Cheltenham day 2

One in the books.

Davy Russell ducked under the rail to get closer for a selfie with a fan. They roared. And asked for three more. Phones came out like lighters at a concert. Out of the saddle a year, still a star.

Paul Townend after a surgeon’s ride on Gaelic Warrior pumped his fist to a fan pumping his fist, clutching a pink and green Susannah Ricci scarf. Vautour…Annie Power…Faugheen…Gaelic Warrior…perhaps Lossiemouth in a few.

“I can go now.” One of the owners of Chianti Classico after winning the Ultima. Yeah, winning at Cheltenham can complete your life. Trainer Kim Bailey riding the wave of National Hunt Racing, sending out two fancied runners in the handicap chase. Trelawne fell at the second, looked hurt for a few ginger steps, a few breathless moments before walking it out and heading home. Six and a half minutes later, David Bass doing what he does best – seeing and kicking – on stablemate Chianti Classico. Seasons made. Lives changed.

And of course, State Man, delivering in the Unibet Champion Hurdle. A race without its superstar, State Man did all he could do, collaring a game Irish Point to win the big one on day one. A County Hurdle winner – yeah, State Man was in the County Hurdle two years ago. A runner-up to the great Constitution Hill last year, the French-bred pushed his career earnings over £1 million. Groom Rachel Robins planted a kiss right between his eyes and raised her hand to the sky. One of three Grade 1 wins in the Willie Mullins show on day one.

As for our picks, we offered four winners on top. Slade Steel, State Man, Lossiemouth and Lark In the Mornin. The latter a cool 9-1 in the Boodles Juvenile Hurdle. I was wrong on Gaelic Warrior; he rose to the occasion. I underestimated the class of Corbetts Cross. Telmesomethinggirl came through at 22-1 behind Lossiemouth.

But that’s over.


Day Two. Testing ground after yesterday’s rain. Listed as soft, heavy in places. Just learned that the cross country failed its inspection. Post time adjustments.

Race 1. 9:45. Eastern Standard Time. The Gallagher Novices’ Hurdle. Grade 1. Registered as the Baring Bingham Novices’ Hurdle. 2 miles, 5 furlongs. $162,000.

The Willie Show continues in the opener. Ballyburn would have won the Supreme. Instead, he comes here, and he’ll win the Gallagher Baring Bingham. He trounced Slade Steel in February and should certainly handle another 5 furlongs here. Mullins unleashes five of the eight runners.

The Picks: Ballyburn, Jimmy Du Seuil, Handstands.

Race 2. 10:30. The Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase. Grade 1. Registered as the Broadway Novices’ Chase. 3 miles, 110 yards. $217,500.

The second Mullins banker. Fact To File trounced Gaelic Warrior at the Dublin Racing Festival and you saw what Gaelic Warrior did Tuesday. Fact To File stretches to 3 miles for the first time under rules, that’s the only question.

Just six line up. I’ve always liked Giovinco, maybe an each-way bet for some action.

The Picks: Fact To File, Monty’s Star, Giovinco.

Race 3. 11:15. The Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle. 2 miles, 5 furlongs. $120,000.  

You want novices in handicap hurdles and Sa Majeste looks like he could be the best one here. Not technically a novice, he was a winner in France and beat Noble Yeats at Limerick on heavy ground in December. Mullins and Mark Walsh and McManus. What else do you need? Now, he doesn’t offer a lot of value so you could pick around at a few others.

Langer Dan did it last year and has been pointed at it again by handicap specialist Dan Skelton. Four pounds higher but still potent.

Nicky Henderson sent out six horses at Cheltenham Tuesday. Luccia ran well in the Champion Hurdle, finishing third. The other five pulled up, which adds questions to Doddiethegreat. Good but maybe not timely. Henderson withdrew several this morning.

Tony Martin slides Zanndabad at the bottom of the weights. Still a maiden over hurdles, the son of Iffraaj does have some heavy ground form on the flat in France. He needs to have improved his jumping but still interesting. A Tony Martin special? You’ll never forgive yourself if you don’t throw a few pounds that way.

If you want some bombers, I’ve always liked Benson, Franciscan Rock and Guard Your Dreams. Bombers of all bombers.

The Picks: Sa Majeste, Built By Ballymore, Zanndabad.

Race 4. 12:00. The Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase. Grade 1. 1 mile, 7 furlongs, 199 yards. Winner: $480,000.

Ho hum another Mullins banker. El Fabiolo rolls into this with five dominant wins since dominating the Arkle last year. He’s formidable here.

Jonbon chased El Fabiolo in the Arkle and couldn’t reel him in that day. His jumping is questionable. And now I just read that he’s a non runner. What a bummer.

Tom Cannon will be positive on Edwardstone like he was in the Game Spirit. He’ll try to test the jumping behind him. Cool race but a real gut punch without Jonbon.

The Picks: El Fabiolo, Captain Guinness, Edwardstone.

Race 6. 12:50. The Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup. Handicap Chase. 1 mile, 7 furlongs, 199 yards. $150,000.

Ah, the calvary charge of the Grand Annual.

Saint Roi drops out of Grade 1 competition. The upstart Madara reverse-commuted to win impressively in Ireland. Libberty Hunter handled heavy ground at Cheltenham January 1. Maskada is dangerous. Path D’oroux wasn’t too far away from Madara and is twice the price.

Mine. Field. Look. Out.

The Picks: Madara, Path D’oroux, Saint Roi.

Race 7. 1:30. Weatherbys Champion Bumper. Open National Hunt Flat. 2 miles, 87 yards. $96,000.

The Yellow Clay steadied at a crucial stage in his return and could improve off that in another hot renewal of the bumper.

Maybe I’ll go to the parade ring and look for another Hairy Molly. David Mullins would be proud if I did.

The Picks: The Yellow Clay, Jasmin De Vaux, Argento Boy.