Horse Racing

Your Guide To Day One Of The Cheltenham Festival

Your Guide To Day One Of The Cheltenham Festival
When the tape goes up, and that familiar crescendo of roars ignites the Festival, it won't be before time.
After months of speculation and debate the day has arrived, when everyone with even the remotest interest completes the transformation into fancying themselves as the next John McCririck, minus the tufted sideburns and deerstalker.
While betting responsibly - that means betting what you're willing never to see again - is always advised, that's not to say you cannot supplement the entertainment with a few astute - and cautious - wagers.
A good Tuesday, to state the glaringly obvious, is a prerequisite to staying on top of the bookmakers, though the first day of this year's Festival is looking like somewhat of a minefield. However, there are a few gems to be found amidst the all the numbers.
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That said, remain mindful of the secret to enjoying a good week in front of the box: whether your fancy wins, gets beat at the post by a head or simply just runs like it's been beaten on the head with a post, never let it distract from appreciating the de facto 'Greatest Show on Turf'.

1.30: Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle

Cheltenham Tips

For a race that boasts recent winners such as Altior and Vautour, nothing exceptional jumps out of the race card. Al Dancer and Grand Sancy got the job done well on their most recent outings although, at the same time, there was been nothing to scream spectacular about their performances.
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Four-year-old Fakir D'oudairies has won twice already this year and he could have gone for the Triumph Hurdle, but the fact that Joseph O'Brien, his trainer, has brought him back to the Supreme Novices suggests he isn't as highly though of as Sir Eric.
Klassical Dream and Aramon are crossing the Irish Sea for the first time to race after a nail-biting finish in the Grade One Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown last month, the former snatching the win by a head. That win has put the former near the head of the betting while the latter, an impressive Grade One winner at Christmas, has tantalising long odds, even if we're unsure of how he will handle the ground. In a below par running of the race, the Mullins second-string looks solid for a place if not more.
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2.10 Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy

Cheltenham Tips

With Le Richebourg out, Defi De Seuil aimed at the JLT Novices' Chase on Thursday and a paucity of other eye-catching names, the Arkle has become a wide open contest with the Grade One-winning Hardline catching the eye.
Quick ground was the excuse for third- and second-placed finishes at Leopardstown and Punchestown respectively earlier in the season; besides that, the seven-year-old has won the rest of his races and given that there is going to be a decent amount of cut in the ground the Elliot gelding will be hard bet with last year's champion jockey at the Festival, Davy Russell, on board.
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Glen Forsa is also worth taking a look at, having won all of his races since going chasing including a shock 19-length victory over Kalashnikov at Sandown. Should the latter bounce back, on ground he will relish, it would be no surprise, either, to see last year's Supreme Novices' Hurdle runner-up entering the frame once again.

2.50: Ultima Handicap Chase

Handicaps can be somewhat of a maze to pick your way through, but you can find a number of patterns that continue year-on-year. Last year's winner of this, Coo Star Sivola, went against the trend slightly, winning as a six-year-old which hadn't been achieved since 1994, and back again, albeit three pounds higher, he cannot be scoffed at.
Give Me A Copper, part-owned by Alex Ferguson and Jeremy Kyle, has been lightly raced, getting just one outing at Sandown since 2017. But there are positive vibes coming out of Paul Nicholls' Somerset yard regards this one, the trainer maintaining he sees the Aintree Grand National as his eventual target, if not next year's Gold Cup.
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Minello Rocco is one with proven course form, having come in under the radar for second place in the 2017 Gold Cup. And with a rating of 152 the handicapper, it would appear, has been very lenient.

3.30: Unibet Champion Hurdle

Cheltenham Tips

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By all accounts, this is the most eagerly-anticipated race of the week. Bar any mishaps over the next few hours, three of the most talented horses in training will provide what is expected to be one of the hottest renewals of Tuesday's flagship race.
Firstly, there's Buveur D'Air, aiming to win his third successive Champion Hurdle and, with that, sealing a legacy beside the famous Istabraq who won three successive renewals of the race. There's no doubt, however, that this year's race is far more competitive that his previous two wins. Apple's Jade, given her age, is currently on course to beat Hurricane Fly's world record of 22 Grade Ones and is most definitely the one to beat, having won her last three Grade One races by a cumulative of 62 lengths. The reigning champion must also concede seven pounds to the mare, but she's not alone in receiving the allowance.
Laurina represents Willie Mullins' best chance of glory in the race and if there's two things the Carlow trainer excels at it's producing mares and hurdlers. Last year's Mares' Novices' Hurdle winner, therefore, must be noted. She has done nothing wrong in her two outings this year, but she remains very unexposed beside two of the best in the business. The head may say it's the Gigginstown mare's race to lose, but the gut says you cannot oppose a Mullins contender as strong as this in a Champion Hurdle. It's Cheltenham - always go with the gut instinct.
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4.10: OLBG Mares' Hurdle
Again it's hard to look beyond a Mullins mare, especially one who has won every race since arriving at the famous Closutton yard. The fact that Benie Des Dieux hasn't raced yet this year is a minor concern but winning at Cheltenham, having not raced all year isn't unheard of. Indeed, Mullins pulled it off last year when landing the Stayers' Hurdle with Penhill.
Moreover, the Irish champion trainer has won all but two editions of the race since it was established in 2008, though it must also be noted that he also trained Apple's Jade, the 2017 winner, before a split with the Michael O'Leary-owned Gigginstown operation in 2016.
Of course anything can happen in racing but should there be a shock it's most likely Limini or Stormy Island, the Mullins second- and third-string options, will provide it. Preventing Ruby Walsh from steering the mare - and, in his words, his most likely winner of the week - to glory, all things considered, would require a monumental effort
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4.50: Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase

A previous track record can prove pivotal at Prestbury Park. Knowing whether a horse has the wherewithal to get up the daunting hill to the finish line can be a valuable source of information when punting, as some animals, for all the previous form, are simply just not up for the climb. Whether it's equine spirits above Cleeve Hill or simply the sound of knuckleheads causing chaos in the Guinness tent, some horses simply aren't suited to the track in the Cotswolds.
The proven track record theory can be argued using the English dominance in this race, with the majority of past winners having run at least a credible run at the venue before winning this race. On that, Highway One O One will have benefitted from his last race at the venue, beaten into second - having led the whole way round - coming up the hill. Despite being overtaken coming up the hill, there was no shame in his efforts as the eventual winner, Kildisart, is among the favourites for Thursday's JLT Novices' Chase.
A Plus Tard is also one to take note of - especially if Duc Des Genievres goes well earlier - as Rachel Blackmore attempts to back up her sensational form at home with a first Festival winner, but as a five-year-old he may lack the nous of some of his opponents.
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5.30: National Hunt Challenge Cup

Four miles is a monster of a trip and given only a few of these horses have attempted such a distance before it can be hard to judge what exactly they're capable of. The jockey bookings, however, can be a good indicator of the main contenders, as the best amateurs in the business are head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd and serve as a huge advantage.
Derek O'Connor and JJ Codd, riding Ok Corral and Le Breuil respectively, are recognised as the best in the business while Patrick Mullins, riding Ballyward for his father, requires no introduction.
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Discorama, with Barry O'Neill on board, is another one to take note of after a fascinating duel with Ballyward at Naas back in January and the Paul Nolan horse could very well have got in front of Ballyward only to fall into the last fence.
Ok Corral, though, is the one to beat if the distance proves manageable. Last year's Festival form, coming second in the Alfred Bartlett Novices' Hurdle, is indicative of his ability and off the back of two successive wins, and O'Connor on board, it's easy to argue in his favour.

Selections

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1.30: Aramon 14/1 each-way
2.10: Hardline 5/1 (nb)
2.50: Give Me A Copper 8/1 each-way
3.30: Laurina 7/2
4.10: Benie Des Dieux 11/10
4.50: Highway One O One 12/1 each-way
5.30: Ok Corral 10/3 (Nap)

SEE ALSO: Watch: Confusion Reigns At Sandown As Officials Call Wrong Winner

Aonghus Ó Maicín

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