The racecourse is beginning to fill and we are just a couple of hours away from the first race at The Cheltenham Festival. The Supreme Novices Hurdle gets us out the gates at 1:30pm.
Supreme Novices Hurdle- 1:30 (Grade 1)
As the Cheltenham crowd roar at the start of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, no-one will be more excited than Dai Walters, who owns two of the market leaders in Al Dancer and Angels Breath.
Al Dancer, who is trained by Nigel Twiston Davies, will be looking for a fifth consecutive win over hurdles. He has recently been joined at the head of the market by Angels Breath who put in a dazzling display in the Grade 2 Kennel Gate at Ascot in December.
Twiston-Davies said: “We’re very excited, he’s been brilliant this season and it’s all looking good going into the race. I’m not worried about the ground at all, he’ll go on anything. He’s done nothing wrong all season and I hope he can run another big race.”
Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy- 2:10 (Grade 1)
The grade 1 National Hunt novices’ chase, run over two miles, for horses aged five years and upwards.
Glen Forsa is a popular choice as arguably the most solid performer in the field with current odds of 5/1 via Oddschecker. A Sharp improver for Mick Channon who is versatile in terms of trip and looks to be the horse with the momentum coming into the Arkle.
Lalor currently stands at 13/2 after doing well at Cheltenham back in November but a long absence since then could affect his chances.
The ante-post Arkle betting has been wide open all season with no stand-out name and that confusion has heightened in recent weeks with injuries to leading fancies like Le Richebourg and Dynamite Dollars.
Ultima Festival Handicap Chase- 2:50 (Grade 3)
The Grade 3 Handicap Chase run over three miles and one furlongs, for horses aged five years and upwards.
Coo Star Sivola is fit to defend its title in a packed field. The Nick Williams-trained horse won the Ultima Handicap last year but has only raced once since. It was a disappointing showing at Cheltenham and betters raised concerns about fitness as a result.
According to the odds, Monella Rocco, Mister Whitaker, Up For Review and Give Me A Copper are all expected to challenge so it’s one of the more competitive races with no certain winner.
Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy- 3:30 (Grade 1)
Victory would elevate Buveur D’Air into the company of Hatton’s Grace, Sir Ken, Persian War, See You Then and Istabraq as a three-time winner of the Champion Hurdle.
Buveur D’air is currently one of two firm favourites according to Oddschecker with odds of 3/1.
Trainer Nicky Henderson said: “Everything has gone smoothly with Buveur D’Air. His preparation at Sandown was great and while he got beaten by Verdana Blue at Kempton in the Christmas Hurdle, this is a completely different ball game to two miles around there on goodish ground.
Another strong challenger is Apple’s Jade with odds of 9/4. A staggering performance in the Irish Champion Hurdle last month changed everything about the festival target for Apple’s Jade, with her 16-length win swinging connections away from a Mares’ Hurdle bid to take on Buveur D’Air.
OLBG Mares’ Hurdle- 4:10 (Grade 1)
With Apples Jade and Laurina out of the way it appears to have left the door well and truly open for last year’s winner Benie Des Dieux although that is not perfectly straight forward either.
Unbeaten in five starts since she came over from France but has had a very fragmented career. Her first three races were spread over two years and were over fences. Her first run over hurdles in this country was in this race twelve months ago. She is firm favourite with odds of 6/5 via Oddschecker.
Dan Skelton has an outside chance with Roksana, she’s only had six starts over hurdles and won three of them and currently sits with odds of 15/2.
Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase- 4:50 (Listed)
The penultimate race on day one is the Close Brothers Handicap Chase. The race is a handicap open to runners rated between 0 and 145 with horses aged five years or older able to compete.
The history of the race suggests that recent form, rather than overall season form, is the key to success.
A Plus Tard currently leads the line in terms of odds at 11/2 and star Irish jock Rachael Blackmore takes the ride and she could be on a winner here.
Riders Onthe Storm is another strong tip with odds at 8/1 via Racing Post. He’s not won a huge amount in his career but beat a decent type last time and could be well-in off 140.
Irish have been backing it for months and it’s surely primed for a big run coming from such a shrewd trainer.
National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders Novice Chase- 5:30 (Grade 2)
This final race for amateur riders is the longest of the week at 4 miles, with Willie Mullins looking for more success after two wins and three places since 2013 with Ballyward.
The Nicky Henderson-trained Ok Corral has won both of its races over fences, while Gordon Elliott also has two winners in the last four years and fields Gun Digger.