Cheltenham Festival
A look at the best bets on Day One of The Cheltenham Festival.

Another year rolls around! For the first time in a very long time, I won’t be at The Cheltenham Festival. I’m sure the Moët bar by the shopping village will survive though. As regular followers/past readers will know I’ve been betting on this week since 2005 and have never had a losing festival. There’s been some close calls and just scrapping over the line, but still never lost. It’s something I’m actually proud of, but I can’t really put it on a CV. 2019 looks like it’s going to be the toughest year yet to make a profit. This means I’ve had to start looking at some each-way filth.

13:30|Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

The tapes go up and we get the murmur, only people who haven’t been call it the roar. We have an eighteen runner Supreme this year, but in terms of quality it looks pretty weak. We do have a very competitive market, so the rewards for getting it right can set you up for the week.

Once again Betfair Hurdle winner is overrated. Al Dancer has done nothing wrong, but the top third of this field would beat Magic Dancer (25/1) and 100/1 Blu Cavalier off 141 in a handicap. Getaway Trump (4th) has since been beaten at odds-on, fourth of six in a Kelso Grade Two. Al Dancer’s time figure at Ascot was acceptable, but by no means a standout for a Supreme.

Of the Dai Walters owned horses I prefer Angels Breath. A Grade Two winner on his first start under rules saw him sent off odds-on for The Dovecote at Kempton. He conceded 5lbs and fitness to Southfield Stone, over a track and trip that didn’t play to his strengths. The front two pulled a long way clear and I can forgive him for not winning. I couldn’t put anyone off taking the 5.50 each-way with William Hill as they’re paying seven places. The course, going and pace of the race should suit him. He’ll be staying on up the hill and it’s difficult to see him outside the frame.

Willie Mullins has a great record in this race and sends Klassical Dream andAramon. Ruby Walsh has stuck with Klassical Dream and this has seen the horse half in price. This is a massive overreaction! Klassical Dream beat previous Grade One winner Aramon by a head last time out, with the rail aiding the former. I expect to see the form reversed, he is overpriced due to the Ruby factor. With the Hills each-way offer I’ll be putting a little bit on him at 15.0.

Trend Busting

The horse for me is FAKIR D’OUDAIRIES. People will go on about how a four-year-old hasn’t won this in twenty years. That stat is irrelevant, as of the few that have tried very few have had an actual chance of winning. Of the previous juveniles with a chance, Binocular finish second.

Fakir D’Oudairies was sent to Festival Trials Day, where he ran out a very impressive winner. It ticked the boxes on the clock and JP McManus snapped him up.

Four year olds, usually lack the experience for a race like this. However the selection has already visited the racecourse seven times, so experience shouldn’t be a concern. His high knee action, will suit soft ground and he receives weight from his rivals. Weight adjusted I have him as a low 160’s horse, with improvement likely I have him as clear favourite.

I cannot let this William Hill offer pass, so the main bet for my Winter Horse Fund is Fakir D’Oudairies each-way.

BACK FAKIR D’OUDAIRIES @ 7.00 (e/w, 1/5, 7p)

14:10|Arkle Chase

An Arkle without an odds-on favourite, rare as rocking horse shit in recent times. I’m looking forward to this, we have no star unfortunately as La Richebourg was rule out. This has really opened up the market and we’ve had two awful favourites. Lalor doesn’t do it for me, the form of his chase debut good with Dynamite Dollars coming out to win three times in graded company and Defi Du Seuil gaining two wins and a second. On his second chase start he was beaten at odds-on and hasn’t been seen since. With a three month layoff and a novice trainer I have to oppose him.

The next one I really have to be against is Glen Forsa. He began the season with a pair of defeats in class four novice hurdles. This was followed with a switch to fences, where he won a novice handicap off 114. On Boxing Day he went to Kempton. The form of his class three handicap win, is ‘working out’ but not at graded level. His single piece of form that suggests he’s capable of being competitive at this level, is winning a three runner grade two against the overrated Kalashnikov.

Proper Formline

I have to be with the Irish in this. La Richebourg would’ve been my selection here and a likely short priced favourite. He finished second in a Grade One to RSA favourite Delta Work. This was followed with two impressive Grade One successes over Us And Them. On a formline through Us And Them, HARDLINE must have a huge chance. The Gordon Elliott inmate beat Us And Them by ten lengths in a Grade Three earlier in the season. This was further than either of La Richebourg’s winning margins. A Grade One victory was then gained verses the well regarded Getabird, with Riders On The Storm a long way back in third.

Last time out he faced the best novice out there, weight adjusted, at the moment in La Bague Au Roi. He made a mistake at halfway, and dropped to last but he rallied to finish a credible third. The horse in second, Kaiser Black, has since come out an easily won a Grade Three on Sunday. With a strong pace up front Hardline can be ridden quietly and use his stamina to pick them off up the hill. He has the best formline in the race, he has a proper trainer and I think he’s currently the best horse in the race.

BACK HARDLINE @ 6.00

15:30|Champion Hurdle

I’ve said for a long time that you can’t be giving good mares chunks of weight unless you’re a special horse. We’ve seen on the flat in recent years that races like the King George and especially The Arc the fillies benefitting massively for this concession.

We have one superstar mare, one who could be anything and a dual Champion Hurdler. This is a proper race!

Buveur D’Air is respected as a dual Champion Hurdler but who has he beaten? He wasn’t sent of favourite in 2017 and 10 year-old My Tent Or Yours finished second. Judging by the money around for Yanworth that day I think connections weren’t expecting Buveur D’Air to win.

His second Champion Hurdle was a poor race, he beat Melon a head with Mick Jazz back in third. Faugheen was in there, but he didn’t run his race. This season it looked like he put up a huge performance in The Fighting Fifth, when smashing Samcro and Summerville Boy. The only upside you can take from that performance is that he beat Vision Des Flos twenty-one lengths. At Christmas he was beaten by Verdana Blue, everything went right for him in the race so there are no excuses.

Last time out he ‘bounced back’ by beating Vision Des Flos by two lengths. Vision Des Flos was then beaten in the Wincanton trial for this race, but managed to win the National Spirit, up in trip and a Grade Two, last time out. This isn’t the formline of a horse that runs to the likely 170+ required to give 7lbs away. He should need a career best to win this, which I just don’t see happening and I expect him to be a big drifter on the day.

Laurina

We don’t know how good Laurina is. She was the most impressive winner at The 2018 Festival but she’s still only raced against mares, with Annie Power we knew she could take on the boys. To my eye this trip looks short of her optimum and I also have reservations about her as a hurdler. She jumps well enough, but she looks more of a staying chaser type. I think she’ll run with credit after a patient ride but she’s short enough in the market for me.

Taking Apple’s Jade out of the equation, she’d likely need to find around 5lbs improvement to win this, but unfortunately for her Apple’s Jade runs. The final negative is that this decision was made by the owners. If it was up to Willie Mullins she’d be winning The Mares Hurdle in a canter.

Apple’s Jade

I’ve had huge ups and downs with this horse. From ‘tipping’ her up at 16s for The Triumph when everyone in the pub backed her each-way, apart from me. I then opposed her at Aintree when she massively reversed the Triumph form. A year later, I was screaming the Golden Miller bar down, doing African finger snaps and spilling champagne when she battled up the hill in The Mares Hurdle. I make no apologies for that as I’d be doing the same if I was there this year.

I have Apple’s Jade as a 2.50 (6/4) favourite. She has the key pieces of form in the book. She’s won all four of her starts this season by a combined seventy-three lengths. These weren’t poor races either, it was a Grade Two and three Grade One’s against the boys. She’s thrashed Supasundae, Faugheen, Melon, Jezki. The form of her Irish Champion Hurdle win was not only visually impressive but also stood up to the clock. It was also a better performance than Buveur D’Air has ever put up.

She’s an uncomplicated type, ground isn’t an issue and she’s in top order right now. She will be backed on the day, she will go off clear favourite and after that you’re hoping nothing brings her down.

BACK APPLE’S JADE @ 3.00

16:10|Mares’ Hurdle

This race gets a lot of stick, but if we didn’t have it how would Willie Mullins pay his stable staff? In all seriousness, I think this is a much needed race from breeding point-of-view, there needs to be a pool of proven quality jumps mares and this initiative has aided that.

The Mullins record of eight wins from the ten runnings has to be respected. He even won it when Annie Power fell with Glens Melody. Unsurprisingly he trains this years favourite in last years winner Benie Des Dieux. I don’t think this horse is a Quevega, she may well win it without having a run this season but it puts me off. She’s done nothing wrong since moving to Mullins but I don’t think her form stands up to much. I wouldn’t take the reading of last years renewal literally, they went ballistic up front and set it up for a closer. At the end of the day she beat Midnight Tour half a length. She franked the form at Punchestown, but we now know that Apple’s Jade wasn’t right and Augusta Kate isn’t particularly good.

She does look the pick of the Mullins trio. Limini isn’t the same as before, although it wouldn’t be a huge shock to see her bounce back. She’s had a tough year, after racing on the flat. Stormy Ireland, is an exuberant front runner who struggles over two miles, the step up isn’t in her favour.

The Skelton Boys

Now I’ve established that Mullins won’t be paying his staff we can look at how I’m going to earn. ROKSANA went to Aintree last season after skipping Cheltenham in favour of a handicap at Newbury. She put up a very impressive performance in that both on the clock and visually. She finished second in Liverpool behind the well regarded second favourite for The RSA, Santini. Tower Bridge, who’s fancied for Close Brothers and Ok Corral, well supported for the four miler, finished behind her.

This year began in the Contenders Hurdle against Buveur D’Air and Vision Des Flos. She wasn’t asked a serious question in a race that was about getting her fit. It was credible run, I expect her to come on for it.

I have her considerably shorter in the market. If Mullins trained her she’d be second favourite. With fitness on her side verses Benie Des Dieux I can see her running a massive race.

BACK ROKSANA @ 11.0

17:30|Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase

The jockey bookings in this race has a huge bearing on the result. The likes of Patrick Mullins, Jamie Codd and Derek O’Connor really do give horses a better chance of winning.

Jamie Codd gets the leg up on Le Breuil but the horse doesn’t have any form in the book which suggests he’s the best of these. Derek O’Connor’s booking for the Ok Corral ride saw his price collapse. He was impressive on his last racecourse outing, beating Secret Investor by six lengths. The form of that Listed sucess hasn’t worked out with all three of his rivals suffering heavy defeats on their next start.

That leaves BALLYWARD, who somewhat surprisingly heads for this instead of the RSA. He won a Grade Two last time out, he tanked through the race and Discorama fell at the last to leave him clear. Looking at the way they both travelled and how Ballyward finished it off, I’d have still fancied him for the win. The in-running market agrees, as Discorama never traded below 4.90.

The form of the race has worked out with the second and third fighting out the finish of a Grade Two last time out. With a top amateur jockey and a powerful stable, Ballyward is the bet to close day one.

BACK BALLYWARD @ 4.00

£1 Through The Card

I usually have a nice ante-post accumulator lined up for Cheltenham each year, but I couldn’t find anything that I liked to multiply up in advance this year. Now we have the day of the race markets, I think I’ll look to turn loose change into thousands.

  • 13:30 – Fakir D’Oudairies
  • 14:10 – Hardline
  • 14:50 – Minella Rocco
  • 15:30 – Apple’s Jade
  • 16:10 – Roksana
  • 16:50 – Riders onthe Storm
  • 17:30 – Ballyward

The 7-Fold pays out at around 400,000/1