Lucky Luke's Cheltenham Notebook: Part Three

01/02/2019

 

Another weekend of jumps racing is upon us and with just six weeks to go until the Cheltenham Festival, we’re very much in the meat and gravy of the season.

Horses are hitting their final prep runs before the big meeting and the clues for us punters are pretty much ready to be laid on the table in front of us.

From here on in, we’re about to come off the bridle and gallop our way to one of the biggest sporting spectacles on the planet.

With that in mind, we’ve got our resident racing fan ‘Lucky Luke’ in the saddle to guide you through the latest instalment in his Cheltenham notebook.

He talks about Festival trials, stars of the Stayers and a few to keep your eye on at the Dublin Racing Festival.

Fakir D’oudairies Shakes Up Triumph Hurdle Odds

For me, the eye-catching performance from last weekend came in the Triumph Hurdle trial at Cheltenham with a big gamble landed on Fakir D’oudairies.

Trained by Joseph O’Brien, the horse was tipped up by O’Brien’s race planner Kevin Blake on the Final Furlong Podcast, and that instigated a price crash from 14/1 into 4/1 second favourite.

He ran exactly like a good thing as well. Always prominent, he jumped and travelled well, before turning up the heat and going clear as they turned for home. Tackling the hill like it didn’t exist to score by an impressive 13 lengths from Fine Brunello.

The Triumph Hurdle is always a tough race to work out, especially in the ante-post market, as there’s likely to be plenty we’ve yet to see in that division – some of which could rock up straight at Cheltenham.

One that should be worth keeping an eye on is Paul Nicholls’ new recruit, Pic D’Orhy. He had Fakir D’oudairies over 15 lengths behind him when finishing 2nd in a Grade 3 hurdle at Auteuil in France and will be an interesting runner to say the least. Currently 12/1 for the Triumph Hurdle at Betfred.

Frodon In Gold Cup Frame

There are few gutsier racehorses in the business than the Lionheart that is Frodon, and boy did he show that in the Cotswold Chase on Saturday.

Stepped up to 3m 1½f for the first time in his career, it was a quest that would work out his Gold Cup credentials. Wins in the Old Roan at Aintree, plus a fantastic weight-carrying performance in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup proved that he had plenty of class, but could he mix it outside a handicap?

Connections were confident, and with Bryony Frost in the plate, there should have never been any doubt. Kicking off the front in usual Frodon fashion, he set the pace for every step of the way and made it a real test in chilly conditions.

Once his brilliant jumping was done, you could tell the tiredness was catching him, but with Frost as his trusted ally, they gathered one last effort to hold on as Elegant Escape rallied behind them.

Debates have rumbled on since as to whether Frodon is better suited to the Ryanair, but with a shot at the Gold Cup in his sights, who could deny the Lionheart a chance at the biggest prize of all? Certainly not me!

Paisley Park Emerges As Stayers Fav

I said that Fakir D’oudairies provided the performance of last weekend, but Paisley Park certainly wasn’t far behind with a breath-taking display in the Cleeve Hurdle.

Emma Lavelle looks to have a real staying star on her hands with this lad and I’m sure she’ll be doing everything to keep him in tip-top shape for the Festival.

Turning for home, he kicked into a gear that the others couldn’t compete with and went from niggled along to cruising into the lead. It was an emphatic switch through the gears that soared him into the lead and ultimately won him the race.

In a nutshell, you can have no mark against him this season. He’s won pretty much everything that this division has to offer, and nobody can be better than him with the form book in mind. His four wins so far this campaign have included a Grade 3 at Haydock, the G1 Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot and then the Cleeve at Cheltenham.

You’d be brave to back against him, based on what we’ve seen, and unless Willie Mullins has another ace up his sleeve in Penhill, then it’s Paisley Park that will win the Stayers’ Hurdle for me.

Let’s Get Scilly At Sandown

The cold weather has practically closed down National Hunt racing this week in the UK, and with the frost set to play its part over the next few days, hopefully, the snow can stay away from Sandown.

If it does, we’ll be treated to a cracking seven-race card on Saturday that includes the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at 2:25pm. It’s a race that has been won by the likes of Best Mate and Bristol De Mai in recent years, and we’ve another five top-class runners lining up for the 2019 renewal this weekend.

On paper, it looks a shoot-out between the top three in the betting of Vinndication, Lostintranslation and Defi Du Seuil. The first of those is lightly-raced and remains unbeaten in six racecourse outings, including the Grade 2 Novices’ Chase last time.

My vote though goes to Defi Du Seuil. He was headed in the final strides by Lostintranslation in the Dipper at Cheltenham last time when giving three pounds to the winner. Level weights could make the difference here and I’d expect to see that result reversed in the favour of the famous green and gold.

Lucky Leopardstown

If you’ve got any interest in racing this weekend, it might be worth booking your seat on the sofa and tuning in for the Dublin Racing Festival from Leopardstown. If you’re happy to pay the Racing TV subscription fee that is!

The Irish course plays host for the two-day premier meeting this Saturday and Sunday and there’ll be an absolute bagful of Cheltenham clues on offer. There’s simply too much class to mention, so I thought I’d pick out a few of the potential highlights, starting with the Irish Champion Hurdle (Sat, 1:25pm).

Apple’s Jade currently heads the market and it’s hard to see her getting beat with the mares’ allowance in her favour. Three wins this season, include a 20-length victory over Supasundae, and with Melon disappointing last time, it’s hard to see anything but a fourth AJ victory.

Another race that isn’t to be missed on Saturday is the Dublin Chase at 3:10pm. Altior looks to have this 2m division in his lap, but if anything is going to get close come Cheltenham, it could be involved here at Leopardstown. Min is the hot favourite and is one I’ve backed each-way for the Champion Chase at 25/1 earlier in the season. The suggestion is that he could head to the Ryanair, but I’m hoping he gets home in this and heads to take on the main man in March.

As for Sunday, Sir Erec gets to put his big reputation on the line in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle (1:15pm), while Klassical Dream and Vision D’honneur look to battle it out for favouritism in the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle (1.50pm).

For me though, the race of the weekend comes in the shape of the Irish Gold Cup (Sun, 3:35pm). I’ve had a massive thing about Al Boum Photo for some time and I’m confident he’s got a really big day in him somewhere down the line. He was a faller behind Presenting Percy in the RSA Chase last year, but followed up with a victory in the Ryanair Gold Cup, before famously running out at the last at Punchestown when in contention.

A win in the Savills Chase, comfortably beating the likes of Total Recall, Invitation Only and Alpha Des Obeaux, has kicked off his season in style and I’m hoping he can go very close again here. At 12/1 for the Gold Cup with Betfred, he looks a live each-way contender for me, and that price will only shorten if he goes well on Sunday.

 

See you at the races!

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