The waiting is over and the Cheltenham Festival 2017 looks set to start under sunny skies, with decent ground underfoot this afternoon.
The opening day has been a Willie Mullins benefit in recent seasons, but Nicky Henderson could be the man to follow today.
Henderson has 3 decent chances in the highlight of day one, the Champion Hurdle.
Whilst Festival veteran My Tent Or Yours isn’t dismissed entirely, it seems more likely that either BRAIN POWER or Buveur D’Air will give the best handler this side of the Irish Sea another win in this showcase event.
The ground may suit Brain Power better and, although he may have a bit more to find on form, he looks extremely progressive and it is hard to forget how well he travelled when scooting clear at Ascot last time.
Buveur D’Air has been drifting in the betting in recent days, partly due to increased confidence in his stablemate. He is, however, reportedly in good form at home and don’t forget he ran really well in last year’s Supreme when being given too much to do. He has beaten Petit Mouchoir on a couple of occasions already and he could even give Henderson a one – two here.
We still think Yanworth might prove better over further particularly on this ground, so there is every chance of one or two of the longer price runners hitting the frame at least.
Sceau Royal has his ground again, but ran poorly here in the Triumph which is a worry so it might be worth taking a chance on CH’TIBELLO. He has had a wind op since his last run and wears a first time tongue tie. Both things point to the fact that he wasn’t quite getting home in his races and the evidence suggests an operation of that nature is at its most effective the first time a horse runs after he has had it. He loves good ground and is a strong traveller, and his yard couldn’t be in better form.
The dark horse is outsider CYRUS DARIUS. He too relishes better ground and it is hard to forget the impression he made when slaughtering his opponents to win a Grade 2 at the Grand National meeting in 2015. He has had his problems since, but Malcom Jefferson has a good record at the Festival and if he runs one here it is because he thinks it has a chance.
Sky Bet are offering four places on the feature race today.
|Brain Power (ew)||3.30 Cheltenham||7/1||Sky Bet|
|Ch’Tibello (ew)||3.30 Cheltenham||28/1||Bet365|
|Cyrus Darius (ew)||3.30 Cheltenham||50/1||Bet365|
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
Nicky Henderson has a couple of good novices in the traditional Festival curtain raiser, the Supreme. Of his pair, we like the decent flat recruit, Beyond Conceit who could be really well suited by a fast run two mile contest. If his jumping holds up and he doesn’t get too far behind he could outstay plenty of these on the run to the line.
Willie Mullins is mob handed too and whilst Melon is the short priced talking horse, very much like Min and Douvan in previous years, we think a couple of his other runners, Bunk Off Early and CILAOS EMERY, are arguably more interesting now trying good ground for the first time.
At the prices, Cilaos Emery, in the first time hood, gets the nod.
Best of the home contingent could prove to be HIGH BRIDGE, who ran well in the bumper here last season, and has taken to hurdles very well. He is very consistent and his form has been working out well.
For those looking to smash one out of the park early, decent flat performer GLARING could easily outrun his huge price. It is a shame he hasn’t had a bit more experience, but would have given Elgin plenty to think about at Kempton on Boxing Day had he not nearly fallen two out.
|Cilaos Emery (ew)||1.30 Cheltenham||20/1||Bet365, Sky Bet|
|High Bridge (ew)||1.30 Cheltenham||20/1||Bet365|
|Glaring (ew)||1.30 Cheltenham||50/1||Bet365, Sky Bet|
The Arkle could see the birth of a new superstar in Altior and he looks to only have to jump round to win. He is no price for the average punter to get stuck into though and there is some each way value with nine going to post.
Given his connections, it is slightly surprising that ROYAL CAVIAR isn’t second favourite and this keen going sort should be really well suited by the trip and ground here. If he avoids any mistakes like the one he made at the last at Leopardstown last time out he should give the favourite most to do.
We also like SOME PLAN, who looks the pick of the Henry de Bromhead trio. He was still tanking along when falling two out here in November and a proven liking for the course is always a big plus in any Festival race.
|Royal Caviar (ew)||2.10 Cheltenham||14/1||Bet365|
|Some Plan (ew)||2.10 Cheltenham||28/1||Bet365|
Ultima Handicap Chase
The first big handicap of the meeting is the Ultima Handicap Chase over 3m 1f.
It is easy to make some sort of case for almost all of the 24 runners, but top of our shortlist is HENRY PARRY MORGAN, who looked likely to run a massive race in a competitive handicap here over a slightly shorter trip on New Year’s Day.
He has been given confidence boosters over hurdles and fences, and should be spot on for this. Don’t forget he chased home Native River in a Grade 1 at Aintree last spring.
SINGLEFARMPAYMENT looks a bomb proof alternative. His yard is in good farm, he’ll like the ground and he has plenty of good course form. Crucially, he also looks unexposed over fences.
It wasn’t long ago that anything Venetia Williams ran in a chase over in a Festival handicap had to be baced and it will be interesting to see how VIC DE TOUZAINE fares here now stepped up in trip. He could easily improve if he handles the ground.
|Henry Parry Morgan (ew)||2.50 Cheltenham||12/1||Bet365|
|Singlefarmpayment (ew)||2.50 Cheltenham||11/2||Bet365|
|Vic De Touzaine (ew)||2.50 Cheltenham||40/1||Bet365|
The Mares Hurdle looks a four horse race and should be going the way of the Irish.
Limini and VROUM VROUM MAG represent Willie Mullins and it is interesting that Ruby Walsh has chosen Limini. That has probably dictated the prices of the pair and we think Vroum Vroum Mag is now the better value as she seems to have had an excuse for a disappointing (albeit winning) effort last time out.
Apples Jade is a threat if a first time tongue tie and better ground see her return to her very best. It might be worth backing her to win to cover a larger stake on Vroum Vroum Mag.
Jer’s Girl is the other one with a chance as she seems to be at her best in the spring.
|Vroum Vroum Mag (win)||4.10 Cheltenham||4/1||Bet365|
Our tips in the later races are:
|Arpege D’Alene (ew)||4.50 Cheltenham||12/1||Paddy Power|
|Champers On Ice (ew)||4.50 Cheltenham||15/2||Sky Bet|
|Dancing Shadow (ew)||4.50 Cheltenham||33/1||Bet365|
|Gold Present (ew)||5.30 Cheltenham||14/1||Coral|
|Two Taffs (ew)||5.30 Cheltenham||10/1||Sky Bet|
|Tully East (ew)||5.30 Cheltenham||11/1||Paddy Power|
Horses Fitted With First-Time Headgear
Below we list those horses wearing, or switching to, headgear (Blinkers, Visor, Hood) for the first time, given the recent trend for such horses to exceed expectations as a whole. For example Solar Impulse, fitted with first time blinkers, won the final race of last year’s Festival at 28/1.
|Cilaos Emery||1.30 Cheltenham||Hood (H1)||20/1||Bet365, Sky Bet|
|Martello Tower||4.50 Cheltenham||Blinkers (B1)||14/1||Sky Bet|
|Sizing Tennessee||5.30 Cheltenham||Blinkers (B1)||20/1||Bet365, Sky Bet|