1:30 SKY BET SUPREME NOVICES’ HURDLE (GRADE 1)
Willie Mullins has won this race three times in the previous five years and so Getabird will be the choice of many to get their Cheltenham Festival off to a winning start. However, he does look a short price now, at around the 7/4 mark, given that he has only had two runs over hurdles and that he has to face 19 rivals.
Kalashnikov (4/1) is priced up as the main British hope after his impressive Betfair Hurdle win, but it might be worth taking a chance on SUMMERVILLE BOY (pictured), who actually beat Amy Murphy’s horse in the Tolworth Hurdle in January. That was a really decent performance by Tom George’s gelding, completed in a decent time and, at around 10/1, he may be slightly overlooked for this.
Paloma Blue is another Irish horse worth mentioning, given there was no shame in his defeat to Samcro at the Dublin Racing Festival. However the second vote goes to First Flow, another one for the home team, who has impressed on each of his previous two runs, which both came on heavy ground.
SELECTION: SUMMERVILLE BOY ALTERNATIVE: FIRST FLOW
2:10 RACING POST ARKLE CHALLENGE TROPHY NOVICES’ CHASE (GRADE 1)
Only five runners but an intriguing race, and it should come down to the top three. Footpad has carried all before him this season and already has two Grade 1 wins over fences to his name, the second of which came over PETIT MOUCHOIR. Henry de Bromhead’s horse has five lengths to find with Footpad, but there is scope for him to find that improvement given the Leopardstown race was his first appearance in 108 days and especially given that he clouted the first two fences. Of course he will have to jump better, but it was pleasing that his fencing improved as the race went on and he is bound to be a fitter horse now. It is also worth pointing out that he beat Footpad on each of the three times the pair met over hurdles last season.
Out of the three, Saint Calvados may well be the biggest beneficiary of the rain that has fallen. Harry Whittington’s five-year-old put up a serious performance at Warwick, pulling all of 22 lengths clear of a useful yardstick in Diego Du Charmil, and in doing so, recorded a very good time. He is not to be underestimated.
SELECTION: PETIT MOUCHOIR ALTERNATIVE: SAINT CALVADOS
He stays really well, he handles soft ground and he is proven around Cheltenham - it would be no surprise to see him run big at a huge price.
2:50 ULTIMA HANDICAP CHASE
This 18-runner handicap chase is typically competitive and, interestingly, features no Irish-trained runner. Coo Star Sivola is many people’s answer to the puzzle after his impressive Exeter win. That said, the soft ground opens this race up even more and it might be worth looking down the market. It might be worth chancing COGRY, priced up at around 20/1. The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained horse is one of the most exposed horses in the field but crucially he has really good form over this course and distance, courtesy of his four-length win over Singlefarmpayment, who reopposes today, earlier in the season. Since then Cogry has acquitted himself well off a 5lb higher mark - finishing second in the Classic Chase at Warwick and warming up for this with a decent third to Casse Tete over an inadequate two and a half miles at Warwick. He stays really well, he handles soft ground and he is proven around Cheltenham - it would be no surprise to see him run big.
The other one worth mentioning is Peter Bowen’s Minella Daddy, who has a completely different profile to Cogry. The eight-year-old was a useful novice last season, winning twice, progressing to a mark of 145. He was a little bit disappointing when well beaten on his comeback but he put that run behind him with a really good second to Regal Encore at Ascot. He was only raised 2lb by the handicapper for that effort and so he gets in here off a mark of 139. Most of his best form has come at Ascot which is a slight worry but this is his first run at Cheltenham, so he is here with a clean slate. He looks competitively handicapped at the very least, with the scope to improve again on this, just his eighth start over fences.
SELECTION: COGRY ALTERNATIVE: MINELLA DADDY
Buveur D'Air goes for back-to-back Champion Hurdles
3:30 UNIBET CHAMPION HURDLE CHALLENGE TROPHY (GRADE 1)
It has been hard to get truly excited about the Champion Hurdle, purely because of the lack of competition facing Buveur D’Air. That said, Faugheen back at Cheltenham, with Ruby on, does at least provide a spark. And a field of 13 runners is probably more than was expected.
It’s Buveur D’Air’s race to lose, as he bids to become the first horse since Hardy Eustace to win back-to-back Champion Hurdles. Nicky Henderson’s seven-year-old was good in this race last year and is probably a better horse now, in a worse race. We’re not going to get rich backing him so it might be worth having a go at the ‘Betting without’ market. ELGIN, the Greatwood Hurdle winner, could be the one to outrun his odds of 16/1 (8/1 in the ‘Betting without’ market). He was last seen winning a trial race at Wincanton, where he beat Ch’Tibello comfortably. That form in itself is nothing special, nor was the time, but it is at least as good as the recent efforts of two or three of the horses priced below him - like Melon and Yorkhill. Alan King elected to supplement the son of Duke Of Marmalade at a cost of £20,000 which is something of a tip in itself given the gelding’s progressive profile.
Willie Mullins runs four in his bid to win the race for a fifth time. On jockey bookings you might say Wicklow Brave is the outsider of the four but that is a way too simplistic view. Patrick Mullins gave the enigmatic nine-year-old an excellent ride to win the Punchestown Champion Hurdle last season and, in a way, the same applies to him as it does to Buveur D’Air, as in he ran well in this race last season when completely missing the start and he comes back here now probably a better horse, in a lesser race. If he behaves himself at the start, he could put up a big performance.
SELECTION: ELGIN ALTERNATIVE: WICKLOW BRAVE
4:10 OLGB MARES’ HURDLE (GRADE 1)
This revolves around APPLE'S JADE, last season’s game winner, who has improved again this season, and will start odds-on. Gordon Elliott’s mare is ultra consistent and, remarkably, already has seven Grade 1 wins to her name - the most impressive of which came this season when she put nine lengths between herself and the classy Nichols Canyon, over today’s trip, at Fairyhouse. The one doubt you’d have is the length of time between this race and her last as she has been beaten twice when returning from a break but that is a small qualm to hold and, all things being equal, she should make it back-to-back wins.
Benie Des Dieux is undoubtedly a talented sort and, though she hasn’t jumped a hurdle this season, she was really impressive when accounting for Asthuria over possibly an inadequate two miles last time. La Bague Au Roi (pictured) is another deserving of respect. She bolted up on her previous run at Aintree and. on official ratings, she actually only has to find 4lb with Apple’s Jade. She was a little disappointing when only seventh behind Let’s Dance in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle last season but may well have found the shorter trip too sharp.
SELECTION: APPLE’S JADE ALTERNATIVE: LA BAGUE AU ROI
4:50 NATIONAL HUNT CHALLENGE CUP AMATUER RIDERS’ NOVICES’ CHASE
Gordon Elliott has won this race twice in the last three years and he looks to have a solid chance of making it three from four. He holds the first two in the market - Jury Duty and MOSSBACK - which are his only two entries. There isn’t much to split the pair, especially on the evidence of their meeting at Naas, where Mossback was alongside Jury Duty just before falling at the last. Mossback was in receipt of 8lb that day, which is significant, but he may well have had the measure of Jury Duty at the time, who actually got collared on the run-in by Moulin A Vent. Significantly, Mossback turned the form around with that runner on his next start at Navan, when chasing home his useful stablemate Monbeg Notorious. That was just Mossback’s fourth start and he appears to be progressing well. He handles soft ground and Lisa O’Neill, who was excellent on Tiger Roll when winning this race last year, takes the ride.
Of the others, Ms Parfois looks a solid option. She has progressed well for Anthony Honeyball and there was no shame in her defeat to RSA Chase hope Black Corton last time out.
SELECTION: MOSSBACK ALTERNATIVE: MS PARFOIS
Mister Whitaker has only had four runs and he sneaks in here off a mark 137, with scope for a lot more improvement. He looks like one of the bets of the day.
5:30 CLOSE BROTHERS NOVICES’ HANDICAP CHASE
The two Irish-trained horses at the top of this market - Any Second Now and De Plotting Shed - are interesting and a case can be made for both being well handicapped. However, both have been well found by the market and. at nearly twice the price, MISTER WHITAKER makes far more appeal. The case for Mick Channon’s horse is rock-solid. He was last seen winning in good style over two miles and five furlongs on the new course here in January. The ground was similar to what he will encounter here and the horse that he beat, Theatre Territory, ran a huge race to finish third to Master Dee in the Betdaq Handicap Chase at Kempton. Mister Whitaker has only had four runs over fences and he sneaks in here off a mark of 137, with scope for a lot more improvement. He looks like one of the bets of the day.
Of course you can make a case for the majority of the 20-runner field. Testify has done little wrong, winning all three of his chases, but he has actually only beaten five runners, when you take into account horses that fell. The 2016 Martin Pipe winner Ibis Du Rheu is an interesting outsider, but he disappointed on his comeback run. Nicky Henderson’s Rather Be hacked up on his previous run and gets to run off an unchanged mark so he should run well.
SELECTION: MISTER WHITAKER ALTERNATIVE: RATHER BE
GET CHELTENHAM TIPS, RACECARDS & RESULTS EACH DAY ON THEIRISHFIELD.IE