Welcome to 4 days of mayhem, drinking and fun on all fours. As an excitable young American college student once thought as he faced down an apple pie – let’s do this!
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
We kick off with the future champion hurdlers facing off over 2 miles and once again Willie Mullins has the hot favourite. He has dominated this race in recent years, with the likes of Champagne Fever in 2013, Vautour in 2014 and Douvan in 2015, who all kicked off their illustrious careers by winning the Festival opener. This year he looks to a horse called Melon to enhance his record – but for once I will be taking him on.
Those previous winners came here with much stronger form in the locker than the once raced Melon, whose sole run over hurdles came in a novice hurdle at the end of January at Leopardstown. While he looked extremely impressive, the form of the race has to be questioned – indeed, I would have fancied myself to be placed in the same race if I lined up on the way home from the pub. Without question he has the potential to improve but I would rather side with form that I have seen on the track.
My idea of the winner would be second favourite BALLYANDY, winner of last year’s Bumper here. He has much more experience than the favourite with four runs over hurdles this season rounding off with an eye-catching win in a big handicap last time out and this experience will stand him in good stead through the hustle and bustle of a race like this. He looks a big each way bet at 7/2 with Bet365 who pay ¼ odds.
Of the rest I wouldn’t let another Willie Mullins trained horse called CRACK MOME go without having a few quid each way. He was upset at long odds-on last time but may improve on this better ground and looks value at best odds of 10/1 with Coral.
|Ballyandy (ew)||1.30 Cheltenham||7/2||Bet365|
|Crack Mome (ew)||1.30 Cheltenham||10/1||Coral|
The English equivalent of Irish superstar chaser Douvan goes here in the shape of Altior – but like all things English, he is a distant second. That said, Altior is as big a certainty as death, but it’s a bit early in the week to be putting a wheelbarrow full of cash on a 2/7 shot – exactly what would be required to make any worthwhile profit.
Instead, let’s look to the Ruby Walsh ridden ROYAL CAVIAR, who is available at 20/1 with Bet365. I backed him last time out at Leopardstown where he was coasting to an easy victory with only one fence left, before hitting the floor and taking my hard earned with him. If he jumps clear here, he’ll be there to pick up the pieces should Altior send his jockey into the stratosphere. I would recommend backing him each way at 20/1, as well as ‘Without the Favourite’, also each way, at tasty odds of 9/2.
|Royal Caviar (ew)||2.10 Cheltenham||20/1||Bet365|
|Royal Caviar (ew)||2.10 Cheltenham w/o Altior||9/2||Bet365|
Ultima Handicap Chase
A wide open handicap chase over the fences and it most certainly is not for girls.
I am looking at a horse who won this same race 2 years ago in the hope that he can recapture past form, after a disappointing season last year. The horse in question is THE DRUIDS NEPHEW, who was cruising in the Grand National the year he won this, before he slid on landing and hit the floor. My big worry with this horse is his jockey, Sam Waley-Cohen, who will no doubt be hailing a taxi at most of the jumps.
Hopefully the super glue will do the trick and he can keep the partnership intact.
At bigger prices VICONTE DU NOYER, who has won here this season, can go close if we ignore his last 2 runs and don’t let Cheltenham specialist, BUYWISE, go without a small flutter each way also. Both of them are currently available at odds of 50/1.
|The Druids Nephew (ew)||2.50 Cheltenham||10/1||Bet365|
|Viconte Du Noyer (ew)||2.50 Cheltenham||50/1||Stan James|
|Buywise (ew)||2.50 Cheltenham||50/1||Paddy Power|
A substandard Champion Hurdle this year with high profile absentees, such as past champions Faugheen and Annie Power.
JP McManus is triple handed with both the first and second favourites, in Yanworth and Buveur D’Air, plus My Tent Or Yours – second in this race twice previously.
Favourite Yanworth has been heavily backed in the last couple of weeks, but he isn’t for me – I firmly believe if McManus didn’t already have the stayers hurdler favourite in Unowhatimeanharry, that Yanworth would be running there instead. He comes off the bridle too easily and surely won’t have the pace to win this over 2 mile trip.
The second favourite BUVEUR D’AIR would be the pick of the McManus trio. He was sent novice chasing this year before reverting back to hurdles last time out, in prep for this. With his jumping style, hurdles look far more suitable and he looks a danger to all and should be backed each way to cover the stakes on the main bet.
That main selection is MOON RACER, who was due to run in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – but instead they have lobbed him in the deep end and I think he is more than capable of winning this race. He has beaten Ballyandy, tipped earlier, twice this year and to me has all the speed and class needed to win this race.
I’ll take a chance that he is capable of this step up in class and put him up as a solid each way bet at 9/1. Of the rest, WICKLOW BRAVE is surely overpriced at 33/1 with Betfair, based on the flat form he showed last year and it’s also worth noting that on his second last hurdle run he was only a length behind Faugheen at Punchestown.
|Moon Racer (ew)||3.30 Cheltenham||9/1||Bet365, Coral|
|Buveur D’Air (ew)||3.30 Cheltenham||11/2||Paddy Power|
|Wicklow Brave (ew)||3.30 Cheltenham||33/1||Betfair|
One of the toughest races of the day here as the ladies line up for a grade 1 hurdle.
Willie Mullins saddles the first and second favourites, in Limini and VROUM VROUM MAG, and their biggest danger look to be a horse he trained last year called Apples Jade – who has since been moved to Gordon Elliot. I make this between the Mullins pair though and I am more than surprised that Ruby has chosen to ride Limini.
I can only assume that Vroum Vroum isn’t working as well at home. However, at the end of the day these are women, and as we all know their moods swing more than a carousel in a typhoon. I’ll have to take a chance that 11/4 shot Vroum Vroum is back to herself tomorrow and has too much class for Limini – who will follow her home.
For the penny merchants, ROCK ON THE MOOR is worth an each way tickle at 66/1.
|Vroum Vroum Mag (ew)||4.10 Cheltenham||11/4||Bet365, Coral|
|Rock On The Moor (ew)||4.10 Cheltenham||66/1||Bet365|
National Hunt Chase
Take 17 horses, put 17 amateur jockeys on them and throw them over fences for 4 miles – what could go wrong? As you can guess from that, this is one of the hardest races of the week to dissect. The two favourites are Edwulf and Genie In A Bottle – in no small part due to the two men on board in Jamie Codd and Derek O’Connor.
However, in a race of this nature their odds of around 11/2 make little appeal and I would have to look towards those at bigger odds to get involved. A horse I have lost numerous shillings on over the years is previous Cheltenham winner TIGER ROLL. I backed him here last year and after the race I said that he needs 8 miles to produce his best. While he doesn’t have those 8 miles here, I am more than happy that the 4 miles with an uphill finish will be sufficient to get the best out of him.
He will be lacking nothing from the saddle with Lisa O’Neill, one of the better women jockeys, taking the mount. His odds of 16/1 with 4 places look too big and he rates a confident bet each way. Another to keep on side is CHAMPERS ON ICE, who looks as if he will stay all day and is also worth an each way poke at 8/1 with those 4 places.
|Tiger Roll (ew)||4.50 Cheltenham||16/1||Bet365, Coral|
|Champers On Ice (ew)||4.50 Cheltenham||8/1||Bet365, Coral|
Close Brothers Novices Handicap Chase
Another tough handicap chase to close out proceedings on Day 1 – with 20 runners going to post. In a race such as this I would normally look to a tastily priced outsider but I simply cannot ignore the head of the market with the favourite, FOXTAIL HILL, a standout price of 7/1 with Betfred and he is a big each way bet at that. He bolted up here back in January with an exceptional front running display of jumping and a repeat of that will leave the others flailing behind.
Top weight ZAMDY MAN is a horse that can defy his odds of 25/1 with both Bet365 and Sky Bet and is worth a nibble each way at that. But Foxtail Hill is as confident an each way bet as I can ever recommend. Hopefully, he’ll round off a great day for us.
|Foxtail Hill (ew)||5.30 Cheltenham||7/1||Betfred|
|Zamdy Man (ew)||5.30 Cheltenham||25/1||Bet365, Sky Bet|