The great and the good of the horse racing world gathered at St Andrew’s Stadium, Birmingham, last week to discuss all things Cheltenham Festival 2018 at the 888sport Cheltenham Festival Preview night in association with Birmingham City Football Club.
Host Derek Thompson was joined by 888sport racing ambassador and broadcaster Emma Spencer, leading jockey Andrew Thornton, former rider Carl Llewllyn and Grand National-winning trainer Oliver Sherwood as they put out their tips for the four day extravaganza.
The Willie Mullins-trained, Ruby Walsh-ridden Getabird is hot favourite for the Cheltenham Festival curtain-raiser, but Emma is sweet on the chances of recent Betfair Hurdle winner Kalashnikov, who will appreciate the soft conditions.
Andrew Thornton has concerns for Getabird going left-handed, while Carl Llewllyn also doesn’t like the favourite and joined Emma in her support of Kalshnikov.
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Another Willie Mullins/Ruby Walsh fav goes for glory in the Arkle, Footpad, and Emma once again is opposing the fav here, fancying Saint Calvados to make it four out of four over fences for trainer Harry Whittingdon, a point of view also supported by Thornton, who says the heavy conditions will to the gelding’s liking.
Carl Llewllyn is in the Petit Mouchoir camp, and believes Footpad is ‘poor value’.
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Llewllyn brought out an interesting stat: just three favourites in the last 54 Cheltenham Festival handicaps have gone in, bad news for anyone backing Coo Star Sivola.
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For many, last year’s winner Buveur D’Air is their Festival banker of the week, and the panel were in unanimous agreement: Nicky Henderson’s star hurdler will do the business once again.
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Emma is very sweet on the fav, Apples Jade, while Andrew Thornton has one at a massive price, Midnight Tour. Oliver Sherwood is another going against the favourite and has picked out Warren Greatrex’s Le Bague Au Roi, who will appreciate the testing going.
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The Jamie Codd-ridden Jury Duty was a big positive for the panel, who say past Festival form is a plus for Gordon Elliot’s Irish raider.
Oliver Sherwood likes the look of English horse Duel at Dawn, another runner who will relish the sticky ground.
The Irish are apparently very keen on the chances of the Ted Walsh-trained Any Second Now, with Carl Llewllyn revealing trainer Ted Walsh, who rarely backs his own runners, has lumped on the horse.
Samcro has been one of the best backed horses of the Festival, with the panel unanimous that he’ll justify likely odds-on favourtism to win this.
Last year’s Pertemps Hurdle winner Presenting Percy will be ‘tough to beat’, according to Emma Spencer, with Carl Llewllyn calling the Patrick Kelly-trained seven-year-old a ‘worthy favourite’.
Unsurprisingly, the panel were torn on what is one of the most fiendishly tough handicaps of the week.
Emma Spencer says Le Breuil is ‘really fancied’ by the Ben Pauling team, while Andrew Thornton likes the chances of the Henderson-trained Burbank. Carl Llewllyn reported that jockey Brian Hughes rates Mount Mews his best chance of the week.
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Despite a late injury scare, only ‘an act of God’ can stop last year’s winner Altior taking this again, according to our panel.
With the Willie Mullins pair Douvan and Min in opposition, it promises to be one of the races of the week, but the panelists were unanimous: Altior cannot be beaten!
Cause of Causes goes for an incredible fourth win at the Festival in the but the panel are split on his chances.
Emma Spencer is firmly in his camp but Andrew Thornton likes the chance of stablemate Tiger Roll, while Oliver Sherwood fancies Kim Bailey’s The Last Samurai.
Spencer says she was told owners Gigginstown don’t like having runners in the Bumper but have made an exception for their Felix Desjy.
Thornton says punters should ignore the poor form of Phillip Hobbs and have an each-way squeak on his Crooks Peak, while both Llewllyn and Sherwood said they are backing Acey Milan to do the business for Anthony Honeyball.
Emma and Carl like Paul Nicholls’ Modus on the strength of his past Festival form, with Llewllyn also a fan of Gordon Elliot’s Shattered Love, which could be ‘great value’.
Oliver Sherwood says first time blinkers could work the oracle for Colin Tizzard’s Finian’s Oscar.
Sherwood has been lobbying owner JP McManus to run his The Organist in this race, which he says has a ‘cracking each-way chance’, with Llewllyn agreeing the horse is a ‘good mare’.
Spencer likes the chances of Galway Plate winner Balko de Flos, but the rest of the panel are firmly in the Un De Sceaux camp, yet another favourite for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh, although Sherwood gives a slight sneak to Cloudy Dream, who would be a factor if the ground dries.
Carl Llewllyn is convinced The New One can finally win a championship race at the Festival, having failed several times to land the Champion Hurdle.
Llewllyn, assistant to the horse’s trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, says he has been lobbying his boss to run the popular ten-year-old over the Stayers’ three mile trip for several seasons and believes the distance can help bring about a long overdue victory.
Thronton is keen on the chances of former Festival winner Tully East, who is on an inviting handicap mark.
One of Tommo’s bets of the week is the seven-timer chasing Maria’s Benefit, but the rest can’t look beyond Laurina, who Thornton compared to the wonder mare Quevega. ‘Point steer, don’t move… and win as far as you like,’ was his verdict.
Apple’s Shakira is a hot favourite for Nicky Henderson, but Andrew Thornton reckons the trainer’s other runner in the race, We Have A Dream, will take all the beating.
“When this one passes the line, it’s going quicker than at the last – it’s a thorough, through stayer and I think it’ll win,” said the jockey.
Thornton branded Santini ‘one of the worst favourites of the week’ and instead plumped for Chris’s Dream, going for the hat-trick for trainer Henry de Bromhead. Llewllyn and SherwoOd are both Chef Des Obeaux fans on account of his jumping and the conditions.
The panel were unanimous: favourite Might Bite will not win the Gold Cup. Sherwood called it his ‘lay of the meeting’ and Thornton said it was a non-stayer.
Spencer and Llewllyn are both on Our Duke, while Sherwood says Definitely Red is a definite each-way chance.
Thornton is a big fan of Gordon Elliot’s Dr Phoenix, who bolted up in a Grade 3 last time out, while Sherwood says Paul Nicholls’ Tommy Silver will prevail.