Cheltenham Festival Best Bets
Less than a week to go until Cheltenham and time to begin seriously thinking about our Festival bets. Over the next two articles I’ll take a look at all four days of next week’s meeting and try to pick out what I think are the best bets in each race. Today we’ll look at days 1 and 2 (Tuesday 16th and Wednesday 17th March) and this weekend we’ll cover the final two days.
TUESDAY 16th March
The opening race on day 1 is the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. This features what many Irish think is their banker of the week, the star novice Dunguib. He won last year’s Champion Bumper and has done nothing wrong over hurdles and looks like he’ll take all the beating. But, at odds on in what is likely to be a big field, many of whom are relatively un-exposed, he has to be taken on. My ante-post bet in this was General Miller and he is still in the hunt but blotted his copybook somewhat by failing to win his prep race, something that is almost imperative here.
With the Irish having such a fine record in the race it’s tempting to look to one of their other contenders but the one I’ll be backing to supplement my General Miller play is GET ME OUT OF HERE. The Jonjo O’Neill trained gelding won the very competitive Tote Trophy last time and that experience will stand him in good stead here. He looks likely to put Dunguib under pressure and we’ve yet to really see how the Irish horse will cope under those circumstances.
The Arkle Trophy is next and our ante-post fancy Take The Breeze won’t be running so we have to take the hit on that. The horse I like here is SOMERSBY, trained by Henrietta Knight, who will forever be associated with the three time Gold Cup winner Best Mate. Somersby ticks all the boxes for me. He has very good hurdles form (a must recently for Arkle winners) is in good fettle and can see off the strong Irish challenge, headed by Captain Cee Bee.
The William Hill Trophy is the first of the week’s handicap races and, competitive as these races are at Cheltenham, certain trainers to seem to specialise in them. The Pipe stable are one of those outfits and I can see THE PACKAGE running a big race for the yard here.
On to the first of the four championship races, The Champion Hurdle. Our ante-post advice was split between last year’s winner PUNJABI and Noel Meade’s GO NATIVE. I’ve seen nothing in the interim to change my mind, indeed Binocular’s defection and Zaynar’s poor run at Kelso seems to have left Punjabi as Henderson’s number one challenger, so I’ll be sticking with those two.
The Cross Country Chase has one matra associated with it – you must back an Edna Bolger trained horse. He’s won 4 of the 5 runnings of this race and almost half the cross country chases ever run at Cheltenham. There won’t be many in the handicap this year, it’ll be less competitive as it may at first appear, and Bolger can take it once again with the hat-trick seeking GRAND CHAMPETRE.
Finally on the Tuesday, The David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle looks a match between Quevega and Voler La Vedette. Quevega is a real stayer while Voler La Vedette has a real turn of foot so it’ll be a fascinating race. It’s a tough call but my preference is for QUEVEGA, who has already shown she copes with Cheltenham when winning this last year.
WEDNESDAY 17th March
Wednesday kicks off with the National Hunt Chase. I’ve gone for Jonjo O’Neill’s SYNCHRONISED. O’Neill specialises in this race and, in Synchronised, he has a horse that seems tailor-made for this test.
In the Neptune Investments Novices’ Hurdle I have one of my bankers of the meeting. RITE OF PASSAGE came over last year for the Champion Bumper but found Dunguib much too good. However, he’s gone on to better things since and has won all four of his most recent outings very easily. He looks a horse with the brightest of futures and, in what I think is a relatively weak renewal, can prevail.
The RSA Chase was shaping up to be one of the races of the meeting but the recent doubts over Punchestowns, who was reportedly lame last week, threw a cloud over the race. I advised LONG RUN ante-post at 6/1 for the race and he is now trading at 3/1. He remains the selection, despite the fact that he is still only a five-year-old (younger novices have a poor record in the race).
The Queen Mother Champion Chase is all about Master Minded who is seeking a third win in the race. He looked like he’d overcome his injury problems when trotting up last time, despite a final fence blunder. We may have to rely on another slip up by the favourite if our ante-post selection TWIST MAGIC is to get his nose in front but I’m staying with the Nicholls second string on the basis that he has looked better than ever this year while I still have a niggle regarding Master Minded’s injury problem.
The Coral Cup looks a minefield, as ever. Recent winning form is as good an indicator as any in this and that rules out a few of the fancied runners. Of those that remain I’m planning to side with SMOKING ACES to give the Irish a second winner on the day.
The Fred Winter Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle looks another competitive affair. Paul Nicholls SANCTUAIRE is the one I like. He made an eye-catching debut appearance for Paul Nicholls recently at Taunton, having previously been trained in France. He could be very well handicapped here if progressing from that.
The final race on the Wednesday is the Champion Bumper. The Irish have dominated this race and Willie Mullins has led the invasion with 6 winners. Mullins again has plenty runners but it is very difficult to gauge from racecourse evidence which is best at this stage. I’m going to take a chance on Eddie O’Grady’s recent Leopardstown winner SHOT FROM THE HIP, an impressive winner of both his starts.
Phew! That completes days 1 and 2 – halfway there. I’ll be looking at days 3 and 4 at the weekend, off now to get my head back into the formbook.
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