Like many of you out there, I am extremely excited about the next four days and what it has in store for us. I’m sure we will all feel the highs of the festival, hopefully without too many lows, although as fantastic as our sport can be, it can also be a cruel one, so brace yourselves for those. Let’s hope everyone comes home safely, horses, jockeys and anyone else, and let’s hope this is another vintage year.
I’ve penned a lot of Cheltenham work over the past week for various places and one thing that has really stood out to me is that the first two days look to be far superior from a betting point of view. We have the big guns going at it, a few Irish bankers, and many fancied runners at big odds to get stuck into, something which appears to drift away as the week goes on. Maybe it is just me, and the horses that I fancy, I’m not sure, but I get the feeling that from a punting point of view I am going to be far more involved over the first two days than I am the last two.
It is a long week though, so don’t forget to keep some power dry for the back end, just in case….
The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle gets us underway and many people are looking for a way to get the favourite Getabird beat. I can’t argue with them either, this is something I’ve also been looking to do. After much deliberation, the horse I’ve gone for at a price is First Flow from the Kim Bailey yard.
He may lack the form to be mentioned with those at the top of the market, but the ground is really in his favour, and he came well clear last time out, so the Cheltenham hill shouldn’t pose too many problems for him. I think there’s quite a few in with chances here, I’d also give an each way shout to Slate House and Claimantakinforgan at even bigger prices, but if I had to pick one out of the race it would be First Flow.
He is 10/1 at the moment, with each way terms paying the first four places and is my selection in the opener.
For me, this race will be decided soley on tactics. Saint Calvados, Footpad and Petit Mouchoir all want to be up with the pace, but will they take each other on too much, and does one of the jockeys drop off, wait and pick up the pieces? None of the three jockeys involved are inexperienced in any way, but there is no finer judge than Ruby Walsh around Cheltenham, and if he thinks the leaders are going too fast he will take a pull on Footpad.
However, having said that I keep coming back to Petit Mouchoir, a horse who I have a lot of time for. Davy Russell gets the leg up, himself no slouch around Cheltenham and I wonder if they will be the ones sitting in behind after realising it is pointless chasing the strong pace. The Petit Mouchoir we saw last time out when beaten by Footpad was not the same horse that we will see tomorrow, he was not fit that day and jumped poorly.
What I’m hoping happens here is that Footpad and Saint Calvados take each other on, Davy sits in behind on Petit Mouchoir, and then moves wide to pick up the pieces coming up the home straight, a move that wins him the race.
He is 7/2 right now, and offers good value to turn the form around with Footpad on their last run.
The first of many tough looking Cheltenham handicaps that need solving over the next four days. The horse I like the look of, and one I’ve already wrote about earlier today on my blog about potential northern trained winners this week is Vintage Clouds. You need to be looking for two things tomorrow, horses that like to soft or heavy and those that can stay further than the race distance.
Vintage Clouds ticks both of those boxes and appears to have a great chance for Sue Smith. His fourth in the Welsh National was run in pretty much the same conditions as we are going to see here, and he should be motoring up the hill past horses who are struggling, hopefully doing enough to take up the lead and win the race.
At 8/1 he represents good value, and is probably worth an each way punt with bookmakers offering five places on the race.
The feature of day one is the Champion Hurdle and a race that Buveur D’Air is looking to win for the second year in a row. He appears to have a great chance on form, but I have a doubt as to whether he has had enough work over this season. In every race so far he has hardly been off the bridle, and I just wonder about his preparation, although I’m sure Nicky Henderson knows what he is doing, he is the expert after all.
It is a race that I’ve been looking at for each way value and since being supplemented for the race I keep going back to Elgin. He has done nothing but impress this season, and looks to be worth his place in the line up. His owners have paid £20,000 to run him here, something Alan King wouldn’t have let them pay without a hope that he could nick a place somewhere and at odds of 20/1 he represents very good value. We have seen him act on heavy this season, and he could be one to spring a surprise should others disappoint in the race.
This race all revolves around Apple’s Jade for me, who should be far too good for these and she can defend her crown in the race. She is not my kind of price though, and looking elsewhere there is some value to be had. La Bague Au Roi has done nothing wrong this season, and has shown that she can stay further than this distance, and she handles soft ground, two keys for the first day of the festival.
She may not have the same class as Apple’s Jade, but if you take the favourite out of the race then she probably has the best form in the race, and is a major player for the places. Backing each way at 6/1 is not something I do all the time, but she appears to be in with a great shout of placing, and if anything goes wrong with Apple’s Jade, she looks to be best placed to pick up the pieces.
One race that will take some getting tomorrow is the National Hunt Chase over four miles. This is going to take a huge effort from both the horse and jockey, as conditions are likely to be terrible on the track by this point. At a big price I am going to take a chance on Duel At Dawn, a horse who looks like he will stay all day long.
He doesn’t have as much chasing experience as some in the field, but has jumped well so far and has shown a good level of form. What we have seen from him up to now is probably not good enough to win this race, but if the extra distance brings out further improvement then he could run into a place or better at a huge price.
He is currently around 16/1 for the race, and he represents good each way value.
The final race of the day has already disappointed me slightly because I really fancied Divine Spear to go well at a price. Hopefully the minor problem is nothing too serious, and if he comes back next season he would have a chance of winning a nice handicap from his current mark.
After a change of heart my selection in the race is Barney Dwan, a horse who was runner up at the festival last season in the Pertemps hurdle. He runs off the same mark here and it is expected that he will make up into a better chaser than a hurdler. Should that be the case then he would be extremely well handicapped going into this race, and that is exactly what I think he is.
There is also likely more to come from him over fences, and while he lacks a little in experience, it means he has the potential to improve when we see him tomorrow. It is disappointing that Divine Spear has not made the race, but Barey Dwan looks to have a great profile and a great chance of landing the day one finale.