Welcome to the second part of my two-part ante-post selections for the 2021 Cheltenham Festival.
Black Tears – Mares Hurdle (each-way)
With Benie Des Dieux ruled-out of the Cheltenham Festival and a number of the leading market principles redirected to other races (Honeysuckle – Champion Hurdle, Roksana – Stayers Hurdle, Dame De Compagnie and Elimay – Mares Chase and Verdana Blue and Great White Shark heading for respective handicaps at the festival) the race-day market could have already formed itself.
Black Tears has been given the go-ahead by trainer Gordon Elliott to take the route out of handicap company instead to take her place in the Mares Hurdle. Second in the Coral Cup at last year's festival to Dame De Compagnie (one of the biggest plot-jobs of the festival), she looked like she had every chance of winning the race before Barry Geraghty pulled further clear to win.
She ran off a mark of 144 in the Coral Cup and was due to be engaged in the Quevega Hurdle at Punchestown (finished ahead of Laurina in last year's renewal) before the meeting was called-off due to adverse weather conditions. Gordon Elliott had used the same race as her preparation for the Coral Cup but cannot rely on the same route this year.
Concertista has to be considered one of the NAPs of the festival after she won the Mares' Novices' Hurdle by 12 lengths at last year's festival and twice previously has the beating of Black Tears in December at Leopardstown and in the 2019 Mares' Novices' Hurdle when Black Tears finished fourth.
Black Tears looks to be one of the each-way players in the race that looks likely on race day to have been decimated compared to the current entries and holds a quintessential factor, previous course and distance form.
Raynas World – Mares Hurdle (each-way)
One horse that has gone under the radar is Raynas World. Philip Kirby's six-year-old mare finished third behind Concertista in the Mares' Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival last year at 100/1 in a race where she never looked to be posing a serious challenge until the final stages of the race where she finished like a rocket. I would certainly recommend having a watch back of the race if you haven't already done so.
After a 219-day break, Raynas World reappeared at Catterick three and three-quarter lengths behind Bollin Neil at Catterick by three and three-quarter lengths. Regular rider Thomas Dowson was back on board when she returned to the Winners Enclosure at Hexham in October with a convincing 13 lengths as 1/5 favourite.
Since that victory, she hasn't returned to the Winners Enclosure but produced two creditable efforts behind Stainsby Girl and Nada To Prada respectively in smaller fields, which isn't her forte.
All of her wins have come on either soft or heavy ground. The prognostication, on the opening day of the festival, is due to be soft ground. It could well be worth considering Raynas World as an each-way alternative to the short-priced Concertista, who is looking even more likely to go off as odds-on favourite on the day.
Put The Kettle On – Champion Chase (each-way)
Course and distance form at the Cheltenham Festival is quintessential when looking for winners. Put The Kettle On won the Arkle at last year's festival with conviction with a one and a quarter victory over the well-fancied Fakir D'oudairies. There had been inklings that trainer Henry De Bromhead's mare would bypass the Champion Chase and line-up in the newest race to grace the Cheltenham Festival, Mares Novices Chase, but now seem to be going down the Champion Chase route, although nothing is confirmed.
Undefeated in three attempts at Cheltenham, including in one of the most competitive renewals of the race for many a year and last year's and after a 250-day break a one and a quarter lengths victory over 2019 Arkle winner Duc Des Genievres at this year's November meeting.
Six-year-olds don't have the best record in the race, not winning since 2009 when Ruby Walsh teamed-up with Paul Nicholls and Master Minded, but two other key trends go in Put The Kettle On favour. All of the last 12 winners have raced in at least seven chase runs and had won five times.
Put The Kettle on has raced in eight chases and has won six of them with an impressive 75% strike rate.Put The Kettle On has never failed to impress when she has graced Prestbury Park. Without Chancun Pour Soi, the best 2m chaser in the division, the daughter of Stowaway could easily outrun current double-figure odds.
Melon – (Ryanair)
Is Melon one of the unluckiest horses to ever run at the Cheltenham Festival or a case of him not wanting to get his head in front at Cheltenham?Melon has finished second at the last four festivals to firstly the late Labaik in the 2017 Supreme Novices' Hurdle, dual Champion Hurdle heroine Buveur D'Air in 2018 and the late Espoir D'Allen in the running of the 2019 Champion Hurdle.
In last year's Marsh Novices' Chase, Melon looked to have won the race when he and Samcro hit the line together but was officially declared to have lost the race by a nose. If you were to watch back the respective races, Melon has been one of the most luckless horses to ever taken apart at the festival but still is one of the most dependable each-way bets of this year's meeting.
Melon was third behind Kemboy and the third favourite for the Gold Cup, A Plus Tard, in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown in December in another race where it looked Melon would be in Winners Enclosure before failing to see out the final furlong. On his latest run, the nine-year-old finished last of five behind Kemboy in the Irish Gold Cup in a disappointing performance, but the ground could have played a factor.
Three key trends favour Melon in the race, eleven of the previous twelve winners of the Ryanair Chase have had two runs at Cheltenham, with all of the twelve winners with at least four runs over hurdles and Willie Mullins trained last year's winner. Melon has raced at Cheltenham four times and has had 14 runs over hurdles.
Captain Guinness – Arkle Chase (each-way)
Henry De Bromhead's six-year-old has ensured a burdensome campaign after being diagnosed with a heart problem after being pulled-up half-way through his seasonal reappearance at Tipperary.
After a 52 day break, the mare of Presenting D'Azy, won a 17 runner Beginners Chase at Punchestown at the end of December, beating Midnight Run and Alfa Mix, with no adverse effects of the race at Tipperary.
Brought-down two out by Asterion Forlonge (who jumped aggressively to his right throughout his race) in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at last year's festival, by no fault of his own, looked like he was right in contention approaching the Cheltenham Hill. It wouldn't have come as a surprise if he had been placed behind Shiskin and Abacadabras.
Captain Guinness will attempt to reverse form with Shiskin and the front-running enigma Energumeme next month. He finished second to Energumeme at Naas in a four-runner race in January before falling, attempting to re-oppose, in the Grade 1 Irish Arkle Novice Chase earlier this month, where he jumped too keenly throughout the race to never cause any problems for his rivals.
Put The Kettle On won the race last year for Henry De Bromhead with six-year-olds successful in the previous three renewals boosting Captain Guinness's credentials.
With Shiskin and Energumeme the main protagonists in the race, Captain Guinness has been overlooked unfairly in the market and has a compelling profile to finish in the places under the ever-so reliable Rachel Blackmore at a double-figure price, after being so unlucky, an understatement to say the least, at last year's festival.
Minella Indo – Gold Cup (each-way)
In the most prestigious race at the Cheltenham Festival, Al Boum Photo will aim to be only the fourth horse, after Golden Miller, Cottage Rake and Arkle, to win three Cheltenham Gold Cups. He looks the most likely winner on paper, but the forgotten horse has to be 2020 RSA Insurance Novices' Chase runner-up Minella Indo.
Minella Indo finished second behind fellow Gold Cup challenger Champ in one of the most exhilarating RSA Chases in recent years, at last year's festival, in one of the most dramatic finishes you are ever going to see up the Cheltenham Hill. If you haven't already seen the race, firstly, why haven't you seen it and secondly, I recommend having a watch back and try and come to a viable conclusion on how Champ was able to win the race. Plaudits to Barry Geraghty, maybe.
On his seasonal reappearance, Henry De Bromhead's 2019 Albert Bartlett winner won comfortably at Wexford in October with a 25 length victory over 2020 Kim Muir winner Milan Native by 25 lengths. Minella Indo fell in the Savills Chase won by another horse he will repose in the Gold Cup next month, A Plus Tard. On first observations, Minella Indo had never fallen in his career, so I've dismissed that as an abnormality.
In the Grade 1 Irish Gold Cup at the Dublin Racing Festival, the son of Beat Hallo finished fourth of five runners, six and three-quarter lengths behind the winner Kemboy.
Minella Indo had excuses for those two runs due to ground dependency and not being ridden predominately enough, but cannot afford another poor run. Third-time lucky?