Red-hot Fortune’s top tips for Day Two of Cheltenham
***NEWS JUST IN.... Champagne Fever has been ruled out of the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival this afternoon. The two-times Festival scorer was officially withdrawn after he suffered an injury in his box this morning. Champagne Fever, trained by Willie Mullins and the intended mount of Ruby Walsh, had been challenging for favouritism behind Sire De Grugy and Sprinter Sacre in the two-mile championship. Michael Fortune's preview was written in advance...
Gone are the days when we had automatic favourites for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase and this year we have a race of ifs and what ifs! So much depends on the fitness, or otherwise, of the more recent champions Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy but you don’t win a Champion Chase with a horse anything less than 100 per cent.
According to Nicky Henderson, Sprinter Sacre is almost back to his best. We have only seen him once since December ’13 when he pulled up at Kempton behind Sire De Grugy. He came back at Ascot in mid-January and briefly looked his old self as he led two out. But he went out like a light and had a low-level bleed.
I remain to be convinced and am opposing him here. But Sire De Grugy has had his problems too. He missed most of the season through injury and then ran very poorly at Newbury on his comeback. Gary Moore is very happy with him and he looks the horse to beat. Where do we look for the winner if one of the two former champions doesn’t manage it? I can see nothing else counting except Dodging Bullets and Champagne Fever and it would be no surprise if the grey did the job for Mullins.
But for being caught by a head in the last stride last year in the Arkle, Champagne Fever would be coming into this race with three Festival victories in successive years to his credit. This horse loves the place. I really liked him at Gowran and he could be coming back to his best form.
Paul Nicholls has Dodging Bullets in the form of his life and there was much to like about the way he won the race in which Sprinter Sacre ran out of steam at Ascot. He has been to the Festival on three occasions and has been beaten by Champagne Fever in two of those races. Why should he beat him now?
Mr Mole can run well without winning but I am giving a hesitant vote to Champagne Fever with Sire De Grugy probably chasing him home. But I’ll have a wary eye out for the Sprinter.
The Neptune Investments Hurdle should be again won by an Irish runner, whether it be Nichols Canyon or Windsor Park. The form horse is Nichols Canyon and I like his workmanlike style.
Another race in which the Irish have a huge chance is the RSA Chase and again Mullins has the outstanding candidate in the lightly raced Don Poli. He won the Martin Pipe Hurdle last year, thus emulating Sir Des Champs. This fellow could be as good.
Philip Hobbs (Wait For Me) and Nicky Richards (Western Rules) may think otherwise but we will surely win the Weatherbys Champion Bumper again. Willie Mullins could have half a dozen or more runners, all with chances, and Dermot Weld is having a second crack with Vigil while Henry de Bromhead is entitled to fancy Supasundae. I’ll take a chance with Mullins’ Pylonthepressure.
1.30 – Nichols Canyon
2.05 – Don Poli
Fortune’s Top Tips!
1.30 – 1 NICHOLS CANYON; 2 Windsor Park; 3 Parlour Games
2.05 – 1 DON POLI; 2 Kings Palace; 3 The Young Master
2.40 – 1 AUX PTITS SOINS; 2 Quick Jack; 3 Activial
3.20 – 1 **CHAMPAGNE FEVER; 2 Sire De Grugy; 3 Dodging Bullets (**Champagne Fever has been injured and will now not be running)
4.00 – 1 ANY CURRENCY; 2 Toutancarmont; 3 Ipsos Du Berlais
4.40 – 1 GWENCILY BERBAS; 2 Bidourey; 3 Hostile Fire
5.15 – 1 PYLONTHEPRESSURE; 2 Vigil; 3 Bordini
Fortune’s Each Way Yankee for the festival…
CHAMPAGNE FEVER 3.20 Wednesday (**Champagne Fever has been injured and will now not be running)
LIEUTENANT COLONEL 3.20 Thursday
ROAD TO RICHES 3.20 Friday
NED BUNTLINE 5.15 Friday
2.05 RSA Chase. 3m.110y.
2.40 Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle. 2m 5f
3.20 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase. 2m.
4.00 Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase. 3m 7f.
4.40 Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle. 2m 110y
5.15 Weatherbys Champion Bumper. 2m 110y.