The first day of the Festival was a real classic, with potential future legends of the sport, Appreciate It & Shishkin, romping to victories in their respective races, and Honeysuckle and Rachael Blackmore making history in the Champion Hurdle. Even the Ultima threw up a memorable story, with Vintage Clouds winning the race at the fifth time of asking.
All of the action was set against the backdrop of a perfect spring day at Prestbury Park, which had the effect of drying out the rain-softened ground. A further rain-free night has left the going as good to soft all over, with good places likely to come into the description at some point this afternoon.
As with yesterday’s action, today’s card kicks off with two novices’ events that feature some of the most exciting young horses in training.
BALLYMORE NOVICES' HURDLE
The hurdlers are up first with a small but select field going to post in the Ballymore.
Bravemansgame impressed hugely when winning at Newbury last time out and Bear Ghylls is one of our favourite horses in training, but when trying to find the winner it is hard to look beyond the favourite, BOB OLINGER.
This horse’s form is almost flawless. He won a point-to-point on his debut, registering a decent RP mark in the process. He did the same when winning his only bumper and his only defeat so far came over an inadequate trip of two miles. If he handles this quicker surface, then he should win and there is hope that he will as his grand sire, Zaffaran, often has offspring that improve for better ground.
Bear Ghylls remains unexposed and could follow the favourite home.
BROWN ADVISORY NOVICES' CHASE
One of the most exciting novice chasers that we have seen in recent seasons heads the market for the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.
Monkfish did us a huge favour last year by winning the Albert Bartlett and he should follow up here. He has improved further now switched to larger obstacles and has been faultless in winning his three novice chases to date. Only the obstacles stand in his way.
The battle for the runners up spot is more interesting from a punting perspective with The Big Breakaway potentially vulnerable given the hit and miss nature of the stable’s runners throughout the season so far.
Sporting John can run in snatches, which may put his jumping under pressure, and he was disappointing at last season’s Festival.
Of the rest, DICKIE DIVER looks a big price for a Nicky Henderson novice and is perhaps best worth backing without the favourite. He is the one that may enjoy the drying ground most.
The first proper betting heat of the day is the Coral Cup. There is some fantastic value on offer from the bookmakers here with Betfair, for example, offering seven places.
Willie Mullins looks to have a strong hand again, but it isn’t easy to know which is his number one challenger. In fact, his less fancied runners can often fare better in big field handicaps like this, so don’t rule out a big run from an apparently unfancied horse like Sayo.
The Irish have other strong contenders, including the ex-Nicky Henderson trained Grand Roi.
Henderson has four runners himself, the pick of whom looks to be the unexposed Craigneiche, but he has been found in the market and his value has gone.
At bigger prices, Birchdale could relish underfoot conditions whilst JANIKA is very well handicapped based on his best form over hurdles, and a chance is taken on him in the hope that the spring conditions bring out about a revival.
This could be a strong race for the home-trained runners, with novice SHAKEM UP’HARRY looking a likely improver for this step up in trip. He stayed on late in the Betfair Hurdle to finish a reasonable eighth, hinting at more to come when he tackles longer distances.
GUARD YOUR DREAMS was another eyecatcher from the Betfair Hurdle - he flew home to claim sixth and can run off of the same mark here.
Others to consider at monster prices are Shang Tang and Nelson River.
The feature race is next, with Chacun Pour Soi set to go to post as a very short favourite for the Queen Mother.
He is undoubtedly the class act in the race and has the best form on offer, but he may be worth taking on at the prices given that he has never run here before and all of his form to date is on very soft ground.
With ten going to post, the race has a good each way feel to it.
First Flow is hugely progressive, but the ground may not suit and the track might not either, so with his stable coming back into form at the right time take a chance on another young chaser, ROUGE VIF, instead. He looks to have his ideal conditions today and was very impressive when winning here at the start of the season.
GREANETEEN is another who might outrun his odds and pick up the pieces late in the day. He’ll love the ground and apparently needed the race last time out when he was slightly disappointing.
CROSS COUNTRY CHASE
There would be no more popular winner at the Festival than dual Grand National winner, Tiger Roll. The ground is coming right for him, so it would be no surprise to see him leave his recent form behind and run well.
He finished second here last year to Easyland, who is a warm order to make it back-to-back wins this afternoon. He is well clear on the ratings but will need to cope with the better ground - his yard has also been out of form in France recently.
This doesn’t look a race to get stuck into, but two with decent each-way claims look to be proven stayer LE BREUIL and proven cross country performer DEFI DES CARRES.
GRAND ANNUAL HANDICAP CHASE
The Grand Annual looks a really competitive heat and it will be run at an even quicker pace than usual now that it has moved to the Old Course.
That should suit MOONLIGHTER, who often likes to front run. He should also be suited by racing left-handed again.
The ground has come right for GLEN FORSA who would be a real threat if he could get back to the form he showed as a novice chaser when he we was fancied for the Arkle.
The pick of the Irish could be OR JAUNE DE SOMOZA, who looks the type to improve now he meets better going than he has been running on through the winter. He represents powerful connections and looks over-priced, especially with 6 places on offer.
The concluding race on day two is the bumper and the chances are we will have an Irish 1-2-3 here. In fact, we could have a Willie Mullins 1-2-3, now that SIR GERHARD has been switched to his yard. The race looks to be between him and Kilcruit and it may be worth doing the pair in a forecast - or a tri-cast with Ramillies, who looks the best each-way option as he may improve for this better ground.
Pick of the English is likely to be Elle Est Belle and she might be worth backing each-way with bookies offering at least four places.
Also look out for a big run at a huge price from Jacks A Legend.