The Inside Track on the Champion Bumper
Having won the last two renewals of this race Willie Mullins has assembled a fearsome squad for his bid to train a ninth Champion Bumper victor and he dominates the front end of the market.
Black Hercules, Shaneshill and Killultagh Vic all have obvious chances and while Patrick Mullins (who has ridden all of the yard’s entries in all of their bumper starts) looks likely to partner the first named of that trio, Patrick didn’t ride Briar Hill last year and it’s hard to be confident about which Mullins raider has the strongest claims.
Bookmakers and punters alike are fully aware of the Mullins stranglehold on this race and it’s, therefore, unlikely that any of his main contenders will be overpriced, so it makes sense to turn elsewhere in search of a value bet.
Golantilla has been very popular ante-post, but last year’s third wasn’t good enough then and after a disappointing reappearance run behind Killultagh Vic at Naas, he doesn’t interest me here.
Dermot Weld’s Vigil won nicely at Leopardstown on the Irish Hennessy card, but he has since had a setback and even if he does make it to the race, his interrupted preparation would be enough to put me off him.
Although the Irish have a great record in this race, two of the last four renewals have been won by British-trained horses, so with none of the leading Irish candidates taking my fancy I’d rather look at the home challenge.
John Ferguson’s El Namoose has a big home reputation and could go well, but the Musselburgh race he won on his sole start probably wasn’t particularly strong, so my preference would be for a couple of geldings who have already run well at Cheltenham.
MODUS, who bids to emulate Cue Card by winning this race as a four-year-old, definitely deserves to be on the shortlist after hacking up by 13 lengths in the listed junior bumper here on New Year’s Day.
The ground was barely raceable that day so the form may not be that reliable with some of his opponents probably unable to run up to their best on saturated ground. However, having said that going that testing may not have been ideal for Modus either as his young trainer Robert Stephens
had actually considered pulling him out due to the deteriorating ground conditions.
The flat-bred son of Motivator had already shown that he is equally at home under less testing conditions when winning at Exeter on his debut so he should have no difficulties with the likely going here and he shapes as though the extra two furlongs he now faces will not inconvenience him either.
It would be a huge achievement for Stephens to train a Cheltenham Festival winner in his first season with a licence, but this former pupil of Philip Hobbs, Sir Mark Prescott and William Haggas has a realistic chance of doing just that with Modus.
I also think the bumper run over this course and distance at the Open Meeting won by Red Sherlock (who has gone on to win three races over hurdles since) represents very strong form and I was taken with the third that day Our Kaempfer, who shaped really well when beaten by one and three-quarter lengths.
He has already proven his effectiveness under these conditions and having looked fairly green on his two starts in the autumn, I’d still expect there to be plenty of improvement to come from him.
Charlie Longsdon is reportedly sweet on this brother to the smart Clondaw Kaempfer, so it would come as no surprise if the gelding is able to run into a place and at his current odds he makes plenty of each-way appeal.
Alternative: Our Kaempfer