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If you were on the Willie Mullins favourites, which looked to be the way entering into Day 1, you would have been laughing. I'm sure many of you would've been on the Gaelic Warrior, State Man and Lossiemouth treble.

In recent times, this race has been won by ‘hype jobs' who looked to have the world at their feet, but never really progressed as we all thought, so hopefully the winner of this turns into a top-class horse. By hype jobs, I mean the likes of Bob OlingerEnvoi Allen and Samcro. Those horses did continue to win Grade 1s, but they were all deemed to be the next big thing of the National Hunt scene. Fingers crossed that Ballyburn is the real deal, as he has done nothing wrong this year, and has looked like a top-class prospect.

Five of the last ten winners have gone off as favourites, so following the market isn't a bad idea, albeit of those who did win as favourite, three were odds-on shots.

Cheltenham 1:30 – No Bet

This is a no bet race for me, as I really can't look past Ballyburn who looks like Willie Mullins' novice stable star for this year. He was beaten on seasonal reappearance by Firefox, but hasn't looked back since that run, winning a maiden hurdle by 25L before winning a Grade 1 at the DRF by 7L, with the form of that race looking rock-solid. The runner-up, Slade Steel, won the Supreme on Day 1, and if Ballyburn turned up to that race he would've won it on the bridle. If for some reason Ballyburn doesn't win this race, it's going to look awfully daft for Willie Mullins to not run him in the Supreme, as they were clearly confident that his other stablemates were good enough to land that race. This horse is rated 7lbs clear of anything in this race, and he seems to have the world at his feet, he stays the trip, has a high cruising speed and has already proven that he handles the testing conditions. There is very little against him for today's race, and that is why he is as short in the market as he is.

Willie also has four others for this race just in case Ballyburn underperforms. It's hard to say whether Danny Mullins is the second jockey anymore in the big races like this, as Patrick is on board Ile Atlantique who you'd imagine is the second-best chance of winning this race. He has a nice profile, with some good bumper runs last season and has transitioned to hurdles nicely, only finding Readin Tommy Wrong too good for him in the Grade 1 at Naas in January. That was a surprise as he went off 6/4F for that race and was beaten by his stablemate who was 16/1. His jumping wasn't foot-perfect at Naas, but he still travelled like a very smart performer, but it just seems that he isn't a battler as three of his defeats for Willie has seen him lose by a head, 0.75L and a neck, and it just seems that when he gets eyeballed, he chucks the towel in. Predators Gold has a good chance of placing in this, especially with the ground being as testing as it is as he proved that he stayed 2m 7f at Leopardstown last time out, and was staying on at the finish in second place. However, given that there isn't a full field for this race, and with the ground being very slow, this might turn into a bit of a sprint than a full-on stamina test, and that won't suit him.

The British trainers send three for this race, but only two will be in contention as The Grey Man has recorded RPRs in the low 100s, and it is definitely just a day out for connections. Handstands beat Jango Baie at Huntingdon in a Listed race, he did it nicely and recorded an RPR of 138, but was receiving 5lb from the Henderson horse who was a Grade 1 winner coming into that race, but the form of his win on Boxing Day hasn't worked out. Handstands looks like a lovely horse and Ben Pauling has his horses in fine condition coming into this Festival, but he has an awful a lot of improvement to get close to the odds-on shot. If Nicky Henderson's horses weren't running extremely flat on Day 1, you could probably make a case for Jingko Blue to outrun his odds as he looked like a really nice performer when winning a Class 3 handicap at Ascot off top weight. There has always been a bit of hype around this horse, and though he won a handicap with ease off a mark of 124 last time out, with Nicky having so many pulled-up horses on Day 1, it's hard to recommend him, even as an EW player.


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