The Cheltenham Festival is (almost) here – and our newest ambassador, Nico de Boinville, shares his thoughts on the first day’s racing below.
This looks an open, if still highly competitive, Supreme with Moon Racer and Neon Wolf going elsewhere – and we also lost Betfair Hurdle runner-up Movewiththetimes yesterday, too – and River Wylde looks to have as strong a form claim as most. The one obvious negative is that he disappointed when favourite for a bumper for me here in October, and he can be a buzzy sort that you do have to keep a lid on. But he clearly has been very impressive on all his three hurdling starts, and he took another big step forward when beating Elgin in the Dovecote last month. That form ties in closely with the best novice form around and he should give me a good spin if he continues his progression and handles the track. The race is getting more winnable by the day, but I wouldn’t rule out Beyond Conceit. I think Neon Wolf going for the Neptune probably forced the guvnor’s hand to run him here but this is a good horse who will be suited by a strongly-run 2m. The race wasn’t run to suit when we won at Ascot last time – we hacked round and quickened and he was far too free as a result – and he is certainly not without a chance.
I will have to go and lie down in a very dark room if Altior is beaten in the Arkle. I will be vile. Clearly, I am not expecting that to happen as everyone has seen what he can do over fences to date. And he has been that way ever since I first schooled him over fences in May. He was obviously awesome at Newbury but, to be honest, he only did what we expected of him that day. The rest are hopefully only playing for second at best and I would put in a good word for A Hare Breath on that front. Rated just 147, he obviously has a lot to find on form but he has run great races on his three starts here – and I am also two from two on him – and he will be ridden to finish second. I imagine that may be true of plenty of others in this race, but he has plenty of scope for improvement after just two chase starts and he went very well when I schooled him recently.
I don’t have a ride in the race, and I don’t honestly have a firm opinion.
We have three in the race, but unfortunately I am not on any of the trio! All of them have decent claims but the stable is very confident – some would say ultra-confident – of Buveur D’Air running a massive race. This may seem an odd thing to say but I think he has had the ideal prep in many ways. Yes, he had those two chase starts and won them both, but I remember schooling him over poles one day and he never struck me as a natural chaser like Altior. He obviously didn’t have to run up to anywhere near the form of his Supreme third, or his Aintree defeat of Petit Mouchoir, to win the Contenders Hurdle and Sandown last month, but it teed him up nicely for this. He may ideally want softer ground but he should be fine on good to soft. Brain Power has yet to do it in a graded race but he has always worked like a good horse and he fully deserves his place in the field after his Ascot win off 149 last time. He certainly has the raw ability to figure but I just wonder whether he needs a flat track, and if he hits one then he could be on the back foot. Nicky also seems quite sweet on last year’s runner-up My Tent Or Yours for a place, and you certainly wouldn’t rule him out in such an open year. It is very interesting to see them supplement Moon Racer for this and Scu (Tom) has seemed very keen on his chances for a while, and I do expect Yanworth to come on a lot for his Wincanton win. Things didn’t fall right for him when second to Yorkhill in the Neptune last year, but I accept his jumping is an issue. Get one wrong around here in a Champion Hurdle and it could be game over very quickly.
It obviously looks a high-class renewal of the mares’ race with Limini, Vroum Vroum Mag and Apple’s Jade in the race but I don’t have a ride or have a strong opinion in the race.
I have ridden Flintham in a lot of his races, though obviously I can’t be on board as the National Hunt Chase is for amateur riders only. I hope that he goes well here as he deserves a bit of luck after losing out by a short-head to Bigbadjohn in the Reynoldstown at Ascot last time, where I stuck to the whip rules and the rider on the winner didn’t. I suspect he would need a lot of rain to be competitive though. We have Beware The Bear in here and he has won both his starts over fences in good style and is rated 148 after those handicap wins at Ascot and Newbury. This has been the plan since his Newbury win in December, and the step up to this trip is expected to suit this unexposed 7yo.
I don’t have a ride but this looks an exceptionally close and tricky handicap to call from where I am standing.
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