Cheltenham Festival 2019

Cheltenham Festival 2019 Ante-Post Portfolio

Arkle Chase: Kalashnikov 7-1

Champion Hurdle: Buveur D'Air Evens

Mares Hurdle: Benie Des Dieux 3-1

Triumph Hurdle: Sir Erec 5-2

Foxhunters Chase: Hazel Hill 7-1

JLT Novices Chase: Defi Du Seuil 3-1 NRNB

Top Jockey:  Barry Geraghty 100-30

Stayers Hurdle:  Paisley Park 15-8 NRNB

Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle:  Band Of Outlaws 7-1 e/w (5 places) NRNB

Ryanair Steeple Chase:  Un De Sceaux 5-1 e/w NRNB

National Hunt Challenge Cup: OK Corral 100-30 NRNB

Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase: Tower Bridge 10-1 e/w (5 places) NRNB

Supreme Novices’ Hurdle:  Elixir de Nutz  7-1 NRNB

Coral Cup: Cracking Smart 12-1 e/w (5 places) NRNB  

Update: It's all over for another year and Triple G finished +7.71 to level stakes, after the punting nightmare that was day one (not to mention the weather) I will take that thank you very much! 

Friday:  Day four dawns and Triple G goes into the last day +3.41 to level stakes.

No need for silly gimmicks or names for today it is simply Gold Cup day! I dread to think how high the blood pressure is, my cholesterol level is no doubt at an all-time high and the liver and kidneys are screaming for mercy. The Festival is no place for the faint-hearted mind you and the day four fancies can be found below. Here we go again………….

13.30 Grade One JCB Triumph Hurdle 2m1f:

A stone bruise put the wind up us ante-post punters last week but Sir Erec is here fit and well. He impressed me with his all-the-way victory in the Grade 1 Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown back in February and I have had a 5-2 ante-post ticket tucked away at home ever since.

14.10 Grade Three Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle 2m1f:

This is as open as Billy Bunters fridge yet again! I honestly could make a case for ten of them. Countister has form on the going whilst being unexposed and is the only dart thrown by J P McManus at this. Henderson and Geraghty are both having good weeks and he is the pick each-way at 12-1.  

14.50 Grade One Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle 3m:

With stable-mate Champ heading the Ballymore market I am sure Birchdale will come for this, I would imagine JP and Henderson will want to keep them apart. Three wins from three starts including the 2m4f G.2 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham in January you can’t argue with his form. I know people say you want one more battle-hardened for this but I am taking a chance at 9-2. Lisnagar Oscar won the G.2 Albert Bartlett Prestige Novices' Hurdle at Haydock in fine style and is feared.

15.30 Grade One The Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup Steeple Chase 3m2½f:

Presenting Percy arrives looking to win having not jumped a Chase fence in anger since winning the RSA last year. As I have said before I am concerned about that. I know he had the schooling session at Galway and all reports were good but Cheltenham with its stiff fences in Grade 1 company is a completely different kettle of fish. Talking in the build-up to the Festival, Henrietta Knight who knows a thing or two about these things, said "I can't see how a horse can win a Gold Cup without having run in a steeplechase for the season – especially one stepping out of novice company." He could win it, but I can’t be backing him at the price having not had a prep. I keep coming back to Clan Des Obeaux if only for the reason he is the one that shows up with the least amount of questions to answer. The G.1 King George winner won the G.2 Denham Chase as his prep in fine style and the one question is will he get 3m2½f here? Fingers crossed as I am on at the 9-2.

16.10 St. James’s Place Foxhunter Steeple Chase Challenge Cup 3m2½f:

I helped myself to a bit of the 7-1 about Hazel Hill for this in the run-up to the meeting and I am pretty happy with the bet. I said at the time I was impressed with the 11-year-olds win at Warwick in January and previous runs at Towcester and Leicester for that matter. Alex Edwards rides as usual and a big run is expected.

16.50 Grade Three Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Steeple Chase Challenge Cup 2m½f :

A few punters might be looking for heavenly assistance by now so Magic Saint could be the topical tip. Last year's impressive winner Le Prezien often goes well here and is just 1lb higher this year than last and might be the answer to this puzzle again. I have 11-1 each-way.

17.30 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle 2m4½f:

I said when backing Cracking Smart for the Coral Cup that I thought Dallas Des Pictons would be sent for this by Gigginstown Stud and Gordon Elliott and he duly lines-up. 11-4 is plenty short enough for a race like this but the 6yo is a strong fancy in the lucky last.


Thursday: We’ve made it to the halfway point and thus far the betting bank is -1.96 to level stakes. Today is marketed as St Patricks Thursday and no doubt they’ll be plenty of Guinness sloshing about, I can’t say I like it very much so I’ll have a Jameson whisky or two I think. No rest for the wicked and we go again the bets for the day three follow:

13.30 Grade One The JLT Novices’ Chase 2m4f:

I took a chance of Defi Du Seuil coming for this and snaffled 3-1 NRNB a while back. As I said in February the 6yo clearly has now got the hang of the bigger obstacles and I was quietly impressed with his Grade One Scilly Isles Novices' Chase win at Sandown over 2m4f. He gained compensation that afternoon for a length-and-a-quarter defeat to Lostintranslation at Cheltenham prior to that – he was giving the winner 3lb that day. He’s showed some guts in those two runs and you need plenty of them up the hill at Cheltenham.

14.10 Grade Three The Pertemps Network Final 3m:

Sire Du Berlais was fourth last year's Martin Pipe and was for me a big eyecatcher in the Leopardstown's qualifier. Short enough at 9-2 but I have taken a bit of that. First Assignment and Walk To Freedom are just two of the dangers.

14.50 Grade One Ryanair Steeple Chase 2m5f:

My old favourite Un De Sceaux knows his way round this course including a win and a second in this very race. In the build-up everybody was asking will Mullins send Min or Footpad for this? I think they were all fixating on the wrong Mullins horses. Un De Sceaux looked pretty good when second to Altior in the Tingle Creek at Sandown in December – no disgrace there – and just imagine the scenes if this old warrior were to do it, mud splattered up the hill, to gain his tenth Grade One win! I have 5-1 each-way NRNB with Betfair.

15.30 Grade One The Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle 3m:

I am on C&D G.2 Cleeve Hurdle winner Paisley Park at the 15-8 NRNB offered by Paddy Power a couple of weeks ago. You had to be impressed with that win and all roads have led here since.

16.10 Grade Three Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate 2m5f:

It would appear the wetter the better for Janika with three wins on heavy in France; second to  Siruh Du Lac over C&D in January he is better off at the weights here. With the rain falling I have taken a bit of the 4-1. The biggest danger is possibly Spiritofthegames

16.50 Grade Two The Dawn Run Mares Novice Hurdle 2m1f:

I had Honeysuckle on my mind for this but she won’t be here sadly. Epatante was immediately shortened-up and the 5yo has looked potentially top-class in two novice hurdles for Henderson since coming over from France. 2-1 is very short for a race such as this but I have it as he looks the solid option. Posh Trish may give him most to think about.

17.30 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Steeple Chase 3m2f:

I had a none to short shortlist for this including Its All Guesswork, Sky Pirate and Any Second Now. I have though plumped for Measureofmydreams at 7-2 for Gordon Elliott with the Coddfather on-board. the 11yo looks well treated on old form and his recent return from absence was good enough to suggest he might be thrown in here. 

Wednesday: Day two and as is customary I am nursing the hangover from hell, honestly feels like the band of the Grenadier Guards are marching across my frontal lobe.

A day of horrendous weather and horrendous luck with two fallers and one brought down for me on day one - what is it with Ruby Walsh and that final hurdle?!?! That said it was still brilliant fun yesterday, Prestbury Park on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival really is a special place to be even if my ‘bouncebackability’ isn’t what it once was.

On what is now known as ‘Ladies Day’ we, of course, have the Queen Mother Champion Chase, two-mile chasers going at full tilt around Cheltenham is one of the greatest sights in the Horseracing game and I love it. My picks for day two follow:

13.30 Grade One The Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle 2m5f:

We start day two with another race that’s caused me a headache or to over the last couple of weeks. I like what I have seen of Champ so far and Battleoverdoyen looks decent also. I have plumped for the Henderson horse at 5-2 but this could be a close run thing.

14.10 Grade One The RSA Steeple Chase 3m½f:

Santini has been on the shortlist for me for a while but the will he won’t he story has not helped my confidence. Delta Work is by far the best in Ireland and has also been considered as has Topofthegame. Mister Malarky confirmed his wellbeing winning the G.2 Reynoldstown Novices' Chase over 3m last at Sandown having won well at Newbury prior to that. The 6yo appears to be going the right way and is the each-way pick at 14-1.  

14.50 Grade Three The Coral Cup Hurdle 2m5f:

I took an early punt on Cracking Smart for this at 12-1 NRNB with Paddy Power paying 5-places each-way. He does have an entry for the Stayers but this would be more his trip. The word soft in the going will be of no concern and as I said at the time Dallas Des Pictons has gone for the Martin Pipe leaving this fella the Gigginstown Stud and Gordon Elliott main hope in this.  

15.30 Grade One The Betway Queen Mother Champion Steeple Chase 2m:

Supreme Novice Hurdle winner, Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase winner and Queen Mother Champion Chase winner - Altior will win again. I simply cannot see how the Champ doesn’t win again barring freak accidents. The 9yo is 4-9 for a reason and ask yourself a question - would you lay me Evens?

16.10 The Glenfarclas Cross Country Steeple Chase 3m6f:

Tiger Roll has been a warm order for this for a while and is now just a shade odds against having won this race last year before following up in the Grand National. Fourth in last two runnings  Auvergnat knows what's required Urgent De Gregaine knows his way around here as well, second to Tiger Roll last year he also has a third and a win to his name. at 14-1 the 11yo is the each-way punt as I can't back the jolly at the price.

16.50 Grade Three boodles Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle 2m½f:

Band Of Outlaws was my ante-pot punt 7-1 NRNB with Paddy Power each-way 5-places. He won at Naas last time impressively and he was fairly useful on the flat so has the finishing speed. This was mentioned d as the aim start after. Young Joseph O’Brien has some good young’uns and I think he must place at the very least in this.

17.30 Grade One Weatherbys Champion Bumper 2m½f:

I have watched the race Blue Sari won at Gowran Park several times now and the more I watch it the more I am impressed by the way he leaves his rivals trailing when asked to go to work by Patrick Mullins. He took the lead with about half a mile to go and was asked to go win the race as they entered the home straight and boy did he go on to win – by 11 lengths hands and heels easing down. J P McManus got the wallet out and he will carry the Gold and Green silks in this. His turn of foot was blistering to the naked eye and bearing in mind this was his debut you would expect him to improve! I have a bit of the 100-30. Envoi Allen arrives three from three under rules and is an obvious danger on the form in the book. 

Tuesday: As is now a long-held tradition for Champion Hurdle day Triple G is up at sparrows fart with the usual suspects Mr Wilson and Mr Griffiths. Mr Wilson has, as is also tradition now, booked us on a train so early the stable lads will be getting a longer lay-in than me and we’ll be there before the horses again.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again the Old Restoration in the High Street does a lovely fry-up and a decent pint and let’s be honest there will be little sleep from now until Friday evening anyway.

Four days, twenty-eight races, bets, bets and more bets, let’s have it!

13.30 Grade One The Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 2m½f:

The roar will go up at 1.30 as they set-off for the traditional curtain raiser of the four days. I have had some luck in this down the years, Altior and Kalashnikov to name the two most recent winners for me, and hopefully, I can get 2019 off to a cracking start. Elixir de Nutz was the bet NRNB but is a non-runner sadly. I have gone with  Al Dancer a 5-1 off the back of his nice win in the Betfair Hurdle last time. 

14.10 Grade One The Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Steeple Chase 2m:

I, of course, backed Kalashnikov at 7-1 back in November and it has been a roller coaster of a ride ever since; if nothing else at least he runs. No reason was discovered for his below-par effort at Sandown, possibly simply hates going right-handed, and fingers are crossed he will put in a far better effort back here and going left-handed.

14.50 Grade Three The Ultima Handicap Steeple Chase 3m1f:

I have been scratching my head about this one for weeks, for me this year it has been one of those Cheltenham handicaps that gives you sleepless nights. Give Me A Copper and Walt are just two that have been on my mind. Last years winner (tipped one here) Coo Star Sivola is back again. I said last year I like his style of running up the pointed end which is no bad thing in a race such as this. He has a habit of putting in a good effort at the Festival which is seen as another plus. The 7yo does have a little more weight this year than last but at 11-1 is my each-way punt.

15.30 Grade One Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy 2m½f :

I am on reigning Champ and Hat-trick seeking Buveur D’Air at Evens ante-post. The girls have come across from Ireland but the Champ is the Champ and I think he has too much in his locker for them. That said this could be one of the races of the week as I can see Apples Jade pulling them along till the last and Buveur D’Air getting on top up the hill as the crowd roar them on.

16.10 Grade One OLBG Mares’ Hurdle 2m4f:

Back in February I took the 3-1 about Benie Des Dieux retaining her crown as she is a decent mare and it was becoming apparent her main rivals would be going for the Champion Hurdle earlier on the card. Her price has done nothing but shorten since and the recent rain has done her chances no harm either. There is plenty of confidence coming out of the yard of Willie Mullins and I was happy to read Walsh last week saying ‘Benie Des Dieux is the one I am most looking forward to. She is my best ride of the week.’

16.50 Listed Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase 2m4½f:

I am convinced you want a progressive horse peaking at the right time for this as much as any form in the book. Tower Bridge is yet to win a chase, been behind Gun Digger and Ben Dundee, but has been improving with every run and was second to Duc Des Genievres last time and that gelding is now 6-1 for the Arkle. At 10-1 NRNB 5-places with Paddy Power he can be backed each-way in this and that is what I did last week.

17.30 Grade Two National Hunt Challenge Cup (Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Steeple Chase) 4m:

Thiwas another race that had me going round in circles in the build-up with several runners having multiple entries and so many questions about pieces of form. There are several in with chances of course but in the end I came to the conclusion that OK Corral must play a role in the finish. He should have the stamina and ticks several boxes for this race, aged 7+, 150+ rated, owned by J P McManus etc… The nine-year-old became my tentative pick when Paddy Power went the standout 100-30 NRNB last week.

 

08/03/19:

I have taken an early punt in the Coral Cup on Cracking Smart as he has been chasing home the likes of Apples Jade and Tiger Roll his last two starts which is fair form! He does have an entry for the Stayers but this would be more his trip. The word soft in the going will be of no concern and at 12-1 NRNB with Paddy Power paying 5-places I have taken the plunge each-way as I think Dallas Des Pictons will got for the Martin Pipe leaving this fella the Gigginstown Stud and Gordon Elliott main hope in this.  

07/03/19:

The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle kicks things off on Tuesday. Elixir de Nutz seems to me to be improving with every run and he appears to like the course, has gone well on Old and New courses including winning the G.2 Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle in November. He won the G.1 Tolworth as his warm-up making every yard in the soft that day and looks to be going the right way as they say. He skips across the hurdles at speed which is a major plus in a race such as this as they rarely go at a snails pace in the opener and he can take half-a-length out of the opposition at each obstacle. I can see him leading from the off, or at least being right up at the pointed end, and all being well still there up the hill when it matters. At 7-1 NRNB I am on hopefully to get off to a winning start.

For the Close Brothers Novices Chase I am convinced you want a progressive horse peaking at the right time for this as much as any form in the book. Tower Bridge is yet to win a chase, been behind Gun Digger and Ben Dundee, but has been improving with every run and was second to Duc Des Genievres last time and that gelding is now 6-1 for the Arkle. At 10-1 NRNB 5-places with Paddy Power he can be backed each-way in this and that is what I have done.

06/03/19:

Another race that has had me going round in circles in the build-up is the four-mile Grade Two National Hunt Challenge Cup (Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Steeple Chase) that brings Tuesday to a close. There are several in with chances of course but in the end I have come to the conclusion that OK Corral must play a role in the finish. He should have the stamina and ticks several boxes for this race, aged 7+, 150+ rated, owned by J P McManus etc… The nine-year-old is my tentative pick at the standout 100-30 NRNB with Power, short as 5-2 elsewhere. I know he could, some will say should, go for the RSA but the price had to be taken NRNB. 

05/03/19:

I have been busy today going over and over the runners for the Ryanair Steeple Chase on the Thursday. My old favourite Un De Sceaux knows his way round this course including a win and a second in this very race. He ain’t improving at 11 but is still the second highest entrant on OR’s and if we get softer going you know he’ll make them all go - at the moment sleet is forecast on the Tuesday and Wednesday (as much as you can trust a 7-day forecast). Everybody is asking will Mullins send Min or Footpad for this? I think they are fixating on the wrong Mullins horses. Un De Sceaux looked pretty good when second to Altior in the Tingle Creek at Sandown in December – no disgrace there - and this will surely be the race he comes for. Just imagine the scenes if this old warrior were to do it, mud splattered up the hill, to gain his tenth Grade One win! I have 5-1 each-way NRNB with Betfair.

01/03/19:

Two of my ante-post punts appear to be sticking with Plan A I am glad to say. Kalashnikov is reported in “fabulous form” according to trainer Amy Murphy. Connections have reportedly found nothing to explain the below par performance at Sandown so as it stands the plan remains a tilt at the Arkle rather than the two-and-a-half-mile JLT Novices’ Chase, in which the horse is also entered. The trainer said “Kalashnikov didn’t even blow after Sandown, by the time he got to the winners’ enclosure he had stopped blowing for whatever reason. I thought something underlying would come out but thankfully it didn’t and we can go to Cheltenham. For whatever reason on that day he just wasn’t at the races. We will probably never get an answer. We will carry on what we’ve been doing. He is in fabulous form. Literally we can hardly sit on him at home he is so fresh. He schooled fantastically on Thursday morning. We are not changing tack and sticking to the Arkle. If you go back to the past 18 months, his Betfair Hurdle, Supreme Novices’ Hurdle run and his two novice chases he certainly doesn’t lack for speed. He is pretty versatile but I think slower ground would play in our favour if there is rain.”

Defi Du Seuil remains on target for the JLT Novices' Chase rather than switching to the Arkle despite bookmakers cutting him to 4-1 second favourite behind Lalor following the defection of market leader Le Richebourg. Trainer Philip Hobbs said: "He's in very good form and it's more likely that he will go for the JLT. We'll make a final decision nearer the time. There's a big team involved so we will speak to everyone before we make that final decision."

28/02/19:
I have been mulling this one over for a while bur have today taken the NRNB plunge on one in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle. Band Of Outlaws is ante-post jolly and for me if the Irish form stands-up he has a big chance.  I have 7-1 each-way NRNB 5-places. He won at Naas last time impressively and trainer Jospeh O'Brien said afterwards this was the likely target.  Young Joseph has some good young’uns and even though this one has a couple of entries I am sure he won’t go for the Triumph, the yard has Sir Erec in that already  anyway. 

27/02/19:

Paisley Park has simply improved with every run this year and this lightly raced 7yo might not be finished yet. Warmed up nicely for teh big one winning the G.2 Cleeve Hurdle over track and trip. Let’s be honest he idled a bit wondering where everyone was before pricking his ears on the run-in and drawing clear of his field. He will need to improve again but should do so. I have taken 15-8 NRNB with Power. 

25/02/19:

Snippets of information for the Festival from the weekend. Racing Post Arkle favourite Le Richebourg will miss the Cheltenham Festival and the rest of the campaign, trainer Joseph O'Brien has revealed – the race is becoming a bit of an ante-post nightmare for punters! Talking of the Arkle, Lalor reportedly showed his well-being ahead of Cheltenham next month with what was described as a pleasing racecourse gallop over two miles at Exeter on Saturday.

Triumph Hurdle second favourite Fusil Raffles will be checked over by the vet team at Nicky Hendersons stable on Monday to determine the extent of what was described by the trainer as a ‘nasty’ cut to his hind leg am injury he picked up whilst winning the Adonis Hurdle.

Whatswrongwithyou romped home in the Josh Gifford Memorial Novices’ Chase at Fontwell Park as a nice build-up to the Festival. Nicky Henderson’s charge is unchanged at around 9-1 favourite for the G.3 Grand Annual on the Friday. He needs to go up a pound or two to get in and this win will likely cement his place in the line-up.

11/02/19:

Philip Rowley plans to send leading St James’s Place Foxhunter contender Hazel Hill straight to next month’s Cheltenham Festival. After running out an impressive winner at Warwick on his last start, the evergreen 11-year-old will now bid to maintain his unbeaten record under rules at Prestbury Park on March 15. Rowley said: “Hazel Hill in in great form. We would probably have run him on the Sunday just gone at Chaddesley Corbett, but that meeting was off due to racing being shutdown with the equine flu. The Walrus at Haydock was a possibility, but I think it falls too close and I imagine he won’t run now until Cheltenham. He has come out of the race at Warwick really well and has shown no ill effects. He is in tip-top form.” 

Amy Murphy would not hesitate to run leading Arkle contender Kalashnikov in the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase – provided it is re-staged within the next 10 days. The Grade Two prize was due to be run at Warwick on Saturday, but was one of numerous events cancelled due to the six-day shutdown sparked by an outbreak of equine flu. Murphy said: “If the Kingmaker was run in the next 10 days, I would definitely be running him in it as after that you start thinking you are getting too close to Cheltenham. If there was a reason why they didn’t re-stage the race, he would be fine as he would just go for a racecourse gallop with Mercian Prince. Don’t get me wrong though, I would love to get another race into him for some more experience, but we will work with whatever we are dealt with.”


08/02/19:

Defi Du Seuil is entered for the Arkle but the JLT Novices Chase over 2m4f is surely the race for him. The 2017 Triumph Hurdle winner clearly had problems last season and didn’t exactly start his Chasing career with a bang when a well beaten last of five in the Arkle Trophy Trial back in November 2018. Clearly has now got the hang of the bigger obstacles and I was quietly impressed with his Grade One Scilly Isles Novices' Chase win at Sandown over 2m4f in February. He gained compensation that afternoon for a length-and-a-quarter defeat to Lostintranslation at Cheltenham prior to that – he was giving the winner 3lb that day. He’s showed some guts in those two runs and you need plenty of them up the hill at Cheltenham. They will face-off again in this, and they duly head the market, but I have plumped for Philip Hobbs trained 6yo at 3-1 NRNB with Paddy Power just in case.

06/02/19:

The decision to limit horses to a single Cheltenham Festival outing has cheesed off a few trainers it would appear. The rule change was unveiled on Monday and the reason behind limiting horses to a single declaration was, according to Cheltenham, to provide greater certainty for racegoers, the media, the off-course betting market, and international audience, as well as boosting standards of equine welfare. Sounds fair enough to me but that said it’s not as if many try to run twice in the four days anyway. 

My biggest bugbear is horses with about twenty entries (perhaps a bit of an exaggeration) as that is what ruins ante-post punting as you are not only trying to find a winner but second guess connections as to where the horse will actually run! See Fakir D'oudairies and Konitho from the yard of Jospeh O’Brien as just a couple of examples.

Also announced on Monday was the news that second-last fence on the Old course would be moved for the third time in nine years, and the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle would now be the lucky last at the Festival rather than the The Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Steeple Chase Challenge Cup

05/02/19:

I have taken a bit of the 7-1 about Hazel Hill for the Foxhunters Chase or the "Amateur Gold Cup" as it is sometimes called. I always quite enjoy this race, I know some that moan about it, and hopefully I have found the winner nice and early. I was impressed with the 11-year-olds win at Warwick in January this year and I have watched back his wins at Towcester and Leicester last season under rules both of which were pleasing on the eye. Alex Edwards is likely to ride as usual, and he is no mug, and in an open looking year the gelding looks a fair punt.

04/02/19:

Buveur D'Air won the Listed Contenders Hurdle at Sandown again at the weekend in the build-up to his Champion Hurdle defence; I am on at Evens for Cheltenham. We didn’t learn anything new but it was nice to see him back to wining ways in a pretty much faultless display. Everyone is talking about Apples Jade and the general opinion is she should go for the Champion Hurdle having won the Irish version in a canter at the weekend. Owner Michael O'Leary does appear to be leaning towards taking on Buveur D'Air at the Festival for the first time but is still keeping his cards close to his chest. Snippets from his latest interview include We won’t make a decision until Cheltenham week and we'll see how she is, how everyone else is and what else we have going………… Would she beat Buveur D’Air? Probably not, but she's entitled to try now.”  Trainer Gordon Elliott has stressed though that the Mares' Hurdle and Sun Racing Stayers' Hurdle remain options for Gigginstown House Stud's seven-year-old. With Laurina also likely to go for the Champion Hurdle, last years winner Benie Des Dieux is looking more and more attractive for the Mares Hurdle. The eight-year-old has not run this season but is due to run at Gowran Park or Navan the weekend of the 15th and 16th and Willie Mullins has said the Mares' Hurdle at the Festival will again be the target. 3-1 is about and I have it as if she wins on her seasonal reappearance in a canter - and with Apples Jade and Laurina aimed elsewhere - that price will halve. 
Looking at the Triumph Hurdle Sir Erec impressed me with his all-the-way victory in the Grade 1 Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown on Sunday and has been backed for the Festival. Stablemate Fakir D'Oudairies has multiple entries and trainer Jospeh O'Brien is on record as saying he does think Fakir D'Oudairies has quite the same engine as the selection.
All being well my Arkle ante-post punt at 7-1 Kalashnikov will be in action in the Grade Two Kingmaker Novice Chase at Warwick on Saturday. Beaten into second last time on ground that might have been a bit too lively for him and big run is hoped for; if the forecast rain continues it certainly won’t be fast going!
16/01/19:

Dual winner, and my ante-post punt - Buveur D’Air is the star name among 27 entries for the Unibet Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham. Nicky Henderson’s has claimed the two-mile hurdling crown in each of the last two seasons and he is a hot favourite to become the sixth three-time winner, despite suffering a shock defeat at the hands of stablemate Verdana Blue in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on his latest outing. The eight-year-old will be bidding to emulate Hatton’s Grace (1949, 1950, 1951), Sir Ken (1952, 1953, 1954), Persian War (1968, 1969, 1970), See You Then (1985, 1986, 1987) and Istabraq (1998, 1999, 2000). Buveur D’Air and Verdana Blue are among six entries for Henderson, with Brain Power, Call Me Lord, Charli Parcs and We Have A Dream also in the mix. Willie Mullins is responsible for five of the 12 Irish-trained contenders. The Irish champion trainer could saddle last year’s runner-up Melon, the unbeaten mare Laurina, Sharjah, Cilaos Emery and Saldier. Samcro and Apple’s Jade are two of four entries for Gordon Elliott, while Jessica Harrington’s Supasundae and Gavin Cromwell’s Espoir D’Allen are other potential Irish raiders.

10/12/18:
Altior remains unbeaten. Tingle Creek day at Sandown is always good and I have been lucky enough to see some great horses down the years and some great races and this years renewal of the Tingle Creek Chase was bang up there. Two of my favourite horses coming to the Pond Fence, three from home, together side by side they eyeballed each other for three fences then slogged it out in the mud up the hill; Un De Sceaux is good, very good, Altior is exceptional. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEay7i0Uhuo

Winning trainer Nicky Henderson summed it up as well as anyone afterwards by saying: "On paper it was going to be something special with the four best two-mile chasers. It was a great race, a spectacle and the crowd were great. That was what top-class two-mile chasing around Sandown is all about.” He added "The ground today was for Land Rovers not Ferraris, but he is a bit of both!" The Champ is generally 8-13 to regain his crown come March. 

Lalor is now out to 8’s for the Arkle following his third on the same card in the G.1 Henry VIII Novices' Chase at Sandown. What did we learn, he does not go on soft end of story! Kalashnikov is now clear favourite at 4-1 best and I for one – on at 7’s - won’t mind it being a bit wet in the run-up to the Festival.

03/12/18: 
After the weekend there is no other horse you can have on you mind for the Champion Hurdle as far as I am concerned and than the reigning champ Buveur D'Air. I have taken Evens as I honestly think the only danger is injury. If he gets there in one piece come March, and he will be wrapped up in cotton wool, he wins. 
Samcro will surely now be either kept at home mopping-up races at Fairyhouse and Leopardstown or tried over further - the Stayers division looks wide-open.  
As for Kalashnikov he passed test number two at Plumpton earlier today jumping well and winning by a wide margin. He is now in to 5-1 best for the Arkle straight after the race. 
27/11/18:
Kalashnikov is likely to have his second outing over fences at Plumpton on Monday (3rd December) and if successful he will then be in with the chance of nicking a £60,000 bonus. The track is putting up a bonus for any winner from one of their five nominated novice contests at the track that then go on to win a race at the Cheltenham Festival in the same season. Trainer Amy Murphy said: "The plan is to run Kalashnikov at Plumpton where the £60,000 bonus is attractive but he also needs some more experience. He's been fine since Warwick and has only schooled once since. Obviously there is some rain forecast which will be a help as he likes to get his toe in." 
09/11/18:
Kalashnikov
was duly trimmed to a top price of 6-1 (Coral as low as 9-2) for the Racing Post Arkle after registering a comfortable 11-length victory on his chase debut in the £50 Risk Free On Racing With Smarkets Novices' Chase at Warwick.
08/11/18:
Kalashnikov will make his eagerly anticipated debut over fences at Warwick on Friday.
Amy Murphy’s stable star showed plenty of talent during his novice hurdling campaign last season, winning the Betfair Hurdle before being narrowly agonisingly caught in the shadow of the post by Summerville Boy in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival - was my tip!
He'll be no sort of price tomorrow, even though the ground is perhaps quicker than he'd like, and his trainer is taking nothing for granted. “We could have done with a bit more rain, but we are where we are. I’ll go up to the track early in the morning and check we’re happy with the ground,” said the Newmarket handler. "It’s exciting for the team to get him started. Whatever he does tomorrow he will come on for it as we’ve not been able to get the horses on the grass yet because the weather has been so dry. It’s no easy task for him, but as long as he has a clean round of jumping and learns a lot we’ll be happy. It will be great to get his season under way.”
He is already the favourite for the Arkle in March before he has even faced larger obstacles in public, a good show on Friday and he will no doubt shorten further. I have taken the 7-1 with Paddy Power as I am a fan of this horse. I know what you're thinking, betting on Cheltenham races in November I need my bumps felt, but I can see him shortening all the way through till March and faint heart never won fair lady.