Cheltenham Festival Preview

Day One…

Supreme Novices Hurdle

An average renewal and unlikely we’ll see the likes of a Vautour, Douvan or Altior emerge from this heat. That said, you have to take the Mullins first string seriously given his record the last few years. Melon has been the talking horse of Closutton since Senewalk flopped and at 3/1 still seems reasonable value based on trends alone, if not form. The Twiston-Davies yard hasn’t been firing (Ballyandy) and with Mullins holding two of the other top five in the betting it looks like only Seven Barrows can deny another Irish victory. Though Crack Mome still holds significant potential and backed into single figures from 16/1 in the last couple of days, is clearly well regarded. Out of the two Henderson runners, the unexposed decent ex-flat performer, Beyond Conceit seems the better value option at 20/1 and rates the EW bet. He’s unbeaten and should have no problem getting up the hill given winning form over further – the kind of profile you want for a Supreme Novices – and Henderson knows how to win this.

Melon 5pts win 3/1
Beyond Conceit 1pt each-way 20/1

Kempton Races

Arkle Challenge Trophy

Altior is a potential superstar in another weak field and heir apparent to the great Sprinter Sacre. He simply needs to beat the fences to win. Value lies in the betting w/o each-way market and the Mullins/Ricci horse, Royal Caviar looks a bet to nothing at 9/2. He had the beating of Some Plan the last day and again, should only really need to get round to run into a top 4 finish – hopefully proving good enough to peg back Charbel.

Royal Caviar 2pts each-way 9/2 (w/o Altior)


Ultima Handicap Chase

A highly competitive renewal as ever and few without a chance. Holywell looks dangerously well handicapped and his Cheltenham record alone suggests a big run is due despite a poor season. That Cheltenham record is W-W-4-2. Bear in mind the 4th was in the Gold Cup and the 2nd was carrying 11st 12lb in this race last year. He now enjoys a big swing in the weights with the winner Un Temps Pour Tout and rates a confident each-way proposition (now 11/1 from 14/1 last night) – on the assumption Jonjo has laid him out for this. The favourite, Singlefarmpayment is justifiably so and has won over CD this season. But a 6-runner novice event is no big field handicap and you’d probably want more solid form in the book for the current price now available. Finally, at the odds, I like the look of Caid du Berlais. Paul Nicholls doesn’t hold anything like the strong hand he used to in Festival week but he has hinted about the horse coming back to the right kind of handicap mark and that is enough for me. Nicely weighted and boasting some excellent course form, the recent step up in trip at this stage of his career might now produce some improvement on the big stage and at 25/1 with Sporting Bet rates a value pick.

Holywell 2pts each-way 11/1
Caid du Berlais 1pt each-way 25/1


Champion Hurdle

Yet again, Tuesday’s showpiece race lacks superstar quality with the absence of Annie Power and Faugheen but it is still a fascinating contest and there are plenty who hold a chance. Yanworth heads the market and rightly so, given the overall record. Only Yorkhill has finished ahead of him over hurdles and he’s already finished ahead of a few of these this season despite not convincing with his jumping. He’s the most likely winner but feels opposable at the current odds. Moon Racer is the wildcard – proven course form and entirely unexposed he, like Brain Power, could gatecrash the top hurdles form on offer. But it’s another Henderson horse that appeals most. Buveur D’Air has been switched to hurdles halfway through this season and given the same ownership as the favourite that has to count for something. On the drift because of his trainer’s comments about the drying ground I prefer to look at that form last Spring and two great runs at Aintree and Cheltenham. 11/2 seems about right and unlike the favourite, he should jump his fences well in a difficult race to call.

I don’t think the Irish hurdling form is particularly strong this year and Petit Mouchoir has been weak in the market these last few days. The New One and My Tent Or Yours have had ample chances to win this contest and it’s hard to see either being first up the hill but both could easily run into a place if any of the top four or five in the market fail to fire.

Buveur D’Air 2 pts each-way 11/2


Mare’s Hurdle

One of the strongest renewals of this race for a while with three classy mares clashing. It’s hard to ignore the claims of all three as on their day they’ve all shown top form. Ruby Walsh has chosen Limini over Vroum Vroum Mag which is a huge decision indeed especially as the latter has looked such a superbly versatile animal – until a below-par performance at Doncaster the last day (still won mind!).

Despite the strong stable vibes, I can’t have Limini being half the price of the more experienced horse. At 9/2 Apples Jade is starting to look the best value of all. She never runs a bad race and has run a fair few great ones too including beating Vroum Vroum Mag earlier this season. Hard to see her out of the first three here and an each-way punt wouldn’t be discouraged – but Vroum Vroum Mag is the tentative pick at 3/1 to beat her stablemate – by forcing a pace and turning it into a stamina contest – and retain her title, following in the hooves of the great Quevega.

Vroum Vroum Mag 3pts win 3/1


National Hunt Chase

Despite looking a wide-open field, the last six contests have all gone to horses 8/1 or less in the market so focussing on the top four in the market looks profitable. It’s a straightforward choice of Ireland v UK and whichever form you are going to trust the most. A Genie In Abottle shapes like 4m will suit and has the right kind of profile as well as top jockey on board. Edwulf looks to have loads of ability but has failed to complete 4 of his 9 chases and that ratio is worrying for a stamina-sapping contest of this nature where jumping will be put under late pressure. Champers On Ice and Beware the Bear also look decent value and it’s difficult to guess which of these will trouble the Irish favourite the most. I’ll go with the former who was slightly disappointing last time when appearing to be outpaced but stayed on well like a horse that might be eating up the ground, Minella Rocco style, at the end of four miles.

A Genie In ABottle 3pts each-way 11/2
Champers On Ice 2pts each-way 8/1


Close Brothers Novices Handicap Chase

Plenty with chances but two of these novice handicappers appeal. Dropped in class, Tully East ran well at last year’s festival – finishing fourth in the Martin Pipe – and with a wily operator like Denis O’Regan on board will be given every chance to run into a place (12/1 from 20/1 last night). Hammersly Lake has ran very well behind the likes of Top Notch and Le Prezien this season. With some decent course form in the book including a sixth place in the Coral Cup a couple of seasons ago off 4lb higher, I think 18/1 represents a decent bet.

Tully East 1pt each-way 12/1
Hammersly Lake 1pt each-way 18/1


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