Cheltenham day one preview

15/03/2016 | By | Reply More

Willie do it again?

As I wrote last year, Willie Mullins is once again looking likely to dominate the first day of the 2016 Cheltenham Festival. It does seem, according to some that he simply has to turn up on Day 1 of this year’s equine Olympics and leaves everyone quaking in their boots; especially the bookmakers! I have to say that Willie may not have it all his own way as his horses do not, in my humble opinion, look as good as last year’s.

Supreme Novices Hurdle

On purely bare form and figures this could appear to be one of the weaker entries for Mullins but Min is highly regarded and his rating from Timeform is suffixed with a P which in my mind means Plenty More Potential!! This is something of a benevolent race for Willie Mullins having won it with Champagne Fever (2013) Vautor (2015) and Douvan (2016). The latter runs in the next race and he looks a certainty.

The horse I like in this race is Altior who travels like a dream in his races. The form from his last race at Kempton is good and he has already won at Cheltenham so he’s proven he can handle the course. I mentioned he is a strong traveler and this presents an excellent back to lay opportunity. I can see him being close up as they descend the hill and turn for home and his price should have contracted enough to offer a decent profit. Once word of caution, he does tend to clout the odd hurdle and in the hustle and bustle of this race we have to hope it doesn’t hinder him too much. This horse should be the favourite in my humble opinion but the bookies seem to be taking no chance with W P Mullins and Min is a warm favourite. Altior may well go off closer to 5.0 than 5,5.

Arkle Chase

I cannot say that much about this race as it seems that Douvan only has to go down to come back the winner. This is a stern jumping test especially at the pace they will go so any mistake will be amplified and we all know there is no such thing as a certainty in horse racing. Having said all that I would be surprised if Douvan didn’t win. Once again, the party pooper could be Nicky Henderson who saddles Vaniteux a somewhat fly in the ointment if he can get his jumping together. He’s made a few blunders in his racing and if he repeats that at Cheltenham he will have no chance. Barring accidents, I really cannot see anything but Douvan winning this race.

Ultima Handicap Chase

I have no strong opinions on this cavalry charge but I would suggest keeping an eye on Holywell. This horse won the race in 2014 and then ran a decent fourth in the 2015 Gold Cup. Any repeat of that form would surely see him go close in this. I feel the ground will suit him as he appears to show his best form on anything with Good in the description. We must also remember he beat Don Cossack by 10 lengths at Aintree off level weights and that horse is now Timeform’s top rated chaser and favourite for this year’s Gold Cup. He’s had a few “quiet” runs, read into that what you will and it seems to me they have targeted this race. That is just my opinion and with so many runners you will need a fair amount of luck

Champion Hurdle

We finally see Annie Power take her chance in this prestigious event and to be perfectly honest she could go very close! In last year’s write-up I suggested she was a near certainty and plenty of money changed hands as she looked to have the race in the bag. It looked so easy it was like she had joined in after the penultimate hurdle. That crashing last hurdle fall cost the clock beaters plenty of money but saved the bookies a fortune! It is hard for me to see past her in this race but we must realise this is the gold medal event for 2 mile hurdlers and not the Mare’s Hurdle she attempted last year. She gets the 7lb sex allowance here and that could make all the difference. Identity Thief looks high class and has the form to win this race. Nicky Henderson has two horses of interest but we have to take a leap of faith with both. My Tent or Yours is returning after an injury but he will be fit and ready to go as his trainer has proven he is capable of winning with a horse like this. The same trainer has another high caliber horse in Peace and Co and on the bare facts he doesn’t really appeal. If you look a bit closer, I feel you can offer him a chance. This is my opinion and obviously it is subjective but hopefully I can offer an insight. He won the Triumph Hurdle in 2015 which is decent form and then he seemed to go off the boil. He pulled his head off at Cheltenham in the International Hurdle and then fell in a hole at Sandown. Why consider him then? He’s had a breathing operation since then and as he is a free going horse the ground at Cheltenham could well suit him. It’s a shot in the dark but once again it could be a decent back to lay opportunity.

Mares’ Hurdle

Willie Mullins almost owns this race and they may have to give him the trophy and create a new one if he wins it again this year! Annie Power looked home for all money in 2015 but her crashing fall handed the race to stable-mate Glens Melody. I know this is boring and predictable but Vroum Vroum Mag looks strong for this renewal so perhaps the trophy makers had better start making a new version? Last year’s runner up Polly Peachum should go well again and if the Mullin’s charge is not as good as we believe or if she makes some errors then Polly Peachum may put up a decent fight.

The next races are impossible and I have no opinion on them whatsoever.

Good luck!

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