It probably goes without saying that 22 juveniles aiming for a share of a Grade 3 prize worth £80,000 in total usually leads to a very tight, very ruthless affair round the toughest racecourse in the jumping world and this year’s Fred Winter is certainly no different.
A mixture of those in form at just the right time and those having shown huge promise over the winter months running in this means we’ve had to pick our six against the field very carefully, but the below half-dozen represent some serious chances on the book and are all very worthy of a mention.
Band Of Outlaws
The ante post favourite for this race after his easy win at Naas, the excellent Joseph O’Brien’s runner reached a handicap mark of 97 on the flat and it seems with that he may have already come close to his early potential over hurdles.
So, while there will of course be more to come from him as the months go on, he may just not have as much improvement left in him this season in these conditions as a couple of others in the line-up despite the confidence behind him.
Beat The Judge
Although he’s been beaten in his last two hurdles starts, Gary Moore’s son of Canford Cliffs took a big step forward last time at Kempton when runner-up and promises to improve still further now.
The slight negative about him is that his two best performances have come on a flatter track while his Ascot performance was slightly duller, but if coping OK with Cheltenham he could be bang in the reckoning off a mark of 135 which probably underestimates his true ability.
Fanfan Du Seuil
Having already run well at Cheltenham when second last time out in the Triumph Hurdle Trial back in December, it’s easy to conclude that the ground was a bit quick for him that day and a more accurate representation of his potential was his resounding win against Our Power, also in the line-up, back in November at Exeter on the soft.
Tom George’s gelding is improving hand over fist and looks sure to take another step up the racing ladder in this race after a break and if he does, then he is very well handicapped going into this contest.
The combination of Joseph O’Brien and JP McManus could have the bookies scrambling in many a future Cheltenham Festival race and it’s far from beyond the realms of possibility they could land this race with Fine Brunello.
He was perhaps dragged along somewhat by his superior stablemate Fakir D’oudairies last time out in a Triumph Hurdle prep on Trials Day round here somewhat exaggerating his ability, but that rival was heavily backed and ran extremely well for a four-year-old in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on Tuesday making the form look incredibly strong.
It’s fair to say Alan King’s runner improved plenty from race two to race three over timber, but even with that in mind anything he has achieved really only enhances the chances of Fanfan Du Seuil who beat him fair and square and with something in hand at Exeter.
He was a good fourth to Fakir D’oudairies last time but with that being a Grade 2 race, overall you’d have to believe we’ve just about seen what he can do and so off a mark only 1lb lower than his old rival of Tom George’s he may have his work cut out for win purposes.
Very much overpriced going into this race, Nigel Twiston-Davies’s runner was well beaten last time and has to carry top weight but before that was winning with his head in his chest in a couple of soft ground juvenile hurdles at Sandown and still enters calculations based on the fact he does look a 145 horse in the making at the very least, so may not quite be handicapped out of this.
Of the leading contenders according to the betting market, the strongest challenges look like coming from Band Of Outlaws and Fine Brunello, both Joseph O’Brien runners, while this Torpillo will surely outrun his massive price from the top of the handicap too.
As a cracking each-way prospect at the very least though, FANFAN DU SEUIL is immensely backable at prices like 20/1 going into day two and thus rates as the selection to take this £45,000 first prize.