RACING fan Pete Hamill (@RiskForRewards) picks out favourite fancies from Day 1 of the Cheltenham Festival on Tuesday.
Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle | Tuesday 16th March 2021, 16:15 | ITV1
Background: This a handicap for Juvenile hurdlers run over the two mile distance on the old course.
Statistics: 9 of the last 16 winners began their career in France. British bred 0/54. 3/8 winners trained by Elliot. Mullins 0/14. Nicholls has had three winners. 11/16 only ran one once over hurdles, 10/16 only had 3 starts.
Saint Sam (11/2 Bet365)
A look at the statistics and you can see why Saint Sam is a positive in the market.
A French bred horse that has ran three times this year, winning none (positive for the stats). The negatives point towards Willie Mullins 0/14 in the race but this could be that generally he runs his best in the Triumph. Saint Sam is OR 139 (14/16 134 or less) but the last two winners were rated above this and this race looks to be attracting classier runners than in the past.
Mullins had touted Saint Sam as his best juvenile and he went off odds on favourite against Triumph favourite Zanahiyr on debut. On this day both horses travelled well only for Zanahiyr to run away with him coming to two out and win by a resounding 12 lengths.
On his next start he was ridden differently, found trouble, made little effort to get close to Zanahiyr finishing towards the rear. This stood out to me in December as a potential handicap blot. On his final start Saint Sam went a rapid pace on his own out in front only to be picked up late on by Quilixios.
On the clock at Leopardstown Quilixios would have beaten the Supreme Novice Hurdle favourite Appreciate It by 10 lengths if in the same race that day. In coming 5 ½ lengths second that puts Saint Sam amongst group 1 juvenile form. This when not ridden to best effect.
Most could view these as a poor run but Mullins does this with horses to get them fit by allowing the horse to stride on at a relentless pace until tiring late on. This ensures the handicap mark does not go up and he achieves both race fitness and experience.
Saint Sam has since been allocated a British rating of 139, which could be generous. When put in context the Druids Altar who he beat 34 lengths (giving him 5lb) has been given 135 (only 4lb lower than him despite that margin). Similar applies to third favourite for this event Busselton who again he only gives 4lb too despite beating him 4 3/4 lengths when appearing out for a run last time.
I like the route he has taken running in graded races against the best juveniles whilst gaining experience. A strongly run big field handicap could be the making of this horse and has long been the target. Whilst you have to respect the trainer’s poor record of 0/14 he has to be a strong candidate to take this event.
Houx Gris (11/2 Bet365)
Statistics: Another who when looking at the statistics is easy to see why he has been backed in recent weeks. A French bred horse (9 of last 16 winners) of which trainer Paul Nicholls excels with having won this race three times with similar types. His most recent success in 2016 with the well gambled Diego De Charmil. Eleven winners of 16 had run only once over hurdles, of which this horse has, leaving him thoroughly unexposed and very difficult to get a handle on.
Form: On his only start he was pitched in the deep end with two of Britain’s leading juveniles Adaggio (145 rated) and Nassalam (141 rated) on soft ground in the Grade 1 juvenile at Chepstow.
That day he shaped eye-catchingly well, perhaps best of all, only to make a mistake two out. His chance was quickly gone and he was given a very easy time in letting the front two peel away. A very eye-catching run of which you would think Nicholls as a past winner knew what he had on the spot.
Put away since and issued a mark of 139 he looks potential very well handicapped based on that last run. If running in the Chepstow race again he would be much closer and possibly give the front two a race off level weights.
So to get weight from both on such a mark may well underestimate his ability in this race. To put the mark in context Nassalam who beat him 20 lengths (when heavily eased) will carry 11-10 as opposed to Houx Gris of nearly a stone lighter with 10-11.
He should not lack for experience having had four runs in France (including two wins) and the ground should be of no concern having won on good ground there. All points to a very big run from connections and they will be expecting this horse to go close and is my selection for the race.
National Hunt Challenge Cup | Tuesday 16th March 2021, 16:50 | ITV1
Background: The ultimate test of stamina over 3m5f. Last year was the ultimate war of attrition due to the very soft ground. This race is normally made easier for selection purposes with amateurs taking part as you can pick the better jockeys as they are worth more than a stone in such a race.
Statistics: The leading trainer for this event is Jonjo O Neil with six winners. Both Willie Mullins and Alan King have both been successful twice. The negative trainers for this are Paul Nicholls who is 0/18 and Nicky Henderson who has also never won the race.
The unexposed horses that have less than three chase starts do not fare well. In the last ten years Elliott has had 8 runners in this race the 4 to complete have all won. Three of those four winners all came in to this race off the back of a break.
So look very closely at his runners in particular Galvin who has had this break. 9/11 winners contested a graded novice chase. 9/10 rated higher than 142. 7/11 had run at the Cheltenham festival previously. 2/30 aged 6 or lower. 11/13 priced 12/1 or lower with 7/10 single figures (look to head of the market).
This is what is known as a war of attrition, with often less than 50% of the starters not finishing the race (6/14 finishers last year) due to the stamina test it presents. All horses will run off level weights 11-6 unless gaining the 7lb mares allowance. In an open field this year it remains hard to write any off entirely with such the unique test it presents.
Soldier Of Love 33/1 – came to Cheltenham for the October meeting having won four in a row where he met market leader for this race Galvin. He jumped well but found the favourite too good going down by 7 lengths. Whilst he remains exposed he does have the advantage of having won at 3m2f so the extra three furlongs could be within his grasp. Nicholls is 0/18 in this race however.
Snow Leopardess 16/1 – a horse that always runs her race having won at 3m2f when outstaying Commodore on the line at Haydock. The concerns would be with no course form and her better form being seen on a softer surface. She does have the 7lb mares allowance but she would still need to improve for the step up in trip.
Remastered 8/1 – looks to be one of the main benefactors of the yards improved form this season. Currently 3/3 over fences most recently winning the grade 2 Reynoldstown of which he looked to be in trouble two out but outstayed the 142 rated Demachine.
His jumping was a real asset that day but the same concerns apply with no course form and all of his winning has been done on softer conditions. He remains unexposed but the ground would be a concern.
Lord Royal 8/1 – whilst he remains Willie Mullins only runner of an event he has won twice he does look to be a different choice to the usual type he would send. Sent off favourite on four of his six assignments to date he has obliged only once. Whilst the step up in trip may suit he remains a risky prospect at a short price.
Next Destination 4/1 – is one of the ex Willie Mullins recruits that have really benefited from the stable switch. He swerved Monkfish to run here and with two of the last three winners being aged 10 (of which he is) he won’t be found short on experience. Having ran well at two previous festivals (most recently behind Samcro in the Ballymore hurdle) he has solid course form even if over hurdles.
His jumping is one of his strongest assets but he also holds plenty of stamina shown when outstaying Fiddlerontheroof last time out in the Grade 2 Hampton Novices chase. A horse that unlike the others is proven on good ground he is a real danger to all in this race. He could go off favourite but the significant negative would be the trainer’s poor record of 0/18 in the race.
Escaria Ten 6/1 – a member of the Denise Foster team who have won on every occasion the horse has finished 4/8. He has had a small break coming in to this event, and meets all of the statistics. A solid run last time out when beating Pencilfuloflead, finishing second in the Group 3 novice chase behind unexposed novice Eklat De Rire. Another who is not proven on ground firmer than soft but again will be suited by the step up in trip.
Galvin 2/1 – I had previously written this with Royal Pagaille involved and Galvin was still the winner for me. So whilst the price has shortened I will stick with my original selection. The field has remained competitive and I would expect this horse to be closer to 5/2 – 3/1 on the day.
The last time Galvin tasted defeat was when beaten 3 1/4 lengths by Imperial Aura in the listed Northern Trust handicap last year at the Cheltenham festival. On that day he travelled best into the race cruising on the bridle only to find Imperial Aura just to quick for him, finishing like a step up in trip will suit.
Imperial Aura has gone on to win a group 1 and group 2 since. Galvin came back at the end of the summer to have 3 spins over fences in low key races sent off prohibited odds off 2/15, 2/9/ 1/4 of which he duly obliged with ease over 2m4f. He had his first test of the season in the group 2 at Cheltenham in the November meeting.
That day he won easily (7 lengths) travelling stylishly into the race and when pushed out he powered up the hill beating Soldier of Love (who had won five races prior). Elliott immediately said after the race that this race was the plan and that he would be put away for this race.
Looking at the statistics 9/11 contested a graded race (November meeting was graded race), 9/10 rated above 142 (rated 144) and 7/11 had ran at the Cheltenham previously (2nd to Imperial Aura in 2020 festival). The yard has an incredible record in the race with his 4 horses that have finished the race (8 runners total) all-winning of which 3 of the 4 came in off a break like Galvin.
Currently rated 152 Galvin remains thoroughly unexposed with only 8 runs over fences. His old trainer has a great record in this race and this has been the plan all season. Whilst he has to prove he gets the trip his relaxed nature suggests he will and may even improve significantly for it.
I will recommend a saver on Escaria Ten from the same positive stable statistics. I have had my eye on this horse here for some time and having competed at graded level over 3m looks sure to enjoy this step up in trip.
I recommend waiting for best odds guaranteed due to the competitive nature of this race.
Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle – Houx Gris (11/2 Bet365)
Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle – Saint Sam (11/2 Bet365)
National Hunt Challenge Cup – Galvin (5/2 William Hill)
National Hunt Challenge Cup – Escaria Ten (11/2 Unibet)