Cheltenham Day 1 betting tips and preview
Brought to you by Russell Blair Racing
1.30 Supreme 2m Novices Hurdle Grade 1
This looks a cracking start to the festival, not for quality but just for how wide open it looks, current fav Al Dancer while doesn’t have many chinks in his armour while watching him rack up 4 wins from 4, he hasn’t exactly beaten much IMO, Getaway Trump perhaps his biggest opponent faced who was a good 2nd behind Champ in the Challow, other than that, he’s beaten good handicap horses well and while I’m not saying his not good enough and won’t improve more, his odds are unappealing.
Angels Breath who is owned by same part owner as Al Dancer follows him in the betting and for me is even more of a scandalous price, he was the buzz horse for this race even before his debut when winning a good Grade 2 Novice at Ascot late December, the race however was a bit of a shambles with the low sun affecting the race and as a result they only jumped 4 hurdles, so more of a flat race than a hurdle race TBF, the form of the race hasn’t worked out well either. Since that victory on soft ground, connections have been waiting for similar conditions over the dry winter, with the ground not easing they had to get a run into him and was even further held up by the Fluenza, they eventually found a race for him in a Grade 2 Novice where he finished a close 2nd, although he was giving away 5lb to the winner Southfield Stone who is a smart horse, it was still disappointing performance considering SS done everything he could to throw the race away with hitting the last flight hard, running about and then hanging left across the track on the run in, but still the hard ridden AB couldn’t pass him, also AB was outpaced by the winner when making his move coming off the bend, giving the impression AB could do with further, while the testing Cheltenham track will suit more and potential underfoot conditions to help, I’m still pretty confident AB isn’t as ready as he should be and is the lay of the race.
Klassical Dream has been all the rage since the trainer has focussed all his attention on this race, he’s the joint highest rated horse of the race since Elixir De Nutz has unfortunately been withdrawn, for me he looked more of a stayer when last seen winning at Leopardstown, he beat a previous novice Grade 1 winner in the form of stablemate Aramon and so his form can’t be knocked and is the Irish strongest chance, however for me he looked more of a stayer when last seen winning at Leopardstown, he needed every bit of the 2miles, obviously this is a more testing course which will help but I can see him getting a little outpaced which could be crucial to his chances.
Fakir D’Oudairis will have a tough time at the unexperienced age of 4 against much tougher and bigger elders, he does have a class look to him but surely this won’t be his year but one to watch for the future
Mister Fisher’s form is pretty solid when beating Rouge Vif who won his next 2 which includes a Grade 2 at Kelso with a well beaten Getaway trump in the field, I’d rather have him over Angels Breath even if jockey Nico de Boinville has opted for the latter.
GRAND SANCY is a very gritty and likeable horse, he’s far from screaming superstar or even very classy, but his heart and battle qualities will see him strong in the finish and ready to pick up any pieces that are on offer, he’s progressed well in every run and his 2nd in the Tolworth demands respect, the 3rd horse Southfield Stone who we mentioned earlier beat Angels Breath NTO boosting the form, Grand Sancy also confirmed the form when the Kingwell beating Sceau Royal and Vision Des Flos who also boosted his form when winning a Grade 2 NTO.
Itchy Feet also needs a mention if Grand Sancy is the pick, he beat the mentioned gelding in October before a strong 2nd to Elixir De Nutz carrying a 5lb penalty, all his form is on good ground and hasn’t been seen since which is a worry, but if he’s progressed well enough, it wouldn’t be a shock to me to see him run a big race from a big price.
2.10 Arkle 2m Grade 1 Novice Chase
GLEN FORZA has had a pretty sensational season considering he’s ran at pretty much ran every scenario he could face already, he started as a 2 mile hurdler where he ran a respectful 2nd in good company at a sharp track, he then went half a mile around a totally different characteristic course to improve again, he then went up another half a mile to make a winning chase debut against good handicap company at 3 miles to show his stamina strengths around a undulating galloping course which looked his forte, but then he was tried over 2m4f at the flat, sharp Kempton track, where he again showed his progression to take the race in his stride in a strong form race to warrant a crack at a big prize, he went on to face 4/1 odds on fav Kalashnikov who was not only 14lb superior and the big favourite for the Arkle race, he had to again drop half a mile to face him, not only did he defy the odds but he smashed the Arkle favs to bits to take his chase record to 3 from 3 and to do it, going left, right, flat, undulating, sharp, testing, galloping, 2m, 2m4f, 3 miles, you name it, he’s done it all and showed no weaknesses, even takes a liking to any ground, he’s been a fantastic horse to watch and hopefully he can highlight here with a victory to record predominantly flat trainer Mick Channon his first Grade 1.
Lalor would also be a big fan fav for trainer Kayley Woollacott who lost her husband early last year and after taking over her husband’s yard which at the time was meant to be temporary until they figured out suitable arrangements, but this gelding had bigger plans for all involved and won the Grade 1 Top Novices Hurdle at Aintree for a emotional story for connections. He started his chasing career in fine style over this C&D on good ground beating a strong field which included Dynamite Dollars who’s since won his next 3 which includes a Grade 1, he also finished well ahead of Defi Du Seuil whose won a grade 1 when taking the Scilly Isles Novice. Lalor had the form reversed NTO with Dynamite Dollars at Sandown on soft, connections blamed the ground and right-handed track for his below form performance, which unfortunately for him and connections here the ground should again be out of his comfort zone, hopefully I’m wrong.
The best of the Irish raiders IMO comes from Gordon Elliott’s Hardline who already has a Grade 1 to his name when beating Getabird who gifted him the race when jumping the final fence all wrong at Limerick, he then raced at 2m5f NTO on good ground, while not discrassed, he didn’t look at home on the fast ground he’ll enjoy the softer conditions here, also the 2 mile trip looks the right move.
Willie Mullins trained Duc Des Genievres is arguably the hardest horse to judge, he’s perhaps visually the best horse on LTO’s displays where he won a class 1 beginners chase very easily to record his first career win from 8 for Willie, he’s not exactly the most consistent of performers and his penultimate run over 2 miles was less to be desired when finishing 3rd sandwiched between 2 horses rated low 130’s, also he hasn’t won going left handed from 4 tries, while I wouldn’t be surprised to win if he again improves from LTO, he isn’t for me.
Paloma Blue could surprise a few, he has solid hurdle form lines over 2 miles, he only has 2 runs over fences this season, but won well considering it was far from perfect, if his learnt a lot from that, he could upset a lot. Also, stablemate Ornua while not so progressive his last bit of form behind Dynamite Dollars in the Henry VIII novices deserves lots of credit and will see him in the mix.
2.50 Ultima 3m1f Grade 3 Handicap Chase
Give Me a Copper will certainly be well fancied here after his last effort giving away a lot of weight to most of the field from a long break, he travelled through the race strongly and looked menacing 3 out but race fitness looked to of showed and he quickly tired out of it, he had entries for the Gold Cup, so connections obviously think a little bit more of him this and certainly has potential, I’m however unconvinced at his price in this deep race and rather look elsewhere.
Jonjo O’Neill has a great record in this race, his won it 3 times in the last 10 years and saddles up Minella Rocco here, his only had 1 win from 14 tries which is far from appealing and has only completed 9 of them runs so, 4 from his last 8 which also leaves many question marks on his character IMO, he was however rated 166 under a year and a half a go and now comes here off 152 after being highly tried, so it’d be no surprise to see him looking well treated if in the mood.
Mr Whitaker is interesting on his first run past 2m5f, he won last years Close Brothers novice handicap and has impressed this year, first on season reappearance when beating Happy Diva and Cyrnmame in a listed at Carlisle, he went up 7lbs and then went on to the Gold Cup handicap at Cheltenham, where he wasn’t disgraced but didn’t seem to like the fast pace upfront, he finished strongly thou and looked like we’d see him in a better light when upped in trip, his last run again seen run a good race giving away weight to the whole field, this time behind, so far the horse of the season Cyrname who pulverised the field before going on to big things, Mister Whitaker looked again like the step up in trip will see him improve, he gets his wish here over a testing 3m1f and around a course he thrives at.
Coo Star Sivola won this race last year off 142 and went up to 150 where his struggled a little since, but ground hasn’t been in favour since and has dropped handily 5lbs in 4 races, the more the rain comes the stronger his chances gets, which while I think he’ll see a big run, I don’t think the ground will be as soft as he’d like and there’s some better weighted rivals, in behind Coo Star Sivola in last years Ultima was Vintage Clouds, Beware the Bear, Singlefarmpayment, O O Seven and Cogry who all the same don’t strike me as well handicapped, Vintage Clouds would be the one to pick from them as the EW play, he didn’t look completely at home on the heavy ground and jockey Danny Cook had to get to work on him a long way out and looked well beat but plugged on all the way to the line to finish 6 lengths 3rd, he recorded a career best on season reappearance which puts him 3lb above his mark in this last season, which will be tough, but the better ground a plus and also has had a wind operation and he runs well fresh.
Up For Review is IMO the Irish best chance in the race, he’s a Grade 2 novice hurdle winner at Punchestown over 3 miles and made a pleasing start to fences early last year when 2nd to Some Neck who later won a Grade 2 novice chase at Punchestown, Up for Review won his 2nd chase start as expected by an eased down 15 lengths which warranted a crack at a Grade 1 Ryanair Gold Cup novice at Fairyhouse where he came a respectful 4th, he finished the season with a easy win at Killarney. He started this season very eye catching when taking the scenic route over 3m1f at Gowran, he travelled through the race very stylishly but the wide route by design from Paul Townend and the 256 days off the course took his toll and he just plugged on one pace to line behind Gold Cup destined Invitation Only. His mark of 146 looks very dangerous on his last run and has plenty of scope.
The bet of the race and day thou comes from the Skelton’s yard, CRUCIAL ROLE is still a unexposed novice which is a big plus in these types of races, he does have a tendancy to break blood vessels but when on song he looks a very smart gelding and a great strong jumper, he gave a lot of weight away in his latest win when making all against a good and well handicapped looking field, he won very easily by 15 lengths and would be hit by the handicapper very hard, he only gets the 5lb penalty under rules which leaves him looking very well in, he was very strong in his finish and the extra trip looks a big plus with the course also looking to suit.
3.30 Champion Hurdle 2m Grade 1
Not only the battle of the day, but for me the battle of the festival, superstar Buveur D’Air aims to add his name to the exclusive list of 3 time winners of this contest, at one time the reigning champion looked unbeatable even if just winning this race by half a length last year, he racked up a 11 streak winning sequence earlier this season which lasted over 32 months until a below par effort in the Christmas Hurdle where he was just beat by stablemate Verdana Blue, BD ran well considering he hit the 3rd flight hard and got to the front too early, but still showed he has kinks and obviously beatable. That paved way for a host of challengers to take him on and non-look better than APPLE’S JADE this season who’s took her form to new heights this season, she started at 2m4f’s where she beat 2 good fields stylishly which includes 164 rated Supasundae she beat by 20 lengths, she went up half a mile to 3 miles to win the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown, for which she looked at home over the trip but then head scratching’ly at the time was dropped back to 2 miles for the Irish Champion Hurdle, no doubt the class act of the field and ability would probably see her win the race, she sensationally recorded her career best and now looking the best 2 mile hurdler this season, she also has a very handy 7lb allowance against BD that leaves her looking very hard to beat, hopefully we see BD back to his best and what could be a epic battle, but for what I’ve seen this season, it’s hard not to think Apple’s jade has his measure even if the race will be run to suit for BD.
Of the others, Willie Mullins trained Laurina hasn’t done anything wrong this season and has took her win streak to 6, unfortunately she hasn’t been beating anything like BD and AJ have and what she has beat hasn’t exactly beat them as good as she should of and for me will be found out in this race and the lay of the race. Willie Mullins other 2, Sharjah and Melon both have better chances IMO and I’d side with Melon being the better chance especially if the rain gets into the ground, she hasn’t exactly been firing this season and has been well beat but she had a similar spell last season before recording a career best when finishing a neck 2nd in this race last year when the ground was heavy, she would of again be aimed for this race and has the aid of first time cheek pieces which will help her concentrate.
4.10 Mares Hurdle 2m4f Grade 1
I’ll keep this one short and sweet as 1 – I’m not a fan of mare races and 2 – I haven’t got that strong an opinion in the race, last years winner Benie Des Dieux comes into this a very short price, ok she beat a very good Apple’s jade and Midnight Tour who looked to of recorded a fluke 2nd IMO, BBD confirmed her form when winning the Irish Mares Champion Hurdle again ahead of a below par AJ, she hasn’t been seen again since which isn’t ideal as you would at least like to know how she looks, but she has a excellent record fresh, so no concerns in that regard and there’s no threat like AJ in this race, stablemate Limini has been on the go since the summer on the flat, where she was fairly inconsistent, the switch back to hurdles has seen her better and her recent 4th just over 2 lengths off Presenting Percy was a good show and she looks like staying trips are more her liking these days, Stormy Ireland still has raw ability and her form is decent in defeat to Espoir D’Allen a now rated 162 gelding and Laurina who is now rated 159.
Dan Skelton has a decent mare in Roksana who will love the underfoot conditions, she racked up 3 wins in a row over todays trip and then ran 2 fine races in defeat, the first when a close 2nd to current RSA 2nd fav Santini, she finished in front of a decent field which includes Challenge Cup 2nd fav OK Corral, her next defeat came in the listed Contenders hurdle to Buveur D’Air and future Grade 2 winner Vision Des Flos that was over a unsuitable sharp 2 miles, but she still showed plenty of pace and to finish 11 lengths from 172 rated BD over a unsuitable trip is pretty standout to me and warrants a big danger to Benie Des Dieux.
MOMELLA looks the forgotten mare of the race, she has good course form and won a good mares handicap here last season, she took the boys on at Aintree NTO in the Grade 1 Mersey novices hurdle where she ran a huge race back in 3rd, she since moved to Harry Fry’s yard and has been unlucky in both starts, she looked like she was coming with a menacing run on debut over 3 miles in the Long Distance again taking on her opposite sex, she however slipped on landing at the 2nd last, she did disappoint NTO returned to handicap, but that obviously wasn’t her and if she can put that run behind her and return to anything like her form last year, she’s a huge price in this and a worthy EW punt.
4.50 Close Brothers Novice 2m4f Handicap Chase Listed
A PLUS TARD sits at the top of the betting and is a worthy fav, he’s still open to plenty of improvement and just has the 3 runs to his name over fences, he broke his maiden tag in his 2nd race at Naas in front of good beginners field which included Duc Des Genieveres who recently smashed the 2nd fav in this race Tower Bridge by 15 lengths off level weights, taking into account A Plus had 7lbs on DDG and Tower Bridge has 3lbs on A Plus Tard in this that still makes APT over 9 lengths better off on my calculations. APT last race was a respectful 2nd in a good Grade 3 when he bumped into Winter Escape who completed his hat trick and is considered a Grade 1 novice, they were well clear of the rest of the field with Jetz the best of the rest who won a Grade 3 at Navan to boost the form.
Riders Of The Storm not exactly holds the strongest form, his 3rd to Hardline on boxing Day isn’t the worst piece of form and he did progress well when well backed to win at Punchestown in a much weaker race, his mark of 139 doesn’t leave him looking that well treated in my book and I’m happy to leave him off the shortlist.
Cubomania needs a big mention as he’s the only course winner in the field, he’s had a lot of race action thou for a novice and so that leaves me with big doubts his unexposed and his 142 mark looks right should find it hard IMO even if Davy Russell has chosen him out of Gordon Elliott’s best 3.
SHADY OPERATOR could be very well handicapped if he puts his last display behind him, on his penultimate race he was very well backed to win a 3m1f contest at Punchestown in front of a now 150 rated Ballyward, they met each other NTO in a Grade 3 novice at Naas this time Shady wasn’t well backed and he had the form heavily reversed with Ballyward romping the field, Shady was has a huge 30 lengths behind which looks a little too bad to be true, maybe a plot? IDK but he comes into this on a mark of 137 which looks very exploitable considering his beat a 150 rated horse off level weights already this season and needs a market check.
5.30 Challenge Cup 4m Amateur Rider’s Novice Chase Grade 2
Previously mentioned Ballyward was 4th in last years Albert Bartlett here and has made a great start to his chase career, his last piece of form when dominating a Grade 3 novice at Naas has worked out well with the 11 length 2nd winning a Grade 2 NTO at Navan, Ballymore looked every bit a stayer in the process and this step up in trip should play to his strengths more so than OK Corral who finished 2nd in last years Albert Bartlett, he also has made a good start to his chasing career winning both starts, the first when beating Impulsive Star who did win a Grade 3 handicap NTO receiving a lot of weight from the field, OK Corral then won listed novices Warwick beating just 3 rivals who all dented that piece of form NTO, so not only has his form plenty of holes he doesn’t exactly strike me as a stayer like Ballymore and for me is a big lay.
DISCORAMA was one of the eye catchers of last years festival, in the 2m4f Martin Pipe, he sat at the back of a slow gallop but done fantastic to get as close as he did to Blow By Blow who made all and was given an easy time of things upfront, Disco started his chasing career in fine style winning beginners chase at Naas, the form not really holding much weight, his next race he finished a respectful 4th in a very hot form race, he was screaming out for further that day and got his wish NTO when going toe to toe with Ballyward over 3miles, which looked to a have thrilling finish install when it looked like Disco was coming to take Ballyward until he pecked on landing leaving a easy victory for Ballyward in the end, Disco had a easy landing and that shouldn’t of dented Disco’s confidence and if you fancy Ballyward you should also be looking at Disco after performance especially at nearly treble the odds.
The interesting horse and ew bet of the race for me is ATLANTA ABLAZE, she’s done nothing but impress, she’s had a long season hasn’t stopped since April last year, but she’s showing no signs of fatigue and has only improved, she was rated 112 in April and now 143 and her 7lb allowance makes her look even more dangerous and will only have to improve a little more to win this, she seems to like any course characteristic and the ground will also suit, the trip like most will be into the unknown, but her pedigree and the way she travels through her races all show the step up in trip will suit.
1.30 Grand Sancy 14/1 Itchy Feet 33/1 e/w
2.10 Glen Forza 4/1 (nap)
2.50 Crucial Role 22/1 Up For Review 7/1 (saver)
3.30 Apple’s Jade/ Buveur D’Air 5.5/1 (forecast) Apple’s Jade/ Buveur D’Air/ Melon 51/1 (tricast)
4.10 Momella 20/1
4.50 A Plus Tard 13/2 Shady Operator 20/1 e/w
5.30 Discorama 6/1 Atlanta Ablaze 18/1 e/w
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