Thursday 22 February 2018

No More Heroes to pummel rivals into submission en route to Gold

Ballyalton (right), with Brian Hughes up, jumps the final fence alongside Bouvreuil on the way to winning the concluding Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase at Cheltenham (Mike Egerton/PA)
Ballyalton (right), with Brian Hughes up, jumps the final fence alongside Bouvreuil on the way to winning the concluding Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase at Cheltenham (Mike Egerton/PA)

Patrick Mullins

What a start to the week with a hat-trick of winners, none more impressive than the great mare Annie Power who scooted clear in the Champion Hurdle to make it third-time lucky at Cheltenham Festival.

Annie was awesome, leading from start to finish, while Douvan did exactly what we thought he would. It's fantastic he's living up to all the expectations; horses like that are the reason that you get up in the morning. Similarly, Vroum Vroum Mag oozed class and we have no idea just how good she is yet - she could be anything.

Min had no excuses in the opener, he just got beaten by a better horse in Altior and the winner looks an exciting hurdling prospect.

The day ended on a real downer, however, with my ride Pont Alexandre fatally injured in the National Hunt Chase. He will be sorely missed at home.

We tossed and turned between the Supreme Novices' and the Neptune Novices' Hurdle (1.30) for Yorkhill but opted for the latter. He's a point-to-point winner so the trip shouldn't inconvenience him, he was our best Bumper horse last year and has tonnes of ability.

We're very wary of Yanworth after his performance the last day at Cheltenham. He was hugely impressive and Ruby rode the second horse and said it was a monster run. He has to be taken very seriously but we're not going to shy away from him and we wouldn't trade our lad for any of them.


Of our other runners, A Toi Phil is improving with every run, Bello Conti could be a good each-way bet, while the Cheltenham Festival might find out Thomas Hobson, even though he does have bags of potential for the future.

Roi Des Francs is yet to show that he's a Grade One horse and faces a stiff test in the RSA Chase (2.10) with the top two in the market, No More Heroes and More Of That, looking a cut above the rest so a top-three finish would be a bonus.

Shaneshill loves Cheltenham and saves his best for there. He's been second in the Champion Bumper and the Supreme Novices' the last two years, so we're expecting an improved performance but he's also playing for places.

I'm a big fan of No More Heroes, he has more jumping experience jumping while More Of That has had a lot of problems. He hasn't run since December and that raises a question mark. I've been very taken with No More Heroes; his jumping is a pleasure to watch and he can win on the way to a crack at the Gold Cup next season.

Stepping up to two-and-a-half miles will help Blazer in the ultra-competitive Coral Cup (2.50). I'd excuse his last run, it came too quickly after his win in Leopardstown when he we decided to chase a big pot at Newbury and he should still be a small bit ahead of the handicapper.

He's our number one chance in the hands of Barry Geraghty while Abre De Vie and Blood Cotil are coming back from chasing, which is always difficult, while Avant Tout will find it hard to win another big handicap after his Punchestown success last spring.

Un De Sceaux is a mouthwatering prospect in the Betway Champion Chase (3.30). He's a great advertisement for racing, a horse that everyone wants to watch. He races on the edge and like all those great two-mile chasers there's always those little question marks over his jumping.

He was brilliant over fences in the Arkle last year, however, and being the young, progressive horse compared to the three ex-champions is an advantage as the younger horse with greater scope usually wins these two-mile championship races.

With a clear round he can give us a first Champion Chase. It's one of the jewels of the Cheltenham crown and we'd love to win it. Stablemate Felix Yonger is jumping out of his skin too and is a great each-way bet as he'll love the better ground.

Felix has won four of his last five and we were half thinking of going to Nakayama for the big Japan race but his work at home has been great and he comes here, he's a great back-up to have if something is amiss with Un De Sceaux.

Of the three previous winners, Sprinter Sacre is the chief danger. He was awesome in 2013 but he just doesn't look the same horse now.

However, if anyone can get him back near his best it's Nicky Henderson, as evidenced by My Tent Or Yours' performance yesterday, and I think he'll finish ahead of Sire De Grugy and Dodging Bullets, but hopefully behind us.

I ride Uncle Junior in the Cross Country Chase (4.10) and the old boy (15 years young) is in great form. He's a fantastic horse to have around the place, he's been there longer than any other horse, and nearly as long as me. He was going well tracking Josies Orders here in November when he slipped up and again when he unseated me at Punchestown the last day. He's far from a no-hoper and was third last year when it was a handicap. This year it's a conditions race off level weights.

He's 25/1 and Balthazar King is 5/1 and yet every time they run there's only a length or two between them so I wouldn't put anyone off having a few quid on the fairytale but Josies Orders looks very hard to oppose.

Juvenile races like the Fred Winter (4.50) really don't float my boat and if there's one race that should be scrapped, it's this one. Saying that, I think John Ferguson's Jaleo will be hard beaten in a race where the handicapper has taken no chances with Voix Du Reve.

I ride Avenir D'Une Vie in the Champion Bumper (5.30) but it was a really difficult decision to make. He has the most visually impressive form in the book and his work is very good; it was very nice of Michael O'Leary to let me ride him, hopefully I can repay the faith. I think Bacardys is grossly overpriced in an open affair, the form of his Leopardstown win on St Stephen's Day is unknown because the ones behind haven't run again yet but he's improving at a rate of knots at home.

Augusta Kate has only beaten mares and her work at home is still average but it always was so you can't judge her on that.

When she gets on grass she seems to grow wings and I wouldn't be surprised if she follows in the footsteps of Total Enjoyment, the mare who won the race in 2004.


1.30 Yorkhill

2.10 No More Heroes (Nap)

2.50 Blazer

3.30 Un De Sceaux

4.10 Josies Orders

4.50 Jaleo

5.30 Bacardys (e/w)

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