The curtain goes up on this year’s Cheltenham Festival on Tuesday 13th March and punters will be eager to get ahead of bookmakers at the earliest opportunity. We have four glorious days of racing ahead of us but, as always, leg one will be crucial.
Schedulers don’t ease us into the action either with a number of graded races taking place early in the week. We start with the Supreme Novices Hurdle and that’s quickly followed by the Arkle, Mares Hurdle and the jewel in the crown – the Champion Hurdle.
A rundown of the early betting on Oddschecker shows bookmakers are expecting a couple of nailed-on favourites to do the business on Tuesday, including odds-on shots Buveur D’Air and Apples Jade. Fancy sticking with the shorties? That could provide a ready-made double.
Here’s the winner of every race on day one according to traders…
Getabird – Supreme Novices Hurdle
This two-mile grade one event opens the show as a talented field of runners and riders look to claim a chunky prize pot and the crown won by Labaik last year. Getabird is the ante-post favourite with no more than 7/4 available on the opening day of March – most of the competition happy to sit around the 6/4 mark. Willie Mullins’ star six-year-old boasts a record of four wins from as many starts, that purple patch including victory in the Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle over 2m at Punchestown earlier this year. Will he hold tight on his 100% record? It’ll require a personal best, but the market isn’t in the mood to oppose a form horse with Getabird’s class.
Footpad – Arkle Chase
Another from the jaw-dropping Mullins string and Footpad is the winner of the Arkle if putting your trust in the prices. An improving six-year-old gelding, his CV shows six wins and four places from 13 starts. A winning debut at Gowran in November 2015 paved the way for a run of results that brought connections success in the Alain Du Breil grade one hurdle in Auteuil before returning to Irish racing with victory in the Racing Post Novice Chase and Arkle Novice Chase, both over 2m 1f at Leopardstown. He scooped the latter with a five-length lead over Petit Mouchoir and is a contender that seems to be improving with every outing. Will that upward curve continue? The money men say yes.
Gold Present – Ultima Handicap Chase
A bit less convincing than the two before but Gold Present is the shortest price of the field with odds ranging from 8/1 to 10/1 across the board. Once representing the Nicky Henderson fleet, the eight-year-old brown finished 2017 with a flurry when winning a 2m 6f handicap chase at Newbury in December before securing a quick-fire return to the winner’s enclosure when banking the Lavazza Silver Cup Handicap Chase before Christmas. The latter resulted in a three-length victory over runner-up Frodon. He boasts decent festival form too, finding only one too good last year, beaten by little over a length by Tully East. Expected to improve on that.
Buveur D’Air – Champion Hurdle
The shortest price runner of day one and there aren’t too many in the know rushing to argue against traders who have Buveur D’Air at 4/7. Tight, but some major firms go 4/9 on the same horse so perhaps there’s a little value there. Another for Henderson, 11 wins, one second and a third from 14 runs makes him one of the main attractions of the week and those plying their trade on betting floors across the country just can’t see a race where he doesn’t win. Was third in the Supreme Novices Hurdle two years ago and has won each of his nine goes since. Blew the cobwebs off when leading home a three-runner field at Sandown in February but there was nothing for punters that day, 1/16 the starting price.
Apples Jade – Mares Hurdle
A real headline act and we expect to see Apples Jade to win the Mares Hurdle on a number of Tuesday accumulators. Punters remember all too well her performance in this race last year when upsetting the odds to split Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini in a thrilling finish, despite carrying a price of 7/2 that suggested she didn’t have a chance. That guts and glory performance won her plenty of admirers and she hasn’t let them down, winning her four races since, including the grade one Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown over three miles. How can you oppose a favourite who has won each of her last five? The answer is – you don’t.
Presenting Percy – National Hunt Chase
The tightest field of the day in the ante-post list sees three horses priced at 8/1 favourite. That includes Presenting Percy, Dounikos and Jury Duty and it really is anyone’s guess who will come out on top. Maybe they’ll all be blindsided by an outsider. It certainly wouldn’t surprise and the bookies have been honest enough to throw up their hands and admit they are no closer to picking the champion than anyone else. It’s a simple proposal, bunch the best together and let players pay their money and take their chance. That doesn’t happen too often in this game, especially at the big meetings but, when it does, we have a shot at landing a profit. Presenting Percy certainly deserves to be in the mix after finishing no higher than third in any of his last five, two wins and a second in his three most-recent races.
De Plotting Shed – Close Brothers Novice Handicap Chase
Another puzzle that’ll take all the solving with the market, leaving it up to us to work things out between ourselves. Movewiththetimes and De Plotting Shed are 8/1 joint-favourites across the board, but the latter is given preference by a few of the bigger names, including Coral. Gordon Elliott’s hope suffered from a bad case of seconditis when ending runner-up in each of his last two and, incredibly, five of seven. That includes the Keelings Irish Strawberry Hurdle, a grade two contest that saw him start as favourite but come home behind Renneti, the Mullins/Walsh duo running away with the prize money, nine lengths the official winning margin. That’s something supporters will have to ignore if backing De Plotting Shed to go one better but there’s little doubt he’s nearing a big performance on the main stage. Will this year’s showpiece at Prestbury Park bring out the best in him?