Day Two of the Cheltenham Festival kicks off with the Neptune Investment Management Novices Hurdle. This looks like an intriguing contest with a number of closely matched horses lining up. Preference is for the Willie Mullins trained Nichols Canyon. He was impressive when winning at Leopardstown last time out (Windsor Park well beaten) and was useful on the flat. There looks to be plenty more to come from him and he should be able to overcome some closely matched rivals.
There is an absolutely top drawer RSA Chase in prospect this year with a number of entries promising to be in Gold Cup contention. The three I am concentrating on are Don Poli, Kings Palace and Southfield Theatre. Don Poli was impressive last time out but there has to be a concern that his best form has come with more give in the ground. Kings Palace has been hugely impressive since sent over the larger obstacles and has considerable experience around here and probably has slightly stronger form than Southfield Theatre. It is for that reason that David Pipes’s charge is a tentative selection in what is looking like one of the best races of the festival so far.
I don’t think there are many more open races than the Coral Cup so a tentative vote goes to the Irish raider Taglietelle. He has a very good strike rate over hurdles and we probably haven’t seen the best of him given his lack of runs over hurdles on his preferred good ground. Arriving fresh off the back of a break and with a nice weight he should run well at a rewarding price.
The Champion Chase at 3-20 looks one of the finest renewals in many years with Sprinter Sacre, Sire De Grugy and Dodging Bullets all staking a major claim as the best 2 mile chaser around. There is plenty of danger lurking beyond the big three with the likes of the rapidly improving Mr Mole and the inconsistent yet classy Champagne Fever providing solid opposition. Obvious doubts remain about Sprinter Sacre despite his promising comeback, although travelling well he found very little and yes that can be put down to an absence but it may take him some time to get back to his best. Dodging Bullets capitalised that day but may be flattered by the manner of his victory in beating a sub standard Sprinter Sacre. I’ve got a nagging feeling that soft ground suits him better as well and it is for that reason that Gary Moore’s defending champion Sire De Grugy is the selection. It was a fantastic story for the racing world when he was victorious 12 months ago and would have won on his reappearance for a blunder. That has been taken largely out of proportion and I think it is folly to dismiss him on the back of that. Yes this is a stronger renewal than last year but his jumping is normally electric and the way he travels suggests that stronger opposition may bring out the best in him. In what should prove to be a fascinating spectacle Sire De Grugy is a strong fancy to land the spoils.
Cheltenham Tips: Nichols Canyon 1-30, Kings Palace 2-05, Taglietelle 2-40, Sire De Grugy 3-20, Quantitativeeasing 4-00, Hostile Fire 4-40 and Theo’s Charm 5-15