It’s St Patrick’s Day on Thursday March 15th and the black stuff will be flowing in the stands at Prestbury Park, you can be rest assured of that.
The celebratory air that greets the commemorative day toasting the patron saint of Guinness will hopefully extend to a day of winners for punters out on the track, with another stacked racecard for those in attendance and everyone else watching at home to enjoy.
It’s a day for the novices to shine as the action switches to Cheltenham’s New Course, and the day’s first race – the JLT Novices’ Chase – is often a showcase of the finest young guns in the business.
From a betting perspective it is the pair of races slap-bang in the middle of the card, the Ryanair Chase and the Stayers’ Hurdle, that really get the juices flowing.
So where does the smart money lie in this top trio of races?
JLT Novices’ Chase (1:30pm)
Money is zipping around the ante-post market here with the likes of Footpad and Monalee lurking as their connections decide which race to formally enter them into.
Footpad is a fine six-year-old who has always been earmarked for the Arkle, and his connections confirmed this week that that race remains is target despite him being tucked into second favourite for the JLT. “There’s no reason to change from the original plan all winter which has been the Arkle,” Anthony Bromley, racing manager for Munir & Souede, said.
At the tender age of five, Terrefort is unlikely to be given too harsh a workload and will instead surely be primed for this two-and-a-half mile affair. Unbeaten since joining Nicky Henderson’s yard, the French horse narrowly won a Group 1 affair last time out and certainly makes for interesting billing at 7/1 here.
The JLT typically favours older horses, however, with five of the last seven champions being seven-years-old at the time of their triumph. Monalee would be a worthy favourite but seems to have been pointed at the RSA Chase, while Invitation Only – seven years old no less – is an unconvincing favourite with just two wins in his last six starts.
Should Footpad or Monalee find their way into this field then they simply must be backed, otherwise it’s a wide open renewal that punters may be best off avoiding.
Ryanair Chase (2:50pm)
Big news today that Top Notch, a two-time winner this term, has been withdrawn from the Ryanair Chase after failing to impress Nicky Henderson on the gallops.
It’s a bit of a blow to the renewal, with another of the ante-post favourites, Min, likely to get stuck into the Queen Mother Champion Chase 24 hours prior.
Un De Sceaux has taken on market favouritism at 2/1, and he will be looking to become the first horse to successfully defend their Ryanair Chase crown since Albertas Run in 2010-11.
The ten-year-old will need to buck the trend for slightly younger horses having their way in this two-and-a-half miler, with each of the last six champions aged nine or younger at their time of triumph.
But Willie Mullins’ charge showed in his historic Clarence House Chase win in January that he still has the taste for big race glory, and the fact he came from off the pace that day suggests there is plenty left in the tank.
After six wins in as many starts, eagle-eyed punters have been observing Waiting Patiently with interest, but they have been – if you’ll pardon the pun – waiting patiently to see if he could make the step up to Group 1 quality.
Boy, did he ever in the Ascot Chase back in February, taking the spoils from Cue Card and stretching some 20 lengths away from Top Notch in fourth. He might want firmer ground than he is likely to get at Prestbury Park next Thursday, but be under no illusions Waiting Patiently will give Un De Sceaux a real run for his money here.
The Stayers’ Hurdle (3:30pm)
This looks set to be a cracking renewal his year, with three very worthy favourites battling it out for supremacy.
Sam Spinner (5/1) takes top billing, and why not: the six-year-old winning his first foray over the 24f mark in a classy Long Walk Hurdle renewal in December that featured L’Ami Serge and Uknowwhatimeanharry, amongst others.
Supasundae (6/1) is something of a late developer at the age of eight who has saved his best runs for the past year or so. A winner of the Coral Cup at the festival 12 months ago, and as recently as February he won a high quality Irish Champion Hurdle that also included Faugheen, Melon, Mick Jazz and more.
Yanworth (6/1) has been confirmed as a Stayers’ Hurdle contender: switching from fences back to hurdles for another crack at a big Cheltenham prize. It’s a risk, of course, as he hasn’t run over hurdles since last April, and punters with long memories will remember his poor showing in the Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy when a 2/1 favourite a year ago.
It’s a case of youth versus experience in the Stayers, and you can expect Sam Spinner and Supasundae to go hoof-to-hoof down the final straight of a pulsating encounter.