Is a replica of this what we are going to see tomorrow at about 2.20 p.m.? I think so. This horse, Champagne Fever, truly deserves the title “Cheltenham specialist”. His ability to power up the hill after a fast two miles is vitally important. His prep races have been just that and this is the day that matters.
What of the opposition? Trifolium is a serious contender and rightly now second favourite. His win in the Irish Arkle was hugely impressive but Felix Yonger needs a further trip (more of that later this week). Rock On Ruby is a fine horse but has not been properly tested over fences at this level and you have to think that, at his age, this is an afterthought. I have Valdez running well in third place and the others distant. So there’s a trifecta to start the week!
Now for the remainder of the card.
1.30 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
This is between the top three. Several are there for a day out for the owners (nothing wrong with that!). Irving could live up to the hype and Vautour is very good but, notwithstanding Ruby’s decision to go with him, I’m sticking with my prior selection Wicklow Brave, an impressive horse and consistent. So I’m choosing to oppose Ruby but, hey, you have to do these things sometimes!
2.40 3m 1f Handicap Chase
This is much more my type of race. Alfie Sherrin is the confident choice and the selection of AP McCoy. I can’t claim this because several people have observed that he’s been lined up for this and it’s worked out for him. The prep has been perfect and the opposition is not great. I’ll definitely be on Nigel Twiston Davies’ Tour Des Champs for a place.
3.20 2m 110y Champion Hurdle
I inserted the 110y for the proper distance of the Champion Hurdle. It’s not often that it’s really made a difference but what certainly has is the ability to stay up the hill. You need a horse that stays a good deal further than two miles on a flat park course and it amazes me how often people miss that (me included!). I think that top level course form is hugely important and that is why my shortlist is narrowed down to Hurricane Fly and Our Conor. Dessie Hughes knows how to win this race (Hardy Eustace whose profile was not dissimilar to Our Conor). I will be delighted if Hurricane Fly wins but my money will be on Our Conor – obviously up to this standard, capable of staying up the hill and likely to have been fine tuned for this. Barry Connell will not be bothered about the absence of The Tullow Tank from the Festival if he captures the hurdling Blue Riband.
4.00 2m 4f Mares’ Hurdle
Ignore those trying to talk it up as a contest, this will be the easiest ever win for Quevega and she’ll absolutely dominate this lot, like she has when facing inferior Irish opposition after her previous Cheltenham wins. This is the banker of the meeting and 4/6 and 5/6 currently on offer is a gift. Get on now in all combinations because she’ll be much shorter at the off. WP says that she’s had an ideal preparation. If you’re brave then there’s a good case for putting all your week’s fund on this one. I’m not quite that brave but I can’t contemplate her losing!
As an aside, one of my biggest failings for the Festival has been betting on all or most of the races. Having followed the NH season avidly, there is no requirement to bet on every race (albeit that there is a temptation to do so!). My best returns have been based on picking four or five horses out of 27 races (I think that’s right) and believing in what you’ve seen.
4.40 4m Amateurs’ Race
So, having said that, I’m now choosing a horse for a race I should perhaps be avoiding because of its tendency to turn up a long odds winner! I’m all over ShutTheFrontDoor. This horse has a perfect profile for this race. Nina is riding, Foxrock with Katie Walsh on board is a threat, Shotgun Paddy deserves respect, but I can’t see my selection being beaten!
5.15 2m 4f Novices’ Handicap Chase
Now this is one I’d avoid. I have friends who have “got out” on the last on day one on several occasions but I never have. I think that it’s between Art of Logistics and Present View and if I’m overflowing with money by then (I very much doubt that I will be) I might have a few quid on the latter.
So, here’s the betting summary:
Trifecta: 2.05 1 Champagne Fever, 2 Trifolium, 3 Valdez
Lucky 15: Champagne Fever, Alfie Sherrin, Our Conor, Quevega
1.30 Wicklow Brave
2.05 Champagne Fever
2.40 Alfie Sherrin
3.20 Our Conor
5.15 Present View