Cheltenham Festival 2017: Day One Tips (Champion Hurdle Day)

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Well, it’s finally here, after a year of waiting. Yes, the 2017 Cheltenham Festival is upon us, and we have a bit of a subdued feeling to proceedings this year, as the list of high-profile non-runners gets longer and longer. But on Champion Hurdle day, the most notable absentee is obviously the 2016 Champion Hurdle winner, Annie Power. Still, we have some huge names in action, and even though some of the big names are missing, we are still going to have four days of amazing National Hunt action. Add in the fact that St Patrick’s Day lands on Gold Cup Friday, and the 2017 Cheltenham Festival has all the makings of yet another special day.

We kick off the day at 1:30, and if you are watching in the UK, ITV will be the home to the Cheltenham Festival for the first time, after they took over coverage from Channel 4. This is the first real test of ITV’s coverage, but the way they have gone in 20167 so far, I don’t think they are going to disappoint. As I mentioned earlier, the highlight of the day is the 2017 Champion Hurdle, but we also have the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, which is he traditional opener to the festival, as well as the ever popular Arkle Chase, and the Mares’ Hurdle, a couple of handicaps and the JT McNamara National Hunt Challenge Cup. So it’s a stacked day of racing with some of the best horses in trianing on show.

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1:30 Cheltenham

The first race of the day, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, and it’s quite a wide-open affair. Melon leads the betting after a convincing win in his only start, beating Broken Soul at Leopardstown. Broken Soul hasn’t backed up that form, to be fair, so although there’s a lot of love for Melon, it’s hard to rate the true form of that race. Crack Mome disappointed last time out, and the form through Any Second Now just doesn’t stack up too well. The other interest is, of course, going to be around last year’s Champion Bumper winner, Balllyandy, who just won here this time last year by a fraction from Battleford. He’s only won once over hurdles, which was last time out, and has found the handy Moon Racer better on two occasions. However, I’m yet to be convinced that he’ll get the trip up the hill with obstacles to jump – on the flat, great, but the addition of hurdles just doesn’t seem to have been a positive effect.

Instead, I’m loving River Wylde, who comes into this race undefeated over the smaller obstacles, and coming from the Nicky Henderson yard, will be primed for this. River Wydle will love the hill, as he always seems to have a bit more in the tank come the end of races, which is what you need in the Supreme Novices’. He’s also seen off the useful Elgin, who has had a big season, so there are more than enough signs to that point to Nicky Henderson having another star on his hands.

2.10 Cheltenham

The Arkle is one of my favourite races of the meeting, but we have a 2/9 shot on our hands in the shape of Altior, who will be hoping to give Nicky Henderson a quickfire double. There’s no reason to doubt that, as Altior has done nothing wrong in his novice season over fences, and won the Supreme Novices’ here last year. He’s not just seen off the novices this season, either, as he won the Betfair Exchange Chase at Newbury against experienced campaigners, including former Champion Chase winner Dodging Bullets. In fact, he put 18 lengths between himself and Dodging Bullets, with Fox Norton five lengths ahead of Dodging Bullets. Is there a weakness of Altior? Not that I’ve seen.

However, I can’t give you an odds-on shot as my selection, so I’ll say that Royal Caviar each-way is the strongest option in the race. His first run over fences was great, and a late fall last time out, while a blemish, can’t take away from the fact he was travelling unbelievably well. If he can put in a clean round of jumping, he should be fighting for the places, if not the win.

2.50 Cheltenham

The first of many handicaps this week, and the Ultima Handicap is usually a stinker to try and find the winner from, as we have 24 runners going to post. Noble Endeavour has a lot of experience round here, and will have his supporters. However, the handicapper hasn’t been kind to him, and although he won last time out, he seems to be struggling in the handicap now, off a career high mark of 157, which isn’t going to do him any favours. The Young Master ran well enough in this race last year, but off a mark 3lbs less than he’s on today and couldn’t get near eventual winner Un Temps Pour Tout. I really like Singlefarmpayment, who has won two out of three at Cheltenham, and could be seriously unexposed, however the price is too short for my liking in such an open race.

Instead, Ibis Du Rheu ticks the boxes for me. While he’s yet to win over fences, he’s had three races with a second and two thirds and the record would have been better if he wasn’t hampered last time out. He got close enough to Thistlecrack (14 lengths), to suggest he’s better than his current mark of 146, and he can win at cheltenham, winning last year’s Martin Pipe handicap, pulling away from the horse in second.

3.30 Cheltenham

The feature race of the day, the Champion Hurlde, is next up, and while there isn’t the star power of recent years, that makes it a bit more interesting, as we have several horses in contention. Moon Racer is an interesting supplement to this race, having been entered in the Supreme Novices’, and is undefeated over hurdles, after winning the 2015 Champion Bumper. In fact, he’s undefeated at Cheltenham, winning in November over course and distance. However, while he looks hand on paper, I’m finding it hard to see the form being good enough to win this race. Footpad finished third in the 2016 Triumph Hurdle, but the form of that race has not stacked up to much, and the level required to win here is beyond it, it would seem. Perennial favourite The New One returns yet again, and while connections will be happy to see a supposedly weaker field, he still has it all to prove in this race, where he’s never finished better than third – although maybe a bit of value at double figures. Petit Mouchoir will prove popular, but after writing Footpad off, I can’t have a horse that finished just one length in front of Footpad last time out, and also finished eighth on his only outing at Cheltenham last year. Buveur D’Air won well last time out, but has the same problem as Petit Mouchior in that the form doesn’t seem too hot, especially at Cheltenham, where he finished third in the Supreme Novices’, eight lengths behind Altior, although ahead of Petit Mouchoir. He’s on a winning run over hurdles and fences, and the switch to fences and then back again also sticks out to me, almost as if it was an afterthought for the team.

Yanworth is the boring pick for me. Seven wins out of eight over hurdles, the only loss coming last year in the Neptune Hurdle, finishing just under two lengths behind the extremely useful Yorkhill. Yanworth is lightly raced this year, but has good form in the bag. We know he can win at Cheltenham, and can win on any ground. However, I wouldn’t like to see him go off much shorter than he currently is, as there is still a question or two surrounding him.

4:10 Cheltenham

Once upon a time this was the Annie Power Benefit race, but now times have changed and it now looks like the Willie Mullins Benefit race, another way for the trainer to line his pockets just a little bit more now that Annie Power has moved on up. Mullins has the top two in the betting, with the winners of both of last years’ Mares races, Limini and Vroum Vroum Mag lining up against each other. Apple’s Jade, who made a promising start to the year, also leads the way in price and form.

So, yes, it’s between three here, but Apple’s Jade was put in her place easily last time out by Limini, and Vroum Vroum Mag hasn’t been the same this season, losing to Apple’s Jade, and not crushing fields as expected. The other big signifier is that Ruby Walsh prefers Limini, which all points to one thing and one thing only, Limini should be a stick on here for the Mares’ Hurdle, although as we’ve seen in the past with the great Annie Power, anything can happen in this race.

4:50 Cheltenham

The JR McNamara National Hunt Cup is a stinker for bettors, but fans of Amateur Rider racing love it, so what can I say? Martello Tower has form at the festival, but that was over the smaller obstacles, and is struggling a bit over fences, although holds a good win over A Genie in a Bottle at Fairyhouse in December. Champers on Ice was another handy hurdler who seems to have struggled a bit over the bigger obstacles, but seems to be fancied here. His chase rating and hurdle rating aren’t far off each other, so I don’t think there’s much more to come from him, but he should be there towards the end of the race. A Genie in a Bottle is unexposed and young, never out of the places, but Martello Tower holds a win over him, and I’d rather back Martello Tower at the bigger price.

Bewarethebear has everything going for him, with two wins out of two over fences, and the booking of Sam Waley-Cohen. He’ll get the trip, has a win over the fancied Singlefarmpayment to his name, and just shapes as if chasing was meant for him, after a distinctly average time over fences.

5:30 Cheltenham

Is this the lucky last? Not in previous years, as it’s a 20-runner handicap with most of the field having a chance, so it’s almost like a stick a pin in the paper kind of race, as we’ve seen big-priced winners ove the years, too.

Bun Doran looks the best selection out of a tricky bunch. Sure, he was pulled up last time out, but only because he made a mistake when going relatively well. All Hell Let Loose could be interesting after a long layoff, but it’s a hard race to win, and hasn’t shown much at Cheltenham in the past. Burtons Well could be a good thing, running well at Cheltenham in January, but this is a much trickier race, and although he’s at the bottom of the handicap, there might just be an easier prize in him, although I expected him to be there or there abouts at the bottom of the hill.

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