Cheltenham Festival Day One Preview and Tips 2014
Race 1 – Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
The greatest show on turf gets underway with what is potentially the best novice race of the Festival – and some really exciting prospects are set to line-up. None more so than the ante post favourite Irving, who is unbeaten in four starts to date – including the Grade Two Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle at Kempton last time. A top class recruit from the Flat, he should have the speed required to see off most of his opponents up the famous Cheltenham Hill.
His chief rivals look set to be the Willie Mullins’ trained pair of VAUTOUR, who is looking for a four-timer after winning the Grade One Deloitte Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown (traditionally a key trial for this race), and Wicklow Brave, who has been kept busy all season, winning his last five starts. Ruby Walsh has opted to ride Vautour, which indicates they think he is their best chance of repeating last year’s success with Champagne Fever.
The Irish challengers always have to be feared in the Supreme, having won nine of the last 15 renewals of this race, although Paul Nicholls has also landed this twice since 2006 with Noland and Al Ferof, so it’s a tight call between Vautour and Irving.
Only three of the last 18 horses priced at 3/1 or shorter have won the Festival opener, with just one favourite scoring in the last ten years. Nevertheless, this tends to go to one of the leading fancies, with 8 out of 10 winners starting at 12/1 or shorter.
Next Best: Irving
Race 2 – Arkle Chase
This is another race where favourites haven’t fared too well in recent times, with only four market leaders landing the Arkle in the last 20 years. This does include the last two winners, however, although Simonsig and Sprinter Sacre both started at odds on.
There doesn’t appear to be anything of that calibre in this line-up, so likely favourite Champagne Fever could be one to take on, despite his excellent record at the Festival. A winner of the Champion Bumper and Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, he cannot be opposed lightly, but he hasn’t been seen on the track since disappointing in third place over Christmas on only his second start over fences.
Nine of the last ten winners had at least three to five chase starts, so this lack of experience could cost Willie Mullins’ charge this time around. The Irish may still take this, however, in the shape of TRIFOLIUM, who landed the Grade One Irish Arkle in fine style, beating Felix Yonger by nine lengths in heavy going. He finished third in the Supreme Novices’ behind Cinders and Ashes in 2012 and should appreciate the better ground.
The highest rated in the field is Rock On Ruby, the former Champion Hurdle winner now trained by Paul Nicholls’ former assistant Harry Fry. He has made a decent start to his chasing career winning his last two starts, although he hasn’t had much to beat with just one finisher behind on each occasion. He would also be much older than your typical Arkle winner at nine years old. All bar one of the last ten victors have been aged between 5 and 7.
Valdez could prove to be the best of the British challengers and provides some each way value in this race, after winning all three of his chase starts to date for Alan King including the Grade Two Lightning Novices’ Chase. All of the last ten winners have started at 9/1 or shorter, so Dodging Bullets also merits close consideration, despite his defeat last time out.
Next Best: Valdez
Race 3 – Festival Handicap Chase
Races don’t get much trickier to solve than the handicap chases at the Festival and this looks a typically wide open affair. However, nine of the last 13 winners were in the first four in the betting, so you need a quality horse with proven recent form to land this competitive three mile chase. In fact six of the last 11 winners won last time out. So much the better if your horse has Cheltenham form in the book too, with seven winners in the last 16 years having finished in the first four at the Festival before.
Hadrian’s Approach finished third in last year’s RSA Chase and although he unseated his rider in the Hennessy Gold Cup back in the autumn, he made amends with a battling win back at Newbury last time out. This is a much stiffer task, but he represents the formidable team of Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty so has to be respected.
Trainer Jonjo O’Neill has won this race twice in the last five years, with Wicheta Lineman and Alfie Sherrin, who returns in an attempt to repeat his success from two years ago and is the selected mount of Champion Jockey AP McCoy. Although he has not really been in the same form since, Cheltenham may well bring out the best in him again.
But it is his stablemate HOLYWELL that merits a place near the top of any shortlist. Winner of last year’s Pertemps Final at the Festival, he followed up that effort by finishing second to Solwhit in the Grade One Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree. Things did not quite go to plan when initially switched to chasing this season, being a beaten favourite three times, but he is now on a hat trick after winning his last two starts.
The home team field a strong challenge with the top weight Cantlow and Restless Harry others to consider. The best of the Irish could well be Wrong Turn for Tony Martin, who won this race back in 2006 with Dun Doire.
Next best: Wrong Turn
Race 4 – Champion Hurdle
The Irish could already be enjoying a fantastic day by this point, but expect the roof to be blown off the Cheltenham grandstand if HURRICANE FLY manages to win his third Champion Hurdle for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh.
Winner of this race in 2011 and 2013, his only defeat in the last four seasons came in this race when he could only finish third in 2012. Despite being the grand old age of ten now, he has looked as good as ever this year, clocking up three more Grade One victories including another Irish Champion Hurdle success.
He has the beating of runaway Triumph Hurdle winner Our Conor and 2013 Supreme third Jezki in his last two races, so his chief competition may come from last season’s top novices in Britain, The New One and My Tent Or Yours. The latter finished in front of Jezki when runner up behind Champagne Fever and scored two impressive Grade One successes earlier in the season. However, only one of the last 23 Christmas Hurdle winners went on to land the Champion in the same season, which doesn’t bode well for his chances.
That race was very much run to suit Jonjo O’Neill’s stable star anyway and The New One has a great opportunity to turn the tables back at Cheltenham, providing he jumps better. Who can forget the impression he made when winning the Neptune in exhilarating fashion at last year’s Festival, when he looked every bit a future champion in the making? He may prove to be the biggest threat to The Fly’s bid to land a historic hat trick.
Selection: Hurricane Fly
Next Best: The New One
Race 5 – OLBG Mares Hurdle
The Irish celebrations will continue long into the night if Hurricane Fly wins the Champion Hurdle and QUEVEGA lands the Mares Hurdle for a record-breaking sixth successive year. This race is all about Willie Mullins’ perennial heroine, a rarer sight on track than the Scarlet Pimpernel, who has been handled to perfection by her trainer. A fragile type that cannot take much racing, she has only had six runs in the last four seasons, but has still incredibly managed to win this race first time out for the last three years in a row.
Sirene D’Ainay, the mare Quevega beat into second at Cheltenham in 2013, is back again for another attempt – but whether she can avenge her one-and-a-half length defeat is open to question. If there is going to be a horse to spoil the party, it could well be stablemate Glens Melody, winner of three of her four starts this season, or fellow Irish challenger Down Ace, who is unbeaten under rules and has notched up three victories so far over hurdles.
Next Best: Down Ace
Race 6 – National Hunt Chase
The longest race at the Festival is a marathon four mile contest – and showcases the talent of amateur riders. Not surprisingly finding the winner can be a fiendishly difficult task, with two 33/1 shots and a 40/1 outsider winning in the last 10 years.
However, the last three renewals have gone to the favourite and this year FOXROCK is well fancied to give Grand National winning trainer Ted Walsh another big race success. Foxrock has landed three wins from his last four starts, including a Grade Two Novice Chase at Navan, and may continue the luck of the Irish in this race after recent wins for Chicago Grey in 2011 and Back In Focus last year.
There will be no shortage of challengers, with Shutthefrontdoor bidding to give trainer Jonjo O’Neill and legendary owner JP McManus a second success in this race after Butler’s Cabin sprang a surprise for connections in 2007. Classic Chase victor Shotgun Paddy, assisted by Chicago Grey’s winning jockey Derek O’Connor, and Suntiep, winner of four out of five races under rules and ridden by Willie Mullins’ son Patrick, will also have plenty of support.
This race is as much about the experience and skills of the rider as the quality of the horse, so look out for the jockey bookings before making your final selection. Ted Walsh’s daughter Katie is set to ride Foxrock, while Nina Carberry will be on Shutthefrontdoor, so we may well see a female winning rider on the opening day of this year’s Festival.
Next Best: Shotgun Paddy
Race 7 – Novices’ Handicap Chase
Anyone looking to the finale for an easy ‘getting out stakes’ on Day One of the Festival will be sorely disappointed as the card closes with a tricky looking handicap chase for novices. While eight of the nine winners to date were either first or second last time out, seven of them had won no more than one race over fences.
Four winners had run at the Festival before, so the top weight Ericht, who finished fifth in last year’s Coral Cup, has the right profile to give Nicky Henderson back-to-back victories in this race after winning with Rajdhani Express last year. However, last year’s County Hurdle third MANYRIVERSTOCROSS arguably has even better credentials, despite only winning one novice chase, as he’s been running in top class company when beaten on his last two starts.
The last three winners have all come from the top half of the handicap, but only Hunt Ball has carried more than 11st 7lb to success in the last ten years. On that weight is the likely favourite, Pendra, who won his first two starts over fences, but could only finish a remote seventh place when favourite at Ascot last time out. JP McManus may be triple-handed in the race with Festive Affair and Dursey Sound also due to line up for trainer Jonjo O’Neill.
Another to consider is the ultra-consistent Present View, who has not been out of the frame in five starts this season, two of them wins, including an impressive ten length success at Kempton last time out.
Next Best: Present View
1.30 Skybet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
Tip: Vautour 7/2 Next Best: Irving 7/2
2.05 Racing Post Arkle Chase
Tip: Trifolium 9/2 Next Best: Valdez 10/1
2.40 Festival Handicap Chase
Tip: Holywell 10/1 Next best: Wrong Turn 14/1
3.20 Stan James Champion Hurdle
Tip: Hurricane Fly 10/3 Next Best: The New One 3/1
4.00 OLBG Mares Hurdle
Tip: Quevega 8/11 Next Best: Down Ace 22/1
4.40 National Hunt Chase
Tip: Foxrock 5/1 Next Best: Shotgun Paddy 5/1
5.15 Novices’ Handicap Chase
Tip: Manyriverstocross 10/1 Next Best: Present View 10/1