Cheltenham's legendary National Hunt festival begins this afternoon; it's the pinnacle of jumps racing with 28 mostly competitive races down for decision. Winners may be hard to come by, but here's a guide to the action with some betting advice.
1.30 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
Getabird has divided opinion here as he bids to follow in the hoof-steps of stablemates Douvan, and Vautour – previous winners of the race for Willie Mullins. The rain that has arrived is a major boost to his chance but concerns remain about his going left-handed – he seemed to jump right when beating Mengli Khan at Punchestown – and Mengli Khan should get closer to him now.
Mengli Khan is reportedly in excellent form at home and has a chance, though he would probably prefer better ground. Another Irish runner, Debuchet, takes the eye at around 50-1.
Debuchet produced a remarkable run in the bumper 12 months ago, second to Fayonagh with Claimantakinforgan and Next Destination behind him. He has been improving over hurdles and Mags Mullins would definitely not be coming here unless she thought he could run a big race at least.
The British could well take this, with Kalashnikov a definite player for 25-year-old trainer Amy Murphy. He stays strongly and there is no getting away from the added emphasis placed on stamina relative to a normal Supreme, given the ground. Claimantakinforgan was a little flat on his most recent start but is not without a chance.
Selection: Debuchet 50-1
2.10 Racing Post Arkle Chase
An incredibly small field given the absence of an obvious superstar, with British hopes resting in all likelihood on Saint Calvados, no speedster over hurdles but better and better in his ephemeral chasing career. Certainly the ground will be a help as he probably lacks the class of the Irish-trained pair.
That Petit Mouchoir always had Footpad’s measure hurdling has been oft-mentioned, yet their chase careers have not been especially alike, apart from their both beating Brelade on debut. Petit Mouchoir then missed much of the season, returning when a well-held second to Footpad at the Dublin Racing Festival. He made early mistakes then, warming to a difficult assignment subsequently.
Footpad is a superb jumper, near-flawless so far, and seemingly better and more reliable in that regard than Petit Mouchoir, who can narrow the gap nonetheless. This is not a straightforward race to predict but it should go to Ireland, as Brain Power comes here after two failures to complete and wants better terrain.
Selection: Footpad 11-8
2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase
Remarkably, no Irish runner. Singlefarmpayment can be given a tentative pick here for Tom George and County Cork native Adrian Heskin. He has an obvious chance on last year's narrow defeat in this race when rated 3lb lower and his last run can be ignored, considering the mistake he made prior to being pulled up. Heavy terrain is fine.
Coo Star Sivola bids to provide Lizzy Kelly with a first Cheltenham Festival winner. He showed that he relishes three miles when winning readily at Exeter and has surely more to give as a six-year-old.
Selection: Singlefarmpayment 6-1
3.30 Stan James Champion Hurdle
If you were told of the runners in this six months ago, you would have called it one of the great races of all time, but it does not feel like that, since Faugheen has been giving the indication that he is past his best and Yorkhill has run two stinkers this season.
Last year’s winner Buveur D’Air – like Yorkhill now – reverted from chasing then but has done pretty much everything right in this sphere. He won easily last year and the chances are a similar effort will do here. He is nice and fresh, even if he could have been given a harder time of things by connections this term in prep terms.
My Tent Or Yours' role of always being the wingman but never the wing – seconds in 2014, 2016 and 2017 in this race, latterly when blitzed by stablemate Buveur D'Air – has endeared him to racing fans; he got off the mark on his only start this term, though. He has solid place claims.
Faugheen wears headgear and what a roar from the Irish we will be treated to if he prevails! Ruby Walsh is back on him for the first time this season but that makes no difference unless he somehow finds his old form. Yorkhill cannot be backed with any confidence but Melon, second to Labaik at the Festival last year, gives the impression he is ready for a big performance.
Selections: Buveur D’Air 4-7, Melon each-way without Buveur D’air 7-1
4.10 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle
This looks relatively straightforward too for another winner of the same race last year, Apple’s Jade. She will relish the ground, arguably more in her favour than what she faced 12 months ago when she had to repel Limini and Vroum Vroum Mag after seemingly being nailed on to be swamped jumping the last.
At the line she was going away, her form this year is every bit as good and physically she has progressed. All boxes ticked.
The only conceivable danger is Benie Des Dieux, as she is unbeaten since joining Willie Mullins. However, she changes to hurdling without much time to prepare, this is hardly a good place to try that ideally and her form at Naas last time looks nowhere near good enough here. Still, she has lots of class.
Jer's Girl was not out of it when falling in the race last year. Her work on the gallops has been good and she has a chance of finishing second.
Selection: Apple’s Jade 8-13, Jers Girl without Apple’s Jade 7-1
4.50 JT McNamara National Hunt Chase
Derek O’Connor rides No Comment, who looks a less than certain stayer and has only had a single chase run coming here, which can only be less from ideal.
Likely Gordon Elliott can take this again, as can Lisa O’Neill in the Gigginstown silks. They combined with Tiger Roll last year and Mossback is an obvious type for the race. He made stablemate Monbeg Notorious work hard on soft to heavy at Navan over three miles, which requires a great deal of stamina.
At a similarly testing course (Naas) he was bang there when falling at the last and he can get the better of stablemate Jury Duty, who stopped to a walk in that Naas race after looking certain to win and who has major stamina doubts, even if Jamie Codd is a massive help in that regard.
Selection: Mossback 6-1
5.30 Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase
De Plotting Shed can provide Gordon Elliott with a third winner on the day, emulating his tally on the Tuesday 12 months ago. There is no doubt about it: he has been prepared nearly specifically for Cheltenham, dropping back in trip each time he saw the track since a chase-debut second to Presenting Percy, a run preceded by his reaching the money in a senior Grade One staying hurdle at the Punchestown Festival.
He jumps like a pro, will surely tank for much of the race and Davy Russell takes the mount. Any Second Now, trained by RTÉ’s Ted Walsh, has been well-backed. A maiden chasing, he has gained vital experience in top company, but there is a slight doubt about him getting up the hill over this trip. Demi Sang is probably the McManus second-string, despite Barry Geraghty's assistance, and his jumping is a huge concern. If he can solve that problem, he is dangerous.
Barney Dwan, who was second to Presenting Percy in the Pertemps 12 months ago off 143, has an obvious chance off 143 on his handicap chase debut for Fergal O'Brien.
Selection: De Plotting Shed 13-2
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