Off The Fence: Ballyburn destination to dictate Cheltenham Festival winners on Tuesday

Off The Fence: Ballyburn destination to dictate Cheltenham Festival winners on Tuesday

The Cheltenham Festival is just around the corner and the Off The Fence team are back with an extended preview show to look at all the key talking points.

Host Vanessa Ryle was joined by usual panellists Barry Geraghty and Tony Keenan to discuss all things Prestbury Park, starting with the flagship races on the opening day.

Ballyburn destination to dictate Supreme winner

Barry Geraghty said: “It all hinges on Ballyburn, who is favourite for both Novices’ races, and Tullyhill is also an option here and would definitely have a chance. Of the opposition, Mystical Power’s form is questionable. The alternative I like is Firefox who scoped badly after Naas and was lame as well. He would be the alternative for me, but if Ballyburn lines up he would be the one to beat.”

Willie Mullins’ star heads the markets for the Tuesday opener, with most bookmakers pricing him odds-on for a Festival debut triumph.

Tony Keenan said: Ballyburn is the one we’re placing the others around. Of the rest, I don’t know. A couple of thoughts are that Willie Mullins’ first string have a great record in the Supreme. He’s run 14 horses since 2010 that were in the first three, five of them won with three more hitting the frame.

“If you are trying to talk yourself into a Willie Mullins outsider, the stats are not good for them – 0/25 with just three places. It’s a very similar pattern with the Ballymore, although the Albert Bartlett is a different story. I like Asian Master but he’s down the pecking order. I would like to back Mystical Power but I’d prefer to back him in a race Ballyburn is not in, because he’s a miles better horse than Tullyhill.”

Can Facile Vega land Arkle glory?

Tony Keenan said: “Every horse in the race really has got a weakness or something to overcome. Il Etait Temps’ record at Cheltenham isn’t good, Foundafifty you’d think would go right a little bit. Are JPR One, Quillixios and Hunters Yard good enough?

“I think Facile Vega should go for this race, I just wonder if they’ll have a change of heart considering the news about Marine Nationale. For him to be the outsider of the three horses from the Irish Arkle, to me just feels a little bit off.

Facile Vega is eyeing the Arkle

“I know he finished third at Leopardstown but there was so little between them, and his jump at the last was a little bit awkward. He’s underperformed at Leopardstown now three times, the place just doesn’t suit him. When he’s turned up at Cheltenham he’s produced peak efforts in the last two seasons.

“A bit of soft ground would suit and his overall depth of form over the last two seasons is better than that of Il Etait Temps and Foundafifty, and I’d like to back him given he’s the class act in the field with the previous course form.

Facile Vega was next best to Marine Nationale in last year’s Supreme Novices’ Chase, and will be hoping to go one better this time around.”

Barry Geraghty replied: “There’s a lot of forgiveness needed for Facile Vega’s last two runs, so in all honesty I’ve lost hope with him at this stage. Il Etait Temps was beaten eight lengths behind Marine Nationale and Vauban, both days very keen. His jumping hasn’t been very good over fences and there’s not an awful lot between him and Foundafifty.”

He added: “With JPR One and horses like that, there could be enough pace up front to suit a horse who’s just come from off the pace and is a strong traveller. I’d be slightly with Il Etait Temps but it’s a weak race with a lot of average stock there.”

Barry and Tony’s best bets for the Festival

Tony Keenan

Kargese is hiding in plain sight for the Triumph Hurdle. She’s the one that won the Spring Juvenile without everything going her own way, but the way she travelled was really impressive. She’s got experience built up and looking at the odds, she’s twice the price of Majborough which sort of makes up your mind for you.”

Kargese is 'hiding in plain sight' according to Tony Keenan
Kargese is ‘hiding in plain sight’ according to Tony Keenan

“I’ve had a few quid on Telmesomethinggirl in the Mares’ Hurdle. She’s got a good record at the meeting and won the Dawn Run quite impressively in 2021. She contested this race the following season and was going well two out before she was brought down, and had another bad experience falling at Punchestown. Over fences it didn’t work out at all but she looked much better back over hurdles when second to Zarak The Brave last time out.”

Barry Geraghty

“In the Grand Annual I like In Excelsis Deo. Harry Fry’s runner has been unlucky in his last two starts. He was going to challenge Harper’s Brook before unseating at the last and made a mistake in his previous start when he was rushed back in. I do think he can build on what he’s done and is a shout at a fancy price.

“Aside from the obvious one, I’ve looked at Ben Pauling’s Handstands who won the Sidney Banks. He’s progressed nicely and travelled well through that race. He’s a horse that can improve and I think he will with experience. Another fancy price each-way, dependent on where Ballyburn goes.

Watch the Off The Fence digital show on the At The Races YouTube channel

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