Day one of the Cheltenham Festival definitely lived up to expectations.
Altior produced a stunning display to win the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in fine style from Min in second. Douvan followed suit with a near-perfect display in the Racing Post Arkle to later warrant quotes of 2/1 for next year’s Champion Chase, and Annie Power smashed the course record in winning the Champion Hurdle in fine fashion.
On to day two…
13:30 – Neptune Investment Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1):
Favourite Yanworth has been all of the rage for the Neptune following his mightily impressive victory in the trial at Cheltenham in January. Alan King’s six-year-old needn’t come out of second gear to win that trial on ground described as ‘Heavy’.
The manner in which he travelled and quickened after the final flight was that of a potentially special National Hunt horse. Connections are expecting him to prove even better on spring ground, which makes him a worthy favourite at 5/4.
However, those defeated in the Neptune trial at Cheltenham in January were beaten very quickly and it leaves me questioning how strong that form really is.
Instead, it is YORKHILL that represents the best alternative and arrives at Prestbury Park with the standout form following his Grade One victory at Kempton in the Tolworth earlier this year.
The second and third from that contest have since won, most notably Agrapart who produced a superb performance to win the fiercely-competition Betfair Hurdle last month.
Yorkhill convincingly beat his rivals in the Tolworth Hurdle and the race has being labelled as the most notable piece of form in a novice hurdle division this season. That race was over two-miles, but Willie Mullins’ inmate has all the scope to be even better over tomorrow’s Neptune trip, especially on the aniticipated good ground.
Advice: Yorkhill 5/2 (Bet365)
14:10 – RSA Chase (Grade 1):
There may only be eight runners in this year’s RSA Chase but it is a select field of horses that could produce one of the Festival’s most exciting races.
Former World Hurdle winner More Of That heads the betting for trainer Jonjo O’Neill and it’s hard to argue otherwise. This eight-year old son of Beneficial has been to Cheltenham four times and has won on every occasion. This season, More Of That has won two novice chases at Prestbury Park though has yet to truly impress me with his jumping.
He was a superb hurdler and remains the only horse to beat Annie Power in the completion of a race, but I’m not totally convinced that he is an elite chaser. Therefore I’d much rather his rival in the market, NO MORE HEROES.
Gordon Elliot’s charge has easily been the leading three-mile novice chaser this season and heads to Cheltenham with fantastic claims. Third in last year’s Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, No More Heroes has made a perfect transition to fences and looks a natural over the larger obstacles.
He travels, jumps and has a huge engine which is crucial to meet the demands of the RSA Chase, and at 5/2 is one of the standout bets of the week.
Advice: No More Heroes 5/2 (Ladbrokes)
14:50 – Coral Cup (Grade 3 Handicap):
Renowned for being one of the most competitive handicap hurdles of the season, the Coral Cup features a number of potentially well-handicapped horses, none more so than Politologue who represents the same connections as last year’s winner Aux Ptit Soins.
However, it is DIAMOND KING that has been on the radar for a major handicap plot all season and he should still be very competitive despite being hit hard by the handicapper. The eight-year old recorded an easy success at Punchestown last time out over 2m4f and was subsequently giving a 13lbs hike by the English assessor.
Nonetheless, Diamond King is able to race off of a nice weight and has the services of Cheltenham veteran Davy Russell in the saddle. The better spring ground as well as this longer trip of 2m5f should see Gordon Elliot’s inmate go very close to landing this valuable handicap prize.
Advice: Diamond King 9/1 E/W (BetVictor)
15:30 – Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1):
Wednesday’s highlight is the Champion Chase over two miles which sees Un De Sceaux attempt to make it back-to-back victories at Cheltenham following his success in the Racing Post Arkle 12 months ago.
He is the hot 4/5 favourite with bookmakers and should go very close to winning granted he stays on his feet. Of the previous winners, Sprinter Sacre bids to regain his crown in which he won in 2013 though could be up against it to match the market leader if you put a form line through Sire De Grugy.
Un De Sceaux made light work of Gary Moore’s horse at Ascot last time out, whereas Sprinter Sacre had to battle hard to get past him at Kempton over Christmas.
Defending champion Dodging Bullets has had his problems this season and will need to improve significantly from his reappearance, where he finished a laboured second to Top Gamble.
Of the remainder, GOD’S OWN stands out as the value in the ‘without favourite’ market. His second-place finish behind Un De Sceaux in the Arkle last season is still credible form and a return to that track and trip, as well as better ground, should see God’s Own run another big race.
To this day, he is still the only horse to show any sign of beating the Willie Mullins hot-pot 12 months ago, and he should relish the return to Prestbury Park tomorrow.
Advice: God’s Own 12/1 E/W (w/o Un De Sceaux) (Bet365)
16:10 – Glenfarclas Chase (Cross Country Chase):
All season, there has been one horse that has dominated the Cross Country division and I expect them to prolong that dominance into the Festival on Wednesday. Enda Bolger’s JOSIES ORDERS has produced a pair of quality performances to win two Cross Country chases at Cheltenham this campaign and looks sure to go close once again.
Nina Carberry’s charge has really taken to the unique demands of the course in recent months and warrants real respect for his master trainer. Enda Bolger is renowned for his precise preparation with cross-country contenders and is sure to have Josies Orders spot on for this assignment.
The eight-year old is on a sharp upward curve and is a worthy favourite at 3/1.
Advice: Josies Orders 3/1 (SkyBet)
16:50 – Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3):
DIEGO DU CHARMIL is this year’s ‘talk horse’ for the Festival under trainer Paul Nicholls. Connections believe he is on a very nice handicap mark following his three outings in France but the big prices at now long-gone, and Diego Du Charmil is as short as 11/2 in the betting.
Backing a horse that short in the market with no British or Irish form is silly though he may just be good enough to win this contest, and emulate the victory of Aux Ptit Soins in the Coral Cup last season.
There have been good words for Campeador and Missy Tata in the build up to the Festival, but the Fred Winter is not really a race that I get involved with and is best watched.
Advice: No Bet
17:30 – Weatherby’s Champion Bumper (Grade 1 NH Flat Race):
Similar to the Fred Winter, the Champion Bumper is another race that is sometimes best watched with a view to the future. A number of potential leading novice hurdlers may be amongst the line-up and will be representing their claims for a bold career over jumps in tomorrow’s curtain-closer.
Honourable mentions are made for Augusta Kate and Battleford who have impressed across the Irish Sea this season – most notably the former who is owned by Ant & Dec, Alan Shearer and Lee Westwood.
However, it is renowned for being a wide-open contest which has been won by 16/1, 25/1 and 16/1 in three of the last four years.
Advice: No Bet