Ceebee previews the first day of the 2016 Cheltenham Festival and he has bets on all races apart from the likey Arkle procession for Douvan.
1.30 Supreme Novice Hurdle
First race of the Festival, sure it’d be rude not to have a bet! Well a warning – there’s far better bets to be had later in the day/week. Of course some bookies will run very generous offers solely on the first race to try and get your business for the week, shop around and take advantage of all of them!
If pushed it is Altior here for me. He’s the one with least to prove. Officially top rated in the race, with plenty of experience; he’s 4 from 4 over hurdles including a course and distance victory. The finishing sectionals of his last win at Kempton compared favourably with those of Faugheen on the same day and the form of those he has beat looks stronger now.
Min was very free when last racing in Ireland; he’ll need to settle better or he’ll just tee it up for the strong finishing Altior. Tombstone looked anything but a strong finisher last time. Silver Concorde and Supasundae will have their e/w fans, but neither catch my eye as being remotely good enough.
If Min and Altior are strong in the market (quite likely) we could see Buveur D’air go off an attractive each way price. He lacks a little experience but his two hurdle wins this season were visually very impressive.
Remember Min fans – the fact Willie/ruby/Ricci have won this race the past 3yrs in a row has absolutely no bearing on the chances of Min winning.
1pt win Altior at 4/1 with Betfair and Skybet
2.10 Arkle Novice Chase
Douvan is arguably the best horse due to grace the Cheltenham turf this week. Unless he lets the fences get in his way he’ll win the Arkle with minimum fuss. At 2/5 he’s not your average person’s betting price. Is there a bet in the w/o Douvan market – probably not. I think Sizing John and Vaniteux are clear next best but the market hasn’t missed them. Sit back and enjoy it, 26 more races after it to make your millions.
Selection: no bet
2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase
24 go to post for the first big handicap of the Cheltenham Festival. I won’t lie – I fancy around 12 of them. It’s that sort of race.
Out Sam is very well handicapped but his price is short enough now. His two chase victories both came in 3 runner races on soft ground. 24 runners on good ground here will feel very different. He fell at the Cheltenham Festival last year. Holywell is a dual Festival winner who looks well handicapped but again is short enough in the betting. He must bounce back from 3 absolutely brutal runs this season. Good ground and the reapplication of blinkers will definitely help.
Others I wouldn’t put you off – Theatre Guide who won impressively at Ascot last time and has placed twice over course and distance. Carole’s Destrier who won impressively at Sandown last time. He’s had a wind-op since and represents an in-form yard. Southfield Theatre who was placed at the last two Cheltenham Festivals, behind Fingal Bay in the Pertemps and Don Poli in the RSA. Spring Heeled who is a past Festival winner (2014 Kim Muir) that will enjoy the good ground. He ran well in Oct/Nov despite the soft ground.
I tipped Double Ross already at 40/1. Read that preview from last week HERE. His course form is superb and his handicap mark isn’t horrific. He could easily run well at a huge price. There’s two other outsiders I want to have small plays on.
Shanahan’s Turn represents the same connections as last year’s second Grand Jesture. This fella looks likely to go off the same 25/1 price. They are not gambling owners which often results in horses creeping in under the radar at juicy prices. The trainer Henry de Bromhead is more than capable of plundering big UK prizes though.
Shanahan’s Turn is a classy horse. He was a big weak novice hurdler that showed promise but over fences he looked the real deal. First he beat Wounded Warrior then easily took a G2 novice chase. It went downhill after that, most likely due to soft winter ground. But he bounced right back to take the Galway Plate off 142. He won that day in effortless fashion despite the big field in what should have been a very competitive handicap. It looked quite like Road to Riches the year before and the form has worked out well since. He’s not the most reliable sort (beaten at 7/4f on his next start) but back on good ground having been trained for this race he could easily outrun his odds.
O Maonlai is the third big priced horse I want on my side. He will be held up to creep into the race late on, whilst risky it could pay dividends with a likely strong pace to the race. He is untried at 3miles but got 2m6f on soft ground ok so it’s not a huge question mark. He is a very inconsistent horse with his recent form reading P1P2P. However the ‘1’ was a facile victory and the ‘2’ was when he was given plenty to do behind an in-form improving novice back in November. The 3rd, 4th and 5th from that race have all won since. The winner Aloomomo is now favourite for the last race today. Freshened up since, including a racecourse gallop, I wouldn’t be surprised if he can run very well off the same mark of 137. Held up off a strong pace, over 3m1f on good ground may actually suit him. Tom George seems to have his string in good form also. There’s certainly enough positives to have a small play at 50/1
1pt e/w Double Ross 40/1 at 40/1 with William Hill and Coral
1pt win Shanhans Turn at 33/1 with Betfred and William Hill
0.5pt e/w O Maonlai 50/1 with BetVictor, William Hill and Paddy Power
3.30 Champion Hurdle
This is tricky. When Faugheen got injured the race certainly became more intriguing from a betting viewpoint but heck did it get tricky to call. 12 go to post and I could make a case for 10 of them. If you don’t want to bet on every race of the Festival I’d probably move on.
Annie Power is the favourite but she has not had a perfect prep. Injured early in the season she’s had just one start which was such a poor race it was no more than a piece of schooling for her. She lacks the battle hardened preparation of others. She also lacks true champion hurdle form, grade 1 2mile hurdle victories against proper G1 horses. On the flipside she is a superb mare, 13 wins from 15 starts (very nearly 15/15) and she carries 7lbs less as a mare. Hard to beat but as favourite she is to be taken in my opinion.
Nichols Canyon and Identity Thief are hard to split on their last Leopardstown clash. There’s an argument that neither are truly good enough anyhow. Preference would be for Nichols Canyon who has won a staggering 6 G1 races. He disappointed last time out and at Cheltenham last year so is a risky proposition. Identity Thief with 2 wins from his last 6 starts doesn’t jump off the page as a champion hurdler. He had only a neck to spare over Top Notch in November at Newcastle and that rival had ran 7 days earlier.
Camping Ground will force the pace but doesn’t appeal as good enough to stay in front when the race hots up. Same goes for Lil Rockerfeller. When The New One was at his best he couldn’t win a Champion Hurdle. His best trip is probably beyond 2miles and his trial win wasn’t very impressive. My Tent or Yours hasn’t been seen in 2yrs. He’s arguably the worst priced horse of the Festival. (when he wins I expect to see this again!!)
Sempre Medici wasn’t good enough in the International hurdle here in November and he didn’t impress whilst winning last time. Hargam and Top Notch couldn’t win the Triumph hurdle at last year’s Festival so I expect both to struggle again. The one who did win the Triumph is interesting though.
Traditionally 5 year olds have a bad record in the champion hurdle. Katchit was the last to win and that was in a very substandard year. In the absence of Faugheen (and Arctic Fire) this may just be another substandard year. Peace and Co has plenty going for him. Most importantly he’s 25/1 and it’s a relatively open race. On his Triumph win he should hold Top Notch and Hargam. Through Top Notch you could argue he doesn’t have much to find with Identity Thief and as a result Nichols Canyon. The race should be run at a strong gallop which will suit his strong travelling holdup style. The big field and good ground will also play to his strengths. He was badly beaten twice this year but they can be explained by factors which may not be seen on Tuesday. First day out he was very fresh and he ran like a tearaway (different jockey today) only to run out of steam whilst during his second outing he made a noise and since had a wind operation.
At a fancy price he’s worth a small play, it’s not the most appealing of betting races. Peace and Co is not reliable enough to back e/w.
1pt win Peace and Co at 25/1 with Skybet, Stan James and William Hill
4.10 Mares Hurdle
Despite the big field there’s only a few to concentrate on here. Plenty of them are only here for a day out in the March sunshine.
Vroum Vroum Mag sets the standard but at 11/10 you’re either backing her to win the race or looking elsewhere for some each way value. I’m happy enough to look away. Whilst she is 8 from 8 for Willie Mullins and looking awesome whilst winning all 8, she has yet to beat a real good 145+ rated horse. (I’m discounting Desert Queen who I believe didn’t run her race in Ascot). Now that’s not VVM’s fault but I just think it’s all going to be a lot different for her today. Good ground, big field, even going left-handed are all new tests for her to pass in addition to taking on the best mares she’s faced to date. 11/10 – no thanks.
Polly Peachum was beaten a head in this race last year and returns in even better form having won in Sandown in January. 1st or 2nd in 8 of her last 9 starts she is a high class mare. If VVM doesn’t live up to the hype I’d imagine Polly won’t be too far away to grab the glory. However at 6/1 she’s not the most attractive each way price. (The ideal sort for an each way multiple perhaps). There’s 2 front runners who are only 1 or 2lbs behind her on official ratings.
I backed Desert Queen at Ascot versus VVM last time out. She made no impression. But it was the mare whom she finished alongside (conceding 12lbs to) the time before, Cannon Fodder, that finished 3rd behind VVM. This would suggest Desert Queen didn’t run her race at Ascot but if she did she probably would’ve finished second. The step back in trip should aid Desert Queen’s chances. Her 3 career wins have come at 2m5f whilst her last 2 defeats were at 3miles. Unsurprisingly perhaps for such a free going mare. Racing prominent here should be an advantage with such a big field and plenty of average mares there may be traffic problems for some hold up horses.
Bitofapuzzle will be another on the front end away from any potential traffic problems. As a novice she was beaten just a half-length by Polly Peachum (& Glens Melody). This year however she has not had a good preparation. She comes in off the back of a failed chasing career. A return to her very best over hurdles and it’s hard to see her not being in the front 4 or 5.
1pt e/w Desert Queen at 33/1 with Bet365, BetVictor and William Hill
4.50 National Hunt Chase (4miler)
It won’t be on the Channel 4 or RTE screens but for me the best bet of the first day comes in the 4 mile novice chase. I wrote about Southfield Royale a few weeks ago and I’m even sweeter on him now. Read that HERE.
The positives since that blog: 1) Nina Carberry rides – one of the best amateurs at the game.
2) Neither Black Hercules nor Roi du Francs from the Willie Mullins yard take him on. Both would’ve been tough to beat. Pont Alexandre represents team Mullins but he doesn’t race like 4miles will suit.
3) The two market leaders: Minella Rocco and Noble Endeavour aren’t as highly rated as your usual favourites in this race. In fact there’s six horses officially rated higher than both. Minella has jumping issues and I wouldn’t be surprised if Noble E has stamina issues. Both are only so short in the betting due to their connections. I’m happy to take them on.
4) Neil Mulholland’s string are in far better form than they have been all season. He has sent out 6 winners in the past 10 days.
2pts e/w Southfield Royale at 8/1 with Bet365 and BetVictor (paying 4 places each way)
5.30 Novice Handicap Chase
Is covered in a separate ante-post piece from last week. Read that HERE.
1pt e/w Willows Saviour 12/1 and 1pt e/w Bridgets Pet 25/1.
Shane Shortall claiming 5lbs off Bridgets Pet is a smart move. He won on him last time and those 5lbs could be valuable in such a compressed handicap.
At 33/1 add Racing Pulse with Betfred and William Hill also. My worry with him was the form of the Rebecca Curtis yard but she has sent out some good runners in the past week.
0.5pt e/w on Racing Pulse at 33/1 with Betfred and William Hill
Best bet on day 1: Southfield Royale
Best e/w longshot: Double Ross, closely followed by Desert Queen.
To go out on a high: Bridgets Pet
To keep you interested: Altior and Peace and Co.
To be only one shouting at 3.00pm: O Maonlai