Cheltenham Races, Tuesday March 10th, the opening day of the Festival
Previews by Will Reilly
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (1:30pm)
Nicky Henderson’s highly-promising Shishkin and Willie Mullins’ Leopardstown Grade 1-winner Asterion Forlonge have dominated the ante-post market. Both horses are owned by Joe and Marie Donnelly, who also own last year’s Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo. No British-based favourite has won this race since Forest Sun in 1990. Willie Mullins has won the race four times and been second twice in the last seven years.
The ‘Arkle’ (2:10pm)
Ireland has won this race five times in the last ten years. Willie Mullins has won it four times in the last five. His main hope this year looks to be Cash Back, who his trainer has likened to Un De Sceaux – tough, talented, loves to race – although he finished second to ‘Arkle’ favourite Notebook, who will be ridden by Rachael Blackmore, at Leopardstown on February 1st.
Joseph O’Brien rates Grade 1 BarOneRacing.com Drinmore Novice Chase winner Fakir d’Oudairies as just about his best chance of a winner at this year’s Festival.
The Champion Hurdle (3:30pm
It’s the feature race of day one and the blue riband event of hurdling. Leading owner JP McManus has won it for the last three years, in five of the last ten years, and eight times in total, including with the great Istabraq (1998-2000). No owner has won it more times than the legendary ‘JP’.
He owns the favourite, Epatante, who is trained by Nicky Henderson, who has won the race seven times (including two of the last three with Buveur d’Air) and will be ridden by Barry Geraghty, who has won the race three times (and been placed twice) on his last nine Champion Hurdle rides.
The Mares’ Hurdle (4:10pm)
This sees one of the clashes of the week, Willie Mullins’ Benie Des Dieux against Henry de Bromhead’s unbeaten Honeysuckle. Benie Des Dieux won this race two years ago and was three lengths clear of the field when falling at the last flight last year. Last year’s winner Roksana is also in the line-up.
The other races…
Ultima Handicap Chase (2:50pm): six of the last nine winners carried 11st2lb or more to victory; Kildisart could be interesting in first-time cheek-pieces. Discorama, who was narrowly beaten at last year’s Festival, will be racing in a tongue-tie for the first time and for the first time since a wind operation.
Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase (4:50pm): nine of the last ten winners have been priced at between 13/2 and 12/1
The National Hunt Chase (5:30pm): often referred to as the “four-miler” but now run over three miles and six furlongs. Derek O’Connor, Patrick Mullins and Jamie Codd have won this race twice each in the last nine years. Patrick is on this year’s favourite, Carefully Selected, who is unbeaten in three runs over fences and finished second in the Champion Bumper at the Festival two years ago.
It all adds up to a superb day of racing with which to kick start the four-day “Greatest Show On Turf”.
1:30pm – Asterion Forlonges: he can give Willie Mullins a fifth win in the race in the last eight years
2:10pm – Cash Back: something regularly seen as an offer at Bar One Racing!
2:50pm – Kildisart: first-time cheek-pieces could spark a return to form
3:30pm – Epatante: She schooled brilliantly recently and will receive the mares’ seven-pound allowance. Darver Star has been one of the best-backed horses in our ante-post Cheltenham book. Last year’s Triumph Hurdle first and third, Pentland Hills and Coeur Sublime, will be racing for the first time since a wind op.
4:10pm – Benie Des Dieux: Willie Mullins rates her as just about his strongest chance of the week
4:50pm – My ‘two against the field’ are Galvin, who has a likely look about him, and Espoir De Guye, who looks progressive and won’t mind any rain that falls
5:30pm: Carefully Selected: a short price but an obvious contender for Willie Mullins and may well end what could have been another outstanding day for a trainer who has won more races – 65 of them – than any other at Cheltenham Festivals, although Nicky Henderson is just one behind him on 64. If you’re looking for something at a bigger price, your starting point is to look at what Derek O’Connor (Forza Milan) and Jamie Codd (Ravenhill) are riding.