• Wed 26 Oct, 2016
  • 08:45 BST
  • 04:45 EST (BST-4)
  • 10:45 CEST (BST+2)

Alex Hammond’s Cheltenham Tue

Sky Sports’ Alex Hammond fancies the Irish to dominate on day one of the Cheltenham Festival: | Skybet Bet £5 Get £20 Free

Day one…the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle sees the first anglo-Irish clash of the week and it’s fair to say the Irish should dominate on Tuesday.

Douvan is the hot favourite for Willie Mullins and my fellow panellist Rich Ricci. This horse has loads of natural ability and was incredibly impressive winning the Moscow Flyer at Punchestown last time out. He seemingly has it all; plenty of speed, but will stay further. If he gets off the mark in this the roof will come off the new grandstand and a few pints of the black stuff will be downed. He could be a banker, but he’ll be short enough. He’s the glamour horse in the race who still has it to prove against top horses and I couldn’t back him at the prices. L’Ami Serge represents Nicky Henderson who has a great record in this race. This horse is unbeaten for his new trainer in 3 starts and is more battle hardened than the favourite. He was impressive when winning at Sandown in the Tolworth and if you’re looking for an alternative to the short priced favourite, you could do worse than back this horse. He’s had a fair bit of experience and he’s professional.

The horse I’d be prepared to give another chance to is another from the Willie Mullins stable. Alvisio Ville had a very decent reputation, but was beaten 12 lengths in Deloitte Novice Hurdle (won by Nicholls Canyon). The experience will have helped though and he may be one to back each way. This horse works like a machine at home and I’ll give him another chance before he’s labelled a ‘morning glory’. Denis O’Regan was on our panel at Leeds Town Hall and he rode in the Deloitte. He said it rode like a proper race, and that bodes well for my each way selection.

And on to the second anglo-Irish clash! They will go flat out round here and these novices’ will have to be foot perfect. That is something that concerns me about the short priced favourite, Un De Sceaux. Another from the all conquering Willie Mullins stable, he is super talented, but he’s also highly strung and the pressure cooker that is the Cheltenham festival will be a whole new experience for him. He got his act together after unfortunate fall at Thurles, and has won his last two. He is an exciting horse, but I couldn’t back him at a really short price incase he boils over. His exuberant jumping may be against him at this sort of pace too, but it won’t be a surprise to see him annihilate the opposition as there appears to be nothing with the same untapped potential in the field. Vibrato Valtat represents Paul Nicholls and he’s a horse that has looked ungenuine in the past as he carries his head high. However, his breathing was an issue and has seemingly been sorted out and as a result he’s hugely improved. He was impressive in the Kingmaker at Warwick latest and the way this race is run may just suit him. He’s not for me though.

Clarcam is a fellow Irish raider and trained by someone who could also have a great festival in Gordon Elliott. He was unlucky to fall when going well in Fred Winter last year and was beaten by Un De Sceaux in Irish Arkle latest. You can’t be scared of one horse though and he can run well. Josses Hill is a horse I had high hopes for at the beginning of the season, but Nicky Henderson’s novice hasn’t looked as convincing this term. He’s likely to improve for a good pace over this trip though and he makes this a fascinating clash. If I was going to have a bet here it would be on Clarcam, who probably wouldn’t be good enough, unless the favourite fails to complete.

Ned Stark is the one for me here. Alan King thinks this is his best chance at the meeting. I fancied him when he won Towton Novices’ Chase at Wetherby latest, the trip suits he’ll love the drying ground and he is improving.

No Surprise that Ruby Walsh has plumped for Faugheen over Hurricane Fly. The Willie Mullins trained favourite is unbeaten in eight and won the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton last time out. If you were being picky, you’d say he still has it to prove against the established top level hurdles, but he could well blow them away. He’s plenty short enough though. As a result, I’m with The New One. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ hurdler has won all five since being an incredibly unlucky loser in last year’s race. He hasn’t always impressed in those wins and he has had a tendency to jump right under pressure. However, he has had to deal with some tough conditions, most notably at Haydock last time out. He impressed me in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham on his penultimate start though and conditions will be much more suitable at the festival.

We will probably see the best of Jezki this week as he excels at this track and Jessie Harrington will have primed last year’s winner for a repeat performance. He got the worst of the battle with Hurricane Fly on all three starts this season, which was a similar story to last season and we should see a different result here. He has been overshadowed by the exploits of Hurricane Fly in Ireland this season but I fully expect him to reverse those placings. On to Hurricane Fly then and he’s been a marvel, but I don’t think the 11 year old will win his third Champion Hurdle, and the better surface won’t help his cause.

This is a one horse race as Annie Power is a worthy successor to Quevega’s crown. Despite the fact she has been off since May she can win here, albeit at a very short price. Her only career defeat came in last year’s World Hurdle (2nd to More of That) and it’s hard to see her being beaten, even after a break.

I’m gutted that Very Wood goes for the RSA Chase as I fancied him to win this for Gigginstown and trainer Noel Meade, he runs in the RSA instead. Gigginstown have Wounded Warrior in the race instead and this big horse looks like he’ll improve for the step up to 4 miles.

Thomas Crapper is the horse I’ll be with here for trainer Robin Dickin. He may not have won since Nov 2013, and may not be a prolific winner, but his record at Cheltenham is good. He has festival form too as he was 2nd to Don Poli in the Martin Pipe last year. This will be his handicap debut over fences and he may not be badly treated.

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