1.30pm - Turners Novices' Chase (Grade 1, 2m4f)
There's always a warm welcome for the Irish in this part of Gloucestershire but, by any standards, Thursday's Cheltenham Festival opener appears to have really laid out the mat for the visitors as not a single British-trained horse has been declared.
It's a Cheltenham Festival first, and not since the last century has a field as small as four contested a race at this meeting.
The home team have run scared in the face of the daunting prospect of taking on heavyweight pair BOB OLINGER and Galopin Des Champs.
Both were hurdles winners at this meeting last year, Henry De Bromhead's charge in the Grade 1 Ballymore, Willie Mullins' going the handicap route in the Martin Pipe. Both have raced twice this season as novice chasers and won in fine style.
This is a coin toss on paper. Galopin Des Champs has shown a high cruising speed this season and really attacks his fences. Bob Olinger has not looked quite as spellbinding through the air in his two races, but there's every chance that following the pace of his market rival in this race will help him in that regard.
If he can stay in the hunt until they round the home bend, his superior turn of foot might win the day. Galopin Des Champs could ensure he's a spent force by the time they get that far, however.
One of the most exciting duels of the Festival this year, little wonder then so that the British training ranks have elected en masse to take a half-hour off work to watch it.
El Barra (also Mullins-trained) and Busselton (Joseph O'Brien) have booked front row seats for this scrap, they'll rely on something going amiss to be any more than spectators.
Selection: Bob Olinger
Next Best: Galopin Des Champs
2.10pm - Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3, 3m)
Sire Du Berlais has won this race twice before, in 2019 and 2020, and he finished a highly commendable second 12 months ago in the Grade 1 Stayers' Hurdle behind Flooring Porter.
He had won a Grade 2 last season in his only run prior to that and, this time around, he was second to Darasso in the Grade 2 Lismullen at Navan in November before finding it tough going very late on in a high-quality Leopardstown Grade 1 over Christmas when he had to work hard to gain ground on tearaway duo Klassical Dream and Flooring Porter before emptying out. That pair are leading fancies for the feature race later today.
Since then, he's been to Warwick to get himself qualified for this race. Seven raced that day, with six of them set to earn place in this field and there was a bit of an 'after you' feel to it all. Sporting John, the winner, misses this meeting completely but Elliott's charge joins The Jam Man (second), Third Wind (third) and Alaphilippe (fifth) in contesting this.
Now 10-years-old, Sire Du Berlais is rated 4lb higher than when he last won this but Rob James claims 7lb off his back and their chance is of the clear and obvious variety.
Even allowing for that, they may do well to confirm placings with ALAPHILIPPE. Fergal O'Brien's charge was progressive last season and excelled when upped to three-miles at Haydock before running a sound race in fifth in the Albert Bartlett here last March.
The only time we've seen him since was that Warwick race in January, where he hit the front at the second last before weakening into fifth. He'll be sharper for that and a mark of 138 could be lenient. A first-time tongue-tie goes on now and, carrying 10st 8lb, Paddy Brennan's partner is a major danger to all.
Winter Fog has been well touted for Emmet Mullins, a trainer that clearly knows how to have one ready for a major target, while The Cob and Mill Green are other with possibilities.
Ballyandy has been in rip-roaring form of late over this sort of trip and has stacks of Festival experience (fifth appearance) for Nigel Twiston-Davies. Up-and-coming rider Finn Lambert takes 10lb off on what will be his first Cheltenham Festival ride. They are 2-3 together recently and need to be respected.
Next Best: Ballyandy
2.50pm - Ryanair Chase (Grade 1, 2m4½f)
A one-horse race, in theory at least? Last year's winner ALLAHO was seriously impressive when bagging this 12 months ago. He set out his stall to go as fast as he could that day under Rachael Blackmore and the others simply couldn't live with it - six of his ten rivals were pulled up trying to follow his pace.
After that he gave Chacun Pour Soi a race at Punchestown over two-miles and, this season, has won the Grade 1 John Durkan at Punchestown and a Thurles Grade 2 returned to this ideal intermediate trip.
Janidil and Melon were behind him in that first run in December, while Thurles runner-up Fakir D'oudairies went on to Ascot last month and won a Grade 1 with Fanion D'estruval (third) and Mister Fisher (tailed off in fourth) behind.
Shan Blue seemingly heads the British challenge for Dan and Harry Skelton, today. He was making short work of his rivals in the Grade 2 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby over three-miles in October when he crashed out three fences from home, leading by 25-lengths at the time.
He needed some time to get over that spill and has been prepared for this race. His ability to go well fresh isn't in question but he likes to front run and if he gets in a scrap with Allaho for the lead it could be fatal for his chances.
All of his wins have come on flat tracks and he has been well beaten in two visits to this Festival, notably last year in a Grade 1 novice chase over this sort of trip when Harry Skelton upped the tempo from around halfway and the petrol gauge failed him up the hill.
Melon has been second in four of five Cheltenham Festival starts but was pulled up in this last year and it might be that the John Durkan is replayed here, with Mark Walsh and Janidil giving Allaho most to think about. They are effective at his trip and have twice run well in Grade 1s over further since that early December silver medal.
Next Best: Janidil
3.30pm - Paddy Power Stayers' Hurdle (Grade 1, 3m)
Rarely in a three-mile race will so much emphasis be placed on the first furlong to be covered - but it could be all-important here.
Flooring Porter wants the lead and is at his best when he has it, while his December conqueror Klassical Dream is very, very buzzy at the start of his races and can be over-eager to get on with things. He stole a march at Christmas and never gave it back.
Meanwhile, the 2019 winner of this race, Paisley Park is getting temperamental as the years go on and was on verge of not wanting to race at all here in January when the tapes went back - though he incredibly caught up to win that Cleeve Hurdle. Any repeat of that Trials Day scenario will surely prove much more costly in the white heat of Festival battle.
The younger Irish pair are probably ahead of him now, in any case.
Champ was behind Paisley Park in that Cleeve Hurdle. So impressive in Ascot's Long Walk in December when he gathered in Thyme Hill late on, he blotted the copybook in January but as we've seen this week already, Nicky Henderson will likely have him at concert pitch today.
The Leopardstown Christmas Hurdle is strong form and both Klassical Dream and Flooring Porter are key players. The latter may even have emerged the moral winner there, giving his rival effectively stole about six-lengths at the start and beat him only by two.
If Danny Mullins can get out in front, as he did last year, they'll fancy their chances and he isn't known as 'Canny Danny' for nothing - he's a fine judge of pace.
Klassical Dream is hugely talented but he folded like a house of cards in the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park in January. That race was won by the mare Royal Kahala for Peter Fahey on her first go at the longer trip. She was a bit disappointing in the Mares' Novice here last March and that's a worry, as she requires a career-best to take this.
On a going day any of Flooring Porter, Klassical Dream, Paisley Park, Champ and THYME HILL can win this, and the vote rests with Philip Hobbs' eight-year-old.
He won a Grade 1 at Aintree last season over the trip and his only Festival appearance here saw him close fourth in the Albert Bartlett won by Monkfish in 2020, a race in which he lacked racing room at a crucial stage.
He has twice been second in Ascot's Grade 1 Long Walk having looked the winner and Tom O'Brien's task here is to keep his powder dry for just the right moment to challenge and win. With head-bangers aplenty in this line-up, they might well provide winning comfort in their relative sanity.
Selection: Thyme Hill
Next Best: Champ
4.10pm - Craft Irish Whiskey Co. Plate Handicap Chase (Grade 3, 2m4½f)
The Plate is another tough puzzle. Course regulars like Simply The Betts (won this in 2020), Coole Cody (winner here this season) and Spiritofthegames (placed six times here over fences, twice run well in this) have their merits and should be relied on to give their running but perhaps others are hiding a bit more, though the Skeltons runner has certainly dropped to a workable mark now and is meaty price.
Gordon Elliott runs three - Hardline, Grand Paradis and Fancy Foundations - the latter pair are both handicap debutants and under the same ownership. They've got leading claims and the market may sort them out in terms of a pecking order.
The Glancing Queen is the only mare in the field as she looks to get Alan King and Tom Cannon on the board again this week.
Her New Year's Day second to L'homme Presse in The Dipper over C&D was her first defeat in three over fences and the winner enhanced that form when taking a Sandown Grade 1 on his next start (he'll also have contested the Grade 1 Brown Advisory Novices' Chase here on Wednesday by the time she lines out). She has plenty going for her.
Stolen Silver has done well this season since joining Sam Thomas, though perhaps the handicapper has him cornered off 144, while French import Celebre D'allen has won two hurdles races and a Warwick handicap chase (2m4f, good to soft) since starting back from 783 days off for new handler Philip Hobbs. This is his acid test but he's clearly thriving.
IMPERIAL ALCAZAR didn't justify market support in the Pertemps Final here last season but after successive runner-up finishes at Newbury and Chepstow over longer trips, he dropped back to this C&D on Trials Day in January and ran out a really convincing 10-length winner for Fergal O'Brien and Paddy Brennan.
The handicapper has put him up 8lb but the third Java Point won well at Ludlow next start and fifth Oscar Elite ran a stormer to be third in the Ultima here on Tuesday over further. There's more to come from Imperial Alcazar now.
Selection: Imperial Alcazar
Next Best: Spiritofthegames
4.50pm - Ryanair Mares' Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2, 2m1f)
This race was added in 2016 and not alone has Britain failed to win it, Telmesomethinggirl scoring for Henry De Bromhead last year was actually the first time Willie Mullins has failed to win it!
The Festival's most successful trainer comes here with an armful of chances and you'll the name W P Mullins seven times on the racecard. An extraordinary depth of talent.
Statuaire won the Grade 1 Royal Bond earlier in the season under Danny Mullins. They were found out at the Dublin Racing Festival taking on the boys last month, but odds of 20/1 are surely too dismissive.
Grangee was fourth in the Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Christmas, again taking on males, but comes here having fallen since at Fairyhouse.
Brandy Love is the mount of Paul Townend though she was rather wild in her ways in that same Grade 3 that Grangee fell in. She made the running but jumped violently to her left at times, handing the race to stablemate Allegorie De Vassy - who misses out on this. Going the other way around should be a plus for Brandy Love now but Townend will need all his energy to tame her, seemingly.
Dinoblue was a very easy winner at Clonmel in a maiden in January on first start for Mullins. Owned by JP McManus, she's therefore the mount of Mark Walsh today. Held in high regard, she's got immense scope for progress and has been well-touted for this race as her trainer bids to make it six wins in seven years.
Mighty Blue was third in a strong renewal of this race a year ago for Joseph O'Brien and won a Listed prize on the Flat not long after. If none the worse for an unseat at Naas last month on her comeback, she's got potential to improve on 12 months ago, though the Authorized mare is now 0-5 over hurdles and the Mullins battalion are a source of worry.
LOVE ENVOI took the unbeaten hurdles record of re-opposing Nurse Susan at Lingfield (2m, heavy) in January and has since added a Grade 2 at Sandown over a half-mile extra. Her proven stamina is an asset though this will be the fastest surface she has raced on. Like Impervious and Dublin Racing Festival winner Party Central, she has a 5lb penalty to carry here. She has won all five starts and Harry Fry's challenger is capable of mixing it with the raiding Irish hordes.
Selection: Love Envoi
Next Best: Dinoblue
5.30pm - Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys' Handicap Chase (3m2f)
The amateur riders round out day three and unlike the National Hunt Cup on Tuesday, the Kim Muir has attracted a maximum field.
Frontal Assault moves up in trip once more and Gordon Elliott's runner has been prepared for this race. Rob James takes off a handy 3lb and they are contenders.
Ain't That A Shame is making his first start in a handicap for Henry De Bromhead and has shown enough hints of his ability to believe he can take a hand in this.
David Maxwell has been having a real golden spell and the owner/jockey will aim to bring Cat Tiger with another strong late run here. The partnership were all guts at Ascot in January, both horse and rider, to earn a slender win and while a 6lb rise in the ratings demands even more now, the 8YO clearly has plenty stamina and may relish three-and-a-quarter-miles around here.
Come On Teddy and Rightplacerightime are others for the shortlist but a chance is taken on Sam Thomas' POWERSTOWN PARK to run a big race. He's not yet exposed at this trip and has won two of his last three starts. This is his toughest assignment but he showed a willing attitude to win after a late blunder at Hereford in January and he's right down at the foot of the weights here for a trainer enjoying a really good time of in 2022 so far.
Selection: Powerstown Park
Next Best: Cat Tiger
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