Our expert looks at the Tuesday’s card on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival and selects his best bets in all seven races.
Supreme Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1)
Bunk Off Early looks like a good prospect for Willie Mullins and if you are looking for an each-way outsider, High Bridge has beaten some very handy adversaries during his unbeaten season. However, Ballyandy brings the best form and Melon will carry a weighty reputation as the pair prepare to do battle on Tuesday.
Ballyandy’s win in the Champion Bumper here twelve months ago is bound to stand him in good stead as he looks to follow up his latest victory in a highly competitive renewal of the Betfair Hurdle. Melon made a lasting impression on his only outing of the season, Ruby Walsh has chosen to ride him over of his other Mullins stablemates and Willie has a fantastic record in this race over the last few years.
Melon looks like a champion in the making and Ballyandy is a fierce competitor who will be there with the leaders when they jump the last. A reverse forecast could be a good way to go, but at the Cheltenham Festival, the cream usually rises to the top and MELON could prove all his backers right and kick-off his career in style with a massive win.
Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices' Chase (Grade 1)
Given his exceptional form, and the fact that people are saying he would give Douvan a real run for his money if he entered the Champion Chase, Arkle winning the Arkle is a mere formality. If he stays on his feet and jumps well, he will win. However, his current odds of 2/7 don’t represent any value for money as a single bet nor in a forecast, so betting without the favourite is the best plan of action in the Arkle.
Forest Bihan was very impressive when dealing with Cloudy Dream earlier in the season and Royal Caviar has plenty of each-way backers. Kim Bailey's CHARBEL is clearly a very classy customer and put away both Top Notch and Le Prezien on his chasing debut. He has got closer to Altior than anyone has managed this season, when he came home just six lengths behind the cruising leader at Sandown and he looks the best placed to follow Altior home once again.
Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3)
Strong Festival form usually stands horses in very good stead when they enter Cheltenham handicaps, so that brings the last two winners of this race, Un Temps Pour Tout and The Druids Nephew, along with reigning Martin Pipe champion, Ibis Du Rheu into the equation.
Holywell finished second off top-weight in this race last year. He will carry almost a stone less on his back this time and clearly loves the Festival. He looks to be the best each-way bet of the race, but Cheltenham specialist SINGLEFARMPAYMENT has been in excellent form since switching to Tom George’s yard at the start of the season and beat a very handy field in a three mile chase here at Cheltenham in December. He is extremely well weighted and should put in another strong showing.
Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1)
The decent ground won’t do Buveur D’Air any favours and Yanworth doesn’t represent any value for money at his current price. The New One and Moon Racer hold definitely each-way chances, but the winner of this year’s Champion Hurdle could come from the well-priced duo of Brain Power and Petit Mouchoir.
Unlike his stablemate, Brain Power will love the firmer going on Tuesday afternoon and he’s been primed for this race by carrying a lot of weight to prestigious handicap victories at both Sandown and Kempton. PETIT MOUCHOIR was a 40/1 shot when he finished just half a length behind Buveur D’Air and it’s safe to say he has improved a lot since that excellent showing at Aintree.
He was travelling like the champion in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle before a late fall put an end to his race. Since then, he has trounced Nicholls Canyon twice in Grade 1 contests over in Ireland. Some would say he prefers softer ground, but Henry De Bromhead’s charge has won twice on good, yielding ground this season and sits at a very enticing price.
The David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle (Grade 1)
What a titanic triple-threat we have in-store on Tuesday afternoon, as Limini, Vroum Vroum Mag and Apple’s Jade battle it out for the Mares Hurdle title. Vroum Vroum Mag will be a strong contender as she bids to defend her title, but there is no doubting she has looked vulnerable this season. Apple’s Jade could easily have won the Fighting Fifth Hurdle if she hadn’t been hampered by the falling Petit Mouchoir, before bouncing back in stunning fashion to beat Vroum Vroum Mag to the Hatton’s Grade title.
LIMINI had been kept on the sidelines for most of the season, but her victorious reappearance came in the Quevega Hurdle when she comfortably dealt with Apple’s Jade on her maiden outing over two-and-a-half miles. She is bound to come on from that performance, which is a frightening prospect as she looked in imperious form that day. She should have enough to see off her rivals and land a second successive Cheltenham Festival title.
JT McNamara National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders' Novices' Chase (Grade 2)
A Genie In Abottle and Edwulf deserve their spots at the head of the betting, but neither represent good value. Bigbadjohn has to be considered an each-way contender based on his strong seasonal form, but it’s BEWARE THE BEAR who ticks the most boxes when searching for a National Hunt winner.
Nick Henderson’s charge will be nice and fresh coming into the Festival, having not been seen since carrying 11-9 to victory in a competitive handicap at Newbury. He convincingly beat Ultima favourite, Singlefarmpayment on his first outing of the new season and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him extend his unbeaten run to a fifth race on Tuesday afternoon.
Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase (Listed Race)
Foxtail Hill will be carrying almost two stone more than he did when winning the Barbados Handicap and It’safreebee hasn’t been convincing in his first season as a chaser. With clear negatives against them and some of the other market leaders, looking down the field for a good each-way best seems to be the best plan of attack.
Hammersly Lake has plenty of class and Bun Doran has been tipped up by many experts, but SIZING TENNESSE could be the best each-way punt. He finished in the places in good quality novice chases here at Cheltenham earlier in the season, in his first two starts for Colin Tizzard. He was a little disappointing on his last outing, but a return to Cheltenham should suit and the in-form Tom O’Brien in the saddle is sure to give him a confident ride.