Those blog followers who took my advice on the first day of Cheltenham and backed Klassical Dream (6/1) and Duc Des Genievres (5/1) had a great start to the meeting. I also gave a big shout to Le Breuill, the 14/1 winner of the National Hunt Chase. Of the others, who knows how Sharjah would have fared in the Champion Hurdle, had he not been brought down early in the race? Benie Des Dieux fell with the Mares’ Hurdle at her mercy. Rachael Blackmore and Henry De Bromhead were among the winners on day one with A Plus Tard in the Close Brothers Chase. They may be back in the winner’s enclosure on Thursday.
Blackmore rides Monalee for De Bromhead in the Ryanair Chase. They won the Red Mills at Gowran Park last time out. Before that, Monalee finished second to Kemboy in a Grade 1 chase at Leopardstown over Christmas. Road To Respect was just a head behind in third that day and the pair meet again here in the Ryanair.
Frost could be main danger to Blackmore
Another female rider, Bryony Frost, could pose the main threat to Blackmore and Monalee. She rides Frodon who always runs his heart out. The pair have been in great form all season. In stark contrast, last year’s Ryanair winner Balko Des Flos has shown little so far. Un De Sceaux, who won this in 2017 and finished second last year, skipped the Champion Chase for the Ryanair. He chased home Altior in the Tingle Creek on his sole start this season and can go close here.
Blackmore has five rides on Thursday but Monalee looks her best chance. She rides Petit Mouchoir in the Stayers’ Hurdle but this one would be a shock winner. Many people see Paisley Park as the banker of the meeting in this race and he’ll start a hot favourite. He’s improved with each run this term and may well win but he faces some serious rivals. Supasundae finished second in this last year and should go close again. Or can Faugheen roll back the years? That would be some story.
Irish dominance of JLT to end
The JLT Novices’ Chase has been an Irish benefit so far. Since its introduction, all bar one of its winner have been trained in Ireland. However, that trend looks likely to end. Defi Du Seuil and Lostintranslation have clashed twice this year. The score is one each. The later won the Grade 2 Dipper Chase at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day. Defi Du Seuil took revenge in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Chase at Sandown last month. There looks little between them. Real Steel, one of three Willie Mullins runners, looks the main Irish hope. He’s won his last two races easily. However, Ruby Walsh opts to ride stablemate Voix Du Reve.
Ben Pauling has already tasted success at this year’s festival. He runs Kildisart in the JLT. For winning the Timeform Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day, he was given a mark of 147. That ruled him out of the Close Brothers Handicap Chase, the original aim. Pauling says he’ll need to improve to win the JLT but added: “If I have one horse at the moment who is thrilling me, then it would be him.”
Thursday’s Cheltenham handicaps
Thursday’s three handicaps are wide open. Dan Skelton is also among the festival winners, courtesy of Roksana in the Mares’ Hurdle. He could have another with Spiritofthegames in the Brown Advisory Plate.
Walk To Freedom carries top weight in the Pertemps Final so has a tough task. However, he finished strongly to snatch second place in the Pertemps qualifier at Leopardstown last time. He’s up 9lb for that but is one to keep in mind.
As for the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Chase, Its All Guesswork is among the main contenders. That pretty much sums it up.