Cheltenham Festival 2022 Selections Blog
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)
In what is arguably the most exciting race set to take place at Prestbury Park this year, with Mullins, Elliott and Henderson helping to provide the perfect curtain raiser, I’ve warmed to the idea that KILCRUIT might just upset a few people. Yes, he is seven, and no, he’s not had the ideal preparation this season but in my opinion, there is plenty to like about this vintage bumper horse who has only got better with his hurdling - barring a hiccup or two - this season.
It’s not easy to forget just how much ground he made up on Sir Gerhard (my initial selection) climbing this hill last season and proved able to turn the tables in Grade 1 company at Punchestown a month and a half later. Let’s also not forget how Appreciate It went from finishing runner up in the Bumper before following up in the Supreme, albeit with a more orthodox prep...
For whatever reason, this season he’s looked largely unfinished, twice turning for home as though he still had half a tank left before hitting the line wearily. The step up to two and a half, for all it looked a perfect fit, backfired at Christmas but a return to two miles as a fitter horse and he looked twice the animal that disappointed at Cork and Leopardstown.
There are rumours that Willie has looked after him in his work for most of the year, possibly with his mind set on readying him for this a little later – who knows? But he’s arrived here, and I have every faith that he’ll be much more like the horse that everyone hoped he would become last summer. He’s obviously got work to do with the principles on hurdling form, but there’s an engine there, I just hope it’s in working order this afternoon!
Arkle (Grade 1)
BLUE LORD 4/1
With Ferny Hollow again being forced to miss his Festival target here, the contest has been thrown wide open and led many to believe it’s a far weaker renewal than we have seen in recent seasons. I think that’s harsh on the likes of Edwardstone who has done absolutely nothing wrong all season, but for all I think he is a worthy favourite, he has also been on the go since November and I am inclined to believe there may be a few in here who are yet to show what they’re truly capable of.
I instead have opted for BLUE LORD, who could well have more to come after a rather scrappy win in beating Riviere D’Etel last time out at Leopardstown. For all it wasn’t the prettiest, it’s worth mentioning that he recorded a time 5s faster than A Wave Of The Sea carried over the same course and distance later on that day, despite carrying 7lbs more than him. For context, that horse is 16/1 in some places for an ultra-competitive renewal of the Grand Annual on Wednesday.
He has reminded me a lot of Footpad, who won this for the same connections back in 2018, who, for all he arrived here having won three on the bounce, failed to really get my juices flowing and I’d convinced myself that he was beatable. I was wrong to take him on there and am inclined to think this horse might just be on the same trajectory, so I like to think I won’t be making that mistake again.
His hurdling form is good, having looked set to run a (distant) second to Appreciate It here in the Supreme last year before making a mess of the last, but I think this test might just be the making of him and at the prices, he’s the one I’ll be siding with!
The Ultima looks set to be another typically ultra-competitive renewal and after returning veteran Vintage Clouds bucked a few of the trends last year in finally breaking his Festival hoodoo, it wouldn’t surprise me if another horse were to able to buck one or two again this year.
I’ve sided with the previous Ryanair and six-time course winner, FRODON for Paul Nicholls and Bryony Frost. The Nickname gelding has a dozen wins at Graded level with three of them coming at the highest level, so it’s safe to say that he has an abundance of ability and an undoubted affinity for the Gloucestershire course, so you’d like to think that both should stand him in good stead as he bids to shoulder the maximum of 11st12lbs to victory here.
He’s carrying at least 9lbs more than anything else but as far as I am concerned, there’s good reason for that. He beat last year’s Gold Cup winner and this year’s joint favourite for the big one back in October, on their own turf and over three miles. A repeat of that form and he walks this... Unfortunately, he has had his problems since then, but I like to think excuses can be made. He was made far too much use of when trying to retain the King George, and it’s been widely discussed as to how far out of form Nicholls was when attempting to return to form at Leopardstown last time out.
I think there is also reason to poke holes in a number of his opposition, with poor old Lostintranslation who seems to have completely lost his way, and even a few of the up and coming types here could suffer for past exertions, with Does He Know probably overdoing it last time out in the mud at Ascot, and a handful arriving here carrying more than their official rating normally dictates.
The improved form of Nicholls of late has given the chances of Frodon a serious boost, and it’s also worth noting that his highest RPR came in handicap company, albeit over shorter. He’s been around the block but has had his sights lowered here, hopefully he can capitalise on what looks a very winnable race for a horse of this calibre.
Mares’ Hurdle (Grade 1)
Where in recent seasons we’ve seen the likes of Honeysuckle, Benie Des Dieux and Apple’s Jade line up here, this year we’re confronted with a very different task of trying to figure out who’s quite capable of living up to such lofty reputations.Telmesomethinggirl has the most likely profile given how she won the Mares’ Novice so impressively 12 months ago, and has had to campaign this season carrying a penalty but she’s still yet to get her head back in front and for all she’ll arrive here a better proposition, I want to take her on.
At the prices, I like the chances of previous Cheltenham heroine INDEFATIGABLE for the Paul Webber team to go close. She’s not been out of the first five in six visits to the track, with three Festival appearances; finishing 5th over a trip short of her best in the Mares’ Novices in 2019, 1st in the 2020 Martin Pipe by the skin of her teeth and she came 4th in last year’s Mares' Hurdle, finishing within five lengths of Black Tears, Concertista and Roksana. Solid.
More recently she’s disappointed behind Marie’s Rock, albeit giving her 6lbs and back from a break, but prior to that only went down by a neck here behind the well touted Martello Sky when giving her 5lbs (above). She arrives here back on levels with the pair and is double the price of them in most places, and as much as they have potential on her, coming to the Festival is a different ball game, and she’s been here and done it.
For all age is probably catching up with her, her form round here should give her an excellent chance of hitting the frame in this, and given there will be a few in here ready to set a strong pace, I’m hoping the contest will only play to her strengths as for all she probably won’t have the tactical speed to be bang there turning for home, the early fast pace should help her get involved up this hill.
PRAIRIE DANCER 20/1
In recent months, all the rage has been about the incredibly well-handicapped French import Gaelic Warrior who, in truth, really could be the biggest certainty since Unsinkable Boxer hosed up in the 1998 Coral Cup. But given he hasn’t been on the track since last June, he has never got his head in front AND Willie Mullins has never won this race before, I’m going to try and find something to give him a bit of a run for his money and at a price...
For all my hours of my studying, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I think that the Joseph O’Brien-trained PRAIRIE DANCER could just be the one who fits the bill. The gelding is yet to get his head in front over obstacles but has shown me enough signs to suggest he’s more than capable of putting it all together here.
His most interesting pieces of form have come in his last three runs, twice finishing behind Triumph Hurdle contender Icare Allen with a run in open company sandwiched between the two.
The first start behind Icare Allen will have given him a really good feel for competing in a large field and he was far from disgraced finishing 9L sixth after following what must have been a half decent pace, with only one of the front four or five really being able to hold their position. Next up he ran with plenty of credit to finish behind subsequent Grade 2 scorer Flame Bearer at Gowran with the fairly smart Micro Manage half a length in front of him.
But on his most recent start (above), he was given a bit of a bizarre ride whereby he set off in front but within half a mile to a mile he was taken back and settled in the rear before staying on strongly up the run-in to pinch second from the re-opposing White Pepper. That ride gave me the feeling that they were trying to protect his mark for an event like this and I’m hoping that gut feeling is right and he is ready and primed. Fingers crossed for a big run!