Ruby Walsh and Robbie Power look ahead to the main races at next week's Cheltenham Festival.
Listen to Tuesday's special episode of Game On above, or grab a cuppa and read the lads' tips for next week below.
DAY ONE - TUESDAY
Supreme Novices' Hurdle, 2m 0f 87y
Ruby Walsh: Appreciate It found Ferny Hollow too good for him last year in the Champion Bumper. Ferny Hollow quickened by him through the wings at the last hurdle and it looked like Appreciate It then would want to be going a bit further. He won his maiden hurdle in Cork beating Master McShee. He turned up at Leopardstown at Christmas and won a grade one over two miles, beating Ballyadam and a few others and he cemented that at the Dublin Racing Festival. It's maybe the weakness in the opposition that makes Appreciate It such a short-price favourite more so that what Appreciate It has achieved. He looks like a horse that would want a little further.
Robbie Power: Definitely, Appreciate It is the best of the Irish, he's proven that. Ballyadam on better ground might give him a bit more to do but I don’t think he’ll be good enough. I think Soaring Glory is a big danger of the British challengers. I was very impressed with him in the big handicap hurdle in Newbury and horses in that race have a good record in the Supreme Novice. Jonjo O'Neill holds him in high regard.
Arkle Challenge Trophy, 1m 7f 199y
Ruby: There is so much unknown. Shishkin was a good winner last year of the Supreme when things went wrong. He was very keen early in the race, made a mistake at the third hurdle and lost his position climbing the hill after the fifth. He did really well to get out of that predicament. He's been perfect over fences so far this year. Energumene has been very good, made a winning start over two and a half miles at Gowran Park, dropped back to two miles at Naas and the Dublin Racing Festival and Allmankind is a front-running five-year-old who likes to get on with it. There’s no real crossing of form so people find it hard to figure out which one is the best. The horse who has been to Cheltenham and proven it is Shishkin. It’ll be a great race. You don’t have to have a bet on every race and I think this is one to watch.
Robbie: It’s going to be fascinating. The three of them have not met each other yet. I don’t think Allmankind is as good as Energumene or Shishkin. I don't think Paul Townend has got enough credit for Energumene, I think he holds his hand a little bit. He doesn’t jump like a natural two-mile chaser. He’s got a huge engine but I just think Shishkin will take plenty of beating. It will be fast and furious.
The Champion Hurdle, 2m 0f 87y
Ruby: I'd ride Honeysuckle every day of the week. She’s unbeaten in ten runs, she’s a better mare this year. This will be really fast. It will be relentless and suit Honeysuckle. Her jumping has improved, even as a mare she has improved. Look at the Irish Champion Hurdle in 2020. She got back up to beat Petit Mouchoir. In 2021 she trounced her rivals. The really strong gallop will suit her. The fairytale would be Goshen but Honeysuckle for me.
Robbie: Epatante was disappointing at Christmas, not for the first time. She disappointed in Cheltenham before and then bounced back last season She was very impressive winning the Fighting Fifth in Newcastle. Everyone thought going to Kempton at Christmas, she was a steering job and it was too bad to be true. She will be a different kettle of fish here. Good to soft is likely on opening day and it would be ideal for her. The first half mile will be very important for Honeysuckle and if she finds her rhythm there, she going to take a lot of beating.
The Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle, 2m 3f 200y
Ruby: I don't think it’s as straightforward as the betting suggests. Concertista is 5/4 favourite or thereabouts but her form is nowhere near as good as Roksana, who was a lucky winner of this race when Benie Des Dieux fell at the last. Two runs back she chased down Paisley Park and Thyme Hill. She’s since won at Ascot, I think her form is arguably stronger than Concertista’s form. She’s all potential, Roksana is actual form. I’m not sure there is a big a split between them as the prices suggest.
Robbie: Concertista was brilliant last year in the Mares Novice Hurdle over two miles. Roksana is going to shoot herself in the foot here because she’s more of a stamina mare and I’m not sure there’s a great deal of pace in the race. I think Concertista has way more boot than Roksana.
DAY TWO - WEDNESDAY
Ballymore Novices' Hurdle, 2m 5f 0y
Ruby: I'm a huge Bob Olinger fan. He’s only been beaten by Ferny Hollow in a maiden hurdle at Gowran and he’s been very good since. If there’s value it probably lies with Bear Ghylls, who has had three starts over hurdles this year. He won at Lingfield, Ffos Las and followed up with a handicap at Exeter. He might represent the value in this one.
Robbie: It will be a big surprise to me if anything other than Gaillard Du Mesnil, Bravemansgame or Bob Olinger wins. Bob Olinger impressed winning the Lawlor’s of Naas. His jumping impressed me the most. He’d a very straightforward ride and Rachel Blackmore can ride him whatever way she wants to. Gaillard Du Mesnil is a bit keener. Paul Townend will want to get cover on him early to make sure he switches off. He did well at the Dublin Racing Festival to win because he was quite keen early on. Throw in Bravemansgame, who was a very good winner of the Challow Hurdle in Newbury. Paul Nicholls said he’s his best chance of a winner at the meeting. Bob Olinger will take a lot of beating.
Brown Advisory Novices' Chase, 3m 0f 80y
Ruby: Monkfish seems to keep getting better. Every day seems to be an improvement on what he's done before. Last year at Cheltenham he beat Latest Exhibition, Thyme Hill and Fury Road, was rock solid when starting first time over fences at Fairyhouse. He looked better at Christmas when he beat Latest Exhibition and looked better again at the Dublin Racing Festival. The only thing might be that he looked better at two miles and five furlongs than he did at three miles but he’s already won at that distance over hurdles so that shouldn’t be a worry. Monkfish does everything.
Robbie: Monkfish is an amazing jumper, he impressed at Leopardstown at Christmas and then dropped back to two and a half and people thought he might struggle but he showed he's not short of boot. He ticks all the boxes and I can’t see anything getting near him. He won over three miles there last year and will take a lot of beating.
Queen Mother Champion Chase, 1m 7f 199y
Ruby: Chacun Pour Soi is a nine-year-old and has never run at Cheltenham. That's probably the only drawback for him, he’s been rock solid this year. He’s won the Hilly Way at Cork, two wins at Leopardstown. He was in Cheltenham last year and everything was hunky dory until he stood on a stone on Wednesday morning and couldn’t run. He looks the best horse. He’s odds on, from a betting point of view you’d have to be doubling him with Monkfish. I just think he’s too good for the opposition.
Robbie: I agree. I was lucky to get a ride on Chacun Pour Soi in a Grade 1 novice chase at Punchestown and he really impressed me. It was so disappointing in Cheltenham last year. The only danger is that he doesn’t get there in one piece. Politologue and Put the Kettle On both represent good each way value. She loves the nice ground at Cheltenham and she could finish in the money but none of these horses are in the same league as Chacun Pour Soi.
Champion Bumper, 2m 0f 87y
Ruby: Kilcruit looked so impressive at the Dubin Racing Festival but that wasn't run tactically very efficiently. They went too fast and a lot of the horses got very tired at the end of the race. Kilcruit was allowed to coast home in front. Sir Gerhard was with Gordon Elliott and won a good bumper in Navan before Christmas and looked really exciting that day. Last week Kilcruit was a danger to Sir Gerhard, now he's a team-mate. I was with Ramillies in Leopardstown and Kilcruit truly put him in his place.
DAY THREE - THURSDAY
Marsh Novice Hurdle, 2m 3f 168y
Ruby: Everything Envoi Allen has done so far in his career has been in novice company. It's not quite like underage in other sports but he still hasn't stepped out onto championship at any level. It's what he does in the future. Next year will bring pressure for Henry de Bromhead and Envoi Allen. As far as this race is concerned, I'm not as convinced about Sporting John. I think if there's each-way value, it's maybe Fusil Raffles on dry ground for Nicky Henderson. I think he could run a good race at 12/1.
Robbie: If only half of Envoi Allen turns up in Cheltenham next Thursday, he'll win. Shan Blue is a solid horse, he got beaten by Sporting John in the Scilly Isles (Novice's Chase) in Sandown. That was a good performance from Sporting John. They went very quick that day and maybe the race fell apart in front. Another horse at a bigger price that I think might have an each-way chance is a horse called Allart of Nicky Henderson's, who was fifth in the Supreme Novices' last year behind Shiskin, was a good winner in Ascot just before Christmas and took a fall early on in Haydock on his next start and hasn't run since. He's a horse with a lot of ability and I think he'd have a good each way chance. But, of the three novice chasers we've talked about, I think Envoi Allen is the biggest banker of the whole lot.
Ryanair Chase, 2m 4f 127y
Ruby: I'd probably be for Min. He's achieved more than the other two all through his career, he's a multiple grade one winner. Melon just doesn't win, Allaho has been to two festivals and got beaten twice, albeit over three miles. It's a big decision for Paul Townend, which one he decides to ride. I'd probably go for Min, I'd go for the proven one. I think Allaho has to improve again. Outside of that, Fakir D'oudairies maybe has a chance. The dry forecast in the UK probably wouldn't suit Saint Calvadas and it would probably would suit a horse called Mister Fisher, who was just behind Melon in last year's Marsh Chase. He could be value each-way.
Robbie: It's a fascinating race. Allaho was very impressive in Thurles when he dropped back in trip. Min obviously won this race last year but was very disappointing at the Dublin Racing Festival. I don't know why but his jumping fell apart. Melon is a premier bridesmaid the whole time, was a good second last year, was second in the Champion Hurdle. But this looks like it might be his chance. With Allaho going long in front and Min and Melon following away, it'll be a fascinating race. I wouldn't rule out Saint Calvadas as an each-way chance either. For one last time, I'm going to give Melon one last chance, I think he's a bit of value in the race. I called him a professional loser! He is! That's why I say I'm giving him one last chance. It's been four Cheltenham Festivals he's been second at. I'm probably stone mad, but at 8 or 9/1, I don't see him out of the first three. It'll be strongly run with Allaho at the front so it just might suit Melon.
The Stayers' Hurdle, 2m 7f 213y
Ruby: I think it will be a shoot-out between Thyme Hill and Paisley Park but there are strong form judges and clock-watchers who'll tell you that Sire de Berlais' performance in last year's Pertemps Final was a better performance than Lisnagar Oscar's in this race last year. He's probably the strongest of the Irish. I know he finished behind Flooring Porter at Leopardstown but I think Flooring Porter got it easy there. He won't at Cheltenham. I was all over Thyme Hill last year in the Albert Bartlett when he came fourth. He didn't get a great run and met with some interference, you can make excuses for him. I think Paisley Park mugged him in Ascot in the Long Walk Hurdle. Thyme Hill had beaten Paisley Park prior to that in Newbury and I'd be willing to go with Thyme Hill. He's a seven-year-old, still improving, I think he's a stronger horse now. He's come off a break and I'd go with him.
Robbie: It's a lot stronger than last year's Stayers Hurdle where Paisley Park never turned up at all. It was a very weak race. It's a lot stronger this year with Thyme Hill, Sire de Berlais and even The Storyteller each-way. The Storyteller is the best cash collector of a race horse in the Emerald Isle. Every day, he goes out, he collects plenty of money. I'm with Ruby, I think Thyme Hill is the improving horse, was very unlucky in Ascot. I think the drying ground will suit Thyme Hill. I think he'll make it 2-1 against Paisley Park.
DAY FOUR - FRIDAY
The Triumph Hurdle, 2m 0f 179y
Ruby: Tritonic jumped to favouritism last weekend when he won the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton Park. He won well but his jumping was only okay. I've always been a huge fan of Zanahiyr. He won okay in Ballinrobe on his first start but he was brilliant at Fairyhouse at the end of November when he won there. He won a slowly run race at Leopardstown at Christmas to show he's adaptable. He can win a strong race, can win a slow race, he just showed so much class. Quilixios was good at the Dublin Racing Festival, I think he has to improve off of that. Adagio won the Grade 1 in Chepstow over Christmas. I think he got well beaten by Duffle Coat earlier in the season and that would leave him behind other Irish horses. Willie Mullins has a horse called Haut en Couleurs who won in France on his only start. He's 16/1, he may well have an each-way shout. So does Saint Sam. But if I was still riding, I'd want to be riding Zanahiyr.
Robbie: Tritonic's jumping left a bit to be desired in the Adonis but Alan King has a fantastic record with juveniles. He looks to me like a horse with plenty of speed, like Zanahiyr. It's not always a speed horse that wins the Triumph Hurdle, they're generally more staying types. You only jump two hurdles in the last seven furlongs in the Triumph which makes it a real stamina test. Quilixios is guaranteed stamina. I think his stamina will come to the fore and he can overturn Zanahiyr and Tritonic. Adagio is improving with every run. He was beaten by Duffle Coat in November. But every race since that, he's improving and was a good winner in Chepstow. But I'm going to lean on stamina and I think Quilixios has more than Zanahiyr and Tritonic.
Alfred Bartlett Novices' Hurdle, 2m 7f 213y
Ruby: Stattler ran well at the Dublin Racing Festival behind Galliard du Mesnil. But I thought Danny Mullins gave him a lovely ride, looked to have saved a bit going home and I just thought Stattler faded more than I would have liked. Looking at that race, you'd have to think Fakiera, with another two furlongs, would have passed him out. I think Fakiera could turn it around with Stattler. I think Torygraph is another that would have to have a chance. He looks to be on the improve and has a high enough official rating. I actually rode a horse this morning - who I was giving no chance to until I sat on him this morning - where I thought, this might run well, is a horse called N'golo.
Robbie: I think this is definitely the weakest of all the Novice events. It was a very good race last year but this year, I think it's a very, very weak race. Fakiera is all about stamina and three miles on the new track in Cheltenham is going to play right to his strengths. I can see him reversing the form with Stattler. Of the English challengers, Allaphillipe is probably the best under Fergal O'Brien, he was a very impressive winner in Haydock in his last start. Barbados Buck's is probably there on reputation because of who his brother is. He's won a few little events. He's on the improve but needs to improve an awful lot more. For me, Fakiera is all about stamina and this'll play to his strengths.
Gold Cup, 3m 2f 70y
Ruby: Al Boum Photo won a strongly-run race in 2019, he won a much more steadily-run race in 2020. So, he's won it both ways. He looks rock solid. We only see him a couple of times a year. But that's all we ever saw Best Mate. Not very many horses get to defend a Gold Cup crown so to get him back for a third year in a row is an achievement in itself. I think he's in great form. I think this year it's tactically even easier than last year for him, with the likes of Frodon in the race and Native River. They will add a bit of pace to it and make sure there's a good gallop. You can throw in Kemboy and Vinndication as well, who'll go forward.That suits Al Boum Photo who's a really strong stayer. Now, there is new opposition. You talk about the future. This time next year, you could be talking about Monkfish and Envoi Allen coming to take on Al Boum Photo. This year, it's A Plus Tard and Champ. A Plus Tard was very good at Leopardstown at Christmas when he got back up to beat Kemboy and Melon. And Champ made a really satisfactory start to his season in the two-mile chase at Newbury. They are new opposition but the one thing you're guaranteed with Al Boum Photo is that he gets every yard of three miles, two furlongs and 70 yards.
The only other one that could potentially is Venetia Williams Royal Pagaille, he's only a novice but he's a lot of runs over fences. His performance in Haydock was pretty emphatic. Were he to line up at 14/1, he'd probably be good each-way value.
Robbie: Al Boum Photo's position at the head of the market is even stronger than it was six months ago. A lot of the horses that were potential dangers to his crown, the likes of Minella Indo, Santini, Lostintranslation, they've all fluffed their lines. Champ has come through, he's had one run over two miles. That'll either turn out to be a genius decision from Nicky Henderson to run him over two miles - or it'll backfire. Over two miles, he was still pretty keen. I think Nico des Boinville's challenge early on in the race is going to be getting Champ to spit the bit out. He's going to have to spit the bit over three and a quarter miles. I was very impressed with A Plus Tard at Leopardstown at Christmas and I think he is the biggest danger to Al Boum Photo. He's won a Grade 1 over two miles, he was a Cheltenham winner over two and a half, albeit a handicap, and he was placed in a Ryanair. This step up in trip is just what he needs. If there's one horse that can beat Al Boum Photo, it is A Plus Tard.
I think Royal Pagaille is the most over-rated horse in England at the moment. I think he won from a bunch of sheep in Haydock. He was impressive in Kempton over Christmas but he the race in Haydock was a non-event.
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