Cheltenham Festival – Day 1 Selections
March 9th '17 krischambers
It’s almost here! That famous Cheltenham roar is just a week away and to mark the official daily countdown until the Festival I will bring you my full selections across all the cards each day this week. We start with Tuesday, known as Champions Day, which is undoubtedly my favourite day of the Festival having been there in person two years running. From Faugheen to Annie Power, Douvan to Altior there have been some exceptional performances on the opening day in recent years and you can expect much of the same this time around.
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
The race won so devastatingly by Altior last year is always a good indicator of future stars and is a fine way to kick start the Festival. The market is currently headed by Melon 4/1, Ballyandy 5/1, Moon Racer 6/1, Neon Wolf 6/1 and Bunk Off Early 7/1. The last four winners read Altior, Douvan, Vautour and Champagne Fever at odds of no higher than 5/1 but this year looks even more tough than usual and could provide good value to kick start the Festival. Whilst a Willie Mullins favourite is hard to ignore after winning three straight before Nicky Henderson ended the run in 2016, MELON simply hasn’t proved anything in his one race victory thus far and is too short to be backed in such a strong renewal. For me, if MOON RACER turns up here instead of the Champion Hurdle then he wins. He’s a Champion Bumper winner and despite having a year off with injury returned to beat BALLYANDY twice, including in the Supreme Trial at Cheltenham in November. He’s been saved to run fresh and had a form boost when Ballyandy won a 16-runner Betfair Hurdle last month. He could easily be thrown into the Champion Hurdle running but he’ll be a short price on the day if he runs here. CRACK MOME would be my each way shout at 16/1 after a last hurdle mistake cost him victory last time out at Punchestown up against the talented Any Second Now and is a bit of a forgotten horse from the Mullins yard.
WIN: Moon Racer 6/1
EACH WAY: Crack Mome 16/1
Check out my full preview of the Arkle HERE.
Ultima Handicap Chase
The first of several handicaps over the week and an extremely competitive affair with no runner best priced in single figures at present. Noble Endeavor is 10/1 favourite with Singlefarmpayment 12/1, The Druids Nephew 12/1, Champers On Ice 14/1, Holywell 14/1, Our Kaempfer 14/1 and Saphir Du Rheu 14/1. There are 101 potential runners in the market but only 24 runners will line up on the day making it an absolute minefield for ante post betting. However, there are a few past winners in the line up including a personal favourite of mine, THE DRUIDS NEPHEW. He is back on the same mark as when he won it in 2015 and has since had a couple of cracks at the Grand National, including when he fell whilst leading two years ago. He has been well below par since but is being targeted at this race and has been talked up somewhat by trainer Neil Mulholland. HOLYWELL and UN TEMPS POUR TOUT are other winners and Holywell clearly saves his best for Cheltenham having won twice and finished second once (in this race last year) in four starts at the course with his worst finish coming in the 2015 Gold Cup when he finished an impressive fourth. He will run off a rating of 148, five down from last year and whilst he has no form in the book he could easily pull out all the stops at the Festival once again.
EACH WAY: The Druids Nephew 12/1
EACH WAY: Holywell 14/1
Check out my full preview of the Champion Hurdle HERE.
This revolves around Willie Mullins and his decision on whether Vroum Vroum Mag or Limini lines up. It’s likely that Limini goes to the Champion Hurdle after he devastating victory over Apples Jade recently and that leaves the door wide open for VROUM VROUM MAG to clean up at 6/4. APPLES JADE (11/4) beat the versatile Mullins mare at the beginning of the season but had race fitness on her side and was given the perfect ride. I’d expect the form to be overturned, although the likes of LETS DANCE and AUGUSTA KATE rate interesting each way options at bigger prices. Both are entered into the Mares Novice Hurdle at the festival but should either turn up they could prove a real handful for VVM and I’d expect them both to play a part. You could take the gamble with non-runner no bet now widely available on every race at the Festival as they’d likely be much shorter on the day if they turned up.
WIN: Vroum Vroum Mag 6/4
EACH WAY: Lets Dance 10/1 NRNB
EACH WAY: Augusta Kate 16/1 NRNB
National Hunt Chase
The four-miler is always a fascinating affair and has been won by some nice types in recent years including Minella Rocco, Cause of Causes and Teaforthree and Jonjo O’Neill has won the race five times in the last 15 years. Amazingly he has no entries this time around so one of the other trainers will have to pick up the pieces and Willie Mullins holds three entries in an attempt to win his second National Hunt Chase. A Genie in the Abottle heads the betting at 11/2 followed by Edwulf 7/1, Beware The Bear 12/1, Champers On Ice 12/1, Bigbadjohn 14/1 and Martello Tower 14/1. EDWULF of those leading the market makes most appeal after absolutely bolting up on his recent showing over in Ireland and had previously beat the useful looking Bachasson, who has won since, back in January. He does have mistakes in him having fallen three times in his career and unseated once but he seems to be on the up and has only finished out of the places once (that being on debut) when completing. He’s never raced outside Ireland but he is primed to make his first trip across the water a profitable one for Joseph O’Brien. CHAMPERS ON ICE is entered in a few but would be interesting should he turn up whilst BEWARE THE BEAR has won four on the bounce including his latest win at three miles ahead of potential National Hunt rivals Aurillac and Lessons In Milan.
EACH WAY: Edwulf 7/1
Close Brothers Novices Handicap Chase
To round off day one of the 2017 Festival there is another interesting handicap chase. First introduced in 2005, no trainer or jockey has won this race more than once with Ballyalton securing victory off an 11-10 weight last year, the third highest behind Hunt Ball and Rajdhani Express and the oldest ever to win. The market reads as such: Foxtail Hill 8/1, Romain De Senam 10/1, Value At Risk 10/1, Itsafreebee 12/1 and Squouateur 14/1. There’s plenty of contenders coming here off the back of multiple wins including FOXTAIL HILL, ZAMDY MAN, MIXBOY, FINAL NUDGE, CAPTAIN REDBEARD, KILLINEY COURT, A LITTLE MAGIC, TWENTY EIGHT GUNS, POKER SCHOOL and PEARL SWAN. VALUE AT RISK is a horse I have followed for a couple of seasons now, even after going through an extremely frustrating phase around the winter of the 2015/16 season. He disappointed again when odds on favourite in October but made the most of a heavily reduced mark at Bangor a few weeks later and has been tucked away since. He has only the one entry at Cheltenham and will be primed for this. Gordon Elliot’s SQUOUATEUR is an interesting runner having been handed a chase mark of 130, some 11 lbs below his hurdles mark following a run of average performances over fences. He will need a fair few to drop out to get in but will have an excellent chance if he does.
EACH WAY: Value At Risk 10/1
EACH WAY: Squouateur 14/1 NRNB