Declan Rix previews all of todays races at the first day of the Cheltenham festival, Declan has a great record giving us big winners.
1.30 – Supreme Novice Hurdle
This year’s renewal is very similar to that of the 2010 running with the field being headed by a short priced favourite, Cue Card. The lack of the usual breakneck early gallop cost Dunguib last year, but, with no less than four confirmed front runners and even more “up with the pace” runners – a lack of pace should not materialize today. It’s very hard to get away from the favourite and many feel he doesn’t offer any value. I think that’s nonsense – if Paul Nicholls or Willie Mullins trained this horse after last years bumper win and Cue Cards early hurdles form, he’d be a 6-4 chance. He is rated eight lbs clear of the next horse, is a course and distance winner, jumps well, has the best form in the race, has the best speed figure of the field and the quicker surface will not pose a problem for the son of Kings Theatre. His 94 day absence is my only concern, however, but, on the plus side – he will be fresh and well. His two biggest rivals are the Henderson horses, Spirit Son and Sprinter Sacre. Big race jockey, Barry Geraghty, went with the former which is a tip in itself. I’m not so sure Geraghty has gone with the right one, though. Sprinter Sacre is proven on the ground and will excel with the likely strong pace. Only time will tell, but, I think they’ve all got to go to catch Cue Card.
Advice: 1.5pts win Cue Card @5-2
2.05 – Arkle Novice Chase
All year long I’ve been very keen on Ghizao, but, the drying out of Prestbury Park is a major concern. Paul Nicholls feels the son of Tiger Hill needs cut to perform at his best and I’m not so sure he’s going to get his toe in enough. Furthermore, the classy front runner won’t get his own way up front either and the race now looks destined to fall in the lap of Medermit. Alan King has said all week that Medermit is his number one hope of a winner. He was the highest rated of the field over hurdles with a rating of 158. His second in the Supreme Novice Hurdle two years proves he was a quality hurdler and also proved his ability to handle the big day. His trainer always felt that chasing was going to be his game and if that is the case – he’ll be very tough to beat. The seven-year-old has already showed he jumps superbly for a novice with good jumping displays here and at Sandown. History shows this race suits future stayers, too. I’m not saying he is a stayer, but, it’s a huge bonus that he has won over half a mile further. The furious early gallop will suit his hold-up style and I can see Choc Thornton picking them up one by one after the home bend. For each-way backers, Rock Noir may well run a decent race around the 14-1 mark.
Advice: 2pt win Medermit @3-1
2.40 – The Spinal Research Stewart Family Chase
A really tough handicap to get to grips with and numerous horses in the field look to be well handicapped. These include Bensalem, Sunnyhillboy, Great Endeavour, Reve De Sivola and even Wolf Moon looks on a decent mark considering his hurdles form. Bensalem is a horse I love and he surely would have won at last year’s festival, but, for coming to grief at the second last. He has tones of ability, but, his jumping can let him down. Paddy Power faller insurance is a decent out where this horse is concerned. Sunnyhillyboy and Great Endeavour have very little between them in all starts where they’ve faced each other. The latter has come out on top on two occasions, but, Sunnyhillboy is weighted to be a lot closer. With that being said, I’m going to stick with Reve De Sivola. A dual Grade One winner and runner-up to Peddlers Cross at last year’s festival, over hurdles, his current mark of 140 looks very workable. The better ground will be another massive bonus as will the step up in trip. At the bottom of the weights, Wolf Moon can run a big race along with Exmoor Ranger who looks the value in the race.
Advice: 1pt win Reve De Sivola @9-1
0.5pts each-way Exmoor Ranger @25-1
3.20 – Champion Hurdle
The day’s big race which will unfortunately not see Binocular back to defend his crown. The race still looks an above average renewal with many holding chances. England and Ireland are torn between three top class horses now, Peddlers Cross, Menorah and Hurricane Fly. The classy field is further supplemented by the likes of Oscar Whiskey, Khyber Kim and Dunguib. Of those six I think the first three in the market are the ones to keep onside – with my vote going to Peddlers Cross. For me, he has the least questions to answer. Menorah I like, but, what has he really beaten? An above average novice and a young field of handicappers. He has yet to race against his own age group, never mind his class group. The odd hairy jump would also concern me. However, he is improving and loves Cheltenham. Hurricane Fly is the one horse who could blow this race out of the water. He looks very classy and the speed horse in this race. That being said, his form in beating Solwhit on numerous occasions is risky. Solwhit is not a genuine Grade One horse for me. This leaves me with Peddlers Cross, a horse I’m very keen on. He ticks all the right boxes. People say he won’t be quick enough. Nonsense! He beat Starluck (a speed horse) on one of the flattest tracks in England. We know he’ll stay, as he has won over further. He jumps quick and neat, not giving away any ground and the good conditions will further enhance his chances. Istabraq and Hardy Eustace won the Champion after claiming the Neptune – so why can’t he? Of the rest Overturn and Thousand Stars look likely to run well at big prices. A great race is in store.
Advice: 1pt win Peddlers Cross @4-1
4.00 – The Cross Country Chase
Not a race I’ll be getting overly involved in. If the day is going well I may have a punt. There are plenty of question marks to answer about horses past there prime. Garde Champetre and L’Ami are now 12-years-old and are opposable. Stats say to stick with the Irish horses, but, I’m going to play Gullible Gordon. The good ground will suit and at 16-1 he looks a decent bet in a tough race. He jumps for fun and is getting plenty of weight from the leading horses. Paul Nicholls is said to be happy with his condition – so hopefully he’ll run well at a nice price.
Advice: 1pt each-way Gullible Gordon @16-1
4.40 – Mares Hurdle
There is no doubting that Quevega is by far the best mare in this race. The outcome of this race basically depends on her form. She is the best mare in training, she has it all. Class, slick hurdling, a super turn of foot and the ability to stay will see her tough to beat again. Her two previous victories in this race have been bloodless and I can see Ruby swinging off her coming round the final bend. I think she will win, but, there is value to be had elsewhere. I’ve never been the biggest fan of mares, they’re funny old creatures – very hard to predict, but, I think Santera is worth a punt at a big price. The John Flint horse is currently a 33-1 shot and quite simply, she shouldn’t be. Her form stacks up well with some of the market leaders and her recent spin on the all-weather should have left her spot on for this. The good ground will be fine and she has a good each-way shout.
Advice: 2pts win Quevega @1-1
1pt each-way Santera @33-1
5.15 – Centenary Novice Chase
The three stand out horses in the Centenary Novice Chase include American Trilogy, Definity and Tullamore Dew. The first two mentioned hail from the Paul Nicholls stable and the bookmakers feel the latter of the two, Definity, is the more fancied of the runners. Paul Nicholls is also happy Definity’s mark and he jumps very well – he’ll go close. Tuallamore Dew ran a cracker here last year behind Spirit River in the Coral Cup an d he has taken to fences well. His latest second was a very good run and was boosted Saturday. One for each-way backers is Swing Bill from the David Pipe yard. A tough race to finish with, but, Tullamore Dew just gets the call with small saver on swing Bill.
Advice: 1pt Tullamore Dew @8-1
0.5pts each-way Swing Bill @14-1