By Tom Lee

Cheltenham Festival Tip: National Hunt Contender, and Sky Bet Chase Preview

By Tom Lee
Thyestes Chase winner Coko Beach is a major player in the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Thyestes Chase winner Coko Beach is a major player in the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

Our resident columnist Tom Lee picks out a good value Cheltenham Festival selection, while he selects his Sky Bet Chase tip and looks back at Presenting Percy's heroics at Gowran Park...

A Golden Day For Gowran Park

Two years ago, 24th January 2019, Thyestes day down in Kilkenny, as Gowran Park geared up for its big National Hunt day of the year. 

Make no mistake, this is bedrock Irish National Hunt territory, situated a stone's throw from the stables of such heavyweights of the sport as Shark Hanlon, Tom Mullins and Willie Mullins. 

The locals wouldn't be anywhere else on this lively Thursday, shifts taken off work, children mysteriously absent from school, thronging to a picturesque track on a day where traditions are upheld and generations of racegoers pack in to a well-run, atmospheric venue. 

The key appeal two years ago? No-one who was there will have to think twice to recall it was a horse with a huge public following, Presenting Percy

Not even running in the feature race, 'Percy' was making his first appearance of the 2018/19 campaign, not over the fences to which he was accustomed, but in the Grade 2 Galmoy Hurdle, a contest he'd steamrollered the opposition in 12 months previously, beating Augusta Kate by five and a half lengths.

Same again? Very much so. No prep, no problem, not for Percy.

Cheltenham Festival Races

Trained by the quiet man of Irish racing, Craughwell-based Pat 'PG' Kelly, Percy gained an eighth career victory and had the crowd in raptures as he surged to the front two out, staying on best of all to see off Bapaume by a length and a quarter.

Punters four and five deep around the paddock rail and hollering with delight as he returned to take the acclaim post-race, to say the crowd lapped it up would be an understatement. 

Irish loves nothing more than a character and an underdog, just think of the late Peter Casey or the talented Cork man Mick Winters. In PG Kelly however, they got a man who allowed his horses to do the talking, prepared to perfection by an individual renowned for his generosity and fun in private, but who chose to play not a straight, but a silent bat, when confronted by a reporter or microphone. 

Kelly smiled and said nothing, enjoying a well-executed triumph from a horse who by this point in time was already a dual Cheltenham Festival scorer, having taken the Pertemps Final of 2017, before returning 12 months later to turn the RSA Chase into a procession. 

History now tells us Percy would be foiled in his bid to land the Cheltenham Gold Cup when sent off favourite two months later, but none of that mattered on this cold but magical Gowran day.

Life's A Beach With Cheltenham On The Horizon

On the theme of Gowran Park, there may not have been the usual glut of spectators for this year's renewal of the Goffs Thyestes Handicap Chase, but Thursday afternoon's big race certainly didn't lack any sparkle, with a highly impressive winner in the shape of Coko Beach

The first six-year-old to win this since Djakadam back in 2015, who lest we forget went on to be placed in the Gold Cup in the same season, this improving youngster has already given Gordon Elliott his second Thyestes success after Monbeg Notorious back in 2018, and now looks like he could be being lined up for the stamina test which is the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. 

Fresh from a 1-2 in the big one, Elliott told the press: "The blinkers definitely sharpened him up. He jumped brilliant and Jack Kennedy gave him a great ride. You'd imagine the National Hunt Chase might suit him."

Quotes around the 14/1 or 16/1 mark look fair.

Ohh, Aah, Can-elo....

At the time of writing Saturday's Cheltenham card is under a cloud, both literally and metaphorically, with a deluge of rain meaning an inspection could mean the Trials Day party is over before it has even begun. With that in mind, it's to Doncaster we go in search of a winner, with Saturday afternoon's listed Sky Bet Handicap Chase (15:15) due to be shown live on ITV. 

A lightly-raced, consistent, in-form, course winner from a stable in fine fettle would be tempting wouldn't it?  At likely odds in the region of 5/1, step forward the Alan King-trained Canelo

Five from 14 overall plus more specifically three from eight over fences, this improving eight-year-old won't mind what the ground is (unlike several rivals who will be praying the worst of the rain stays away).  What's more, he has fond memories of Town Moor, posting a slick victory on his only previous visit, way back in February 2018. 

He produced an outstanding effort to take Wetherby's Rowland Meyrick Chase when last seen, and up six pounds for his troubles has a nice racing weight and not too many miles on the clock. 

Flagged by this column, his trainer bagged the Classic Chase a fortnight ago, and could be in for further big race glory.

Sky Bet Chase
Canelo silk


Cheltenham Festival
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