With the Cheltenham Festival just two weeks away now is the time that the press corps descends on the leading yards to check on the health and racing plans for their Festival horses. Frequently it is a case of reading between the lines but as someone who likes backing horses that are following “a plan” I find them very informative. In this blog Ladbrokes speak to Neil Mulholland, the Stourbridge News no less speak to the Whateleys, Philip Hobbs was interviewed by the Weekender and there is an update from At The Races on Willie Mullins for his Juveniles, Bumpers and Handicappers.
As the Festival nears my support for The Young Master in the Ultima Handicap Chase (Tues.2.40), If in Doubt in the Pertemps Final (Thurs.2.05) and Footpad in the Triumph Hurdle (Fri.1.30) is hardening.
Paddy Power have announced that they are money back as a free bet to a max of £25 if your horse finishes 2nd in any race at the Festival as from 8am this morning. Coral tell me that they will lay any horse to a max of £10K (winnings) in the shops from 9am throughout the Festival. Stan James has joined SkyBet and Bet365 ingoing NRNB all Cheltenham races.
Neil Mulholland hoping for a dry build-up to the Cheltenham Festival 29 February 2016
The build-up to the Cheltenham Festival will have many trainers looking to the skies, some hoping for the heavens to open, while others pray that the precipitation stays away.
One man who looks likely to be doing the latter is Neil Mulholland. The Wiltshire-based handler recorded his maiden Festival success as a trainer last year with The Druids Nephew, and looks to have assembled a strong squad as he bids to add to his tally. He spoke exclusively to Ladbrokes News to run us through his main hopes of success at Prestbury Park and looks to have two lively chances to record back-to-back wins in the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase on day one.
The Young Master – Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase – 14/1
“He had a good run at Ascot [in the Sodexo Silver Cup] and was dropped a pound by the handicapper. Things didn’t go according to plan that day, he got a bit behind at one stage and stayed galloping but didn’t get a clear run up the home straight. We gave him a flash around Cheltenham [in the Cleeve Hurdle], as we did with The Druids Nephew last year, to let him enjoy himself. You would like to think he’s off a competitive mark and if he gets a clear round of jumping he should be there or thereabouts.”
Carole’s Destrier – Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase – 20/1
“He’s come together a bit quicker than I thought. He had a wind op after winning the London National and I didn’t think I’d have him back in time. “But he’s in excellent form and while I think The Young Master could run well in the race, I don’t think he’s badly handicapped either. He’s had the wind op and he should improve a bit for it, so I certainly wouldn’t be afraid of running two horses in the same race. He’ll have another gallop between now and Cheltenham and if that goes well then he’ll probably line up on the first day as well.”
“The four-miler would be his target. You would think there was more to come from him the further he goes, he’ll gallop all day. He’s by Presenting so should be another one to appreciate the better ground. He could have gone to Wetherby [for the Towton Novices’ Chase], but he would have had a real tough race, which a few of them did that day, but now we have a fresh horse going into Cheltenham. You’d be hopeful that he would be in the shake-up.”
“He’s still in both races and we’ll make up our mind closer to the time, as it depends on ground conditions. If the ground was soft he wouldn’t run anyway. I suppose if the ground was good on both days the Albert Bartlett might be the one that we’d go for. He’s by Shantou and they all improve for a step-up in trip and the way he works we’d be happy that he’d stay. He’d definitely get closer to Yanworth [if he ran in the Neptune] for the better ground and the fact that he’d have a run under his belt. I’m not making any excuses, I think he ran a cracker [in the Classic Novices’ Hurdle], but it was his first run after a break on ground that he absolutely hated. We would like to think that he would improve for having that run, and for the better ground.”
“His owners are quite keen [to run] and there’s no reason not to, he hasn’t done anything wrong. He jumps well and stays very well which would be a big bonus to him coming up the hill. You’d be looking at two-miles-four for him next year but if he can just hang in there in the early stages then his stronger side will come into play in the second half of the race. He’s finished first, second, first on his last three runs so he’s done very little wrong. He wants better ground, but if we waited for better ground we wouldn’t have run him this season, so we had to go somewhere.”
What’s Left – Kim Muir Challenge Cup – 50/1
“His form figures don’t read very well – first, pulled up, pulled up – but when he won the ground was much better.
When he pulled up it was just too soft for him, so he’s much better than what his form figures read. He wants good ground, and wants a trip.”
Minella Present – Grand Annual Handicap Chase – 14/1
“We’ve been happy with him and wanted to give him a break as he’s another one by Presenting that wants the better ground. He’s done well and his last run was very good when he finished second at Cheltenham over two miles. From that day onwards we said we’d put him away for the Grand Annual. He had a racecourse gallop around Chepstow on Saturday and that went according to plan.”
The Whateley’s famous two-tone blue colours are set to feature once again at The Festival
Chris Flavell Stourbridge News 10am March 1st
PROMINENT racehorse owner Grahame Whateley has a few important decisions to consider ahead of this year’s Cheltenham Festival. The Belbroughton businessman, who owns the Halesowen-based firm Cedar Group, is once again looking forward to an exciting meeting watching his equine stars carrying the famous two-toned blue colours of wife Diana but he says a plan of attack is still to be decided for a number of their exciting prospects.
Sausalito Sunrise’s recent chase victory took his rating to 163 and puts him in the Gold Cup picture – a race he would have to be supplemented for. Whateley is still to decide if to take the chance, saying: “He has taken his time to develop, as all big horses do, but he is very exciting and his last win at Ascot means he has a rating good enough to run in the Gold Cup. We now need to decide if to supplement him for it. There are a lot of good horse in it so we will need to take some advice from (trainer) Philip Hobbs. It’s a nice decision to be faced with though.”
Another Whateley horse that will feature for the Hobbs yard is novice chaser Garde La Victoire. He has entries in both the Arkle Novice Chase over two miles or the JLT Novice Chase over 2m 5f. Whateley said: “We will leave the decision on which race he goes for as late as we can. A lot will depend on the ground come Cheltenham week. If he ran in the Arkle he would come up against Willie Mullins’ Douvan, who is a very short priced favourite, but I have never been afraid of one horse. Ours has already won at Cheltenham and knows all about it. You need to be able to stay further in the Arkle and he can do that. We won it before with Captain Chris as well, so it would be nice if we could repeat that.” However, the aforementioned Captain Chris will be one horse that won’t feature this year after the former Arkle winner and King George runner-up was retired earlier in the season.
Other Whateley veterans in the form of Wishfull Thinking and Menorah will skip the festival for other targets later in the campaign. Wishfull Dreaming, meanwhile, is out with a back injury and now being rested for next term.
The husband and wife duo will still have plenty of ammunition for jump racing’s showpiece event from March 15.
The Whateley’s are planning to take a two-pronged attack into the Coral Cup with Diamond King, trained over in Ireland by Gordon Elliot, and Hobbs inmate Rock The Kasbah. “We are hoping to have secured (jockey) Davy Russell for Diamond King and he is right up there with the favourites. Rock The Kasbah will also go in the same race and I’d really fancy his chances if the ground came up soft. He is a chaser in the making and is very progressive.”
Another Elliott-trained horse, Jetstream Jack, who ran in last season’s Champion Bumper, will also run in one of the Festival’s handicap hurdles.
Meanwhile, Mountain King could feature in a handicap chase at some point during the four-day extravaganza.
Whateley couldn’t hide his excitement about hurdler Duke Des Champs, who he and Diana jointly own with Tim Syder, again trained in Minehead by Hobbs. “He is also a chaser in the making but we like him a lot,” he said. “Whatever he does this season is a big bonus because we will hopefully continue to improve when he sees a fence.”
Overall, Whateley admitted that even one winner would be brilliant come Festival week, something that alluded him a year ago. “It is so competitive,” he added. “It’s hard to know what would be our best chance because anything can happen. I would be happy just to have one winner. The main thing is that they get there without any problems and they come back safe as well. It will be a great occasion and is something we always look forward to.”
Philip Hobbs in Straight from the Stable, Racing Post Weekender, 24th Feb.
BALTHAZAR KING “He came back here shortly before Christmas and is still as enthusiastic as ever, so he’ll go back to Cheltenham for the Cross Country Chase. I am very pleased with how he is at the moment, he’s in great form and I can’t wait to see him run again.” If Philip can get him to win as a 12yo, with no prep run and after the injuries he suffered, it will be an amazing feat. (I feel the same about Nicky Henderson and My Tent or Yours!)
BROTHER TEDD “He could go for the Coral Cup but he’ll have plenty of weight so we may wait for Aintree”
CHAMPAGNE WEST “He’ll run in the BetBright Chase at Kempton on Saturday (Fell 2nd last) and that will determine where he goes at Cheltenham where he is still in the Gold Cup, the RyanAir and will have handicap options.” No news since his fall and I wouldn’t be surprised if the trainer would prefer to sidestep the Festival but I’m pretty sure the owner (Roger Brookhouse or poor house) will, if the horse is sound, want him at the Festival.
CHELTENIAN “He will go for the County Hurdle and should be suited by the way the race is run. The problem is that he is 7lb higher (than last year) now which won’t make life easy for him.”
COPPER KAY “We’ll give her an entry for the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham and have a look at that.” Surprising news! All along PH has maintained it was Aintree and Punchestown for this talented mare. However it what is a very messy Bumper division this season with no standout performers as she has Listed course and distance form, plenty of size and definite gears plus the mares allowance she could be a definite player if lining up.
FINGAL BAY “We know he loves Cheltenham so he is likely to go for the Ultima Handicap Chase next month, though that is not written in stone.”
GALA BALL “..we might have a look at the County with him.”
GARDE LA VICTOIRE “..he’ll head to Cheltenham next month for the Arkle or the JLT.We’ll make a decision nearer the time when we have weighed up the strength of the opposition and the ground.”
IF IN DOUBT “We decided to switch him back to hurdles…and he ran on very well to win a Pertemps Qualifier at Wincanton on Boxing Day. He went up 6lb for that, which is fair enough, and the plan is to send him straight to Cheltenham for the Pertemps Final.” PH sounds more bullish than normal!
JABOLTISKI “He has a mark of 130 and he’s likely to go for the Fred Winter, but he could be up against it.”
KRUZHLININ “..before the Grand National we’ve chosen to go for Ultima Handicap Chase rather than the Betbright at Kempton. I do like him a lot.”
MENDIP EXPRESS “He’s in very good form and would be a very interesting runner in the Foxhunters.” The horse probably would be but whilst he is ridden by his owner Mr David Maxwell, a genuine Corinthian, it won’t happen. Surely the worst 7/1 shot of the four days!
In the Guardian a few years ago – Property specialist David Maxwell takes a day away from doing big-money deals to ride the horse he owns ….Maxwell has, by his own admission, no pretensions to making the grade as a professional. When the horse won first time out at Towcester, he told the crowd in an entertaining post-race interview that he reckoned he would come on for the run more than the horse.”
ROCK THE KASBAH ”I think the handicapper was pretty harsh in putting him up another 8lb as he only won by half a length and his new mark of 152 is as high as I would want. However he’s progressing and we know he doesn’t mind the hustle and bustle of big fields so he could be interesting in the Coral Cup.”
SADDLERS ENCORE He was fifth on his return in a Pertemps qualifier and came on nicely for that, winning his last start at Sandown. He is now 6lb higher on 135 and hopefully that will be enough to get in the Pertemps Final. I hope he would go well if he ran as I like him and I’m sure he has more to offer”.
SAUSALITO SUNRISE He has come back in great order and his big target is now the Scottish National in April. Before that we’ll consider the Ultima at Cheltenham and the Midlands National at Uttoxeter”. Being competitive off 162 in a handicap would be some feat!
STERNRUBIN “The plan had been to go for the Supreme Novice Hurdle but that is out of the question now and I think we’ll aim him at the County hurdle instead. If he bounces back to form he would have to be in contention.” Such a disappointment in the Betfair and no excuses for that run when he “folded tamely”. I’m not sure Cheltenham would suit his style of running!
VIEUX LILLE “He is on a mark of 140 and will have options at Cheltenham as well as at Sandown in the EBF Final the weekend before. I think on decent ground he’ll be best stepping up to 2m4f.” Suggests could be a Martin Pipe contender, sure to get a run.
VILLAGE VIC “He’s improved 32lb in all, but he’s now up to 157 and that won’t make things any easier…..We will probably be forced to run in the RyanAir Chase now and he is in terrific form at home.”
WAIT FOR ME “He’s been given a mark of 139 and it looks like he’ll go straight to the County Hurdle off that.” For a horse that was 3rd in last year’s Bumper that is a gift! If only you could trust him to put a clean round of jumping, even half a round……
WAR SOUND “I really thought he would run well in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury but he was very disappointing and I have no idea why. It’s back to the drawing board and he could go again in the County Hurdle.”
WESTEND STORY ”If I am happy with him next month then he will go for the Champion Bumper.”
Willie Mullins – Cheltenham Festival contenders At The Races Monday 29 February 2016
With the Cheltenham Festival now just a fortnight away, Willie Mullins talks through some of his formidable team for the showpiece meeting.
Champion Bumper horses
“We find it impossible to rate Augusta Kate as she doesn’t show us anything at home. She either doesn’t like our gallop or doesn’t like the way we train her. I think Avenir D’Une Vie is the highest-rated horse and I thought Bacardys’ performance at Christmas was good. There’s the horse that won the Goffs Bumper two years ago, Very Much So. He’s doing nicely and was supposed to go jumping this year. Another horse that was due to go jumping is Castello Sforza. He might go for the bumper as well, along with Battleford. They all have bits of form that give them a chance.”
“Let’s Dance, Footpad and Apple’s Jade will run in the Triumph Hurdle. There’s also Voix Du Reve and Ria D’Etel. We’ll see what weight Voix Du Reve gets in the Fred Winter. I can’t go past Footpad. What he did the other day was very good in a true-run race.”
“It will be interesting to see how Great Field gets rated after his win in Leopardstown on Sunday. He has a few options. Mckinley will go for the novice handicap chase on the first day. The Coral Cup would look the job for Arbre De Vie and Blazer will either go there or the Martin Pipe.
“Childrens List could go for the Coral Cup, along with Clondaw Warrior.
“Dicosimo might go for the County Hurdle and Kalkir will go for the Coral.
“Ivan Grozny is one we’re trying to get to the County Hurdle and Townshend might go there as well.
“The Martin Pipe is a race that’s been good for us. I thought Blazer could be the one for that.”