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Lucky Loader’s Lane To Cheltenham

In this week’s column, Lucky Loader takes a look back at the Dublin Racing Festival, which includes a bold shout for the Champion Hurdle. He also makes a strong case for a 16-1 chance for the Turners’ Novice Chase.

What a weekend that was! The Dublin Racing Festival has certainly opened up several ante-post markets for the Cheltenham Festival, which was very much needed ahead of next month’s racing spectacle at Prestbury Park.

One of the biggest talking points of the weekend was the underwhelming run of Marine Nationale in the Irish Arkle, after he finished fifth at Leopardstown. Barry Connell’s stable star is still 5/2 ante post favourite for the Arkle at Cheltenham, but after a disappointing performance, you have to take him on.

Therefore, the answer has to be the Irish Arkle winner, Il Etait Temps. He jumped well and showed a good battling attitude to get the better of Found A Fifty on the run-in. The six-year-old gelding has only come unstuck when finishing second behind Gaelic Warrior at Limerick over 2m3f. I think a well-run 2m is his optimum trip, which he should get at Cheltenham.

Moreover, the Irish Arkle has a good record of producing the Arkle winner at the Cheltenham Festival in recent years. El Fabiolo, Footpad, Douvan, and Un De Sceaux have all trodden this path. I wouldn’t be surprised if Il Etait Temps followed suit. The current price of 9/2 with Rhino is too big, I could see him easily being 3/1 or shorter on the day, so now looks like the time to back him.

JPR One is a horse I also have an eye on for Arkle, as he won impressively at Lingfield last month. He would have bolted up at Cheltenham in November if he hadn’t stumbled at the final fence. If the ground is good, I could see him being a player for the places, but 12/1 doesn’t make much appeal, and I am happy to leave him at those odds.

Talking of novice chasers I suppose we have to speak about Gaelic Warrior. It’s fair to say that the Ladbrokes Novice Chase turned out to be a very disappointing matchup between Gaelic Warrior and Fact Or File. Take nothing away from Fact Or File, he couldn’t have done much more, but he was handed the race by Gaelic Warrior veering to his right at almost every fence before he unseated Paul Townend and fell at the last. It wasn’t a surprise as he has always shown a tendency to jump right when going left-handed. He can’t be trusted wherever he runs at the Cheltenham Festival whether he goes for the Arkle or Turners.

Since winning the race, Fact Or File is now the 2/1 favourite for the Turners Novices’ Chase, which is a terrible price. He couldn’t have done much more, but I don’t think his form is knockout. Ginny’s Destiny has been excellent at Cheltenham this season, and his run where he beat Grey Dawning and Trelawne is currently the best form on offer. At this moment in time, he looks a bit skinny at 11/4, and I am willing to leave him at that price. Next in the betting is Ile Est Francais; he’s unlikely to run with options in France being preferred, so we can cross him off the list. Grey Dawning, Grangeclare West, and Facile Vega, who are single-figure prices, would have a chance if they lined up, but again, we don’t know where they are going to go.

The way I am currently looking at the Turners is to go for Nickle Back each-way at 16/1. He’d probably have to improve again, but the way he won the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown on Saturday was breathtaking. He just got into a lovely rhythm, and he never looked like he was going to be caught by the chasing pack. His trainer, Sarah Humphrey, said in the interviews straight after the race they’d have to now consider Cheltenham, and she thinks the course would suit him. We’ve seen plenty of frontrunners over the years win at The Festival, including last year’s winner, Stage Star. If he does get an easy lead, he might just have too much boot for his rivals to claw him back. The race also has the potential to cut up, so we could have less than eight runners, so taking advantage of the three places on offer with ante-post betting makes sense betting each-way.

Away from the novice chasers, we had the eagerly anticipated rematch between Galopin Des Champs and Fastorslow in the Irish Gold Cup. Even though Galopin Des Champs came out on top, I thought Fastorslow shaped with plenty of encouragement, and I wouldn’t completely rule him out in the feature race at Cheltenham. He’s not worth backing now at 4/1, as I think he’ll be that price on the day or slightly bigger, but he’s one to keep in mind.

Meanwhile, El Fabiolo was able to put away Dinoblue with ease in the Dublin Chase. He certainly is the one to beat when it comes to the Champion Chase at Cheltenham at this stage. On the other hand, I still think Jonbon can give him a race if he is ridden aggressively, like he was in the Shloer Chase at the November Meeting, as that might put more pressure on El Fabiolo’s jumping, which is probably his one weakness.

Now, most people reading this think I’m going mad, but I believe State Man can take the scalp of Constitution Hill in the Champion Hurdle. There is no doubt that on last year’s run, Constitution Hill easily had the beating of State Man. However, Paul Townend and Willie Mullins were convinced that he wasn’t at his best on the day. Furthermore, when I went back to watch last year’s Champion Hurdle, I believe Constitution Hill was handed the race at the start. Townend tried to beat State Man by holding him up for a late turn of foot, but Constitution Hill had already gone, and he was in no position to reel him in.

State Man is usually at his best when he’s tracking the pace or prominently dictating his races. I think they’ll want to change tactics this year, so he’s riding the race on his terms and not Constitution Hill’s. I also think the seven-year-old gelding has improved this season, especially with his performance to beat an in-form Bob Olinger in the Irish Champion Hurdle.

For me, there is also a question mark hanging over Constitution Hill with his prep this season. It’s been well documented by some figures in the racing media that we haven’t seen him enough. He was supposed to run on Cheltenham Trials Day, but plans were abandoned after he came back with an unsatisfactory scope. Just coming to the Champion Hurdle with one run under his belt is a slight concern for me, and it’s not been as straightforward as Nicky Henderson would have liked. I have a feeling that if State Man brings his A-game, we’ll have a proper race, and it might just be enough to catch Constitution Hill off guard if the two-time Festival winner isn’t near his best.

I will be back next week reviewing the action from the Betfair Hurdle meeting at Newbury with some ante-post angles for the Cheltenham Festival.

Ante-post tips – (Week 2)

Arkle Novices’ Chase – Il Etait Temps 9/2 (Win)

Champion Hurdle – State Man 3/1 (Win)

Turners Novice’s Chase – Nickle Back 16/1 (Each Way)

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In this week’s column, Lucky Loader takes a look back at the Dublin Racing Festival, which includes a bold shout for the Champion Hurdle. He also makes a strong case for a 16-1 chance for the Turners’ Novice Chase.
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