Three Contenders For Cheltenham Festival National Hunt Chase
Horse Racing: Looking ahead to Cheltenham 2018!
Quality competitors are beginning to emerge at the start of the 2017-18 National Hunt season. Cheltenham Festival is just four months away and trainers are desperately attempting to get their charges into form before the third of March.
One of the most intriguing races will be the National Hunt Chase, with no clear horse making a name for himself in the early stages of the campaign. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ charge Ballyoptic is considered the leading contender in the betting odds for the event, although there is a long way to go and the seven-year-old has limited experience at the Chase level.
The field is certainly worth considering and we’ll now assess the horses that could make a name for themselves at Cheltenham next year.
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The Bay Gelding had a bright start to his career, winning four out of his opening five races. This run of form included a triumph at Novices' Hurdle at Aintree, beating out his nearest rival by the narrowest of margins. Ballyoptic maintained his form at the start of the 2016-17 term, claiming victory at the Silver Trophy Handicap Hurdle by one-and-three-quarter lengths. However, he then suffered the first fall of his career at the Bet365 hurdle after being named the favourite for the meet.
The seven-year-old recovered his form with a second-place finish at the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury, only to suffer another fall in his next outing in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December 2016. Twiston-Davies tried to get his charge into gear with a run at Cheltenham before the Festival, but he mustered only a fourth-place finish in the Cleeve Hurdle. At the Stayers’ Run, the Irish horse failed to find his rhythm with Sam Twiston-Davies in the saddle. Despite his less than fluent race, he was in contention before pulling up at the last fence.
Ballyoptic continued to remain off the pace in his next race at Aintree, finishing fifth at the Stayers Liverpool Hurdle, ending his season on a low note. At the start of the current term, he failed to find his form at the Racing Bank Handicap Hurdle again finishing out of contention in fifth. However, in his first Chase outing, he was able to rise to the occasion at Exeter to secure a dominant win, highlighting the potential of the Irish Horse.
The six-year-old is an intriguing horse in the race due to his lack of experience. The Bay Gelding only has five races under his belt but has notched three victories. Nicky Henderson’s charge made a winning start to his career with a victory at the National Hunt Novices Hurdle at Haydock Park last year. Constantine Bay was considered a slight outsider but put in a strong performance to see off the favourite Brio Conti by half-a-length.
He improved his level of performance with a fine run at Chepstow in the Novices' Hurdle, finishing with a surge down the stretch, beating Constantine Bay by six lengths to secure the win. Henderson’s charge had to be even better at the Albert Bartlett River Don Novices' Hurdle. He made a steady start to the race and gradually came through the field to lead three fences from the finish. The six-year-old was put under pressure by No Hassle Hoff but managed to close out the victory by a head.
The performance sent him into the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham Festival with momentum, although he could not cope with the speed of Penhill, finishing off the pace in fourth. Constantine Bay was considered the favourite for his final outing of the season at Aintree but failed to deliver on expectations, placing in fourth. The Bay Gelding does have quality but needs to find his feet on the major occasions to threaten at Cheltenham.
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Henry de Bromhead’s charge has been a model of consistency during his short career. The six-year-old has won two of his seven races and has never finished lower than fourth, making him an intriguing prospect for the meet should he learn how to close out down the stretch. Monalee began his career in a Flat Race at Gowran Park, but finished second, one length off the pace, despite being considered the meet favourite. His next outing in April 2016 proved to be equally frustrating as he challenged for the win at Punchestown, only to be beaten by a half-length in the straight.
The Bay Gelding broke his duck at the racecourse in the Stallion Owners E.B.F. Maiden Hurdle. With David Mullins in the saddle, the Irish horse timed his surge to perfection to break away from the rest of the field to secure the victory by one-and-three-quarter lengths. Monalee could not string back-to-back wins together as he lacked the pace down the stretch to challenge Death Duty at the Navan Novice Hurdle. However, the six-year-old was back in prime form at Clonmel with the best display of his career to canter to a comfortable victory at the Novice Hurdle.
Despite putting in a solid performance in his debut at Cheltenham Festival, Henderson’s charge lacked the pace down the stretch to close in on Penhill – losing out by three-and-a-half lengths. Monalee had a final chance to make an impact on home soil at the end of the 2016-17 season. However, the Bay Gelding could only finish fourth – well out of contention for the win as Champagne Classic delivered a fine performance at Punchestown. Monalee has quality but has to improve his level of speed in the closing stages of races.