The 2018 Cheltenham Festival kicks off with no less than four Grade One races on Tuesday and despite the heavy ground and healthy competition, betting opportunities abound at Prestbury Park for us.
With any luck Amy Murphy, Harry Whittingdon, Colin Tizzard and Fergal O’Brien can interrupt the Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson party with winners on day one and most likely all at great value prices as the bookies continue to run scared of the big names.
This year’s festival, on the opening day at least, promises to be a real test though with a better forecast for day two things could start to get easier for the equine stars of the show. Here’s what we see as being the best bets on day one:
1.30 (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle) – KALASHNIKOV
We could be in for a very close finish here with top contenders Kalashnikov, Getabird and Summerville Boy all within a few pounds of each other but I just feel that the first named is more battle-hardened than when finishing four lengths behind Summerville Boy at Newbury this season.
Amy Murphy’s horse resumed improvement when winning the Betfair Hurdle and could prove too strong in the festival curtain-raiser. First Flow and Paloma Blue also hold each-way chances.
2.10 (Arkle Chase) – SAINT CALVADOS
Luckily for punters the Arkle is generally won simply by the best horse in the race, the trouble is that we can’t all agree on which horse that is this year. Favourite Footpad is admittedly impressive and would surprise nobody if coming home in front but his best performances having come over slightly further and having been beaten by next best Petit Mouchoir last year I feel there are doubts with him.
In Saint Calvados though I only see positives and perhaps even more improvement on the big day so he gets the vote for this Grade One, potentially giving Harry Whittingdon a huge career moment.
2.50 (Ultima Handicap Chase) – RAMSES DE TAILLEE
Despite his relative inexperience over the larger obstacles the vote goes to Ramses De Taillee to give David Pipe and Tom Scudamore the win. Vintage Clouds may be the one for money on raceday and must be watched, potentially running into at least a place.
3.30 (Champion Hurdle) – FAUGHEEN
Nicky Henderson’s superstar Buveur D’Air comes into the race having won it last year and as a long odds-on favourite, however I can’t escape the fact that he took a big step forward to win this in 2017 on ground better than he had raced on before.
This year he faces deep going and could be outdone by the other bona fide superstar in the race in Faugheen. Willie Mullins’ charge can regain the title he won in 2015 and despite his problems is still in training for a very good reason. Wicklow Brave could be best of the rest.
4.10 (Mares’ Hurdle) – APPLE’S JADE
The likely favourite here for Gordon Elliott could have won this year in different company so seeing off these mares over this trip should be well within her wheelhouse. Benie Des Dieux is solid enough and will lie in wait should there be any flaws in the jolly, but all things being equal should not be good enough to quite win it.
La Bague Au Roi can be best of the rest given she has talent but is probably better over further than this and so despite the stamina test this year running into the money should still be seen as success.
4.50 (National Hunt Chase) – SIZING TENNESSEE
One of the more experienced types in the field, he has strong claims based on his staying-on second to Yanworth here in January and arguably there is much more to come from him. The ground was heavy that day so there are no concerns on that score and it seems the longer trip will only bring about more improvement from him.
Likely jolly Jury Duty has better form on paper than Sizing Tennessee but having already run over further we kind of know what to expect, whereas the tip hasn’t been fully exposed over longer distances. Mossback and Rathvinden may run on for place money.
5.30 (Novices’ Handicap Chase) – BARNEY DWAN
Gloucestershire handler Fergal O’Brien has booked Noel Fehily for Barney Dwan and I wouldn’t be surprised whatsoever if he flies in to land a hat-trick and a famous festival win.
The 8yo won on the heavy going over hurdles and seems to need a decent stamina test so rates a fair bet at a value price to go in on day one. Top trainer Willie Mullins brings Livelovelaugh to the party and it would be no big surprise to see him go well at a nice price while the market will no doubt speak in favour of De Plotting Shed and Any Second Now.