Ahoy can greet winners enclosure

Cheltenham Festival selections Wednesday 16th March

After a terrific opening day at Cheltenham, Wednesday brings perhaps the purists race of the week with the Champion Chase. It is a classic renewal too – but I think there is an overpriced contender as a decent each-way shout. Again we have selections for four races on the card. We had a solid opening day with double point selection Constitution Hill winning (advised 5/2) and each-way places for Blue Lord (advised 5/1) plus Gericault Roque and Fantastikas (both advised 12/1).

Cheltenham 2.10: Ahoy Senor

Grade 1 winning hurdler AHOY SENOR looked a bit special last season, and despite some jumping errors, he has looked just as talented over fences. Connections toyed with the idea of the Gold Cup, so at sound each-way odds he makes plenty of appeal taking on fellow novices.

He was outpaced by Bravemansgame at Kempton, but that course suited his rival far more and I suspect Ahoy Senor will be better suited by the undulations of Cheltenham. Derek Fox is unlikely to face too much competition for the lead and that gives him the ideal opportunity to get his mount into a nice rhythm out front.

Given that easy lead he has looked very impressive in making all at both Newbury and Wetherby and he can draw the sting out of the finish of his rivals, some of whom are not guaranteed to be suited by a stiff test at 3m.

Cheltenham 2.50: Unexpected Party, Grand Roi & Drop the Anchor

There are far fewer unexposed handicappers than usual in the Coral Cup but the main one who earns the top vote here is UNEXPECTED PARTY.

He had any amount in hand when winning at Wetherby in the autumn, but probably was beaten by inexperience when touched off by Gowel Road over this course and distance in November. Soft ground was his undoing when somehow getting caught at Wetherby next time, but we saw his true potential when cruising home at Ascot last month in a valuable handicap. Whilst he has been hit with a 12lb rise, this is a fast improver and he only really started his career in earnest back in September.

The Irish challenge is strong enough and GRAND ROI is given another chance after finishing unplaced as favourite last year. He has been running respectably in graded hurdles all year, notably when fourth to Klassical Dream in the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown. This is more his level and perhaps the application of first time headgear, plus the master of big field handicaps Davy Russell can inspire him to better things.

DROP THE ANCHOR was yet again eyecatching staying on into fifth over 2m at Leopardstown last time and whilst he has yet to truly shine over this intermediate trip, everything suggests this is his distance now. He has had a light campaign so far, suggesting he has been laid out for this and a bit of rain today won’t do his cause any harm.

Cheltenham 3.30: Nube Negra

A classy renewal of the Champion Chase and whilst Shishkin looks the likeliest winner, I suspect Energumene will ensure a strong gallop and that could aid hold up horses getting into the race. In NUBE NEGRA this race could fall just right for him at decent odds, at least to make a place.

The 8yo will surely be ridden exactly as he was when a slightly unlucky second in this last year by Harry Skelton. Dropped out the back, he came home strongly up the hill, just running out of time to catch Put The Kettle On. A stronger pace here could just mean the field coming back to him quicker and one real key to him is coming into the race fresh. He has been kept back for this since disappointing at Sandown, but that run came too soon after an impressive course and distance win in November. We should see the real Nube Negra once more today.

Cheltenham 4.50: Sky Pirate & Before Midnight

Plenty of good course form in these 2m handicaps to go on and two previous course and distance winners are fancied.

BEFORE MIDNIGHT earns the first choice. He beat Sky Pirate 6l here in October, then followed up at Ascot despite jumping continually left. Whilst he was no match for Shishkin at Kempton, he reverted well to handicaps last time, given Funambule Sivola a real race at Doncaster. That rival lines up in the big one today and he can race off the same mark of 148 today. A fast run 2m is perfect for him and he is tactically versatile as well.

SKY PIRATE has not won since landing this race twelve months ago, but he is a hostage to fortune in that he needs cover and delivering late off a fast pace, something he rarely gets a chance to experience. That will happen today and he has been running well enough to suggest he can defy a 4lb higher mark.

He absolutely loves this racecourse running good races at the 2019 Festival and 2020 Paddy Power before running out of stamina up the hill over longer trips. Whilst he might find a better handicapped rival beating him, he must have every chance of making the frame with everything in his favour.

Recommended bets:

1pt each-way – Ahoy Senor – 2.10 Cheltenham – 7/1 general (most bookies 1/5 odds 1st 4)

1pt each-way – Unexpected Party – 2.50 Cheltenham – 12/1 Bet365 (1/5 odds 1st 6)

1pt each-way – Drop the Anchor – 2.50 Cheltenham – 15/2 Paddy Power, Betfred (1/5 odds 1st 7)

0.5pts each-way – Grand Roi – 2.50 Cheltenham – 20/1 Bet365, Paddy Power (1/5 odds 1st 7)

1pt each-way – Nube Negra – 3.30 Cheltenham – 18/1 general

1pt each-way – Sky Pirate – 4.50 Cheltenham – 12/1 general (most bookies 1/5 odds 1st 6)

1pt each-way – Before Midnight – 4.50 Cheltenham – 12/1 general (most bookies 1/5 odds 1st 6)


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