Day one of the Cheltenham festival hosts some excellent races and there seem to be a few solid bets on offer. The main issue with day one is determining the ground. Those betting from Wednesday on will be able to make more educated decisions based on the times and therefore the ground from the Tuesday, so we have to be content with the official going from the clerk of the course. In all likelihood, with the great weather, the going will be good to soft with a hint of good in.
1.30 – Supreme Novices Hurdle
The curtain raiser of the festival, this grade one contest is open to novices aged 4 and up. Run over 2 miles 110 yards, this race is a real test on the youngsters jumping and so far this year there have been two stand out performers in the division – Douvan and L’ami Serge. The hype surrounding the former has been stoked by trainer Willie Mullins who has suggested that his horse has as good a chance as any of his runners have ever had at the festival. Blessed with speed, a slick hurdling technique and an impressive engine, the son of Walk In The Park has won both starts in Ireland with contemptuous ease, beating some useful yardsticks in the process. Justified favourite at 7/42.75+1751.751.75-0.57 with PaddyPower, but the price is getting a little cramped.
At the price, L’ami Serge looks a very solid each way bet. This race is renowned for the excellent promotions offered by the bookmakers (trying to get business at the start of the festival), with money back and improved place terms common place. Interestingly, Nicky Henderson’s charge came to the UK 0/6 in competitive races, but since switching stables, he has been ultra impressive, winning all 3 starts. The pick of his form came when destroying Kilcooley, who has since gone on to win the Game spirit, and without the hype surrounding the Mullins horse, this runner would be much closer to being a joint favourite. Ladbrokes are offering 7/24.50+3503.503.50-0.29 and with a clear round it is very difficult to see L’ami Serge out of the frame.
A race which seems to harbour one of the bankers of the meeting in the Willie Mullins Un De Sceaux. Likes to bowl from the front and has been ruthless so far, winning 11 from 12 starts. Only defeat came when falling, and that seems likely to be the only thing that can beat him on the day, but at 57/1001.57-1750.57-1.750.57 across the board, doesn’t seem to offer great value.
Paul Nicholls has historically done very well in the Arkle and he is represented by Vibrato Valtat. Although lacking the sexiness of the favourite, he is a grade one winner and was as impressive as ever last time out. Could have been unbeaten over fences with a better ride at Cheltenham, and again looks very solid. The race doesn’t seem to have much strength in depth, and the son of Voix Du Nord will look to expose any chinks in Un De Sceaux’s armour.
3.20 Champion Hurdle
The showpiece of day one, the Champion Hurdle. The premier 2 mile hurdlers from the UK and Ireland lock horns, and this years contest looks a vintage renewal. Willie Mullins has his third favourite of the day in the unbeaten Faugheen, (available at 11/102.10+1101.101.10-0.91 with Ladbrokes and PaddyPower). He didn’t enter the Cheltenham Festival as the stable star in 2014, but surely has that moniker this time around after putting in three flawless performances since winning the Neptune novice race last year.
For all of Faugheen’s talent, he is untested against the older elite. And following on with the theme of the bets for the day, there does look an attractive each way alternative in the form of Jezki. John Harrington’s runner is the current champion and will be looking to retain his crown. Has been beaten three times this year by old foe Hurricane Fly, but the drying ground and course is very much more suited to the Harrington runner. Jezki has always got better as the year progresses, and at 5.5 in an 8 runner field, he looks the ideal each way bet. The only concern is if one runner drops out and the place terms are reduced to two, but as things stand, he appears to offer cracking value.
Another race, another Willie Mullins favourite in the form of Annie Power. Undoubtedly the top mare in the country, the main question mark over her is the 311 day absence come race day. Whilst she is sure to have been well prepared at home, her rivals may garner some encouragement from the fact that they have the benefit of a recent race.
The alternative, and a very fair one at that, is Glen’s Melody. If the ground did happen to come up softer than expected in the first few races, enthusiasm for Mullins second string would be amplified. A mudlark who still acts fine on better going, her form is decent, finishing second in the race last year. Showed well being last time out when winning on the bridle at Warwick, and will be there to capitalize on any underperformance from Annie Power.
So there you have it, a day of each way plays. It would come as no surprise if all four Mullins favourites win, but at the prices, the value seems to lie with those who have been installed second/third in the market. On top of the each way singles, an each way lucky 15 is advisable, as many bookmakers pay treble the odds for one winner
Eric has been a sports journalist for over 20 years and has travelled the world covering top sporting events for a number of publications. He also has a passion for betting and uses his in-depth knowledge of the sports world to pinpoint outstanding odds and value betting opportunities.
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