Cheltenham Championship Races Preview: Tony Keenan's views on the Festival features

Can Saphir De Rheu follow up his Cleeve Hurdle win at the Festival?
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Resident Irish form student Tony Keenan provides a whistle-stop tour through the Cheltenham Championship Races...

"The three-mile form dropping back looks good and John’s Spirit shaped well for a long way in the King George; he has a great record at the course."


Cover the Cheltenham Championship races in 600 words or less? Well, I'll try.

Champion Hurdle

Faugheen is too short for what he's achieved, barely as much as the three behind him in the betting, and he might be better over further. In any case, there is no point in backing him now as he's only going to drift. The ground will likely be too quick for Hurricane Fly and The New One's hurdling is a worry for all that his most impressive win this season was over Champion Hurdle course-and-distance.

Jezki is the obvious bad each-way bet and he's a possible steamer too; Cheltenham punters tend to come for past champions. He's best in spring - figures of:183111 from March through May - and while he hasn't the scope of Faugheen, his form is better now. Back him each-way at 5/1 with the Sportsbook.


Champion Chase

I can't bet a horse with physical problems that needs a hand ride so Sprinter Sacre is out. Sire De Grugy is the pick of the front two and Gary Moore hasn't gotten enough credit for taking a calculated risk and running him at Chepstow while Dodging Bullets is hard to crab, looking a different model in 2014/15. Champagne Fever is in the wrong race and two-mile championship pace might find him out having been campaigned over further all season.

At the prices, Hidden Cyclone is the pick. An easy winner of the Tied Cottage last time, the 10yo relished Cheltenham experience the two occasions he's been here and in a race where many have holes, he's quite solid. There were murmurings on Monday night that he may take in the Ryanair so take the non-runner, no-bet 14/1 on the Sportsbook.


Ryanair Chase

Not strictly speaking a championship race and of those engaged, only Cue Card can really claim to be champion level. That one looks a shadow of previous seasons however and Don Cossack is a little underpriced given his form is in an Irish bubble and may not translate.

The three-mile form dropping back looks good and John's Spirit shaped well for a long way in the King George; he has a great record at the course. The best fresh Ballynagour is the other interesting one for all that he needs to improve. 


World Hurdle

The Cleeve Hurdle form could the solution and Saphir De Rheu is a solid favourite. His hurdling career has been a story of relentless progress - beaten just once since racing beyond 20 furlongs - and he didn't miss a beat in the Cleeve when not at full stretch to beat an in-form Reve De Sivola. He has more scope for improvement than his stablemate Zarkandar.

It's hard to let Un Temps Pour Tout go unbacked at 13.012/1; he was close behind Saphir De Rheu in the Cleeve and should come on for the run. At bigger prices, Jetson has his chance; he shouldn't be improving at his age but he doesn't know that and he goes well fresh. 


Gold Cup

There is no massive hole in Silviniaco Conti for the blue riband, rather an accumulation of small flaws: Cheltenham may not be his track, his stamina isn't cast-iron, he beat a clatter of non-stayers in the King George, the effect of cheekpieces may wear off. An improver is preferred, though not Many Cloudswho prefers soft ground and Carlingford Lough whose form isn't good enough.

Road To Riches however has strong form; he won the better of the Leopardstown Grade 1s this season. A different horse since his training regime has been altered; he looks the pick of the Irish. Holywell is the other to keep onside. He has a history of peaking at the Festival and while his Kelso success was against weak opposition, his win at Liverpool last spring was anything but. 

621 words, I can live with that! 


Recommended Bets
Back Jezki each-way @ 5/1 in the Champion Hurdle 
Back Hidden Cyclone each-way @ 14/1 in the Champion Chase
Back Johns Spirit @ 10.519/2 and Ballynagour @ 27.026/1 in the Ryanair Chase
Back Saphir De Rheu @ 5.95/1 and Un Temps Pour Tout @ [12.5} in the World Hurdle
Back Road To Riches @ 10.519/2 and Holywell @ 11.521/2 in the Gold Cup


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