Champion Bumper Tips: Mullins to make it a perfect ten

Willie Mullins will saddle the red-hot favourite Appreciate It in the Champion Bumper.
Willie Mullins will saddle the red-hot favourite Appreciate It in the Champion Bumper.

Paul Ferguson previews next week's Champion Bumper, which will see a plethora of young pretenders aiming to taste Cheltenham Festival success in a race jam-packed with potential...

Willie Mullins’ record in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper is there for all to see.  He has trained no fewer than nine winners of the race since 1996, when Wither Or Which – who he also rode, incidentally – provided him with a first victory in the race.  Mullins saddled three of the next four winners and more recently has been responsible for three of the past eight winners.

Mullins has three horses remaining among the 27 with five days to go and is responsible for the top two in the market at the time of writing.  Appreciate It is the obvious place to start and the six-year-old warrants his position at the head of the betting, following his Grade 2 success at the Dublin Racing Festival.  A winner over 2m4f on his previous start – also at Leopardstown, over Christmas – the son of Jeremy clearly isn’t short of tactical speed, and readily took care of what looked the strongest bumper field assembled in Ireland this season.

Having travelled sweetly, Appreciate It easily drew clear and was immediately installed as Champion Bumper favourite.  Beaten on his Rules debut at Fairyhouse, that came at a time when many of the stable’s runners were needing their reappearance, and the winner won a maiden hurdle next time.  The second (more of him shortly) also franked the form, and with two runs in Point-to-Points also to his name, he boasts plenty of experience, something which has been key in recent years.  Going back to his form between the flags, he actually finished third behind Envoi Allen – who won the same Grade 2 at Leopardstown en route to his win in this race 12 months ago – on debut, before scoring at Dromahane.  

Unoriginal it may be, but Appreciate It sets a very high standard and appears to be progressing with every run.  He will be difficult to beat, in my opinion, and is best priced 7-4 (bet365) at the time of writing, although I suspect he could be a shade bigger at some stage on the day.

Stable-mate Ferny Hollow is next in the betting (just) and at the start of the season – based purely on the visual impression he created in his Point-to-Point – he was one I was particularly looking forward to seeing, and thought that he could easily develop into a leading contender for this.  However, it took him three starts to win in this sphere, having raced too freely on his first two starts. Off the mark in a first time hood at Fairyhouse recently, the son of Westerner clearly possesses tons of ability, but the preliminaries have to be a concern. Given how keen he has been in his races, it isn’t hard to imagine him getting wound up beforehand, and he will need to conserve his energy, if he is to finish his race strongly up the hill.  Those reservations would be enough to put me off him in this company and on this track, although a strong pace might help, if he can be covered up in mid-field.

Mullins’ third entry Five Bar Brian was making his first start for the stable when winning at Fairyhouse in January, having finished runner-up in a Newcastle bumper for Tim Reed in December 2017.  That wasn’t actually a bad race (won by Star Of Lanka, with the useful Elvis Mail back in fourth), but he will need to take a huge step forward in this exalted company.

Remaining in Ireland and with Gordon Elliott, who has won the race twice in the past three years.  Elliott also has three possible runners next Wednesday, starting with the mare Queens Brook, who really impressed with how she powered home in bad ground at Gowran last month.  The daughter of Shirocco – who is a half-sister to Shotgun Paddy, so has plenty of stamina in her pedigree – stayed on really strongly under Jamie Codd, eventually crossing the line with 21 lengths to spare.  Whilst that was just her first start under Rules, she had run twice in Points (won on her second start) and if the ground is testing, she would warrant plenty of respect. Her price has contracted considerably in recent days, however, so the value might well have evaporated.  

Elliott also has the option of running another mare, Darling Daughter, who also won a Grade 2 at the Dublin Racing Festival, a race which Relegate won before winning the Champion Bumper two years ago.  That was a slowly-run affair, but she stayed on well, and the runner-up (a mare who I like, Politesse) won next time to give the form some substance.  A winner at Limerick on debut, she too ran in two Points and is going the right way, although I would favour Queens Brook of the pair, certainly if the ground is soft, or worse. 

Eskylane is the aforementioned Fairyhouse runner-up who finished one place in front of Appreciate It, beaten just a head by subsequent maiden hurdle winner Assemble.  It took the son of Flemensfirth five goes to win in Points, but he duly stepped forward on that Rules debut second to run out an eight and a half length winner at Navan last month.  He only faced four rivals that day, but had them beaten halfway up the straight, and readily drew clear in the closing stages. On a strict line through Appreciate It, he looks a big price (16-1 at the time of writing), although it could be dangerous to take that single piece of form literally, as you would be assuming that the market leader hasn’t improved since.  Indeed, Eskylane himself could have improved, but I think Queens Brook looks to be the leading contender from the Elliott camp.

Before I switch to the English contenders, I would like to give a brief mention to Fire Attack, who finished runner-up to the exciting Farouk d’Alene in a competitive race at Naas recently.  Joseph O’Brien’s five-year-old is a full-brother to Western Ryder (finished fifth in the 2017 Champion Bumper and third in the Grade 2 at Aintree) and travelled notably well that day, but his trainer has stated that he is unlikely to form part of his Cheltenham Festival squad.  I wanted to touch upon him, however, in case O’Brien has a change of heart. If not, keep him in mind for Fairyhouse and Punchestown, likewise the horse who beat him at Naas.

Trainer David Pipe won the 2015 renewal with Moon Racer and he is responsible for the two shortest-priced British-trained runners.  Vying for second favouritism is Panic Attack, who actually made a winning debut for Willie Mullins, but has subsequently been bought privately by owner Bryan Drew.  Pitched into Listed company on her racecourse debut, the Canford Cliffs filly blew away her rivals under Paul Townend, after which I thought she looked the ideal type for the mares’ only event at Aintree.  It seems as though she will take her chance next Wednesday and will receive 15 lbs from the older geldings (7 lbs sex-allowance and an 8 lbs age-allowance). Despite this, I still think it is a tall order for a four-year-old filly, particularly one with her pedigree, on likely testing ground against the boys.

Pipe also has Israel Champ to call upon and given that he has the strongest English form on offer, I suspect that Tom Scudamore will retain the partnership.  Israel Champ was another real eye-catcher when winning his Irish Point by 12 lengths, and after disappointing at Worcester in October, he relished the softer ground when sporting a first time hood to win a Listed event at Cheltenham in November.  He followed up in bad ground – under a 4 lbs penalty – at Ascot, beating a smart sort in the shape of Soaring Glory, who is likely to head to Aintree for Jonjo O’Neill. Fifth home Kid Commando has since franked the form, bolting up in a Plumpton maiden hurdle, before finishing third in Grade 2 Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle.  He won’t have a problem in handling the ground, although making all in the Champion Bumper is never easy, so tactics will be interesting. On all known form, he is the pick of the home challenge, certainly from this season.

I say this season, as Alan King could well saddle last year’s fifth The Glancing Queen, who hasn’t been seen since winning the mares event at Aintree last April.  She was only beaten seven and a quarter lengths last year (splitting Abacadabras and Sempo) and travelled really well to the foot of the hill, in what – we now know to be – a very strong renewal.  She again travelled like a dream when beating Minella Melody (favourite for the mares’ novices’ hurdle) at Aintree, appearing to appreciate the testing ground, so there is a chance that she could be over-priced at 25-1 this time around.

Ocean Wild – trained by predominantly Flat-based handler Roger Teal – is the other Listed winner who could possibly line up.  He finished runner-up in the four-year-old bumper at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, before beating his elders at Newbury on Betfair Hurdle day.  He quickened up well under Aidan Coleman on that occasion, but he is another Flat-bred, who might just find this a bit tough in the closing stages, should the ground be soft (or worse).  And, it is worth remembering (also for Panic Attack) that Cue Card is the only four-year-old winner of this race in the past 23 years (80 have run), although Blue Sari, of course, went close last year.  Dato Star – back in 1995 – was the last four-year-old to win the Champion Bumper prior to Cue Card, which highlights the calibre of horse required to buck the trend.

Of the remainder, Here Comes McCoy impressed when winning a newcomers’ event at Warwick, although it is a big ask to win this after just that sole racecourse appearance.  The pick of the others, therefore, could well be Dan Skelton’s Third Time Lucki, who left his Ascot third (Dovecote winner Highway One O Two was back in fourth that day) behind to win in a canter at Market Rasen, and he duly followed up – under a 7 lbs penalty – at Huntingdon.  The runner-up shaped well when filling the same position at Kempton recently, and his running style (settles well and held-up off the pace), it isn’t difficult to envisage him travelling well into contention and picking off some beaten rivals.

Selection

Champion Bumper, Cheltenham Festival, Wednesday 11th March 2020 – back Appreciate It at 13/8 (NRNB)

Champion Bumper
Appreciate It silk

Appreciate It

placed

A runaway seven and a half length winner of a Grade 2 event at Leopardstown's Dublin Racing Festival, Appreciate It is entitled to be clear at the head of the betting, and with Willie Mullins having such a fine record in the Champion Bumper (won it nine times) then this six-year-old can make it a perfect ten for the Closutton handler.

Cheltenham Festival Tips
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