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Top Picks for day two of the Cheltenham festival: Energumene NAP?

It will be will a tough task to follow the emotional rollercoaster that was Day One of the Cheltenham Festival, as the heartstrings were plucked by a farewell victory of the great Honeysuckle, excitement overflowed for Constitution Hill and Corach Rambler whilst the funky beats of Jazzy Matty hit the right notes as the days longest odds winner.

Day Two may not have the anticipation or joy release as opening day, or the special feeling of the final day of racing, but one thing is for sure, there is a lot going on in the days seven races. 

13.30 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle 

Ballymore Novices Hurdle is the premier race during the jump season for novice hurdlers, representing as a good launchpad for many top class hurdlers, with history of creating Champion Hurdle winners.

There are a few decent looking horses in the line up, Impaire Et Passe is current favorite as 7/4, having blown the rest of the field away in Naas and more importantly Punchestown this winter. With the Moscow Flyer victory proving the horse is the next on the conveyor belt of talent in the Mullins ranks. The five year old is a strong traveller and Paul Townsend has full trust that the horse can spring into action when hurried.

But it is his stablemate Gaelic Warrior who holds the best form, and trainer WIllie Mullins was very complimentary about the five-year-old after a strong win last month in Leopardstown. The worry for the horse is that it has not travelled over 2 miles 1 furlong in his short career but Mullins was quick to back the horses stamina by a sharp move into this race.

The only British hope in the race has constantly proved he has the stamina and skill to get to the post first in races longer than two miles. 2 mile 5 furlong win in Cheltenham in November, but most recently winning at Newbury with the going soft. 

The takeaway from this race is that stablemates Impaire Et Passe and Gaelic Warrior should be strong enough to carry what could be a very compelling race, if IeP can get back into top form it could be a dominant race, but any slip ups and I am sure the young hot shot will be there to pick up the pieces.

14.10 RSA Novices Chase

The RSA Novices Chase is a good use to advertise themselves for the Gold Cup. Going back to 2013 and 2014, Bobs Worth and Lord Windermere won the Gold Cup 12 months after victory in this race. Gerri Colombe heads the 11 strong pack for the 3 mile chase, and holds that title for a good reason. Although already having already won two Grade 1 races in Limerick and Snowdown on Boxing Day and in January , he will be faced with questions on if he can told his pace for the gruelling three miles, as those noted wins came on tracks over half a mile shorter. Jordan Gainford has ran him brilliantly with a clean, strong jump being a great weapon for this worthy favourite.

If there are any scraps left due to a seriously uncharacteristic mistake from Gerri, then The Real Whacker will gobble them up willingly. A real experienced horse around the town, Cheltenham has hosted four out of six of his races. Strong wins on New Year’s Day and in November shows his knowledge of the track, with the November meeting being a three mile race. He is used to the jumps here, being almost faultless on those two occasions, but it will need something special from him to emerge victorious. 

The Thunder Rock too was a part of the race on NYD when The Whacker won, and although the notes for the race lead you to believe it was a simple flag to post race, there is more to it. Thunder Rock was right at the back of the field going into the three furlongs, but was able to make up enough ground on the victor to take notice. Where The Whacker slowed, the Rock carried very strong to the line. The two aforementioned rivals are not to be played with, but constant showings of endless power may spice up this race in the last few yards.

14.50 Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle

The largest field of the week so far will come in the Coral Cup, with 26 riders giving one of the most open fields possible. The race is a nightmare for punters, only two horses in the 11 races this hurdle has had starting odds of a single figure, 2020 saw Dame De Compagnie romp home at 5/1 where as 2022 victor, Commander on Fleet started at 50/1.

With that knowledge it is no coincidence that 11/1 HMS Seahorse is a stand out pick. He won well in Navan in late January, carrying himself and the extra weight to finish just over two lengths clear of second. A race that was also when the going was soft, so you should keep that in mind. 

Elsewhere on the race card, there is a plethora of names you can make a case for, Beacon Edge is fancied by many, whilst Camprond, Langer Dan and Captain Conby are all still in the mix.

15.30 Queen Mother Champion Chase

The Queen Mother Champion Chase is one of four championship races held during the festival, and the feature race on Day Two is a 2 mile speed test for the best steeplechasers around. 

There are a lot of circular battles going on in this race, with the most fancied four all facing up to each other throughout the season in some capacity. 

The victor in the 2022 race Energumene is back again to regain his title, but a third place in the Clarence House, here in Cheltenham in January could raise some eyebrows. In that race he was in the mix till the last hurdle when a poor jump ruined his ride finishing well back. But that, and his defeat to Shishkin in Aintree last year are the only blemishes in a great record. 10 wins from the last 12, but those two defeats came with the going soft.

Energumene alongside Editeur de Gite are both strong starters, wanting to dictate the fields pace. The latter beat both Energumene and Edwardstone in the mentioned race in Cheltenham in January, as well as a strong victory at Kempton in December- both when the going was soft. At the time of writing, he is 6/1 to win which seems way to generous for a horse that has looked a little troubled over the fences in the last few races- especially in Octobers run.

Edwardstone, ridden by Tom Cannon, is the main competitor to dethrone Energumene. A partnership that allows the race to unfold in front of them before making the dash to line with two or three left to jump. Only beaten by a head when the three horses mentioned took battle here in January, whilst he destroyed the field at Sandown in October. Has had a few races where he jumping was not in the slightest anywhere near clean, but the 9-year-old has been in the good books with trainer Alan King. It also helps that Gentleman De Mee is out of this race, as the two have had a one sided battle recently.

16.10 Cross Country Chase

The Cross country chase is one of the most unique races on the CHeltenham calendar, with the runners facing a unique series of fences and obstacles along the cross country course, before rejoining the main track for a grueling finish. 

Gordon Elliott has the two favourites in the betting for the race in Delta Work and Galvin. Now at 10 years old, Delta Work finished fifth in the 2020 Gold Cup and was more recently the pantomime villain last year beating the legendary Tiger Roll by less than a length in his farewell race. A third place in the Grand National last year maintained his excellent form and he is a worthy favourite. If there is one vulnerability to his profile it is his from when the going is soft as the best races came from heavy ground.

His stablemate Galvin was once one of the most promising horses on the jumping scene, but has struggled for any real form recently. He is a big fan of hard grounding, although he was good enough to claim second place in the 2020 Novices’ handicap on soft. Fourth place in the 2021 Gold Cup bests most of the field but a poor winter at Down Royal and Leopardstown is a real worry.

A good outside shot for each way is Back on the Lash winner over the cross country course in January, beating the likes of Delta Work, Snow Leopardless and Denise Alba who all have better odds than the Martin Kieghtly trained 9-year-old. 

Grand Annual Handicap Chase

The Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase is often run at a fierce gallop and attacks the best two-mile handicap specialists. And so far is proving to be one of the hardest races to predict. 

Final Orders has decent form coming into the week, having won his last five races, with the going today as soft, good to soft in places, it is questionable if their excellent form is anything but a mere facade. 

Elsewhere Coeur Sublime has looked decent with good praise from Henry de Bromhead, but other than that it is a real free for all out there with Dinoblue as the favourite and Elixir De Nutz is a horse that loves to lead from the front.

17.30 Champion Bumper

It should be renamed the WIllie Mullins Bumper, as the trainer has 10 horses running in the final race of the day. 

It’s not really a betting race, with whispers and hearsay trading far more strongly than form lines – on the basis that most of the horses have very few of those, and even the ones they do possess were earned in vastly different circumstances.

If you are looking out for any, it will have to be one of the bigger priced Mullins racers, look at Westport Cove or Western Diego

Here are my horses to look out for on Day Two of the Cheltenham Festival

13.30 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle: Gaelic Warrior
14.10 RSA Novices Chase: The Real Whacker
14.50 Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle: HMS Seahorse
15.30 Champion Chase: Energumene16.10 Cross Country Chase: Back On The Lash
16.50 Grand Annual Handicap Chase: Final Orders
17.30 Champion Bumper: Literally anyone!! Westport Cove/ Western Diego

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