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1.30 - Supreme Novices Hurdle

The opening race of the Cheltenham Festival has been won by Willie Mullins for the past three seasons.

He has the favourite this year in Min, who has won both his starts for the trainer since moving from France. 

The problem with Min is his form is in weak novice hurdles. The latest victory was in a race with just five runners, and while the third has won twice since, the second did nothing for the form on his next start. 

Min (pictured below) could do no more than win on the bridle. 

The horses he meets in the Supreme are around two stone better, and there would be quite a bit of variance in any estimation of Min’s ability. The fact he has always been his trainers main hope for this means he needs respecting, but his odds of just 5/2 look a little short.

Altior is four from four over hurdles, and his 13-length win at Kempton last time is strong form. 

On the home bend that day, he briefly looked in trouble, but picked up really well in the straight, storming clear between the last two hurdles and ended up winning eased down.

Based on that win, and his previous effort in a slowly run race at Cheltenham, he looks sure to be suited by the likely strong pace in this.

If he is in contention at the last bend tomorrow, I would expect him to come home the strongest.

Buveur D’Air has won both his hurdle starts and is open to improvement. 

His Newbury success was against better horses than his easy victory last time, and while that was a really good effort for his first start over hurdles, I didn’t think he was value for much extra over the bare form, and he’d need to find extra to win this.

But given his progression so far, that’s entirely possible.

I don’t think Tombstone’s form so far is anywhere near the standard required, and of the bigger priced horses I like is North Hill Harvey. 

When second to Barters Hill on his hurdling debut, and last time at Huntingdon, he looked like two miles would suit him better than the two and a half he encountered in those races. 

In between those runs he easily won over the minimum trip at Cheltenham, and he has plenty of scope to improve. 

At the current odds I think it’s worth backing both Altior win only at 7/2, with an each way saver on North Hill Harvey at 33/1. 

Altior’s form is solid, and I really do think a test at this trip will bring out further improvement. 

Tips: Altior win 7/2. North Hill Harvey 33/1

2.10 - Arkle Trophy

A field of just seven horses will face the starter in the Arkle and the reason is that the red hot favourite Douvan (above) looks an absolute superstar. 

He easily won the Supreme Novice Hurdle at last year’s festival, and in hacking up in his three chase starts so far, he looks even better over fences. 

I think he would win the Champion Hurdle and Champion Chase at this year’s festival if his connections decided to aim him at them, and while he faces a few decent horses, none have anywhere near his ability, and it really does look a certainty bar a fall. 

I’m not going to recommend backing him at 2/5, but it actually does look value.

2.50 Ultimate Handicap Chase

This handicap chase is run over three miles and one furlong. There's a field of 24 horses and a case could be made for plenty of them. 

One horse which stands out as potentially thrown in is the novice Out Sam. 

He was rated 142 over hurdles and looked to have scope off that mark, while also appealing as the type to do better over fences.

In his three chase starts so far, he’s progressed steadily, last time running out a very easy winner of a three-runner race at Newbury. Small-field form is not the most solid, but the second horse home won off a mark of 137 next time, and given Out Sam beat him easily, while giving him four pounds, a mark of just 139 for this race looks a gift. 

His best form is on soft ground, but his action doesn’t suggest he needs it, so I’m not worried about faster conditions.

The other horse I like is Un Temps Pour Tout. He ran well in the World Hurdle at Cheltenham last season, before coming third at Aintree, and then winning a Grade 1 at Auteuil. 

His chase form so far is not quite up to that level, but he stayed on nicely when fourth off a mark of 152 last time.

That was over two and a half miles, whereas it was three miles and one furlong at Auteuil when he put up a career best, it suggests he should have more to give over the extra trip here.

The handicapper has also played his part by dropping him four pounds for his last run, and on both his hurdles form, and the promise he showed over shorter last time, that looks a mark he should be a capable of being very competitive from. 

I think it’s worth backing Out Sam at 15/2, and Un Temps Pour Tout at 16/1. Back both each way, but try to place your bet with a bookmaker that is offering five places.

Tips: Out Sam 15/2 e/w. Un Temps Pour Tout 16/1 e/w. 

3.30 The Stan James Champion Hurdle is previewed elsewhere on the RTÉ website here. 

4.10 OLBG Mares' Hurdle.

Mullins set for Cheltenham

This race has been dominated by Willie Mullins since it started, and once again he has the favourite this year in Vroum Vroum Mag. 

It’s possible she’ll prove to be a different class to her rivals, but a good bit of her price is based on potential rather than rock solid form. 

Even last time when she won easily at Ascot, her main market rivals failed to perform, meaning she only had to beat horses who are well below this level. 

There are a few other potential pitfalls, namely all her Irish and UK form is going right handed in mostly small fields, and on much softer ground that she will encounter on this course. 

She will certainly find this a very different test to what she is used to. 

At the prices available, I’d like to take her on, and while I’m not overly confident about anything, Bitofapuzzle looks overpriced at the current 16/1. 

She was only beaten half a length in this race last season, on what was only her fourth start over hurdles, and apart from a disappointing run last time which she needs to bounce back from, she has maintained her steady progression since then.

I think she is worth a small each way bet, and try to back her with a bookmaker going ¼ the odds a place, as not all are offering this concession.

Tip: Bitofapuzzle e/w 16/1

4.50 - National Hunt Chase

This is run over a mammoth four miles and I’d have severe stamina doubts about horses like Noble Endeavor (above) and Pont Alexandre, while the favourite Minella Rocco looks plenty short to me. 

Measureofmydreams has won both his chase starts, and while he would have only been second last time had Black Hercules not fallen at the last, he was still five lengths ahead of Noble Endeavor at the line.

That’s decent form, and while he hasn’t looked like he’s crying out for further than three miles, he hasn’t done anything to suggest he won’t get further either.

The other horse I really like in this is the mare Ballychorus. She looked to be idling in front when coming down at the last at Navan in November, and again fell at the final fence next time in a big handicap chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.

I thought she was coming to win the race that day, but once again got in too close to the fence, and had no chance of staying upright.

Such mistakes are a worry coming to Cheltenham, but she showed no ill effects when winning easily last time, and in terms of class, this race isn’t any better than that Leopardstown race. 

She had a rating of 138 for that run, which in form terms, gives her a great chance here getting a seven pound mares allowance. 

I think Ballychorus is likely to appreciate the extra distance too, as she’s been finishing her races off strongly over three miles, and the extra distance might give her more time to sort herself out if she’s meeting a fence on the wrong stride. 

I think she’s one of the bets of the opening day at 14/1, with Measureofmydreams worth an each way bet at 12/1 too. 

Some bookmakers are five places here, while other are four, with a few just going the standard three places, so make sure to check the terms before betting.

Tips: Ballycastle 14/1 e/w. Measureofmydreams 12/1 e/w. 

5.30 Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase

The last race of the day is another handicap chase, and while 20 horses are set to face the starter, one stands out by far for me. 

Aloomomo (above left) is the horse in question and he’s improving fast this season, with the form of his win at Newbury in November working out extremely well. 

He was raised 11 pounds for that, but given the strength of that form, and the way he won, his new mark of 140 still looks exploitable.

He is a top priced 6/1 as I write this, so doesn’t offer any huge value, but I do think he should be a shorter still, so is worth a small bet.

Tips: Aloomomo 6/1 e/w