1:30 – Sky Bet Supreme Novices´ Hurdle Grade 1 (CLASS 1) (4yo+)
The Supreme is a cracker. I think Irving is a touch vulnerable, winning races like he has is impressive but off a slow pace on speed tracks is totally different to tomorrow. I think he could end up the best of them over hurdles though Vautour may be better suited by the race tomorrow.
Wicklow Brave has a huge engine but jumping is a big worry, same for Vaniteux who I can’t have at all. JOSSES HILL is the antepost fancy and he’d pick up the pieces if they went quickly. He should love the ground too. Gilgamboa and Western Boy are respected though I would advise a tiny saver on THREE KINGDOMS who is a good horse, stays further, will relish the ground and is not a 50/1 shot.
Antepost Advice – Josses Hill 1pt e/w @20/1 Paddy Power
Advice – Three Kingdoms 0.5pts e/w @50/1 generally
2:05 – Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase Grade 1 (CLASS 1) (5yo+)
A wide open Arkle. I think Champagne Fever, a two-time Festival winner already, is definitely the one to beat. Chasing has always been his ultimate path and though it didn’t go to plan when last seen before the new year, he should jump well tomorrow and be fine on the ground.
He stays well which always helps and has the speed for it too. Rock On Ruby has won two poor races and this could be a reality check, so too for Grandouet who is never a chaser for me. Trifolium and Dodging Bullets lack a touch of class, Valdez does have that for me and is a threat, but no bet.
2:40 – Baylis & Harding Affordable Luxury Handicap Chase Grade 3 (CLASS 1) (5yo+)
The first of the wide open Cheltenham handicaps. I think plenty of the market leaders are easily opposed, Hadrian’s Approach is a very sketchy jumper, Holywell has not impressed at all thus far over fences despite being obviously well treated. Cantlow I thought had a chance though I would still had rather seen a professional jockey on than a claimer.
Winner of two years ago Alfie Sherrin definitely has a good chance again, though 8/1 is short for him. Wrong Turn has a big weight hike to overcome while Time For Rupert has decent claims, certainly on old form.
I like GREEN FLAG most here after looking at the race for a while. He ran second to Annacotty in the Feltham which I think is pretty good form and was unlucky when unseating (not his fault) last time. He has a progressive profile, jumps well and could really appreciate the better ground.
Vintage Star has a pretty good chance even if he’s probably just handicapped out of it, but he does jump better now. FRUITY O’ROONEY is definitely worth a saver. He’s a big favourite of mine and I backed him for this two years ago when just touched off by Alfie Sherrin. He was also a gallant fifth in it last year on soft ground but I always feel he’s better on this sort of ground. He’s also a good deal lower in the weights and though he’s probably not the same horse now either, it’s hard to rule out a good run.
Advice – Green Flag 1pts e/w @16/1 Paddy Power
Fruity O’Rooney 0.5pts e/w @28/1 generally
3:20 – Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy Grade 1 (CLASS 1) (4yo+)
Certainly the best Champion Hurdle field I can remember. Firstly it’s worth saying that even though none of them can really be classed as an also ran, it would be surprising to see anything go close to topping the top 4 in the market who look well ahead of the rest.
Hopefully the presence of Captain Cee Bee will mean the pace isn’t a farce and if it is fast then Hurricane Fly, especially on this ground, is highly vulnerable. The two renewals he’s won of this were nowhere near as strong and at the tender age of 10 I think he is there to be shot at, at a track that doesn’t suit that much and on ground that I think is faster than ideal.
I have also always thought The New One and My Tent Or Yours were better than anything the Irish had or now have and I stick by it. There’s little between the pair on Christmas Hurdle form though at Cheltenham I’d definitely have the Twiston-Davies horse and he’s my antepost bet at 5/1.
With drying ground though My Tent Or Yours comes right into this. A lot will depend on the tactics of the race. The New One has a finishing speed that I feel nothing can match in the race but that has to be used to full effect by his jockey. Of the Irish lot, I was never a big fan of Our Conor but he’s really impressed me this season and the whole yeae has clearly revolved around the big one.
A stronger pace at this track and on better ground is enough for me to suggest he can come out the best of the Irish lot. For that reason I think it’s between those three and so I will be doing a tricast.
Antepost Advice – The New One 3pts win @5/1 Paddy Power
Advice – The New One/My Tent Or Yours/Our Conor 2pts combined tricast
4:00 – OLBG Mares´ Hurdle (Registered As The David Nicholson Mares´ Hurdle Race) Grade 2 (CLASS 1) (4yo+)
Everything again revolves around Quevega who bids to make history and become the first horse to win the same race for the sixth consecutive year, going one better than Golden Miller. I’d love to see her do it and many a wise judge has in the past doubted her and she’s always come up trumps.
There’s no way I’d be backing her though considering she looked as vulnerable as ever last year when outstaying Sirene D’Ainay late on up the hill and though she backed it up with a comfortable success at Punchestown, it still would take a brave man to go all in tomorrow.
In terms of opposition, nothing is within an incredible 22lb of her on official ratings but she won’t run to that 167 rating tomorrow, Cockney Sparrow leads the opposition on ratings now stepped up in trip. They may go quite slowly so her speed would come into it but she’s not been crying out for the trip and on pedigree, being by a Guineas winner, there’s doubts for me.
Glens Melody definitely needs soft ground and the French horse is not in the same form this year. That leaves HIGHLAND RETREAT for me who even though stays further than this and likes soft ground, she handles better and is simply now a really admirable mare since her wind operation in the summer.
She won a very strong Wincanton race over 2m6f this season which has worked out extremely well and has won twice since, the latest at Ascot in a gruelling test over three miles. With a lack of pace I think she can serve it up to Quevega from the front and the favourite will need to be on form to get past her so the 16/1 e/w appeals.
Advice – Highland Retreat 1pt e/w @16/1 Ladbrokes
5:15 – Rewards4Racing Novices´ Handicap Chase (Listed Race) (CLASS 1) (5yo+ 0-140)
I have little opinion on the NH Chase so am going straight to the Rewards4Racing Novices’ Handicap chase which is a good race this year. I am still not that taken by PENDRA who has clear ability and is without doubt a better horse than his mark, but I still think he isn’t yet the biggest fan of the hustle and bustle of races like this.
Saying that he did get a shocker of a ride last year in the Coral Cup, is a very good jumper of a fence, will love the ground and trip and I would love to see him win for Charlie obviously, so even with a bit of heart ruling head, I will back him.
I can see the reasoning behind why many like horses such as Ericht, Manyriverstocross (jumps very well) and Art Of Logistics with headgear on. The more experienced Attaglance is intriguing but I think he needs a bit further on a flatter track. Baby Mix and Present View are very much respected by CLOSE HOUSE gets the vote.
I have always liked this horse and though he is still a maiden over fences and hasn’t jumped without mistakes, I think the blinkers will help with that and he’s on a brilliant mark for the race. I was impressed actually by how he raced on his chasing debut when falling here and again he travelled nicely behind Oscar Whisky and Wonderful Charm.
His last run was over too short a trip on heavy ground and was a perfect way to get the handicap mark down. This could be his time to shine.
At a huge price Up To Something is worth a small bet as now way is he a 40/1 chance. He didn’t stay 3m last time but before then had impressed in his jumping and the ground will be ideal tomorrow, with Noel Fehily being on board being a boost too.
Advice – Pendra 2pts win @9/1 Stan James
Close House 1pt e/w @16/1 generally