Path to Prestbury: the Week that was, the Martin Pipe, Livelovelaugh and more - (2021)
We’re nearly there, you can almost taste it.
I love this time of the year, where all your ante-post selections are winners, you spend most day’s eagerly anticipating descending onto Cheltenham and hopes are unfathomably strong.
Unfortunately, the fragility of the protagonists of our sport was confirmed on Monday with the news that Le Richebourg, the warm favourite for the Arkle, will not make it to the festival.
It’s a cruel blow to the yard and one that completely blows open an already up for grabs Arkle.
It really is anyone’s race.
Unfortunately, that’s Racing.
We enjoyed another informative weekend and with the release of the handicap entries, I take a look at three horses to stay on the right side of at the festival.
The Week That Was
Laurina looks set to take on the Champion Hurdle after another facile victory in the mare’s division.
She was far too good, as expected, but I’m still happy to be taking her on in a Champion Hurdle. She just doesn’t jump well enough to win this to my reckoning and hasn’t experienced anything like the frenetic pace she will face at Prestbury Park.
She could be something very special indeed but hasn’t done enough to warrant her skinny odds for Tuesday’s feature race.
Epatante was another mare to showcase her ability when sauntering to victory at Exeter on Friday.
It’s clear from his rhetoric that Nicky Henderson thinks the world of her, but I still feel she has it all to do against the brilliant Honeysuckle.
It’s just great to see such a deep Mares Novice hurdle, with the aforementioned duo of Epatante and Honeysuckle set to take on the likes of Posh Trish and Salsaretta.
It could well be a cracking contest.
Another one of Nicky Henderson’s battalion, Angel’s Breath was beaten at Kempton in the Grade 2 Dovecote Novices' Hurdle by Paul Nicholls’s Southfield Stone.
I wouldn’t overreact to this loss whatsoever.
This was Angel’s Breath third ever run, his second time ever jumping hurdles in public and he has plenty of excuses for not taking the contest. To put his experience into context, the winner was having his seventh start.
In truth, getting as close as he did was an achievement especially once you consider that he had missed valuable work in the lead up to this contest after receiving his Equine Influenza jab.
The ground was far too fast, Nico De Boinville seemed at pains to looks after him and Kempton definitely would not have suited this son of Shantou on Saturday.
The truth of it is that Angels Breath was beaten by a decent horse who was better suited to the good ground that prevailed on the day. The race was run in a very strong time and the winner was receiving five pounds from Nicky Henderson’s charge. It was a valiant effort all things considered to get within a length of the winner, even granting that horses mistake at the last.
I think the combination of softer going, the Cheltenham Hill and his now added experience will see Angel’s Breath go very close in the Supreme Novices Hurdle in 2 weeks’ time.
Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle
It will be a strange occurrence at this year’s festival in that the four-day extravaganza will end with a Handicap Hurdle, instead of the usual Grand Annual.
Joseph O’Brien was dealt a blow with the news that Le Richebourg will miss the festival, but he should end up in the winner’s enclosure at least once during the week regardless.
He looks to have an overpriced one in this also in the form of Early Doors.
For all intent and purposes, it looks as if this has been the target all year for this horse. He has been pitted against Apple’s Jade twice and has been fairly hammered twice.
Early Doors could never have been expected to win a race like that, but it means his mark should be left unaltered whilst in the process continuing to get fit for the festival.
There’s absolutely no shame in being swatted aside though by a mare who sits at 2/1 for the Champion Hurdle!
The form from last season is what brings him solidly into this. He was second to Mengli Khan in the Grade One Royal Bond Novice Hurdle and then was a brilliant third behind Blow By Blow and Discorama in this very race last year.
That’s a race that has worked out very well, apart from the winner who has been a touch disappointing so far over fences.
Discorama, second on the day, is my idea of a great shout in the National Hunt Chase and in fourth was Sire Du Berlais, who is fancied for the Pertempts.
As I type, he’s only one pound higher than what he was last year and is now an older and stronger six-year-old. Early Doors is definitely too big for this at 20/1.
Eight of Ireland's seventeen Cheltenham Festival winners ran at the Dublin Racing Festival in 2017, with four doing the double. It’s is such a good place to warm up for the festival.
So, it can be no major shock that all three of my big festival handicap fancies (four if including Surin) all ran at Leopardstown in February.
Uradel is another one of these runners who really showed he can go very close in March off the back of a strong showing in fifth behind Off You Go in the handicap hurdle (two miles) at the Dublin Racing Festival.
The same owners and trainer had Bleu Berry run in this race and then go onto Coral Cup (two miles, four furlongs) glory and there’s no reason why Uradel can’t follow suit.
He travelled well throughout but didn’t quite have the finishing kick to reach the front four over what looked an inadequate trip. Going up in trip will be the making of him.
He’ll need a few pounds from the English handicapper, which he should get, and he’ll go very close off a low weight.
He’ll adore the Cheltenham hill and looks ideal for a test like this. I really fancy him, but he’s one I’ll wait to back on the day with an extra place or two.
It’s an odd position I find myself in, hoping that the handicapper puts a horse I fancy up a few pounds!
Livelovelaugh (Whatever he turns up in)
This horse has a plethora of options at the Cheltenham festival, so whilst I’d shirk taking a price about him now, he is one to seriously note when he is declared!
You just have to think he can exploit a mark of 139 over fences, or even his mark of 138 over hurdles. He looks well handicapped in the grand scheme of things.
His last run was a big effort when second at the Dublin Racing festival.
Livelovelaugh jumped well, travelled sweetly and saw out the trip to good effect when just not able to reel back Whisperinthebreeze. The fourth that day, Cadmium, has come out and won impressively since also to back up the form.
The field allowed Paddy Kennedy and the winner far too much rope in front and there was no catching him turning in.
Livelovelaugh is a horse who has been close behind the likes of the Storyteller, Al Boum Photo and Anibale Fly in his career and I firmly believe there is room to manoeuvre in his mark.
He’s a nine-year-old, but he’s only raced eighteen times in his career, so it is possible that there is even more improvement to come yet.
His Cheltenham Festival record is somewhat questionable after a no-show in a Ballymore and then falling at the sixth in the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase last year.
I’m happy to move on from this though as it all happened a bit quickly for him in the Ballymore and his fall last year was just of those things that can happen in racing.
He’ll go close in whatever he appears in, and for the record I hope he turns up in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate (16/1).
He’d be ideal for that!
0.50 Pts E/W Espoir D’allen 20/1 (Champion Hurdle)
0.50 Pts E/W Saldier 20/1 (Champion Hurdle)
2 Pts Win Penhill 5/1 (Stayers Hurdle)
0.50 Pts E/W Black Op 14/1 (Stayers Hurdle)
0.50 Pts E/W Al Boum Photo 14/1 (Gold Cup)
0.50 Pts E/W Vision D’Honneur 20/1 (Supreme)
0.50 Pts E/W Sam’s Profile 25/1 (Ballymore)
0.50 Pts E/W Discorama 16/1 (National Hunt Chase)
0.50 Pts E/W Rockpoint 20/1 (Albert Bartlett)
0.50 Pts E/W Surin 14/1 (Fred Winter)
0.50 Pts E/W Early Doors 20/1 (Martin Pipe)
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