There is an open feel to many of the big races at Cheltenham this year and some compelling storylines.
Will the form of Irish sensations Monkfish and Chacun Pour Soi hold up? Do Cheltenham old hands such as Altior and Paisley Park have one more big race in them? Plus the small matter of whether Al Boum Photo can win a third consecutive Gold Cup?
Here, Telegraph racing experts Marcus Armytage and Charlie Brooks, as well as our tipster Marlborough, pick their winners for day one.
Cheltenham Festival 2021 day two
1.20pm – Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
Marlborough: Small field assembled, but a highly-competitive and intriguing renewal of the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, with no less than three Grade 1 winners heading up the market. Bravemansgame has long been highly-regarded by his trainer Paul Nicholls, who likened him to Denman following his 10 length win in the Challow Hurdle, and he comes forward in search of a four-timer. However, it was hard not to be deeply impressed with BOB OLINGER’s facile Grade 1 success at Naas back in January, a performance that makes him the one to beat in this context. Keskonrisk should appreciate this step up in trip and can run into a place.
Marcus Armytage: BEAR GHYLLS – brings an unbeaten record into the race and from an unfashionable yard in the middle of Exmoor will be three times the odds he should be.
Charlie Brooks: GAILLARD DE MESNIL: Willie Mullins’ novice hurdlers look very strong. Hard to see the Brits beating him in this.
Ed Chamberlin: BRAVEMANSGAME: Could be one for the home side, trainer Paul Nicholls has even compared him to Denman.
1.55pm – Festival Novices’ Chase
Marlborough: A race that has not always been the kindest to market leaders, with just 6 favourites obliging since 2000. Monkfish has looked fairly bombproof to date, winning his last 6 starts, including last year’s Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle as well as all three starts over fences. He may well prove much too good for his 5 rivals here, but SPORTING JOHN looks to have been overlooked in this context and comes here with very lively claims. He appeared to have genuine excuses for his two defeats under rules, and comes here off the back of an impressive win in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase, with the step up to 3 miles today sure to unlock further improvement.
Marcus Armytage: SPORTING JOHN – Monkfish will be hard to beat but is not a working man’s price – the Philip Hobbs trained chaser could be much better than what we have seen so far.
Charlie Brooks: Disappointing field, predictable selection. MONKFISH.
Ed Chamberlin: MONKFISH is big and tall but also a brilliant athlete with feet like a ballerina. The Irish banker of the meeting.
2.30pm – Coral Cup Hurdle
Marlborough: Furiously competitive renewal of the Coral Cup; cases can be made for many. GUARD YOUR DREAMS looks to have been crying out for a step up in trip beyond 2 miles and gets his chance here, having hit the line strongly to finish 6th in last month’s Betfair Hurdle, having been outpaced for most of the race; expect to be finishing strongly up the hill here. Craigneiche was a taking winner of his sole start in handicaps at Ascot back in January, and comes forward as a most unexposed improver from the Nicky Henderson stable that has won the last two runnings of this race. Janika completes the shortlist.
Marcus Armytage: WITNESS PROTECTION (NAP) – has the speed to win over two miles but also the stamina for this trip, he is an improving novice with no weight on his back.
Charlie Brooks: MONTE CRISTO was so impressive at Kempton in December, his connections haven’t bothered to run him again. Presumably this has been the plan. Still more to come from him.
Ed Chamberlin: GUARD YOUR DREAMS finished very strongly in the Betfair Hurdle, when he came in sixth, and this longer trip could be ideal. Each-way advised.
3.05pm – Champion Chase
Marlborough: The Champion Chase is a race that has somehow eluded master trainer Willie Mullins over the years and, whilst Chacun Pour Soi appears to have plenty going for him, he remains unproven at Cheltenham and others make more appeal at likely prices. As the winner of his last 6 starts, including an impressive maiden Grade 1 victory at Ascot last time out, FIRST FLOW can prove a major threat to all, especially if further rain falls at Prestbury Park. Politologue can further frank First Flow’s Ascot form with another big run here, and he completes the shortlist of chances.
Marcus Armytage: NUBE NEGRA – we only have the evidence of one run when he beat Altior at Christmas but may be the one to make Chacun Pour Soi pull out all the stops.
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Charlie Brooks: CHACUN POUR SOI can’t be opposed. He’s pure class and is the flag bearer of the ‘Mullins machine.’
Ed Chamberlin: Not sure that I love the price but CHACUN POUR SOI has all the attributes to allow Willie Mullins to fill the one gap on his Cheltenham CV
3.40pm – Cross Country Chase
Marlborough: Whilst lacking some obvious depth, this year’s Cross Country Chase sees 4-time Cheltenham Festival & dual Grand National winner Tiger Roll clash with his conqueror in last year’s Cross Country at the Festival, namely EASYSLAND, and it is not hard to envisage the latter-named confirming that form this afternoon. Easysland has age on his side and ran out a most impressive winner of this race last year. He has had just the one run this season, finishing 4th over today’s course and distance back in November. Much better can be expected today, and he rates banker material here. Tiger Roll can chase him home once again.
Marcus Armytage: EASYSLAND – won the race doing handstands last year even if he turned up a bit under par he should go very close.
Charlie Brooks: This race is a unique task which usually throws up the usual suspects. I’ll stick with EASYLAND, even though he has a new jockey which isn’t ideal over this course.
Ed Chamberlin: EASYLAND won this last year for David Cottin and is heavily fancied to do it again. My beloved Tiger Roll is the second favourite but would be a sentimental bet I fear.
4.15pm – Grand Annual Chase
Marlborough: Wide open race. ENTOUCAS is still without a win over fences in 5 starts, but he has proved a consistent sort since his switch to chasing and is taken to give a very good account of himself here. Amoola Gold is another consistent horse who comes forward with lively each-way claims; he remains on a good mark and can outrun likely double figure odds. Ibleo has done nothing but improve over fences, looking better than ever when victorious at Doncaster back in January. He has yet another career-high mark to defy but is hard to rule out in such form.
Marcus Armytage: CHOSEN MATE – won the race last year coming through from the back, he can return to form in a race which is traditionally run at a furious pace.
Charlie Brooks: This is good race for novices and SKY PIRATE has been a revelation since dropping back in trip, even though he won a point to point as a four year old.
Ed Chamberlin: EMBITTERED was third in the County Hurdle last year so has that all-important Festival form. He looks fairly treated over fences.
4.50pm – Champion Bumper
Marlborough: THREE STRIPE LIFE looked more than useful in winning his only bumper start and has been the subject of some interesting market support in recent days, all the more noteworthy given the prominence of former stablemate Sir Gerhard towards the front of the market. Sir Gerhard himself has also looked high-class in winning his 3 starts to date and must feature here; the more the ground dries out, the stronger his chances will be. Kilcruit was a most impressive winner of a Grade 2 at Leopardstown last month, looking value for a good deal more than the bare margin would imply; he can be a danger to all. Finally, Shearer has to step up here but is more than entitled to after just two starts; he completes the shortlist.
Marcus Armytage: KILCRUIT – cruised through to win his last race without coming out of second gear.
Charlie Brooks: Willie Mullins could easily have the first three home. Kilcruit can’t be beaten on his last run, but RAMILLIES, who the trainer says he hasn’t got to the bottom of yet, is a great each way bet.
Ed Chamberlin: Mullins will win the bumper but it’s just a question of which one. Kilcruit and Sir Gerhard look outstanding but when you interview Willie he always speaks about RAMILLIESin glowing terms, and he’s usually not far wrong. I’ll be going each way here.
Marlborough’s bet of day two
SPORTING JOHN (1.55) is the only runner in the field who has yet to tackle 3 miles, and that step up in trip might just unlock sufficient improvement to upset the short-priced favourite here. Sent off the clear 2nd choice by the market behind Envoi Allen in last year’s Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, Sporting John failed to give his true running and, following a strong-staying win in last month’s Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase, he can give a very good account of himself now stepped up in trip.
Cheltenham Festival 2021 tips and best bets across the week
1) Sporting John, 12-1 in the Brown Advisory Novice Chase (Wednesday)
He was a bit disappointing in the Ballymore Hurdle, for which he was 5-1, last year but finished distressed. He has clearly had a few issues this season. He ran no sort of race at Exeter and, after a long gap away from the course, took ages to warm up at Sandown but came through to win nicely. He can only improve on that. The ‘but,’ of course, is that he is up against Monkfish, the Willie Mullins favourite. He will be hard to beat and Sporting John may be one for the forecast but if Monkfish gets taken on upfront by The Big Breakaway it could set the race up for the slow starting Sporting John to come through up the hill.
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