There were plenty of worries about the heavy ground on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival, but three favourites obliged and none of the seven winners were returned in single-figures. It was also full-service resumed for trainer Willie Mullins as he took first-day honours with three winners, though no other Irish trainer hit the board as Great Britain took the lead 4-3 in the Prestbury Cup.
Wednesday’s highlight is the Champion Chase, whilst the undercard sees Samcro make his Cheltenham debut in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. The card also features the RSA Chase, Coral Cup, Cross Country Chase, Fred Winter Hurdle and the Champion Bumper.
Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, 1.30
Ireland have won 6 renewals, Great Britain 4
8 winners had won last time out
7 winners were aged six, 3 were aged 5
Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins have teamed up to win 4 of the last 10 renewals
SP’s have ranged from 6/4 to 14/1, but only last year’s winner was returned in double-figures
Ballymore Novice’ Hurdle Summary
Five horses are rated within 6lb of one another on official ratings but the unbeaten Irish Hurdlers Samcro and Next Destination look the two who could easily be ranked much-higher than their current marks. Samcro, especially, could be a superstar and it was only a last-minute decision to side-step the Irish Champion Hurdle with him before his demolition-job in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle. Next Destination has proved himself at the festival before though as he was fourth in last year’s Champion bumper and he should give Samcro something to think about, whilst Willie Mullins also has Duc Des Genievres who finished 5-lengths behind Samcro last time. The highest-rated English runner is Black Op but he was beaten by Albert Bartlett favourite Santini at Cheltenham last time, whilst Vision Des Flos was a big talking horse early this season and seems to have benefitted from a wind-op.
RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase, 2.10
Great Britain and Ireland have won 5 renewals each
Nicky Henderson has trained 2 of the last 6 winners
Barry Geraghty has ridden 2 of the last 6 winners
Davy Russell has ridden 2 of the last 8 winners
Eight 7-year-olds, one 6-year-old, and one 8-year-old have been successful
7 winners had won last time out
9 winners had run between 24 to 39 days previously
SP’s have ranged between 13/8 and 16/1
RSA Chase Summary
It’s hard not to like Presenting Percy but, though he was an easy winner of the Pertemps Handicap last season, he has a habit of getting beaten in Graded Races. It remains to be seen as to whether getting beaten by Our Duke in receipt of 7lb was a disappointment last time, but he may well outstay Monalee who was second in last year’s Albert Bartlett.
The likes of Dounikos and Boum Al Photo also don’t appear to have much to find with Monalee on their running last time and could be suited to stepping-up in trip. England have Ballyoptic, Black Corton and Elegant Escape but this trio are too closely matched to call in what probably isn’t a vintage RSA Chase.
Coral Cup, 2.50
Great Britain have won 6 renewals, Ireland 4 renewals
Davy Russell has ridden 3 of the last 10 winners
Gordon Elliott has trained 2 of the last 7 winners
Nicky Henderson has trained 2 of the last 8 winners
SP’s have ranged from 7/1 to 33/1
Only 2 winners were returned at single-figure odds
5 winners had won last time out
8 winners had won once that season
4 of the last 5 winners carried between 11-3 and 11-11
7 winners were rated between 139 and 149
Second season hurdlers have an excellent record in the race
Coral Cup Summary
Gordon Elliott and Davy Russell team up with 2016 winner Diamond King but he’s rated 4lb higher this time, has 9lb more to carry, and would prefer better ground. William Henry is also classy but might also prefer better ground, as might potential handicap blip Max Dynamite who was third in the 2017 Melbourne Cup on the flat.
Meanwhile, the likes of Voix Du Reve and Burbank have gone well at previous festivals. It’s also impossible to rule out the Ben Pauling trained duo of Red Indian and Le Breuil, and the latter is especially highly-regarded and could be on a winning mark if appreciating his first taste of a big-field festival handicap.
Queen Mother Champion Chase, 3.30
Great Britain have won 7 renewals, Ireland 3
7 winners had won last time out
Age is no barrier with winners aged 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10
Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls have both trained 3 winners, Henry de Bromhead 2
Barry Geraghty has ridden 3 winners, Ruby Walsh 2
SP’s have ranged from 1/4 to 11/1, though plenty of odds-on winners have been beaten
Champion Chase Summary
The booking of Ruby Walsh for Douvan has sent his price into freefall, especially as it had been hinted at that he would run in the Ryanair. It’s possible Ruby rides him because he knows that at his best Douvan is better than Min but it still takes a leap of faith to get on board. However, it’s great news if you think Altior would beat Douvan even at his best as Altior can now be backed at odds-against after reports of pre-race lameness on Monday.
Last year’s winner Special Tiara and this year’s Tingle Creek winner Politologue are other interesting rivals but have a bit to find with the big three. However, Tingle Creek winners do have an excellent record in the race.
Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase, 4.10
Ireland have won 7 renewals, Great Britain 3
SP’s have ranged from 7/2 to 25/1
No favourite has won
Richard Johnson and Philip Hobbs have teamed up to win 2 of the last 6 renewals
Winners have been aged between 8 and 13
Previous course experience is often a plus
Cross Country Chase Summary
Cause Of Causes warmed-up with a 51-length defeat in February but he only got beaten by 8-lengths further than he did in last year’s warm up race before winning this by 9-lengths. He’s also going for a fourth Cheltenham win in a row and, though he’s three wins at the festival have come on no worse than good-to-soft, he’s won on soft and heavy ground before.
On ratings, The Last Samuri is a big danger but horses running over these fences for the first time at the festival don’t have a good record. Therefore, it would be no surprise if Bless The Wings again gave the favourite most to think about having won over course and distance earlier in the season.
Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, 4.40
Great Britain have won 8 renewals, Ireland 2
8 winners were rated between 127 and 134
The last 4 winners carried between 11-0 and 11-5
Paul Nicholls has trained 3 of the last 8 winners
4 winners won last time out, but only 1 of the last 7 had
SP’s have ranged from 4/1 to 40/1
5 of the last 6 winners were returned at 33/1, 25/1, 33/1, 25/1, and 40/1
Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle Summary
The top-8 horses are all rated higher than previous winners whilst the bottom horse is rated lower. However, the eye is drawn to Nube Negra who is rated just 1lb higher than the previous highest winner. Dan Skelton rides him in preference to two other stablemates and his one defeat was when second behind Triumph Hurdle favourite Apple’s Shakira.
Many of the others in the ideal weight-range have been hardened on the flat, though it remains to be seen whether they have sufficient for this test in the heavy ground. Therefore, the other horse that catches the eye is Grand Sancy. Paul Nicholls looks to have done a good job of getting this French-bred horse well-handicapped near the foot of the weights and Nicholls has a great record in the race.
Champion Bumper, 5.30
Ireland have won 6 renewals, Great Britain 4
9 of the 10 winners were aged either 5 or 6
SP’s have ranged from 9/2 to 40/1
Willie Mullins has trained 3 of the last 8 winners
The last 10 winners had all won last time out
Cheltenham Bumper Summary
Willie Mullins has had plenty of winners of the Cheltenham Bumper but the fact he saddles 5 horses in this year’s renewal suggests he doesn’t think he’s got an absolute banker. Indeed, when he’s saddled more that one runner before, he’s often won with one of his less-fancied runners. Jockey bookings are interesting too, as his son Patrick rides likely favourite Blackbow whilst Ruby Walsh rides Carefully Selected.
The other highly-rated Irish runner is Rhinestone but he was only second last time. The best of the English runners look to be Didtheyleaveuoutto and Acey Milan, with the latter officially top-rated taking into account his 4-year-old allowance as he bids to become the first winning 4-year-old since Cue Card.