The Cheltenham Festival may provide the highlight of British National Hunt racing season, but a major part of the thrill involved has traditionally been the rivalry between the home team and raiders from across the Irish Sea. The influx of French-bred jumpers to both Britain and Ireland, particularly over the last decade, has meant that the competition is now fierce between all three nations.
National honour is at stake, and that rivalry filters through to the desks of the TDN offices. This week, our correspondents from Britain, Ireland and France–all three passionate jumping fans and small National Hunt breeders–will take each other on in a daily tipping contest. Here are their selections for day two.
Emma Berry – Britain
Nothing would make me happier than a top-level British-bred winner at the Festival and returning hero PRESENTING PERCY (GB) could well be the one to get the ball rolling here today. He’s graduated to fences with aplomb and has been a model of consistency all season, most recently going down by just a length to leading Gold Cup fancy Our Duke (Ire) in the G2 Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park. He’ll go off favourite, but it’s no more than he deserves.
The G1 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase is one of the most thrilling races to watch as the ‘sprinters’ of the steeplechasing world hurtle around one of the most unforgiving courses. Altior (Ire) barely knows what it’s like to be beaten and has progressed from victory in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle two years ago to glory in last year’s Arkle Chase. However, last-minute scares, such as his sudden but apparently brief lameness on Monday, make me nervous, and it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise to see POLITOLOGUE (FR), whom Altior beat last time at Newbury, creep a little closer this time, and perhaps even reverse the form in the more testing conditions. He’s my each-way selection.
People who don’t enjoy watching bumpers are missing all the fun of trying to spot nascent jumping talent and tracking future champions through their formative years. I’ve been hugely impressed by BLACKBOW (IRE), who won the best bumper of the season when beating a classy field chockful of former winners at Leopardstown’s Dublin Festival on Feb. 3. A rare graduate of the British point-to-pointing scene to have joined Willie Mullins, Blackbow heads a competitive line-up for the
G1 Weatherbys Champion Bumper and will be partnered by Patrick Mullins, who already has a winner on the board this Festival. Don’t head to the car park before cheering this lad home.
Daithi Harvey – Ireland
It is nigh impossible to ignore the claims of MAX DYNAMITE (FR) in the Coral Cup considering the gelding’s last two efforts on the Flat. His 3 1/4-length sixth to Highland Reel (Ire) in the
G1 Longines Hong Kong Vase last December was preceded by a brilliant third-place finish in the G1 Melbourne Cup and he looks too well treated back over hurdles to ignore. He has Ruby Walsh in the plate and, while the ground could be a worry, his class should see him through.
There has been no shortage of drama in the lead up to the G1 Queen Mother Champion Chase with Douvan (Fr)’s participation more a case of ‘seeing is believing’ while ALTIOR (IRE) contributed his share of worry when bruising his foot at just the wrong time. Assuming and hoping they all rock up in good nick I will stick with Altior who has already proven himself quite superior to Min (Fr) at the Festival two years ago and he has the benefit of a run this season over Douvan.
I can’t oppose Ireland’s great hope Samcro (Ire) in the first race but neither can I back him at odds-on and despite fancying Presenting Percy (GB) in the RSA Chase, given Emma Berry’s love for sons of Sir Percy (GB), I will leave him to her. So I will skip to the G1 Weatherbys Champion Bumper where my speculative choice is ACEY MILAN (IRE). The last 4-year-old to win the Bumper was Cue Card (GB) and Acey Milan has a lot more experience than he had, having been precocious enough to make his debut as a 3-year-old last October. He has since added three wins to his CV and he appears to have the right mix of speed and stamina to go close in this for trainer Anthony Honeyball.
Emmanuel Roussel – France
I like BLACK CORTON (FR) in the G1 RSA Novices’ Chase and I think he’s overpriced considering he’s done nothing wrong this winter. I think he will like the ground and Bryony Frost has a superb record with him. His slight setback after Kempton might end up being a blessing in disguise as I was concerned that he had already had a busy season. He’s a great-looking horse and I’d love to cheer Bryony Frost home.
Emmanuel Clayeux is an extremely shrewd trainer and he has had a win at the Festival as his aim for a very long time. Remember that his Sirene d’Ainay (Fr) made the Quevega team wonder for a few seconds in 2013. URGENT DE GREGAINE (FR) knows the place and I am confident that he’s in tiptop shape. His rider Felix de Giles is very good, so why not a long-awaited French win in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase? I think this horse is our best shot in the race, in which four French-trained horses line up.
My final selection is MITCHOUKA (Fr) in the G3 Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle. He was third in the Prix Ominium II over the mile in France, a race won by Hurricane Fly (Fr) back in the day. He was certainly classy enough and I hope he can carry that top weight around. It’s a tricky race and Mitouchka has top weight but I like his chances better than some of the other French-breds. I will also keep my eye on King of May (Fr). His former trainer, Armand Lefeuvre, is a name to keep in mind.