Cheltenham is here today, the best racing week of the year in my opinion and an abundance of great horses at a unique track. The TV pictures do not do justice to the sheer extent of some of the undulations on the course. It is a tough test and there will be no slouching this week. It is game on for everyone concerned and we will see some very strong battles.
The Going Map is on this link, and the course is unique, with the cross country track cross-crossing throughout the middle of the old and new courses;
Tuesday 14th March
We will concentrate on Cheltenham for the rest of the week, where we have brilliant races every day. The ground has dried out a little but not too much. It is good to soft, which should not inconvenience too many runners but the heavy and fast ground specialists will be a little disappointed. Cheltenham is stiff, undulating, uphill towards the finish and also has difficult fences. The races will all be run at top speed and there is no place to hide. Horses that cannot keep up with the pace will come off the bridle early and that will end their chances in the shorter races. The best horses come to the fore, particular the horses that are tough, but the course is not for everyone and a lot of horses simply do not handle the undulations. I will run through each race, and we have three bets today.
1.30 Cheltenham – The Supreme Novice Hurdle
The name says it all and this race is for the best novice hurdlers of the season.The previous year’s festival bumper usually provides a good forward guide to this and we have often mentioned Ballyandy and High Bridge as a good guide this season due to that connection from last year. There is a strong Irish contingent with four runners from the Willie Mullins camp, and his highly regarded novices usually produce the goods even if they lack a bit of experience. However, I am sticking with Ballyandy who has the course experience and won a decent Group 3 on his last start after taking time to adapt to the hurdles. His consistency has been remarkable and he will be able to handle the fast pace today. He has Sam Twiston-Davies in the saddle which I think is a big bonus, and I would be surprised if he is not in the finish. He has raced ten times in total, between bumpers and hurdles races. He has five wins and has never been beaten more than four lengths on the other occasions. We will back Ballyandy Win and place. One of the great things today is the liquidity in the place markets on Betfair and the strength in depth in these races. That means we can stake things a little differently. 1.50 Points Place and 0.50 Points Win in a tricky race, but one where Ballyandy should really be a major player and I think the horse has been trained to peak for this race.
2.10 Cheltenham – The Arkle
This should be a no contest, as Altior has performed at a completely different level to anything else in this race. His odds are short, but it is hard not to see him win this in good style. His jumping is electric and it should be a good spectacle to see him in full flight around Cheltenham today. He is too short to back but plenty of punters will look to have large bets on him as he really does look like he will win if he does not fall.The pace here could be too much for a lot of these early on, but one horse that will travel well on the bridle is Cloudy Dream. He looks like this ground, trip and race will suit his running style and I think he is good value to run into the places behind Altior. 1.5 Points Place Only at Betfair SP.
2.50 Cheltenham – Ultima Handicap Chase
This is an impossible looking handicap where I can make a case for half of the field. There are a few of theses that are ahead of the handicapper and luck in running will play its part. I cannot suggest getting involved here. NO BET.
3.30 Cheltenham – The Champion Hurdle
This is not a very strong renewal of the Champion Hurdle, and I have question marks against a few of the favourites. Yanworth does not look like he has the speed for this race but his form is solid. I expect him to come under pressure early and he is worth opposing. I think the ground needs to be soft for Buveur D’air, so he may just about get by with today’s conditions but it is far from certain. If selecting any of the fancied runners there is something to be concerned about, so it is a race to watch rather than bet on. NO BET
4.10 Cheltenham – Mares’ Hurdle
The top three in the betting dominate the race and it would be no surprise if they take out the places. They have form against each other, and Apples Jade should not be discounted despite preference in the market for Limini and Vroum Vroum Mag. The latter has good form here and won this race last year, but she has not been so impressive recently and I think she is vulnerable. Limini is open to improvement but this ground may not be her ideal surface and the pace here will be very quick. Limini beat Apples Jade last time but this is very different and I fancy that there is not much between them under these conditions. Again, the pace of the race is key and I think Apples Jade will thrive on it. At the prevailing odds, I am backing Apples Jade win and place.
4.50 Cheltenham – Hunt Cup
This is a race for the amateur riders and best avoided. Cheltenham is not a place to back in such a race, and five or six look to have similar chances. NO BET.
5.30 Cheltenham – Close Bros Novice Handicap
A 20 runner handicap to end day one at the festival, but I will have left the track by then to avoid the crush. I think the favourite Foxtail Hill certainly has a big chance but the odds look about right. He would be my each way selection if I had a free bet, but as it is I will not be risking any money. NO BET
Suggested Bets – Tuesday 14th March
1.30 Cheltenham (Race 1) – Ballyandy, 1.50 Points Place and 0.50 Points Win at Betfair SP.
2.10 Cheltenham (Race 2) – Cloudy Dream, 1.00 Points Place at Betfair SP.
4.10 Cheltenham (Race 5) – Apple’s Jade, 1.00 Points Place and 0.50 Points Win at Betfair SP.