It’s finally here! Day one of the 2021 Cheltenham Festival looks like a cracker, and we have strong tips in all seven races on the card.
1.20 (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 1) – METIER
We should still get the same rip-roaring start to the Festival in the Supreme Novices’ – on the track at least. There will be no ‘Cheltenham Roar’ and a reduced field of only eight runners, but the quality is there for all to see.
For us, this came down to trying to accurately evaluate Metier and long-time short-priced favourite Appreciate It. The latter, of Willie Mullins’ yard, has beaten the likes of Ballyadam, Blue Lord and Irascible and in some cases more than once, so deserves his reputation.
That said, those three rivals didn’t rate too highly on our numbers while Metier’s form read very differently. It seems awfully prevalent that those in behind when Metier has won ever so impressively this season seemed to always be running seasonal highs they couldn’t replicate, which is a nod to them being dragged along by what might be a very high-class horse.
Harry Fry’s Meter it is then for us, who looks to be the real deal and can take care of the favourite as well as Soaring Glory who seems a fair place shout.
1.55 (Arkle Challenge Trophy – Grade 1) – SHISHKIN
Again, we have a smaller than ideal field for the Arkle, though it’s hardly a surprise given that so many have been scared off by the presence of Shishkin.
With no doubts about his class, this track, the trip or, basically, anything else, it should only be a mistake that stops him winning this and confirming him as the top novice chaser in the world.
Shishkin came into last year’s Festival as a 6/1 shout for the Supreme Novices’ but won that too, while he’s been simply imperious in his three very easy chase wins this term. Allmankind looks next best to us, while Willie Mullins’ Franco De Port has an outside shout at around 9/1.
2.30 (Ultima Handicap Chase – Grade 3) – HAPPYGOLUCKY
The Ultima is our first really competitive event – a 16-runner handicap chase over 3m1f which should be fiercely contested.
Some of the money has gone in the wrong places by our reckoning, with the likes of Nietzsche and The Wolf holding great each-way chances, but the strength of feeling behind Happygolucky should prove to be very well placed indeed.
Kim Bailey’s runner was impressive when landing a novice event around here in December, and now on the Old Course he can prove how well handicapped he is with a valuable win under David Bass.
3.05 (Champion Hurdle – Grade 1) – GOSHEN
It was said before last year’s Triumph Hurdle that Goshen was the real deal, and he was on the way to destroying his field before famously coming to grief at the last flight.
He handles Cheltenham very well and came right back to form when landing the Kingwell Hurdle last time, again completely taking apart his field. He remains good value as second or third favourite in the market and may well prove to be a brilliant Champion Hurdle winner.
The two mares have attracted most money; last year’s winner Epatante of Nicky Henderson’s and Willie Mullins’ Honeysuckle who is unbeaten in her entire 10-race career thus far.
They each get 7lbs from Goshen which may count for plenty, but for our money neither has met a horse of Gary Moore’s runner’s class and so while they remain second and third on our list, in no particular order since they are so close on ability, they may be heading for defeat.
Among the long shots last year’s second Sharjah may make his presence felt once again, while Aspire Tower looks overpriced, however considering how far ahead of him Goshen was last season before falling he only adds confidence to the overall selection.
3.40 (Mares’ Hurdle – Grade 1) – ROKSANA
Another Cheltenham race, and another short-priced Willie Mullins favourite. Concertista is the mare in question and she is rock-solid to be fair. Her own form is not in question, we simply believe that the improvement Roksana has shown for the Dan Skelton yard has been overlooked and she’s the value in this race.
In fact, Roksana won this race two years ago, albeit luckily, and she’s a much better racehorse now. Given that her form at least stands up with that of Concertista’s and we know she can handle this event, she gets the nod to land the race under Harry Skelton.
Black Tears is next on our list while Cheltenham Festival winner Indefatigable may outrun her price too.
4.15 (Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle – Grade 3) – SAGE ADVICE
The market for this four-year-old event has centred around Paul Nicholls’ Gallic recruit Houx Gris in the run-up to the meeting, but if he is indeed to run well then that also brings in Oliver Greenall’s Homme Public.
Homme Public was only a neck behind Houx Gris in France last October off level weights and now gets 3lbs from his rival, making him a big price at around 14/1.
That form line is important, however at an even bigger price we like the look of Sage Advice. Dr Richard Newland’s runner ran well enough when winning on his hurdling debut in January to be considered well-handicapped here, so with natural improvement he looks very solid indeed.
He’s been beaten twice since winning, but that was on much heavier ground than he’ll get here and so now can show his very best form at big odds. Busselton and Saint Sam are also worth considering.
4.50 (National Hunt Challenge Cup – Grade 2) – GALVIN
Most of the money last week was for Paul Nicholls’ Next Destination, and he has a solid chance along with Remastered with whom we get his form and ability very close by our reckoning.
Galvin on the other hand may just be at a higher level. Formerly under the care of Gordon Elliott who reportedly had a strong Cheltenham Festival team together, Galvin can peak today which would be something considering he comes into this on the back of four successive chase wins.
A three-mile winner at Cheltenham in October, Galvin was also second at last year’s Festival behind Imperial Aura and it seems nothing here holds any fears for him. Escaria Ten also made the shortlist.