Altior Champion Chase Bid in Doubt
Day two of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival revolves around the Grade 1 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (1530), featuring one of the British bankers of the week, the superb Nicky Henderson-trained Altior.
There has been a big scare though with the star gelding reported lame on Monday afternoon. This is a massive concern for his fans and he has drifted from odds-on to odds-against as a result. The eight-year-old is such a class act that I believe he’ll still do the business – if Henderson manages to overcome that lameness by Wednesday. If he doesn’t, he won’t run.
A brilliant winner of his last 12 races, he beat the smart Min (set to reoppose) by seven lengths in the 2016 Supreme Novices Hurdle. He was unbeaten in six races over fences last season, including landing odds of 1/4 in the Arkle Trophy before going on to beat the newly crowned Champion Chase hero Special Tiara (28/1 with Bet365) by eight lengths at Sandown last April in the Grade 1 Celebration Chase.
There was concern that the son of High Chaparral might not be the force of old following wind surgery this winter, but he returned in imperious fashion to slam Politologue (14/1 with 10Bet) in last month’s Grade 2 Game Spirit Chase at Newbury.
Willie Mullins’ Min (10/3 with Ladbrokes) is a danger to Altior having progressed well over fences in Ireland this campaign, most recently winning by 12 lengths at Leopardstown last month. He will give his supporters a good run for their money, and might be joined by stable companion Douvan, a red-hot 2/9 favourite to win this race last year having won nine on the bounce coming to the Cheltenham Festival, but he went wrong and finished lame in seventh place.
Douvan (11/4 with Coral) hasn’t been seen since, although reports indicate he is in good form. Connections will make a late decision as to whether he runs in the Champion Chase, or in Thursday’s Ryanair Chase. It would be breathtaking though if he could win this against such hot opposition after a year on the sidelines. I don’t believe he can do it.
If you review the video of last year’s Champion Chase, you’ll note that Tom George’s God’s Own, fourth to the great Sprinter Sacre in 2016, was looking a possible winner until crashing through the second last fence. I’d be even more hopeful on better ground, but God’s Own represents good each-way value at current odds of 50/1 with 188Bet.
Defeating Samcro on Destination’s Itinerary
The opening race on Wednesday is the two-mile-five-furlong Grade 1 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle and many Irish punters believe their Samcro (8/11 with Ladbrokes) is a good thing. The Gordon Elliott-trained six-year-old scored easily in Grade 1 company last time out over two miles at Leopardstown having been equally impressive over half a mile further at Navan the time before. He is unbeaten in six races and sets a very good standard.
Ireland have won this race six times in the last 10 years, and with Willie Mullins’ Next Destination (7/2 with Betway) a clear second-favourite, they hold a very strong hand once again. A close fourth in the Champion Bumper here 12 months ago, Next Destination is unbeaten in all three starts over timber and he looks value to topple Samcro.
ADVICE: WIN – Next Destination (7/2 with Betway)
Black Looks a Beauty for Bryony
There’s very little to choose on form between the two Irish-trained market principals Presenting Percy and Monalee in what will be a fascinating Grade 1 RSA Novices’ Chase (1410).
Patrick Kelly’s Presenting Percy (5/2 with BoyleSports) won the Pertemps Hurdle Final at this meeting last year and was a fine runner-up to Cheltenham Gold Cup contender Our Duke last time at Gowran Park. He looks sure to be in the shake-up. Monalee (9/2 with 188Bet) stayed on well to land a Grade 1 novices chase at Leopardstown for trainer Henry de Bromhead last month, and this proper stayer finished runner-up to Penhill in last year’s Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at this fixture.
The bookies though keep underestimating Paul Nicholls’ Black Corton (15/2 with Unibet), and his rise through the ranks under headlining lady jockey Bryony Frost has been one of the stories of the season. Horse and rider won for the eighth time since June when easily beating the good mare Ms Parfois in the Grade 2 Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot last month, having previously landed the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Already a winner twice over course and distance, Black Corton looks the best value bet in the race.
ADVICE: EACH WAY – Black Corton (15/2 with Unibet)
Other Cheltenham Festival Day Two Betting Advice
There will be 26 contenders for the cavalry charge that is the Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle (1450) and, as ever, the race is wide open. Willie Mullins’ Abbyssial (33/1 each-way with Bet365) was quietly fancied for last year’s Stayers’ Hurdle but ran no sort of race. He went well for a long way on his only run this term and might surprise. Also worth considering is the classy William Henry (10/1 each-way with William Hill), up 6lb for his latest win, but rising star James Bowen claims 3lb back giving him a definite chance.
Equally challenging for punters is the 22-runner Boodles Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (1650), a race for four-year-olds only. Jonjo O’Neill’s Knight Destroyer (33/1 each-way with William Hill) is 14lb better off with leading fancy Nube Negra for their running at Market Rasen earlier in the season when Knight Destroyer disappointed at odds of 2/9. Dan Skelton’s Nube Negra will be a popular choice after hacking up at Doncaster last time, but stable companion Embole (25/1 each-way with Ladbrokes) may be the better value of the pair.
The concluding Weatherbys Champion Bumper (1730) is often one of the hottest betting races of the week with so many unexposed horses who may have raced only once or twice previously. Willie Mullins has won this three times in the last 10 years and saddles five runners, all with chances, but I was quite taken with the way Anthony Honeyball’s Acey Milan (8/1 each-way with Bet365) scored at Newbury last month, and this previous course winner will make a bold bid to keep the prize on home soil.
Written by Paul Alster
Paul Alster has been part of the British and international racing media for more than three decades working as a race commentator, TV/radio presenter, journalist, betting correspondent, SP returner, and form analyst. He’s always sought out overpriced runners in handicap races, a quest that excites him as much now as it did at the start of his career.