Sunday 11 December 2016

Limini can leave Irish eyes smiling as Vautour bids for Festival hat-trick

Patrick Mullins

Published 17/03/2016 | 02:30

Lee Westwood (right), Alan Shearer and Chubby Chandler at Cheltenham yesterday (PA)
Lee Westwood (right), Alan Shearer and Chubby Chandler at Cheltenham yesterday (PA)

After making the best possible start, we thought it could be another special day in Prestbury Park but we hit the crossbar three times and had a few near misses.

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Yorkhill oozed class in the opener and the most striking thing about his win was that he was could have went around again. That doesn't happen at Cheltenham and he's one to watch next season - he could be anything.

Un De Sceaux was too slow on good ground in the Champion Chase but you have to take your hat off to Nicky Henderson for a fabulous training performance with Sprinter Sacre. The chances of getting a horse back to that level are slim to none.

We're hoping for better luck on St Patrick's, a particularly special day for me of course, and if Black Hercules gets out in front and is allowed use his stride, he'll be very hard to catch in the opening JLT Novices' Chase (1.30). He ran very well in the Champion Bumper two years ago and was too keen over three miles here last year in the Albert Bartlett.

He's got a huge cruising speed and I wouldn't mind his fall the last time, he's generally a fantastic jumper. If he gets out and into a groove, he might be difficult to catch, while Outlander has some eye-catching form but better ground is a concern and he could struggle at Cheltenham.

We've no runner in the Pertemps Final (2.10) but I think Mall Dini is value off a nice mark for Galway trainer Patrick Kelly. He's been running well in handicaps without winning and with Davy Russell up, he's got a great shout for a place.

Vautour, last year's impressive JLT winner, is a class horse and we're hoping that the return to the Cotswolds will light him up again in the Ryanair Chase (2.50). His work at home hasn't been blistering but he seems to liven up when he gets here and we're confident he will again.

Some punters feel like they've been left in the cold because it looked like he'd run tomorrow in the Gold Cup instead but he wasn't left in the Ryanair for the good of his health so there was always that possibility.

I can understand the anger but everyone knows that dad likes to have the freedom to change options and he was entered in this race and the Champion Chase so it was always possible not to run in the blue riband.

At a Cheltenham preview night, Rich said that Vautour would either run in the Gold Cup or stay at home and I don't think it's fair for quotes to be taken from those preview nights and used as gospel.

Fantastic

They're usually a bit of craic and people are having fun. Then, suddenly, something said in a moment in a room looks completely different in black and white the next morning. Vautour is there now anyway and we think he'll do the business while our other runner Valseur Lido looks too slow at this distance and needs a trip. Thistlecrack looks a solid favourite in the Ryanair World Hurdle (3.30), he's won the three trial races very impressively but he's a tad short and I'd be sweet on Martello Tower, who won here last year.

Mags has been brought him to the boil gently, she's a fantastic trainer and at 25/1, he's a great each-way bet. We have no runner and it's an interesting race for us because usually if we have a stayer over hurdles, we send them jumping. It's not that we don't aim horses at the race; however, Vroum Vroum Mag would have been ideal if Faugheen had been in the Champion Hurdle. She would have been a big player over three miles but it's just the way the cards fell. Vroum Vroum has all sorts of options and I wouldn't be surprised if she ended up in the Gold Cup next year but the World Hurdle would definitely be a major contender.

Ballycasey won a Grade One as a novice beating Don Cossack he's always worked very well but he just seems to have lost his way. We're hoping the return to good ground and the trip will see him come back to form in the Handicap Chase (4.10).

We haven't really got a reason why he's been disappointing, his work is good and at 14/1, he's worth a calculated risk. Of the opposition, Fingal Bay is an interesting one. A Festival winner in 2014, he's got a lovely racing weight of 10st 10lbs and he's the one I'd be fear most.

The form of Limini is strong in the Mares' Novices' Hurdle (4.50). She beat a subsequent Group Two winner in France before she came over and with that type of pace, we'd have no issue in sending her to Royal Ascot. If her hurdling holds up, we'd be very disappointed if she doesn't win.

I ride Sambremont, a full brother to Djakadam, in the last. He's a novice in a handicap for the first time so that'd be a worry but he's running off 139 and we'd like to think his true rating is in the 140s. The Giant Bolster, placed in two Gold Cups, runs off the same mark, and he looks the one to beat.

PATRICK'S PICKS

1.30 Black Hercules

2.10 Mall Dini

2.50 Vautour

3.30 Martello Tower (e/w)

4.10 Fingal Bay

4.50 Limini (Nap)

5.30 The Giant Bolster

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