2021 Cheltenham Festival – Henderson Runner Can Fight Off Irish In Coral Cup
2021 Coral Cup Tips
This handicap is sandwiched between the race formerly known as the RSA Chase and the Champion Chase on Day 2 of the Cheltenham Festival. Lewis Tomlinson has tackled the race for racingtips.com
2021 Coral Cup overview
The Festival’s biggest field of twenty-six runners will head to post for the Coral Cup, an ultra-competitive Grade 3 handicap over 2m5f. The race can often produce a future top-level performer- Irish Champion hurdler Supasundae and two-time Liverpool Hurdle winner Whisper both won the Coral Cup en route to bigger and better things.
Key contenders – Damalisque
It’s the Edward Harty-trained Damalisque who heads the betting. The JP McManus-owned eight-year-old returned from two years off the track in fine form, reaching the frame in good Graded handicaps on every all three hurdles start this season. By far the most taking of those was his victory at Navan in January, barely having to be coaxed by Mark Walsh to win going away by seven-and-a-half lengths.
He couldn’t follow that up under a penalty barely a week later over three miles at the Dublin Racing Festival, but I don’t think he was benefitted by either the step up in trip or the rapid turnaround. His mark in Ireland is now 13lb higher than when winning at Navan, and he’ll be pitched into the deepest race of his career in this. Whilst he’s certainly respected, I think there may be better value elsewhere.
His profile is far from dissimilar to that of his main market rival, the Willie Mullins-trained Koshari. Like Damalisque, Koshari had been absent for more than two years before making a winning return at Cork this January. He finished sixth, three places behind Damalisque, at the Dublin Racing Festival but managed to catch the eye under a quiet ride, and given his powerful connections, it’s no surprise some have earmarked Koshari as a potential “plot horse.”
His stablemate Blue Lord (14-1) is certainly worth bearing in mind for a Festival handicap and I think there could be juice in his opening Irish mark of 142. He’s a strong-travelling type though, and I think a race like the County will see him get into a better rhythm and suit his style of racing more.
I find Grand Roi to be an intriguing contender. Noel & Valerie Moran paid £400,000 to take him from Nicky Henderson to Gordon Elliott in the summer after he won three times as a juvenile last season. He garnered his first win for new connections in admittedly weak Grade 2 against his own age group in December and built upon that with a fine second to the smart Bachasson in the Limestone Lad Hurdle.
Yet to make a handicap appearance, his current Irish mark of 145 could be workable if he’s able to take another step forward here, though will be a completely different test to anything he’s ever encountered before and it will be fascinating to see whether Grand Roi possess enough street-smarts to cope with this challenge.
The Shunter (16-1), last seen over hurdles when winning the Greatwood and Column Of Fire (14-1), a final flight faller when looking likely to go close in the Martin Pipe last season, also appear prominently in the current market.
On The Blind Side
Nicky Henderson is seeking a hat-trick in this race, and he has credible contenders in the shape of On The Blind Side and Craigneiche. I’d struggled to warm to On The Blind Side a a chaser, his jumping was always a touch awkward and lethargic for my liking, so I was glad to see Nicky Henderson revert to hurdles with him this season.
He’s enjoyed a fine campaign as well, arguably the best of his life, winning on two occasions and finishing a creditable third in the Rendlesham at Haydock earlier in the month. He’s certainly got the talent to cope with what will likely be near top-weight in a Coral Cup and his profile is similar to that of the stable’s 2019 winner William Henry, who was also rerouted from chasing to win this from a mark in the 150s.
I respect On The Blind Side and he’s a threat, but I’m keenest on his stablemate, Craigneiche. Craigneiche has only made the track on four occasions, but I’ve been impressed by him every time and I think he’s overpriced here.
The lightly-raced seven-year-old showed promise in his debut season last year, winning a bumper and a novice hurdle either side of a third-placed finish in a strong event at Newbury. Pitched into an Ascot handicap on his only start this season, Craigneiche was able to make a mockery of his opening mark of 127, winding his way up through the gears and clearing away to win by seven lengths. I’d be hopeful he has enough untapped potential to cope with the 12lb rise.
Dr Richard Newland’s Benson is another credible British contender. He’s done well over two-miles this season, having completed a hat-trick in a Listed handicap at Sandown in December. His fourth in Ascot’s Betfair Exchange Trophy prior to Christmas was another solid run and he remains on a mark of 137, so with the step up in trip looks likely to suit, he also has very solid claims.
Coral Cup Big-Race Verdict
Nicky Henderson has a fine recent record in this race and the unexposed CRAIGNEICHE looks capable of adding to his tally here. A winner of three of his four careeerstarts, the son of Flemensfirth looked to have much more up his sleeve when winning at Ascot last month and I think he’s got a fine chance of hitting the frame again here.