Cheltenham - At The Races

Novices

    ATR's Martin Kelly assesses the leading novices - chasers, hurdlers, juveniles and bumpers - who are out to shine at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival en route to becoming the household names of tomorrow.

One of the many fascinating aspects of the Cheltenham Festival is seeing top horses return year after year to compete for the sport’s most illustrious prizes.

Equally as intriguing is the number of promising youngsters who are setting out on the road to replace the old guard at the top of the National Hunt tree.

Firstly, they are out to prove themselves to be the best in their novice discipline before later progressing to open company to take on the established stars.

Here, we’ve asked ATR pundit Martin Kelly to assess the leading novices - chasers, hurdlers, juveniles and bumpers - who are out to shine at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival en route to becoming the household names of tomorrow.

Horse profiles

chasers

Benatar (IRE)

Although Gary Moore has yet to name the JLT or RSA as the preferred target for Benatar, this gorgeous-looking six-year-old should be monitored very closely wherever he goes. If there was a prize for looks then this fellow would win it hands down.

Although Gary Moore has yet to name the JLT or RSA as the preferred target for Benatar, this gorgeous-looking six-year-old should be monitored very closely wherever he goes. If there was a prize for looks then this fellow would win it hands down.

He won only once in four starts over hurdles but it was in defeat at Aintree that he went into my notebook as having looked as though he may be tailed off down the back stretch, he rallied with great gusto in the closing stages and flashed home for fourth behind Finian’s Oscar in the Grade 1 Mersey Novices' Hurdle.

This season the six-year-old has won all three of his starts over fences, kicking off with a bright display at Ascot. After here, he went to Plumpton for what turned into a match race and this wouldn’t have played to his strengths.

Similar comments apply to his most recent start at Ascot when he turned the tables on Finian’s Oscar, albeit that rival hasn’t made the grade over fences. A bigger field and stronger pace will only see Benatar improve and he will hopefully be a value option wherever he goes.

Video Form
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Bigmartre (FR)

Harry Whittington is a trainer on the rise on his Bigmatre could outrun his odds in the JLT. The seven-year-old brings plenty of experience into the mix having raced 13 times over hurdles but he has far outperformed those efforts in five starts over fences.

He made the most of a modest handicap mark on his British chase debut at Ludlow in October by making all and followed up at the former Hennessy meeting when beating the well-regarded Cryname, who franked the form with a subsequent strike in the Wayward Lad at Kempton and then in the Pendil.

He was then only beaten a short head against experienced handicappers on soft ground at Doncaster, and he is definitely a horse on the improve with much more to offer.

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Footpad (FR)

When Willie Mullins says he has never seen a novice jump so well, it’s time to sit up and take notice. That was the master trainer’s assessment of Footpad’s prowess on the back of his chase debut success at Navan in November, and his two subsequent runs can only have enhanced his way of thinking.

The six-year-old was a smart hurdler and rounded up with a rating of 157 after finishing fourth in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham and third in the Stayers Hurdle at Punchestown, displaying he has an attractive mix of stamina and speed. He was consistently held by Petit Mouchoir over hurdles but readily turned the tables on that rival when the pair clashed in the Irish Arkle.

Footpad has not even so much as brushed a twig in his three unbeaten starts over fences and his rating has climbed to 162 already. Novice chasers can be hard to rely on, but not in this case, and it’s easy to see why he is a short-priced favourite for the Arkle and rated as banker material.

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Invitation Only

Unbeaten in points and in two bumper runs, Invitation Only was hot on the heels of Monalee last time out in the Flogas Novice Chase and I am hoping he will be JLT bound for Willie Mullins.

He only had three goes over hurdles last year suggesting his long-term future was over fences, and he has landed two of his three completed starts over the larger obstacles.

After falling behind Monalee in November, he posted wins at Navan and then at Punchestown where he scored very comfortably in Grade 2 company. He quickened well that day and his Grade 1 placed effort to Monalee last time out again reads well.

Invitation Only may just be shy of the very top class, but he sets a fair standard and this scopey seven-year-old has sound claims if avoiding the likes of Monalee and Presenting Percy in the shorter alternative.

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Mister Whitaker (IRE)

Mick Channon is surely more at home at Goodwood or Royal Ascot, but he and Henrietta Knight have a superb Festival candidate in Mister Whitaker.

A horse who showed little in three hurdles runs, the six-year-old has found his feet and scored in decisive manner at Cheltenham on Trials Day under Brian Hughes.

Mister Whitaker won at Carlisle earlier in the season in a race which has worked out well, and he wasn’t beaten too far by Hell’s Kitchen at Kempton over Christmas.

He fairly stamped his mark on the field at Cheltenham, and a bigger field at the Festival can only play to his strengths as he likes to be played late. He earned an 8lb rise for that win which should set him nicely for the Close Brothers Handicap Chase on the opening day.

Video Form
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Monalee (IRE)

  • 7-y-o; bay gelding
  • Breeding: Milan - Tempest Belle (Glacial Storm)
  • Trained by: H de Bromhead
  • Last Race: Down Royal, 3 Nov 2018 15:05
  • Result: 3/6, led, pushed along and headed after 3 out, switched left in 3rd approaching next, ridden and no impression after 2 out, no extra run-in
  • View full form

Henry de Bromhead has long held Monalee in the highest regard and the former point-to-point winner is unbeaten in two completed starts over fences.

The seven-year-old has some pretty smart form over hurdles chasing home the likes of Death Duty and ran an excellent second to Penhill at the Festival last year in the Albert Bartlett.

But fences were always going to be the making of him and we saw exactly that when he made his chasing debut at Punchestown in October – he looked like he was born for the job.

An uncharacteristic fall came his way over the Christmas period, but the wheels were firmly back in place when landing the Flogas Novice Chase at the Dublin Racing Festival.

Admittedly, the field finished in a heap that day, but Monalee has only had two completed starts over fences, jumps like a pro and his best days are very much ahead of him.

Video Form
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Presenting Percy

  • 7-y-o; bay gelding
  • Breeding: Sir Percy - Hunca Munca (Presenting)
  • Trained by: P G Kelly
  • Last Race: Cheltenham, 14 Mar 2018 14:10
  • Result: Won/10, held up in rear, headway from 4 out, went 2nd going well after 3 out, led before next, clear from last, stayed on well
  • View full form

Patrick Kelly only trains a handful of horses in County Galway, which makes it all the more impressive he has struck at the last two Cheltenham Festivals. Presenting Percy took the field apart under Davy Russell in the Pertemps Final 12 months ago and his claims for this year’s RSA Chase are there for all to see.

Having kicked off with a smooth chase debut at Galway in October, the seven-year-old’s jumping was not so good when only finishing third in a Grade 2 event at Punchestown the following month.

However, he soon set the record straight at Fairyhouse as under top weight on soft ground he destroyed the opposition in the handicap over a marathon distance. A display such as that is rarely seen from a novice and is perhaps the key piece of the jigsaw.

Kelly intriguingly switched him back to timber for the Galmoy Hurdle which he took with the minimum of fuss, before only finding Gold Cup candidate and last year’s Irish National winner Our Duke too strong in the Red Mills Chase.

Presenting Percy’s form is bombproof, and with a Festival win to his name already, he looks nailed on to be involved in the finish of the RSA, so long as the Gowran run just three weeks before Cheltenham doesn’t leave its mark.

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Sceau Royal (FR)

Owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede are sitting pretty with Arkle favourite Footpad, and the pair also field the main danger to Willie Mullins’s electric jumper in the shape of Sceau Royal.

The six-year-old was only a couple of pounds behind Footpad on official ratings over hurdles and it’s a similar story over fences.

The pair were fourth (Footpad) and sixth (Sceau Royal) in the Champion Hurdle last March and have both progressed to be nippy, economical and deeply impressive novice chasers.

Sceau Royal has only lost out once in five starts over fences and that was when failing to give weight to North Hill Harvey at Cheltenham early in the campaign.

He soon turned that form around when giving an 11-length drubbing to the same rival as he scampered away to claim a Grade 1 victory in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase.

Alan King gave him an easy warm up for the Arkle at Doncaster late in January, and with plenty of track form to his name, it’s easy to envisage Sceau Royal blooming in March and chasing home Footpad to provide his owners with a fantastic one-two in the Arkle.

Video Form
27 Jan 2018:
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hurdlers

Chef Des Obeaux (FR)

Another French import, Chef Des Obeaux is peaking at the right time and can put his abundant stamina to good use in the Albert Bartlett. The six-year-old was turned over on his first couple of outings for Nicky Henderson but he has really found his feet over longer trips winning at Uttoxeter, Kempton and Haydock..

Although yet to race on a decent surface, he was an eased-down winner of the Prestige Hurdle at Haydock in mid-February – a race Brindisi Breeze captured before he went on to win the Albert Bartlett.

Chef Des Obeaux has had things pretty much his own way of late, and the Festival will test him more, but few will be staying on as strongly up the hill.

Video Form
22 Dec 2017:

Getabird

  • 6-y-o; bay gelding
  • Breeding: Getaway - Fern Bird (Revoque)
  • Trained by: W P Mullins
  • Last Race: Punchestown, 27 Apr 2018 18:05
  • Result: PU/9, held up and a little keen early, soon tracked leaders on inner in 3rd, badly hampered 2 out and brought to standstill and pulled up
  • View full form

Willie Mullins with a ‘good thing’ in the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle has become a familiar sight in recent years. Champagne Fever, Vautour and Douvan all scored consecutively with Min and Melon hitting the crossbar in the last two renewals.

This time around it’s the turn of Getabird who boasts an unbeaten record and who carries the Rich Ricci colours. The six-year-old won his only completed start between the flags, easily landed his two bumpers and is also two from two over hurdles.

He was odds-on to score at Punchestown in December on his jumping debut and readily went clear over the two-and-a-half-mile trip that day, but dropped back to the minimum distance for the Moscow Flyer Novices Hurdle for his next and only start since.

Getabird jumped brilliantly and made all to beat a previous Grade 1 winner by a facile nine lengths. He jumped much better on his second start and showed so much pace to suggest the Supreme is the race for him. He handled better ground in his bumper days so conditions shouldn’t faze him and he looks another Mullins ‘good thing’.

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Laurina (FR)

Willie Mullins has always been strong in the mares division thanks to the likes of Quevega and Vroom Vroom Mag and another to have rolled off the production line is Laurina.

The five-year-old was beaten in two runs over in France but having joined Mullins she has coasted home at Tramore and Fairyhouse, winning by a total of 26 lengths. She looked well above average the way she quickened on her most recent start and is the one to beat in the mares’ novice.

Video Form
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Next Destination

  • 6-y-o; bay gelding
  • Breeding: Dubai Destination - Liss Alainn (Flemensfirth)
  • Trained by: W P Mullins
  • Last Race: Punchestown, 25 Apr 2018 16:55
  • Result: Won/11, soon chased leaders in 5th, closed and slight mistake 2 out, 3rd approaching straight, soon on terms, gained narrow lead run-in and stayed on well
  • View full form

Next Destination already has Cheltenham Festival experience having finished fourth in last year’s Champion Bumper and arrives back at this year’s Festival having won each of his three starts over hurdles.

A wide-margin winner on his hurdles debut, the six-year-old then picked up well after missing the second-last to score at Navan in Grade 2 company and most recently retuned to Naas for a Grade 1 strike.

The slow pace that day did not show him in the best light but he is a most promising youngster and will again be in the frame at the Festival.

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On The Blind Side (IRE)

  • 6-y-o; bay gelding
  • Breeding: Stowaway - Such A Set Up (Supreme Leader)
  • Trained by: N J Henderson
  • Last Race: Aintree, 14 Apr 2018 14:25
  • Result: 6/12, tracked leader until 6th, pushed along before 3 out, one pace in 4th when not much room and switched right before mistake 2 out, weakened flat
  • View full form

On The Blind Side may appear here next year in the novice chase list, but for now he is over hurdles and is unbeaten in four starts. The point-to-point winner is three from three for Nicky Henderson and is a lovely prospect.

After running on well to land a maiden hurdle at Aintree in October, he stepped up to take a Ballymore trial at Cheltenham in November, when he looked outpaced before finishing with a rattle to win going away.

He won a similar race next time up at Sandown but crucially he was much more professional and quickened well. His future is as a staying novice chaser but a big effort from this unbeaten youngster is on the cards.

Samcro

This horse needs no introduction and heads to Cheltenham with a huge reputation and a weight of expectation. Unbeaten in a sole point-to-point run, three bumpers and three hurdle races, Samcro evidently is not short on ability.

From his first bumper outing in November of 2016, Gordon Elliott has spoken highly of this horse and he has started odds-on for every one of his races under rules.

The six-year-old easily brushed aside his rivals on his first two starts over hurdles over two and two-and-a-half miles. Elliott then dropped him back to two miles for the Grade 1 Deloitte Novices’ Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival where another easy win came his way.

Connections believe he will improve again for decent ground and with no flaw in his make up, Samcro will be impossible to stop in the Ballymore.

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Summerville Boy (IRE)

  • 6-y-o; bay gelding
  • Breeding: Sandmason - Suny House (Carroll House)
  • Trained by: T R George
  • Last Race: Cheltenham, 13 Mar 2018 13:30
  • Result: Won/19, held up mid-division, steady headway 4 out, tracked leaders next, slightly outpaced when blundered 2 out, ridden and rallied between last 2, close up in 3rd when not fluent last, stayed on well to lead towards finish
  • View full form

Although beaten on his first three starts over timber, Summerville Boy blossomed on his fourth to take the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle and is one who could out run his odds.

The six-year-old bumped into a couple of smart sorts on his first two goes over timber before being undone by a falsely-run race when third at Cheltenham in December.

Tom George’s runner then got off the mark in the Tolworth beating subsequent Betfair Hurdle winner Kalashnikov. Connections believe his is a horse for the future but a big run would not surprise.

Video Form
15 May 2017:

Tower Bridge

Joseph O’Brien is rocketing through the training ranks, which is no surprise to anyone, and in Tower Bridge he has a live Cheltenham candidate.

The dual good-ground bumper winner needed the experience first time over hurdles at Down Royal when he made a mistake, but caught the eye on his next start running on well for fourth at Leopardstown over Christmas.

He returned to that track in mid-February and put it all together to claim a Grade 1 success stepped up to two-and-three-quarter miles. Good ground will only see him in a better light and there will be plenty more races to be won with JP McManus’s youngster.

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juveniles

Apple's Shakira (FR)

  • 4-y-o; bay filly
  • Breeding: Saddler Maker - Apple's For Ever (Nikos)
  • Trained by: N J Henderson
  • Last Race: Aintree, 12 Apr 2018 14:20
  • Result: 3/10, held up towards rear, headway when not much room on bend before 3 out, not fluent at 3 out, soon ridden, 3rd when not fluent 2 out, soon beaten, one pace
  • View full form

Apple’s Jade and been to the Cheltenham Festival and got the t-shirt and her little sister has bright prospects of doing the same. Trained by Nicky Henderson for JP McManus, the filly won on her only start in France and is unbeaten in three for current connections.

She made her debut for Henderson at Cheltenham back in November, and the market support for her was incredible – and well placed – as she gobbled up main rival Gumball by some 17 lengths. She has since returned to score twice more at Cheltenham, and most recently showed she can dig in if required.

Like her sister, she is one who doesn’t show much at home but she has sparkled on the track and her trainer believes she should improve again when getting on decent ground for the first time.

Redicean

  • 4-y-o; bay gelding
  • Breeding: Medicean - Red Halo (Galileo)
  • Trained by: A King
  • Last Race: Wincanton, 10 Nov 2018 15:00
  • Result: 4/7, held up in 5th, not fluent 4 out, pushed along and outpaced after next, plugged on in 4th from 2 out
  • View full form

Zarkander, Soldatino and Snow Drop have all progressed from victory in the Adonis Hurdle in recent years to follow up in the Triumph, and this year’s Adonis winner Redicean has sound claims of following in their footsteps.

Rated 86 on the Flat for David O’Meara, the son of Medicean is three from three for Alan King and on each occasion has impressed over Kempton’s two miles. He had won twice there by 10 lengths, before his very impressive Adonis success.

The good ground that day suited him far better as his jumping was much improved and immaculate, and he fairly sprinted away in the closing stages.

He stayed a mile and three-quarters on the Flat so should have no trouble getting up the Cheltenham hill, and he rates as live danger to Apple’s Shakira for a trainer who has two Triumph Hurdle wins to his name.

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bumpers

Acey Milan (IRE)

Anthony Honeyball has saddled this four-year-old to win three of his four career starts and the recent Newbury winner is arguably the form horse heading to the Champion Bumper.

The son of Milan started a short price for his debut at Exeter in October but could only finish second best, after which a tongue-tie was applied and he has since won at Wincanton, Cheltenham and Newbury.

The latter two performances have been top-class and he saw off a field of nine at Newbury, a performance notable, as seven of them were also last-time-out winners.

Ballyandy and Barter’s Hill have graduated from that Newbury race in recent years to score at the big spring Festivals and Acey Milan may well emulate them.

Video Form
11 Nov 2018:

Didtheyleaveuoutto (IRE)

Trainer Nick Gifford was a little taken aback after Didtheyleaveuoutto bolted up on his debut at Lingfield as he apparently shows very little at home. However, he has shown plenty on the track and heads to the Champion Bumper unbeaten in two starts.

The JP McManus-owned six-year-old clocked some sizzling closing sectionals when whizzing home by 10 lengths on the all-weather at Lingfield, and backed that up by taking a strong field apart in a Listed event at Ascot – travelling by far and away the best horse and again quickening smartly.

The fact he displays so much speed is surprising given his dam is a half-sister to Denman, which bodes incredibly well for his jumping future, but for now he must surely go well with the fast-pace certain to suit.

Video Form
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