2021 Cheltenham Festival – Favourite Galvin There To be Shot At

Royale Pagaille entered Cheltenham picture with stunning Peter Marsh chase success

Royale Pagaille entered Cheltenham picture with stunning Peter Marsh chase success

2021 National Hunt Chase Tips

It may be the weekend but that’s no reason to take a rest do Daniel Overall has decided to turn his attention to the National Hunt Chase. The staying contest is the closing race  on day 1 of the Cheltenham Festival  and has been shortened in recent years, but the contest has a rich tradition.

National Hunt Chase overview

Despite the changes made to the race following the controversial 2019 renewal, the National Hunt Chase remains a thorough test for a novice. Experience often comes to the fore; since becoming a level weights race in 2010, the 11 winners had an average of seven chase starts to their name prior to lining up here.

The front two from last year, Ravenhill and Lord Du Mesnil, had run a combined 23 times over fences before battling out the finish, pulling well clear of the inexperienced short-priced favourite, Carefully Selected, who was beaten when unseating at the last. Experience and assured stamina should be preferred to sheer class when searching for the winner.

Pros Taking Over?

Controversially, last year’s festival narrowly avoided Covid restrictions much to the chagrin of the mainstream media. This year, however, will be a very different story. 

On 13th January, the BHA announced that amateur riders will not be able to ride under rules in line with government restrictions around the definition of “elite” sport. 

It seems exceedingly likely that this ban will remain in place by the time Cheltenham begins which will change the shape of this race. Jockey bookings will hold less significance and perhaps with more experienced riders, we may get a more sensibly run affair.

It will be a shame not to see the likes of Jamie Codd and Derek O’Connor this year, but given the current climate we should all appreciate the fact that racing is even going ahead.

Galvin The Standout?

Gordon Elliott, like with many races here, has a superb recent record. Last year, Ravenhill, provided him with his third win in the race since 2015 and his fourth win in total from just 8 runners.

In second season novice , he looks to have a great chance of taking this race yet again. Second in last season’s (and perhaps the last ever) Novices’ Handicap Chase behind Imperial Aura, he pulled nine-lengths clear of Hold The Note in third. Following that impressive effort, he quickly racked up a three-timer over fences during the early parts of the season, winning a trio of novice chases at odds of 2/15, 2/9 and 1/4 respectively.

Last seen winning at Cheltenham in October on his first start over three miles, Gordon Elliott intentionally put him away with a view to returning for this race. Despite showing some fair form over the minimum trip, he’s viewed as an out-and-out stayer and he certainly looked to relish the step up in trip when last seen. His dam won the Durham National over 3m4f which also augers well for his chances of staying.

With eight chase starts to his name, he certainly has the necessary experience and his rating of 151 would, in a normal year, be amongst the highest in the line-up. It’s worth noting that only 12 horses in the last ten years had a rating in excess of 150 before running in this race, resulting in four wins and two seconds. With that in mind, Galvin has solid claims.

A Race Without Willie?

Hunting for the Mullins novice that Patrick will ride in this race has become somewhat of a tradition for ante-post punters. 

Those who partook in that quest this term would have been bitterly disappointed on the 20th January, when it was revealed that of the plethora of novices at his disposal, just two were entered in this race; Lord Royal (33/1) and Asterion Forlonge (14/1).

Lord Royal made a taking rules debut when bolting up by 33 lengths over hurdles last season. A faller on his chase debut (when looking the likeliest winner), he was well beaten when last seen and it’s hard to see him winning this.

Asterion Forlonge was a surprise entry given his clear preference for going right-handed and his exploits over shorter distances. Having fallen twice this term, you’d want bigger odds just on him to line up here.

It looks like Willie won’t have a runner this term; a fact I’m sure rival trainers will be thrilled with considering he saddled the last two favourites of this race.

Willie Mullins: Last season's Gold Cup-winning trainer may not have a runner in this season's National hunt Chase Paul Townend Gold Cup

Willie Mullins: Last season’s Gold Cup-winning trainer may not have a runner in this season’s National hunt Chase Paul Townend Gold Cup

A New Challenger Emerges

Failing to beat a rival in two small-field novice chases last term, I’m sure few had Royale Pagaille on their list of future Cheltenham contenders at the start of this season; and if you did, you are far shrewder than I!

After springing an 11/1 surprise at Haydock on his seasonal reappearance, putting away a small but creditable field in good style, he has continued on a steep upward path. An emphatic winner of a good quality Kempton handicap off 140, the handicapper was clearly very impressed, responding by putting him up 16lbs. That steep rise in the weights proved ineffectual as he went on to win the Peter Marsh by 16 lengths. 

Pagaille roughly translates to “mess”, and his Peter Marsh win certainly made one of the ante-post markets given he holds an entry for the Festival Novices’ Chase, the Marsh, the Gold Cup and National Hunt Chase. He wouldn’t be out of place in a Gold Cup but given that he’s a seven-year-old, the National Hunt Chase would be appeal as the “sensible” option as this stage.

With plenty of experience under his belt from his time in France, he would be a worthy favourite if he were to line up here. Having raced exclusively on testing ground, it remains to be seen if he’ll be as effective on a sounder surface, which he is likely to encounter here. 

Assessing the Remainder

As is normal for this race at this time of year, the majority in the ante-post market are far from certain to turn up.

Nicky Henderson noted in one of his Unibet columns that this race is the target for Dickie Diver (12/1). Fourth in last year’s Albert Bartlett, he made an encouraging chase debut in handicap company back in December over 2m6f. He shaped as if he’d improve for the run but he has yet to qualify for this race. He’s very lightly raced, which isn’t a positive for his chances here, and Nicky Henderson has a poor record in the race. Dickie Diver boasts a similar profile to OK Corral – a 4/1 chance for this race in 2019, eventually pulling up. Those with flashy profiles are generally to be avoided in this race.

Secret Reprieve’s victory in the Welsh National earned him a new mark of 144, although that might underestimate him. With an eye towards the Grand National, this race is a logical stepping stone and with stamina assured, he’d be a major player were he to line up here.

Latest Exhibition (12/1) and Next Destination (10/1) would both bring a touch of class to this event, but both look more likely to run in the RSA. The former could avoid a third clash with Monkfish were he to run here, and perhaps this race would be his best chance of Cheltenham success. Similar comments apply to Pencilfulloflead (20/1), who like the favourite, is trained by Gordon Elliott which may result in him running elsewhere. 

Gordon Elliott will almost certainly have Galvin for the race and he may well be joined by stablemate Coko Beach (14/1) following his emphatic win in the Thyestes. He had some solid chase form to his name over intermediate trips but the step up in distance combined with the application of blinkers for the first time brought about a great deal of improvement. Second in the 2019 Fred Winter and ninth in last season’s Coral Cup, where he shaped better than the bare result, this looks a logical race for him with connections eyeing up a tilt at the Irish National in April.  

If The Cap Fits would rate the best of these over hurdles and his staying on third in the Kauto Star hinted at the possibility that a real test of stamina would bring out the best of him over fences. He’s yet to really shine over the larger obstacles thus far, with his jumping often lacking fluency, which would be a big concern in a race of this nature.

Fourth in last year’s Marin Pipe, Happygolucky (20/1) has made a pleasing start to life over fences, winning two of his three starts, including an impressive win at Cheltenham over an extended 3m1f. A strong stayer with a rating of 147, he has an each-way chance. 

National Hunt Chase Big-Race verdict

In truth, it’s hard to be confident at present given the uncertainty around the participation of the majority of those at the head of the market. Galvin had looked a solid favourite prior to Royal Pagaille’s rapid rise through the ranks, although the former’s participation is far more certain than the latter.

Latest Exhibition would be another fascinating; a proven graded contender, his run behind Monkfish in the Neville Hotels Novice Chase and his 2nd in the Albert Bartlett are top class pieces of form, although he seems more likely to head for the Festival Novices’ Chase.

Coko Beach certainly has each-way claims and would perhaps be a leading fancy in a weaker renewal, while Secret Reprieve boats a similar profile to the former.