It's going to be a very different Cheltenham Festival. The crowd noise will be piped in this year but I suppose the last 12 months have taught us to be grateful for small mercies.
I'm thankful for the distraction that big sport events provide. Cheltenham will still decide the champions of this National Hunt season and we will enjoy some stirring battles up that fabled hill. Hopefully, we might even make a few quid.
Ten millimetres of rain on Monday night has thrown a slight spanner in the works. That place dries like the Gobi Desert though and my hunch is the meeting will still start on good to soft ground.
1.20 Skybet Supreme Novices' Hurdle
The presence of For Pleasure all but guarantees a strong pace in this race. This will help to bring the stamina of Appreciate It into play. He is unbeaten over hurdles, jumps well and brings solid festival form to the party.
He may ideally prefer a softer surface but has fewer questions to answer than the opposition. In a race with a pleasing each way make-up, Irascible could hit the board at a big price. He has plenty of scope.
Selection: Appreciate It 6-5
1.55 Sporting Life Arkle Novices' Chase
Another small field with no concerns about a muddling early pace. Allmankind will try to gallop his rivals into submission. That will be just dandy for Shishkin. This horse probably wants a longer trip but his accurate jumping should keep him comfortably in contention. Expect this strong stayer to come careering away in the latter stages. Captain Guinness is another who will relish the torrid pace to run at. He can complete the forecast.
Selection: Shishkin 1-2
2.30 Ultima Handicap Chase
Milan Native won a handicap at this meeting last year. He can repeat the dose from an eight pound higher mark. Granted, he doesn't arrive here in great form. But hopefully a recent wind operation has remedied whatever ailed him. He represents a yard with a formidable record in Cheltenham handicaps.
Aye Right continues to rise in the weights without winning. That's not ideal but in a race lacking obviously well-handicapped contenders, he should go close.
Selection: Milan Native 7-1
3.05 Unibet Champion Hurdle
The recent rain will be welcomed by connections of Honeysuckle and Goshen. I'm still not convinced this will represent an adequate test of stamina for the former and this sharp, turning track may scupper the latter.
Defending champion Epatante has no such worries. She did disappoint over Christmas but I will put my faith in Nicky Henderson. If he can deliver her in the same form as last year, that will probably be enough. A repeat of last year's 1-2 isn't a forlorn hope. Sharjah ran a massive race behind Epatante and slightly better ground for this renewal should help too.
Selection: Epatante 4-1
The now retired @BarryJGeraghty looks ahead to the #CheltenhamFestival where he feels the Champion Hurdle will be a "hot race", with last year's winner Epatante "hard to beat" in his view. #rteracing #rtenews pic.twitter.com/DQU7A0Hr5U— RTÉ Racing (@RTEracing) March 15, 2021
3.40 Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle
Concertista was arguably the most impressive winner at last year's meeting. She has coped really well with deep winter ground this season. That hasn't always been the case, and suggests she is realising her significant physical potential. She should dispatch her rivals with the minimum of fuss. Roksana is a high class, consistent mare and she looks by far the best forecast option.
Selection: Concertista 11-10
4.15 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
Zoffanien should run well at rewarding odds. He is an improving sort and he also brings experience, accurate jumping and a high cruising speed to the party. They could prove significant advantages in the hurly burly of a race like this. Cabot Cliffs heads a long list of potential dangers.
Selection: Zoffanien 25-1
4.50 National Hunt Novices' Chase
It seems churlish to crib Galvin. The horse has won his last four races. But I'm just not convinced by his jumping, and he is a short price. Lord Royal also has jumping frailties.
The quicker ground is another worry. He does have a big engine though, and is greatly respected here.
Remastered, on the other hand, is a brilliant jumper and he rates the selection. This improving sort should relish the step up in trip, and won a Grade 2 race last time out.
Selection: Remastered 8-1