Cheltenham Festival begins in earnest on Tuesday 12th March and the all the talk will cease as horse racing fans ready themselves for the action.
Owners, trainers and jockeys have been preparing their respective charges for the whole of the National Hunt campaign for the four-day event. A win at Cheltenham Festival can be the shining moment in a career or perhaps even a springboard to greater success.
We’ll now break down the all of the races on the opening day of the Festival and give our tip for each contest.
The race has been dominated by Willie Mullins in the past, although the last of his victories came in 2015 with Douvan. Since then Nicky Henderson, Gordon Elliott and Tom George have triumphed, with the latter claiming the crown last season with Summerville Boy. The odds have been drifting over the last few months as Henderson’s Angels Breath was the leading contender.
He proved his raw potential with a win the Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle at Ascot, finishing four-and-a-half lengths ahead of Danny Kirwan. However, he was off the pace in his last outing at Kempton Park, placing second. Al Dancer has reeled off four wins on the bounce for Nigel Twiston-Davies, including one at Cheltenham in the Catesby Handicap Hurdle. He has the quality and is the safer option for the win at +400 with Bet365.
Named after one of the greatest horses to take the track, the Arkle Chase is the second meet the Festival. There is no clear favourite for the win, although Glen Forsa has been a horse on the rise over the last couple of months. Mick Channon’s charge has won three races on the bounce, including the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase by a huge margin.
German-bred horse Lalor is also in contention, although he struggled on his last outing in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase and does not have a strong history at Cheltenham. Kalashnikov is an intriguing horse as he was beaten out by a neck in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last season. He was beaten by Glen Forsa in his last race, although at +900 with Bet365, Amy Murphy’s charge represents excellent value.
Coo Star Sivola will be aiming to defend his crown in the Ultima Handicap Chase in the third event of the day. Nick Williams’ charge claimed the victory last season by a neck ahead of Shantou Flyer and will be aiming for a similar outing, although his recent form has been poor to say the least. As a result, don’t expect Coo Star Sivola to compete for the win.
Give Me A Copper has been installed as the bookies’ favourite for the event, but he only has one victory under his belt this term. Minella Rocco has pedigree, but not the form to justify his price for the race. Beware The Bear recorded a victory at Cheltenham in January over three miles. Henderson’s charge finished fourth in the event last season, but could be on course for a stronger effort this time around at +2000 with Bet365.
Buveur D’Air is aiming for his third Champion Hurdle title in a row in what will be the race of the opening day. Henderson’s charge will be aiming to join an elite company of horses to have won three times on the bounce in the event. However, the French-bred horse’s aura of invincibility has been dented by a defeat at the Christmas Hurdle to his stable-mate Verdana Blue.
Apple’s Jade and Laurina are outstanding horses in their own right, and will be striving to take home the crown for Elliott and Mullins respectively. It’s going to be a thriller on the track with little to choose between each of the leading competitors. All the attention has been on the duel between Buveur D’Air and Apple’s Jade, but Laurina has won all six of her races, including the Mares’ Novices Hurdle last term. Back Mullins’ charge to notch the win at odds of +350 with 888Sport.
This race has become a straightforward affair for reigning champion Benie Des Dieux after Elliott opted to move Apple’s Jade into the Champion Hurdle. Mullins also shifted Laurina, leaving the path clear for the bay mare to clinch the crown for a second time.
Limini, Stormy Ireland and Roksana could provide competition with a special performance, but it would be foolish to look past Benie Des Dieux for the win given her form and quality on the track. Back her at odds of -110 with 888Sport.
The contest is one of the more open of the day, with several horses capable of claiming the crown. Jockey Brian Hughes has won the event twice, including last season in the saddle of Mister Whitaker. This term Hughes will be at the reins for one of the leading contenders Riders Onthe Storm. The Irish-bred horse won his last event in the Richard Maher Memorial Rated Novice Chase.
However, his form has been indifferent to say the least. A Plus Tard is a rising star for Henry de Bromhead, having notched two victories in his four races. Experience could be an issue in his first appearance at Cheltenham. Cubomania has a win at Cheltenham under his belt and could be a surprise winners for Elliott at the event at +1200 with Bet365.
The battle for the National Hunt Chase crown appears to be locked between two horses that duelled it out last season in the Albert Barlett Novices’ Hurdle. Ok Corral finished second in the event behind Kilbricken Storm – three lengths off the pace. Since then he has reeled off back-to-back victories in events at Plumpton and Warwick, defeating a talented field in his last outing.
Henderson’s charge will be faced with the challenge of Ballyward, who finished ahead of last season. Since Ballyward finished fourth in the Albert Barlett Novices’ Hurdle, he was off the pace again in the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle and then placed in second in the Irish Racing Beginners Chase, losing out by a short head.
Mullins’ charge rose to the occasion in his last outing at Naas, winning his event by a comfortable margin. It should be a good race between the two charges, but take OK Corral for the win due to his strong pedigree and past form at Cheltenham at odds of +275 with 888Sport.
Al Dancer To Win Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
Tuesday 12th March 2019 13:30 GMT
Kalashnikov To Win Arkle Chase
Tuesday 12th March 2019 14:10 GMT
Beware The Bear To Win Ultima Handicap Chase
Tuesday 12th March 2019 14:50 GMT
Laurina To Win Champion Hurdle
Tuesday 12th March 2019 15:30 GMT
Benie Des Dieux To Win Mares’ Hurdle
Tuesday 12th March 2019 16:10 GMT
Cubomania To Win Close Brothers Novices’ Chase
Tuesday 12th March 2019 16:50 GMT
Ok Corral To Win National Hunt Chase
Tuesday 12th March 2019 17:30 GMT
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