Cheltenham Festival – Day One Preview
Over the next four weeks we'll have an exclusive weekly Cheltenham Festival preview just for Coral Racing Club members where we'll discuss some of the key contenders and potential dark horses from the feature races of each day.
Today we take a look at the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, Arkle Novices' Chase and Champion Hurdle from day one of the festival.
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
Although Facile Vega’s shock defeat at the Dublin Racing Festival has seemingly blown this race wide open, it could prove premature to write off last year’s Champion Bumper winner. He stopped very quickly after setting what appeared to be an overly strong pace at Leopardstown, but connections won’t make the same mistake at Cheltenham, and it’s very likely he’ll put up a much better showing in the Supreme.
Marine Nationale now heads the betting at 3/1 for the festival’s opening race, but whether that win in the Royal Bond entitles him to be quite so short is certainly open to question. The horse he beat that day, Irish Point, did very little for the form when well-beaten himself this weekend, so Barry Connell’s six-year-old looks a favourite worth taking on at this stage.
Paul Nicholls hasn’t won this race since Al Ferof’s victory in 2011, but in TAHMURAS, he looks to have the best two-mile novice this side of the Irish sea. Although he showed signs of inexperience when winning the Grade 1 Tolworth at Sandown, he won with plenty in hand that day, and he looks just the type to improve with racing.
Connections have confirmed the Supreme will almost certainly be his target, so with question marks over the participation of many of his rivals, he looks a rock solid each-way bet at around the 10/1 mark.
Arkle Novices’ Chase
JONBON looked seriously impressive in his first two starts over fences, following up a comfortable win at Warwick with another stunning display of jumping in the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices’ at Sandown on Tingle Creek day. Nicky Henderson’s seven-year-old had been favourite for this all season, but a brief scare in the two-runner Kingmaker back at Warwick this weekend saw him pushed out to 2/1 and headed at the top of the betting by Dublin Racing Festival winner El Fabiolo.
El Fabiolo’s defeat of stablemates Appreciate It and Dysart Dynamo saw him leapfrog them as the stable’s first string for this, but 5/4 looks far too short at this stage, and it’s a strong possibility he’ll be a bigger price come the day.
With Appreciate It now looking more likely to go for the Turners, and question marks over the participation of plenty of other potential rivals, it would be no surprise at all if we see the race cut up and we end up another small-field Arkle.
There was a definite overreaction to Jonbon’s performance over the weekend, especially taking into account the fact Nicky Henderson won’t have had him anywhere near peak-fitness just four weeks before the festival. He was well on top at the line in the end, and he looks like the type of horse that punters will come for once again, so the 2/1 currently available could soon be a thing of the past.
While the presence of potentially one of the best hurdlers we’ve ever seen could make for a mouth-watering spectacle, it doesn’t make for the most intriguing of betting contests.
Constitution Hill has already put up two jaw-dropping performances in the Fighting Fifth and the Christmas Hurdle, making Grade 1 hurdlers look like handicappers in the process.
He’s almost impossible to oppose if he turns up at the Champion Hurdle in one piece, but at odds of 1/4, Constitution Hill is not a betting proposition for the vast majority of punters.
State Man can count himself very unlucky, as if it wasn’t for the presence of Nicky Henderson’s superstar, he himself could be odds-on for the big race at the festival following his excellent victory in the Irish equivalent at Leopardstown this weekend. He looks the most likely to chase home Constitution Hill, but he makes little appeal at his current price of 5/2.
The most sensible bet in this contest looks to be another Willie Mullins horse, in the shape of last year’s Triumph Hurdle winner VAUBAN. Although he’s been well-beaten behind stablemate State Man on his two starts this season, there have been plenty of reports that he didn’t have the smoothest of preparations for either run, so it’s very likely we’ve yet to see the best of him.
With Honeysuckle and Epatante likely to be heading elsewhere, it’s very difficult to see Vauban finishing out the frame, so the 10/1 currently available looks a great bit of each-way value.
Lewis Knowles, Coral PR Executive