2023 Cheltenham Festival: Five Clashes To Look Forward To
The Cheltenham Festival is a battleground for clashes. The Irish v the British, the punters v the bookmakers, the heart v the head.
Here are five clashes to get the juices flowing as we embark on the greatest racing week of the year.
Jonbon v El Fabiolo (Arkle Trophy)
These two have previous form as they met in the Grade 1 Top Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree last April, where Jonbon prevailed by a neck.
There was mitigation though as El Fabiolo was racing for just the second time in his life over hurdles that day and Jonbon had had four runs over obstacles.
As well as that, El Fabiolo made a significant mistake at the final flight, but for which he probably would have finished closer.
Horse racing betting sites are finding it tough to split the pair at the top of the market, both are talented and progressive young chasers, and they are unbeaten over fences.
Jonbon is three for three, although he wasn’t overly impressive in winning the two-runner Kingmaker Chase at Warwick last time. El Fabiolo is two for two, although his jumping hasn’t been flawless.
That said, Willie Mullins’ horse was seriously impressive in winning the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival last time and, as long as he can negotiate his way around the course and over the 13 fences, he is the one they all have to beat.
Verdict: El Fabiolo
Energumene v Edwardstone (Champion Chase)
These two have previous too as they met in the Clarence House Chase at Cheltenham in January, when Edwardstone finished second, and Energumene finished third, behind Editeur Du Gite.
Energumene is obviously a top-class two-mile chaser. He has won eight of his 10 chases, including the Irish Arkle and the Punchestown Champion Chase and, of course, last year’s Champion Chase at Cheltenham.
That race was not as strong in the end as it looked like it was going to be and it was run on soft ground.
While that wasn’t Energumene’s fault, and while he has high-class form on good to yielding ground, the suspicion remains that he is at his best when he can get his toe into the ground.
Edwardstone was impressive in winning the Arkle last year and is just shading favouritism in the Cheltenham odds.
Despite being hampered at the fence in front of the stands with a circuit to run, he looked really good in winning the Tingle Creek Chase on his debut this season.
If the rain arrives, then that will be in Energumene’s favour. On good to soft ground however, it may be that last year’s Arkle winner will have the upper hand.
Verdict: Edwardstone (on good to soft ground or better)
Lossiemouth v Blood Destiny (Triumph Hurdle)
Lossiemouth was unlucky in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown last month. Winner of her first two races for Willie Mullins, a Grade 3 hurdle and a Grade 2 hurdle, she was sent off at long odds-on for the Leopardstown race.
But she was caught in traffic on the run to the end of the back straight, she had to go wide around the home turn, and she could finish only second in the end behind her stable companion Gala Marceau.
Willie Mullins’ filly remains favourite for the Triumph Hurdle but her stable companion Blood Destiny, is rated by the market as the filly’s biggest danger.
The No Risk At All gelding hasn’t run in a graded race yet, but he has been impressive in winning his two hurdle races since his arrival at Closutton.
The horse who finished third behind him at Fairyhouse, Nusret, came out and won the Grade 2 Adonis Hurdle at Kempton recently.
This may not be a two-horse race, Gala Marceau may have been under-rated by the market, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Blood Destiny step forward again.
Verdict: Blood Destiny
Allegorie De Vassy v Impervious (Mares’ Chase)
It is unusual that the two mares who dominate the market for the Mares’ Chase are novices. But they are both high-class novices and unbeaten over fences.
Winner of the Grade 3 Solerina Hurdle at Fairyhouse last January on her final run last season, Allegorie De Vassy has been impressive in winning her two chases this season and deserves her place at the top of the market with betting sites.
Last time, she beat Brides Hill by 19 lengths, and Brides Hill has since won a listed mares’ novices’ chase back at Thurles.
Allegorie De Vassy did well to remain upright at the first fence in that race at Thurles, and Paul Townend did remarkably well to remain on board, but she did show a tendency to go to her right, and she may not get away with that at Cheltenham.
She is a hugely exciting mare, but Impervious’ form is rock solid.
Impressive in winning on her chasing bow at Wexford in October, Colm Murphy’s mare was very good in beating Dinoblue and Roseys Hollow in a Grade 2 contest at Cork in December.
She stepped forward from that last time when she beat the geldings, carrying her 8lb penalty to a half-length victory over Journey With Me.
It’s great to see Colm Murphy with a high-class horse again, and she could have Allegorie De Vassy’s measure.
Impaire Et Passe v Hermes Allen (Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle)
Hermes Allen was impressive last time in winning the Challow Hurdle, but Challow Hurdle winners have a terrible record in the Ballymore.
The two races are totally different in terms of the attributes that they test: the Challow often a gruelling contest run over two and a half miles usually on soft ground at Newbury at the end of November, the Ballymore placing much more of an emphasis on speed and pace.
Twenty Challow Hurdle winners have contested the Ballymore, and none of them have won. Even Denman couldn’t lay the Challow ghost in the Ballymore.
The Challow Hurdle roll of honour includes Bonanza Boy, King’s Road, Bindaree, Cornish Rebel, Wichita Lineman, Reve De Sivola and Diamond Harry which are all stamina horses.
By contrast, the Ballymore has produced Champion Hurdle and Arkle winners, Istabraq, Hardy Eustace, Simonsig and Faugheen.
Impaire Et Passe has been backed into 2/1 favourite with horse racing betting sites recently, as the confidence contines to grow in the Diamond Boy gelding.
He proved that he had speed when he won the Moscow Flyer Hurdle over two miles at Punchestown last time, and he had already shown his stamina when he won his maiden hurdle over two miles and three furlongs at Naas in December.
The vibes about him are strong, and he may have too much pace for Hermes Allen and everything else.
Verdict: Impaire Et Passe
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