CHELTENHAM week is upon us and the greatest show on turf gets under way on Tuesday with a thrilling day's racing.
Here are my picks for each race on opening day.
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (1.30)
Kalashnikov did this column a good turn in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury but it was a gruelling race on very deep ground which may have left its mark. That said, he has a huge chance on official ratings.
He lost a shoe when beaten fair and square by Summerville Boy in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown in early January and Kalashnikov has been rested since that tough race on heavy ground.
Willie Mullins’s Getabird is two from two and had nine lengths to spare when making all to thump Mengli Khan at Punchestown. Stablemate Carter McKay was beaten almost 14 lengths in third but came out to run a cracker when a close third to Tower Bridge and Jetz in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown.
Mullins has farmed this race in recent years with the likes of Champagne Fever, Vautour and Douvan, so the vibes are good for Getabird.
The favourite comes out a better horse, but not by much, than Paloma Blue on a collateral form line through Impact Factor.
- (13-8, Betbright)
Arkle Challenge Trophy (2.10)
Footpad has been foot-perfect over fences, jumping with accuracy and alacrity, and is the most likely winner. Petit Mouchoir may have needed his comeback run in the Irish ‘Arkle’ at Leopardstown when getting a rear view of Footpad and will strip fitter.
He has twice beaten Footpad over hurdles, so is no forlorn hope. However, Footpad was a 4-9 shot when beating Petit Mouchoir five lengths at the Dublin track so looks decent value trading around 11-8 against.
- (5-4, Betbright)
Ultima Handicap Chase (2.50)
Coo Star Sivola was put in his place by Frodon at Cheltenham in January but went on to hose up at Exeter. Connections will have heaved a sigh of relief as that victory got Coo Star Sivola into this competitive handicap.
The six-year- old has loads of Cheltenham form to fall back on, including an excellent fourth to Champagne Classic in last year’s Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, plua close third behind Diego Du Charmil in the 2016 Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
Soft ground is ideal but on the book he has quite a bit to find with Shantou Flyer on their run behind Frodon. Shantou Flyer finished second, two places in front of Coo Star Sivola, and is 8lb better off. He has since been beaten at Kelso by Big River but looks the e/w bet in this very open handicap.
Gold Present carries top weight on the back of two excellent successes (both good to soft) in December, first at Newbury then three weeks later at Ascot when beating Frodon. He hasmissed a couple of recent engagements but Nicky Henderson is sure to have him in top trim.
Gold Present also boasts festival form as he chased home Tully East in last year’s Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase. He is a must for your shortlist but hasn’t a lot of form on very soft ground.
- COO STAR SIVOLA
- (5-1, Betbright)
Unibet Champion Hurdle (3.30)
Buveur D’Air is a very worthy odds-on shot and lots of punters will be dabbling in the ‘without the favourite’ market.
I’m prepared to overlook Melon’s flop behind Supasundae when the application of a first-time hood backfired and his second to Labaik in last year’s Supreme Hurdle gives him a chance of hitting the frame.
My Tent Or Yours is a more obvious contender, betting without the jolly. His record in this race speaks for itself and he will be hard to keep out of the money.
- MY TENT OR YOURS ew (without Buveur D’Air market)
- (7-2, Betbright)
OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (4.10)
Apple’s Jade is very difficult to oppose and she is one to include in Lucky 15s and accumulators. Looking at the ‘without’ market, the one to catch the eye is Jer’s Girl.
She was travelling well when tipping up three out in this event last year and although she has a little to find with La Bague Au Roi on their Kempton run, she has plenty of form on deep ground in Ireland. She was beaten two lengths by Apple’s Jade at Navan in November.
- JER’S GIRL e/w (without Apple’s Jade market)
- (10-1 Betbright)
National Hunt Chase (4.50)
Jury Duty comes up to scratch on official ratings – his mark of 148 is 3lb and 5lb higher than the last two winners Tiger Roll and Minella Rocco and he’ll be ridden by the excellent Jamie Codd.
Jury Duty has looked a little bit soft in the finish on his last two runs but may have been waiting for some slightly better ground. He finished third to Presenting Percy in last year’s Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle carrying a big weight and looks sure to be thereabouts granted some luck in running. The fitting of a tongue-tie for the first time may eke out a little improvement.
Mossback was upsides Jury Duty at Naas when capsizing at the last and is ridden by last year’s winning jockey Lisa O’Neill. Mossback will be carrying my saver. Keeper Hill may well have beaten Barney Dwan when falling at Musselburgh and should go
well for the home contingent.
- JURY DUTY
- (5-1, Betbright)
Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase (5.30)
I’ve bet two horses, Barney Dwan and Rather Be, and will be bitterly disappointed if at least one of them fails to hit the frame. Barney Dwan chased home Presenting Percy in last year’s Pertemps and has taken to chasing like a duck to water.
He wasn’t at his very best when scoring at Musselburgh but quite a few fancied southern raiders struggled on the sticky ground that day.
Rather Be has been kept under the radar by Nicky Henderson, mopping up a couple of small races at Towcester and Fakenham with the minimum of fuss. It’s worth recalling that Rather Be was a smart hurdler last season, beating 21 rivals to land a Grade 3 contest at Aintree in the spring.
Any Second Now, trained by Ted Walsh for JP, steps into handicap company after tackling the likes of Footpad and Monalee in Graded company, and has to be respected along with Tycoon Prince on a line through Footpad at Leopardstown.
De Plotting Shed has been one of the big talking horses at those ubiquitous Cheltenham preview evenings and it is easy to see why. He was another useful hurdler and chased home Montalbano at Gowran Park in January to get his handicap mark over fences. Gordon Elliott has kept him under wraps and Davy Russell is booked. Enough said.
- RATHER BE
- (10-1, Betbright)