FINALLY! Finally it’s here, after months of preparation, debate and ante-post ups and downs Cheltenham 2019 is upon us.
Every race is a fascination, and the so-called main ITV events – today’s Champion Hurdle, tomorrow’s Champion Chase, Thursday’s Sun Racing Stayers’ Hurdle and Friday’s Gold Cup all promise much intrigue.
For most winning is quite simply what it is all about, so let’s just get straight to it and try and go through the card on Day 1!
Of course the feature this afternoon is the Unibet Champion Hurdle, in which Buveur d’Air bids to emulate See You Then and Istabraq by banging in a third Champion.
I have to take Nicky Henderson’s star on, for all I respect him. In his Champion successes he’s beaten Melon and Mick Jazz, plus My Tent or Yours and Petit Mouchoir, and while he can only beat what is there they were not strong renewals.
Today, getting 7lb, the two mares Apple’s Jade and Laurina will be a potent threat.
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Apple’s Jade has been in tremendous form this season, and was awesome at Fairyhouse earlier in the campaign.
However, Laurina might just be a superstar for Ireland’s champion trainer Willie Mullins.
Unbeaten in six starts for Mullins, Laurina has destroyed every horse that has seen her. And while she’s not faced the test she does today, she might just be a monster in the making. I hope so. Come on Ruby Walsh.
The meeting opens with the Skybet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, and provided the weather hasn’t turned the ground desperate, I believe Aramon has a great each-way chance for Mullins again.
My hope was beaten by stable companion Klassical Dream last time at Leopardstown, but he might have won if he’d had the rail and Paul Townend should have a good spin at decent odds.
It’s the Racing Post Arkle after the Supreme, and each-way mover has been Hardline in recent days, who is down in trip after finishing third to La Bague au Roi.
He had beaten Getabird before that and must have place claims at least.
Next up is the Grade 3 Ultima Handicap Chase, and to be quite frank it looks a bit of a nightmare.
Mister Whitaker is interesting up in trip, but I’ll have a few quid on recent Cheltenham winner Beware The Bear.
He’s up in the weights now for Nicky Henderson, but he stays very strongly and ran well in this contest last year.
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For many the Nap of the day comes in the 4.10pm, the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle. Defending champion Benie des Dieux is considered the best chance of Mullins having a winner this week, and as I am hoping for a first day treble let’s hope she goes in!
Rich Ricci’s tough sort has not raced since April but has outstanding claims if at her best.
The penultimate race on the card is the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase, and the one that catches the eye is A PLUS TARD, who seems to run his best races in big, competitive fields which is a bonus.
Henry de Bromhead trains for Cheveley Park Stud and Rachael Blackmore has an excellent chance on a horse who stays well and will appreciate a decent gallop.
Finally, the National Hunt Challenge Cup for amateurs over a gruelling extended 3m7f.
I have long thought OK Corral will take some beating, but I’ll back Impulsive Star each-way at double digit odds.
He was impressive in a tough heat at Warwick last time and should give Gold Cup winner Sam Waley-Cohen a big run. Good luck everyone. And hope for a Yeeehaaa or two!