The second day of Cheltenham provides the racing enthusiast a feast of quality racing with four grade one races, two competitive handicaps and an amateur riders race to kick off the card. The 320 race, the Queen Mother Champion Chase would look to be a penalty kick for last season’s Arkle winner Sprinter Sacre. However, the inclusion of the 2011 winner Sizing Europe will provide some substance to a race were most of the opposition have been running for cover.
The opening race, the Amateur riders’ race run over 4m, for me looks between the Willie Mullins trained Back in Focus, who won the Topaz Novice chase at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival, and the Dessie Hughes trained Tofino Bay. Both horses stay very well, my preference is for Back in Focus, whose win at Leopardstown was impressive and beat some decent rivals, I also thing he would be competitive if he were to run in RSA.
The Neptune Novices’ Hurdle run over 2m5f looks a high quality renewal with many Irish people’s festival banker, Pont Alexnandre, the hot favourite at 6/4. The other fancied Irish representative is Rule The World, trained by Mouse Morris, priced at 11/2. Both runners have looked impressive on their previous outings, Pont Alexandre, for me is too short on what he has achieved, connections would lead you to believe he is a very high class horse. Rule The World won the Slaney Novice hurdle at Naas in February, the race fell into his lap after both Minsk and Champagne Fever cut each other’s throats in testing conditions. The New One has looked impressive in his early season wins, but got outstayed last time out over course and distance by At Fisher Cross, who runs in Friday’s Albert Bartlett over 3m. I am very keen on Taquin Du Seuil, he didn’t disgrace himself going down to My Tent or Yours at Ascot early in the season giving 5lbs. He followed up with a win at Sandown in a Grade 2, then captured the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle at Newbury in testing conditions. I think he brings more substance to the race than some of the other contenders, and is my selection for the race.
The Coral Cup Cup is a fantastic handicap hurdle, run over 2m 5f, it is an ultra-competitive handicap with 16lb separating the field. The market is headed by the Charlie Longsdon trained Pendra, purchased by JP McManus in February, he is fantastically bred, and looks a horse with a massive future. One reservation I have about him is the fact he does not have a lot of experience, this race may pass him by. Xenophon won the 2003 renewal, en route he won the Boylesports hurdle at Leopardstown, this year’s winner is the second favourite, Abbey Lane, priced at 8/1. Trained by Willie Mullins, he will have to overcome a 15lb rise to follow up on his Leopardstown win, Mullins also runs 2008 Neptune winner Fivefourthree who returns to the track after a 727 day absence. Gordon Elliott, who trained the 2011 winner Carlito Brigante, has two entries in this year’s race, Bondage and Un Beau Matin. Bondage won over C&D in October, he ran off 127, he was raised 18lb for that effort, but I think he could still be competitive off a mark of 145. Barbatos looked an improving novice last season, he won a decent novice hurdle on New Years Day 2012. He was injured after that run, and returned last January at Cheltenham, to finish down the field on testing ground with a tame effort. If he retains the form that he showed in 2012, I believe he is on a mark that he can exploit.
Best Bets of Day Two:
130 Back in Focus 10/3
205 Taquin Du Seuil 5/1
400 Bondage 16/1 and Barbatos 16/1