Cheltenham Festival 2018 | Wednesday March 14th Preview: Take a Min to Consider All the Options in Exceptional Champion Chase Renewal

View of Cheltenham Racecourse
Credit: Arpingstone, via Wikimedia Commons

After the excitement of the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival, you might expect there to be some kind of comedown on the Wednesday. But this being Cheltenham, nothing could be further from the truth.

This is Ladies Day, and you can expect a few fine fillies in the stands as well as out on the track, plus a fantastic afternoon’s racing at Prestbury Park which should hopefully set punters up for the final throes of the festival on Thursday and Friday.

The proceedings kick off with the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, a renewal which the outstanding Samcro will surely win if his connections decide to declare him here over the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

There’s a stacked card of action as ever, but for our money the two standout races have to be the RSA Chase and the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

RSA Chase (2:10pm)

Presenting Percy
Credit: Jockeycolours Wiki Commons

How exactly the Old Course holds up under the forecasted rain showers in the coming days remains to be seen, but if we do get the deluges anticipated then it could well shape how this RSA Chase plays out.

The favourite with the bookmakers is the fantastically-named Presenting Percy, and the seven-year-old certainly prospers when the conditions are somewhat sticky.

The Patrick Kelly steed actually won on good going at the festival 12 months ago, taking the spoils in the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle, but it is his performances on heavier footing lately that have impressed.

A couple of victories at the turn of the year set the tone, and a five-length triumph in the Grade 2 Galmoy Hurdle, where he bested the likes of Augusta Kate and Alpha Des Obeaux, certainly caught the eye.

One bone of contention is that the 5/2 fancy is yet to really mix it in Group 1 company, and that may just persuade punters to look elsewhere.

One to keep an eye on is Monalee (7/2), whose trainer Henry de Bromhead confirmed will run in the RSA unless ‘the ground came up soft and heavy’.

There is every chance of that, however, and so punters are advised caution before piling in prior to the declaration stage.

After falling in his penultimate start, Monalee recovered well to clinch the Group 1 Flogas Novice Chase at Leopardstown, and this is a horse that has already shown a decent touch at the festival having finished second in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle 12 months ago.

Watch the market and more importantly watch the weather; if things don’t get too wet and wild, Monalee is a smart back for the RSA Chase.

Plenty of money has come in for Elegant Escape, into 10s from 16s, but the one that each way punters might favour is Al Boum Photo (10/1), who represents Willie Mullins’ best chance of glory here.

Second in that Flogas Novice Chase to Monalee, this six-year-old loves a tear-up on soft ground, and it seems that a fall at Limerick on Boxing Day has rather dissuaded punters of his quality. But don’t discount him on that ground, and if it rains cats and dogs for the next week you could do a lot worse than have this powerhouse on board.

Queen Mother Champion Chase (3:30pm)

Credit: Jockeycolours Wiki Commons

What a fantastic renewal this looks likely to be, with a starry cast including Altior, Min, Douvan, Un De Sceaux, Politologue and defending champion Special Tiara all listed at this preliminary stage.

Much of the hype surrounds the odds-on favourite Altior, who triumphed at the festival a year ago in the Arkle. The eight-year-old has comfortably beaten Special Tiara and Politologue since, and you sense it will take heavy going to prevent him from being in the picture here.

After winning 13 times in a row, Douvan seemingly had the world at his hooves, but a curiously below-par effort in this race 12 months ago – his last outing after suffering a number of injury problems since – has understandably dented confidence on the betting floor. Horses have come back successfully from lengthy lay-offs in the past, but in a field of this quality it would take an outstanding performance for Douvan to upset the odds.

Heavy ground won’t unsettle Min (7/2), the fine French horse who burst back to prominence with a commanding win in the Dublin Chase back in February. Second in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2016, if conditions are on the heavy side then Min would arguably be a smarter play than Altior here as far as the prices are concerned.

The defending champion, Special Tiara, is being written off after a run of four races without a win – fair enough, and so perhaps Politologue (12/1) is the each way pick here. Paul Nicholl’s charge should thrive at this 16f mark, and the softer the better as far as he is concerned; wins in the Desert Orchid Chase and Haldon Gold Cup on softer footing are testament to that.