The Pep Talk – The Cheltenham Festival 2023

Brown Advisory Novices Chase – 15th March

The betting suggests this race is wide open, and it is to a certain extent. I think the main factor being that a lot of the horses have multiple options at Cheltenham. The likes of Gaillard Du Mesnil, Ballygrifincottage and Ramillies could head to the National Hunt Chase. Then the other way, James Du Berlais, Classic Getaway, Gentlemansgame could all head to the Turners. If some of those were certain runners, I think prices would be quite different.

Gerri Colombe is likely going to be Gordon Elliott’s leading hope. But I wouldn’t even be sure he’ll run; we’ve only ever seen him when there has been significant juice in the surface (Yielding is the fastest ground he’s run on). They may well take a chance if it’s good ground, he’s not flashy and is still unbeaten so he demands huge respect, but I’m just not sure he’s been truly tested.

The Real Whacker is likely to turn up here after his two course wins, where he made all. But I think he’s going to need to be a 160 horse, at least, to win this, which I’m not totally sure he is.

At this stage, I think Thyme Hill is a great bet for a few reasons.

If all goes well, this is the only race he’ll be running in at the Festival, so there’s no concerns that he’ll swap to a different race. He should also get the race set up he needs, The Real Whacker will go off in front and should set an even gallop (that’s without anything even taking him on), which is what Thyme Hill needs, to be seen at his best.

He’s got plenty of experience and the way he’s been campaigned reminds me of Edwardstone last season. That extra season over hurdles proves their ability in open company, and Thyme Hill achieved more over hurdles than Edwardstone did, being second in a Stayers Hurdle. It was an emphatic win for Thyme Hill in the Kauto Star at Kempton on Boxing Day, he jumped miles better than he did at Newbury the time before and the cheekpieces seem to have done him the world of good over fences.

Being a 161-rated hurdler, he without doubt sets the standard here. If something else can get to that bar then fair enough, but I think he’s rock solid. At the price he is, if you’re one that likes playing each way multiples, I think he fits right into that bill.

Recommended Bet

Back Thyme Hill @ 8/1

Cross Country Chase – 15th March

There’re a few odds-on favourites already for the Festival, whether that should be the case or not, I’m surprised Delta Work isn’t one of them. This could well be one of the least competitive fields of the week and we’ve got a horse here who is laid out for it, won it last year and was third in the Grand National off a mark of 160, so he’s just better than the others that’ll run. If he doesn’t go off odds on, I’ll be staggered.

This isn’t an outlandish selection by any means, but I mainly wanted to flag, that as 7/4 shots go at Cheltenham, I think this one is still value and he’ll bump up the ante post multiples.

Recommended Bet

Back Delta Work @ 7/4

Turners Novices Chase – 16th March

This race is the epitome of Willie Mullins bingo. Sir Gerhard, James Du Berlais, Appreciate It, El Fabiolo, Allegorie De Vassy, Dysart Dynamo and Saint Roi make up 7 of the top 9 in the market. What’s maybe even more amazing is that it is actually feasible, not likely, but feasible, that none of them even run.

Given we’re still yet to see Sir Gerhard this season, I can’t see him lining up. James Du Berlais is a possible, but he could also step up to three miles.

If one of the main Arkle hopes was to step up in trip, I’d imagine it’ll be Appreciate It. But I’d think Dysart Dynamo and El Fabiolo will run in the Arkle, possibly along with Saint Roi with Allegorie De Vassy going to the Mares Chase. Talk about an embarrassment of riches!

Despite all of those potential chances of winning, I still don’t think this race will go to Mullins. I really like Mighty Potter.

This horse has so much ability and given the size of him, winning two Grade 1s as a five-year-old novice hurdler shows that. He would have needed time to grow into his frame and we’re really starting to see what he can do now. He showed his character at Down Royal, when he was wandering around in front and looking around, causing a couple of errors, but nothing he won’t have learned from. Then in the Drinmore, he won with plenty in hand. He’s so enthusiastic and he can take lengths out of horses when he jumps. Beating Gaillard Du Mesnil easily that day, that is decent novice form given the experience that horse has and that he went on to win a Grade 1 next time, making himself favourite for a Festival race in the process.

Mighty Potter is certainly improving, and he’s got all the attributes to be a top class chaser. I think whatever turns up against him is going to have a really tough ask to match him for any of jumping, ability, speed or stamina.

Recommended Bet

Back Mighty Potter @ 7/2

Stayers Hurdle – 16th March

This is a wide open renewal, with the reigning two-time champion Flooring Porter just heading the market. But Home By The Lee has floored him twice this season and has taken his form to a new level. Then you have Teahupoo who upset the apple cart when thwarting Honeysuckle’s unbeaten record in the Hatton’s Grace, he would be a very interesting contender, but he could well be quite ground dependent as he ran twice on decent ground last year and was awful.

Because of the nature of the race, I’m going to have two on my side at nice prices.

The first is staying stalwart Paisley Park, who has come back for another season in tremendous form. Just losing out to Champ at Newbury, he was denied by a superb front running ride aboard the winner, but Paisley Park gained his revenge when galloping away with the rearranged Long Walk at Kempton. He’s won this race before, has been third in it twice, and it seems to me like this is the best form he’s been in for some time – he’s enjoying the game more than ever.

A fascinating runner in here would be Saint Sam for Willie Mullins.

He was a good juvenile a couple of seasons ago without setting the world alight and the same can be said for his chase campaign last season, where he won once.

Making his reappearance on New Years Eve, back over hurdles and up in trip to just shy of two and a half miles, he was absolutely smashed in the betting into even money favourite, it was a huge market move, which speaks volumes as he duly obliged. He was in control of the whole race and continued to pour it on at the line.

What I also found interesting was how Mullins reacted after the race, saying “Saint Sam can go out in trip. He likes to get on with it and he seemed to settle a little better so hurdling might be his game now. He is bred to stay, and I am keen to get him out in trip”.

With the way he hit the line, those comments are very encouraging that they’ll have a go at this race with him. Mullins sent Nichols Canyon to claim this title in 2017, stepping him up markedly in trip, and the same could happen again.

Recommended Bets

Back Paisley Park @ 14/1 Each Way

Back Saint Sam @ 16/ Each Way

Alex Peperell

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Prices were available at the time of publication in Issue 98