Starting on Tuesday is the world’s greatest national hunt racing festival, especially in the eyes of national hunt followers in Ireland. For four days every March the normally silent hills of the Cotswolds will ring out with a cacophony of cheers, song and some, but very few, tears and Cheltenham’s watering holes will ring out all night with craic and ceol.
Again this year a large Irish team will travel with hopes and wild dreams of a very successful raid after last year’s record breaking total of 19 winners, eight by Willie Mullins.
Yesterday, Wednesday, the official going on all courses was described to good to soft, soft in places (from good, good to soft in places) after plenty of rain on Tuesday night.
In the opening Supreme Novices Hurdle, 28 out of 61 still stand with eleven from this country. Joseph O’Brien and WP Mullins train our best hopes in this race, Fakir D’oudairies and Klassical Dream respectively. They have Al Dancer and Angels breath from the home to beat. An Irish outsider is Vision D’Honneur, just over 6l off Klassical Dream may be e/w value at 14/1.
Next up is the Arkle, where out of an entry of 25 horses 21 still remain, 12 trained in Ireland. Unlike 12 months ago when Altior was a hot shot, this year’s race is an open affair. Defi Du Seuil is favourite at 5/2. Ornua, winner of the Grade 3 chase in Roscommon, is 8/1 and has an e/w chance. Mullins has five still standing, De Bromhead has three including Ornua and Paloma Blue. Defi Du Seuil, also engaged in the JLT, looks a good thing if he runs here.
Third on the card is a very open handicap chase with 48 of the 106 entries still standing their ground. Paul Nolan’s Discorama is not without a chance. Magic Of Light unseated last time out when seeking a hat trick looks in with a good e/w chance for Jessica Harrington.
Out of an entry of 24 there are 14 runners in this year’s Champion Hurdle headed by Apples Jade and the JP McManus owned Buveur D’Air who should fight out the finish. Willie Mullins’ Laurina could make sure it is not a two horse race. Heart ruling head Apples Jade to reign supreme.
Of the 30 entered in the Mares Hurdle, 22 are still in including Apples Jade. It looks like going to the Irish with the Willie Mullins trained Benie Des Dieux backed up with Laurina, Limini and Stormy Ireland leading the betting as Apples Jade is likely to run in the Champion Hurdle.
The Novice Handicap Chase, a new race on Day 1, 47 still stand out of an entry of 71, with 14 trained in Ireland. One that has caught the eye of punters is Tom Taaffe’s Riders Onthe Storm at 7/1.
The Irish provide 7 of the 24 out of 45 in the National Hunt Chase for amateur riders over four miles. I watch out for top Irish amateurs like Derek O’Connor, Jamie Codd, Lisa and Barry O’Neill, no relation, being booked to ride English trained horses in this race.
My e/w Yankee selection for today is Vision D’Honneur, Defi Du Seuil, Riders Onthe Storm and whatever Derek O’Connor takes the ride on in the last race.
In the Ballymore Novices Hurdle, there is a large entry of 90 with 51 from this island, 18 trained by WP Mullins at Closutton and eleven trained by Gordon Elliott. Nicky Henderson’s Champ, owned by JP McManus, is favourite to keep the prize at home but he will have to beat the Elliott trained Battleoverdoyen and the Mullins trained Klassical Dreams. Sean Mulryan’s City Island has done no wrong to date and looks good value at around 10/1 but the e/w value could be Relegate, who will come up the hill, at 25/1. The WP Mullins’ charge won the bumper last year.
Of the 32 entries in the RSA Chase, 14 are Irish headed by Gordon Elliott’s Gigginstown owned Delta Work who is the antepost fav and should take beating.
This race is followed by the Coral Cup, a handicap hurdle, with 127 entries and is normally best left alone. However, Elliott and Gigginstown have opted to bypass the Champion Hurdle and have supplemented Tombstone for this race. Hopefully this is a pointer in itself.
This year’s Queen Mother Champion Chase has 18 still standing out of an entry of 28. Altior looks like the banker of the meeting and is a prohibitive price of 2/5. Mullins may challenge him with Min and Footpad but it is a hopeful scenario.
The Glenfarclas Cross Country handicap Chase always sees a huge Irish entry with Enda Bolger supplying only two of eleven Irish trained entries from 28. Enda Bolger’s record is second to none in these type of events but this tear he may have to give way to Gordon Elliott’s Tiger Roll, last year’s winner who went on to win the Aintree National. Bolger has Auvergnat and Josies Orders, who beat Tiger Roll in a Punchestown cross country race in November must be respected.
The Fred Winter Juvenile handicap hurdle is usually a Cheltenham Lottery and with 62 entries this year is no different with 6/1 the field.
There are 28 entered in the Weatherby’s Champion Bumper with 17 of them trained in Ireland, five at Closutton. Envoi Allen will be all the rage but Paul Nichols’ unbeaten Ask For Glory looks good value at 14/1.
My e/w Yankee selection for today is Relegate, Tombstone, Tiger Roll and Ask For Glory.
Here’s wishing all punters a successful week and there will be a detailed look at next Thursday and Friday’s racing in next week’s edition when fields will be finalised before assessment unlike this week.