With the Cheltenham Festival almost upon us, the brilliant Bryan Cooper shares his thoughts on the first day’s racing below.
I’m not involved in the Supreme but I would probably like to be riding Bunk Off Early if I had the pick of the field. I can’t get excited by his stablemate Melon at all at the prices because the form of his Leopardstown defeat of Broken Soul hasn’t worked out at all; I rode the runner-up when he was beaten in all of his next three starts, and he was very disappointing when only sixth at Gowran on Saturday. You have to respect the form of the Betfair Hurdle but I thought Bunk Off Early shaped and travelled really well when second over 2m2f to Bacardys in the Deloitte last time, and a strongly-run race over 2m on decent ground could be ideal for him.
Altior wins, so let’s move on!
He was always going to be up against it over 2m at Naas last time, and the step up to 3m1f on decent ground, and back into handicap company, should see him in a better light. He acts well enough in testing conditions but I do think he prefers better ground. He may not be the force he was when winning his two Grade 1s two seasons ago but he ran well behind Ballycasey last month and a mark of 153 gives him an each-way chance.
I sat on him at home last week, and both I and Henry were very pleased with him. He is comfortably the best of the Irish as far as I am concerned. He was only just touched off by a neck by Buveur D’Air at Aintree last year – where they pulled well clear of Limini and North Hill Harvey – and has clearly improved in winning the Ryanair Hurdle and the Irish Champion Hurdle this season. I watched the Ryanair back again yesterday and you had to be very impressed by the way in which he quickened for me after the second last and sprinted off the bend to leave Nichols Canyon trailing in his wake. I wasn’t on him in the Irish Champion last time and while he may not have impressed everyone with his length defeat of Footpad there he did it the hard way there in a very fast time. He won the race in 3m 41.3 seconds, and Faugheen took 3m 54.0 the year before. He clearly doesn’t lack pace but he has plenty of stamina too, and I think the drying ground is in his favour. We ran identity Thief in this race last year but I think Petit Mouchoir has far stronger credentials and in a weaker race, too. I would rate Buveur D’Air as our biggest danger as I don’t think Yanworth jumps well enough.
This has suddenly become a very difficult race to win with both Limini and Vroum Vroum Mag in here, and 18 runners means luck in running also becomes a massive factor. I would have Vroum Vroum Mag as my biggest danger but, having said that, I was surprised that they didn’t chance their arm with Limini in the Champion Hurdle after the way she beat Apple’s Jade at Punchestown last month. But I don’t think my filly was at her best that day – she had to do all the donkey work, for a start – and this track and decent ground suits her well. She showed what a good attitude she has when beating Vroum Vroum Mag in the Hatton’s Grace and she did a real good piece of work when I rode her last week. And Gordon puts a tongue-tie on her for the first time, too. I like her chances.
It looks as though we will probably have the favourite in here with A Genie In Abottle, but I am not sure that he will have the pace for this race on decent ground. I know that may seem a strange thing to say about a horse in the four-miler but A Genie In Abottle can be very lazy and doesn’t possess a lot in the way of tactical speed, and all Cheltenham races are run at a good gallop. He certainly has sound form claims on his Fairyhouse win for me, and his second to Anibale Fly at Naas, but he would like it softer than he is going to get here. I actually give our Tiger Roll a fair chance. He won the Triumph Hurdle and shaped quite well here when third in October. He has only had the one race since, later that month, so he comes here a fresh horse – he had a very busy 2016 – and one for whom the decent ground is a big plus. He was very impressive when winning the Munster National earlier in the season, has won well after a similar break and I think the step up to 4m will suit him. He could go very well at a big price.
All Hell Let Loose
He hasn’t been out for a while – not since June, in fact – and I would say that his mark of 137 is probably high enough, as well as this being a step up in terms of competitiveness. And he did finish down the field in the Pertemps last year. But all is not negative and he did win the last time we saw him and the drying ground will definitely suit him.
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