Cheltenham Day One Preview

‘The Greatest Show on Turf’ is here once again, the Cheltenham Festival is known as the Olympics of jumps racing and it never fails to set the pulse racing. We’ll have day-by-day previews of the big event, starting with Tuesday’s action where the Champion Hurdle is the central attraction.

Buveur bids for hat-trick

The Nicky Henderson-trained Buveur D’Air is attempting to join some of the best two-mile hurdlers of all-time by winning this race for the third time. Only five have done it before and Buveur D’Air is uneasy in the betting at 3.25 to emulate Hatton’s Grace, Sir Ken, Persian War, See You Then and Istabraq.

Owned by JP McManus, Buveur D’Air was sent chasing three years ago but quickly reverted back to hurdling and, his detractors will argue, has managed to take advantage of a weak generation of two-milers by winning this race twice. He has beaten stablemate My Tent Or Yours and Melon into second when winning this race and now seemingly faces his biggest challenge, with memories of a defeat to stablemate Verdana Blue at Christmas lingering.

In his path are two outstanding race mares in Apple’s Jade and Laurina amongst a field of ten. The latter remains unbeaten for Willie Mullins and is 5.00 to prevail here. She has untapped potential for certain but must raise her game considerably.

Apple’s Jade is a former Mares’ Hurdle winner at this Festival and returns looking for redemption having shed that crown 12 months ago. She had valid excuses then and has been faultless in winning four times this term.

At seven-years-old, she’s in the prime of her career and could take some halting as 3.00 favourite here following her demolition job in the Irish Champion Hurdle last month. Buveur D’Air must spot the mares a 7lb allowance and that could prove too much in the case of the brilliant Apple’s Jade.

Mullins/Walsh seek familiar ‘Dream’ start

Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh have proved formidable in the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, with the trainer seeking his sixth win in the contest.

Klassical Dream is a 6.00 chance and he was very gutsy in seeing off stablemate Aramon last time at Leopardstown for a Grade One win. Walsh sides with him here and that is a telling statistic for a duo that have scored previously with the likes of Champagne Fever, Vautour and Douvan.

The British challenge is a strong one, with recent Betfair Hurdle winner Al Dancer seeking to give local trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies his second Supreme success, 25 years on from Arctic Kinsman. He’s favourite at 5.00 to score under the trainer’s son, Sam.

Nicky Henderson has Angel’s Breath and Mister Fisher in what is a robust 18-runner field for the opener. Fakir D’oudairies was very impressive on Trials Day here in January and can go close for new owner JP McManus at 6.50.

Benie looks to go the ‘Quevega route’

Mullins and Walsh are so often the punters’ tonic on day one at Cheltenham and that has often been due to winning favourites in the Mares’ Hurdle. The Closutton trainer has farmed this race since its inception, winning nine of the 11 renewals, with Walsh on board for eight of them – his only blemish being that agonising final flight departure of Annie Power in 2015.

The great Quevega, of course, won six times on the trot and she routinely did so without a prep run, something Mullins and Walsh are now attempting with last year’s heroine Benie Des Dieux, who is amongst the possible ‘bankers’ as the 1.90 favourite.

On form, she should be too good for her rivals in this field and Walsh has singled out the mare as his best chance of adding to his already record-holding tally of 58 Cheltenham Festival winners.

Mullins fires a total of five of the 15 runners in this contest and his French import Elimay might be one for each-way punters at a big price of 23.00. She was a good second to Good Thyne Tara, who also runs here, on her first start in Ireland at Christmas in a Leopardstown Grade Three and is open to plenty progress.

Feel the Forsa in the Arkle

The two-mile novice championship has been robbed of a couple of big-name pretenders this term, with Dynamite Dollars and Le Richebourg forced to sit it out. In their absence, a superstar to match recent winners such as Un De Sceaux, Douvan, Altior and Footpad is missing. Or at least that seems the case.

Mick Channon’s Glen Forsa could be that star but he’s under the radar somewhat at 5.00, perhaps because he doesn’t hail from the sort of glamour stable that the aforementioned quartet did.

Jumping is the name of this game and, particularly in an Arkle, doing it fast and accurately is paramount. In that respect, Glen Forsa tops the class this season, with his recent Kingmaker demolition of Kalashnikov particularly impressive. He is the standout candidate in the Arkle, though Lalor, Hardline and Ornua are going to ensure this is his toughest assignment so far.

Ballyward worth the wait

The end of day one will be a marathon in every sense of the word as punters come to the finish line after seven tough races. The longest race of four days, the four-mile National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase could go the way of Ballyward at 4.00.

Patrick Mullins won this for the second time last year with a perfectly timed run on Rathvinden and in doing so joined the likes of his father, Willie, JT McNamara and Derek O’Connor as two-time winners.

Patrick’s status as a leading amateur has long been assured and it has to be noted that just one runner from the Mullins team lines up here. Ballyward has been touted for some time for this race and, if the leading trainer is having a good day, the price could shorten considerably before post-time.

Nicky Henderson’s Ok Corral is the 3.75 favourite for the race but bigger dangers might loom in the shape of Gun Digger, 15.00 for Gordon Elliott, and recent Leopardstown winner Whisperinthebreeze who is 21.00 for trainer Jessica Harrington.