After all the hype, after all the rhetoric, after all the anticipation, the moments of truth are approaching with the start of the four-day Cheltenham Festival.
Centrepiece of Day 1 is the Stan James Champion Hurdle at 3.30, for which we have already recommended Brain Power at 8-1 as an e/w bet and nothing has occurred since that recommendation to change our minds. Indeed, the prevailing ground conditions will suit Nicky Henderson’s 6-y-o better than many in the field, including the same trainer’s Buveur D’Air, which would ideally prefer far more cut than it will get this afternoon.
As usual, the proceedings kick off with the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at 1.30, with 14 going to post. Favouritism is shared between the once raced Melon and the battle hardened Ballyandy, both trading at around 7-2. On the face of it, Melon has an impossible task, with its only win being against a few trees in a Maiden hurdle at Leopardstown at the end of January, but then you see it’s trained by Willie Mullins and is the choice of Ruby Walsh over the stable’s other three runners, so I think we can expect a tad of improvement.
Having said that, with all major firms offering ¼ odds e/w, the bet has to be Ballyandy, which showed much improved form when taking the ultra-competitive Betfair Hurdle last time out, off a mark of 135. Add to that performance two previous wins on the course and very bullish noises coming from the camp, at 7-2 (e/w) this is a pretty safe way to start the meeting.
The Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices Chase at 2.10 already belongs to Altior, which is a 1-4 shot to prevail and therefore a ‘no bet’ race – er, well actually, no.
The ‘without the fav’ market has Charbel as favourite at 3-1, but an attractive wager is Forest Bihan from Brian Ellison’s yard, ridden by Aiden Coleman. This 6-y-o has won 3 from 4 in the manner of a big improver and its hold-up style can be executed perfectly by AC. At 13-2 in an 8-runner field, this is a strong e/w bet and, while you are at it, in case some mishap befalls the fav, a small win bet at 25-1 is also suggested.
Of the remaining races, Singlefarmpayment surely will go close in the Ultima Handicap at 2.50, while Limini is the day’s banker at 13-8 in the 4.10.
The 4.50 can also fall to our friends across the water in the shape of A Genie In Abottle which would appear to stay far longer than your mother-in-law and can be backed e/w at 11-2.
In the finale at 5.30, after Owner Michael Buckley, trainer Nicky Henderson and jockey David Mullins have taken the Champion Hurdle with Brain Power, they can complete the double with Hammersly Lake at a juicy 18-1.