With hot favourites in a large majority of the festival races, I have taken a closer look at some double figured selections set to line up at the festival in just under a week, that hopefully offer some solid each way value.
Sort It Out – Pertemps Handicap 14/1
Trained by Eddie Harty, Sort It Out was set some tough assignments in his four starts over fences. Well beaten this season in races won by Petit Mouchoir, Footpad and Al Boum Photo, the lightly raced nine-year-old has always looked more natural over the smaller obstacles.
Second to Wicklow Brave in the County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 2015, off a mark just one pound lower than his current rating, the Milan gelding posted a really encouraging effort most recently to finish third in a handicap at Punchestown. A 40/1 chance on that occasion he had a number of things in his favour that triggered a return to form.
The step up the three-mile trip for the first time was a big positive for Sort It Out, who has looked outpaced over shorter distances in the past. A return to hurdles was another bonus, while it may also be telling that Barry Geraghty took the mount on the day, with Kilfenora who was a much shorter price going on to win the race.
Sort It Out stayed on strongly in the closing stages on his first attempt at the extended trip and with a more gruelling pace likely at Cheltenham, he looks a good price.
Dounikos – RSA Chase 12/1
The Grade 1 Flogas Novice Chase at the Dublin Racing Festival looks a key piece of form when it comes to the RSA Chase. The Henry De Bromhead-trained Monalee made a very impressive chasing debut and was a good winner of the Leopardstown Grade 1. However, they finished in a bundle that day.
Those that repose here all of chances of going close but the finishing effort of the Gigginstown recruit Dounikos was really eye-catching and marked him out as the potential improver with this race in mind.
Gordon Elliott’s horse entered that Grade 1 unbeaten in two starts over fences both on heavy ground, but was a winner of his bumper and maiden hurdle on good ground. The thing for Dounikos is that the step up to three miles looks really in his favour.
Presenting Percy is a worthy favourite, although there are question marks over his form when stepped up to graded races. Gigginstown always have an improving type heading to the festival and along with Blako Des Flos this year, Dounikos looks that type. He is lightly raced and still improving and on his Leopardstown run he doesn’t have to find that much.
With a fast pace expected with the prominent runners of Monalee, Black Corton and Al Boum Photo in the field, I expect a strong finishing effort from Dounikos.
Paloma Blue – Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 14/1
Since making a winning debut in a bumper at Fairyhouse, Paloma Blue hasn’t been out of the first three in five starts. Trained by Henry De Bromhead, the Stowaway gelding has chased home some useful sorts. Second behind Fayonagh, third to Next Destination and most recently third to Samcro in a Grade 1 at the Dublin Racing Festival. That is solid form.
His victory over Impact Factor in a maiden hurdle at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival received an honest boost recently, with the Harrington horse going close in a Grade 2 at Naas late last month.
However, it was his run last time out that marked him out as a real improver and as a potential candidate for this race. Approaching the final flight he was the only one of the field able to keep tabs with the exciting Samcro and despite fading in the closing stages, given that Samcro would be a short price for this and with better ground a huge plus, Paloma Blue looks a big price.
Wicklow Brave – Champion Hurdle 14/1
There are two things that can beat the Nicky Henderson-trained Buveur D’air in the day one feature. A fully revived Faugheen or himself. Neither looks likely to happen so we are looking for one who is likely to hit the frame.
Wicklow Brave is a horse that Willie Mullins obviously thinks an awful lot of. He has been to every dance and is one of the highest earners in the field. Tenth in the Melbourne Cup when last seen, the nine-year-old was a winner of the Grade 1 Punchestown Champion Hurdle when last seen over hurdles in April. The Beat Hollow gelding was eighth in last year’s renewal of this race but that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Not unsupported on the day, he was reluctant to race at the start, a trait he has shown in the past. Losing about six lengths, he made up the ground and travelled noticeably well on the approach to two out. He got tired from there but there was plenty of positives to take from the effort.
The fact he backed it up and reversed form with My Tent Or Yours at Punchestown offers great encouragement. He has winning course form, having won the County Hurdle by eight lengths off a mark of 138 in 2015.
Mullins is no stranger to winning the champion hurdle, Annie Power the last to win it for him in 2016, and with Faugheen and Yorkhill both looking shadows of their former brilliant selves in recent outings, Melon disappointing at Leopardstown last time out, Wicklow Brave looks a decent each-way shot. A lot will depend on whether he behaves himself at the start.
L’ami Serge – Stayers 14/1
From last June when L’ami Serge won a Group 1 in Auteuil over three miles, this race has been the plan for the Nicky Henderson-trained horse.
Second in the Grade 2 Ascot Hurdle on his seasonal reappearance, connections of the eight-year-old may have been slightly disappointed despite finishing second in the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle also at Ascot. The Kings Theatre gelding came with a winning run but found less than looked likely, ultimately finishing a close second to the improving Sam Spinner.
L’ami Serge took in a run over fences when last seen and again produced another placed effort. His Cheltenham form is good, finishing placed three out of four runs.
There will be none travelling to the final flight better than him and I would be hopeful that he could improve on his recent hurdles outing with the aid of going left-handed and with better ground in his favour.
His mark of 159 leaves him with little to find with the favourite and he looks a big price.
Don’t Touch It – Grand Annual 10/1
No matter what Jessica Harrington sends to the Cheltenham Festival, you can be assured that they are ready to run a big race. Rock The World was an impressive winner for the Moone trainer in this race last year and with that one entered again alongside Don’t Touch It, she looks to hold a strong hand again.
It is easy to forget that the latter is a Grade 1 winning hurdler, having beat Petit Mouchoir by half a length in the Champion Novice Hurdle at the Punchestown festival in 2016, with Brain Power and Yorkhill also in behind.
His early form over fences was encouraging and he was a handicap chase winner off a mark of 144, just five pound lower than his current rating over fences. Since that effort however his form has tailed off but there are reasons for encouragement.
The return to a sounder surface will be a real benefit. Hopefully that will aid his chances of getting into a rhythm early on, which the trainer has said is key to his chances.
Harrington has also confirmed that cheek pieces or blinkers will be reapplied, having been used when winning that handicap chase at Punchestown. He has been supported in the last couple of days, he has a touch more class than last year’s winner and the signs look to be in his favour.