The declarations were made on Sunday morning for the opening day of Cheltenham 2020 and, as expected, the unbeaten novice hurdler Envoi Allen will miss the Supreme on Tuesday for a crack at the Ballymore over an additional half-mile twenty-four hours later. Envoi Allen was trimmed across the board for Wednesday’s opener and many people’s Festival banker is now a best-priced 5/4.
There is further rain forecast to hit the track on Sunday and Monday, before a dry opening to the Festival although there is the prospect of showers on Thursday and Friday.
In the feature Unibet Champion Hurdle 17 will go to post with Verdana Blue (going) and Honeysuckle (runs in the Mares’ Hurdle) the only absentees. That leaves Epatante as the sole mare in the race and she is the 7/2 market leader with one firm but a general 3/1 shot in a fascinating but, seemingly, below par renewal of the race.
More of Cheltenham tomorrow but there is a good card at Stratford on Monday and in the opener I hope to see Elysian Flame (2.10) improve for the step up in trip having gone off just 6/1 for the Grade 1 Finale Hurdle at Chepstow when last seen over Christmas. Mick Easterby’s juvenile is rated 90 on the level and the hope is that he will have been extensively schooled since his last start as he is not exactly a natural over timber. Paddy Brennan keeps the ride, and this is his sole mount on the card.
Only four go to post for the 2m 4f Novices’ Chase but all hold realistic chances although Tidal Flow (3.55) gets a confident vote for Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson. The selection drops back to the distance of his facile Uttoxeter win on his penultimate start, and I thought the champion jockey made his bid for glory too soon last time at Newbury over an additional couple of furlongs. The conditions of today’s race suit the seven-year-old, although Alan King’s Senior Citizen was impressive at Fakenham last time and has the scope to become a much better chaser than hurdler.
The horse who beat Le Cameleon (4.30) on his handicap debut has been raised 13lbs for that fluent 11L success while the selection has been kept on the same mark. Today’s return to the minimum trip is considered a positive and, if jumps with more fluency than was the case at Chepstow last time, he looks sure to run a big race for Nick Williams who had two seconds in valuable races at Auteuil on Saturday.
In the Taunton opener Yaa Salaam (2.20) improved for the application of first-time blinkers when staying on into third in a Kempton handicap last time. David Pipe’s six-year-old reverts to maiden company this afternoon and connections look to have found a very good opportunity as long as the headgear works the oracle for a second time.
Templier (3.30) has improved in recent starts and would have gone very close but for coming down at the last at Wincanton when last seen at the end of January. The winner – Ibleo – has since followed up from a 6lbs higher mark and ran a good race when runner up off a 19lb higher mark at Huntingdon last time.
Rolling Dylan (4.40) is hardly a serial winner but he is given one last chance in the 3m 4f handicap chase, a race he threw away 12 months ago – albeit off a 5lbs higher mark. The nine-year-old has not yet fulfilled the promise of his novice chase days when I thought he would make up into a National horse one day. That is not going to be the case I’m afraid, but he is beginning to look well treated although a course record of 222 suggests he is one for the forecast!
At Wolverhampton this evening I hope to see Beechwood Jim Bob (6.40) make a winning handicap debut as he steps up in trip for Mark Johnston. The three-year-old has looked a bit one-paced over a mile of late, but he is bred to get this extended 9f trip and Joe Fanning is likely to try and make all from stall one.