All eyes turn to Gloucestershire today for the opening day of the eagerly awaited Cheltenham Festival, the first five races of which are being covered by ITV.
Centrepiece, as per on Tuesday is the Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy at 3.30 which has an unusually large field of 17, headed by Nicky Henderson‘s 6-y-o mare Epatanteat a best price 5-2.
Giving a horse this name is a bit of a hiding to nothing, but she has done little wrong since joining the Henderson yard and was last seen mullahing the opposition at Kempton on Boxing Day. Her only defeat, however, came on this course at last season’s Festival and we do get the impression she just may be a ‘Flat Track Bully’, which behoves us to pass her by.
Her stable companion Pentland Hills, winner of the Triumph Hurdle last season and seeming to retain all its devastating turn of hoof in two runs this year is a more attractive proposition and a much better price. There have been excuses for both defeats and, at 9-1 we recommend an each way bet.
We also suggest an each way bet on the Willie Mullins‘ trained Cilaos Emery at 15-2. This 8-y-o won a Grade 1 hurdle back in 2017, but missed the whole of 2018 through injury. Returning to the fray last year, it mopped up 3 chases before going butt over mammary at Leopardstownon Feb 1st, whereupon connections reverted to the smaller obstacles to win a Grade 3 hard held.
Subsequently supplemented for this race, this is a serious contender.
The action kicks off with the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at 1.30 (wait for the roar) which has a field of 16.
Slightly uneasy favourite is the unbeaten Asterion Forlonge which powered its way to Grade 1 victory at Leopardstown 5 weeks ago and has the air of a bit of a monster. At 3-1, we start with a win bet on Mr Mullins‘ first string.
We also advise each way bets on the two main English challengers, Shishkin at 5-1 and Fiddlerontheroof at 13-2 – that should cover it.
At 2.10 the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase takes place and we have no hesitation in nominating Notebook as our main bet at 3-1. Unbeaten in all four chases, including two Grade 1s, Henry’s ‘Orse already has the beating of the other Oirish challengers and should give Rachel Blackmore the first of what may be several winners this week.
Of the home opposition, we like the profile of Esprit Du Large from Evan Williams‘ operation. Big, big improver over fences and a strong traveller, we recommend an each way bash at 11-1.
The Ultima Handicap Chase at 2.50 is a 6-1 the field race with 23 runners and, while it may look impossible, we are keen on two.
Kildisart has yet to fulfil its undoubted talent over fences, but nay just do so today with first time pieces and Daryl Jacob to assist, while Big River finished 4th in this race last year and is back for another go in better form.
At 12-1 and 20-1 respectively we should get a run for our hard-earned.
The Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle at 4.10 completes the televised coverage and is completely dominated by the two Irish challengers, Benie Des Dieux and Honeysuckle which are trading at 8-15 and 3-1, with 12-1 bar.
On all known form they will finish 1-2, most probably in market order, so any other bet is a try for 3rd place – no thanks.
Let’s hope for a flying start to the week – back tomorrow.
Pentland Hills 3.30 Cheltenham 1pt e/w @ 9-1 (4 places)
Cilaos Emery 3.30 Cheltenham 1pt e/w @ 15-2 (4 places)
Asterion Forlonge 1.30 Cheltenham 3pts win @ 3-1
Shishkin 1.30 Cheltenham 1.5pts e/w @ 5-1 (7 places William Hill)
Fiddlerontheroof 1.30 Cheltenham 1pt e/w @ 13-2 (7 places William Hill)
Notebook 2.10 Cheltenham 6pts win @ 3-1
Esprit De Large 2.10 Cheltenham 1pt e/w @ 11-1
Kildisart 2.50 Cheltenham 1pt e/w @ 12-1 (6 places)
Big River 2.50 Cheltenham 1pt e/w @ 20-1 (6 places)