The Cheltenham roar beckons and never has it been timelier.
The 18/19 National Hunt season has been somewhat subdued due to several different phenomena; unseasonably dry ground and the equine flu breakout across the water just to name a few.
For many, this week is an annual celebration of the equine form in its finest splendour. Trainers, owners and racegoers all dream of triumph at the worlds greatest National Hunt festival.
This year’s Irish challenge may not live up to previous year’s and there is a significant chance that Irish hopes will be dashed in the four most celebrated races at the festival.
Many questions will be answered over the coming days such as; is Buveur D’air the most underrated champion hurdle winner of all time? Is Altior beatable, bar a fall? Can Faugheen recapture old form and bring a tear to Irish punters' eyes? And will Pat Kelly’s unorthodox route to the Gold Cup prove successful for Presenting Percy? We will have to wait and see!
1.30: Sky Bet Supreme Novices Hurdle (Grade 1), 2m87y
The opening race of the Cheltenham festival, as is usually the case, will start with a favourite trained by W P Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh.
Klassical Dream heads the market after a gutsy win in the Grade 1 Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle at the Leopardstown Festival. Klassical Dream outbattled stablemate Aramon to win by a head under a forceful ride from Walsh. It appears that he is an improving sort and he will most certainly stay strongly up the Cheltenham hill. He has been quite heavily punted over the last 48 hours and this French bred gelding may prove hard to pass.
However, the market may be slightly misinformed in terms of ratings. Aramon; beaten a short head by Walsh’s mount received an equal rating to that of his stablemate, but can be backed at odds of 14/1. Little separated these two at the Leopardstown festival and one suspects there may be a similar distance between them again. That said, the British contingent seem to have an extremely strong hand.
The formidable Nicky Henderson is very keen on both of his entries but in particular; Angels Breath. Although he was beaten last time out, Henderson was quick to point out that he had recently received a Flu Jab which hindered his finishing kick. Nico De Boinville has chosen to ride this inexperienced sort over promising stablemate Mister Fisher.
Cases can be made for a number of runners, but it seems like the Twiston Davies family may have the upper hand with their speedy grey. Al Dancer cruised to victory in the Betfair Hurdle and although that race hasn’t been a pointer for success in the Supreme, it likely won’t matter. In winning the Betfair Hurdle, Al Dancer negotiated a large field with a heavy weight and showed a tidy turn of foot to quicken away from the field after the last.
Al Dancer’s course and distance form also counts in this contest as 10 of the last 12 winners of the Supreme had won on their last visit to Cheltenham. Sam Twiston-Davies will likely settle his mount just off the pace and kick from the home bend and it is doubtful that anything will be able to reel him in.
Al Dancer (9/2 Boylesports)
National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Rider’s Novices Chase (Grade 2), 3m7f147y
The National Hunt Chase showcases the talents of some of the best amateur jockeys in the world.
Derek O’ Connor will ride Ok Corral. O’ Connor is a supreme horseman and would rank highly amongst the elite professionals. His mount has significant course and distance form and has been laid out for this race since September. Nicky Henderson’s stayer looks to have a strong chance, but it is best to look elsewhere for the winner.
Paddy Mullins gave an impeccably patient ride to Rathvinden last year and he looks to have another strong candidate in Ballyward. The Wiley owned 7-year-old was an unlucky loser in Punchestown and outjumped a strong field on his previous outing at Naas. He is sure to stay the trip and looks like he will be right their coming to the last.
However, a chance is taken on Discorama, the money which has come for this challenger is noteworthy. Coming to the last at Naas, Discorama squandered his chances by jumping poorly and leaving Ballyward to skate in for an easy triumph. Connections believe that the further this horse goes the better he will be and his if his jumping holds up over this longer distance, he may just keep his head in front when it matters.
Discorama (6/1 Boylesports)
1.30 Al Dancer
2.05 Duc De Genievres
2.50 Coo Star Sivola
3.30 Buveur D’air
4.10 Stormy Ireland EW
4.50 Shady Operator