Matchbook’s resident jumps expert Micheál Deasy runs through Day 1’s card from Cheltenham.
After months of waiting, the Cheltenham Festival finally begins on Tuesday and like you, I can’t wait to get stuck into the action. It’s important to get off to a good start but even more important to remember this is the first leg of a 28 race marathon so don’t go nuts. But with seven tantalising looking races lined up for the opening day let’s get a little bit carried away and there is no better place to begin than with one of the most iconic races in the jumps calendar…
Supreme Novice Hurdle 13:30
The Supreme is one of my favourite races of the year, not least just for the feeling of relief you get that Cheltenham has finally started. It was looking to be a fairly sedate Supreme Novices market until Willie Mullins lobbed a grenade into it at the weekend with the news that Klassical Dream (6.2) would be lining up here instead of the Ballymore on Wednesday.
Since then there has been a consistent stream of money for this classy French import. He has two wins from two since moving to Ireland and looked tough as nails when getting back up to snatch victory from Aramon at the Dublin Racing Festival.
Ruby Walsh has chosen to ride him which completes the Walsh/Mullins/Supreme holy trinity. It’s hard to ignore the stars aligning like this especially when you take into account how well he has been backed.
Back him to get your festival off to a flyer.
Arkle Trophy 14:10
Ornua almost caused a huge shock in the Henry VIII Chase at Sandown in December when Henry de Bromhead’s charge set a blistering pace from the start and had everyone out of their comfort zones for much of the race. He was eventually worn down close to the line by Dynamite Dollars, which looks an even better effort now considering what DD went on to do in his next two races.
Lalor was a further 10L back with the ground given as the excuse for that run, but despite this Ornua is twice the price of Lalor in the betting. This will be a step up again but he will arrive here fresh and jumping will not be a problem for him. His trainer knows how to train a horse for the Arkle and has won it previously with Sizing Europe with a runner finishing in the first three for the last three years (Petit Mouchoir, Ordinary World and Sizing John).
Ornua has every chance of hitting the frame and possibly winning one of the weaker looking renewals of this race in the last few years at a big price of 16.5.
Ultima Handicap Chase 14:50
Mister Whitaker (9.8) landed a right touch under a genius ride from Brian Hughes at last year’s festival after sneaking in at the bottom of the weights in the Close Brothers Handicap Chase. He travelled through the race nicely in midfield, made ground up the hill but still needed every yard of the 2m5f to get up on the line from Rather Be. He began this season in impressive fashion at Carlisle but has failed to hit the same heights in two subsequent runs.
He steps up in trip here for the first time in his career but recent evidence would suggest he may need the extra five furlongs. This is a very tough race but he has a great chance of winning a race on the opening day of the festival for the second year in a row.
Champion Hurdle 15:30
I’m going for a longshot in this. Espoir D’Allen (19.0) has only lost once in nine starts so far in his career and would have been a short-priced favourite in the Triumph Hurdle if he had made it to the festival last year. Having a shorter season may have worked in his favour and he has looked very progressive this year winning his three races easily.
This is a different level again but the presence of Apples Jade and Global Citizen will ensure this race is run at a furious pace and I can see a few horses burning themselves out trying to keep up.
Espoir D’Allen could easily be one to pick up the pieces and stay on into a place on the run in.
Mares Hurdle 16:10
Dan Skelton’s mare Roksana (8.8) finished last season by pushing Santini all the way at Aintree. She may have gone a bit under the radar until then but prior to that, she had won three of her four starts over hurdles, including a Grade 2 at Newbury. She was most recently seen having a pipe-opener against Buveur D’Air in the Contenders Hurdle and finished the race looking like a horse that needed a run.
The big prices are long gone on her but she has form at the top level and should run a big race at a decent price.
Momella looked an excellent mare last year when she was with Dan Skelton. She was never outside the first three in four runs including giving On The Blindside a fright at Cheltenham in the November meeting and as a staying on third in the Mersey Novices Hurdle at Aintree. She has since switched to Harry Fry and was heavily backed for her seasonal debut in Newbury where she cruised into the race and seemed to have it at her mercy when she fell at the second last.
Her next run at Christmas was very disappointing and she has not run since.
On last year’s form, she has a lot more class than the majority of the mares in this race and will run a big race at odds of 20.0 if she turns up fully fit.
Close Brothers Novices Handicap Chase 16:50
Springtown Lake (14.5) went into my tracker last season when chasing home On The Blindside over hurdles at Sandown. He was beaten 9L that day but finished 11L clear of the rest, which included Red River, Dynamite Dollars and White Moon. He finished down the field in the Coral Cup last season, but that run was in keeping with all of Philip Hobb’s runners who were out of form all year.
He began his chase career by making all in a battling win off top weight at Sandown again in November then failed to give 5lbs to Mr Whipped next time at Haydock on heavy ground, but the form of these 2 runs were enough to see him start favourite for a handicap chase at Kempton over 3m at Christmas. He failed to see out the trip in this race after leading for most of the way and was not given a hard time once his chance was gone.
He arrives here fresh and has Richard Johnson on board. He had the option of running in the Plate on Thursday where he would have carried less weight but takes his chance here. Philip Hobbs is having a much better season this year and you can expect to see the Springtown Lake in the vanguard when they round the bend coming up the hill.
The only horse with CD next to his name in the field and notably the selection of Davy Russell is Cubomania. He has been kept busy very this season and this will be his 13th run since he started off in Perth last August. His last win was in the Move Over To Matchbook Novices Chase at Cheltenham in October where he was given a perfectly timed ride to lead after the last and gallop away from his rivals to the line.
He has run well in defeat over various distances in Ireland since then and arrives here only 2lbs higher than his win in October.
When you take into account his course form, jockey/trainer combo and experience in handicaps this season it’s safe to say he will almost certainly go off shorter than his price of 15.0 and is a great bet to place at the very least.
National Hunt Chase 17:30
Patrick Mullins took home the honours in this race last year with a perfectly judged ride on Rathvinden and took the liberty of making sure this horse would only have one entry at the festival this year. Ballyward (4.0) ran a cracker in last years Albert Bartlett staying on from a long way back to finish fourth. He has looked a natural over fences this season and was very impressive last time out at Naas when beating Chris’s Dream and Champagne Classic.
I think he will settle better than Ok Corral over the marathon trip and the fact that Patrick selected him as his ride in the race is a tip in itself.
- 1.30 – Klassical Dream – 1pt Win
- 2.10 – Ornua – 0.5pt Win, 0.5pt Place
- 2.50 – Mister Whitaker -1pt Win, 1pt Place
- 3.30 – Espoir D’Allen – 1pt Win, 1pt Place
- 4.10 – Roksana – 0.5pt Win, 0.5pt Place
- 4.10 – Momella – 0.5pt Win, 0.5pt Place
- 4.50 – Springtown Lake – 0.5pt Win, 0.5pt Place
- 4.50 – Cubomania – 0.5pt Win, 0.5pt Place
- 5.30 – Ballyward – 1pt Place
Your host Tom Stanley is joined by Donn McClean, Rory Delargy and Matchbook’s Micheál Deasy to preview the first two days of the Festival.