13:30 – Supreme Novices Hurdle
In a year with spectacular sporting opening ceremonies in prospect, at 13:30 on the 15th March 2016 the racing world will come to a halt in anticipation of 4 days of the purest form of equine talent going to battle. The roar that will transcend around Prestbury Park will have grown men and women of all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life trembling in excitement.
As a wise old Irishman, sipping on his pint of Guinness, once told the TNS boys ‘You have to go for the pink in the first’. Unfortunately his comment was taken out of context and my god did Jenna do well that night!
In all seriousness this years renewal will see Rich Ricci bidding for his fourth consecutive winner of the festival curtain raiser. At the head of this years market donning the famous pink silks and trained by the great Willie Mullins is ‘Min’ (13/8). This horse comes into the race with huge anticipation and expectation placed upon him after disposing easily of all rivals he has met so far in his 2 races within the UK. In a race where tactical nouse and a calm head is required, Ruby Walsh, with his supremely confident attitude is the perfect partner. Min looks to have an excellent chance of securing yet another success for Mr Rich Ricci.
For those looking to wade in big and set themselves up for the rest of the festival, completely ignoring others in the market may prove to be hugely costly. The heavyweight of the U.K. Trainer market, Nicky Henderson, is responsible for the 2nd and 3rd in the market, Altior (6/1) and Buveur D’air (8/1). Both arrive off the back of hugely impressive seasons. Frighteningly for favourite backers, there is surely more progression to come.
Those looking further afield in the market should look no further than Supasundae (14/1). An interesting prospect to say the least. Having finished sixth in last years Champion Bumper he has again progressed this year and arrives off the back of a fine victory, dismissing the 2014 Champion Bumper winner (Silver Concorde) in the process. Dismiss him at your peril, we certainly won’t.
The excitement and anticipation is becoming increasingly overwhelming and this years curtain raiser promises to be nothing other than exhilarating and for all of those favourite backers a truly SUPREME start to the festival.
14:10 – Arkle Trophy
The Arkle is seen as the champion 2 mile novice chase and I don’t think many could argue when Douvan picks up the crown. Three out of the last four renewals have been won by an odds on favourite and only a painful short head denied the biting Champagne Fever.
Douvan has been mightily impressive this season winning his races by a combined 42 lengths. He had 3rd favourite Sizing John behind over hurdles in the Supreme last year and then that same rival 18 lengths behind over the larger obstacles months ago. He absolutely romped the Supreme last year and after hardly putting a foot wrong since, he is a deserving odds on favourite. However at 2/5 we’re not going to blame anybody if they look at an ew or betting without the favourite bet.
It seems Douvan has scared off any meaningful opposition. However in the betting without market we think The Game Changer looks good value knowing he will line in up in the race and already having a 3lb better rating than Vaniteux. At almost three times that rivals price, he will be our e/w selection.
However if a 2/5 bet is your kind of jam then get Douvan in all your accas, double up your antepost singles with him and if you do own a house, remortgage it and earn 40% overnight.
14:50 – Ultima Handicap Chase
The last two renewals of the Festival Trophy Handicap have been won by classy animals in Holywell, who reopposes (8/1), and The Druids Nephew. Holywell’s trainer Jonjo O’Neill has won three of the last seven runnings of the race so it may pay to look out for whichever of his line up.
Six of the last eight have been rated between 142 and 146, with eleven of the last 15 winners in the top four in the betting. Another to bear in mind is Irish horses have only won this race twice since 1980, which leads me to put a line through an old favourite of mine, Morning Assembly (14/1). After some uncertainty about whether he would get in, Warren Greatrex has the current market leader in Out Sam (7/1), and has been progressive all year and squeaks in here off 139.
It’s a bit like trying nail blancmange to the ceiling at this point, however a couple are of interest. Kruzhlinin (10/1) looks a good bet for Hobbs, a man who’s had a great year in handicaps. Un Temps Pour Tout (16/1) was by far an away the classiest of these over hurdles and is hard to get a handle on. However the two that really do catch my eye are Beg to Differ (16/1) for Jonjo, and at a juicier price, Regal Encore (16/1). Pulled up on his last two starts is certainly not ideal however this was on soft / heavy, he’ll much prefer the firmer spring ground. He has the assistance of the best horseman in the game in Geraghty and with a good second in the 2013 Champion Bumper to his name, Anthony Honeyball’s charge rates a good bet.
15:30 – Champion Hurdle
The shape of the race, and the market, were flipped on their heads following the withdrawal of first, Faugheen the machine and then Arctic Fire. Given Mullins’ embarrassment of riches, many won’t sympathise too much but the loss of last year’s one two undoubtedly diminishes the quality for Tuesday’s showpiece. The New One followed the aforementioned home in fifth last year, and has both the most prize money and Grade 1s of all the entities for this year’s renewal. The last time he tasted success at the highest level was back in 2013 however, and the horse appears to have gone backwards.
Those who are hoping Henderson can work his magic on My Tent Or Yours and get him back to his best first time out are surely asking too much, especially at such a short price. Camping Ground didn’t follow up his surprising yet creditable win at Cheltenham in the Relkeel Hurdle, finishing 5th last time out. Nicky was debating whether to send Peace And Co to Cheltenham after having one of these magical wind ops. If he had creditable prep runs you couldn’t rule him out, especially after tasting success in the Triumph last year, but they’ve been far from that. Old Guard was put in his place last time out at Kempton when meeting Faugheen and perhaps lacks the class for a Championship race, albeit with the two main protagonists being withdrawn.
So this leaves the Irish contenders Annie Power, Identity Thief and Nichols Canyon who all head the market. Nichols Canyon could make a bold bid from the front but it’s hard to forget him fluffing his lines in last year’s Neptune and he can be swerved on this basis. Identity Thief doesn’t look to quite have the class of the other two and whilst Annie Power hasn’t ran over this distance in three years she just edges it for us. The drop back in distance won’t be a problem for a mare with a 7lb allowance and a quick turn of foot. She looks to stand a great chance of winning her first Cheltenham Festival race after it being a case of so near, yet so far in 2014 and 2015. We expect a shower of pink scarfs as she crosses the line whilst Rich Ricci notches up another Festival success.
16:10 – OLGB Mares’ Hurdle
With Annie Power re-routed to the Champion Hurdle, this race was left with a big old hole to fill and after having a quick flick through his hand Mr Ricci has been able to throw down another ace.
Events in this last year were enough to send many a punter to the shadows never to return, after Annie Power fell at the last with the race at her mercy. The bookies were left laughing all the way to the bank but hopefully we can get our own back here in the shape of Vroom Vroom Mag. Many a sceptic will say she is as short as she is because she shares the same connections as last years good thing. We’d be inclined to think they are wrong. Vroom Vroom Mag is an exceptional mare, there’s no two ways about that. She had a number of these behind at Ascot last time out in a race that has proven to be a good indicator for this. The way she cut through the field that day with Ruby motionless really was something to behold. It was enough to convince us she is well worth her price and it’s going to take some performance to get her beat.
There are a small handful of horses that are worth note. Polly Peachum returns after an unlucky second in this last year and you’d be surprised to see her out of the top 3. We’d be happy to skip over Aurore D’estruval in the search for something at a bigger price and the same can be said for Bitofapuzzle. At a big old price Lily Waugh could run a big race. She’s won here before and was staying on over an inadequate 2m when beaten by Smart Talk, who looks a promising mare herself.
However, we’re going to nail our colours to the mast here in all their glory. Picture the scene, Owen Farrell stood over a penalty kick 20 yards out, he’s converted these blindfolded, he could maybe even back heel this one over. Ok that’s maybe a tad excessive, but surely the mightily impressive Vroum Vroum Mag is exactly that, the 20 yard penalty kick that you’d see fly through the posts 9 times out of 10 and for that reason we’re all in.
16:50 – National Hunt Chase
The penultimate race of day 1 at Cheltenham sees a slog of a race that is certainly not for the feint hearted. 4 miles round Prestbury Park really does test these animals to their absolute limits. A race where we give the professionals a rest and allow the amateurs to showcase their abilities and as is to be expected, the leading amateurs have already been snapped up for the leading fancies here. Statistics would suggest that you should be looking at horses over 6y.o, however that would be based on data when younger horses were rarely campaigned at these distances.
An obvious place to start is with a man who seems to have made this race his own in recent times, Jonjo O’Neill, having won 4 of the last 8 renewals. He possesses the market leader again in this years renewal, in the shape of Minella Rocco. Having lost his unbeaten run with his first start over fences last time out, this lad was staying on strongly at the end, suggesting that the step up to 4 mile will ensure he has every chance of success.
In a race where the last 5 winners have been under 10/1 the focus for the TNS boys is going to be with the leading fancies in the market. After a stunning season with Cue Card, Mr Tizzard has a huge fancy In this years renewal in the shape of Native River. Having already been successful in two novice chases earlier in the season, he produced a fine effort to finish third behind Tea for Two in the grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase. With the ground looking to be in his favour and with one of the finest amateur jockeys in the business set to ride, there’s a very strong chance this horse will be sailing to victory!
In Southfield Royale we have a horse that the TNS boys have been following all year and have such gained a real affinity for. Back in December this loveable fellow breezed through a grade 2 chase. He followed that effort by splitting Tea For Two and Native River in the Kauto Star Chase and he again looked to be staying on strongly at the line. With Nina Carberry booked in for the ride it looks like he is destined to run a big race and he is one to certainly take a closer look at.
For those looking at a bit of e/w value look no further than Local Show. Arriving on the back of two victories he comes into the race with confidence in abundance. Staying on strongly (a recurring theme here) at the end of his last 3 miles, the step up in trip certainly looks like it is going to suit. The only worry for backers however is his tendency to jump right on this left handed track and the standard at which he has been winning.
To summarise, this is going to be a fascinating race near the end of which promises to be a fantastic day one. We are finding it very hard to split Southfield Royal and Native River for our main fancy (2 with NR and 3 with SR). However all are in agreement that Local Show looks e/w bet.
17:30 – Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase
The last race on Tuesday could be the defining moment of some people’s weeks, after potentially just losing their house as Douvan fell two out (fingers crossed that won’t be the case). A number of you will be 10 pints of Guinness down adding an accidental 0 to that £10 ew bet on a horse named after your uncle’s best mates dog, we’ve all been there. A large number will however be looking to the final race of the day 1 to pick out that dark horse good thing.
Our main fancy in this race following declarations would be Amore Alato who was not disgraced last time out in Grade 1 company. He has beat some useful horses and he is on a very workable mark. He was cruising when he unseated his rider at the last in a grade 2 and is a horse we have followed all season. For those reasons we are more than willing to give him a chance at a workman’s price of 22/1.
Of the others, Aloomomo at the top of the weights and market has been kept for this race and has an excellent chance. He couldn’t be have been talked about in much higher regard than he has by his trainer and looks set to run a big race. Don’t be afraid to be two or three handed here as 5lbs separate the whole field but we’ll be siding with Aloomomo and an e/w tipple on Amore Alato.
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