THERE’S a Grand bet in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. GRAND SANCY looks sure to be suited by the demands of the Festival’s traditional opener.
He’s improved throughout this season. His half-length second behind Elixir De Nutz in the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown came in really sticky ground when the winner got his own way out in front. Grand Sancy was at a disadvantage being held up in that race and I fancy him to comfortably reverse that form.
My fancy gave weight and a beating to smart chaser Sceau Royal in Wincanton’s Kingwell Hurdle in his prep race and I can’t understand why he’s such a big prize.
Perhaps, some can’t forget him pulling up in the Boodles Hurdle at this meeting 12 months ago but that’s in the history book. I’m more interested in the formbook. That says he has a great chance with his experience another positive.
Al Dancer is another with handicap form, which is a handy thing to have. He won the rescheduled Betfair Hurdle at Ascot with plenty up his sleeve.
That wasn’t the strongest of races but he’s clearly smart. The hood he’s won on his last two wins has been taken off and Nigel Twiston-Davies is clearly banking on the big field and strong pace helping him out.
Angels Breath has form tied in with Grand Sancy. He was beaten by Southfield Stone – third in the Tolworth – at Kempton last time. That was just his second start and, while he is sure to improve for the run, is inexperience worries me a little.
Nicky Henderson also runs Mister Fisher. He hasn’t done much wrong in winning his last two races but I’m not convinced about his jumping.
Willie Mullins’ Klassical Dream touched off stablemate Aramon in a Leopardstown Grade 1 last month. He’ll likely need further so the return to softer ground should help.
Fakir D’Oudairies was impressive over today’s course and distance in January. That was juvenile hurdle and he gets 8lbs from the older horses today. It’s hard to get a grip on the form but he’s obviously smart.
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TAKE a HARDLINE in the Racing Post Arkle Trophy. Make no mistake, this is a bad race for one of the Festival’s top novice prizes. There’s no standout contender and I’m convinced Hardline has more going for him that the rest.
He was a decent, if unspectacular hurdler, and he’s improved since switching to chases. It’s fair to say he was a little bit lucky to beat Getabird in a Limerick Grade 1 when the runner-up made a mess of the last fence.
That’s still good form in the context of this race and he had his stamina stretched despite being held up way off the pace when third behind top prospect La Bague Au Roi at Leopardstown.
The likely decent pace returned to 2m should be ideal.
Glen Forsa has made astonishing progress this season. He’s gone from winning an ordinary 3m Chepstow handicap to Arkle favourite in just three runs.
I’m a little suspicious to be honest. His win over 2m4f at Kempton on Boxing Day has worked out incredibly well but it was only a handicap.
He thrashed Kalashnikov in a three-runner race at Sandown last month but I’m pretty sure the runner-up was a long way below his best. The fact he heads the betting says everything about the quality – or lack of it – in this contest.
This often goes to A horse with smart hurdles form and Lalor fits that bill having won the Grade 1 Top Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree last year.
His defeat of Dynamite Dollars – who would probably be favourite for this race if he had made it here – over today’s track and trip in November was a splendid performance. It just worries me he’s not been seen since way below that form when only third behind Dynamite Dollars on soft ground at Sandown the following month.
Ornua – runner-up in that race – also hasn’t run since but he’s got much more experience than Lalor. Whether he’s got the class to take this is another matter.
Clondaw Castle hasn’t beaten anything of note in two chase wins but he’s progressing well. Tom George’s hope once beat Champion Hurdle contender Global Citizen over hurdles and looks best of the outsiders.
USE your Whit to have the last laugh in the Ultima Chase. I’ve always thought MISTER WHITAKER would improve when stepped up to 3m.
He won the Close Brothers Novices’ Chase on this day 12 months ago and he had top-class Cyrname behind when making a winning return at Carlisle in November.
It was no surprise to see him sent off favourite for the BetVictor Gold Cup at this track in November. He was far from disgraced in fourth but it was clear the trip was on the sharp side for him.
It was a similar story behind much-improved Cyrname at Ascot last time out and that should have set him up for this prize.
Minella Rocco is undoubtedly well weighted on his best form. He was runner-up in the Gold Cup a couple of years ago but it shows how far he’s fallen that he’s in this race. Last month’s hurdles run was better but he’s still got enough to prove for me.
Give Me A Copper has only had seven races in his life. His potential is there for all to see but his only chase win came in a two-runner race. He ran a promising race at Sandown after more than a year off the track at Sandown last month but that form has not worked out well.
Coo Star Sivola won this race last year. He’s shown nothing since and it’s a fair leap of faith needed to back him to retain the trophy.
Singlefarmpayment probably should’ve won this two years ago when beaten a head by Un Temps Pour Tout. He was fifth last year and just don’t seem interested in winning these days.
Vintage Clouds – third in this race last year before filling the same position in the Scottish National – is another with place claims.
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APPLE’S JADE is a juicy bet in the Unibet Champion Hurdle. Gordon Elliott’s star mare has always been good but she’s taken her form to a different level this season.
She’s done most of her racing over further – she’s won the 3m Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown for the last two years – but she’s got plenty of pace to go with that stamina.
The way she destroyed the likes of Supasundae, Petit Mouchoir and Melon to win the Irish Champion Hurdle from the front by 16 lengths was incredibly impressive.
That Leopardstown contest came on decent ground and today’s softer conditions suit her even better.
There’ a fair chance she’ll be taken on for the lead in the early stages but she showed in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle that it doesn’t bother. The 7lbs she gets from Buveur D’Air is crucial in tipping the balance in her favour.
The reigning champ is looking to join the greats with a third Champion Hurdle win. It’s hard to knock a horse with his record but I’ve no doubt he has been bossing an ordinary bunch of hurdlers for this level.
He only scrambled home by a neck from Melon 12 months ago and he suffered his first defeat since finishing third in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on this day three years ago when nailed by stablemate Verdana Blue in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton On Boxing Day.
His usually slick jumping hasn’t been as good this season and I think he could be vulnerable.
Laurina is too short in betting for what she’s achieved. she’s been impressive in beating up other mares and she was the easiest winner of last year’s Festival but she’s playing with the biggest boys today.
Global Citizen – too good for Silver Streak at Haydock in January – looks the best of the outsiders.
WILLIE MULLINS should continue his domination of the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle. He didn’t win it when it was first run in 2008 and but the Irish trainer has picked up this prize in nine of the ten years since.
BENIE DES DIEUX won this 12 months ago when Apple’s Jade was back in third. This year’s Champion Hurdle favourite was clearly not at her best but La Bague Au Roi was in the field as well.
My fancy has not been seen since following up at Punchestown when Apple’s Jade was again back in third. That doesn’t worry me as he’s got a good record when fresh and Mullins did something similar with Quevega in this race many times.
Stablemate Limini could be the biggest danger. She was third behind Apple’s Jade in this race two years ago having won the mares’ novices’ hurdle at the previous Festival.
Her form this season hasn’t matched that but it was a decent effort to finish fourth behind Gold Cup favourite Presenting Percy when finding the 3m trip stretching her stamina.
I’m not so confident about Stormy Ireland – another Mullins runner – seeing out the distance. She settled better than she sometimes does when runner-up behind Champion Hurdle hope Laurina at Punchestown last time out but the stiff finish will probably find her out.
Lady Buttons has been switching between hurdles and fences this season. Both codes seem to come alike to her but I reckon she’s probably better over 2m.
Roksana looks the best of the British mares. She was second behind Santini in a Grade 1 novices’ hurdle at Aintree last spring and there was nothing wrong with her prep race behind Buveur D’Air at Sandown.
Templegates top tips for day 1 of Cheltenham
1.30 – Grand Sancy (Click here to compare prices and place your bet)
2.10 – Hardline (Click here to compare prices and place your bet)
2.50 – Mister Whitaker (NAP) (Click here to compare prices and place your bet)
3.30 – Apple’s Jade (NEXT BEST) (Click here to compare prices and place your bet)
4.10 – Benie Des Dieux (Click here to compare prices and place your bet)
4.50 – A Plus Tard (TREBLE) (Click here to compare prices and place your bet)
5.30 – Ballyward (Click here to compare prices and place your bet)
GET ahead with A PLUS TARD in the Close Brothers Novices’ Chase. Henry de Bromhead’s hope won a Listed race on testing ground in France and he’s taken well to fences since arriving in Ireland.
He stepped on his promising chase debut to beat subsequent winner Duc Des Genievres at Naas in December. The ground was probably a bit on the quick side when he found smart Winter Escape too good at Punchestown the following month.
There’s surely more improvement in him and he looks just the right type for this race.
Riders Onthe Storm has been well backed in recent weeks. He was no match for Hardline in a Grade 1 on Boxing Day but he came good at the third time of asking over fences at Punchestown last month.
He’s not got the greatest of win records and he’s been well beaten in both his tries over 2m4f. His pedigree suggests he should thrive over this distance and further but maybe he pulls a bit too hard in the early stages to see it out.
Tower Bridge is a bigger threat. It usually takes a three-miler to win this race and Jospeh O’Brien’s hope has got stacks of stamina.
He’s held by my fancy on a line through Duc Des Genievres, who he chased home at Gowran last month, but he did win a Grade 1 over hurdles and is probably capable of better.
Highway One O One might be the biggest danger. He wasn’t disgraced behind top prospect Dynamite Dollars in a couple of hot novice chases and his second to JLT fancy Kildisart over today’s track and trip is good form.
Movewiththetimes has stacks of potential but it would a brave – or possibly stupid – man to back a horse at the Festival with his form figures.
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WILLIE MULLINS and his jockey son Patrick are going for their third win in the National Hunt Chase. They team up with BALLYWARD and I reckon he’s up to the job.
Last year he finished fourth in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle when he looked packed with stamina. He filled the same position in the equivalent Grade 1 at Punchestown before switching to fences this season.
The ground wasn’t ideal for his chase debut but he still got within a neck of Shady Operator at Punchestown. That form was turned around in some style when the pair headed for a Grade 3 at Naas.
Ballyward charged away from good prospect Chris’s Dream in the manner of a smart chaser. It’s impossible to know whether he’ll stay today’s marathon trip but everything he’s done suggests he will.
I’m not as confident about OK Corral’s stamina. He finished in front of my fancy when runner-up in the Albert Bartlett last year and he’s unbeaten in two starts over fences. The way he dispatched a small but select field at Warwick was very impressive. If he does get home he will have a great chance but trainer Nicky Henderson rarely has horses that stay this 4m trip.
I’m more worried about Le Breuil. He was third behind RSA Chase hope Santini on his only try at around 3m and has put in some solid efforts since. It’s always looked like he was a strong stayer and top Irish amateur Jamie Codd certainly thinks so.
Mulcahys Hill is another packed with stamina and he should run well at a big price. Atlanta Ablaze has loads of experience over fences and that always comes in handy in this contest.