Timeform's Cheltenham Festival Key Runners: Sam to crow at Cheltenham

Willie Mullins' runs Laurina in the Mares' Novices Hurdle
Willie Mullins' Laurina is one of Timeform's 'large P' horses
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Timeform highlight some of their key runners at Cheltenham, including five Willie Mullins horses that could be set to play a leading role at the Festival...

"Then there’s the large P, which highlights a horse considered ‘capable of much better form’"

Look out for the 'large P'

Ratings alone do not always tell the whole story when it comes to weighing up a horse's chances in a race. Sometimes an accompanying symbol will highlight a horse which has a greater or lesser chance than its bare rating would suggest. A 'p' next to the rating, for example, indicates a horse is likely to improve on its existing form, whereas Timeform's infamous 'squiggle' (§), on the other hand, warns of a horse who can't be relied upon to run to its best rating. Then there's the large P, which highlights a horse considered 'capable of much better form'.

The large P is awarded sparingly by Timeform's race analysts and only a handful of the hundreds of horses entered at the Cheltenham Festival have one. Its purpose isn't to identify a 'certain' winner, though clearly the closer a 'large P horse' is to the top of the ratings in a given race, the less improvement it needs to find and the more seriously its chances need to be taken.

Samcro can reign in Ballymore

It's no coincidence that most of the Cheltenham entries with a large P are novices, and none of those have created quite as much as excitement as Samcro. The Gordon Elliott-trained hurdler is a classic 'large P' horse, his unbeaten record in Ireland - in a point, three bumpers and three hurdles - revealing, so far, 'how bad he isn't' rather than how good he is. Judged on what he's been asked to accomplish to date, he might not be head and shoulders above some of his Festival rivals on bare form, but the ease with which he's compiled his unbeaten record suggests the potential is there for the sort of performance demanded by the much stiffer competition he'll face at Cheltenham.

Samcro followed two wide-margin successes over hurdles before Christmas by routing a field of other improving novices in the Grade 1 Deloitte Novices' Hurdle at Leopardstown last month. That was back at two miles, but he has already won at further, and the most likely engagement among his three entries at Cheltenham looks to be Wednesday's Ballymore Novices' Hurdle over two miles five furlongs.

Laurina one of five Mullins stars

Willie Mullins has no fewer than five 'large P' Festival horses, with the pick of them probably Mares' Novices' Hurdle hope Laurina. She showed some ability in France (second on her completed start from two outings last April), but she's taken her form to a different level in just two starts in Ireland, winning a maiden at Tramore by fifteen lengths and impressive again when following up in a Grade 3 novice for mares at Fairyhouse in January.

Benie des Dieux looks likely to be one of Mullins' representatives in the Festival's other race for mares on the opening day. She's unbeaten in three races over fences in Ireland, including both starts this term, and also holds an entry in the Ryanair Chase (she has a large P for both her hurdles and chase ratings). Her chase rating is the higher at present, but she'd be a fascinating contender returned to the smaller obstacles as she looks another who has simply improved greatly since joining Mullins from France where she won twice over hurdles.

Mullins' other Festival possibles with a large P include another French import, Saldier, who holds a Triumph Hurdle entry after impressing on his hurdling debut at Gowran last month, and Brahma Bull, who faced the simplest of tasks in a maiden hurdle at Thurles in November having won all three of his starts in bumpers. He's said to have had a setback since then but could line up in Friday's Albert Bartlett.

No Comment on National Hunt Chase

One other 'large P' horse worth mentioning is No Comment, a useful hurdler who made an eye-catching debut over fences in last month's Scilly Isles Novices' Chase at Sandown. Philip Hobbs was throwing him in the deep end in that Grade 1 contest and he finished some thirty lengths behind the first two, Terrefort and Cyrname, but he shaped really well given it was his first start since last year's Punchestown Festival and over an inadequate trip, quite apart from his lack of chasing experience. No Comment's only Festival entry is in the four-mile National Hunt Chase for amateur riders, and it will be interesting to see if the J. P. McManus-owned No Comment is reunited with top Irish amateur Mr Jamie Codd for that contest - the pair teamed up successfully in a bumper at the 2016 Punchestown Festival when beating leading RSA Chase hope Monalee.

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