Racing pundit previews the challengers to watch out for on the third day at Cheltenham
It is Stayers’ Hurdle day on Thursday at Cheltenham, the third day of the Festival, Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle day, and Unowhatimeanharry is a worthy favourite.
When JP McManus’ horse won the Albert Bartlett Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival last year, he was notching up his fifth win since joining Harry Fry. He was on a significant upward trajectory at the time, and that trajectory has continued into this season.
He still hasn’t been beaten since Harry Fry has had him, he has run eight times for his current trainer, and he has won all eight times. And last time in the Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham’s January meeting, he looked as good as ever.
If you were to look for potential weaknesses, you could point to the drying ground. Not that he doesn’t handle better ground, because he does. The ground was good when he landed the Albert Bartlett Hurdle here last year. It’s just that he handles soft ground so well, and that his main rivals are probably better on better ground. Ballyoptic, Jezki, Cole Harden, they are all at their best on goodish ground, and the drying conditions give them a chance.
The day gets under way with the Grade 1 JLT Novices’ Chase, and this is shaping up to be a cracker. Yorkhill is the classiest horse in the race, Willie Mullins’ horse was one of the leading novice hurdlers last season, he won the Neptune Hurdle at this meeting last year and he followed up by landing the Grade 1 Mersey Hurdle at Aintree’s Grand National meeting, and he is two for two over fences this season.
He is undoubtedly a classy individual, but he is short, and Disko may represent better value.
Always highly regarded, Noel Meade’s horse put up a high-class performance at Leopardstown last month in landing the Grade 1 Flogas Chase over two miles and five furlongs.
The Gigginstown House Stud’s horse was very good that day. Allowed stride along in front by Sean Flanagan, his jumping down Leoapardstown’s back straight was superb, and he stayed on strongly up the hill to get home by two lengths from the highly-talented Our Duke.
That race was run on soft ground, but Disko finished second in the Champion Bumper at Punchestown two years ago on goodish ground, and he was impressive in winning his beginners’ chase at Punchestown last October on yielding ground. They switch from the Old Course to the New Course tomorrow at Cheltenham, and they are set to water overnight in order to maintain conditions at good, good to soft in places. That should be fine for Disko.
Later in the day, Uxizandre could run well in the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase. Alan King’s horse put up the best performance of his career when he won the 2015 renewal of the Ryanair Chase, providing 20-time champion jockey AP McCoy with his final Cheltenham Festival winner in the process.
Uxizandre did not race again after that until January this year, when he ran a cracker to finish second behind Un De Sceaux in the Grade 1 Clarence House Chase at Cheltenham.
He should improve for that run, his first in over 22 months. Also, he should improve again for the return to two and a half miles, probably his optimum distance, and for the better ground that he will encounter on Thursday.
As well as that, he did not wear his customary headgear in the Clarence House Chase, his cheekpieces return on Thursday, and that could elicit even further improvement.
Un De Sceaux and Empire Of Dirt are both formidable opponents, but Uxizandre is set to compete under his optimum conditions, he is available at greater odds than both of those rivals, and he may be the value of the race.