Four days of frantic action kicks off at 1.30 this afternoon, with the Cheltenham Festival gorge-fest and the official going report contains the word ‘heavy’ for the first time in two decades.
Legend dictates that this kind of ground traditionally favours the runners from across the water (the phrase ‘bog Irish’ comes from somewhere), but, believe that or not, it’ll be tough out there and stamina will be at a premium.
As ever, the centrepiece of the opening day is the Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy at 3.30, in which Buveur D’Air tries to repeat its victory romp of a year ago. To be frank, Nicky Henderson’s charge has form vastly superior to anything else that lines up, which explains a price of 8-13 and, as we are not in the habit of recommending odds-on shots, we are content to watch and enjoy.
Proceedings start with the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at 1.30 and Willie Mullins can get his attack off to a fine start with the favourite Getabird. Mightily impressive in winning both hurdle starts to date and with no ground worries, this 6-y-o should be backed at 2-1.
We also recommend an each way bet on the Gordon Elliott trained Mengli Khan at a more palatable 16-1. Beaten by Getabird last time out, this 5-y-o has three things going for it that should bring it a lot closer to the fav today, namely a 6lb weight pull, a first time tongue tie and the return of Jack (Boy Wonder) Kennedy to the saddle.
The Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase at 2.10 has a field of just 5 runners, with most potential challengers frightened off by the presence of the favourite Footpad, another Willie gem. Turning out to be an even better chaser than it was over hurdles, this 6-y-o is 3 from 3 over the larger obstacles and has yet to come off the bridle, including when thrashing today’s rival Petit Mouchoir last time out.
Harry Whittington’s entry Saint Calvados has been impressive in winning all three starts since coming over from France, but we feel that those it has beaten are not of the standard of Footpad’s victims, so we recommend a bet on the fav at Evens.
Our Irish friends will not be winning the third race of the day, the Ultima Handicap Chase at 2.50, as the 18 runners are all English trained – so there.
Favourite at a niggardly 5-1 is Coo Star Sivola and, win or lose, that price must be the worst value of the day. We prefer to go each way on Shantou Flyer (16-1) and Wakanda (20-1), the former because it has already beaten the favourite recently and is 8lbs better off today and the latter ‘cos it tries hard and stays really well, proclivities one needs in these conditions, don’t you know.
The OLBG Mares Hurdle at 4.10 has attracted a field of 9, with Apple’s Jade the hot jolly at 4-7. Rated 158, maybe this mare is as unbeatable as the betting suggests, but the shape of the race prompts an each way ‘steal’ in the form of La Bague Au Roi at 15-2. Second in on official marks (154) and well clear of the rest, Sir Warren’s charge is unbeaten this season, has improved with every run and, in these conditions, the step back in trip is no bad thing.
The Amateurs have their day in the rain at 4.50 with the National Hunt Challenge Cup over a gruelling 4 miles. Cautious each way bets on Mossback at 6-1 and Keeper Hill at 14s should keep you interested.
The day ends with the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase, with a field of just 19 going to post. Understandably it’s 6-1 the field and our two against it (each way) are Barney Dwan at 10-1 and Report To Base at 16-1.
Barney has everything going for it today and is improving fast, while RTB has progressed ‘under the radar’ and is on a very competitive mark.
Back tomorrow, when we will not be reviewing the Cross Country race.
Getabird 1.30 Cheltenham win @ 2-1 Betway
Mengli Khan 1.30 Cheltenham e/w @ 16-1 BetVictor (4 places)
Footpad 2.10 Cheltenham win @ Evens Ladbrokes
Shantou Flyer 2.50 Cheltenham e/w @ 16-1 10Bet (5 places)
Wakanda 2.50 Cheltenham e/w @ 20-1 PaddyPower (5 places)
La Bague Au Roi 4.10 Cheltenham e/w @ 15-2 Boylesports
Mossback 4.50 Cheltenham e/w @ 6-1 BetVictor (4 places)
Keeper Hill 4.50 Cheltenham e/w @ 14-1 Ladbrokes(4 places)
Barney Dwan 5.30 Cheltenham e/w @ 10-1 Betway (5 places)
Report To Base 5.30 Cheltenham e/w @ 16-1 SkyBet (6 places)