Improving Southfield Has What It Takes

The big staying event on Day One of the 2016 Cheltenham Festival is the National Hunt Challenge Cup (4.50pm) – an event in which the Irish are building a good record, winning three of the last five renewals.

Win No.3 For Elliott?
Gordon Elliott was responsible for two of those victories, and he looks to have a “live“ chance once more with Noble Endeavour (8/1). This 7yo has made gradual improvement in four outings over fences, getting off the mark in a beginners chase over Christmas (2m4f, heavy), before a 5l second in Grade 2 novice company at Navan in February (3m, heavy).

Hercules Has Strong Stamina
The step up to 4m will be unknown territory, as it will be for Willie Mullins’ 7yo, Black Hercules, who looked the winner at Navan but for falling at the last. He was 1l clear prior to coming down, but he looks to have stamina in abundance. Despite flopping at last year’s festival, Black Hercules was fourth (of 22) in the 2014 Champion Bumper, and clearly handles Cheltenham.

Mullins also has a good chance of adding to his 2013 win in this with the 7yo, Roi Des Francs (7/1), who is 2-3 over fences, following a Grade 2 novice win at Naas in January (3m, heavy). A creditable third in last year’s Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle here, he has the right profile – for the record, 7-8yo’s won 11 of the last 13 renewals of this race.

Also among Mullins’ many entries is the 6yo, Sambremont (12/1), who arrives 2-4 over fences, including a Grade 2 novice at Navan in February (2m1f, heavy). Beaten 12l by Black Hercules at Christmas, he is entitled to be thereabouts, but may need rain to be at his best.


Stats Against 6yo’s
On the subject of age, 6yo’s have a poor record, winning just once from 48 runners (since 1997), which may concern followers of the joint 5/1 favourite, Minella Rocco.

Yet to get off the mark in four runs over fences, Minella Rocco, left his previous disappointing efforts behind (including twice at Cheltenham), when finishing a narrow second to Vyta Du Roc (14/1) in Grade 2 novice company at Ascot in February (3m, soft). Trainer, Jonjo O’Neill, won this race four times from 2002-2007 and could have another with Minella Rocco.

Britain Offers Each-Way Value
The Brits also have a serious contender with Colin Tizzard’s 6yo, Native River (8/1), who has plugged on the last twice over 3m having won a Grade 2 at Newbury on November (2m7f, good to soft), and shapes as though this sort of marathon trip on decent ground could suit.

Another Grade 2 novice winner is Neil Mulholland’s 6yo, Southfield Royale (10/1), who won in such company over 3m in December (3m, heavy), before a career best second in a Grade 1 at Kempton over Christmas (3m, good to soft).

Having jumped left that day, the return to going anti-clockwise at Cheltenham will suit, along with the forecast drier ground.

A mention also goes to the 8yo, Seeyouatmidnight, who will also enjoy going around Cheltenham, just as he did when taking a Grade 2 novice here on New Year’s Day (2m5f, good to soft). With a record of 3-4 over fences and proven here, Seeyouatmidnight looks value at 14/1.

Recommended Bets
Seeyouatmidnight is respected, but Southfield Royale has improved on each of his four chase outings, has won a Grade 2 and suggested when second in a Grade 1 last time that this kind of race would suit.

*Prices correct at time of publication