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WITH the Cheltenham Festival just over a week away I'm delighted to welcome back national hunt specialist Voice of Value to our team.

Alongside @johnb and @nickluck he'll be bringing us daily tips during the Festival but he's so excited at the prospect of bashing the bookies that he's got his antepost tips in his sights and here he shares his early thoughts on who could be passing the winning post first at Cheltenham on Day 1.

Cheltenham Festival Day 1 – Tuesday, March 14

We’re now just over a week away from the best racing festival of the year. It’s been another brutal few months for antepost punters as some of the top prospects for the festival have come a cropper – Annie Power, Faugheen, Sprinter Sacre, Thistlecrack, Don Cossack, Min, Vautour – the list goes on and it’s safe to say that some old friends won’t be there. Those of you who backed some of the hotpots in antepost accumulators might have had your fingers burnt and we still need to tread carefully even at this stage.

The intended race for certain horses is still unclear and things can go wrong right up to the last minute as we saw last year with Champagne Fever on the receiving end of a bite from one of his more boisterous stable mates the night before his big race. Lucky for us our Cheltenham partner, 10Bet have gone non-runner no bet (NRNB) on all races at the festival so we can now get involved safe in the knowledge that if there are any that don’t turn up on the day we’ll get our money back.

I’m going to consider each day of the festival now that we’re getting closer and the handicap weights have been announced to work out whether there is any early value that jumps out. Hopefully I can find one or two at this stage that will go off a bit shorter on the day. I’ll also be back with a daily guide for each day of the festival next week.

Supreme Novices Hurdle

Another year, another Mullins favourite in the Supreme. Melon is the favourite in most antepost markets at the moment and quite incredibly, unlike previous Mullins favourites for the race, the horse has only been seen once on a racecourse. That was an easy win in a maiden at Leopardstown in January but the runner up that day hasn’t done the form any favours (beaten into 3rd when favourite next time out) and the current price of 7/2 for Melon makes little appeal.

A favourite that is too short usually means there is some value to be found in amongst the rest and there are two that jump out at me. The first is fairly obvious in the shape of MOON RACER (5/1 NRNB with 10Bet) who I tipped two years ago to win the Champion Bumper at a nice price. He then had injury problems and missed the whole of last season before returning with two wins over hurdles early in the season.

He hasn’t been seen since November and I think if he had been run more recently his price would be shorter. He beat Ballyandy twice, once at Cheltenham, and Ballyandy subsequently made the Betfair Hurdle against more experienced horses look like a day out at the park. With his solid Cheltenham form I can’t see Moon Racer finishing out of the top 3. The one slight concern here is that Moon Racer is also entered in the Champion Hurdle – a much stiffer task – and I think if there are one or two more defections from big name horses in that race the Pipe team might decide to take their chance of winning the big one.

At 8 years of age he is a bit older than most of the other Supreme candidates given his enforced absence last season and it might well be that he is at his peak as a hurdler this year and connections are tempted by the Champion Hurdle. The beauty with non-runner no bet is that we get our money back if that happens so I’m recommending a bet at this point.

I have another horse for the race that I fancy at a bigger price but I’m keeping that one under my hat because I expect his price to drift. Check my daily guide next Tuesday for that one…

Recommendation

  • 2pt win – MOON RACER – 5/1 NRNB with 10Bet

Arkle Chase

Altior has looked a class apart from everything else so I’m not going to dwell on this one for too long. He should win if he avoids any mishaps at the fences but prices like 1/3 are a bit too short for me. I’ll maybe look at an accumulator with some of the shorter priced favourites nearer the time but for now I won’t be getting involved with this race.

Some firms are offering markets without Altior but I am never too keen on those markets – often the second best horse can try to go with the classier horse and burn out whilst another horse ridden simply to get home and claim a place can arrive late on the scene.

Recommendation

  • No bet

Ultima Handicap Chase

The first handicap of the festival. The handicaps are an absolute nightmare until you get a winner, then they are great fun because you’re usually getting double figure odds.

I won’t go into too much detail just now because there are still tons of multiple entries in the handicaps (101 runners still in this one for example) but there is one that absolutely jumps out at me as a bit of potential value. MALL DINI is an obvious one to some extent given that he won the Pertemps at last year’s festival.

He has yet to win this season over fences but there is almost certainly more to come from him and a return to Cheltenham and some nice spring ground should bring out the best in him again. He is a lower price for the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir race on the Thursday but that is a race for amateur riders and this horse has a strong relationship with Davy Russell so my theory is that he’ll go for this.

With non-runner no bet the worst case scenario is that he goes elsewhere and we get our money back. If he does run here the Irish will latch onto him and the price could collapse.

Recommendation

  • MALL DINI – 2pt e/w – 12/1 NRNB with 10Bet

Champion Hurdle

Annie Power and Faugheen have been our last two winners but in a real shock both of these Mullins and Ricci horses will miss the race this year. That deprives us of two absolute superstars but it has the bonus of making this race completely unpredictable.

I think you can make a case for 7 or 8 of them but my mind keeps being drawn back to one name – THE NEW ONE. There’s nothing new about this one to be honest – this will be his fourth attempt in the Champion Hurdle and there is very little we don’t know about him. He’s honest, gutsy and talented without ever being able to match the likes of Annie Power or Faugheen at the very top level.

His best chance to win it came in his first attempt in 2014 when he was hampered by the fall of poor old Our Conor which almost stopped him in his tracks. He lost at least 6 or 7 lengths on the leaders there but still battled back to be 3rd by less than three lengths. He has lost by 8 lengths to both Faugheen and Annie Power in the two subsequent runnings of the race but this year is not as hot.

I find it hard to believe that in a wide open race he can be backed at such a nice each way price (14/1 with 10Bet) and he is the obvious value bet for me. Nigel Twiston-Davies has confirmed that this is the race for The New One and that he has a change of race tactics to try out this year. If those work this might just be fourth time lucky for the old warrior and it that happens there won’t be a dry eye in the house, including this old romantic.

Recommendation:

  • 2 pt e/w – THE NEW ONE – 14/1 NRNB with 10Bet

Mares Hurdle

Vroum Vroum Mag obliged last year as my bet of the week in this one, skooshing up whilst smoking a cigar, and it now looks as though she will line up again this year.

I have two concerns at this point though. Firstly, there is a chance that one or both of Apple’s Jade and Limini will also line up, both of whom are top class mares and would make this very competitive indeed compared to the steering job that Ruby Walsh had last year.

Secondly, you never know with Mullins, Ricci and Walsh where the horses will end up running – there could be a last minute change of plan. For those reasons I’ll keep my powder dry until the day but it will take a lot for me to desert Vroum Vroum.

Recommendation:

  • No bet

National Hunt Chase

A four mile slog for novice chasers, this race is for amateur jockeys and the better amateurs are worth their weight in gold. Jockeys like Jamie Codd, Derek O’Connor and Nina Carberry (maternity leave this year) are the ones to look out for. The word is that Jamie Codd will ride A GENIE IN ABOTTLE and Derek O’Connor will ride Edwulf.

A Genie In Abottle looks like the ideal type of horse for the race – a dour stayer who his trainer Noel Meade thinks will love the marathon trip and his most recent runs have suggested that is spot on. Despite being the current favourite he looks like an each way shot to nothing for me.

Recommendation:

  • 1pt e/w – A GENIE IN ABOTTLE – 5/1 with 10Bet

Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase

Another competitive handicap chase to see out day 1 of the festival. I am definitely interested in the Paul Nicholls runner ROMAIN DE SENAM but there’s not tons of value in his price at the moment so I’ll wait until the day and see what the state of play is then.

BUN DORAN would be attractive if there is a good bit of rain and the ground ends up soft or heavy but I’m not sure I can back him on good ground which seems likely.

The potential value at this stage is POKER SCHOOL who won two over fences earlier in the season and was then put away for the spring time because he prefers better ground. He could still be very nicely handicapped and this looks his intended target for the week.

Recommendation

  • POKER SCHOOL – 1pt e/w at 14/1 NRNB with 10Bet

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