Cheltenham Festival Day 1 Tips
Bookmakers are predicting that the opening day of the 2015 Cheltenham Festival could be their worst since Frankie Dettori’s magnificent seven at Royal Ascot in 1996 if Willie Mullins delivers the landslide of victories predicted by the skinny odds of his quartet of star performers in the meetings first four Grade 1 races.
Supreme Novices Hurdle
First up is Douvan’s (win) clash with L’Ami Serge in the Supreme. Not only is this an early battle between heavyweights either side of the Irish Sea to set pulses racing at the start of the best four days’ racing anywhere in the world, it also sees two of the finest trainers of all time go to war with horses they hope will be leading lights for their yards for years to come.
Although he is yet to face a top class field or to run on this type of ground, our preference is for Douvan as he looks to have limitless potential. Mullins certainly hasn’t tried to hide the high regard in which he holds him and he looks set to make it a hat trick of wins in the race for connections.
His may danger may come from within his own yard as we expect Shaneshill (ew) to run a big race at decent odds. He was second in the bumper here last season and should show improved form now back on better ground. He was outstayed over 2m 4f last time, so the drop back in trip should suit and he has been freshened up nicely for this.
Jollyallan is another to note, especially if he can brush up on his jumping.
Both William Hill and race sponsors Sky Bet are offering to refund losing bets, up to £25, on the opener if your horse loses, while Paddy Power are offering money back on losing bets, up to £50, if Douvan wins.
|Douvan (win)||1.30 Cheltenham
||William Hill & Sky Bet|
Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase
Next up for the Mullins bandwagon is Un De Sceaux, who many people think has to simply jump around to win. His victory last time out would certainly suggest that to be the case, but he is plenty short enough for a horse that has never run here or on ground this lively.
His cramped outs mean there is plenty of each way value elsewhere and we like Court Minstrel (ew), who has been waiting for underfoot conditions to dry out.
The selection was just below top class over hurdles, but he has a high cruising speed and Un De Sceaux’s running style will set things up for the closers.
That also brings Vibrato Valtat into play and Paul Nicholls’ challenger couldn’t have been in better form in recent weeks. The penny certainly seems to have dropped and he is a tempting each way option as he seems unlikely to be out of the first three, but our other choice is Clarcam (ew), whose price seems to be hugely inflated as a result of his defeat to the favourite last time out.
Yes that run suggests he can’t beat Un De Sceaux, but he will like the ground and was running well at the meeting last year before giving Bryan Cooper a horror fall in the Fred Winter. If you equate his previous two runs to the level of form shown by some of the home trained contenders he shouldn’t be 18/1.
Paddy Power are offering money back on losing bets, up to £25, if Un De Sceaux wins
|Court Minstrel (ew)||2.05 Cheltenham
Ultima Business Solutions Chase
The first big handicap of the meeting will give bookies a breather from the Mullins onslaught, but they may face a gamble of a different sort as punters could side with their old Cheltenham allies Tony McCoy, who will be riding at his last Festival, and JP McManus. McCoy’s mount Pendra is already favourite in many places this morning and if punters’ wallets are full after wins for Douvan and Un De Sceaux we could see another almighty plunge here.
However, we are going to side with Evan Williams again, courtesy of Barrakilla (ew). This lightly raced eight year old ran on really well in the closing stages of a valuable handicap over 2m 5f at the December meeting and he looks ready for this step up in distance.
The change in going could see a few surprise results throughout the meeting and there are plenty of outsiders in this race who have better chances than their recent (soft ground) form suggests including Dursey Sound (not least because Jonjo O’Neill’s runners in these staying handicap chases are always feared) and According To Trev (whose yard is bang in form), but for those looking for something at a big price we would suggest No Planning (ew) and Indian Castle (ew).
Horses that race up with the pace can often run well in this contest and that should help No Planning, who will also relish a return to a better surface. In 25 starts he has only been out of the first 5 three times (one of those was when he fell and another was when he was sixth) - Bet365 are offering 5 places on each-way bets in this race.
The selection of Indian Castle owes much to the recent revival of his yard. He has also run well here in the past and he would have been placed in the Kim Muir last year off of a pound higher mark had he not blundered badly three out. He was favourite that day and if Ian Williams can eke out some further improvement he shouldn’t be a 25/1 shot.
Of the other fancied runners, we fear The Druids Nephew most.
|Barrakilla (ew)||2.40 Cheltenham
|No Planning (ew)||2.40 Cheltenham
|Indian Castle (ew)||2.40 Cheltenham
Stan James Champion Hurdle
The Champion Hurdle is a mouth-watering clash between four top class hurdlers. We have been massive Faugheen (win) fans for a while now and this is no time to desert the favourite. Willie Mullins could easily have been represented in this race by last year’s Supreme winner Vautour or Un De Sceaux, but the fact that he sent them both over fences was a clear sign of the pecking order at the County Carlow yard.
The selection was ridden with enormous confidence and belief at Ascot on his seasonal re-appearance and then again at Kempton in the Christmas Hurdle and we think he has the potential to be one of the best winners of this race that we have seen for many years.
On this ground, stablemate Artic Fire looks the best each-way option.
|Faugheen (win)||3.20 Cheltenham
|Artic Fire (ew)
||Stan James & BetVictor|
Mullins doesn’t have his trump card to play in the David Nicholson Mares Race that follows the Champion, as Quevega is now enjoying life as a broadmare, however he has quite a substitute to rely on in her place as Annie Power will make her seasonal re-appearance in the contest.
Last year’s World Hurdle runner up will be many people’s banker today, but we can’t recommend backing her at the prices off of the back of such a long absence so we would suggest taking her on with the rock solid each way option, Glens Melody at best odds of 6/1 with Bet365 and Paddy Power.
She was a fine second in the race last year and has been in at least as good a form this campaign.
The other interesting one is The Pirate Queen (ew). She has a bit to find at the ratings, but should be suited by the large field and end to end gallop, and being by King’s Theatre she should enjoy the quicker surface too.
|Glens Melody (ew)||4.00 Cheltenham
||Bet365 & Paddy Power|
|The Pirate Queen (ew)
Our tips in the final two races are as follows.
National Hunt Chase
|Perfect Gentleman (ew)
|Top Totti (ew)
|Thunder And Roses (ew)
(Bet365 and Sky Bet both offer 4 places for each-way bets)
Chaps Restaurants Novices’ Handicap Chase
|Horizontal Speed (ew)
|Knock House (ew)||5.15 Cheltenham
(BetVictor offer 5 places for each-way bets)