The Cheltenham Festival will start on the softest ground for over 20 years with clerk of the course Simon Claisse reporting conditions as heavy (soft in places) following further rain on Sunday with further light rain due to fall throughout Monday.
Twenty will go to post for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle including the Willie Mullins’ trained favourite Getabird (13/8 at BetVictor) who is unbeaten under rules having won two Bumpers and two novice hurdles including a Grade 2 contest at Punchestown last time.
He looks the best of the strong Irish challenge, but my two against the field are First Flow and Kalashnikov (1.30) with marginal preference for the Betfair Hurdle winner who is taken to reverse previous Sandown form with Summerville Boy.
The selection has won three of his four starts and will enjoy the end to end gallop which looks guaranteed given there is plenty of pace in the race. The selection is 9/2 with BetVictor (each way 1/5 odds 4 places) and he gets a narrow each way vote in a race where I would have given Lostintranslation a big chance (40/1) had it not been for his dismal run last time.
First Flow will love conditions but the Kim Bailey yard are hardly firing in the winners at present with Harry Topper beaten going to the first at Ayr on Saturday.
Only five go to post for the Arkle but three of them have realistic chances. Saint Calvados has won his three chase starts by an aggregate of over 40 lengths, but he has never met a rival with the natural ability of Footpad (2.10) or Petit Mouchoir and marginal preference is for the former who finished fourth in the Champion Hurdle twelve months ago and third in the Triumph Hurdle in 2016.
The selection has won all three chase starts including when beating Petit Mouchoir in the Irish Arkle last time. He is unlikely to get to the lead with Saint Calvados likely to set a fierce gallop but I think Footpad can come home best of all.
I have been banging on about Coo Star Sivola (2.50) since his second to Kalondra here back in December and he improved for the step up to three miles last time when left clear two out at Exeter last month. The handicapper has raised him 7lbs for that success, but conditions are ideal and as long as jockey Lizzie Kelly does not go ten wide as she did throughout the selection’s penultimate start then I feel he has a very good chance.
This has long been my biggest fancy of the meeting although the price has shrunk and he is now vying for favouritism at 11/2 (has been 20s) with BetVictor. One negative is that the selection is only a six-year-old and you have to go back to 1994 for the last winner to come from that age group.
Singlefarmpayment was my each way selection for this corresponding race 12 months ago when he finished runner up and things have just not gone to plan so far this term. He is only 3lbs higher today and must go close, but I have saved on Ramses De Teille (14/1 at BetVictor) who represents the David Pipe yard who have such a good record in this race. Note the grey is another six-year-old.
Faugheen wears cheekpieces for the first time as he tries to regain his Champion Hurdle crown, but it is hard to get away from last year’s winner Buveur D’Air (3.30) who has won his last nine starts since finishing third – when given too much to do – in the Supreme Novice Hurdle on this card two years ago behind stablemate Altior.
Another horse who is looking follow up last year’s win is Apple’s Jade (4.10) and she can win the Mares’ Hurdle for a second time for Gordon Elliot with Jack Kennedy in the plate on this occasion. The form of her latest Leopardstown win over 3m was given a boost when the runner up (Supasundae) won the Irish Champion Hurdle last time back at the minimum trip of two miles.
Gordon Elliot has saddled the winner of the 4m NH Chase twice in the last three years and he saddles the market leaders again this year courtesy of Jury Duty (9/2 at BetVictor) and Mossback (6/1). Jury Duty might be the best horse in the race but he emptied quickly over three miles last time although Elliot reaches for a first-time tongue-tie today.
Four miles on soft ground will be a real slog, however, and my two against the field are the mare Ms Parfois (4.50) and Sizing Tennessee with the mare getting the narrow vote with the 7lbs sex allowance vital.
The each way selection (7/1 with BetVictor who are betting four places) is usually a slick jumper and lost little in defeat when beaten by Black Corton last time with the winner given another wonderful ride from the front by Bryony Frost. The mare promises to stay four miles and a return to a left-handed track will suit.
I was impressed by the win of Sizing Tennessee (10/1 with BetVictor) over the best part of three-and-a-quarter miles here back in December although he did receive 5lbs from Duel At Dawn and that rival reopposes at level weights today.
The concluding Close Brothers Novices’ Chase is an ultra-competitive 20-runner handicap with De Plotting Shed considered by many in Ireland to be a handicap “good thing” given he finished 3L second to RSA Chase favourite Presenting Percy at Galway off level weights at the end of October.
The eight-year-old is 13/2 with BetVictor and there are many who feel that Elliot has been hiding his potential by running him over trips short of his best since that Galway run – if that is the case, he must go close with Davy Russell booked.
Marginal preference, however, is for Barney Dwan (5.30) who finished runner up to the aforementioned Presenting Percy here in the Pertemps Hurdle Final twelve months ago and this two-and-half-mile trip in testing conditions should be ideal. The selection is 8/1 at BetVictor and is another each way recommendation.
Rocklander and Testify are others to consider in a fascinating end to what promises to be a wonderful days racing.
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