Champion Bumper Preview. Vic... Vic.. Victory.
WEATHERBYS CHAMPION BUMPER (A STANDARD OPEN NATIONAL HUNT FLAT RACE) GRADE 1(CLASS 1) (4-6yo) Winner £34,170 23 runners 2m110y Good To Soft RUK. 5.15 Wednesday.

Outside of the Champion hurdle, this is my favourite race of the week. Appreciate not many will agree, but Bumpers are niche races, followed by relatively few, but a small cult seems to form around those who enjoy this race. 

And my opinion is that this is the best crop in many years. My early prejudice is that the Irish form is stronger than the English this season, but invariably there is at least one English horse that runs a massive race in this event.

In racecard order (at the time of typing Willie Mullins has the top three in the market, and jockeys are not official though at one of the preview evenings Patrick Mullins, who will have first pick, indicated a very marginal preference for Black Hercules).

IN RACECARD ORDER:

1. ASSAM BLACK. Landed the odds in a minor event on third start at Taunton after two placed efforts. Surprised if good enough. 33/1.

2. BLACK HERCULES. If Patrick Mullins chooses this well named horse, it will not be a surprise. He's a magnificent physical specimen. A gelded son of Heron Island and he's the sort you could see coming back here for many years, he will make some chaser if all goes well. On first start under rules beat Cillian's Return before following up easily on soft ground at Gowran. The drying ground might be a slight concern, but this horse will be well backed both on appearances and if Mullins decides to ride. A decent 6/1 favourite, but I think strictly on form others make as much appeal.

3. DEFINITELY RED. The mount of AP McCoy, completed a double when beating Tea for Two at Newbury on heavy ground. The form is fair, but I doubt strong enough. Outside frame chance at 25/1 but not for me.

4. EL NAMOOSE. John Ferguson's Authorised gelding comes straight here from just the one run, at Musselburgh, a smooth win that day. That was on decent ground, and while it's hard to think the form is particularly impressive, nevertheless the trainer knows what it takes to be competitive in this race and improvement is anticipated. At 16/1 an e/w player if the principals don't run to form.

5. GOLANTILLA. Barry Connell reportedly bought this horse last year with this race in mind. Third to Briar Hill in this race last year, so has valuable course experience, and will have been trained for the day. Thrashed on reappearance, though, by one of today's rivals, Killultagh Vic, but will improve for this sounder surface and having the run under his belt. I just can't see him turning around the 16 length deficit though. 12/1.

6. JOSHUA LANE. Although a maiden, a close second to today's rival Shaneshill from the Mullins camp was promising enough before another good second to Seven Nation Army. An outsider but the booking of Barry Geraghty catches the eye and a decent run would not surprise but just out of the frame for me. 33/1

7. KILLULTAGH VIC. Given that Golantilla was beaten under 10 lengths by Briar Hill in this race last year, it would be hard to see this horse, who beat Golantilla 16 lengths last month, out of the frame. There were (as above) excuses for Golantilla last time, but such was the way this son of Old Vic cleared away in the final furlong. By all accounts the second of the Mullins string, but I think Patrick might have fallen for the 'looker' over the formbook, and this horse is my idea of the Winner here. 8/1 Generally.

8. MOUNTAIN OF MOURNE. Followed a Wincanton heavy ground win with a 3rd to Definitely Red. No reason to think this horse will turn the tables. 100/1 for a reason.

9. NECK OR NOTHING. Changed hands since running 8th here at the November meeting, following a Punchestown win. Jumped the path here last time, stumbled and lost all chance. That was on good ground, so the mix of course experience and proven on the ground, this might be the most overpriced horse in the race, and can get in amongst the principals. At 25/1 a genuine e/w contender.

10. OSCARTEEA: A Chepstow good ground winner before being behind Seven Nation Army and Joshua Lane. Shouldn't be good enough. 40/1.

11. OUR KAEMPFER. Really got the hang of racing when third to Red Sherlock here in November and entitled to come on for that.33/1 is massive for Charlie Longsdon's runner and worth a look in the market. A player, though i just prefer the unlucky Neck or Nothing from the same race.

12. SEVEN NATION ARMY. Completed a double at Ascot before flopping in heavy ground next time. Put a line through that and an outsider with a squeak, but others preferred. 33/1.

13. SHANESHILL. A very easy winner when last seen at Fairyhouse on decent ground in November, but has been too well found in the market at around 8/1 for me to get involved in what appears on paper to be the Mullins third string.

14. SILVER CONCORDE. The first of two Dermot Weld contenders. The debut third to Jezki on debut looks pretty impressive now.... (penned after the new Champion was crowned!)... but didn't get off the mark until third start when scoring at Fairyhouse over Christmas, a player for sure, though i prefer marginally the yard's other contender. 14/1.

15. STACK THE DECK. A Limerick winner before running in to Black Hercules, beaten 11+ lengths and I don't see why he'd turn the tables. 50/1.

16. THIRD ACT. The Tizzards know what's required for this, but a narrow Kempton heavy ground success on third start really doesn't look strong enough. Opposable 25/1.

17 VALUE AT RISK. Second to Very Wood on debut, who has gone on to win over hurdles and be a few lengths off the Tullow Tank in Graded Company, and then beat the highly touted Windsor Park, before following up at Leopardstown, this Kayf Tara offspring looks a major player. Probably put away for this and the form is all rock solid. A Philip Fenton winner, given the trainer's well documented recent woes, would be the sort of story Cheltenham makes a habit of delivering, and this one would not surprise. 14/1 is a good price for e/w players.

18. VIGIL. Dermot Weld's other runner, and an electric success in a good time, last time, signalled real progress, after a 2nd to Cillian's Return (who was previously behind Black Hercules). Pat Smullen is of course the stable's flat jockey, and it's fascinating to see him take the mount here. Another big player 9/1.

19. ZEROSHADESOFGREY. Entitled to progress from Catterick and Doncaster minor events wins, but up against it here. 40/1.

20. IZZINI. Three minor event successes, two at Sedgefield, on paper nowhere near good enough, but the shrewd Crawford team won the Aintree bumper last year and know what's required. however, might be more interesting back in Ireland at Punchestown in one of their spring Festival races. one for the notebook though if running first five or six here. Gets a helpful 7lbs mares allowance. 33/1.

21. COYABA. Towcester and Ffos Llas wins before unsighted here on New Year's Day. 66/1.

22. MODUS. Two from two, including winning the New Year's Day bumper impressively last time. on that form entitled to run a big race here, as it has been a good trial in the past. on paper the strongest of the English challengers, but it's a tough tough race for a 4 year old to win and 10/1 is probably only fair in consequence.

23. ROYAL VACATION. A modest fourth of nine on only racecourse appearance at Ascot. Impossible for me to fancy on that evidence. 40/1 looks short.

VERDICT:

A tremendous race, and seven or eight genuine contenders. The selection is KILLULTAGH VIC, (e/w 8/1). The dismissal of a fine yardstick in Golantilla was impossible not to like last time, and that's the form setter for me. Of course Silver Concorde's third to Jezki looks amazing now, but Jezki was a baby at that time, and if anything I'm more drawn to the solid claims of VALUE AT RISK.

Very Wood has franked the form in much higher company, while Windsor Park was rumoured to be a special Mullins horse when Value at Risk took care of him. Black Hercules is a huge danger, and Modus is interesting but only a 4yo, so VIGIL can complete the frame. Clocked a good figure last time, and looked to have much more to come.

Our Kampfaer and Neck or Nothing come out of the race here in November and at big prices should give supporters a decent run for their money.

1. KILLULTAGH VIC 8/1
2. Vigil 9/1
3. Value at Risk 14/1

Thanks for reading and good luck. Hopefully if you've enjoyed this, feel free to follow me @jimgilch on twitter, and my regular racing blog is linked from there.