After much build-up and anticipation, the Greatest Show on Turf gets underway on Tuesday 12 March. Fans and punters alike will be treated four days of high octane, high quality, thrilling racing that will feature the sport’s greatest trainers, jockeys and horses.
Champion Day is many people’s idea of the best day at the festival. The Champion Hurdle is the feature race and ably supported by another three Grade 1s. The Supreme and the Arkle, pitching the best of Ireland and Britain in the two-mile novice division, as well as the OLGB Mares’ Hurdle. The former gets the Festival off to a flyer and will be greeted by the famous Cheltenham roar. It is a massive betting heat both ante-post and on the day itself. Having recently been dominated by the biggest stables in the sport– Willie Mullins, Nicky Henderson and Gordon Elliot – last year saw the smaller yards get in on the act as Tom George’s Summerville Boy (9/1) got up to beat the gamble on the race, Kalashnikov, trained by Fansbet ambassador Amy Murphy.
The Arkle was a more familiar story as Mullins’ odds-on favourite Footpad cruised to victory on the bridle. The prolific trainer almost claimed the day’s biggest prize as Melon lost out by a neck to Buveur D’Air in the Champion Hurdle. The Mares’ Hurdle saw Mullins continue his dominance in the race, where he has won 10 of the last 11 runnings.
The rest of this year’s card is supported by some cracking big field handicaps. Below, we take a closer look at the seven races that promise to make Tuesday a thrilling opening day.
Cheltenham Day One Betting Tips And Schedule
13:30 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – 2m½f
This year’s curtain raiser looks to be wide open renewal with no Mullins hotpot dominating the ante-post market. The talk horse for the season has been Angels Breath, highly regarded by Nicky Henderson. The 5-y-o made a deep impression on his rules debut, quickening away to win a Grade 2 at Ascot, but it’s difficult to gauge his ability after just one run where only four hurdles were jumped.
Under the same ownership, Al Dancer is the current 7/2 favourite following dominant handicap victories at Cheltenham in December and most recently at the rescheduled Betfair Hurdle at Ascot. He has a lovely way about him, but of the 21 renewals of the Supreme, 49 horses have lined up off the back of running in a handicap and all have been beaten.
The horse we’ll oppose the top-two in the market with is Paul Nicholls’ Grand Sancy. The 10-time champion trainer has his string in fine order this season and this 5-y-o has improved no end. His latest victory in the Kingwell Hurdle was an outstanding show of form as he beat the 154-rated Sceau Royal by ¾L giving him two pounds and Vision Des Flos, who only lost out by 2L to Buveur D’Air in his previous start, by 1¼L. Furthermore, with 11 starts under rules he’ll be able to cope with the hustle and bustle of a Supreme and has a cracking e/w chance.
Did you know? 18 of the last 20 winners won on their last appearance before the Cheltenham festival
14:10 Racing Port Arkle – 2m
Despite being one of the most eagerly-anticipated races of the entire festival, the Racing Port Arkle has not been a particularly interesting betting heat in recent years. We’ve ended up with a short-priced, small field and a fairly predictable result as the likes of Altior, Douvan, Un de Sceaux, and Sprinter Sacre have all romped home at odds-on. However, it is 11/4 the field this year, as no horse has stomped their authority on the division.
The 11/4 favourite is Le Richbourg who has solid Grade 1 form from Ireland next to his name and although he’s found plenty of improvement over fences, he did finish 15th in the County Hurdle in 2018, which wouldn’t suggest a 2019 Arkle winner. Back home, the form is muddled as Lalor won the C&D trial back in November, before Dynamite Dollars – who is now injured – reversed the form convincingly at Sandown. Going at a break-neck see and dealing with the obstacles is always key and the best round of jumping we’ve seen this season was Glen Forsa’s annihilation of former market leader Kalashnikov at Sandown. If Mick Channon’s charge can get into a similar rhythm up front, it’ll be tough for the field to rein him in up the hill, having also won at 2½m and 3m this season.
Did you know? The last 21 winners finished either first or second in their previous start
14:50 Ultima Handicap Chase – 3m1f
The first of the tricky handicaps to work out and it’s difficult to be confident ante-post until the final declarations are made. Lizzy Kelly was a popular winner last year as the gamble was landed on Coo Star Sivola in his preferred soft conditions. It was the the 12th time in the last 16 years that one the top four in the market has won and the 12th time in a row it’s been won by an English trainer. If the rain comes again, then Nick Williams’ 7-y-o could be worth another poke, but if we get the expected better ground then three-time Cheltenham course winner Cogry (OR 140) is of interest. He relishes the battle up the hill, has plenty of experience in big field handicaps and is only on a mark one pound higher than when beating Singlefarmpayment by a nose here back in December on good ground.
Did you know? There hasn’t been a 150+ rated horse to win for over 30 years
15:30 Champion Hurdle – 2m½f
After many viewed last year’s race as a substandard affair, this year’s Champion Hurdle is hotting up to be a fantastic renewal. Buveur D’Air is aiming to become the first horse since Istabraq to win three on the trot, but the JP McManus owned 8-y-o has shown chinks in his armour this season after suffering his first defeat over hurdles since coming third behind Altior in the 2016 Supreme. What’s more, he’ll have to give weight away to his main market rivals – the mare’s Apple’s Jade and Laurina.
The former has won a staggering 10 Grade 1’s from varying distances between 2m-3m. She was originally targeted at the Mare’s races, but after stuffing her opposition in the Irish Champion Hurdle she has thankfully been re-routed to this. Some have question marks over whether this is her optimum trip, so our preference is to take a chance on Laurina. After handily winning the Quevega Hurdle at Punchestwon, it’s all systems go for the Champion Hurdle. The 6-y-o is the young pretender and is highly regarded by Mullins and Ruby Walsh. The fear is she could still opt for the Mares’ but as Fansbet are offering NRNB on this race, at the prices we’ll take a chance on her being different gravy.
Did you know? Henderson & Mullins have won seven of the last nine renewals
16:10 OLGB Mares Hurdle – 2m4f
A lot depends on whether Apple’s Jade or Laurina turn up in this race. On the presumption they don’t, last year’s winner Benie Des Dieux is the short-priced favourite and likely winner. She’s not been seen since her success in this race last year, which is a slight concern, but Mullins has stated that she is fit and hasn’t been seen because of the unseasonably dry ground. Backers of the mare shouldn’t be worried though as the Irish champion trainer has a history of this tactic with Quevega winning this six times in a row with no prep race.
It is unclear what the main competition will be for the Rich Ricci owned horse. The two that would be of interest from Britain if they turn up are Lady Buttons, though she’s being touted at the Queen Mother, and Alan King’s Mia’s Storm who is well capable of rewarding each-way support, but at this stage it’s not a race to get involved in.
Did you know? Willie Mullins has won nine of the last 10 renewals
16:50 Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase – 2m4½f
Another competitive handicap but one worth looking towards the top end of the market as 12 of the last 14 winners came from the top six in the betting. Mister Whitaker was a popular winner last year and the same connections had Glen Forsa in mind for this race until he bolted up against Kalashnikov and is now being targeted at Grade 1s. Secret Investor of Paul Nicholls was a useful hurdler and has shown promise in warm novice company so far over fences, coming second behind Ok Corrall over three-miles in January. This drop back in trip looks ideal for him and he’d be our pick at this stage.
Did you know? 13 of the last 14 winners had run in six or less chases
17:30 National Hunt Challenge Cup Chase – 4m
At 4m, this is the longest race to take place at the festival and is restricted solely to amateur riders. The aforementioned Ok Corrall has been laid out for this race by Nicky Henderson with Derek O’Connor coming over to ride him at Warwick in January. The lightly raced 9-y-o has always had talent and it has all come together this season, jumping superbly against more experienced rivals last time out. This marathon trip should suit and he looks to be a class above his rivals.
Jockey bookings can be crucial in this race and although we don’t know many at this stage, names to look out for are Derek O’Connor, Patrick Mullins, Jamie Codd and Sam Waley-Cohen. When it comes to staying chasers, Colin Tizzard is always a trainer worth following. Mister Malarky has won three of his four starts over the bigger obstacles, beating a useful sort in Now McGinty at Ascot over three-miles most recently. This is the target and he looks to be the each-way value for the Dorset handler.
Did you know? 11 of the last 13 winners had won over three miles before
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*odds subject to change