Cheltenham Festival: The Ultimate Guide - 2021-03-05


Impressive Aura has the edge


Tom Collins

Allaho One of four strong entries from Willie Mullins’ Closutton yard, which has sent out three of the last five winners of this race – Vautour (2016), Un De Sceaux (2017) and Min (2020). With a rating of 162, Allaho looks well up to scratch in this year’s field. He dropped back from 3m in the Savills Chase, in which he finished a tired fourth, to land a Grade 2 chase at Thurles over this trip in January. Runner-up that day, Elimay, is favourite for the Mares’ Chase and the pair finished a whopping 79 lengths clear of the rest. His two previous trips to the Cheltenham Festival have resulted in third-place finishes in the Albert Bartlett (2019) and RSA (2020), and he is fancied to put up another big performance. Dashel Drasher Exposed eight-year-old who has always shown the ability to contest top-level contests – he was tried in the 2018 Champion Bumper, in which he finished 13th to Relegate – but has only started to fulfil that potential now that he has gone chasing. Wind surgery last April seems to have been the making of him and he quickly rose up through the ranks this winter with three successive victories, the most recent in the Grade 1 Ascot Chase. His tendency to jump left will be nullified by the switch from a right-handed track and he clearly has the gutsy characteristics that you want up the Cheltenham hill. However, a race-heavy campaign may now take its toll. Fakir D’oudairies Often the bridesmaid, rarely the bride. That cliche fits perfectly with Fakir D’oudairies’ profile given he has filled the runner-up berth seven times from just 17 career starts – he is very similar to Melon in that regard. The Joseph O’brien-trained French-bred has quickly transitioned from novice hurdling to open-company chasing in the last two years and certainly has the ability to feature over this trip. Previous Cheltenham Festival visits have resulted in a second (last year’s Arkle) and a fourth-placed finish in the 2019 Supreme, so the track poses no issues. His recent second to Chacun Pour Soi was a big step back in the right direction and he’s not ruled out for each-way purposes. Imperial Aura A scopey, weak horse early in his career, Imperial Aura has been brilliantly campaigned by Kim Bailey and his patience and inspired race-planning were rewarded when the eight-year-old romped home by three and a quarter lengths in the 2m4f novice handicap chase at last year’s festival. The form of that race looked strong and Imperial Aura ranked as one of the most popular jumps horses in training after easy successes at Carlisle and Ascot to start this season. He suffered a rare blip when he got the second fence all wrong in the Grade 2 Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton last time, but has been freshened up and now returns to a track that is perfect for his running style. Melon Fantastic campaigner for Willie Mullins. Although his tally of just four wins from 25 career starts suggests that he is not up to winning at the top level, Melon has repeatedly hit the frame in Grade 1 contests at the big festivals and deserves a second chase win, so why not in this race? His previous visits to Cheltenham have resulted in form figures of 23222 – all four seconds came at this meeting from 2017 to 2020 – and only a momentum-shifting mistake at the last fence in the Marsh Novices’ Chase 12 months ago cost him victory as the revitalised Samcro eventually nosed him out in a thrilling finish. His Leopardstown prep run went as predicted (he never runs well at that meeting) and he’s a live player now fully fit. Min Now ten years old, the prolific Min may have his best days behind him but a return to his peak would make him the most likely winner of this prize. Although he has invariably dominated the two-mile hurdling/chasing scene in Ireland, Min’s Cheltenham exploits have often resulted in defeat due to the presence of Altior, who beat his long-time rival in the Supreme and Champion Chase (twice). Connections decided to stray from their standard plan last year and he earned a breakthrough success in this race, pipping Saint Calvados and A Plus Tard in a tight finish. He is a big player on that form, but Min never looked happy last time in the Dublin Chase and now enters this event with questions to answer. Mister Fisher It is not hard to pour cold water on Mister Fisher’s chances of winning a Ryanair, but his want for quicker ground has to be factored into some disappointing defeats. His two festival appearances have both been when the ground was riding soft and he certainly wasn’t disgraced on either occasion, especially in last year’s Marsh when only four lengths behind Melon. Conditions were testing in the Paddy Power on his comeback, so ignore that effort, and he readily bounced back last time in the Peterborough Chase. His achievements aren’t on the same level as some of his Ryanair rivals, but a dry build-up to the festival could swing things in his favour. Saint Calvados A regular performer at this track, although not a regular winner with just one success from six Cheltenham starts. Saint Calvados is rather hit or miss and is prone to a jumping error or two, but his place in the Ryanair line-up is more than justified given he was only narrowly denied when putting in a career-best performance to take second in the race last year. Two starts this season have highlighted his frailties over fences – he jumped badly left at Kempton and then unseated at Sandown – but he tends to be better at his obstacles at this venue and, given his hold-up style, a championship pace may help him find a better rhythm. Tornado Flyer Third in the 2018 Champion Bumper here (outpaced by two stablemates) before landing the Grade 1 Irish equivalent at Punchestown, Tornado Flyer was rushed to go chasing after just three hurdling outings. He has shown a novicey technique on more than one occasion and given he had no previous pointing experience, that is hardly a surprise. When his jumping holds up, like it did in the John Durkan in December when he finished second to Min, he is good. But when it doesn’t he finds it extremely tough to stay on terms with top-class rivals. VERDICT Melon and Min set the form standard, but the younger legs of Allaho and Imperial Aura look hard to hold. Although Allaho’s recent success indicated he was on the right lines heading towards the festival, preference is for the Kim Bailey-trained runner, who should bounce right back to his best after an uncustomary jumping mistake at Kempton last time out. He looks like the new star in the division. 1 Imperial Aura 2 Allaho 3 Melon



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