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Cheltenham Festival tips: Mark Howard Portfolio February 22

Mark Howard adds another bet to his Festival portfolio and it's a Willie Mullins-trained runner who is late addition to his Cheltenham team.

Cheltenham Festival tips: Mark Howard Portfolio

Gentleman De Mee to win any race at the Festival at 16/1

Sky Bet odds | Paddy Power | Betfair Sportsbook

Already advised:

While neither Good Ball or Southfield Harvest managed to get their heads in front over the weekend, the pair managed to hit the frame in their respective races and will hopefully provide the portfolio with a run for its money next month. Unfortunately, Fury Road is staying at home next month following his narrow defeat in the Boyne Hurdle.

The entries for the handicaps at the Festival are due to be published later this week. Ireland’s champion trainer Willie Mullins will inevitably be well represented and I am keeping my fingers crossed the lightly raced GENTLEMAN DE MEE will be amongst them.

The ex-French gelding is currently priced at 25/1 with most firms for the Grade 1 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle on day two of the meeting. The fact the five year old was removed from the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle field last week suggests his connections are thinking of stepping him up in distance next month, which could bring the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle into the equation.

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Previously trained across the English Channel by Guillaume Macaire, Gentleman De Mee raced twice in his native country finishing runner-up on both occasions. Beaten a couple of lengths on his first racecourse appearance at Senonnes (2m 2f) in a conditions hurdle in the Autumn of 2019, he reappeared three weeks later and filled the same position at Compiegne in a similar event. Despite being headed approaching the final hurdle, the son of Saint Des Saints kept on in determined fashion and was only a length and a half in arrears of Magrudy. The winner has scored twice since and been Grade 1 placed at Auteuil, while the third was runner-up in a Grade 3 chase at the same venue in September last year.

A week later, J.P.McManus signed a cheque for €280,000 at the Arqana November Sale to secure Gentleman De Mee and he joined the Closutton team. Reported to have had a minor setback this Autumn, he belied an absence of 460 days to win a two miles maiden hurdle at Naas this month. Backed as though defeat was out of the question in the eighteen strong field, the 2/7 favourite dictated from the outset and was in control from flagfall. Pushed out for a four and a half lengths win under Mark Walsh, those in behind lacked star quality but were dismissed with the minimum of fuss by the strapping five year old.

Willie Mullins commented on at the weekend: “He was very good for a horse who’d been off the track for so long. He could be anything. Because of his training difficulties in the autumn I didn’t have him as prepared as I could have for that run. With Cheltenham in mind, we said we’d run and let him take his chance. He’s entitled to go there with the improvement he could make.”

Being a half-brother to the EBF Final and Grand Sefton Chase winner As De Mee, he is bred to appreciate further than the minimum trip and can only improve for his first outing since November 2019. While some may point to Gentleman De Mee’s lack of jumping experience, it is worth remembering that stablemate Saint Roi won the County Hurdle last season with only three runs over obstacles to his name beforehand. Plus, horses from the Macaire academy rarely suffer with jumping frailties.

Finally, Mullins will be chasing his fourth victory in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle thanks to Sir Des Champs (2011), Don Poli (2014) and Killultagh Vic (2015). The first two named plied their trade in France during the early part of their respective careers and Gentleman De Mee looks a similar type.

Depending on what rating he is allocated, it is therefore hoped Gentleman De Mee will be steered towards the final race of the Festival rather than the Grade 1 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle on Wednesday. To be on the safe side though, I suggest the 16/1 on offer with William Hill for ANY RACE at the Festival is the wisest policy.

Preview posted 0945 GMT on 22/02/2021

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