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The Spine Set To Tingle As Cheltenham Gears Up For A Festival To Savour
As the tape flicks up and the famous Cheltenham Roar engulfs Prestbury Park, the hopes and dreams of owners, trainers, jockeys and punters are put on the line, as the opening race of the Festival gets underway.
The senses splutter, as the sights and sounds of one the great moments in sport sets up the annual battle with the bookmakers. There can only ever be one winner, and while Day One has been kind to the backers in recent years, the layers will be expecting to keep one step ahead this time around, before arguably some of the bigger liabilities kick in towards the end of the week. Hopefully, we’ll point you in the right direction over the next four days, helping you nail the bankers, avoid the false favourites and steal the each-way value, en route to a profit by the time the lights are switched off on Friday night.
The Truth Will Out For Petit Mouchior In The Champion Hurdle
The feature race on Day One has seen four winning favourites in the last six years, with Annie Power finding redemption in the contest last season after falling in the Mares Hurdle 12 months previously. Willie Mulliins was responsible for all those market leaders, including Faugheen in 2015, but with the last two champions missing through injury the top of the betting is as tight as it’s been for some time. Yanworth, at 11/4, is the jolly with Grosvenor Sport. Alan King’s charge saw off both The New One (12/1) and My Tent Or Yours (16/1) in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day and will surely confirm superiority again, but there is perhaps more value elsewhere.
Next in the betting is Nicky Henderson’s Buveur D’Air (9/2). The yard is looking for a record-extending sixth Champion Hurdle success – level stakes backers of all Henderson’s runners in this race over the years show a 19-point profit (54%) – but the ground might be against the JP McManus-owned six-year old, whose three odds-on victories this term have all come on soft surfaces. The decision by the owners to switch Moon Racer (8/1) to run in this race, instead of having a crack at the Supreme Novices (a contest he traded at 5/1), is understandable given his age (eight) and the absence of any real superstars in the line-up, but his inexperience over obstacles (just two starts) is a real concern.
Which brings me to Petit Mouchoir. Sure, he’s finished behind Buveur D’Air twice, including in last year’s Supreme Novices, but there is no doubt that Henry De Bromhead’s representative has improved this term, with his success in the Irish Champion Hurdle fully deserved. His front-running tactics could unsettle others and, if the field allow him to dictate, his current quote of 7/1 looks a terrific each-way play. And consider this, if he was still at the Mullins yard and had enjoyed the same season as he has done, just what price would Petit Mouchoir be? There is no doubt in my mind he’d be shorter in the market, so take full advantage and back the Gigginstown runner to come good.
Altior Ready To Star On Day One
Many suggest that the Supreme Novices Hurdle is the only contest over the entire week that lends itself to a genuine gamble. There’s no running-up money, no desperate attempts to chase losses from punters and no narrative for false prices from bookmakers on the basis on what’s gone on earlier. There’s been five double-figure odds winners over the last decade in the opening race of the Festival and just one clear favourite. However, six of the last seven winners have come from the front four in the betting, so don’t look too far down the list. Having won the ultra-competitive Betfair Hurdle last time out, Ballyandy, at 7/2, is the pick. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ charge won’t have Moon Racer to contend with after his defection to the Champion Hurdle and the furious pace set from the get go won’t be an issue.
The cornerstone of many accumulators will be 1/4 shot Altior, who looks unbeatable in the Arkle Trophy. Nicky Henderson’s runner, who has won all nine of his starts over obstacles, was untouchable in the Supreme Novices Hurdle 12 months ago and has taken to fences in imperious fashion. Ridden by Nico de Boinville, Altior is set to become the fifth odds-on winner in the last six years.
The Druids Nephew, at 10/1, gets the nod in the Ultima Handicap Chase. Neil Mulholland’s runner claimed success in the 2015 renewal and runs off the same mark this time around in what is one of the most competitive races on the opening day.
The Mares Hurdle has a traditionally big field but, as usual, most can be struck though. Eight of the last nine favourites have been successful, and with little to split Limini (13/8) and Vroum Vroum Mag (5/2), it could be pay to play both the Rich Ricci-owned runners in a reverse forecast. It’s worth pointing out that Ruby Walsh has chosen to ride Limini, whose form through Apple Jade (7/2) suggests the layers have got this race chalked up correctly.
The CSP Chase has been a decent guide in identifying the winner of the JT McNamara National Hunt Chase in previous years, with Tricky Trickster (2009 winner) and Midnight Prayer (second in 2014) going on to be successful at Cheltenham in March. So, take Beware The Bear, this year’s first past the post in the Newbury contest, at 7/1, to claim the penultimate race of the day.
Finally, in the Close Brothers Novices Handicap Chase, Mixboy runs off a weight of 11-10 but that didn’t stop Ballyalton 12 months ago and Keith Dalgliesh’s runner, who is unbeaten this term, warrants each-way interest at 20/1.