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Cheltenham Festival Preview 2018 | Will this be Henderson’s year?

Horse racing betting expert Tim Peters discusses this one for Grosvenor Sport…

The Seven Barrows maestro, Nicky Henderson, can boast more Cheltenham Festival winners than any other trainer (fifty-eight in total), and this year has an embarrassment of riches to add to this tally.

The top two-miler Altior (4/6 fav) will contest the Queen Mother Champion Chase, and Buveur D’Air is hot favourite to win a second Champion Hurdle – both look almost impossible to oppose.

After a minor hobday operation had kept him off the track for a considerable period this campaign, Altior recently reappeared at Newbury, where he simply toyed with the opposition in the Game Spirit Chase.

He is unbeaten now in seven chase starts and looks set to follow in the footsteps of stable companion Sprinter Sacre, winner of the Champion Chase in 2016.

The Irish have viable contenders in Min and Douvan.

The former looked good when winning last time out, but the latter has been encountering too many setbacks for my liking, although Grosvenor are providing the offer of non-runner no bet (which is a big help and minimises the punting risk).

Henderson also saddles the long-odds on Champion Hurdle favourite Buveur D’Air. The 4/9 shot has won his last nine races and simply oozes class, but all juice has long disappeared in the price.

With regards Nicky Henderson, I am a fully paid-up member of the On The Blind Side fan-club, and I feel he represents some value in the Ballymore Properties Novices’ Hurdle run on the second day of the festival.

Unbeaten in three rules starts, Nicky Henderson’s six-year-old created quite an impression when strolling to success in the Ballymore Novices’ trial at Sandown in December.

It was the manner of his performance that really caught my eye, as he pulled away from some very smart rivals to win by nine lengths.

He had previously looked good when prevailing at Cheltenham,  despite hitting a flat spot in that contest and eventually storming up the hill to beat some progressive competitors in good style at the end.

He looks a future Gold Cup contender to me, but has the ability to push a very strong Irish challenge spearheaded by the unbeaten Samcro (4/5 fav).

The ante-post favourite has done all his talking on the track with some striking successes, which recently included a Grade One triumph at Leopardstown over the shorter trip of two miles. This step up in distance is bound to suit him and he is much respected. But, despite his lofty reputation, he looks far too short in the market for me.

The Irish do have a good record in this race, but Nicky Henderson claimed this prize with the very fragile but talented Simonsig in 2012.

And, last year, the British dominated the finish of the Ballymore too – claiming the first four home in the race won by Willoughby Court.

At the prices with Grosvenor Sport, I will take my chances with On The Blind Side (5/1).

County Waterford handler Henry de Bromhead looks to have a lovely chasing prospect in Monalee.

The RSA entrant has already improved since switching to fences and duly landed a Grade One at Leopardstown last time out.

Having fended off a series of challengers jockey Noel Fehily could not hide his delight over the performance. Fehily has ridden many top performers over the years, but was quite vocal about this horse afterwards, which is a rarity for one of the quieter jockeys in the weighing room.

Monalee handles the undulations of Prestbury Park after a fine second in last year’s Albert Bartlett, and three miles looks ideal for him at this stage of his career.

The Stayers Hurdle can go the way of the Jessica Harrington trained Supasundae. The eight-year-old has looked better than ever this campaign, and recently had the speed to capture the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.

It was his runner-up performance to Apple’s Jade that really caught my attention during the Christmas period, though. This was a mighty run over the three-mile distance, as he was giving the Mares Hurdle winner 7lbs, and was only just touched off on the line.

That form looks top class, and I can see him pouncing late to deny the highly progressive North Yorkshire challenger, Sam Spinner. The latter has improved immeasurably and did record a personal best when winning the Grade One Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot. However, I am somewhat concerned, that his front-running tactics could play into Supasundae’s hands.

The highlight of the week is the Cheltenham Gold Cup. A big field looks assured in a compelling contest and it looks absolutely wide open with no standout performer.

Last year’s winner Sizing John is back but has to overcome a big disappointment in Leopardstown’s Christmas Chase. He was found to be clinically abnormal after the race, but it’s hardly ideal preparation for the defence of his crown.

Road to Respect was the winner that day, and he seems to be improving with every outing. The seven-year-old won at the Festival last year and looks highly progressive over this trip. He has been kept fresh since his Leopardstown win and looks capable of mounting a significant challenge.

The home team are led by the King George victor Might Bite.

His Kempton success was workmanlike, and the proximity of Double Shuffle and Tea For Two does provide some question marks to the clarity of the form. He also showed some quirks when winning the RSA here last season, although I do think he has grown up mentally since that day.

Last year’s third Native River returned with a smooth success in the Denman Chase at Newbury.
He was allowed to dominate and jumped on the whole pretty well. The second looked a non-stayer though, and the third faded tamely, so the form does looks questionable to me.

I backed Native River to win the Gold Cup last year, and despite a lighter campaign this time around, I remain unconvinced that this will be his year.

I will take a chance on the improving Road To Respect this time around.

Grosvenor Sport Cheltenham odds

On The Blind Side (win the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle) – 5/1
Monalee (RSA Chase) – 7/2 
Supasundae (win the Stayers Hurdle) – 3/1
Road to Respect (each-way Cheltenham Gold Cup) – 10/1 

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