins has five horses that are available to back from 3/1 to 20/1 – and it’s a contest he has thrown his weight behind in the past couple of seasons. He saddled seven in last year’s renewal, whilst he had five in the 2015 race. He totals 23 runners in the past six editions.
A far more interesting candidate however is Ballyward – who hammered a Leopardstown field back in December by 16 lengths. That demolition job during the Lexus meeting came in a traditionally strong bumper. Mullins took it in 2011 with Ballycasey, whilst No More Heroes won in the 2013 version.
Ballyward runs in the Graham and Andrea Wylie colours, and clearly looks a galloper after a stretching away from a field in such impressive fashion. I liked the way he coped with the tempo increasing over the far side, and once he was shaken up, he never stopped.
The Wylies won the Champion Bumper with Briar Hill in 2013, who simply took off under Ruby Walsh to cause a bit of a surprise at a Betfair SP of 34.0. Ballyward’s price is 27.0 on the Exchange and 9/1 NRNB on the Sportsbook.
Irish trainers completely dominate the market, with Jessie Harrington, Mags Mullins, Joseph O’Brien, Alan Fleming and Gordon Elliott all with contenders. Betfair Ambassador Elliott’s well bred mare Fayonagh was very impressive when scoring by 20 lengths in a Listed affair, but I wonder if she’ll be better suited to Aintree. She is 16/1 NRNB.
There’s a complete flyer here in David Pipe’s Delirant at 16/1. This 4yo won a Grade 1 AQPS contest in France by four-and-a-half lengths, and beat into second a subsequent scorer at Grade 2 level across the channel. Pipe won this in 2015 with Moon Racer, and Delirant has been purchased by JP McManus from French trainer Etienne Leenders.
You can view his race below (racing in the pale blue and mauve silks) – and he certainly wasn’t stopping at the end.
National Hunt Chase – Tuesday 16:50
I outlined my liking for A Genie In Abottle for this race during my Cheltenham ante-post Ryanair preview. He was [12.0] then, and is now the 5/1 favourite on the Sportsbook – and I am in no hurry to ditch the horse I absolutely adore.
His market rivals include Edwulf at 6/1, and Alpha Des Obeaux at 10/1, and both are prominent in the RSA market too, but this four miler looks the perfect set-up for A Genie In Abottle. His trainer Noel Meade offered an upbeat bulletin recently for this contest and also Disko for the RSA. He told At The Races: “Everything is good, and I couldn’t be happier with both of them. They are both in great shape.”
And while I don’t hold too much in racecourse gallops and quotes, Jamie Codd schooled him at Leopardstown on Sunday, and he’s a good man to have on your side for this race. He won on Cause Of Causes in the 2015 renewal – and he has five festival winners. He liked him after the gallop, although previous jockey Nina Carberry loves him apparently.
A Genie In Abottle has enjoyed a decent season. He jumped well over an inadequate trip against former Albert Bartlett winner Martello Tower in December, and followed that up with a superb display when winning over 3m at Fairyhouse – where he scored by five-and-a-half lengths over Blazer, and had the Willie Mullins-trained Mall Dini back in third. The latter holds entries in two Festival handicaps.
His attitude was spot-on for that Fairyhouse victory; on a couple of occasions he had to go again and find, and he did. That ‘will to win’ was evident last time at Naas when he was narrowly beaten by Tony Martin’s Anibale Fly. He was off the bridle for a long way, but he never wilted under pressure.
Meade described him as a potential Grade 1 novice chaser in his younger days, and he is a dour out-and-out stayer that should love the Cheltenham finish. He jumps well too. The only nagging doubt is that he could be a better horse with soft conditions.
Another who looks tailor-made for the trip is Paul Nicholls’ Arpege D’Alene, and he is 12/1 NRNB. The Champion trainer has mentioned him as a possible Scottish National type, and he looks as if he is crying out for this stamina-laden distance.
He’s a slightly quirky animal who might be a touch lazy. His jumping let him down at Ascot behind Bigbadjohn (who is 10/1 for this), only for him to consent to run on late. He has jumped well at Cheltenham in the past though (in particular the novice race earlier in the season), and is another who will relish the four miles.
Foxhunters’ Chase – Friday 16;10
The remarkable On The Fringe will be bidding for his third successive Foxhunter Challenge Cup, and he achieved the stunning feat in 2016 of the Cheltenham-Aintree-Punchestown treble for the second year in a row.
The 12yo is a flawless jumper who travels with so much style. But with such a classy horse I wasn’t expecting a wild price though, and he is 6/4 on the Sportsbook.
For layers of Enda Bolger’s great chaser, he is around [2.80] on the pink side for Exchange punters. If you are taking him on, the one factor you have is that he wasn’t quite as breathtaking when winning at Punchestown last April, and whilst his longevity is admirable, can he come back for the third time and win? I’m probably clutching at straws with that, but with short prices, you look for small margins.
His comeback run was perfectly fine at Leopardstown (his only start of this season), and he always needs that to blow away the cobwebs. Win or lose, he’s been a tremendous horse for Bolger and his owner JP McManus.
I am happy to take a punt with a couple of double-figure prices here. Last term’s fifth Pacha Du Polder at 16/1 NRNB makes a bit of appeal. He gave Victoria Pendleton a beautiful spin around the track last year, showing what a gentleman and safe jumper he really is. Watching him leap with his assured manner fence-after-fence was a joy to watch.
He wasn’t beaten too far last year, and he is only a 10yo, so there is hope he can still improve from 12 months ago. His comeback run was a neat win at Bangor in unfavoured soft conditions – yet he still beat Colin Tizzard’s Grand Vision easily under Bryony Frost – and Grand Vision is a fairly useful performer.
If there’s good ground, that will strengthen his claims, and with his fencing ability, he is sure to get round safely which makes him an attractive each-way bet.
I also would throw in Declan Queally’s Minella For Value. I don’t know too much about Irish Point-To-Point form I admit, but he recently beat First Lieutenant between the flags, and I am familiar with him! After all, he was a one-time 160-rated chaser.
Minella For Value has always been a splendidly efficient jumper who loves good ground (although he does win in soft). He was a decent handicapper in his time for John Butler, and has been prolific in Ireland recently. He’s another at 16/1 I would be happy to back, purely because he is such a brilliant jumper.
Mares’ Hurdle – Tuesday 16:10
Willie Mullins’ Limini produced a ‘bolt-from-the-blue’ sort of performance last time when beating Apple’s Jade at Punchestown – so much so that Limini is now a major contender for an open-looking Champion Hurdle on the Exchange. She trades at [10.0] at the time of writing for that, but also 5/4 for the Mares’ Hurdle NRNB.
Her victory over Apple’s Jade in the Quevega race last time seemed to take everyone by surprise, and even her trainer described it as extraordinary. Mullins however isn’t short of a mare for this race judging by the market principals on the Sportsbook, but it might be Apple’s Jade versus Mullins here – which could provide some story if successful.
Apple’s Jade is not a wildly exciting selection in terms of an out-of-the-park price, but I find it tough to make a case for anything at big odds. After all, her form last year was making her a potential Champion Hurdle candidate, and at 5/2, I am more than happy with that. But Mullins does have a stranglehold on the leading players.
She finished second in the Triumph, and duly hammered her conqueror at Cheltenham (Ivanovich Gorbatov) by 41 lengths at Aintree in the Grade 1 Juvenile. She’s beaten some cracking horses already in her career, and the possibility of good ground will increase her chances.
If Limini goes for the Champion, then Apple’s Jade has form to within two lengths of a top-level hurdles’ race contender, where as these Grade 1s for mares are not particularly strong. Vroum Vroum Mag is 6/4 for this, yet Apple’s Jade beat her easily in the Grade 1 Hatton’s Grace. Her trainer Gordon Elliott gave a positive view of her chances when speaking to Betfair in this Festival preview.
Back Ballyward @ 9/1 NRNB on Betfair Sportsbook for the Champion Bumper
Back A Genie In Abottle @ 5/1 NRNB Betfair Sportsbook for the 4m National Hunt Chase
Back Pacha Du Polder each-way @ 16/1 NRNB Betfair Sportsbook in the Foxhunters’ Chase
Back Minella For Value each-way @ 16/1 NRNB Betfair Sportsbook in the Foxhunters’ Chase
Back Apple’s Jade @ 5/2 NRNB Betfair Sportsbook in the Mares’ Hurdle
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