By Tom Lee

Cheltenham Festival and Grand National clues aplenty after a busy racing week

By Tom Lee
Cheltenham Festival: Happy Diva is primed for a tilt at next week's jumping extravaganza.
Cheltenham Festival: Happy Diva is primed for a tilt at next week's jumping extravaganza.

Our resident columnist Tom Lee looks back at an eventful week of racing and picks out some notable Cheltenham contenders and takes a look at Kerry Lee's festival team...

More Mullins Magic

It's becoming a regular feature using this space to praise the innovation and daring of a certain Emmet Mullins.

At it again on Saturday afternoon with victory for The Shunter in Kelso's Morebattle Handicap Hurdle, the young handler has done plenty to earn the respect of multiple corners of the industry.

Seemingly blessed with the ability to train almost anything, he's not shy in going all in when he believes there's an opportunity to be exploited.

Coming so soon after Cape Gentleman's Grade 2 success at Kempton just a week previously, The Shunter arrived at Kelso's borders venue carrying the weight of no less than five Cheltenham Festival entries.

That's less surprising when you factor in there's a £100,000 bonus on offer this year for a horse capable of winning the Morebattle and subsequently winning any race at next week's Cheltenham Festival.

Win he did, but the horse who landed multiple bets when also taking Cheltenham's Greatwood Handicap Hurdle back in November had a tough enough race to put his head in front and get the job done. Cheltenham is little more than a week away. I suspect the bonus won't be claimed. 

None of which detracts from the excellence of Emmet Mullins, a relative newcomer in terms of holding a trainer's license.

His last three runners have all won, indeed on Saturday afternoon he swiftly completed a 7/2 across the card double as Noble Yeats struck at Navan. 

What's more, his 16 runners in Britain have yielded a whopping seven winners for a 44% strike-rate. Respect anything he runs.

Cheltenham Festival Tips

Bach In Business

An unconventional but highly effective Cheltenham warm up saw the Willie Mullins-trained Bachasson hoover up Gowran Park's Grade 2 Red Mills Chase last Tuesday, steamrollering three rivals to pick up a winner's purse of €20,650. Not a bad reward for three minutes and fifty one seconds of mild exertion!

All being well, for the fourth time in his highly successful career the now 10-year-old will cross the Irish sea to line up at Prestbury Park next week, holding entries in both the Coral Cup and Stayers' Hurdle, despite having had his prep run over fences.

That said, all obstacles seem to come alike for this this fella, given he's seven from 13 over timber, and an even better six from nine in chase races. Some cv.

Last year he ran well to be sixth in the Coral Cup off a rating of 148. He has won all five starts since then and is only two pounds higher in the weights this time around, so you can see why the firms offer him at prices ranging from 10-1 to 16-1 for a repeat bid.  

Saint On The Rise

Third in a juvenile Grade 2 at Cheltenham back in November, Balko Saint looks to have booked his ticket back to Cheltenham next week after scoring in gritty fashion at Wincanton on Wednesday.

The four-year-old has been cleverly campaigned by Devon trainer Jane Williams, deliberately not run until after March 1st in order to preserve his novice status.

He was worth waiting for as well, as despite being unruly in the paddock and slipping over on the walkway going out onto the track, it was down to business when he made it out onto the racecourse proper, rallying to lead and keeping on strongly in a good scrap with the Gary Moore inmate Robin's Dream. 

In response, layers saw fit to chop him to a general 12-1 for the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle next Tuesday.

Final Countdown For Lee

These are busy times for Herefordshire trainer Kerry Lee.

In her sixth season with a license, the sponsored handler is currently putting the finishing touches to her team ahead of next week's Cheltenham Festival.

Her possible squad include improving novice hurdler Ballybegg, Cheltenham specialist Storm Control, Reynoldstown Chase runner-up Demachine, plus the hugely popular mare Happy Diva. All hold multiple entries.

Lee told us: "Of course it's an exciting stage of the season, especially for a smaller yard like ours. At this stage it's a case of keeping all options open, making sure they're absolutely flying, bringing them to a peak without overdoing them.

"I'm watching the weather closely. I'll be discussing all plans with the relevant owners and as long as we're all happy we'll be there doing our best as ever.

"Storm Control has thrilled us this season the way he's jumped around Cheltenham, Happy Diva loves it there having won the November Gold Cup in 2019, Ballybegg has a great attitude and loves his racing, while Demachine is a horse I hold in very high regard."

Cheltenham Festival Races

Bookmakers Cut Their Cloth

It wasn't just the antepost markets for the Cheltenham Festival receiving a pruning during the past seven days, far from it. 

Victory for the Jonjo O'Neill-trained Cloth Cap in Kelso's Premier Chase struck this watcher as a lovely springboard for an assault on next month's Grand National, with bookies appearing to agree. 

Third in the Scottish Grand National of 2019, Tom Scudamore's mount looks a much more complete package nowadays. 

The now nine-year-old is the general 6-1 market leader (from 12-1) for the April 10th showpiece, this coming on the back of his authoritative seven and a half length victory at the borders venue. 

O'Neill's Gloucestershire stable is having an excellent season, and the popular handler couldn't ask for a better construct for a National bid; Cloth Cap is no.38 of 40 runners and currently sits on a nigh on perfect racing weight of 10st 5lbs. 

Don't forget, Jonjo knows precisely what's required to win the Grand National, famously landing the sport's most famous prize back in 2010 with the AP McCoy-ridden Don't Push It. 

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