Facile Vega will bid to bounce back to winning ways in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham; Gerri Colombe aiming to make it eight unbeaten in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase; watch the full At The Races Cheltenham Preview Show on YouTube
Thursday 2 March 2023 14:40, UK
A change of tactics can see Facile Vega roar back to winning ways on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival, according to Sky Sports Racing’s Matt Chapman.
Willie Mullins’ Champion Bumper star had long been a short-priced favourite for the Supreme, making a faultless start in his first two starts over hurdles, before disappointing at the Dublin Racing Festival.
That left the six-year-old at around 3/1 for the Cheltenham curtain-raiser, followed in the market by Marine Nationale and Il Etait Temps, but Chapman believes Facile Vega’s star quality will shine through.
Speaking on the At The Races Cheltenham Preview show, Chapman said: “I think he’s an absolute good thing, an absolute banker.
“Willie Mullins and Paul Townend will kick themselves a bit with this horse because they’re jointly responsible for the craziness of him last time.
“When he won the Champion Bumper and the Grade One at Punchestown, he was held up in midfield, but because they thought he was so much better than the rest they let him bowl along and was too free and over raced.
“I believe they’ll drop him right out the back in this and I predict he’ll come there like Unsinkable Boxer [impressive winner of the 1998 Pertemps Final].”
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Racing expert Kevin Blake is also siding with Facile Vega and is happy to put last month’s disappointment down to the horse’s lameness.
“He was the best bumper horse and I really liked his first two runs over hurdles where he showed a lovely fluent technique.
“You could point to a couple of things last time. The most relevant thing was that he was lame for a few days afterwards.
“On all the evidence we have, I think he’s the best horse in the race and because of Leopardstown you’re getting a good price.”
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Multiple Cheltenham Festival-winning jockey Jamie Codd was in behind Facile Vega in the Champion Bumper last year, but is instead looking for each-way value with another Mullins inmate.
“I think Facile Vega was doing too much in Paul’s hands [at Leopardstown]. Paul wasn’t in control for the first mile.
“I like Hunters Yarn at 14/1 each-way. I think he’s improving and put in a good performance at Navan last time.”
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Codd, who knows the Gordon Elliott team inside out, is predicting a big week for the Cullentra handler, particular in the novice chase department.
Elliott’s Gerri Colombe is a perfect seven from seven under rules and Codd fully expects that to become eight in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.
“His run around Sandown the last day was a good test of his jumping and that held up,” Codd said. “He’s a hell of a horse, very uncomplicated. He just knows how to win. I think he’ll continue to win.”
Blake is taking on the 7/4 favourite with The Real Whacker, who could give Patrick Neville a career high having already scored twice at the track this season.
“I do like The Real Whacker (9/2) and he’s been a little bit underestimated,” Blake said. “He was fiercely impressive dropping back to two-and-a-half miles at Cheltenham last time.
“The level of that form wouldn’t be as good as what Gerri Colombe has done but he’s a very good jumper of a fence. He’ll give Gerri a bit to think about.”
Chapman is looking to a British hopeful in Philip Hobbs’ Thyme Hill (11/2). The nine-year-old is having a rather belated go at the larger obstacles but showed all his class to win the Grade One Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton at Christmas.
“I’m feeling sorry for Tom O’Brien because I think Micheal Nolan is going to win this on Thyme Hill,” Chapman said.
“He’s currently 6lb worse than he was at his peak as a hurdler and didn’t look a natural chaser for a long time but class-wise I think he’s in a different realm to Gerri Colombe and The Real Whacker.
“There were real signs in his Grade One win last time [Kauto Star Novices’ Chase] that he was getting his act together with his jumping and he’s a Cheltenham-type horse.”
Watch the Grimthorpe at Doncaster and Lingfield's Spring Cup, all live on Sky Sports Racing on Saturday, March 4.
Kevin Blake – Shoot First (Pertemps) – 4/1
Jamie Codd – Gerri Colombe (Brown Advisory) – 2/1
Matt Chapman – Facile Vega (Supreme) – 11/4
Sean Boyce – Jonbon (Arkle) – 13/8
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