Thursday, 3 May 2018

Hunter Chase Evening: Gold Cup Final To Be A Barel Of Laughs At HQ

Jumping fans are treated to an evening of Hunter Chasing on Friday at Prestbury Park and once again the night is a great chance for quality point-to-point jockeys and trainers to land a win on the big stage.

Live DJ sets and a proper Bank Holiday weekend atmosphere are expected and we have a quick précis and a selection for all seven races on the card, starting with the two-miler at 4.55:

4.55 (2m+ Open Hunters’ Chase) – MONSIEUR GIBRALTAR

The 7yo has been going well between the flags of late and was a strong favourite under rules at Ascot recently, unseating four from home.

Lorcan Williams has won on the horse before and should be able to get a decent tune out of him, if so then favourite backers can get off to a pretty decent start.

The main challenge to the jolly may well come from Mantou at a good price following a nice win at Sedgefield 11 days ago and he looks good value to grab a place under Edward Glassonbury.

5.30 (3m2f Hunters’ Chase) – BALLYBANE

The eight-year-old hasn’t gone under rules for quite some time but did show ability for Rebecca Curtis and may well be good enough to land this at a good price ahead of likely favourite Dunhallow Tornado.

Claire Harris’ charge has been doing particularly well in point-to-points under today’s jockey David Prichard and with a clean round may well make the weight advantage he has over his main rival count for plenty up the hill.

6.05 (3m1f Open Hunters’ Chase) – STOLEAWAY

Philip Rowley’s Stoleaway landed the odds nicely enough at Chaddesley Corbett over 2m4f last time out but has been even more impressive over three miles and will appreciate the step up in trip for this one.

Bally River Boy was beaten fair and square over a similar trip last time out when going left-handed at Kingston Blount and may get close but perhaps not be quite good enough, while ten-year-old Foxcub is another who will appreciate conditions and can run a big one.

6.40 (Mixed Open Gold Cup Final Hunters’ Chase – 3m2f+) – BAREL OF LAUGHS

Philip Rowley will expect to be sending out the hot favourite for this race and to my mind should be expecting to land the £15,000 pot as well with Barel Of Laughs.

The 12yo son of Milan ran a blinder when third in the Foxhunter’s at the Cheltenham Festival in March and has basically been laid out for this race since then.  Alex Edwards once again takes the ride.

Pentiffic may be too big an each-way price if recovering OK from running between the flags only 5 days ago at Knightwick when unseating his rider Lucy Turner who will be on board again.

7.15 (3m1f Mares’ Open Hunters’ Chase) – FRELIA

Despite the presence of Queen Olivia and Popaway in this the race can go to Frelia on the basis of her being less exposed than her rivals and thus open to slightly more improvement on the big stage.

Although a beaten favourite last time, she has shown consistent form right through the spring and may just have too much under Bradley Gibbs and can score once again in a race she has already won by 51 lengths.

7.50 (4m+ Open Hunters’ Chase) – BATTLE DUST

Philip Rowley could be on for a very big night and may score again in this marathon with his 9yo Chepstow winner Battle Dust.

The trip is somewhat extreme but one could argue that he has shown around the same level of form when running well over a variety of trips and so if anything it’ll take something like this to unlock a little bit of improvement from him.

Former Jonjo O’Neill inmate Al Co and You Too Pet may also be set for big runs at decent prices.

8.25 (2m4f+ Open Hunters’ Chase) – FULL THROTTLE

Match fit from a run and a win under rules at Ludlow last month, Full Throttle can put to the test the theory that horses run at their best on their second run after having had wind surgery.

The op seemed to make enough of a difference to him when he beat Queen Olivia (well fancied in the 7.15) nicely last time but going strictly on the figures I’d say he has already achieved better than that and so may come on for that outing.

Bear’s Affair and Salubrious are the horses expected to chase home Sam Lee’s mount in the lucky last.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

April Meeting 2018 Day Two: Here Come The Girls

It's all about the lassies on the second of two competitive days of Cheltenham action in the April meeting as the fillies and mares take over the entire card at Prestbury Park on Thursday.

We have once again found some excellent value bets on a day which kicks off with no less than three Listed events.  Here are the best of the contenders:

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2.05 (2m4f Mares' Novices' Hurdle) (Listed) - DAME DE COMPAGNIE

Festival runners Angels Antics and Dame Rose will be well fancied here but both pulled-up last month and have had a hard time on the softer ground with no guarantee that a sounder surface will now help them.

The one who I think will love this better going is Dame De Compagnie for Barry Geraghty and Nicky Henderson and she gets the vote to take the opener on day two - watch out for strong money for her in the betting ring just before the off.

2.40 (2m5f Mares' Novices' Handicap Chase) (Listed) - MIDNIGHT TARGET

There could be some great value here in John Groucott's entrant Midnight Target who appears to me to be very well handicapped indeed.

I say that as, despite having gone up plenty for a novice chase second then a handicap win at Huntingdon, she will love the better ground here and is improving plenty so could score at the expense of The Bay Birch who seems perhaps to be more comfortably in the assessor's grip.

3.15 (2m4f Mares' Handicap Hurdle) (Listed) - MAJESTIC MOLL

Emma Lavelle's 6yo mare is a last time out winner but in fact hasn't run for 138 days meaning she should be entirely fresh for this good ground assignment.

She scored really well at Doncaster in December and looks to be a proper improver, one who is bound to make her handicap mark look a little generous on this occasion.  She can score at the expense of Midnight Jazz of Ben Case.

3.50 (3m2f Mares' Handicap Chase) - MAID OF MILAN

We've not had the chance yet to see the best of Charlie Mann's mare over fences and crucially, nor has the handicapper which is why we should be backing her to take this prize.

She fell last time when an odds-on jolly but has been given plenty of time to recover and looks to be anything up to half a stone well-in for this one if she goes the way I think she will on the better ground.  She should have too much for the likes of Jennys Surprise and Same Circus.

4.25 (2m1f Fillies' Juvenile Handicap Hurdle) - SHINE BABY SHINE

This is a tough one to take a stab at given the inexperience of all involved, but it may pay to take Shine Baby Shine to just outclass main rivals Hillcrest Fire and Cubswin.

Philip Kirby's filly probably just appreciated better ground when running on the Flat so I can see why she's shown limited form so far over hurdles, though her win at Catterick last month is a positive and she may well prove to be handicapped a little better than her rivals today which is what it's all about.

5.00 (2m 1/2f Mares' Handicap Chase) - SISTER SYBIL

Hopefully by the time post time comes around Hughie Morrison's mare's price isn't too restrictive as she surely rates as one of the best bets of the day.

Not only does she look very well handicapped for this, but her rivals are pretty thin on the ground with worries about the likes of Got Away and The Nipper while the others barely even come into the reckoning on form.  Let's hope for 6/4 or better about Tom O'Brien's mount who looks as solid as they come on an otherwise competitive day of action.

5.35 Cheltenham (2m1f Mares' Bumper - 4-6yo) - MECHELEN

We may yet get a pretty tidy price about David Pipe's four-year-old Mechelen and for me she is the one to be on in the lucky last.

The recent Taunton runner-up could close a riveting two days of the April meeting in fine style given that she has a ton of unexposed improvement in her, something which gives her the edge at the weights on the likes of Diamond Gait and Lust For Glory who each have place chances in a competitive enough looking finale.

Tom Scudamore take the mount for a horse who has been given plenty of time to recover from her debut and looks to be a great each-way shout at the very least.

 

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

April Meeting 2018 Day One: All Aboard The Champagne Express

After the close of the Grand National meeting at Aintree and the start of the Flat in earnest at Newmarket this week, jumps fans have an early opportunity to perk themselves up with the April Meeting at Prestbury Park providing some great action.

Two days of quality National Hunt racing get underway on Wednesday with a 7-race card including a Grade 2 handicap chase as well as a host of Class 2 action.  With a selection in each race, here’s how we think we can get the money on day one:

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2.05 (2m4½f Novices’ Hurdle) – POETIC RHYTHM

A trio of horses look to have similar place chances in Silver Kayf, Theclockisticking and Captain Cattistock but given the ground conditions there have to be doubts over all of them.  Fergal O’Brien’s 7yo Poetic Rhythm however shouldn’t have any issues having shown good form over 2m5f on softish going at this track and he seems to be a level above these.

Although the festival would have been a slight disappointment to connections, his form until then had been improving steadily and he is taken to land the opener.

2.40 (Silver Trophy Chase Handicap, 2m5f – Grade 2) – KALONDRA

Neil Mulholland’s likely favourite Kalondra is one who, on the balance of things, is very much going the right way and can take another step forward to win this £34,000 prize.  Having won over the course and distance, Kalondra should face no surprises here and if anything will appreciate today’s better ground (good-to-soft at the time of writing).

At a big price, Traffic Fluide could run into a place with the French bred perhaps having been refreshed by what was an easy spin over hurdles last time out although small stakes for a place and no more are recommended.

3.15 (Greatwood Handicap Hurdle, 2m4½f) – CHAMPAGNE EXPRESS

Although Verni looks like the solid one in the race and can be backed to reach a place yet again, I feel like there’s great value Nicky Henderson’s returning 8yo Champagne Express who could prove to be very well handicapped.

The son of Kalanisi had been off the track for two years but was persevered with and made a return to action in a bumper at Kempton last month.  Having previously been rated 133, coming in here off a mark of 123 could mean that even though he won’t be 100% just yet he may well have a few pounds in hand.

3.50 (3m1½f Novices’ Handicap Chase) – BADEN

While I could not discount Ozzy Thomas in this one, I can more than understand the bookmakers putting Baden in as favourite after his Military Gold Cup success at Sandown in March.

In-form Nicky Henderson’s 7yo gets in here off a mark of 128 which seems a touch low to me, Nico De Boinville’s mount potentially having half a stone in hand with conditions most likely not presenting too many problems nor any real excuses.

4.25 (3m Handicap Hurdle) – COUP DE PINCEAU

Ian Williams’ handicap debutant King Of Realms may prove popular and I can see why having won nicely at Doncaster on only his third start over hurdles, however it’s a similar type I fancy more in the shape of Paul Nicholls’ 6yo Coup De Pinceau.

The bay gelding finally made the breakthrough after 5 attempts when winning a small race at Musselburgh in February but a look at his profile overall as well as that performance tells me he’s a little better now than the mark of 135 that he’s been given, so he could just have a little bit up his sleeve for this contest.

5.00 (3m2f Handicap Chase) – SINGLEFARMPAYMENT

Although he hasn’t won since December 2016 (around this track and trip), Singlefarmpayment will probably show himself to be grateful for a little bit of better ground having been flogging himself on the heavy going this winter, including when fifth in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the festival last time out.

He does love this course though and can once again show his worth ahead of the potentially well handicapped More Buck’s and Fergal O’Brien’s in-form Lovely Job who are both bound to be popular in the ring.

5.30 (2m1f Conditional Handicap Hurdle) – GOING GOLD

There could be some really good value in the lucky last in the shape of Richard Hobson’s recent novice hurdle winner Going Gold, ridden today by the very capable James Bowen who can make a huge difference in a race full of conditional and even amateur jockeys.

Bowen should get a good trip round on this one and it would seem his handicap mark of 127 is a little on the generous side and with conditions not a problem; he gets the vote ahead of Capitaine.

 

Friday, 16 March 2018

Cheltenham Festival 2018 Day Four: Offer The Bookies No Respect In Gold Cup Battle

Another fantastic Cheltenham Festival comes to a close on Friday with the Triumph Hurdle getting us underway and the Grand Annual marking the end of another frantic four days.
All eyes though are on the 3.30 race when 18 line up for what looks like a testing and competitive Gold Cup.  Given the conditions and the lack of a Denman or Best Mate we may be able to swerve the favourites and land a big win at a nice price in the feature race.

1.30 (Triumph Hurdle) – STORMY IRELAND

The form of Farclas and Mr Adjudicator may be better than it looks while favourite Apple’s Shakira is some people’s idea of a banker but I don’t fancy any of that form if I’m honest.  Redicean can go really well for Alan King and could prove the value among the jollies but the one for me will be this Stormy Ireland who won with his head in his chest at Fairyhouse and can go in again.

2.10 (County Hurdle) – FLYING TIGER

Nick Williams’ contender has been running in better races than this and they think a lot of him at home.  His handicap mark doesn’t really reflect the efforts he’s given in graded races though and he may well go on and take this ahead of the interesting Willie Mullins duo of Meri Devie and Sandsend who both look like big improvers going into the race.

2.50 (Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle) – CHEF DES OBEAUX

Nicky Henderson holds a very strong hand this year with market leaders Chef Des Obeaux and Santini.  Many fancy the latter named but the distance is a worry for me given his strength over 2m4f, while Chef Des Obeaux definitely stays and is himself still getting better with every run.
Chris’s Dream and Poetic Rhythm may well run on for place money but the trophy and a good chunk of the prize money should be heading back to Henderson’s yard and well deserved it will be too.

3.30 (Gold Cup) – ROAD TO RESPECT

The fact that this could be the most testing Gold Cup for years brings Brian Ellison’s Definitly Red right into play, though despite the soft ground I feel he may lack a turn of foot when the race gets interesting.  Our Duke and Kilultagh Vic are contenders but are probably just a few pounds behind the main trio.
That trio for me are the well touted Mite Bite and Native River along with our selection Road To Respect.  Might Bite has proper credentials being a festival winner last year (RSA Chase) and this season a King George winner too.  Native River was third in this last year and looks a better horse now but we will stick with our Leopardstown Christmas Chase form which gave us an 8/1 winner yesterday.
Balko Des Flos followed home Road To Respect that day before easily beating hotpot Un De Sceaux in the Ryanair Chase here on Thursday and that form looks rock solid.  Our horse is still improving, stays well and handles the ground and could be crowned champion for Noel Meade and Gigginstown Stud.

4.10 (Foxhunter Challenge Cup) – FOXROCK

Likely shortish priced favourite Burning Ambition will be the one most punters follow and it’ll be no real surprise to see that one win, however Alan Fleming’s Foxrock has all the credentials for this and has one of the best jockeys available on board too.
Wonderful Charm and Caid Du Berlais should also be popular in the ring and should run on for place money, all things being equal.

4.50 (Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Hurdle) – BLOW BY BLOW

We have a strongly fancied favourite here in the shame of Diese Des Bieffes and to be fair he has a massive chance along with Mr Big Shot and Sire Du Berlais but it’s the ease with which he won last time that sets Blow By Blow Apart and despite going up sharply in the weights he looks to have a winning opportunity.

5.30 (Grand Annual) – NORTH HILL HARVEY

Our horse may be backed into favouritism by the time the race goes off and is expected to provide Dan and Harry Skelton with a well deserved festival winner in the finale.  Vaniteux looks the main danger so long as he comes back to form as expected after his surgery, while both Dolos and Le Prezien hold place chances for the Paul Nicholls team who could really do with a big win.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Cheltenham Festival 2018 Day Three: Yanworth To Outstay Them In Day Three Highlight

We could see an old favourite confirm a new lease of life in the Stayers’ Hurdle at 3.30 as the Cheltenham Festival 2018 passes its half-way mark.  Here’s what we think can do the business on day three:

1.30 (JLT Novices’ Chase) – TERREFORT

Nicky Henderson’s five-year-old is 2 from 2 since joining the stable from France including having won a Grade 1 race last time out at Sandown and for me he brings both the best form and the most potential into the race.  Soft going is fine as is the trip and he appears to be a very strong candidate.

Benatar of Gary Moore’s would be a confident second choice had he been doing his winning on softer going but that’s not to say he won’t handle it, while likely favourite Invitation Only looks certain to be on the premises as well under the genial Ruby Walsh.

2.10 (Pertemps Final) – LOUIS’ VAC POUCH

A hellishly competitive race as always and one in which luck will surely play a key part.  Phillip Hobbs’ Louis’ Vac Pouch however starred at Aintree in the November meeting and has been kept off the track since.  He handled the soft ground no problem that day over this trip and despite Cheltenham being a very different challenge to Liverpool, he is taken to score.

Messrs Glenloe, Sort It Out and Forza Milan who was beaten into second by the selection at Aintree all hold chances at varying prices but with any luck will all be fighting only for place money come 2.15.

2.50 (Ryanair Chase) – BALKO DES FLOS

Un De Sceaux is the likely short priced favourite here but does all his best work at two miles usually.  He did win this race last year but on ratings it wasn’t his best performance and was achieved on good ground, a far cry from what he’ll race on here.

Old favourite Cue Card is more solid in these conditions and if he can repeat what he did at Ascot last time the old-timer can outwit the jolly, however on the numbers I’d say Balko Des Flos put in the same sort of performance at Leopardstown last time over three miles and so given that it was his best ever run and that at seven he has more improvement in him, he seems a fair pick at a good price.

3.30 (Stayers’ Hurdle) – YANWORTH

Sam Spinner comes into this as favourite and it’s easy to see why.  A Grade 3 handicap hurdle win at Haydock was followed up with a win in the Long Walk Hurdle over Christmas at Ascot and that form entitles him to come into this with a huge chance, but ultimately he’s not the one for me.

Previously a top class two-mile hurdler, Yanworth was sent chasing this season and managed to win the Grade 2 Dipper around here but has been aimed at this race ever since then and frankly is the best horse in this race all things considered.  The fact that Yanworth is still only 8 means there could be more to come and I think that improvement will be unlocked over this trip.

4.10 (Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate) – LAST GOODBYE

His 2m5f win in a very tough handicap chase on soft ground at Leopardstown entitles our horse to come into this with a major opportunity and in a race where plenty hold chances, we’ll go with the rock solid form of the County Wexford-trained horse.

Six-year-old King’s Socks can still improve enough to take a hand in the finish here while Movewiththetimes will be popular on course for the combo of JP McManus, Paul Nicholls and Barry Gerraghty.

4.50 (Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle) – LAURINA

There may yet be some value in backing Maria’s Benefit who is on a 6-timer but to win she’ll have to hope for a mistake from the likely favourite Laurina.  Willie Mullins’ mare did the job really well on heavy ground at Fairyhouse last time on only her second hurdle start and will have been trained for this specifically.

Ratings suggest this is a two-horse race and while things are never quite that simple at the festival it would seem as though something totally unexpected will have to come from the clouds to sneak past the market leaders.

5.30 (Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup) – MISSED APPROACH

The debate rages on over whether or not horses are at an advantage having recently received wind operations, but there’s no doubt it has helped some of them and in the case of Missed Approach he’s a horse I’d have wanted to have backed anyway so the surgery me be a bonus.

Warren Greatrex is confident of a big run from his eight-year-old who may be troubled most by Nicky Henderson’s challenger Sugar Baron who’s been runner-up in two decent races this season.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Cheltenham Festival 2018 Day Two: Henderson To Score In Champion Chase Thriller

The festival steps up a gear on day two with a mouth-watering clash between Altior, Douvan and Min on the cards in the feature Queen Mother Champion Chase at 3.30 and there is great value to be had elsewhere on the card.

Huge handicaps the Coral Cup and the Fred Winter are on the card and we have nicely priced selections in both.  Here’s hoping for a profitable day at Prestbury Park!

1.30 (Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle) – NEXT DESTINATION

Samcro has been called a potential superstar and I won’t disagree with the sentiment.  He’s unbeaten his whole career so far and took his Grade One in style last time at Leopardstown.  That was over two miles though so I prefer to compare his second ever over hurdles run with the second run of Next Destination.

Both faced similar conditions over 2m4f and in my opinion Willie Mullins’ horse was more impressive, so up to 2m4f here I’d go for the value with the second favourite.

2.10 (RSA Novices’ Chase) – ELEGANT ESCAPE

More experienced over fences than some major rivals here despite being only a six-year-old, Elegant Escape won easily over this trip on heavy ground at Exeter last time and won’t shirk the challenge.  Monalee can improve into a place now up in trip while the tough Black Corton is sure to go well also.

2.50 (Coral Cup) – LE BREUIL

There’s always a chance of something going wrong in such big fields and these races have the look of a ‘stick a pin in’ type of contest, but we’ll fly in with a punt on Le Breuil of Ben Pauling’s.  95 days off the track is ideal for a horse who should have plenty in the tank and will handle the conditions.

William Henry and Burbank both hold good place chances and are sure to go well, however at prices like 14 and 16/1 overnight our improving six-year-old looks the one to be on and could take the money.

3.30 (Queen Mother Champion Chase) – ALTIOR

Unless there is a slight surprise regarding the returning Douvan, surely Altior at odds-against is one of the bets of the festival?  Having won last year’s Arkle easily, he is now 12 from 12 since going over jumps and is a bona fide superstar.

Douvan was sent off at 2/9 for this last year but including that race he’s been beaten twice now and has a long absence to overcome.  Stablemate Min would surely have a better chance of pressing the jolly but Ruby Walsh has plumped for the eight-year-old Douvan which doesn’t really scream of Min improving again from his win at Leopardstown  and he therefore shouldn’t be good enough to catch Nicky Henderson’s star.

4.10 (Glenfarclas Chase) – THE LAST SAMURI

Kim Bailey’s 10yo looks the perfect type for this cross-country test and is taken to score ahead of likely favourite Cause Of Causes.  The latter won this last year and in fact has won at three festivals in a row, a true crowd favourite, but it just may be that The Last Samuri proves to be a battle-hardened warrior in time having shown up well against the likes of Blaklion and Definitly Red in recent times.

4.50 (Fred Winter) – ACT OF VALOUR

Brian Ellison’s contender The King Of May has a lot to offer here at a pretty big price and cannot be underestimated having run extremely well on his stable debut in the Scottish Triumph Hurdle (Listed) but the improvement could come from Paul Nicholls’ ACT OF VALOUR and it’s him we’ll be backing.

An impressive win at Newcastle on hurdling debut has since been followed up by a second in the same race as the King Of May was third in and if that form holds up the way it’s expected to then he can score here at reasonable odds under Adrian Heskin.

5.30 (Weatherbys Champion Bumper) – CAREFULLY SELECTED

As always there’s a strong Irish challenge here and with that in mind we cannot disregard Joseph O’Brien’s Rhinestone who would look to hold every chance of getting at least some place money while Gordon Elliott’s Felix Desjy will also be popular in the ring.

Willie Mullins though is the king and he comes into this race with three proper chances in the shape of Blackbow, Tornado Flyer and our selection who I think achieved more on his bumper debut that the other contenders and so with natural improvement could have the beating of them here at a big price.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Cheltenham Festival 2018 Day One: Kalashnikov To Shoot Down Rivals During Festival Opener

The 2018 Cheltenham Festival kicks off with no less than four Grade One races on Tuesday and despite the heavy ground and healthy competition, betting opportunities abound at Prestbury Park for us.

With any luck Amy Murphy, Harry Whittingdon, Colin Tizzard and Fergal O’Brien can interrupt the Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson party with winners on day one and most likely all at great value prices as the bookies continue to run scared of the big names.

This year’s festival, on the opening day at least, promises to be a real test though with a better forecast for day two things could start to get easier for the equine stars of the show.  Here’s what we see as being the best bets on day one:

1.30 (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle) – KALASHNIKOV

We could be in for a very close finish here with top contenders Kalashnikov, Getabird and Summerville Boy all within a few pounds of each other but I just feel that the first named is more battle-hardened than when finishing four lengths behind Summerville Boy at Newbury this season.

Amy Murphy’s horse resumed improvement when winning the Betfair Hurdle and could prove too strong in the festival curtain-raiser.  First Flow and Paloma Blue also hold each-way chances.

2.10 (Arkle Chase) – SAINT CALVADOS

Luckily for punters the Arkle is generally won simply by the best horse in the race, the trouble is that we can’t all agree on which horse that is this year.  Favourite Footpad is admittedly impressive and would surprise nobody if coming home in front but his best performances having come over slightly further and having been beaten by next best Petit Mouchoir last year I feel there are doubts with him.

In Saint Calvados though I only see positives and perhaps even more improvement on the big day so he gets the vote for this Grade One, potentially giving Harry Whittingdon a huge career moment.

2.50 (Ultima Handicap Chase) – RAMSES DE TAILLEE

Despite his relative inexperience over the larger obstacles the vote goes to Ramses De Taillee to give David Pipe and Tom Scudamore the win.  Vintage Clouds may be the one for money on raceday and must be watched, potentially running into at least a place.

3.30 (Champion Hurdle) – FAUGHEEN

Nicky Henderson’s superstar Buveur D’Air comes into the race having won it last year and as a long odds-on favourite, however I can’t escape the fact that he took a big step forward to win this in 2017 on ground better than he had raced on before.

This year he faces deep going and could be outdone by the other bona fide superstar in the race in Faugheen.  Willie Mullins’ charge can regain the title he won in 2015 and despite his problems is still in training for a very good reason.  Wicklow Brave could be best of the rest.

4.10 (Mares’ Hurdle) – APPLE’S JADE

The likely favourite here for Gordon Elliott could have won this year in different company so seeing off these mares over this trip should be well within her wheelhouse.  Benie Des Dieux is solid enough and will lie in wait should there be any flaws in the jolly, but all things being equal should not be good enough to quite win it.

La Bague Au Roi can be best of the rest given she has talent but is probably better over further than this and so despite the stamina test this year running into the money should still be seen as success.

4.50 (National Hunt Chase) – SIZING TENNESSEE

One of the more experienced types in the field, he has strong claims based on his staying-on second to Yanworth here in January and arguably there is much more to come from him.  The ground was heavy that day so there are no concerns on that score and it seems the longer trip will only bring about more improvement from him.

Likely jolly Jury Duty has better form on paper than Sizing Tennessee but having already run over further we kind of know what to expect, whereas the tip hasn’t been fully exposed over longer distances.  Mossback and Rathvinden may run on for place money.

5.30 (Novices’ Handicap Chase) – BARNEY DWAN

Gloucestershire handler Fergal O’Brien has booked Noel Fehily for Barney Dwan and I wouldn’t be surprised whatsoever if he flies in to land a hat-trick and a famous festival win.

The 8yo won on the heavy going over hurdles and seems to need a decent stamina test so rates a fair bet at a value price to go in on day one.  Top trainer Willie Mullins brings Livelovelaugh to the party and it would be no big surprise to see him go well at a nice price while the market will no doubt speak in favour of De Plotting Shed and Any Second Now.