The build up is finally over and the Cheltenham Festival has arrived! Here is my preview for the opening ‘Champion Day’ Tuesday, where the feature race will be the Grade 1 Champion Hurdle. I will be attending and live-tweeting from the track on Twitter, so be sure to follow me for the latest news @JakePriceTips. Before I get on with my selections for the greatest show on turf, the lastest ground update is Soft, Heavy in places.
13:30 – Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 2m½f (Grade 1)
Willie Mullins has an excellent record in the Supreme, winning three in a row from 2013 to 2015 (Champagne Fever, Vautour, Douvan) and training the second in the last two years (Min, Melon). The Closutton handler always brings over a talented team of Novices’, and this year he looks to have found another two-mile contender in Getabird. Baring the famous colours of Rich Ricci, this six-year-old was favourite for the Champion Bumper last year before having to pull out through injury. Despite this, he was unbeaten on the flat with wins at Fairyhouse and Gowran Park, where he gave away a stone to Hardline who is now a Grade 2 winner over timber.
Getabird made his highly anticipated debut over hurdles at Punchestown in December, winning in great style over a trip of 2m4f. He beat Impact Factor that day who has since finished second behind Hardline in that aforementioned Grade 2 event, with the third and fourth also franking the form. Many people believed that Willie Mullins would have himself a good Novice for the longer trips (especially as he is from the Irish point-to-point scene), but this theory was put on hold after Getabird was declared in the two mile Grade 2 Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown. This race has previously been won by stablemates Vautour, Douvan and Min (all of the same ownership too!) before their efforts in the Cheltenham curtain raiser, and I even recommended backing the horse at 10/1 NRNB for the Supreme. This rising star put in a remarkable performance to beat Mengli Khan by 9 lengths, quickening up really well before the last. Connections were so impressed by this surprising performance that they re-routed him to the Supreme, and he is definitely the horse to beat. If we combine the pace shown that day with his ability to stay over further, then Getabird possesses the exact profile needed to win this two mile race where they go flat out from flag fall.
Another huge bonus of course is that Ruby Walsh is back in the saddle after a long lay-off due to a broken leg. Ruby is the Cheltenham Festival’s most successful jockey with 56 wins to his name so far, and he improves any horses chance of winning.
There has been a lot of debate about Getabird being the one to beat but too short in the market, however come Tuesday morning I am confident his price will be 2/1 or bigger, which looks to be value considering his chances. If you are prepared to wait it out, you should be rewarded with a bigger price.
Getabird to Win @ 7/4
The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is not that simple however, and at a bigger price one horse to look out for is Kim Bailey’s First Flow. This horse absolutely loves soft ground, and it looks increasingly likely that this is what we are going to get come 13:30 on Tuesday. This six-year-old is unbeaten over hurdles, winning nicely at Lingfield on debut before bolting up by 20 lengths in heavy ground at Newbury. On his latest start First Flow won a Grade 2 event at Haydock, where again he bolted up by 10 lengths on heavy ground. David Bass will take the ride and I can easily see him running into a place with conditions to suit.
First Flow Each/Way @ 16/1
14:10 – Arkle Novices’ Chase 2m (Grade 1)
The Arkle is a two-mile Chase for novices, and we’re set for another cracking renewal. Last year Altior made it back-to-back Cheltenham Festival wins having won the Supreme in 2016. With the likes of Douvan, Un De Sceaux, Simonsig and Sprinter Sacre winning in recent years, this clearly demonstrates the caliber of horse needed to win this premium event.
Footpad has taken the Irish two-mile novice chase division by the scruff of the neck this season, jumping fantastically from the first fence on his debut at Navan, and is now a dual Grade 1 winner over the larger obstacles. On the last day he beat Petit Mouchoir in the Irish Arkle, but I fancy the Gigginstown horse to reverse this form at Prestbury Park.
Last season Petit Mouchoir ran against Footpad three times over hurdles, all in Grade 1 company. Our selection beat his rival on all three occasions, including winning the Irish Champion Hurdle before finishing third in the 2017 Champion Hurdle here at Cheltenham. Henry de Bromhead’s grey made his chase debut at Punchestown in October, winning in very taking style to beat Brelade by seven lengths. Unfortunately the Gigginstown star faced a set-back shortly after this run, and was left off the track for 108 days to recover. His come-back run came in the aforementioned Irish Arkle at Leopardstown, where he faced hot-favourite Footpad. The race didn’t get off to a great start, with Petit Mouchoir making mistakes at the first two fences and perhaps showing some rustiness after his break. The grey warmed to his task well however, and in the end was only beaten five lengths. If Henry de Bromhead can get his jumping spot on for Cheltenham then his seven-year-old has a brilliant chance of reversing the form, especially on better ground.
Being rated 160 over hurdles, Petit Mouchoir looks worth backing to take on the favourite here in a bid to reverse the Leopardstown form, especially as trainer Henry de Bromhead usually improves his horses for chasing. With better ground and a strong pace, this gorgeous Gigginstown House Stud charge has a fantastic chance of making it third time lucky at the Cheltenham Festival.
Petit Mouchoir to Win @ 3/1
14:50 – Ultima Handicap Chase 3m1f (Grade 3)
The Ultima Handicap Chase is ran over an extended three-miles, and as usual looks a very competitive heat. Last season Un Temps Pour Tout made it back-to-back wins to buck a trend of top-weight not winning this century. This stat suggests it is wiser to look towards the lower end of the weights.
Baring this in mind, Nick Williams looks to have a great chance with the 142 rated Coo Star Sivola. This novice chaser has been running over two-and-a-half miles for most of the season, including three spins at Cheltenham. The first of those was in a novice chase when third to Finian’s Oscar (who goes for the JLT), and the second was a much closer effort behind Kalondra who was entered in the last race on day one. Under stable-jockey Lizzie Kelly, Coo Star Sivola returned to Cheltenham on Trials Day where he ran in a very competitive Handicap Chase. The race was won impressively by Ryanair hopeful Frodon, but our Ultima selection stuck on to finish fourth. This Handicap experience could be vital, and having been around Cheltenham three times this season, the six-year-old has the necessary credentials for a Festival winner. As a prep-run for this Grade 3 event our selection ran in a Novices’ Handicap Chase at Exeter last month, winning by a very impressive 14 lengths when upped in trip to three-miles. This increase in distance seemed to really suit Coo Star Sivola, which is of huge benefit in a stamina test like this.
Having won over three-miles and putting in some very promising runs behind some classy horses so far this season, Nick William’s novice has only been given a rating of 142. This means our selection can run from a very nice weight of 10-13, and an extra 3lbs can be taken off by Lizzie Kelly. Coo Star Sivola has been well supported in the market, and looks to have a cracking chance in this renewal.
Coo Star Sivola Each/Way @ 8/1
15:30 – Champion Hurdle 2m½f (Grade 1)
The Champion Hurdle is the first Championship race of the week, ran over two-miles. Last season Buveur D’Air reverted from a novice chase campaign to win this £450,000 race in great style, and again the Nicky Henderson trained horse looks like he will take all the beating.
After winning all of the traditional trials in the UK for the Champion Hurdle at the minimum of effort, it is impossible to oppose Buveur D’Air outright. JP McManus has a tremendously talented horse on his hands, so whilst I couldn’t put you off putting him in your accumulators, I will be looking at the betting without market in order to find some value. Whilst suffering an inexplicable case of the ‘bounce factor’ at Leopardstown over Christmas, 2015 Champion Hurdle winner Faugheen still holds one of the best pieces of form this season when winning first time out at Punchestown in the Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle. The Willie Mullins charge put in a much improved run to finish second in the Irish Champion Hurdle last month, and hopefully the buzz of the Festival can re-ignite the spark in this star horse. He will wear first time cheek pieces and get a bold ride from the returning Ruby Walsh, and his rating of 167 speaks for itself.
Hopefully Willie Mullins can work his magic and we will be able to see two fantastic race-horses battle it out to become the king of the two-mile hurdle division.
Faugheen to Win @ 2/1 W/O Buveur D’Air
Another horse to keep an eye on at a bigger price is Wicklow Brave, who finished 7th in last year’s Champion Hurdle despite giving away a few needless lengths at the start. This nine-year-old then went back to Ireland to contest the Grade 1 Punchestown Champion Hurdle, beating My Tent Or Yours under today’s jockey Patrick Mullins (Who I really like riding over Hurdles). Wicklow Brave then embarked on a seven-race flat campaign, running in all the top staying flat races. Highlights included when second in the Group 2 Curragh Cup, fourth in the Group 1 Irish St Ledger, and 10th in the Group 1 Melbourne Cup in Australia. With this run coming in November, Wicklow Brave hasn’t had a run over hurdles in preparation for this race, however this has always been the plan and it wouldn’t worry me. As a high class horse on the flat and over hurdles, this test will suit and it wouldn’t surprise me if he ran into a place.
Wicklow Brave Each/Way @ 16/1
16:10 – Mares’ Hurdle 2m4f (Grade 1)
The Mares’ Hurdle is a Grade 1 Hurdle race for Mares (Female horses), ran over two-and-a-half-miles. Last year produced one of the races of the Festival with Apple’s Jade getting the better of Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini in a very tight three-way finish. Willie Mullins has an unrivalled record in the race (Mainly thanks to six time champion Quevega), winning eight of the ten renewals so far.
Apple’s Jade looks another very worthy odds-on favourite for this race, having won the Grade 1 Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse before landing the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown in December. She has had a break since that run, but this superstar Mare will take all the beating in an attempt to retain her crown. Like Buveur D’Air I couldn’t put you off backing her in a multiple, however I will be looking to the betting without market once more for some value. An intriguing runner for the Irish Champion Trainer is Benie Des Dieux, who is unbeaten since joining the Closutton yard. Placed in a Grade 3 over Hurdles in France, this Mare has been running over fences in the UK/Ireland so far. This seven-year-old won a Listed Mares Chase at Naas in February, having previously traveled over to England to win another Listed race at Carlisle. The way she jumps her fences is quite fantastic, and reverting back to Hurdles could see a big run in the colours of Rich Ricci.
Benie Des Dieux to Win @ 6/4 W/O Apple’s Jade
Elsewhere in the race, Jer’s Girl looks to have a fantastic chance of reversing the form with La Bague Au Roi over this shorter trip. The Gavin Cromwell charge was running a big race when falling three-out last year, and her form behind Apple’s Jade in the Hatton’s Grace puts her right in contention. At a big price, she could be worth backing each/way.
Jer’s Girl Each/Way @ 16/1
16:50 – National Hunt Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase 4m (Grade 2)
The National Hunt Challenge Cup is a Grade 2 Novices’ Chase for Amateur Riders, ran over a marathon four-mile trip. Last year I tipped up Tiger Roll, who went on to easily beat Missed Approach and complete an unusual Festival double having previously won the Triumph Hurdle. Hopefully I have found the winner again this year!
Unfortunately my selection for the race, Fagan, wasn’t declared for this marathon race. Thankfully I tipped him as a non-runner no bet selection in my ante-post series, so we get our money back here. As a replacement bet, one form line that interests me is Duel At Dawn and Ms Parfois. The pair met in a three-mile Listed Novices’ Chase at Warwick in January, where the Anthony Honeyball Mare won by five lengths. Both have been campaigned over three-miles this season, and there shouldn’t be any doubts about stamina.
Ms Parfois started her campaign at Uttoxeter in November, finishing third on her first start over the larger obstacles. She clearly came on for the run that day as the Mare went to Cheltenham at the International meeting to contest a Mares’ Handicap Chase. Under a great ride from Noel Fehily, this Anthony Honeyball stayer went on to win by a length. A true test of her stamina was to follow just five days later at Newbury, where connections teamed up once more to land a Listed Mares’ event in good style. The second and third that day have both gone on to advertise the form, but the fact she ran such a good race just five days later shows that she has bags of stamina – which is what a horse needs to win this four-mile race. There was more Listed glory to follow in January when she won the aforementioned race at Warwick, successfully taking on the boys for the first time over fences. The Mare has been prepped for a crack at becoming a Cheltenham Festival winner by running in the Grade 2 Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Ascot last month, finishing second to Black Corton. The Paul Nicholls winner has improved beyond recognition this season under Bryony Frost, and is now a leading RSA contender so this form looks rock solid. With Ms Parfois only being beaten eight lengths, this is testament to her ability and has subsequently seen her rating rise to a mark of 146. Being a Mare she benefits from having a 7lbs allowance in this race against the boys, which is a massive bonus considering her ability. Top Amateur rider Will Biddick has been booked for the ride, and this Mare ticks all the boxes to win a race of this nature.
Ms Parfois to Win @ 8/1
With his form lines linking in quite closely with both Ms Parfois and Sizing Tennessee, Duel At Dawn looks to have been overpriced. Second on chase debut at Chepstow in October, this Alex Hales trained horse followed up with a sixteen length success at Exeter over three-miles on soft ground. He then made the step-up into listed company at Cheltenham over 3m1½f, where Sizing Tennesee won by six lengths. Our selection was trying to give away 5lbs to the winner that day, but stuck to the task well in second. His latest start was when second to Ms Parfois in January, so the eight-year-old has had a nice rest before the big day on Tuesday. Duel At Dawn looks a thorough stayer, and having had a run around Cheltenham already this season, he looks a great price to at least run into a place.
Duel At Dawn Each/Way @ 20/1
17:30 – Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase 2m4½f (Listed)
The Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase is Listed race around 2m4½f, and concludes day one of the Cheltenham Festival. It is open to Novice Chasers with a rating between 0-145. Last year the race was only a 0-140, were Tully East got the better of Gold Present.
This year I have a really strong fancy in Any Second Now, who has a similar (but better!) profile to that of Tully East last year. You can read my thoughts in-depth by clicking on the image below, as he was one of my Ante-Post tips.
The vibes have been very strong for this horse since I wrote this article, and I fully expect the Ted Walsh charge to run a big race.
Any Second Now to Win tipped @ 12/1 Ante-Post, now @ 8/1
I hope you all enjoy the pinnacle festival for National Hunt racing this week, and you all have a profitable week. I can’t wait to get up to Cheltenham and soak in the atmosphere, which I will try and portray via my twitter @JakePriceTips. Good luck all!
– Jake Price