Two down, two to go. Halftime at Cheltenham.
Stars firmly in the sky. Stars still to come.
On Wednesday…Impairre Et Paisse toyed with rivals in the Ballymore. Sam Twiston-Davies engineered a gem from The Real Whacker to hold off Gerri Colombe in the Brown Advisory. The plotted-up Langer Dan won a three-horse photo in the Coral Cup. Energumene dominated the Queen Mother for the second consecutive year, ticking Willie Mullins ever closer to 100 wins at the Festival. Delta Work, Galvin and Franco De Port proved that class tells in the cross country. Maskada upset the Johnny Henderson. A Dream To Share did exactly that for 86-year-old trainer John Kiely and 18-year-old jockey Mr. John L. Gleeson. Stakes and stories. Champions and Cheltenham.
As for today…
Race 1. 9:30. The Turners Novices’ Chase. Grade 1. $210,000. 2 ½ miles.
This is Davy Russell’s day. The touch. The patience. The moxie. The comebacks. The Timex ticking in his head and heart. He announced his retirement earlier in the season and then returned after Jack Kennedy broke his leg (again) and came back for one last hurrah, one last shout, one last sip from the tantalizing cup. Mighty Potter is 8/11 in the opener.
The Picks: Mighty Potter, Balco Coastal, Appreciate It.
Race 2. 10:10. The Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle. $120,000. 3 miles.
Thanksforthehelp hit my Horse Tracker after a tepid third in his debut at Chepstow in 2021. It’s been a long and winding road since, a second at 14-1, a third at Punchestown, a couple of breaks and wind surgery. He’s now 7/2 for a 24-horse affair at the Festival.
The Picks: Thanksforthehelp, Moka De Vassy, Maxxum.
Race 3. 10:50. The Ryanair Chase. Grade 1. $450,000. 2 5/8 miles.
Another long and winding road. Shishkin lined up as the 5/6 favorite in last year’s Queen Mother. The easy traveling 2-mile chaser never got to the ticket counter that day, pulling up a parish behind Energumene. Nicky Henderson brought him back for the Tingle Creek in December and that wasn’t much better, a 15-length bust behind Edwardstone. A 10-race win streak had become a two-racing losing streak. Nobody can stay a course like Henderson, he brought Shishkin back after a second wind surgery and he proved he’s far from finished with a romp in the Ascot Chase in February.
The 9-year-old rules the market in the Ryanair at 10/11 over Blue Lord (11/2) and Janidil (6/1). It won’t be quite like the return of Sprinter Sacre but here’s to rooting for a return just the same.
The Picks: Shishkin, Janidil, Blue Lord.
Race 4. 11:30. The Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle. Grade 1. $421,500. 3 miles.
Today’s feature lacks the star power of some years, well, it lacks the now power. Flooring Porter has won the last two editions of the Stayers with swashbuckling tactics on the front but doesn’t look to be in the same sphere as he was before those. Paisley Park won it in 2019 and arrives for his sixth consecutive Festival appearance but surely time is against the enigmatic character.
Beyond those, a couple of 6-year-olds try to hammer their tent pole at the top of the stayers’ division. Teahupoo could add to Davy Russell’s day. The French hope Gold Tweet tries to emulate the great Baracouda who ran in the Stayers five straight times, winning it twice.
The Picks: Teahupoo, Klassical Dream, Home By The Lee.
Race 5. 12:10. Magners Plate Handicap Chase. $144,000. 2 5/8 miles.
Twenty-four runners. Apprentice Michael O’Sullivan and the Willie Mullins-trained Haut En Couleurs at the top of the handicap. Captain Tom Cat at 80-1 and Bowtogreatness at 100-1 at the bottom of the handicap. And everything in between.
The Picks: So Scottish, Seddon, Haut En Couleurs.
Race 6. 12:50. The Jack De Bromhead Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle. Grade 2. $126,000. 2 1/8 miles.
A tribute to Jack De Bromhead. A pony-racing kid with stars in his eyes taken far too soon. As Kenny Alexander, owner of the great Honeysuckle said after she won her final race. “This is horse racing. That is real life.”
Luccia goes 13/8 here. On paper, the 5-year-old mare has done nothing wrong. On course, her jumping has been wrong, ignoring Nico de Boinville’s cue at the last hurdle at Exeter in her most recent start. She still won in hand. Heart in your mouth, favorite backers.
Group 1 winner on the flat, Princess Zoe, makes her second hurdle start. Under Control was all that in her British debut.
The Picks: Luccia, Magical Zoe, Lot Of Joy.
Race 7. 1:30. Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Amateurs’ Handicap Chase. $144,000. 3 ¼ miles.
Get out in the last with Stumptown.
The Picks: Stumptown, Angels Dawn, Anightinlambourn.