Cheltenham Festival (Tuesday)
Triple Champion Hurdle winning jockey Steve Smith Eccles previews the day one action from Cheltenham.
1.30 williamhill.com Supreme Novices Hurdle
My Cousin Vinny is the favourite here and on the form book rightly so, as this ex Champion bumper winner is a class act over hurdles as well and represents the excellent Willie Mullins. Last time out he looked all set to hack up at Leopardstown before unseating trainer’s son Patrick Mullins and that would be my only trepidation with the lad in the saddle again. If the favourite were the mount of A P McCoy or Ruby Walsh he could well be a good thing but I am not so impressed by young Patrick and if you send a boy to do a mans job, you are potentially asking for trouble in a contest of this magnitude. An alternative could be the David Pipe trained TORPHICHEN, a four year old who has won two from two so far over hurdles and is currently trading at 6/1. His last run when beating Trenchant is rock solid form, and he will do for me and is sure to give the favourite plenty to do.
2.05 Irish Independent Arkle Challenge Trophy
We have two joint favourites here in Calgary Bay and TATENAN, and while I think two miles here could be on the sharp side for one, it should be perfect for the Paul Nicholls challenger. Already a course and distance winner, my selection is a big stamp of a horse who jumps well and is thought of as one of the bankers of the meeting by his all powerful stable and he should take all the beating here. Although he was only runner up last time out at Leopardstown when going down by the minimum margin, back on home turf he is expected to avenge that defeat.
2.40 William Hill Trophy Handicap Chase
I quite like the look of the Henry Daly trained POSSOL here, a French bred six year old who jumps extremely well, and who finished a gallant if distant second to Nacarat last time out in the Racing Post Chase. He will be far better suited by this galloping track than he was on a sharp track like Kempton and is a typical old fashioned jumping type whose form is rock solid but a word of warning, he would not want soft ground so do keep an eye on the weather before the race. However I am very worried about Wichita Lineman who Jonjo O’Neill feels is his banker of the meeting, while jockey A P McCoy and I had a natter at Market Rasen where he also told me he thinks the eight year old has excellent chance. He has won two out of his three over fences and was a course and distance winner over hurdles which is a bonus while his price suggests he has been backed by connections which is another positive sign and he could be worth a saver.
3.20 Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy
If the ground had stayed on the good side, I would not have looked past Binocular, the 6/4 favourite trained by my old boss Nicky Henderson. He has won both his races this season with some ultra slick and stylish jumping and his programme was deliberately set out to bring him here lightly raced with this as his obvious target, and although he has not run for a while he was worked hard enough in a gallop at Kempton the other week. The last five year old to win this race was Katchit last season so it is not impossible, and before that I rode See You Then to victory way back in 1985. However, after recent rain has made the going a lot softer than originally expected, I will be backing OSANA each way in first time blinkers after he ran a blinder when runner up on his return after a long break. He will have improved considerably for that run and as the ground has turned in his favour he should be a very serious contender and is amazing each way value at the current 12/1.
4.00 Glenfarclas Handicap Chase Cross Country Chase
L’Ami is the current favourite at 3/1 being trained by Enda Bolger who has basically farmed this event since its conception, while stable companion GARDE CHAMPETRE is my choice at around the 4/1 mark. The mount of the excellent Nina Carberry who won over course and distance on him back in December when beating the favourite. She rides him wonderfully and as she is on board again, he will be my selection here in a race that is a great spectacle but a strange betting medium.
4.40 David Nicholson Mares Hurdle
In the last race I quite like the look of the Newmarket trained UNITED as Lucy Wadham looks to train her first ever festival winner. This eight year old mare is in great form having won her last two races over hurdles and was fourth here in the World Hurdle so knows and likes the track. She was seen to be in great heart on the Newmarket gallops last weekend and comes here with every chance.
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