The first day of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival (Tuesday 12 March) is finally here, and so the most enjoyable of annual battles against the bookies begins once more with the Supreme Novices Hurdle.
Before you place your bets, it’s well worth shopping around for the best bookmaking offers for Cheltenham, as most bookmakers are eager to get your customer. However, whoever you choose to bet with, we’ve got five free tips that will, hopefully, help you take advantage of those offers.
We’ve free tips for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the Ultima Handicap Chase, the Champion Hurdle, the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle, and the National Hunt Challenge.
You might also want to consider backing Willie Mullins to be the top trainer at the Cheltenham Festival, as odds of around 3/1 might look mighty big come Tuesday evening if he has as good a Tuesday as I think he might do.
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (1.30)
Will it be first blood to England or Ireland in the opener? The score stands at 5-5 in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in the last decade, though Ireland have won four of the last six renewals.
It’s even more interesting that Klassical Dream has been declared to run in this rather than the Ballymore on Wednesday, as two-miles on soft ground could prove to be the ideal test for this horse.
He’s also trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh, who have teamed up to win with three of the last six winners of the race, and he could have plenty of improvement to come after just two runs for them after coming from France. Walsh, who has ridden sparingly this season, also chose to ride him over Aramon last time and does so again here.
Ultima Handicap Chase (2.50)
Minella Rocco has been well-backed for the Grand National in recent weeks but, as the weights for Aintree’s big race are now framed, I don’t see any reason why Jonjo O’Neill’s nine-year-old can’t win this as well.
He gets into this race off a mark of just 152 and, on the assumption his trainer has been patiently getting him well-handicapped for the National, he could make a mockery off that mark considering he’s finished second in a Cheltenham Gold Cup after which he was rated 166.
O’Neill has also saddled three of the last 10 winners of this race, two of which were interestingly ridden by today’s jockey Richie McLernon. Connections also reach for a combination of a tongue tie and cheekpieces to try and bring Minella Rocco back to top form.
Unibet Champion Hurdle (3.30)
What a race this year’s Champion Hurdle could be. Buveur D’Air is bidding to win a hat-trick of Champion Hurdles, after winning two soft-looking renewals, but he’s unlikely to have things all his own way this year as he has to concede 7lb to two high-class mares.
The first of those is Apple’s Jade, who has been running the opposition into the ground in Ireland this year. However, whilst she could repeat the dose here, the undulations of Cheltenham have caught her out before.
That’s why Laurina looks the best in the race and, if you can manage to get 4/1 at 1/4 odds each-way with any bookmaker, that looks a solid bet.
Trainer Willie Mullins has trained four of the last eight winners of the Champion Hurdle, so he certainly knows what it takes to win it. He also normally runs his mares in mares-only races at the festival including not been tempted to run the classy Quevega against the boys. Indeed, the only mare he has pitched against the boys was the brilliant Annie Power and she was an easy winner of the 2016 Champion Hurdle.
However, Mullins has gone against his natural tendencies with Laurina, deciding long ago that she would be aimed at the Champion Hurdle, which is a massive tip that he thinks she is at least as good as Annie Power, even if she’s yet to achieve the same level of form.
OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (4.10)
Will Mullins has simply dominated this race since it began and he has won nine of the last 10 renewals. He also dominates the entries this year with the four highest-rated entries in the field. The highest of those by just 1lb is last year’s winner Bennie Des Deaux but she’s won all five of her races for Mullins and could be capable of achieving an even higher rating.
It’s slightly off-putting that she hasn’t run this season but that didn’t stop Qevega from winning past renewals and the forecast soft-ground should be very much in her favour. Ruby Walsh has said she’s his banker of the week and, though she’s not as good as Laurina, she isn’t taking on anywhere near the same level of competition.
National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase (5.30)
Ballyward can hopefully put the icing on what could be a fine day for Willie Mullins with victory in this four-mile chase for amateur riders. Willie Mullins has trained two of the last six winners including the 2013 winner for Ballyward’s owners Andrea and Graham Wylie.
He was good enough to finish fourth in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle, when just behind the re-opposing OK Corral, but this galloper is fancied to get his revenge here over this test of stamina. Ruby Walsh was very complimentary after riding him for the first-time last time and, though he can’t ride him here, Patrick Mullins has won a bumper on the horse, and is supposedly responsible for entering him in this race so he could ride him.