With over 20 years of experience in horseracing, Jason Brautigam has worked on both the racecourse and betting side of the industry. Following six years as Head of Marketing for Ascot Racecourse, he held various commercial positions at the Tote, where he was ultimately responsible for running their racecourse division. A keen punter and racing blogger himself, Jason now works as a freelance marketing communications consultant.
1.30pm – Neptune Novices’ Hurdle
Day Two of the Cheltenham Festival starts with another novice hurdle and again we have another well fancied Willie Mullins trained favourite in the shape of FAUGHEEN, who will be hoping to emulate yesterday’s Supreme winner Vautour. The Irish dogs have been barking about this horse for a long while and so far the hype has been justified with four bloodless wins to date, including three over hurdles.
There has been a lot to like about the manner of those victories and, although he has yet to be truly tested, Faugheen looks likely to take all the beating here. Four of the last eight winners of this race have been trained in Ireland, including two for Willie Mullins, but the home team led by Red Sherlock and Royal Boy will make this by far the stiffest task Faugheen has faced so far.
The Nicky Henderson trained Royal Boy arguably has the strongest form on display here, winning the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle last time out. However, Henderson has only had one victory from 33 runners in this race, his sole success coming with Simonsig in 2012.
David Pipe’s Red Sherlock remains unbeaten under rules, including two wins at Cheltenham, and could pose the biggest threat to the favourite after beating Faugheen’s stablemate Rathvinden on the trials day here in January. Certainly the vibes are very strong that Red Sherlock and Friday’s Albert Bartlett runner Kings Palace represent the best chances of success for Pond House this week.
2.05pm – RSA Chase
BALLYCASEY established his place at the head of the market for this race after his impressive defeat of Don Cossack by four lengths in the Grade One Moriarty Novice Chase. His final preparations have not been ideal, however, and he fell during schooling at Leopardstown earlier this month. The last 14 winners of the RSA have all had at least three runs over fences, so his relative jumping inexperience could count against him.
This doesn’t look a vintage renewal though, so it is hard to pinpoint who will provide the biggest opposition to the favourite. Smad Place finished third in two World Hurdles, so has a touch of class, and has taken reasonably well to fences so far. Despite unseating his rider on his chasing debut he subsequently made amends with two good victories at Exeter and Newbury, the latter over Sam Winner.
Morning Assembly was a Grade One winner over hurdles and is two from three over fences, with his only defeat to Carlingford Lough at Leopardstown over Christmas. Both remain worthy of further consideration, along with Drinmore Chase winner Don Cossack if he can reverse the form with Ballycasey.
2.40pm – Coral Cup
Always one of the most competitive handicaps of the Festival, this year’s Coral Cup is no exception and looks a difficult puzzle to solve.
Heading the weights is 2009 Champion Bumper winner Dunguib, who returned to the track after an absence of almost three years in January and bounced back to winning ways at Navan when beating Zaidpour in a Grade Two last time out. After a controversial build-up to the Festival, trainer Philip Fenton will be hoping that the 11 year old can help him hit the headlines for all of the right reasons.
However, this race tends to go to a young, improving horse at the bottom end of the handicap: 12 of the last 14 winners were aged seven or younger, while only two of the last 13 winners have carried more than 11st 2lb to victory (Medinas being one of the exceptions last year when winning off 11st 10lb).
BAYAN would fit the bill for Gordon Elliot and this dual purpose horse is an intriguing contender. Although he has yet to win on the flat, he has recorded a hat trick of victories over hurdles already this season. His trainer previously won this race in 2011 with another five year old Carlito Brigante.
David Pipe demonstrated once again on Saturday that he knows what it takes to land a big handicap hurdle when landing the Imperial Cup for the third time. He will have high hopes for Dell’ Arca, who scored an impressive victory in the Greatwood Hurdle here at Cheltenham in the autumn and found only Splash of Ginge too good in the Betfair Hurdle last time out.
3.20pm – BetVictor Queen Mother Champion Chase
The feature race of the second day lost some of its lustre when last year’s exhilarating winner, and the highest rated horse in training, Sprinter Sacre, was forced to withdraw due to an ongoing heart condition. With the champion unable to defend his crown a new name looks set to be added to the roll of honour, although the 2011 hero Sizing Europe might have something to say about that! He’s never been out of the first two in this race in three attempts, also finishing runner up in 2012 and 2013.
At 12 years old now, this top two mile chaser may struggle against some of the younger pretenders, though there will be no bigger roar should he return to the winner’s enclosure once more. But this season has been all about SIRE DE GRUGY so far, after three victories on the bounce in the Tingle Creek, Desert Orchid Chase and Clarence House Chase. This is by far the best form on display and Gary Moore’s charge should not be under-estimated. The only real negative is his failure to score on two previous visits to Cheltenham.
In Sprinter Sacre’s absence this race has ironically become more competitive, with Captain Conan set to represent the stable this time around. He could only finish fifth in the Jewson Novices’ Chase at last year’s Festival but landed the Grade One Manifesto Novices’ Chase at Aintree next time out. He has only been seen once this season, finishing third behind Sire De Grugy in the Tingle Creek, typically a very good pointer for the Champion Chase.
The previous year’s Arkle Chase is normally an excellent guide too, but 2013 hero Simonsig is another who misses the Festival. Arvika Ligeonniere was pulled up in last year’s race, but has subsequently won four out of five starts, his only defeat coming at the hands of the 2013 Jewson Novices’ Chase winner Benefficient. The fact that he runs here rather than tomorrow’s Ryanair Chase will give the favourite something to worry about.
Paul Nicholls’ novice Hinterland is thrown in the deep end in this race but is an interesting dark horse, along with 2013 Grand Annual runner-up Kid Cassidy, who beat Sire De Grugy fair and square in a listed race here at Cheltenham in December and could represent each way value against the favourite.
4.00om – Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase
Inclusion of the Cross Country Chase at the Festival still splits jump racing fans, but it has now become a regular feature at Cheltenham and a popular betting heat. Seven of the nine winners to date were priced at 13/2 or shorter, so it pays to concentrate on those at the head of the market. In fact 33 of the 39 cross country races staged at Cheltenham have been won by horses in the first five of the betting.
Course and distance winners Big Shu and BALTHAZAR KING look the two to focus on here, with marginal preference for the latter after a hat trick of victories in the early part of the season, including success here at Cheltenham on the same cross country course where he enjoyed his finest hour in 2012. He missed this race for a crack at the Grand National last year, but returns in an attempt to reclaim his crown.
Big Shu sprang something of a surprise when winning this race at 14/1 last season, but is well fancied to prove that victory was no fluke. Anything Enda Bolger runs always has to be respected in these cross country contests. He won four of the first five renewals of this race and will be represented this year by Love Rory, Star Neuville and Quantitativeeasing.
4.40pm – Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle
It’s not often you see a Nicky Henderson winner allowed to go off at 40/1, but that’s exactly what happened in this race two years ago with Une Artiste. Representing the same connections this time is DAWALAN, who is the only one in single figures in the betting. Bred by HH The Aga Khan, he was a maiden on the flat when trained in France, but has won two of his three hurdle starts to date and was beaten by just a nose in his final prep in a ‘bumpers for jumpers’ event on the all-weather at Kempton at the end of January.
Five of the last eight winners won last time out, so you ideally need to look for recent winning form. It is also perhaps notable that five of the nine winners of this race to date have been French bred imports, so another French recruit Katgary is also worthy of closer inspection. He is chasing a hat trick on his first run for trainer Paul Nicholls, who won this race with a similar type, Sanctuaire, in 2010.
Only one of the nine winners of this race have carried over 11st 4lb to victory, so it is hard to fancy the chances of the Willie Mullins trained trio of Noble Inn, Adriana Des Mottes and Ivan Grozny, who are all at the top end of the handicap. Four winners of this race since 2004 have been trained in Ireland though, so it’s well worth taking a look at runners from the Emerald Isle.
Lindenhurst has been in fine form since switching codes, winning two out of four starts over hurdles so far and never out of the first two, while Sea Beat won at the third time of asking for trainer Arthur Moore, who landed the Fred Winter in 2011 with What A Charm.
5.15pm – Weatherbys Champion Bumper
The closing contest on Day Two is always a favourite with the Irish, who invariably field a strong challenge in the Champion Bumper. They have won eight of the last 10 renewals, with Willie Mullins landing the race an incredible eight times since his first success with Wither or Which in 1996.
With his latest victories courtesy of Champagne Fever and Briar Hill in the last two seasons, who would be brave enough to back against Willie working the Mullins magic again? He looks set to have a typically good hand, with BLACK HURCULES, Shaneshill and Killultagh Vic all prominent in the betting. The first named looks to be his main contender, however, unbeaten in two bumpers to date and particularly impressive last time out.
Dermot Weld’s Vigil is an intriguing contender after winning his second start in fine style. His Rite of Passage finished third behind Dunguib in this race in 2009 and he will have high hopes that Vigil can go a couple of places better this year. Weld could potentially be double handed with exciting prospect Silver Concorde also due to line-up.
Modus is another that should be high up on any shortlist as he won the bumper here at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day. That made it two from two and the vibes are strong that he can maintain his unbeaten record.