• Fri 9 Dec, 2016
  • 21:39 GMT
  • 17:39 ET (GMT-4)
  • 23:39 CET (GMT+2)

Hammond’s Cheltenham: Day 1


Sky Sport’s Alex Hammondprovides a race-by-race guide to day one at the Cheltenham Festival. Skybet £5 Get £20 Free | First race money back if you lose!

1.30 – SKY BET SUPREME NOVICES’ HURDLE
Min looks like being an opening day banker for many, but as Sky Bet are offering money back as a free bet if your horse gets beaten in the opening race on each day of the Festival, it could pay to find a better value alternative. There is much more to come from Min though, who it’s expected will appreciate better ground. Nicky Henderson has a couple of good-looking chances, but it’s Buveur D’Air that excites me the most as he has plenty of untapped ability and at the moment the sky looks the limit. He’s a backable price in the market without Min if you want to take that route.

It seems Tolworth winner Yorkhill runs here instead of taking up his option in either the Neptune or Albert Bartlett. The Tolworth form is working out well. Sadly, I was hoping to see Moon Racer, but last year’s Champion Bumper winner has missed the majority of the season after sustaining an injury in November and David Pipe has run out of time to get him to the meeting. I’m on the so-called second-string from the Willie Mullins stable, Yorkhill.

2.10 – RACING POST ARKLE CHALLENGE TROPHY
Douvan is odds-on and not a hugely attractive betting proposition, but there’s nothing else that really catches my eye. Last year’s Sky Bet Supreme winner is an outstanding jumper of a fence and is a straightforward horse to ride. He’s the full package. He’s a ‘lepper’ as the Irish would say! I wouldn’t mind being a pound behind the agent that buys all these good horses from France for the Mullins team. He’s got to be a day one banker.

His opposition don’t look in the same league with Vaniteux representing Nicky Henderson. He jumps well too, mind you, and as a race for novices at the Festival we know that anything can happen. He won the Lightning Novices’ Chase last time out but this will be a different kettle of fish. Sizing John is an each-way price for Henry de Bromhead and he jumps well, but I can’t see him reversing placings with Douvan, given clear rounds from both.

The Game Changer is interesting wherever he goes for Gordon Elliott, although this is apparently the plan. He has been off since October in order to be freshened up for spring festivals and is entered in this, the County Hurdle and the Grand Annual. He will prefer spring ground but looks an interesting each-way proposition given his favoured conditions on Tuesday. He has had a breathing operation since his last run and is carrying some of my each-way cash.

2.50 – ULTIMA HANDICAP CHASE
In-form Warren Greatrex trains exciting novice Out Sam who has five entries at the Festival including in the RSA Chase. He is rated 139 and having initially been number 72 in the entries he now only needs 12 to come out to get a run and that is looking increasingly likely. Kruzhlinin can go well for Phillip Hobbs. His rating of 148 looks a winnable mark. He has had two starts for Hobbs having formerly been with Donald McCain and won nicely at Kempton last time despite jumping left, so return to a left-handed track will suit. Holywell won this two years ago off an 8lb lower mark, but was pulled up in the Sky Bet Chase last time out. He needs good ground and is en-route to the Grand National.

3.30 – STAN JAMES CHAMPION HURDLE
What an absolute shocker for Willie Mullins when both reigning Champ Faugheen and Arctic Fire were ruled out of the race. While lessening the quality, it has made the race more competitive for us punters. Rich Ricci has forked out £20,000 to add Annie Power to the race, but by my reckoning he can just about stretch to that! She would have been a shoo-in for the Mares’ Hurdle, providing she avoids a catastrophic mishap like last year and is still short enough for this after her stroll round Punchestown on her reappearance. She gets weight from the boys though and her reappearance showed us she still has a leg in each corner and that they are moving in the order that God intended. She’s too short for me but it would be a travesty if a mare as good as her never won a race at the Cheltenham Festival.

Nichols Canyon never seems to get the credit he deserves, but he has won six Grade 1s. He’s not flashy and therefore not a headline grabber, but he’s consistent and talented. He would be one I’d get more excited about if he were to run in the World Hurdle. Identity Thief won the Fighting Fifth for Henry De Bromhead and was second to Nichols Canyon Leopardstown over Christmas. He has only had eight starts, seven over hurdles and is still improving, but needs to in order to reverse placings with Nichols Canyon.

My Tent Or Yours is the horse I tipped up each-way here a few weeks ago and I stand by that suggestion in an open year. Yes, it’s a big ask to win after almost two years off the track, but the vibes are good. He has decent Festival form having finished second in the Supreme and second to Jezki in this in 2014. He can be keen and that’s a worry after such a long layoff, but he’ll wear a bridle to help that (he will be fitted with a net muzzle – I put one on an old horse and mine once and so effective was it he went sideways everywhere until I took it off!). My Tent Or Yours has had a couple of away days at the sports to help take the fizz out of him. How Nicky Henderson could do with a Grade One winner this season and as the master of all he surveys at the Festival, he could bounce back in style.

The New One has the vote of confidence from Sam Twiston-Davies who could have ridden the bigger-priced Old Guard. He’s had problems and his jumping doesn’t impress, but he’s won plenty and has a great engine. Nigel Twiston-Davies has apparently had a clearer run this season with him, but I can’t get excited about him. At a decent price another of the supplemented runners could be worth an each-way wager. Lil Rockerfeller is trained by Neil King who has his horses in great heart and this horse is only 3-4lb off the best in this.

4.10 OLBG MARES’ HURDLE
My favourite horse in training, Vroum Vroum Mag, is favourite for this and surely the others may as well stay at home?! It won’t be that straightforward sadly and I’ll admit to being a bit blinkered as far as this mare is concerned. But there’s no way I’ll bet against her as she has continued to brush her rivals aside with ease.

4.50 146th YEAR OF THE NATIONAL HUNT CHASE
Jonjo O’Neill’s Minella Rocco is the horse AP said he would particularly miss riding when he retired having ridden him to win both his novice hurdles. Since then, the horse hasn’t won, but he was a staying-on second in the Reynoldstown to RSA hope Vyta Du Roc at Ascot over three miles last time out – a much-needed, improved performance. The stable form some way from being ideal coming into the Festival, but Jonjo targets this meeting and hasn’t been running too many in bad ground over the past couple of months so don’t fear if you fancy any of his runners during the week. Jockeyship counts for an awful lot in this and owner JP McManus has claimed Derek O’Connor to ride which is a huge plus.

I’ve had a decent each-way bet on Noble Endeavour. Gordon Elliott’s seven-year-old has some very strong-looking form and Festival form to boot, as he was only beaten a on the nod by Killultagh Vic in the Martin Pipe race last season and is a winner over fences this term. He doesn’t look an easy ride, but will have Jamie Codd on board, who is one of the best amateurs, and the horse has loads of ability. Willie Mullins has a couple of interesting entries.

His Roi Des Francs has plenty of stamina and will run here or in the RSA, depending upon Gigginstown’s plans. On better ground, the four-miler looks a good option but I think the owner is leaning towards the RSA. Colin Tizzard has his team in great form coming into the meeting and saddles Native River here. The horse is likely to have headgear on to sharpen him up. Southfield Royale can’t be left out of equations for Neil Mulholland who has made his mark at the Festival before. He was second in the Feltham behind Tea for Two, one place in front of Native River. He jumped to his left there, so hopefully Cheltenham will suit, although he is yet to run there. The booking of Nina Carberry is clearly a bonus for a trainer that has already trained winners at this meeting in his relatively short career.

5.30 CLOSE BROTHERS NOVICES’ HANDICAP CHASE
This is a really competitive tight handicap with all the horses not likely to have much between them on ratings. I was on the Sky Bet Cheltenham preview panel in Leeds and trainer Warren Greatrex was really keen on the chances of his Aloomomo, who carries co-top weight. The horse is improving and now runs off a mark of 140.

Willow’s Saviour has a very good record since joining Dan Skelton in 2013. He had a couple of years off, but came back to win two of his three starts over fences including a confidence boost in a small field at Fakenham most recently. He has run in Grade One company this term too and is only rated 138 for his handicap debut over fences. Killer Crow is another interesting handicap entry for Gordon Elliott. This is his optimum trip according to his trainer. He’s not the easiest to win with, but could run well into a place.

A horse I think has a great chance of running into a place is Robin Dickin’s Thomas Crapper. This is a horse that hasn’t won as many races as he promised to do as a young horse, but he acts well round Cheltenham and was second in this last year off a 1lb lower mark. While he is still a maiden over fences after 10 starts, the fact that Robin Dickin has his team back in form after a very quiet spell gives him outstanding claims given that the ground is drying out.

The Paul Nicholls-trained Bouvreuil was second in the Fred Winter last season off 133 and is off 139 for his handicap debut over fences. He started his chasing career in top-flight company in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase and was beaten in the Lightning Novices’ Chase last time, but the trip was on the short side for him there.


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