The opening day of the festival delivered some amazing headlines and none more so than the victory of Espoir D’Allen. Gavin Cromwell displayed tremendous belief in pitching his French bred 5-year-old against the fastest jumpers in the world. The champion hurdle that many had envisaged failed to materialise as the new kid on the block trounced his rivals with a bloodless display. Cromwell’s ability to ready a horse for the big day is renowned and yet again one of his stars delivered on the big occasion.
The ground played a huge factor in the finishing distances across several races and it looks like this trend may continue for the rest of the week. Rachael Blackmore rode her first Cheltenham winner on A Plus Tard and in doing so displayed her undoubted ability. Ruby had yet another final flight fall and has unfortunately drawn attention to his abysmal record of falling when leading to the last.
Al Dancer failed to handle the soft ground and lost his place coming down the hill whilst Ruby swung effortlessly from Klassical Dream. Discorama almost landed a huge gamble for the Paul Nolan stable but was outbattled by the resilient Le Breuil. Today’s racing consists of some very tough handicaps and of course the feature of the day, the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1) 1m7f199y
The Queen Mother Champion Chase has recently been won by stars such as Moscow Flyer, Master Minded and one-time stablemate Sprinter Sacre. This year’s renewal will help inflate the reputation of the remarkable Altior. Unbeaten in his last 17 races over fences/hurdles, many had questioned whether Nicky Henderson would step his unrivalled chaser up in distance to contest the Gold Cup. Henderson quipped that he would sooner run him over 5 furlongs as he is that speedy. Politologue will likely set the pace until Altior uses his gears to canter clear and retain his crown. This will also provide Nicky Henderson with his 5th Queen Mother in 8 years which is a truly incredible feat.
Selection: Altor (Double)
Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase 3m6f37y
The Cross Country Chase was introduced to the Cheltenham Festival in 2005 and is an exhilarating race that encompasses 32 jumps and gives a unique insight into some amazing horsemanship. Enda Bolger has trained the winner of this race 5 times and he has two strong candidates in Josies Orders and Auvergnat. Both horses are cross country specialists and have been campaigned with this race in mind since the start of the season. Irish raiders have provided all but 2 of the previous 14 winners and it is also best to focus on horses with course and distance experience. Willie Mullins will be represented by Ballycasey, although he has failed to fire over the Cross-Country course, he is certainly talented and may be a danger to all if he can remain concentrated and jump with vigour. However, it is worth noting that Gordon Elliot has announced Tiger Roll as his best chance of the week. Tiger Roll landed this race last year on route to success at the Aintree Grand National and will be campaigned in a similar fashion this season. His recent success in a strongly contested hurdle in Navan showcased his dynamism and one thinks that this 9-year-old wouldn’t look out of place in the Gold Cup on Friday. Keith Donoghue will ride as per last year and it will take a very clever performance from an outlier to overturn this worthy favourite.
Selection: Tiger Roll (Double)
Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Grade 1) 2m87y
The Champion bumper traditionally showcases the stars of the future and this year’s is no different. Several of the runners in the field look built for jumping and none more so than Envoi Allen. Cheveley Park’s gelding is a powerful figure and looks certain to stay galloping to the line. His success at the Leopardstown festival will provide most of the form lines of the leading Irish raiders. Meticulous stayed on well into second that day and will be ridden patiently in order to swoop late in this one. Willie Mullins is usually mob-handed in the bumper but has decided to pin all his hopes on the JP McManus owned Blue Sari. Mullins believed his debut success was “special”, but his inexperience may count against him. A chance is taken on Sempo, the Joseph O’ Brien trained runner demolished a rather average field on his last start but importantly, he finished with strongly and is a really improving sort.
1.30 Sam’s Profile 11/1
2.10 On the Blind Side 12/1 EW
2.50 Vision Des Flos 14/1 EW
3.30 Altior (Double) 2/5
4.10 Tiger Roll (Double) 6/5
4.50 Coko Beach 12/1 EW
5.30 Sempo 11/1