At this time last year, Andy Stephens tipped Minella Indo to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup at 16-1 plus Shishkin to win any race at the Festival at 5-1 and The Big Breakaway each-way at 33-1 for the Brown Advisory. Find out who his long-term fancies are this time.
Ireland dominated Cheltenham last week
The Cheltenham Festival was a delight from start to finish although it was hard not to feel a degree of sympathy for the home team as they were swept away by a relentless wave of fabulous Irish challengers.
An early 2-1 lead for the home team quickly evaporated and the final one-sided scoreline of Ireland 23 Britain 5 would have almost certainly been worse had Envoi Allen stood up in the Marsh Chase or the Hunter Chase been run over a yard further.
It’s obvious Ireland have the best horses and that prize-money levels across the water are not helping, with some of Britain’s biggest owners, such as Cheveley Park Stud, taking their custom there.
In a media call on Monday, to promote the Boylesports Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse, Irish handicapper Andrew Shaw offered an example when making reference to the Grade One Scilly Isles Chase at Sandown Park in February carrying a first prize of £20,000. He suggested it would have been worth perhaps three times as much in Ireland and therein does lie part of the problem for the home side as they try and compete on level terms.
At some stage the wheel will again turn, but perhaps not any time soon. Indeed, if you study the ante-post lists for the Festival in 2022 you will see they are already dominated by Irish-trained hurdlers and chasers.
Shishkin is the one British-trained horse trading at a cramped price – he is no bigger than 6-4 for the Queen Mother Champion Chase – and even he could find himself bumping into Allaho, who put up one of the performances on the week when pummelling the opposition in the Ryanair.
I’ve got half a dozen fancies for next year and, on the plus side, two of them do reside in British stables. However, one of them is going to need a switch from fences to hurdle to have any chance of being a worthwhile inclusion.
At 7-1 with Betfair and Paddy Power for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
Watch how the Bumper got away from Kilcruit
The Champion Bumper was a story of what might have been for Kilcruit because Sir Gerhard, his new stablemate, got first run under a canny ride and fended him off by half a length.
If nothing else, it confirmed that Kilcruit’s dazzling previous win at the Dublin Racing Festival wasn’ the fluke some suggested it might have been.
Willie Mullins intimated after the Bumper that he viewed Sir Gerhard as a Supreme contender, with Klicruit a more likely type for the Ballymore. These things can change, of course, but there’s logic in his thinking with Klicruit looking a strong stayer.
Klicruit’s sire, Stowaway, had an excellent Festival via such as Put The Kettle On, Monkfish and The Shunter all winning, while his dam was also a winning hurdler. Jumping should bring about further improvement in him.
At a general 12-1 for the Brown Advisory Festival Novices’ Chase
Gavin Cromwell spoke to Lydia Hislop after Vanillier's success
I’m not sure last week’s Albert Bartlett was the strongest renewal ever run but, equally, it was impossible not to impressed by the way Vanillier stretched 11 lengths clear of his nearest pursuer.
It’s generally an attritional race in which the winner has to show a degree of courage, but Vanillier bounded away to win by 11 lengths in the manner of a horse who could have done it all again. He evidently enjoyed getting on some better ground on what was effectively only his fourth run.
The win did not seem to come as a surprise to the excellent Gavin Cromwell, who had made no secret of the fact that the six-year-old grey had returned home sick when previously disappointing at the Dublin Racing Festival.
Fences beckon next campaign and there’s no reason to think Vanillier will not prove equally adept in that sphere. He’s by Martaline, after all, out of a dam who won in points.
The Brown Advisory Festival Novices’ Chase is a natural target, with the stats also weighing heavily in his favour. Six of the past 12 winners of Festival Novices’ Chase contested the Albert Bartlett the year before, with Weapon’s Amnesty, Bobs Worth and Monkfish all completing the double.
At 25-1 with William Hill (each-way) for the Marsh Chase
I’m a little nervous about getting too involved in the Marsh Chase at this stage because it looks a natural target for Bob Olinger if, as seems likely, the brilliant Ballymore winner is switched to fences. He heads the market at 5-1.
However, I’m loathe to ignore Galopin Des Champs, who was a smooth winner of the Martin Pipe off a mark of 142 having previously been anything but disgraced behind Appreciate It at the Dublin Racing Festival.
He’s every inch a chaser on looks and clearly the distance of the Marsh will play to his strengths. I’d imagine he will be rated about 150 over hurdles after last week, but he should come into his own over the bigger obstacles.
He’s 12-1 in places for the Marsh but William Hill are far more cavalier in offering 25s. That’s too big for a horse with his potential trained by Willie Mullins.
At 25-1 with Unibet for the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle
Champ's last run over hurdles at Aintree in 2019
I don’t think any of us can be in any doubt that Champ is a stamina-laden horse with stacks of ability. You’ve only got to recall his defeat of Minella Indo and Allaho at last year’s Festival to realise that.
But he’s clearly got issues with jumping fences and his run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday was over almost before it had started because of blunders. He also made errors when when winning at the Festival last year, and he had unseated on a previous visit to Cheltenham.
His connections must be reaching a crossroads: do they persevere with him as a staying chaser – in a division that where such as Monkfish and Envoi Allen will be joining the party next season – or do they set their sights on winning a Stayers’ Hurdle or two? It looks a no-brainer to me.
He’s already a Grade One winner over the smaller obstacles – he had Lisnigar Oscar ten lengths behind when third when winning the Sefton at Aintree in 2019 – and to my eye it looks the way to go.
He could mop up in that sphere next term - Long Distance Hurdle, Long Walk Hurdle, Cleeve etc - and would surely be favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle if Nicky Henderson stated it was the plan.
At 25-1, I'm happy to risk the team behind him getting their sums right. It's cleary already crossed their minds, as he was given a Stayers' Hurdle entry this year.
Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at 12-1 with Sky Bet and Wiliam Hill
The first six renewals of the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle have been won by Irish-trained contenders but perhaps the Dan Skelton-trained Elle Est Belle will snap that sequence a year from now.
She’s certainly better qualified than most, at this stage, after chasing home Sir Gerhard and Kilcruit in the Champion Bumper. She stayed on stoutly to grab the bronze medal and the first two home head the market for the Supreme and Ballymore.
Before the Festival, she had won at Aintree and been involved in that controversial dead-heat at Cheltenham when the judge was left peering at a gloomy image that made his job impossible.
Her pedigree suggests jumping will pose no problem and, while she will stay further, the galloping nature of the New Course will play to her strengths. As she goes well fresh, I would not be surprised if her connections squeezed in two or three runs before Christmas (hopefully not picking up a penalty) before keeping her powder dry.
At a general 50-1 each-way for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
Last, but certainly not least, Three Stripe Life.
If you are going to be having one ante-post bet for next year’s Festival then it should be this gelding for the Albert Bartlett at an outlandish 50-1.
A son of 2014 Gold Cup winner Leading Light, his pedigree is all about stamina (two of his half-brothers effective over 3m) and in the circumstances he ran a cracker to be fourth in the Champion Bumper last week.
He could only plug on at one pace in the closing stages and was overhauled late on for third, but don’t mistake that for him weakening. It’s much more likely he simply lacked the gears of speedier rivals.
It’s true that horses running in the Champion Bumper don’t have a great record in the Albert Bartlett but there are exceptions to every rule and, at the odds on offer, I’m happy to overlook that.
He should do well in staying novice hurdles next term. It should be a case of the further the better.Add an unlimited number of horses into your Racing TV Tracker and never miss a winner again! Click here for more details.
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