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Cheltenham Festival Day One Preview

HORSE RACING: Top Pundit Paul Ferguson, author of “Jumpers To Follow” previews all the top racing ahead of day one at the Cheltenham Festival on Tuesday 16 March 2010 at Prestbury Park.

St Patrick’s Day may not be until Wednesday, but the Irish party will get going early once Dunguib gets the raiders and favourite-backers alike off to the best possible start in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Last year’s brilliant Champion Bumper winner has won all four starts over hurdles on home soil this winter, without breaking sweat. The seven-year-old looked better than ever when winning the Deloitte Novice Hurdle last time, where he brushed aside the smart Fionnegas with the minimum of fuss.

Looking for the negatives, a lot has been made of the fact he isn’t a fluent hurdler, but his technique doesn’t look that bad to me and it doesn’t appear to stop him or make him lose ground during a race. If you watch the Deloitte again, he flew the last flight, which leads me to believe that his hurdling will improve in a strongly run race such as the Supreme.

Hopefully the layers will be out in force and he will reach Evens on the track, but with the Irish fully behind him, he is more likely to shorten from the 4/5 currently available with Labdrokes and Bet365 (both firms Non-Runner No Bet and Guaranteed Odds).

As well as Dunguib, Irish trained horses currently head the betting for four of the other five races on the opening day. The cross country event usually goes there way and the market for the David Nicholson is dominated by four Irish mares, with last year’s winner Quevega the one to be with.

Willie Mullins’ six-year-old outclassed her rivals twelve months ago and went on to finish a close up third to Solwhit and Champion Hurdler, Punjabi, at the Punchestown Festival. Only sighted once since, when flopping in France, she is reportedly back to somewhere near her very best and a reproduction of last year’s form should be good enough.

Colm Murphy’s Voler La Vedette is most progressive and would appear as the obvious danger, but she is almost certainly better over a shorter trip and, with a strong gallop likely, Quevega should have far too much staying power for her compatriot.

The Irish challenge for this year’s Arkle is headed Captain Cee Bee and Sizing Europe, who was sent off 2/1 favourite for the Champion Hurdle on that same day that Captain Cee Bee won the Supreme back in 2008. Both have strong claims in what looks a cracking renewal.

The pick of the English has to be Somersby who jumped magnificently when making it two from two over fences in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown last time.

He had earlier beaten four rivals in impressive fashion at Warwick, where he again tackled the tricky fences down the back straight with aplomb.

Some people will point to the fact that he has actually only beaten seven rivals in two races, but he handled the hurly-burly of a big field when third in last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and that form now looks even better, with Go Native and Medermit towards the top of the Champion Hurdle market.

Somersby will be ridden for the first time by Robert Thornton on Tuesday, but that is not an issue neither as the strapping son of Second Empire has had five riders in eight career starts to date and is clearly a straightforward ride.

He looks pretty bombproof and, though I don’t often suggest backing 6/1 shots each-way, I think this is an exception as he will be very hard to kick out of the frame.

Another to note in the race, at a massive price, is Kangaroo Court should he be allowed to take his chance, which seems more likely as the ground looks like being decent for the start of the meeting.

Emma Lavelle’s charge is two from two over fences and has beaten some useful opponents in winning at Uttoxeter in September and here at Cheltenham in October. Don’t let the long lay-off put you off as he was deliberately given a mid-season break as he can’t handle winter ground.

The fact that this free-going sort flopped in last season’s Supreme is a slight worry, but it is hoped that he is a more mature horse this time around and his price takes this in to account. I had originally thought he might skip the Festival and wait for the 2m4f novice chase at Aintree, but if the ground is decent he may well take his chance and his odds don’t really reflect his ability.

The other horse to back on day one is Bensalem who looks potentially well treated for his handicap debut in the William Hill Trophy. A 150-rated novice hurdler last season, the Turtle Island seven-year-old always threatened to make up in to a better chaser, but things haven’t gone his way in his first season over the larger obstacles.

He scrambled home on his chase debut at Plumpton in November, where the track was far from ideal, then he probably had a hard time seeing the fences at Exeter on his next start in extremely thick fog. He was beaten a couple of lengths over an inadequate trip that day, but the proximity of the third horse gave the impression that it was a falsely run race (we have no proof of this as the runners only came in to view at the last fence).

He returned to action at Haydock in January when he looked set to serve it up to chase debutant Diamond Harry before departing three out. The old advisories renewed rivalry (also clashed over hurdles last season when there was just half-a-length between them) at Newbury last month and this time Bensalem got to within two lengths of Nick Williams’ stable star, but the result may have been different had Bensalem not demolished the cross fence.
Clearly he has to jump better at the Festival, but novices can sometimes improve for racing against more horses at a proper gallop and, from a mark of 143, it is worth chancing that happens with him.

It is worth remembering that Alan King saddled Fork Lightning to win this as a novice back in 2004 and the trainer seems really keen on taking the handicap route over the competitive looking RSA Chase.

I can’t end my Tuesday preview without mentioning the Champion Hurdle, but the two-mile division is lacking a real star at present and, as a result, the Champion looks a wide-open affair that I’d rather watch than get involved in.

I think the race could be run three or four times and we would get a different result on each occasion.

5 pt win: Dunguib (Supreme Novice): 4/5 (Lads/bet365)
1 pt e/w: Somersby (Arkle); 6/1 (general)
1 pt win: Bensalem (William Hill); 7/1 (Paddy Power)
2 pt win: Quevega (David Nicholson); 11/8 (Hills)

Other to note: Kangaroo Court (Arkle); 40/1 (William Hill)

Click this link for the best odds on every race at the Cheltenham Festival and click this link to claim over £2500 in free bets

“Jumpers To Follow – £9.95
Paul Ferguson’s “Jumpers To Follow” 2009-2010 can be bought from “High Stakes Books“.
Just £9.95Click here to order your copy
This year’s Foreword is written by Charlie McCann, head of PR at Stan James, who describes the author as a “most articulate, informative and knowledgeable racing professional.”
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