Day three of this year’s Cheltenham Festival takes place on Thursday 14 March and with the knowledge that comes with watching the two days of drama that came before it, punters still searching for a nice price winner will fancy their chances on the penultimate round.
There’s certainly no lack of opportunities to land a bumper prize either with bookmakers offering double-figure odds on a number of fancied runners. Cheltenham is loved the world over for attracting the biggest names in horse racing as the stars do battle in front of packed stands but there’s another reason we can’t get enough of the Prestbury Park delight and that’s the bulky odds on just about every runner.
Three of the seven races on Thursday are Grade 1 contests and they come in the form of the JLT Novice Chase, Ryanair Chase and the Stayers Hurdle. Those are the main attractions but the likes of the Grade 2 Mares Novice Hurdle and the listed Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle rate as a worthy support. Bookies have given their thoughts on the horses to back and the ante-post betting offers clues on how the day might go and what prices to keep an eye out for.
Races During Cheltenham Festival Day 3
|13:30||JLT Novices Chase||Lostintranslation, La Bague Au Roi, Topofthegame|
|14:10||Pertemps Final||Sire Du Berlais, Mall Dini, Aaron Lad|
|14:50||Ryanair Chase||Min, Waiting Patiently, Footpad|
|15:30||Stayers Hurdle||Paisley Park, Penhill, Supasundae, Faugheen|
|16:50||Mares Novices Hurdle||Epatante, Honeysuckle, Elusive Belle|
|17:30||Kim Muir Challenge Cup||De Name Escapes Me, Mall Dini|
JLT Novices Chase
A fairly new addition to the schedule, the JLT Novices Chase was first run in 2011 when won by Noble Prince for Tony McCoy and Paul Nolan. We’ve enjoyed some fantastic renewals over the years with McCoy winning two of the first four but that was eclipsed by old rival Ruby Walsh who claimed three of the last four. Ruby got off the mark with Vatour in 2015 and followed that with Black Hercules 12 months later, Yorkhill completing the treble. That run ended last year thanks to a win for Shattered Love with Jack Kennedy doing the steering for Gordon Elliott.
Lostintranslation is ante-post favourite with 6/1 available with all major firms. Colin Tizzard’s seven-year-old gelding has finished in the top three on seven of nine starts, including a couple of winners. He led the field home at Newbury early in his career and was back in the winner’s enclosure on New Year’s Day 2019 when banking the Dipper Novices’ Chase around Cheltenham over 2m 4f at an SP 3/1, seeing off nearest rival Defi Du Seuil by 1 ¼ lengths. More of the same would surely see him go close. La Bague Au Roi is second fav with 10/1 sent out by the traders of most reputable firms.
Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle
Three miles separates starting line from finishing post in this listed handicap that offers up a worthwhile £90,000 worth of prize money. Not the richest race of the week, of course, but it’s a title many trainers target their horses at from the start of the season and this year will be no different. The winner’s role makes for impressive reading with the likes of Holywell, Fingal Bay and Presenting Percy claiming the honours in recent years. Delta Work won 12 months ago for Gordon Elliott and that was the trainer’s first Pertemps title.
Who will wrestle the crown from Percy? Bookmakers think they know and have Sire Du Berlais marked as favourite, although he appears to be on shaky ground with plenty of 14/1 there to be shot at. Gordon Elliott has a real crack at two-in-a-row with this six-year-old but the worrying thing about the jolly is, at the turn of the year, he’s yet to win a race, his record reading one second and a third the best to show for his first seven starts. Aaron Lad is second in line at 16/1 and has more experience of winning, featuring in the winner’s enclosure four times, including gold at Cheltenham in December over 2m 7f.
Balko des Flos won the Ryanair 12 months ago with Davy Russell doing the steering and in doing so he joined a short, but elite, list of champions which includes the likes of Our Vic, Imperial Commander, Albertas Run and Cue Card. Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh have been responsible for two of the last three victors, Vatour taking glory in 2016 and Un de Sceaux a year later. No trainer has won this trophy more than twice and it’ll be a record Mullins will fancy adding to his long list of achievements. Walsh is leading jockey with four to his name.
Min is quoted for a few Cheltenham Festival races this year and will be until connections make their intentions clear. He’s favourite to win the Ryanair and it would come as a bit of a shock if he wasn’t targeted at this race as it looks his best chance of taking silverware. Backers will find the French bred star available at a market best price of 8/1. Seven wins and four seconds from a dozen starts rates as his form to date and he’ll be Mullins’ best chance of completing the treble. The eight-year-old gelding finished 2018 with a win when taking the Punchestown Chase over 2m 4f at a starting price of even money. Shattered Love came home in second a length and a half behind the pace, with Balko Des Flos third to make up the major places.
The early betting for the Stayers Hurdle is wide open while it remains uncertain which horses will run in the race, but the current list is littered with stars and, at this point, it’s shaping up to be one of the most competitive renewals we’ve seen. Penhill leads the way as 7/1 favourite and he’s followed by Apples Jade and Supasundae at 10/1, Laurina, Paisley Park and Faugheen at 12/1. One punters are really looking forward to but it’ll be wise to wait a while before placing your bets, to see how the land lies. If you’re happy to take a risk, the value is there.
Market leader Penhill is another from the Mullins string who will be respected regardless of what race he’s dropped into, but the fact bookies have him jolly for the Stayers Hurdle is a strong indication he will probably contest this prize. The seven-year-old won this title last year when going off a 12/1 shot, leading home Supasundae and Wholestone, 9/4 favourite Sam Spinner back in fifth. The fact there was two lengths between first and second that day shows why odds makers are keen to keep the double close, and that looks to be a shrewd approach.
Merriebelle Stable Plate
Rather Be looks to be the value at the turn of the year and backers confident enough to take a chance and back him will be rewarded with an attractive 16/1 in places. Nicky Henderson’s seven-year-old has won six times in a 16-race career, finishing second on another three occasions, so he shouldn’t be taken lightly. His successes to date include a win over two miles at Towcester in a novices’ chase and a score around Fakenham across the same trip on heavy ground. He’s a gutsy horse with fitness to burn and will relish the challenges that come with competing on the big stage at Cheltenham. Sure to attract plenty of each-way attention.
Cepage is thought to be a slightly more realistic winner, according to traders, with 16/1 there to be shot at, and that makes sense. It’ll certainly shorten if he’s confirmed to run in this race. He won the Silver Bowl Handicap at Kempton in March of last year, finishing ahead of runner-up Cobra De Mai off an SP 14/1. Other highlights include finishing second in the Grade 3 Gold Cup at Cheltenham in December, a race won by Frodon who crossed the line little over a length ahead of his rival.
Mares Novice Hurdle
In the three previous runnings of this race, Willie Mullins has been completely dominant, winning on each occasion. The star trainer got off the mark in 2016 when Ruby Walsh rode Limini to success and the same pilot was responsible for getting his runner Let’s Dance home in first place 12 months later. The hat-trick was completed for Mullins when Paul Townsend took charge of Laurina in 2018 and that makes for a strong trend. If you do like keeping the numbers close a bet on a Willie Mullins trained five-year-old would be the way to approach this year’s Mares Novice Hurdle.
Who are the main contenders in 2018 and will we see Mullins’ run broken? Bookmakers have Nicky Henderson’s five-year-old mare Epatante as early favourite with no more than 6/1 going at the time of writing. The slight problem with that is she has run only once before heading into the year, winning on debut at Kempton back in November when proving her worth to claim a novices’ hurdle over a couple of miles carrying an 8/15 price tag. Bookies knew what to expect that day and they were bang on the money with that call. Relegate shapes as the main danger and will be popular as she’s a five-year-old flying the flag for Team Mullins. The money will come at 12/1.
Kim Muir Challenge Cup
First run in 1946, the Kim Muir Challenge Cup has become a popular addition to day three and we’ve had some great winners over the years, including Cloudy Lane 2007, Ballabriggs 2010 and Sunnyhillboy 2012. Domesday Book added his name to that list when winning 12 months ago for Gina Andrews and Stuart Edmond, snatching the crown worn by Cause of Causes the year before. The latter was jockey Jamie Codd’s fourth win in this race, the others being Character Building in 2009, Junior 2011 and The Package 2015.
There’s no obvious favourite at this time, with De Name Escapes Me and Mall Dini contesting favouritism at 14/1 each. The latter is an eight-year-old gelding who has won five and placed another four times from 17 starts. His victories include landing gold at Navan in the Foxrock Handicap Chase over 2m 4f when doing the business as a 13/8 fav, beating runner-up Solomn Grundy by half a length. Mall Dini has won three times and placed on another 11 runs from 22 starts and caught the eye when second in this race last year, beaten less than a length by Missed Approach. He’ll be back for another crack at it and connections will go in with confidence.