Matt Chapman’s Cheltenham Festival tips: Energumene can be a weak finisher – here’s my Champion Chase banker
IMAGINE your first runner being a Cheltenham Festival hero.
Unlikely isn’t it? But it might just happen today for Johnson White.
Chappers reckons he can land a knockout on day two of CheltenhamNews Group Newspapers Ltd.
Yes people it’s Day Two of Cheltenham 2023 and, while the big race of the day is the Queen Mother Champion Chase, I want to start with one of the supporting acts.
That’s because White’s name now appears alongside that of the legend Philip Hobbs on racecards as joint trainers and the pair get together for the challenge of one of my favourite horses THYME HILL (2.10) in the Grade 1 Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase over three miles.
White revealed: “I came to ride out for the guv’nor in the school holidays when I was 14 or 15.
“I’d have been watching the likes of Richard Dunwoody, John Francome, Steve Smith-Eccles, all that lot and you think, ‘That’s what I want to do.’
“I got out of the car and my mum introduced me to Sarah Hobbs and the guv’nor.
“He asked me what I wanted to do when I was older and I quickly said ‘I want to be a jockey’.
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“He took one look at my size 12 feet and just said ‘no chance!
“My dreams were dashed.”
White has now been with Hobbs for nearly 30 years and worked his way up from stable boy to assistant.
I’ve long thought Thyme Hill is a cracking each-way bet for today’s race and he should give Micheal Nolan a great spin.
The nine-year-old was a bit sticky in his jumping over fences earlier this term, but he got it all together at Kempton last time and he’s got the best hurdling from in this having finished second to Flooring Porter in the 2022 Stayers’ Hurdle.
The Grade 1 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase is over two miles. EDWARDSTONE (3.30) might not want the ground to be too soft but he does have form with juice.
For me he is probably more reliable than Energumene who sometimes can be a weak finisher.
With Editeur Du Gite likely to go off hard in front, Edwardstone — beaten by the latter last time when given a lot to do — and Energumene will sit in behind and battle it out late.
I’m gunning Tom Cannon to come out on top on last year’s Arkle hero.
Today gets under way with the Grade 1 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.
GOOD LAND (1.30) might not be quite good enough if there is a real peach in here — but he has proven his stamina and has been in great form for canny Barry Connell and Michael O’Sullivan.
A Grade 1 winner at Leopardstown last time my hope should travel well. An each-way chance.
The Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle is over two miles and five furlongs.
Not many of these look well handicapped but one who could be is BEACON EDGE (2.50) with a chance to roll back the years for Noel Meade.
Michael O’Sullivan is on top a horse who is on a mark of 147 having once been as high as 158.
My hope was far from disgraced behind Blazing Khal last time and was once fourth behind Flooring Porter in the 2021 Stayers’ Hurdle.
It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but next up is the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase.
I’m sticking with defending champ DELTA WORK (4.10) for Keith Donoghue and Gordon Elliott.
Although rated lower than stablemate Galvin, my tip has many more Grade 1 wins to his name and easily held off Tiger Roll in the race last year.
In the Grand Annual there’s no doubt THIRD TIME LUCKI (4.50) would prefer the ground to dry out but he’s got the ability to make a splash here for the Skeltons.
The former County Hurdle sixth and Bumper fourth returned to form at Sandown last time.
The day ends with the Champion Bumper and there’s no doubt this is a guessing game. My has come down on IT’S FOR ME (5.30) for Paul Townend and Willie Mullins.
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