Twelve will go to post for the Cheltenham Festival curtain-raiser the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Willie Mullins will saddle 1/3rd of the field including BetVictor’s 13/8 favourite Douvan who has looked top-drawer in winning both starts, including in Grade 2 company, since joining the yard from his native France last summer. There is no reason why he shouldn’t cope with the faster ground expected this afternoon but I have been very taken with L’Ami Serge (1.30) so far this season and the Nicky Henderson trained 5-year-old (3/1 at BetVictor) gets a narrow vote.
The selection also has to prove that he acts on ground quicker than soft but there was rain forecast for Monday afternoon and he looked a class act when landing the Tolworth Hurdle (Grade One in name only) at Sandown back in January. There will be many column inches written about AP McCoy, riding in his final Festival, this week and the champion jockey rides Jollyallan, who should appreciate the ground, for Harry Fry. He looks every inch a chaser and this time next year we may well be discussing his Arkle chance.
The odds would suggest Un De Sceaux (8/13) has to be pointed in the right direction to win this year’s Arkle but I’m not convinced although he is a supremely talented animal. Josses Hill (2.05) finished runner up in the Supreme beaten 6L by Vautour last year and the combination of a fast pace, better ground and being ridden more prominently will see him in a better light than so far this season. At 9/1 with BetVictor he is the each way alternative.
We are paying five places in the Festival Handicap Chase and having already recommended Pendra at 16/1 in my antepost column last week he is now far too short at 5/1 although he remains the most likely winner. Barrakilla (2.40) looks to have been crying out for a step up to 3m in his two starts so far this season and with Evan Williams having done us a favour with Timesawastin at the weekend Barrakilla can reward each way support at 14/1 with BetVictor.
Eight will go to post for the Champion Hurdle and, although you are arguably backing potential over the formbook, Faugheen (3.20) must be the selection for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh. The selection is unbeaten in nine careers starts and could not have been more impressive when not coming off the bridle in the Xmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Remember our opening day offer of 6/1 (Max £5) for new customers at BetVictor if Mullins saddles a winner on the opening day (current odds 1/20) and Faugheen (11/10) it is for me with Ruby Walsh deserting dual winner Hurricane Fly who is bidding to become the first 11-year-old to win the race since Sea Pigeon back in 1981.
The OLBG Mares’ Hurdle looks at the mercy of Annie Power making her belated seasonal reappearance although from a betting perspective I am more interested in backing Glens Melody (4.00) each way at 9/2 or in our market without Annie Power in the race. The mare finished runner up to Quevega in the corresponding race last year and 7/4 looks a very fair price although Nicky Henderson does think an awful lot of Polly Peachum.
Very Wood (4.40) looked a thorough stayer when landing the Albert Bartlett under Paul Carberry last year and his sister Nina is in the plate for the 4m National Hunt Chase. The selection returned to his best when scoring in Grade 2 company last time and at 7/2 he must go close for Noel Meade; the lightly-raced 10-y-old Perfect Gentleman has been laid out for the race for Mullins and looks overpriced at 12/1 but Very Wood (7/2 at BetVictor) gets the nod in a race that favourites have an excellent recent record winning three of the last four renewals.
I have nailed my colours to Stellar Notion (5.15) in the finale and note BetVictor are offering ¼ odds five places on the race; the selection is into 12/1 (from 20s) and as an alternative I feel both Little Jon (14s) and Thomas Crapper (7/1) are potentially very well treated especially the latter who is another who has been laid out for the race.
The waiting is almost over; will Millie Mullins take Cheltenham by storm on the opening day? Remember that 6/1 opening day Mullins offer and additional places in two of tomorrow’s big handicaps at BetVictor.