Every year when we get to early March we hope for the sun to shine and the pristine grass and shiny coats of thoroughbred perfect to glow on four days of warm spring sunshine at the Cheltenham Festival, National Hunt Racing’s showpiece event. However; it doesn’t always work out quite like that. Rain is currently forecast for the majority of next week – potentially opening the door for some longer priced ‘Mudlarks’ too spring a shock at Prestbury Park.
13:30 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
The very first race of the festival, the one we’ve all been waiting for. When the tapes go back and the roar goes up everyone will be hoping that they’ve picked the right horse to start the bookie bashing early. For me, if the rain continues to fall Kim Bailey’s First Flow will become an increasingly more inviting prospect. He has won his previous three starts and all of those have come on ground that was officially soft or worse. The Willie Mullins trained Getabird is the current market leader but it is fair to say he has not achieved all that much thus far in his fledgling career. Successful in both starts under rules but yet to face any real test and on that basis his price looks incredibly short. First Flow’s current price of 12/1 looks and incredibly tantalising prospect.
14:10 – Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase.
The Harry Whittington trained Saint Calvados is the mud lover who could spring a shock in the Arkle. A horse that has never run on ground any better then soft, if we get the forecasted rain, Saint Calvados could definitely throw down a challenge to outright Arkle favourite, and many people’s idea of a festival banker, Footpad. Though Footpad has proven he can cope with cut in the ground, Saint Calvados is yet to lose a race over fences, that record could be set to improve if it does continue to rain. Saint Calvados is currently third in the market at a best price off around 3/1. Whittington will also be hoping his runner can charge up the hill in front having said that a winner at Cheltenham “would be better than sex.”
14:50 – Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase.
The first real ‘stick a pin in it’ race of the festival. A handicap chase for staying chasers that always attracts a big field and this year is no different; 18 runners have stood their ground at final declarations. Always an attritional contest, this year will be even more so if we get the forecasted rain. A horse that will relish the test is 25/1 shot Cogry. Right at the bottom of the handicap with a rock bottom weight of 10st 9lbs Cogry has beaten one of the leading fancies Singlefarmpayment over course and distance this year. You cannot over estimate the importance of course form at Cheltenham. A dour stayer, Cogry could spring the first real surprise of the festival at a tasty price on Tuesday afternoon.
15:30 – Unibet Champion Hurdle.
All the rage ahead of this year’s Champion Hurdle is the match up finally taking place between Buveur D’Air and Faugheen. However if the rain gets into the ground and it becomes attritional one of the other Willie Mullins runners, Wicklow Brave. With the ground looking likely to come up heavy, supporters of this versatile horse will be pleased as he has won all four of his career starts on heavy ground. He also landed the 2015 Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle on soft ground at the festival so he has course form to bring to the party. Could he sing a surprise at a bigger price in the mud?