Festival pointers and eyecatchers

Races at The Showcase have had a bearing on the Cheltenham Festival in recent years and Ian Ogg looks at five races that could have an impact and picks out some eyecatchers.

squareintheair.com Novices' Chase (result and video replay)

1st Marracudja
2nd Presenting Arms
3rd Baron Alco

Festival pointers: The 2008 winner Poquelin was beaten favourite in the Grand Annual with fourth home Oh Crick comfortably reversing the form in March. Pigeon Island fell in 2009 but also went on to win the Grand Annual while last year's winner Rock The World finished third in the same Festival handicap.

We can rule out the winner for the Festival with Paul Nicholls saying: "I knew he would be in a little bit of trouble here. That might be the only time this season that he runs here. It's not the ideal track and he will be better off round a speed track like a Sandown, Kempton or Aintree."

Presenting Arms has had nine chase starts and finished second on four of them. He stays further and it's easy to see him being suited by the demands of a fast-run Grand Annual; he's on the right sort of mark but his conversion rate would be an obvious worry.

The market suggested big runs were expected from chase debutants Aristo Du Plessis and Baron Alco. The former never went a yard but the latter only gave way in the closing stages. This was a promising start but his best form over hurdles came over further and he's disappointed in the Fred Winter and Coral Cup on his two visits to the Festival. He was an eyecatcher and should be able to pick up a nice prize away from the Festival.

Join The Jockey Club Ownership Syndicate Handicap Hurdle (result and video replay)

1st Midnight Shot
2nd Valhalla
3rd Robin Of Locksley

4th Ballinure

Festival pointers: The 2013 winner Thomas Crapper went on to finish second to Don Poli in the Martin Pipe. The 2012 runner-up Medinas won the Coral Cup, 2011 second Cockney Trucker was fifth in the County Hurdle at 66s while 2010 third Son Of Flicka found only Sir Des Champs too strong in the Martin Pipe.

The eyecatcher was Robin Of Locksley who stayed on into third under an exaggerated hold-up ride in a race that was dominated by those on the pace. However, the six-year-old found less than looked likely in the finish and failed to deliver on his obvious ability last season and may be one to treat with caution for all that he has the talent to make significant progress.

Charlie Longsdon revealed the winner 'could have three options at the Festival – the Pertemps, Coral Cup or the Martin Pipe' and Midnight Shot could be stepped up in trip next time with the first of those races in mind but he is unlikely to get an uncontested lead wherever he lines up. The former race could be an option for Valhalla who has already won over two miles seven but on this evidence the Martin Pipe may be the better choice and not one that's wholly unrealistic as it tends to suit an embryonic stayer.

Harrison James & Hardie Maiden Hurdle (result and video replay)

1st Thomas Campbell
2nd Khezerabad

Festival pointers: The 2013 winner Lac Fontana went on to win the County Hurdle, a race in which 2008 third Cockney Trucker also finished third while Big Eared Fran – a faller in 2008 – finished third in the Martin Pipe at 7/2. The 2007 winners Snap Tie was another to go on to finish third at the Festival, this time in the Supreme Novices'.

Nicky Henderson described his pair as 'two nice youngsters' and the runner-up's two runs last season both came in graded company. Daryl Jacob seemed at pains to challenge in between horses and ended up getting slightly hampered as a result; I wonder if that was to try and teach the four-year-old a little more about racing or whether it is an indication that he's slightly quirky.

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Although he was sent off as favourite, the result clearly wasn't a surprise as Thomas Campbell was well supported throughout the day. He looks a bright prospect but Henderson's comments that 'if there was a naughty boy in the class like Dennis The Menace it would be him' suggest that he may not be overfaced this season and the runner-up may be a better option for a handicap at the Festival.

The form looks solid enough – or at least potentially so – with Bigpipenotobacee and Garo Du Juilley – both taking the eye in behind.

Masterson Holdings Hurdle (result and video replay)

1st Sceau Royal
2nd Leoncavallo

Festival pointers: Sametegal, Dodging Bullets, Starluck, Kalann and Tiger Roll are among the recent winners but somehwat surprinsgly only Bayan, a neck second in 2013, has gone on to land a blow at the Festival, finishing third in the Coral Cup.

It will be a shade disappointing if this year's winner can't surpass the efforts of his predecessors even if Alan King was swift to play down expectations after the race. Highly regarded as a juvenile, Sceau Royal flopped in the spring when the yard was enduing a lean spell but banished any doubts about his ability or his ability to prove effective on a quicker surface with a very stylish display. It's always well touted that five-year-olds struggle in the Champion Hurdle and there's also the question of how good last year's juveniles are/were but it is still a question of how good he could be.

Last year's winner Devilment – arguably not in the same league – finished sixth in the Greatwood off 147 and Sceau Royal would have to look interesting if taking in that handicap from a mark that will surely only be 1lb or two higher (he is currently rated 139).

It would be no surprise to see Leoncavallo take that route as well following a highly encouraging start for Ben Pauling while it's easy to put a line through the run of Adrien du Pont on ground that was quick enough on his seasonal reappearance.

Royal Gloucestershire Hussars Novices' Chase (result and video replay)

1st Shantou Village

Festival pointers: Art Mauresque, Splash Of Ginge,Third Intention and Carlito Brigante won the previous four renewals and all are talented performers but nonemade a mark the following March.Double Shuffle finished second last season and went on to hit the frame in the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase. For Non Stop, fell in 2011 but went on to finish third behind Sir Des Champs in the Jewson Novices' Chase.

Shantou Village was pulled up when favourite for the Albert Bartlett last March but has bounced back to win both starts over fences this season. He may well have to go down the handicap route with the three mile contest on the Tuesday a good race for novices unless connections opt to chance their arm in the JLT Novices' Chase.

The second and fourth are arguably more interesting as they have more scope from a handicapping perspective with Mick Thonic shaping well on his first start for Colin Tizzard and the novices' handicap on the first day would appear to be a suitable target if connections can keep his handicap mark below the ceiling (0-140) which is already a problem for Brother Tedd who wasn't beaten at all far in the Coral Cup.


Baron Alco

This decent handicap hurdler took well to chasing at the first attempt and looks set for a bright future over the larger obstacles and should have little difficulty winning his novice. He looks capable of making up into a better chaser than a hurdler and should be able to pick up a decent novices' handicap in the spring if not before.

Altesse De Guye and Dadsintrouble

The Join The Jockey Club Ownership Syndicate Handicap Hurdle looked a warm handicap hurdle beforehand and a slow early pace meant it paid to race towards the fore. That made Altesse De Guye's performance all the more creditable, running on well in the closing stages having lost momentum at a vital stage when hitting the fourth last. She shaped as though a return to three miles will suit and with opportunities in against her own sex and at a lower grade available to connections, it won't be long before she regains the winning thread off her current mark.

Dadsintrouble fell too far out to be dogmatic about where would have finished but Tim Vaughan's lightly raced six-year-old (who caught the eye on his preceding start in May) had moved easily into contention. There's always the worry that a fall will leave a mark but that aside, this son of Presenting looks capable of ranking a good deal higher by the end of the season.

Garo Du Juilley and Bigpipenotobacee

Neither runner managed to land a blow in the closing stages but both travelled well until the bottom of the hill. They are very different types with the former an ex-Flat horse who raced a little keenly but the French import clearly has an engine and Paul Nicholls can be expected to get the best out of him. The latter hasn't shown a great deal between the flags or under Rules up until this point and this slow learner will no doubt be better again next season but he did more than enough here to believe that he can pick up a handicap or two – probably over a little further – during this campaign.

Cliffs Of Dover

It may be stretching it to think that he can follow in the steps of stablemate Old Guard who won this race last year but Paul Nicholls' three-year-old is progressing at a rate of knots. A maiden on the Flat for Charlie Hills, his fortunes have been transformed by a switch to hurdling and he should be able to win again even after the handicapper has had his say. It's possible that race favourite Wishfull Dreaming ran a little flat but the 'right' horse in Ainslie (who also caught the eye) chased him home and the chances are that the first two home are (or were) both well treated. He looks worth following until his limitations are exposed.

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