Well, here we are, under 24 hours from the Cheltenham roar as the Supreme gets under way. The ground in my garden is squelchy and the rain is set in for the day. It’s scheduled to be the same at Cheltenham until 11.00 p.m. so we can now safely say that the going will be heavy all round. It’s hard to overestimate the effect that this will have on racing, particularly up the hill. Expect horses with a turn of foot to find nothing at the finish and horses with a decent lead at the home turn fading badly. The last time the Festival started with proper soft ground was in 2013 and the week included winners at 28/1, three at 25/1, 33/1 and 50/1 and just eight favourites won. The last time we had soft/heavy ground was as long ago as 1995 when the Supreme was won by Willie Mullins’ Tourist Attraction at 25/1.
Simon Claisse has reported this morning that “there isn’t much standing water around” which, of course, means that there is some. Expect significant non-runners on the day.
The news as I write is that Altior is lame this morning with pus in his foot (although might still run) and We Have A Dream is unlikely to run in the Triumph. Douvan has been declared for the Champion Chase, scotching suggestions that he might be diverted to the Ryanair.
The ground has put paid to any but the most obvious multiple selections. Winners will be harder than usual to come by.
Of course there are lots of bookie offers but one of note is with Paddy Power who are offering money back as a free bet on all losers if the SP favourite wins on all day one races.
1.30 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
The top seven in the betting have all shortened with Getabird current favourite at 2/1, followed by Kalashnikov at 5/1, Summerville Boy and First Flow 11/1, Mengli Khan and Paloma Blue 14/1 and Claimantakinforgan 16/1 (22/1 bar). I’ve already said that I think that this is a two horse race between the leading two in the market. I think that Getabird is a false price because of its connections and I’m firmly with Kalashnikov to follow up on his ideal prep with a mud-spattered victory in the most valuable handicap hurdle of the year at Newbury last month. He’s the form selection and certainly in with as good a chance as the favourite so the price of the selection appeals.
Here’s Amy Murphy talking about Kalashnikov’s chance:
Getabird has won on soft and heavy ground and over 2m 4f and therefore should not be inconvenienced by the going. He should improve on his runs to date but Ruby Walsh thinks that he’s “short enough”.
Of the others First Flow has won on heavy on his last two outings at Haydock and Newbury and can fill the frame.
2.10 Arkle Chase
A small field for the Arkle is not unusual but just five runners (as matters stand) is disappointing. This is one of the races that was (very unusually for the Festival) re-opened on Sunday.
Robinshill (125/1) has no chance and I was already strongly against Brain Power (12/1) (form 1UF) before the ground turned against him. That leaves Footpad, Petit Mouchoir and Saint Calvados. I’ve heard so many people say in previews that Petit Mouchoir’s hurdles form is better than Footpad’s but it’s a chase and the latter has well and truly come into his own over fences. Petit Mouchoir (100/30) has been overtaken by Saint Calvados (3/1) as second favourite and that makes sense given the conditions.
Saint Calvados has sprung to prominence on the strength of one, albeit very impressive, win in the Grade 2 Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick on soft ground.
Footpad’s price of 5/4 is a steal. I would have him at 4/6. I’ve already pointed out that his Auteuil experience is a big asset and his form there – 112 – on soft, very soft and heavy reinforces that view. This is no tougher assignment than his win in the Irish Arkle last month.
Here he is winning the Prix Alain du Breuil on Auteuil soft in 2016:
2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase
Beware The Bear* (e/w) / Vintage Clouds* (e/w)
This is a race that could well produce a long odds winner. Having said that, there are several candidates with good form on soft and heavy who are worthy of consideration.
On the contrary, long time ante-post favourite Gold Present has not run on soft ground since November 2015 when he was pulled up at Bangor.
I try to avoid favourites where possible but I completely get why Coo Star Sivola is now 5/1 favourite. He was an easy winner of his last outing over three miles on soft ground at Exeter, albeit that he didn’t beat that much. However, I think that his price is too short. He was very nearly my selection and, unlikely though it is, any drift in the price would see me backing him. An entirely plausible winner.
Regular readers will know that I don’t have any time for Singlefarmpayment (6/1) who has consistently failed to deliver.
Beware the Bear (14/1) is a fine horse. He was pulled up in the Welsh National after a couple of mistakes but was a fine winner of the Rehearsal Chase on soft at Newcastle last December (beating Yala Enki and Wakanda among others). He has winning form on heavy ground. He’ll need to jump better than he does sometimes and, if he does, I can see him (one of the few) staying well up the hill.
Vintage Clouds (8/1) is another reliable stayer on soft ground. He began his season with a win at Aintree and followed up with a second to Clan des Obeaux at Haydock on heavy ground. He kept on for a commendable staying on fourth in the Welsh National (again on heavy ground) and was second (yet again on heavy) in the Towton Chase at Wetherby last month. As such he represents excellent each way value.
By the way, there are no Irish runners in this race.
3.30 Champion Hurdle
Buveur d’Air***** (n.b.) / Wicklow Brave* (e/w)
I’m interested to see that connections have declared my former favourite Charli Parcs in this day one highlight. I’m afraid that the current 100/1 is fair. He’s assumed to be here as a pacemaker for the favourite.
The ground should not inconvenience Buveur d’Air (8/15) whose last three wins have been on soft and who also has winning form on heavy (Sandown in February 2017 when, according to the in-running comments he “cruised into the lead”). He is head and shoulders above the opposition and the ground may only to serve to extend the margin of victory. I expect a shorter price at the off.
Here’s Buveur d’Air winning last year:
For a dual purpose horse Wicklow Brave (14/1), winner of the 2015 County Hurdle, has surprisingly good form on heavy ground. He’s a bit in and out but could just turn in a good one here. He can be fussy at the start so that’s another factor to take into account.
Faugheen is currently 6/1 second favourite and this has to be all about what was rather than what is. I saw him in the parade ring at Dublin last month and he looked majestic. However, I’m afraid that coming second to Supasundae is simply not good enough.
Yorkhill has form on heavy ground but that’s not his problem. This is an afterthought and there can be no confidence in him turning it round here.
Elgin has an each way shout with his win on soft over course and distance in the Greatwood last November but most of his decent form is on good/good to soft.
4.10 Mares’ Hurdle
This one is short and sweet. I don’t see any serious opposition to Apple’s Jade who is on a six-timer, including this race last year. She has winning form on heavy.
Here’s Apple’s Jade toughing it out in this race last year:
Second favourite Benie des Dieux has been chasing in her last three races so it is hard to see that this was the target.
La Bague Au Roi is a fine mare but not in the same league as the favourite.
4.50 National Hunt Amateurs’ Novices’ Chase
Jury Duty is a fair favourite with the redoubtable Coddfather on board. However, my selection is the very progressive, soft ground stayer Ms Parfois at an appealing 7/1.
Over four miles this race will be attritional and I see no more than a handful of finishers, one of whom could be Rathvinden, although the 13/2 is too short for my liking.
5.30 Close Brothers Novices’ Chase
De Plotting Shed is a well handicapped favourite.
I don’t have any strong views in this race but, of the others, I like Testify each way at 12/1. He won well over the same distance in a Grade 2 on heavy at Haydock last time out and should have no problem staying on when others have given up the ghost.
My bets placed for the day
1.30 Kalashnikov** win 5.2/1
2.10 Footpad****** win 1.04/1
2.50 Beware The Bear* 13.5/1 e/w
3.30 Wicklow Brave* w/o fav 5/1
4.10 Apples’s Jade*** win 4/6
4.50 Ms Parfois** win 7/1
5.30 Testify* win 9.5/1
Footpad/Apple’s Jade double** 2/1