Sporting & Equestrian | Tue 1 Dec
The Festival 2018 at Cheltenham Racecourse
13th - 16th March 2018
Tuesday, the opening day of the Festival, has the best of the racing, I think. If you’ve never been before, make it this outing and be sure to get out on the course for the first race. The roar that goes up from the crowd as the action gets underway with the 1.30 Sky Bet Supreme Novices Hurdle will make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck! It’s a very tough call as there are plenty of horses that I can make a very strong case for but I’m sticking with Ballyandy, trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, as an each-way bet. There’s a small chance he may run in the Neptune on Wednesday so if you’re betting ante-post be sure to take advantage of no runner, no bet offers.
Next up in the 2.10 Racing Post Arkle Novices Chase plump for Altior - winner of last years’ Supreme Novice Hurdle, trained by Nicky Henderson. I think that he’s the best Novice Chaser around and the betting market definitely agrees but don’t expect to win a fortune though, as he’s already odds-on favourite. In the 3.30 Stan James Champion Hurdle the most likely winner will come from the top three in the betting – that’s Buveur D’Air (Trainer: Nicky Henderson) Yanworth (Trainer: Alan King) and Petit Mouchoir (Trainer: Gordon Elliott IRE). If I had to choose one of them I’d have a few quid on Petit Mouchoir but, and I fully accept the arguments against him.
I’m with The New One (Trainer: Nigel Twiston-Davies). He loves Cheltenham and if he can jump as well as he did when winning the International Hurdle back in December he’s got a chance in what is a very open race, particularly as the winners of the last two years’ renewals (Faugheen and Annie Power) are both sidelined through injury. It’s wide open.
Wednesday’s box of delights includes Finian’s Oscar, trained by Colin Tizzard, as the current favourite for the 1.30 Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle but I’m not sure he’ll take that well to Cheltenham and this looks like another open race. Have a punt instead on Neon Wolf (Trainer: Harry Fry) or Death Duty (T: Gordon Elliott IRE). In the 2.10 RSA Novices Chase, Might Bite trained by Nicky Henderson will have short odds so if you want to be holding your breath to the finish on an each way chance I would go for Acapella Bourgeois trained by Sandra Hughes. The day’s highlight will be 3.30 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase and the most likely horse to be first past the post for this prestigious race will also be coming over from Ireland. Willie Mullins has Douvan looking set to win but for an each way chance then have a flutter on Special Tiara trained by Henry De Bromhead.
Thursday looks set to be a good day out for Willie Mullins, who has been the leading Irish trainer at the Festival for five of the last six years, narrowly missing out to Paul Nicholls last season for the title of Britain’s Jump Trainer. His famous star was Dawn Run, winner of the 1984 Champion Hurdle and 1986 Cheltenham Gold Cup, the only horse ever to win both races. Currently second on the all-time trainers’ list behind Nicky Henderson, he’s ‘hoping rather than expecting’ at Cheltenham, with horses from his stable in the spotlight today including Yorkhill in the 1.30 JLT Novices’ Chase and Un de Sceaux in the 2.50 Ryanair Chase. For the 3.30 Sun Bet Stayers Hurdle I’ll be sticking a bet to win on Unowhatimeanharry, trained by Harry Fry.
Friday’s final day of racing is going to be exciting to watch in the absence of Thistlecrack, the hotly tipped favourite now out of contention, leaving the field a very different shape from the predicted outcome a few weeks ago. Before I get to the Gold Cup, however, I will draw your attention to Defi Du Seuil in the 1.30 JCB Triumph Hurdle trained by Phillip Hobbs, and in the 2.50 Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle if you fancy an each-way there’s another chance for Nigel Twiston-Davies’s yard with Wholestone.
So we get to the 3.30 Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup! There couldn’t be a more popular winner than Cue Card but he was well beaten by Thistlecrack in the King George at Christmas. I thought that he looked a little battle weary and, at the age of 11, time is now starting to catch up with him, so you have to expect it to be anyone’s race as the field makes the final turn for home - the Cheltenham hill will catch a few out and I can see Cue Card fading on the run in. If that happens it’ll be Mullins’ Djakadam battling out with Native River to the line, which latter I have been backing for weeks (even when Thistlecrack was still on to run) to be right there at the finish. Saphir Du Rheu is still a classy performer but he would have to produce the run of his life to be in the mix. It’s possible, of course, but if you’re tempted to back him then go each way as no one in history has ever complained of a return at 66-1! (William Hill – price correct on 27/02/17). Finally, just to hedge your bets in this wide-open field, others of definite interest are Empire Of Dirt and Sizing John.
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