13:30 – SkyBet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 2m ½f
Like in recent years, one of the meetings Irish hot-pots is thrust upon us straight away – this time in the shape of Getabird. From the Willie Mullins stable, with Ruby Walsh riding and owned by a certain Rich Ricci then this trio will be looking to land the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle for the fourth time in the last 6 runnings and is sure to be popular as punters will be hoping this jolly can get them off to a flyer.
This 6-year-old has done nothing wrong so far and comes here unbeaten after two NH Flat wins and two victories over hurdles. He won many fans last time when beating the useful Mengali Khan by an easy 9 lengths at Punchestown back in January and has been at the forefront of this market ever since.
He should have the measure of that horse again, however, those looking to take him on might notice that 12 of the last 14 winners of the Supreme had run at least 4 times over hurdles before (he’s run just twice), while 18 of the last 23 winners had raced in the last 45 days – Getabird’s last outing was 59 days ago.
Having said that, with Mullins having a cracking record in this race, and the fact this horse has already won over 2m4f, then his proven stamina will be a huge asset in a race that is always run at a fair pace. He’s got a lot of positives and looks to have a big future but, for me, rates poor value.
I’d have preferred to have seen him run against slightly better rivals to know if his top billing is justified but, more importantly, have a bit more experience.
I think the main opposition can come from the recent Betfair Hurdle winner – KALASHNIKOV (e/w) – and to me, this 5-year-old looks great value against the Mullins jolly. Trained by Amy Murphy, this powerful hurdler beat a very good 24-strong field in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury last time by 4 ½ lengths and let’s be clear – that was a very good performance.
It was a contest that you could have backed about 20 runners in, so to win it, and win it easily suggests the form is very good. It was also on ground that connections have said would be soft enough for him after saying he’s a better horse in good-to-soft conditions – which he should get here!
Okay, he’s never raced at Cheltenham, but neither has the favourite. He’s a big strong sort that looks made for the test that Cheltenham throws at these horses, plus having won 3 of his 4 hurdles starts will also have an experience advantage over the Mullins horse.
Of the rest, and despite disappointing at odds-on last time, the Nicky Henderson-trained CLAIMANTAKINFORGAN can’t be overlooked. He was third in the Champion Bumper last season and was a very decent winner of the Supreme Trial at Ascot back in December.
Okay, last time he ran a bad one up at Musselburgh but that tight/flat track doesn’t suit every horse and we can all forgive a horse one slightly below-par run – right? Take that effort out and he’d be a lot shorter in the betting than he is. Don’t forget the Henderson camp have also won this race three times before and had many placed.
Paloma Blue is another to have on your radar from the Henry de Bromhead yard – this consistent 6-year-old was a fine third behind Samrco last time at Leopardstown and is yet to finish out of the first three from his 4 hurdles runs.
Finally, Summerville Boy would certainly be a player based on his 4 length Tolworth Hurdle win and could be the forgotten horse in the race. He beat Kalashnikov by 4 lengths that day and with the expected improvement can’t be overlooked. However, I do question that Tolworth form as it was run on desperate ground, plus he does fall down on the ‘recent run’ trend as he’s not been out since early January. First Flow is the final one to get a mention. This Kim Bailey-trained horse has won his last three raced in effortless fashion, including a Grade Two last time at Haydock. This is, however, a big step up in grade but if the ground came up soft or worse he loves these conditions and could go well.
14:10 Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase 2m
Hot on the heels of the Supreme we’ve another Willie Mullins-trained hot-pot here in Footpad and if the favourite foes take the opener then the bookies could be running for cover here with regards to the price Footpad is sent off. This 6-year-old has made an effortless switch to fences – winning 3-from-3 – while don’t forget he was also a decent fourth in the Champion Hurdle last season. Let’s make no mistake – he’s a very good horse that was just shy of hitting the very top over hurdles. The way he’s been winning over fences though indicated he could be even better over the bigger obstacles – we’ll see in time.
He beat another big player here – Petit Mouchoir – in the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novices’ Chase at Leopardstown in early February – a victory that saw him firm-up at the head of this market. It was his quick and slick jumping that everyone was talking about after that race and really it was hard to pick holes in that 5 lengths win. However, for me, there are a few tiny doubts.
Firstly, it’s the ground. He’s a horse that really needs it soft, so will he get that here – he might now after all the snow and rain the track has had – but there are signs it’s drying out and if it does continue to do so then it’s worth pointing out his form with some description of ‘good’ in the going reads 3-2-4-3.
He’s also run at Cheltenham twice in the past and although he’s run well and in some hot races (3rd Triumph, 4th Champion Hurdle) the fact remains he’s still to win at the track.
There are also a few alternatives. The already mentioned PETIT MOUCHOIR for starters.
Yes, he’s got 5 lengths to make-up with Footpad based on that last meeting in Ireland, but I feel this Henry de Bromhead-trained 7-year-old wasn’t given a hard time once the writing was on the wall that day, plus it was his first run back from injury for around 3 ½ months.
Footpad didn’t pull away in the closing stages as many expected so that’s another good sign the Mouch can get a lot closer with that run under his belt. It was also only his second run since running third in the 2017 Champion Hurdle, while that run at the Festival suggests he was also a slightly better hurdler than Footpad – they’ve raced 4 times now and it’s Mouch 3-1 Footpad!
Yes, he might need to tidy up his jumping but he’s sure to have been well-schooled since that last run and I expect him to have come on loads for that too.
Saint Calvados is another that will be popular against the favourite. This 5-year-old has won many fans with his front-running attacking jumping style and comes here 3-from-3 over fences. He won the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick very easily last time out and looks to have a big future.
However, this will be his biggest test and at 5 years-old some may feel he’s a bit raw. Having said that, the likes of Well Chief and Flagship Uberalles won this race as 5 year-olds, so it is possible! He’s a likable sort that no matter what the result here.
Finally, it’s interesting that Nicky Henderson is continuing to persist with Brain Power over fences. He’s unseated and fallen in his last two starts but in the build-up to those races the vibes coming out of the Seven Barrows yard had been very strong.
He’s been given 52 days to get over that last race and some have also criticised the rides he was given in those recent runs. On his chase debut at Kempton he was certainly impressive, while don’t forget he was a 160-rated hurdler. He was, however, well back (8th) in the Champion Hurdle last season and his two runs at Prestbury Park have seen him beaten 20 & 30 lengths, so that would be a worry.
With the main three in the betting all having a liking for getting on with the job then this race could easily be set up for something to come off the pace – if his jumping holds-up then on the ratings Brain Power would be best placed of the rest to do just that. Having said that. I’d still rather be siding with PETIT MOUCHOIR to find the necessary improvement to overturn his recent run with Footpad, but – as I say – there is still a niggle that I can’t get out of my head surrounding Brain Power and Henderson’s persistence to keep him over fences.
14:50 Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase 3m 1f
The Nicky Henderson-trained Gold Present has been very popular in the betting for a while and it’s not hard to see why. This improving 8-year-old went into many a notebook after winning his last two at Newbury and Ascot, while the form of his most recent 3 length beating of Frodon has since been given a boost. He is up another 8lbs here but is certainly young enough to think there is more to come.
He could even make a Gold Cup horse for next season but he’ll have to go well in this if that’s the case. He’s also got Festival form, after running a close second in the Close Brothers Novices’ Chase over 2m4f last March, while the Henderson stable have won this prize before – that came in 2000 with a horse called Marlborough. He’s a huge player but with 14 of the last 18 winners rated 143 or less then off a mark of 155 he’s got this key trend to defy. Those that want to side with Gold Present should, however, note this trend might be taking a turn as the last 4 winners carried 11-3 or more.
Henderson also has Beware The Bear entered but he needs to bounce back from being pulled-up last time.
The 145-rated Singlefarmpayment is another that is bound to be popular – you might remember he was a close second in the race 12 months ago. He’s 3lbs higher this time though and was 12 lengths behind Gold Present at Ascot two starts ago. He’s a horse that does like Cheltenham though – 1-1-BD-2-2-PU and would have had this as a target for some time.
However, for me, he’s more of a ‘placepot horse’ as he tends to hit the frame more than winning – he’s won just 1 of his last 10 but been placed in 5 of those.
Another stable that have a superb record in the race is the Pipes. They won this for the last two seasons and three times since 2008 – at this stage, they’ve Ramses De Telillee and Eamon An Cnoic entered. Not a single Irish-trained runner in this year’s race but that’s not too surprising as they don’t have the best of records in the race – no wins in the last 10.
The one I do like here though is COO STAR SIVOLA. This Nick Williams 6-year-old warmed up for this with an easy 14 lengths win at Exeter last time out and prior to that wasn’t has run well behind the likes of Finian’s Oscar, Kalondra, and Frodon.
Those three races also all came here at Cheltenham and, don’t forget, he was a solid 4th in the Martin Pipe Hurdle here last year and also a close third in the 2016 Fred Winter. In fact, his overall Cheltenham form reads very well indeed – 2-3-1-6-4-3-2-4. Yes, he’s up 7lbs for that recent Exeter win, but at 6 years-old here should be more to come, while he’s won on varied ground.
Add in his good track form then I expect him to run a big race here. Yala Enki will like the ground if it remains soft, while Cogry, Shantou Flyer and Vicente are all proven course and distance winners that command respect based on that.
The final play though is going to be CASSE TETE. This 6-year-old has won 3 of his 8 chase starts and was impressive last time at Warwick when chasing down Kylemore Lough. These connections had Baron Alco that ran well at the Festival last season too. He’s up just 5lbs for that but looks a horse in the up and the way he stayed on last time suggests this longer trip and stiff finish are big pluses and the Moore team have their horses in decent order at the moment.
15:30 Stan James Champion Hurdle 2m ½f
Well, this should be quick. If BUVEUR D’AIR remains on his feet then he’ll be collecting his second Champion Hurdle – right?
Well, with not much else to get excited about in the race then it’s hard to disagree with that statement. Nicky Henderson’s 7 year-old has won his four races since taking this 12 months ago and despite many feeling he’s not been tested, he can only beat what’s put in front of him. He’s been heavily odds-on in all four of his wins this term, but with nothing of his class coming through the ranks at the moment then this should be a penalty-kick for the current champ.
He’ll be looking to become the first horse to successfully defend his Champion Hurdle title since Hardy Eustace won the race back-to-back in 2004 & 2005.
Okay, Faugheen fans might disagree and it would be foolish to totally ignore the 2015 champion and the horse dubbed ‘The Machine’. However, from what we’ve seen this season the machine might need a bit of patching-up and at the age of 10 now doesn’t look the same horse we saw hoovering-up these big Grade One 2m hurdles a few seasons ago.
Of course, the return to Cheltenham could help him – don’t forget, he’s never lost here (2-from-2) but it is worth noting that since 1927 we’ve only seen two winners aged 10 or older!
If you are looking for another angle into the race there is one alternative to Buveur D’Air though – his stablemate MY TENT OR YOURS (to be placed). Okay, this horse at 11 years-old is even older than Faugheen, and let’s get one thing straight – I’m not saying he’s going to win.
However, he’s got a cracking hurdles record at being placed and with little else in the race, he looks likely to fill one of the places again here. He was runner-up last year, plus twice before that in this race and we can be sure Henderson will have him fully wound-up for what may be his final run in the race.
Did you know, My Tent Or Yours has also raced 20 times over hurdles and been placed in the top three on 19 occasions? Wow – impressive stats! He’s won 7 of those and been second 9 times, so that’s a stonking 80% strike-rate of finishing in the top two from his 20 outings over the sticks – not bad, hey?
This will be his fourth run in the race and his fifth time at the Festival, but with an overall Cheltenham track record that reads 2-2-2-2-2-1 then surely, he’s got to be the safest alternative ‘just to be placed’ over the current champion, Buveur D’Air.
Of the others, last season’s JLT Novices’ Chase winner Yorkhill, who also landed the 2016 Neptune, is an interesting addition to the race, but this Willie Mullins-trained runner is a law to himself these days and has been well below-par in his last two runs – backing him would require a leap of faith.
His Festival record is outstanding though and you couldn’t totally rule him out based on that, while the return to hurdles could spark him back to life – we’ll see. Until we see that form again on the track he’s a horse with a bad reputation at the moment so the safest option is to rule him out.
Course winner Elgin, plus Wicklow Brave and Melon are others those looking for value might latch onto and a case can be made for them being placed but all would have to bank on the current champ running well below-par to win. I’ll be hoping for Henderson 1-2 repeat of last year with Buveur D’Air and My Tent Or Yours leading the field home.
16:10 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle 2m 4f
Some punters feel that the connections of APPLE’S JADE have again taken the easy Festival route here and missed a very good chance to win the Stayers’ Hurdle on Thursday.
Being a mare Apple’s Jade would have got a handy allowance in that race and would have certainly been a big player – she beat the current favourite of that race – Sudasundae – over 3m last time at Leopardstown too!
But, what would you do? Yes, this is a much easier task but with an easy chance of notching a Festival win I think I’d side for this race too.
In fact, I think the Stayers’ looks a lot more competitive than it did a few months ago and even with her allowance Apple’s might not have won that race.
Also, let’s also not forget Apple’s Jade is the reigning champ of this Mares’ Hurdle and we all love seeing the returning winners defend their titles – right? It also looks a much easier race than 12 months ago, when she beat the Ricci pair of Vroom Vroom Mag and Limini while having won all of her four starts since she comes here as a red-hot favourite and another of the ‘day one’ bankers for punters to tuck into.
Of the others, La Bague Au Roi has done little wrong this season – winning her last four starts – and was 7th in the Mares’ Novice Hurdle at the Festival last season. She’s improved since and looks one of those that can battle things out for the places.
Of course, anything Willie Mullins runs should also not discounted – he’s won this race 8 times in the last 9. He’s got two in the race, but his 7-year-old Benie Des Dieux looks his main player. A winner of her last three and she’s a mare with some useful form and remains 3-from-3 for the Mullins/Ricci camp. She looks the biggest threat to the favourite but is still rated 11lbs inferior to her.
Last year’s runner-up Vroum Vroum Mag would have made life harder for Apple’s, but she’s now been retired to stud. All things considered, it’s very difficult to see beyond Apple’s Jade successfully defending her title.
16:50 National Hunt Chase 4m
Top Irish trainer – Gordon Elliott – has been the man to note in this race in recent years – He won this 12 months ago, and also in 2011 and 2015. He’s going to be well-represented again this year but with his Tiger Roll going in at 16/1 last year then don’t be too concerned if you fancy one of his bigger-priced runners.
JURY DUTY looks his main runner though and after 5 runs over fences has won 2 and finished second three times. He’s been second in a Grade One Novice’s Chase at Leopardstown and also runner-up in a Grade Three at Naas last time (behind Moulin A Vent and Shattered Love). He was also third behind Presenting Percy in the Pertemps last year so has proven Festival form. The step up to 4m (both those recent runs have been over 3m) is an unknown but connections must feel be confident he’ll get the trip.
If he goes off favourite, we’ve actually seen 3 of the last 8 market leaders go in so despite it’s competitive nature it’s actually been a good one for punters. He looks to have a big chance and with a certain Jamie Codd riding he’ll get every assistance from the saddle from arguably the best pilot in the race – he gets the call. Remember – generally, the best amateur jockeys win this race and you could do a lot worse than perm up the best 4 or 5 pilots in combination forecast and tri-cast bets – this has paid off many times in the past in these Cheltenham amateur races!
The Philip Hobbs-trained No Comment can’t be overlooked and was 7th in the Martin Pipe last year but with just one run over fences that would be a concern, while the Hobbs camp are having a very quiet season. Mossbank – another for Elliott – and Rathvinden (Mullins) are others with leading chances for Ireland, while on the domestic front KEEPER HILL (e/w) can go well for the Greatrex team – the yard also had the second in this race 12 months ago.
This 7-year-old was in the process of running a big race last time at Musselburgh when falling four out. He won over 4m the time before so if worth a crack at 4m, while with just 4 runs over fences there should be more on offer. while previous course winners Ms Parfois and Sizing Tennessee also look to have fair chances if getting the trip.
17:30 The Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase 2m 4½f
Once the weights were announced for this race De Plotting Shed and Any Second Now became very popular. Both look to have major chances based on their marks and form this season, but unless you were on at much bigger prices there seems to be little value in siding with them now.
De Plotting Shed, who will be ridden by Davy Russell, is yet another Gordon Elliott handicap runner that looks to have a decent chance so being from that yard is naturally going to attract interest anyway. He was a 150-rated hurdler so his chase rating of 143 is what punters are latching onto.
Yes, on hurdles form he looks a player, however, it’s worth pointing out he’s 0-from-4 over fences and this will also be his first run at Cheltenham. Two big negatives for me. Add in that the Irish are also just 2 from 13 in the race then he looks worth opposing to me. The Ted Walsh-trained Any Second Now has a similar make-up – he’s also 0-from-4 over fences – but has been highly-tried of late behind the likes of Footpad (twice), Invitation Only and Monalee.
On a plus, his owner – a certain JP McManus – loves to go for this race with 1 win, 2 2nds, and a 3rd in recent years. He’s consistent and looks interesting, however, he’s another that’s never raced at Cheltenham. Fergal O’Brien’s Barney Dwan has been impressive this season and won well at Musselburgh last time.
I would have liked to have seen Keepers Hill stand up in that last race though to further uphold the form but he was a good second in the Pertemps last season so is proven at the Festival – one for the shortlist with Brian Hughes riding.
Henderson also looks to have a fair hand here too with RATHER BE and Divine Spear. Rather Be unseated in the Martin Pipe 12 months ago when hampered but has won 2 of his 3 chase starts and of the Henderson pair edges it for me. Ok, he fell at Plumpton in January when 1/7 but has since put that behind him to win easily at Fakenham.
The step up in trip should slow things down and that will also help his jumping, while it’s interesting Henderson has kept him to the lesser tracks and easier opposition this season – probably in a bid to get his confidence sky high before heading here. He fits plenty of the key trends and can’t be ruled out with the in-from Jeremiah McGrath riding.
Divine Spear, who will have Nico doing the steering, has a similar profile to Rather Be and the fact he was beaten at 1/3 last time might put some off. However, the softer ground here will help and it’s possible the tight Musselburgh track didn’t suit as well as they’d hoped last time. He’s got a bit to prove over the trip too, with all wins coming around 2m, but I can’t help feeling he’ll run better that last time.
Kalondra and the improving TESTIFY are others to note – especially the last-named. This 7-year-old has caught the eye this season after winning all three of his starts over fences and there could be more to come. He’s a good jumper that has won over further. Yes, if the ground dries out that would be a big worry as his best form has been with significant cut underfoot but we know he stays and connections could make full use of that from the front.