1:30 SKY BET SUPREME NOVICES’ HURDLE
After a run of five Willie Mullins-trained favourites, the Supreme Novice Hurdle looks like a much more open race this year. That said it is not unforeseeable for Mullins to continue the trend with Klassical Dream, who was a late confirmation for this, with the likely soft ground proving significant. He improved significantly from his first to second runs in Ireland when taking a Grade 1 at the Dublin Racing Festival and he may well improve again.
That said, the British have a strong hand. Al Dancer has been at the top of the market since his Betfair Hurdle romp while the same owner’s Angels Breath has huge potential, despite a defeat last time out. Interestingly the Tolworth Hurdle first and second produced the first and second in this race last year, and it may do so again with Elixir De Nutz and GRAND SANCY. At the prices, the latter-mentioned is preferred. He was only beaten a half length in Sandown but significantly he built on that effort to win in open company, in the Grade 2 Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton. He beat Vision Des Flos that day, and that runner had previously finished second to Buveur D’Air and subsequently went on to win his own Grade 2. That looks real solid form for a novice and Paul Nicholls is adamant a big field and a faster pace will help the son of Diamond Boy.
SELECTION: GRAND SANCY ALTERNATIVE: ELIXIR DE NUTZ
2:10 RACING POST ARKLE CHALLENGE TROPHY NOVICES’ CHASE
This looks a weak Arkle with only one Grade 1 winner over fences in the contest. That one Grade 1 winner, HARDLINE, could be the answer. Gordon Elliott’s chaser has been well backed in recent weeks and it’s easy to see why. His form to beat Us And Them at Navan earlier in the season ties him closely with Le Richebourg, the long-time favourite for this race, who would likely be a 6/4 shot if injury hadn’t ruled him out. Hardline, currently a 6/1 chance, won his Grade 1 over two miles and three furlongs at Limerick over Christmas when he beat Getabird. That runner is a serious proposition on a right handed track and although he did make a crucial mistake at the last, Hardline was bang there to take advantage. Coming back to two miles on soft ground could be perfect for the son of Arcadio.
Lalor’s win at this course was one of the most impressive performances from a novice chaser all season but he has since been well beaten in the Henry VIII at Sandown while Glen Forsa wasn’t even considered for this until he beat Kalashnikov at Kempton. At bigger prices Ornua shouldn’t be discounted given he finished in front of Lalor at Sandown. Knocknanuss is worth considering as well. His second to Master Dino at Fontwell earlier in the year is fair form considering he had to concede 5lbs to that highly-rated French raider.
SELECTION: HARDLINE ALTERNATIVE: KNOCKNANUSS
2:40 ULTIMA HANDICAP CHASE
Nothing really jumps off the page in this race, including the long-time favourite Give Me A Copper who has potential but was essentially well beaten on his only start this season. BEWARE THE BEAR finished fourth in this off a 1lb lower mark this season and he might be worth chancing. He has run just twice since, finishing fourth in the Ladbrokes Trophy and then winning over this course and distance on New Years Day. That was his second run after a wind operation and connections changed tactics with him, allowing him to make all which he seemed to really enjoy. He has probably been trained for this since and looks sure to run another big race.
Noble Endeavor is another with good form from this race. He was third two seasons ago off a 3lb higher mark. He disappointed on his only run this season but would have a huge chance if back to his best and the excellent Davy Russell takes the ride.
SELECTION: BEWARE THE BEAR ALTERNATIVE: NOBLE ENDEAVOR
3:30 UNIBET CHAMPION HURDLE
This is one of the most anticipated Champion Hurdles in recent times and it can go to APPLE'S JADE, by far and away the most impressive hurdler over any distance this season. Gordon Elliott’s mare has been sensational, winning Grade 1s over two miles, two and a half miles and three miles. She has won her four races by a cumulative winning distance of 73 lengths and literally, nothing has been able to get close to her. When she was taken on for the lead by Wicklow Brave in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, it pushed her to go faster and allowed her to produce her best ever performance, beating dual Grade 1 winner Supasundae by 20 lengths, while Wicklow Brave finished legless, beaten by 41 lengths for his troubles. Everything has gone right for Apple’s Jade and since travelling to Cheltenham, all the vibes have been good which is important as her defeat in last year's Mares Hurdle was put down to her being in season. Her record at the track is good, the tactics are simple and she gets the 7lb mares’ allowance. She is going to be very, very hard to beat.
Buveur D’Air earns obvious respect as the two-time reigning champion but his season pales in comparison to Apple’s Jade, given he was beaten by his much unheralded stablemate Verdana Blue at Kempton. Laurina has plenty of potential but that equates to nowhere near the price she is being offered at and for each-way alternatives you are better off looking down the market. Melon and Sharjah are worth considering but Gavin Cromwell’s Espoir D’Allen could run a nice race. He has only been beaten once over hurdles and he is somewhat similar to Laurina in terms of potential, except you’re getting a much bigger price.
SELECTION: APPLE’S JADE ALTERNATIVE: ESPOIR D’ALLEN
4:10 OLBG MARES’ HURDLE
Benie Des Dieux has attracted a lot of attention since she was declared by both Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins each as their best chance of the Festival, but at odds-on now, she looks worth taking on. She came into this race under the radar last season and was there to take advantage of a pace collapse, staying on best to defeat Midnight Tour and Apple’s Jade. Midnight Tour was a 145-rated mare then and you simply can’t say that Apple’s Jade was operating anywhere near the level she has been at this season, with her trainer well documenting that she was in season at Cheltenham and again at Punchestown where Benie Des Dieux won again. With that in mind, her rating of 151 looks a fair assessment and if it is, she only has 1lb in hand of stablemate LIMINI, who ran right up to a mark of 150 when fourth in the Grade 2 Galmoy Hurdle won by Presenting Percy. Benie Des Dieux hasn’t been seen all season and many punters may be wrongly comparing her to Quevega, who was able to show up here first time out and win. Quevega is a special case though, and Benie Des Dieux doesn’t near as much in hand of her rivals as she did.
Of the home team, Mia’s Storm could run a big race. Alan King’s mare only had 3lbs to find on official ratings and could benefit from a strong pace in this big field. She is a really strong stayer and has likely been trained especially for this all season.
SELECTION: LIMINI ALTERNATIVE: MIA’S STORM
With that in mind, her rating of 151 looks a fair assessment and if it is, she only has 1lb in hand of stablemat Limini, who ran right up to a mark of 150 when fourth in the Grade 2 Galmoy Hurdle won by Presenting Percy.
4:50 CLOSE BROTHERS NOVICES’ HANDICAP CHASE
This looks wide open but it might be worth taking a decent price about LOUGH DERG SPIRIT, Nicky Henderson’s sole entry in the race. Henderson came close to winning this last season with Rather Be and Lough Derg Spirit has a similarly unexposed profile. He was disappointing in the two-and-a-half mile handicap chase at Kempton on St Stephen’s Day, his penultimate run, but he bounced back from that to win at Ludlow, running 12 lengths away from a subsequent winner. He also ran a really eyecatching race in the Martin Pipe last season, outpaced off the bend before staying on nicely to finish sixth.
Others to consider are Azzerti, Roaring Bull and Huntsman Son. Azzerti is first reserve so will need a bit of luck. He was running a big race until he fell in the race won by JLT Chase hope Kildisart here in January. Roaring Bull produced easily his best career performance when winning by 14 lengths last time and could go well for Jack Kennedy and Gordon Elliott. Huntsman Son has a 5lb penalty for his win over Arkle runner Slate House last time out - that probably underestimates him still and he has good course form. He comes from a small stable so may well be underrated.
SELECTION: LOUGH DERG SPIRIT ALTERNATIVE: HUNTSMAN SON
5:30 NATIONAL HUNT CHALLENGE CUP AMATEUR RIDERS’ NOVICES’ CHASE
In recent seasons it has paid to follow Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott in this contest, with the pair accounting for five of the previous eight renewals of this race. Mullins has a strong candidate in Ballyward, the likely favourite, who looked good at Naas last time out, although Paul Nolan’s Discorama, who was bang in contention when falling, reopposes today.
Elliott has won this three times and although his main hope Champagne Classic hasn’t made it to the Festival, his GUN DIGGER shouldn’t be underestimated. He disappointed on his previous run but prior to that he looked a promising chaser, especilly on his Leopardstown win where he beat subsequent Dublin Racing Festival scorer Whisperinthebreeze by all of 18 lengths. Elliott clearly knows what it takes to win this and Lisa O’Neill does as well, the pair having teamed up to score with Tiger Roll two seasons ago.
Impulsive Star finished fourth to Rathvinden in this race last season and he comes back here a better horse (on ratings). At 14/1 he looks worth backing each way.
SELECTION: GUN DIGGER ALTERNATIVE: IMPULSIVE STAR