Cheltenham Festival 2011 

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By Dylan Jenear ValueChecker

Chicago Grey & Alfa Beat Chase National Hunt Glory

In recent years Irish raiders have been well touted for the National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup, the opening race on the second day of the Cheltenham Festival. Indeed, no horse from the Emerald Isle has emerged victorious in this 4m contest during the past decade. However, in this year’s renewal the five-strong challenge from across the pond looks particularly strong.


Chicago Grey
© Grossick Racing Photography

Chicago Grey

Alfa Beat heads them, and looks set to go off favourite. The seven-year-old looked a chaser going places last summer, winning five races between June and September, culminating in the valuable Kerry National at Listowel. He has yet to race beyond 3m 1f, but the gelding shapes as though he will stay, plus the drying ground is very much in his favour.

Chicago Grey, representing Gordon Elliott, is the highest rated of this 17-strong field on official figures and is very tempting. He wasn’t beaten far in a Grade One at Leopardstown last time and had run well at this track in his three previous starts, including when chasing home RSA Chase favourite Time For Rupert on his penultimate start. He is effective on a sound surface and, if he puts in a clear round, he should go mighty close.

However, those towards the head of the betting have not enjoyed much luck race in recent times. Only two horses since 2000 have prevailed in this amateur riders’ novices’ chase at odds of 8-1 or under, and seven of the last 10 winners have returned at a double-figure price. And if there is to be a surprise victor this year, it could be Captain Americo, who is outstanding value at around the 33-1 mark.

I’m surprised that James Ewart’s charge is available at such a big price. The nine-year-old, who was formerly in the care of Andrew Turnell, was below his best during the 2009/10 campaign, but he returned to action with a victory in a competitive handicap over hurdles at Kelso. That race was over 3m 3f, so he clearly possesses plenty of stamina, while he also relishes good ground.

Since then, Captain Americo has scored over fences in a beginners’ event at Newcastle and was far from disgraced last time out when beaten 11 lengths into third behind RSA Chase contender Wayward Prince in a Grade 2 at Wetherby. If he gets round alright, I can see him running a big race.

Recommendation: Captain Americo (each-way)


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