The final race on Cheltenham Festival day one is the National Hunt Steeple Chase Challenge Cup (also known as the Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Steeple Chase) with a scheduled start of 17:30. It’s an expected strong field with 11 runners due to line up. Here is a look at what horse is offering ahead of the big race and which horses are the ones to back.
Ran well enough at The Festival last season when a 10L 8th to Banbridge in the Martin Pipe. He made his chasing debut the following month but was a well-beaten 5th. Returned in September and won over 2m1f at Listowel before winning a 3-runner race at Cheltenham in October over 3m. He won by 61L there beating Mahler Mission, but he clearly didn’t run his race that day. He was then off until January when a well-beaten 4th in a Grade 3 at Naas over 3m1f and on soft ground. His trainer has said he will have come on a ton for that run, but he will have needed to and he didn’t jump particularly well when winning here. This has been his target and Elliott has a good record in the race, but stamina and how he acts on the ground are big concerns for me.
Comes here on the back of 4 wins on the bounce the first of which came off 90 over 3m2f in soft ground at Fontwell. His last win was over slightly further at the same track off 117 and the handicapper now has him on 130. He clearly stays well and handles the ground, but those wins were in Class 5 and Class 4 handicaps which is miles below what the fancied horses have been running in and he can be opposed.
Still a maiden over fences after 9 starts and his best run was over 3m5f at Fairyhouse in December when a close 2nd. He hasn’t been near Graded company though and he was well beaten at Gowran Park last time, although it was his 3rd run in the space of just under a month. He will stay and handle the ground, but class-wise he doesn’t look good enough.
Gaillard Du Mesnil
Having a 2nd crack at a novice event at The Festival after finishing a staying on 3rd in last year’s Brown Advisory behind L’Homme Presse. That effort alone is better than what any other horse in the race has achieved. He followed that up with a good 3rd in the Irish Grand National, where he was giving plenty of weight away to the 2 horses in front of him. This season he made his return in the Drinmore where he was only 4.5L behind Mighty Potter over a trip which would have been too short for him. He finally got his head in front in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown over Christmas where again he looked all about stamina. He then went to the Dublin Racing Festival and again dropped back in trip and was 3rd again behind Mighty Potter. He looks all about stamina, will have no issues about the ground and has the best form in the race.
Was a fair 7th in the Albert Bartlett at last year’s Festival when a 66/1 chance and followed that up when winning a Listed Race at Perth. As mentioned above he ran no sort of race here on chasing debut when behind Chemical Energy. He left that form well behind though when making all to win at Navan in January after finishing 3rd at Punchestown. He went into Graded company last time at Navan when 2nd in the Ten Up Novice Chase 3/4L behind Churchstonewarrior, but given Gillard Du Mesnil had beaten him easily at Leopardstown on that form he has a bit to find with the favourite. He does look like he will be suited by a stamina test though.
The furthest he has been is just shy of 3m when winning at Newcastle, but that was only a Class 3 handicap back in November and he has been beaten in 2 handicaps since. Looks firmly outclassed in this field.
He does shape like a through stayer so he might find improvement stepping up to this trip, but he needs to as his form isn’t as strong as Gaillard Du Mesnil’s. He went straight into Graded company on his chasing debut in November and finished 2nd by a neck to Darrens Hope at Punchestown. He then won at Fairyhouse a couple of weeks later over 2m5f. He went down in trip in a Grade 3 in January at Punchestown and was a well-beaten 3rd when looking like he needed further. Last time he was beaten at 8/13 at Fairyhouse in a Rated Chase and that run hardly screamed Graded Cheltenham Festival winner.
0-7 over fences although has been runner-up on 5 occasions including in the Kim Muir at last year’s Festival where he got badly hampered by a faller at the 2nd and ended up losing ground. That might have just cost him the race. He’s had just 2 runs this season and finished 2nd both times in handicaps at Chepstow and at Uttoxeter last time. Derek O’Connor came over to ride him there clearly with a view to him riding him in this contest. I don’t think stamina will be an issue, but given he hung left on the run-in last time (not the first time he has done that) you do have to wonder about his will to win.
The least exposed runner in the field having only had 3 bumper starts, 1 start over hurdles and 3 starts over fences this season. He’s been beaten by some useful horses including Mahler Mission last time. Was 10L behind him that day though and it is hard to see why he should reverse that form let alone be good enough to win.
Won over 2m2f at Chester last flat season and has just had 2 runs over fences since where she has been well beaten on both occasions. Should be outclassed here.
He is going to be one of the shortest-price favourites of the whole meeting, but it is really hard to see past Gaillard Du Mesnil here. He has the best form in the race and has proven stamina unlike anything else in the race. The rest are going to have to find a fair bit of improvement for the big step-up in trip and I am not sure they will. Chemical Energy needs to bounce back from a poor run last time and whilst his trainer left a lot to work on it is hard to want to back him on the back of that effort. Whilst Mister Coffey finds it hard to win, he does like finishing 2nd and with proven Festival form I think he could be the one to chase the favourite home.
Gaillard Du Mesnil @ 10/11 with Bet365
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All odds are correct at the time of writing.