Rory Delargy has five to take on for the opening day of Cheltenham 2019.
13:30 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
The opener is as open as I can ever remember and there are at least seven with a realistic winning chance on paper, with another few capable of surprising granted the run of things. The ones I would want to be against at the prices are Elixir de Nutz and Angels Breath, with the former seemingly needing to dominate, and he will be pestered up front, certainly by Brandon Castle, but with others also expected to press on, and on a windy day, I fear that those leading coming down the hill will have nothing left for the finish.
Angels Breath is a genuinely exciting prospect, but he has had just two runs under rules, and this race is always a shock to the system for those without plenty of experience. Nicky Henderson won this with Flown, who had had a similar preparation over hurdles, but unlike Angels Breath, Flown has a lot of Flat-racing experience to fall back on, and I feel his lack of match practice will probably find him out in such a field.
Recommended: Lay Elixir de Nutz for a place @ 4.0 or shorter to win 5pts [max liability 15pts]
Recommended: Lay Angels Breath for a place @ 2.7 or shorter to win 10pts [max liability 17pts]
14:10 Arkle Challenge Trophy
Another race which is arguably short of the quality we expect, but with lots of contenders who look capable of going well, granted with luck in running, and there will be no prisoners taken.
Again, I’d like to oppose a couple here, with both Lalor and Glen Forsa too short on what they have achieved against smart rivals. Both have looked good in victory, but Lalor’s win here in November praised to the skies at the time, but with Defi du Seuil not at the races that day, the form isn’t quite as strong as it looked at the time, and I find it disconcerting that Kayley Woollacott has not run him since he flopped at odds-on in the Henry VIII at Sandown in December.
He did not look so accomplished in the jumping department then, and I wonder if he might get on the back foot early again, with this race sure to be run at a fast pace.
I love Glen Forsa, but while he impressed with his jumping when beating Kalashnikov at Sandown last time, it needs to be remembered that his win in that 3-runner Grade 2 was his first ever outing in pattern company, and that lack of experience at a high level must be a worry in a race like the Arkle. His wins prior to that came over longer trips off marks of 114 and 125 respectively, and while he is clearly a wonderful jumper, this is not a race where he can dominate, and his talented rider’s poor Cheltenham record (0-46 at the track) is another cause for concern.
Recommended: Lay Lalor @ 7.4 or shorter to win 5pts [max liability 32pts]
Recommended: Lay Glen Forsa @ 5.5 or shorter to win 6pts [max liability 27pts]
14:50 Ultima Handicap Chase
Just one I want to oppose here, as all the talk about the inexperienced Give Me A Copper has made him favourite, with everyone seeming to assume that the way to back Cheltenham winners is simply to listen to what the trainers fancy.
GMAC is a horse who could be well treated given he’s effectively only had one start in a proper chase, and that makes it hard to weigh him up.
On the other hand, a horse with a record of unseating early, winning a match and then finishing fourth off his current mark in three runs spaced out over 18 months does not sound the type of animal I want to be backing in a 24-runner race at Cheltenham, and he is an obvious place lay, even if his trainer’s opinion of him is roughly correct.
Recommended: Lay Give Me A Copper for a place @ 2.9 or shorter to win 10pts [max liability 19pts]
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.