CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL DAY ONE SCHEDULE AND BETTING TIPS
13:30 - Supreme Novice’s Hurdle
A bumper field of 16 runners will contest the Festival’s curtain-raiser and this looks to be wide-open fare, with the likes of Nicky Henderson and Willie Mullins heavily represented (three runners each).
It is Henderson’s Shishkin that appears set to start favourite after impressive successes at Newbury and Huntingdon erased the memories of a fall on his hurdling debut. He’s got a proper turn of foot, but has tended to race keenly, and that’s of some concern. Stablemate Chantry House is a threat at a bigger price.
Mullins record in this contest is imperious (six wins) and his unbeaten Asterion Forlonge (in the same ownership as Shishkin) may be the answer. He’s won a point, a bumper and two starts over hurdles in his career thus far, and was very impressive in last month’s Grade 1 win at the Dublin Racing Festival.
There’s likely more to come and he may follow the likes of Champagne Fever, Vautour, Douvan and Klassical Dream, as his trainer seeks a fifth Supreme success in eight years.
If anything’s under the radar here it might be Tolworth winner Fiddlerontheroof. Colin Tizzard’s charge has got the soft ground that he will relish and he was not for stopping in that January Sandown success. His second to Thyme Hill over 2m3½f at Chepstow in October also reads well and suggests he’ll relish the stamina test up the Cheltenham hill.
He might well prove to be best of the British and could even take this prize for his shrewd Dorset handler.
14:10 - Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices Chase
It would not be the first time should Mullins set sail by landing the first two races of the Cheltenham Festival.
The Closutton maestro, this Festival’s most successful trainer of all time, has bagged four of the previous five renewals of the Arkle, with only Altior (2017) able to block him out.
He saddles Cash Back here in an 11-runner field and Paul Townend’s mount is likely to run well. The French import was lightly-campaigned over timber last season but already looks destined for big things as a chaser, winning his first two starts at Navan and Naas as he pleased.
He has since finished second to Notebook at Leopardstown last month, going down less than a length, having made the running for most of Grade 1 event.
He’s clearly well-matched with the likely favourite and it won’t be any kind of surprise if the Mullins horse improves for landing at this famous venue.
Notebook is an intriguing option for Henry De Bromhead, a simply superb trainer of a two-mile chaser.
The Gigginstown runner has beaten some of his key rivals this season on Irish soil and is entitled to favouritism. However, he got very worked up before the race last month (ran loose) and if he does similar in the preliminaries here it could be a fatal use of energy.
In any case, Fakir D’oudairies might be up to reversing Christmas form for Joseph O’Brien and Mark Walsh.
Connections have conceded they may have got their tactics wrong in that race and Fakir D’oudairies was a bit unlucky at a crucial stage, forcing him to concede first run to Notebook before going down 1½-lengths at the post.
He is a really good jumper and can give his connections some compensation after Le Richebourg was ruled out of this race 12 months ago.
Al Dancer is a C&D winner for Nigel Twiston-Davies this season, but has been beaten in small fields in all three starts since.
The home challenge is not overly strong although Dan Skelton’s mare Maire Banrigh is unbeaten in four starts and gets a handy mares allowance against the boys. She should not be underestimated in the place market, with this drop in distance a positive in her favour.
14:50 - Ultima Handicap Chase
The first handicap of the Festival is a really tough puzzle for punters to work out.
Trainer Ben Pauling has come out of a tough winter and his horses are now starting to perform well. His Kildisart ran well in the JLT (now the Marsh Novices Chase) here last season behind Defi Du Seuil, no less, for a long way. His recent run at Kempton was promising and there’s a good chance he’ll be in the mix with first-time cheekpieces added.
The unexposed Vinndication is another that must be shortlisted, with six wins for trainer Kim Bailey, but all of those have come going right-handed and that’s a huge point of concern.
The Alan King-trained Who Dares Wins is one of the most interesting in the line-up. Rated 103 on the Flat, he was a smart stayer and ran with credit in the Cesarewitch at Newmarket in the autumn (seventh).
He has quickly taken to jumping fences, however, and after finishing second on his first two starts accounted for the useful Southfield Stone in a Grade 2 novice contest at Kempton last month.
The manner in which he battled to regain the initiative from Paul Nicholls charge late on suggests this longer trip is going to be in his wheelhouse, while he also ran well in the Pertemps Final (three miles) won by leading Gold Cup contender Delta Work in 2018 at this meeting.
Trainer Colin Tizzard looks primed for a big week and his Mister Malarky is another worth considering.
He produced his best effort of the season when taking out Black Corton in a Kempton Grade 3 last month and is just 4lb higher here.
He was also fourth last March in the RSA Chase behind Topofthegame, Santini and Delta Work - form that suggests he can have his say in this tough handicap from a mark of 151.
15:30 - Champion Hurdle
A big field of 17 will contest the Champion Hurdle and the Cheltenham betting suggests this is a very open renewal.
Last year’s brilliant winner Espoir D’Allen is sadly no longer with us, while perennial nearly-horse Melon has gone chasing.
That leaves Silver Streak, third last year at 80/1 for trainer Evan Williams, as the only returning representative from last year’s podium finishers.
Silver Streak was second in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton last time out and, at 22/1, could give punters a run for some place money again.
That Boxing Day Grade 1 went to the stylish mare Epatante and she’s favourite to give Henderson a remarkable eighth two-mile Championship success.
She gets her mares allowance and is clearly very talented, but it is worth noting that only Annie Power (2016) has won this crown for the fairer sex since Dawn Run scored in 1984.
It’s a tough ask for any mare and the aforementioned Annie Power had achieved much more before a Ruby Walsh masterclass saw her galloping her rivals into submission in this contest.
As such, Epatante has something to prove here. No need for Seven Barrows supporters to despair, however, as Henderson accounts for almost a quarter of this line-up, with Pentland Hills, Fusil Raffles and Call Me Lord also representing him.
Last year’s Triumph Hurdle hero somehow appeals despite defeats in both starts this season.
He travelled like a dream in last month’s trial at Haydock, only to be mugged by Ballyandy on the line. That race was slowly run and that surely wasn’t to Pentland Hills liking.
He’s undergone a wind operation since and, with a big field here, it’s improbable this will be run at anything bar a helter-skelter pace. In that scenario, Nico De Boinville’s mount should be looming on the heels of the leaders late on - think Harchibald - and his master-trainer is trusted to have things right now.
Darver Star is bidding to give Gavin Cromwell successive wins in the race, while plenty of each-way money will follow Festival regular Supasundae for trainer Jessica Harrington.
Unusually, the Mullins challenge is lukewarm at best. Cilaos Emery has been supplemented in, seemingly as an afterthought, while Sharjah has too many questions over him.
16:10 - Mares Hurdle
What a contest in prospect here as Benie Des Dieux and Honeysuckle settle down for what looks a straightforward duel judged on the horse racing betting after both were declared.
Honeysuckle is unbeaten so far and won last month’s Irish Champion Hurdle despite not appearing to be in love with the two-mile trip.
Connection have opted for this race over the longer trip instead of going for the Champion Hurdle 40 minutes earlier. Arguably, that race might have been easier to win and a strongly-run two miles on the Old Course might have suited Honeysuckle perfectly.
Still, she’s here and a big player, but Benie Des Dieux has what her trainer terms "unfinished business" in this contest.
She had the race at her mercy last time, three lengths clear and going well, only to come down at the final flight in a shivering throwback to Annie Power’s similar demise at the same obstacle four years earlier.
The latter roared back to win a Champion Hurdle although Benie is coming back for the same prize. Had she stayed on her feet 12 months ago, she’d be 9-9 for Mullins, while her return to action in the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park was perhaps a career-best effort.
She’s primed to give Mullins a remarkable 10th career win in this contest.
Nothing else should get close although last year’s winner, Roksana, has a fair crack at place money again for the Skelton brothers.
16:50 - Novices Handicap Chase
Sixth in last year’s Ballymore, Galvin brings an excellent set of credentials to this race and can ensure Gordon Elliott doesn’t walk out of day one empty-handed.
He won his first two starts over fences in good style in Ireland and November’s second at Punchestown behind Salsaretta reads well given the ease with which that mare has won both starts since.
Elliott has elected to keep his powder dry since and that’s no concern because Galvin has won fresh before. An opening mark 142 looks very workable and the excellent assistance of Davy Russell is sure to help.
We may not yet have seen the best of Knight In Dubai, winner of his first two starts this season before running into an improving sort in a Grade 2 at Ascot last month in the shape of Sam Brown.
He looks a much more assured jumper now than when he fell on chase bow here in 2018 and has scope for better things for the Dan Skelton team.
17:30 - National Hunt Challenge Cup
The four-miler that’s no longer a four-miler completes the action on day one and is a race for amateur riders and novice chasers only - a dangerous cocktail from a punting perspective.
Carefully Selected has been laid out for this race by Mullins and will have the assistance of the classy Patrick Mullins in the saddle. In an amateurs race around here, a good rider is half the battle and Mullins winning track record at this meeting is invaluable.
His mount is a really obvious contender and likely goes off a well-backed favourite, but there is some minor concern that his jumping might undo him at some point. As such, there’s a wariness of him at a short price.
The name of Derek O’Connor will draw attention on this card and he rides Forza Milan although he is 6lb worse off with Carefully Selected here than when beaten four lengths when they last met. Don’t rule them out too quickly.
Jamie Codd took this last year on Le Breuil and is another super amateur rider with no fear of winning here. He’s on board Kerry National runner-up Ravenhill for Elliott although he was a faller last time out at Navan.
Instead, today’s horse racing tips conclude with Lamanver Pippin for Team Tizzard.
He won with plenty in hand at Chepstow in November on his second start over fences, form that runner-up Fortescue has boosted by winning both subsequent starts.
This lightly-raced sort is completely unexposed and has a pleasing jockey booking, with the experience of Will Biddick to guide.
ALL ABOVE PRICES ARE CORRECT AS OF 15:30 09/03/2020 AND ARE SUBJECT TO FLUCTUATIONS
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