Well, it’s here, the 2018 Cheltenham Festival and I can’t remember a time where I’ve never looked forward to it, apart from this season. To a degree. The heavy ground has really sunk me as it’s just not the type of going these high-class horses should be running on at this time of year. The form will mean little going forward, especially trying to gauge novices for next season’s Festival.
But enough of my bitchy moaning. I’m sure all that will change if we happen to win a packet! Enjoy the four days and best of luck to everyone.
1.30 Cheltenham – Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
I can see why Getabird is favourite, but whether or not he deserves to be so short in the betting, I’m not sure. I couldn’t put you off him, but two value bets lay in FIRST FLOW and WESTERN RYDER. The former will adore the heavy going, he’s a real relentless galloper and that’s the type of horse you’ll need today. The latter has a touch of class and is a bit of a forgotten horse. He ran a cracker to be fifth in last season’s Champion Bumper and bits and pieces of his form this season mean he should be at least half his current price.
1pt each-way First Flow @14/1 (bet365 1,2,3,4) @12/1 (Bet Victor 1,2,3,4)
1pt each-way Western Ryder @33/1 (Betfred, Bet Victor, bet365 – all 1,2,3,4)
2.10 Cheltenham – Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase
Despite only 5 runners, this is a cracking little race. Brain Power, Footpad, Petit Mouchoir and Saint Calvados are all high-class novice chasers. The ground has gone against Brain Power however, and being a smallish horse, I’m not sure Petit Mouchoir will jump as well as he can out of it – it will all just be a bit harder for him. I couldn’t put anyone off Footpad, who has looked electric this season. He meets a real dark horse in SAINT CALVADOS who doesn’t have the same type of hurdles form as him, but the way he has been destroying fields on bad ground this season has really impressed me. He’s a big horse who jumps well and the safer bet looks him without Footpad.
2pts win Saint Calvados ‘betting without Footpad’ @6/5 (Paddy Power), @11/10 (bet365)
2.50 Cheltenham – Ultima Handicap Chase
At the prices, my two against the field are SHANTOU FLYER and VINTAGE CLOUDS. Both come into the race in good form and will hopefully handle the bad ground better than most. The former is maybe a touch high in the handicap, but he’s got a brilliant 3lb claimer aboard in James Bowen and that will help. Vintage Clouds is a proper galloping type who was very unlucky in the Welsh National when he was nearly brought down and then made a bad mistake at the next fence. His jumping looked better last time out at Wetherby so hopefully he’s going the right way now.
1.5pts each-way Vintage Clouds @9/1 (bet365 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt each-way Shantou Flyer @16/1 (general – use 1,2,3,4,5 bookmakers)
3.30 Cheltenham – Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy
The big race of the day and it looks Buveur D’Air’s to lose, as the prices suggest. Even though Faugheen is a stone below what he was before he injured himself a couple of seasons ago, I still respect his chances, but at the prices, I’m going to side with the younger and hopefully more progressive legs of Willie Mullins’s other horse MELON. Before he ran below par last time out, he had looked highly progressive. That was maybe just an off day and with Willie Mullins saying, “He’s good and strong and will go on the ground”, he’ll do for me.
1pt each-way Melon ‘betting without Buveur D’Air’ @6/1 (general)
4.10 Cheltenham – OLBG Mares’ Hurdle
Even my degenerate ass won’t be having a bet in this, but I hope Apple’s Jade wins.
Drink tea and eat biscuits during the build up
4.50 Cheltenham – National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase
The Irish trio of Rathvinden, Jury Duty and Mossback head the betting, but for various reasons, I’ll take them on. Rathvinden may well hate the ground while to my eye, Jury Duty and Mossback have disappointed with their finishing efforts on bad going. In fairness, some of those have come in good races, but my two against the field are SIZING TENNESSEE and the mare MS PARFOIS. I have to admit, I’m worried about the ground for the former, but in terms of ability I think he is comfortably the best horse in the race. He’s got a good man on his back in Barry O’Neill and I’m hoping he’ll be able to hunt him round. The mare looks to have an outstanding chance. She has a real touch of class, is a fantastic jumper and will have no problem on the ground. The 7lb she gets over this trip is a lot of weight, and while you can never be sure of a horse staying this distance on this type of ground, she may well excel for it.
2pts each-way Ms Parfois @8/1 (Coral – 1,2,3,4), @7/1 (Bet Victor, Paddy Power – 1,2,3,4)
1pt win Sizing Tennessee @8/1 (general)
5.30 Cheltenham – Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase
A competitive novice handicap to finish day one, and I couldn’t put anyone off one of the favourites, Mister Whitaker. He looks to hold a decent chance, but there is no doubt he picked up the pieces late last time out so I’m going to swing the bat with two big-priced horses in IBIS DU RHEU and BALLYHILL. The former won the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle at the Festival two years ago before going over fences last season. He didn’t manage to win, but he ran plenty of top races. He’s well-bred, lightly-raced and I’m hoping he could be a better horse this season. He’s trained by a good man in Paul Nicholls, and his horses are running well. Ballyhill looks well-handicapped on his run behind North Hill Harvey earlier in the campaign where he looked to love jumping. He’s won on heavy ground around here although I think he’s better on nicer sod, and while he disappointed last time out, he’s a big price to bounce back today.
1pt each-way Ballyhill @22/1 (general)
1pt each-way Ibis Du Rheu @25/1 (general)