13:30 Cheltenham – Supreme Novices Hurdle Willie Mullins runner Getabird is unbeaten in three over the trip and is two from two over hurdles, beating Grade 1 winner Mengli Khan by 9 lengths at Punchestown in January on last run. Given the trainers record in this race it’s no surprise to see one of his runners at the head of the market and it is difficult to get away from Getabird as the likely winner of the Festival opener. Kalashnikov has seen plenty of support in the lead up to this race and looks likely to go off as clear second favourite. A winner of three from four over hurdles, all over a two-mile trip, he was second to Summerville Boy on penultimate run but returned to winning ways when last seen in February, winning a decent looking Grade 3 by almost five lengths. Others to consider include the afore-mentioned Mengli Khan who has won three from seven over hurdles, while last years’ Cheltenham Bumper third Claimantakingforgan has a 50% winning strike rate over the trip and is two from three over hurdles and both have place claims. That said, my main play is Paloma Blue who has made a positive start to hurdling, finishing a solid third behind Next Destination on hurdle debut before another excellent placed effort when second by just a head next time out. His third run produced a victory over Impact Factor who has since beat the likes of Gun Digger and Kesselring and he followed that up with an excellent third behind Samcro in the Grade 1 Deloitte Novice Hurdle last time out, finishing ahead of some big names like Debuchet, Sharjah and Le Richebourg. A prominent racer who is yet to finish outside the first three in six career runs, he may not win but has done enough to suggest that he can cut it at this level and looks a decent each-way option. Paloma Blue (E/W)
14:10 Cheltenham – Arkle Chase Only the five runners primed to take up the first chase of the festival and although what may be a tad unkind most punters will find it hard to side with Robinshill or Brain Power. Good horses on their day but not at the level of the three main protagonists. Petit Mouchoir represents the powerhouse owners of Gigginstown who are bound to find their colours led into the winners enclosure here this week however I fear this won’t be the race connections will be victorious. Third in last years Champion Hurdle he’s taken well to the larger obstacles however a five length beating to the hands of today’s rival Footpad is going to be hard to overturn. Saint Calvados has barely put a foot wrong with three consecutive victories but you have to question the level of opposition he’s faced so far. He obviously has the potential to progress further but wether he has the class of Willie Mullins favourite is hard to tell. The favourite finished fourth (one place behind Petit Mouchoir) in last years Champion Hurdle and finished third in the Triumph Hurdle the year before. Good runs here at Cheltenham shows he handles the course but one negative is that he’s yet to win here at this venue. As has Saint Calvados he’s won his last three starts but his two previous successes were at Grade 1 level. With little improvement needed, from a top yard and a touch of class it’s hard to overlook the likely market leader. Footpad (WIN) – NAP
14:50 Cheltenham – Ultima Handicap Chase Coo Star Sivola arrives here with a fairly lofty reputation and has been heavily backed for this since hacking up at Exeter last time, fairly useful over timber and already proven around here he looks ahead of his current mark and is respected as having a favourites chance. Beware The Bear is hard to weigh up and his jumping is a cause for concern, his Newcastle win looked a fairly good effort but blunders ruined his chance last time in the Welsh National and the jury is out. Gold Present was pulled up the last time he encountered genuinely soft ground and that is a concern here, the overall strength of his form is hard to knock and though you would hardly say he is a ”Lay” you would have to be brave to play on this ground. Vicente has won here and is a dual Scottish National winner, his mark makes life pretty tough but his ability to handle conditions and stamina reserves make him a massive player and he is suggested to run into a place for Paul Nicholls. Singlefarmpayment often attracts plenty of support and he was a good second in this last year, along with mudlark Yala Enki it is easy to make a case, however, despite slight reservations about the ground, Coo Star Sivola gets the ”win’ vote on the back of his ultra impressive display last time. Coo Star Sivola (WIN) Vicente (E/W)
15:30 Cheltenham – Champion Hurdle Buveur D’air finished behind Altior and Min when third in the 2016 Supreme Novices Hurdle but this is the only time in twelve runs over jumps that he hasn’t visited the winners’ enclosure. An impressive winner of this race last year, he returns to emulate the likes of Hardy Eustace and Istabraq in winning back-to-back Champion Hurdles and he looks to have a fantastic chance of doing so. 2015 winner Faugheen looks to try and get back to winning ways and if rediscovering some of his old form would definitely give the favourite a race, although at the age of ten and following his last two runs it is difficult to say which Faugheen will turn up for this race. My Tent Or Yours has finished second in this race for the last three years and finally got a Cheltenham victory when out-battling The New One in the International Hurdle in December. He has made the frame in all six runs at Cheltenham and in seventeen of his twenty career runs but at the age of 11 he is unlikely to emerge victorious here. The value in this race could come from another Willie Mullins runner Wicklow Brave. He has spent the last twelve months running on the flat but won the last time he encountered hurdles and is a previous festival winner having won the County Hurdle in 2015. The fact that he finished unplaced in last years’ renewal doesn’t bode well looking at previous race stats however he gave away over six lengths at the start and should be capable of a better finish this time round. Wicklow Brave (E/W)
Wicklow Brave a winner at The Festival before.
16:10 Cheltenham – Mares Hurdle Apple’s Jade is an absolute credit to Gordon Elliott and bids to back up last seasons win in this, proven on the ground and as hard as any when it matters it is impossible to crib her from and she is expected to outclass these. Benie Des Dieux has done nothing wrong so far for Willie Mullins and is three from three, proven on the ground and with no trip concerns it would be folly to totally dismiss her though she has yet to race over hurdles for her current yard and on what we know she has a mountain to climb. La Bague Au Roi is on a roll and absolutely dotted up at Ascot last time despite her trainer having reservations about the soft ground, with improvement likely to come she is by far the most tempting each way bet in the race and is respected and expected to fill a place position. A case could be made for Jer’s Girl running into a place but she has enough to prove at present and the rest hardly stand out as outstanding candidates, as such, the brilliant Apple’s Jade gets the vote. Apple’s Jade (WIN)
16:50 Cheltenham – National Hunt Chase Likely favourite Jury Duty has taken to the larger obstacles very well this year having never finished outside of the first two in five chase starts. It’s hard to see Gordon Elliot’s charge not being in contention come the closing stages but there looks to be better value elsewhere. Gordon Elliott’s other runner Mossbank also deserves a tonne of respect however I’m siding with one of three former course winners. There’s no doubt that trainer Colin Tizzard has bigger targets over the next four days however I feel he has a great chance with Sizing Tennessee. Not the most prolific winner but with his previous jumping errors seemingly resolved he stands a lively each way chance. A huge fan of soft ground his best recent performance came over the longest trip he’s tackled. I’m hoping it’s a case of the further he goes the better and as he ticks a fair few boxes looks worthy of a good each way bet. Sizing Tennessee (E/W)
17:30 Cheltenham – Close Brothers Handicap Chase De Plotting Shed has finished second in his last two races and has now raced four times over fences, all on heavy or soft to heavy ground. He is yet to taste victory but has run very well in defeat and was only 3 lengths behind Presenting Percy on chase debut so has faced some decent rivals. Any Second Now has had to play second fiddle to Footpad, Invitation Only and Monalee since tacking fences but has run with credit each time and has a Grade 2 victory over hurdles to his name so looks to have a decent chance of coming away with some prize money. Mister Whitaker beat a very good yardstick in Theatre Territory here at Cheltenham in soft ground last time out, with the rest of the field miles behind, and now has two wins and a second from four runs over fences. An exciting entry for this race and very much one to follow. Testify is available at a decent each way price which is probably due to the fact that he’s only run in very small fields since tackling fences. That said, he has won all three with the minimal of fuss, winning in soft and heavy ground over trips ranging from two to two and a half miles, won a Grade 2 by seven lengths last time out and also won over further when tackling hurdles so is versatile regarding trip and should be suited by conditions. Mister Whitaker (E/W) Testify (E/W)