We’ve seen some cracking races so far at the Cheltenham Festival as it seems to be the Festival that just keeps on giving. There is only one more day to go until the main event, ‘The Gold Cup’ and until then we’ve picked out our top bets on Thursday’s card.
JLT Novices Chase
We had thought Top Notch might go to the Arkle and take on Altior, however, it looks as though trainer Nicky Henderson has a new destination for the six-year-old as he has emerged a 7/2 shot for the JLT. Victorious in his last four outings with the most recent coming at Sandown early last month, he comes into this race with a very high rating.
Second, behind stable companion Peace and Co in the Triumph Hurdle two seasons ago, he didn’t perform well when competing in the Champion Hurdle last season, and he will be looking to do better at Prestbury Park this time round.
Our only concern is he thrives on softer ground, so a little drizzle of rain wouldn’t go amiss if the conditions stay as they are. (Current going Good to Soft).
Last year, this race gave us one of our final glimpses of Vautour before he passed away at the start of this season. This year, we expect another Willie Mullins horse to start as favourite for the race, with Un De Sceaux bypassing the Queen Mother Champion Chase in favour of a run here.
Coming to Cheltenham on the back of two big victories in the Tingle Creek Chase and the Clarence House Chase, he is in very good form, and we believe he will benefit from not facing Douvan, and having to battle even harder for his second career victory at the Festival.
It looks, however, that he will not have the race all his own way, as Gigginstown owned Empire of Dirt will be looking to get back to winning ways at Cheltenham. Second, on his last outing at Leopardstown behind Sizing John, he kept on well but was unable to pass the post first.
Victorious at the Festival last year, in the Grade Three Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate, he will be familiar with the course, so we expect a strong battle from him here.
Mares Novice Hurdle
Limini stormed home to pick up the victory for Willie Mullins in his race last season, and we believe he has a potential runner who can do the same yet again.
Seven-year-old Airlie Beach is unbeaten in every one of her career starts so far and comes into this race with a very high rating of 151. We thought she may feature in the Mares Hurdle earlier in the week or even the Novice Hurdle, but it looks as though Mullins is hedging his bets, and is featuring her here for the best chance to pick up the victory. Currently priced at 5/2, we expect that to go shorter, so we would advise getting on her quickly to benefit.
If you’re looking for a strong each-way chance in this race, then Fergal O’Brien trained Colin’s Sister is a horse that ticks all the boxes. Victorious in all four of her outings this season, this is a step up in class for her and will be her first outing at the Festival. With current odds of 10/1, she looks definitely worth a punt.