There was a huge shock on day one of the Cheltenham Festival as Espoir D’Allen won the Champion Hurdle as two-time winner Buveur D’Air crashed out.
The second day – Ladies Day – sees the Queen Mother Champion Chase take centre stage with a hot favourite in Altior.
There are plenty of other races to get stuck into – assuming, that is, the course passes an early inspection.
Winds are set to reach a peak of over 40mph are forecast for Wednesday – but course chiefs have declared that the day’s racing will go ahead as planned.
Our resident top tipster Newsboy has compiled his best bets right here.
And for offers throughout the week bet with The Pools.
The six-year-old’s trainer Olly Murphy has yet to saddle a Cheltenham Festival winner but has made a most promising start to his career – as has Brewin’upastorm.
The point-to-point and bumper winner made the perfect start over hurdles with a four-length margin in a novice event at Huntingdon in December.
Twenty days later, my selection stepped up to the top level for the Challow Hurdle at Newbury and finished fourth to Champ .
A stiffer test of stamina will help Brewin’upastorm’s bid to turn round that four-length defeat, and Richard Johnson’s mount was in the process of putting up a personal best when coming down at the final flight on Trials Day here in January.
Champ, four from four this season, is feared most, while Battleoverdoyen and, at bigger odds, Easy Game are also capable of having a say.
Third in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle last March before a top-level victory at Aintree, the Nicky Henderson-trained son of Milan made his chasing debut at Newbury in December, scoring by four lengths.
Santini failed in the follow-up attempt in the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day, but stayed on strongly to finish third to La Bague Au Roi.
Despite being ruled out of Ascot’s Reynoldstown Chase by the British Horseracing Authority’s equine flu protocol – and an 11th hour foot injury after pulling a shoe off in a schooling session – Santini is taken to turn round Kempton running with second home Topofthegame to claim the three-mile novices’ title.
Delta Work , with two Grade 1s already in safe-keeping, must run well, with Mister Malarky another to throw into the mix.
Trained in Co Meath by Dermot McLoughlin – whose father Liam was the first jockey to ride the legendary Arkle to victory – the French-bred seven-year-old recorded a hurdles win at Down Royal in May before podium efforts at Roscommon, Galway and back at the Ulster venue.
McLoughlin then brought Canardier to Britain for a novice event over today’s course and distance at the Showcase fixture in October, and my selection travelled strongly before settling matters by two and a quarter lengths from subsequent Grade 3 scorer Go Another One.
Targeted this race since, Canardier has the untapped potential to improve past his British Horseracing Authority handicap mark of 137.
In a race of near-endless possibilities, Uradel has plenty going for him, along with Cracking Smart and Erick Le Rouge , while a decent run from past Festival scorer Tully East wouldn’t be a shock.
Five times successful over hurdles, Nicky Henderson’s superstar is now 12 from 12 over fences, leaving him within one win of the 18-strong undefeated sequence completed by Big Buck’s in December 2012.
A seven-length margin in the 2016 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle was followed by a six-length supremacy in the following year’s Arkle.
Twelve months ago, Altior briefly looked in trouble when jockey Nico de Boinville became animated on the run to the third-last fence, but surged away upon meeting the rising ground to beat Min by seven lengths.
That victory was gained on the back of a stop-start preparation – wind surgery had ruled Altior out of the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown Park – but this season has gone very much according to plan.
Making his reappearance in the Tingle Creek, the nine-year-old son of High Chaparral had four lengths to spare over Un De Sceaux, humbled Diego Du Charmile by 19 lengths at Kempton Park over Christmas and limbered up for today with a seven-length dismissal of Fox Norton in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot in January.
As the meeting’s shortest-priced favourite, Altior should deliver – and deliver in style.
Min comes to Cheltenham on the back of two top-level scores this winter – the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase in December and Leopardstown’s Dublin Chase in February, and he once again looks the best option to chase Altior home.
For the final place on the podium, Sceau Royal , who landed the Grade 2 Shloer Chase at Cheltenham in November, is preferred to Politologue , who has underperformed on his last two outings, Saint Calvados and last year’s third, God’s Own .
Not only did Gordon Elliott’s star win the 2014 Triumph Hurdle, the 2017 National Hunt Chase and this race in 2018 – there is also the little matter of his win in the Grand National a month later.
Far from quelling his fire – an effect success has had on National heroes of the past – Aintree glory has spurred the son of Authorized to greater heights.
Fourth under top weight to Josies Orders in handicap company here in November, Tiger Roll emphasised his versatility with a four-length demolition of his rivals in the Grade 2 Boyne Hurdle at Navan last month.
At level weights this afternoon, Keith Donoghue’s mount should come out on top.
Urgent De Gregaine , runner-up last year and Auvergnat , fourth in 2018 and back to winning form at Leopardstown over Christmas, look best of the rest.
A smart performer on the Flat in Germany, where he won two of his eight starts – including with plenty of give underfoot – the son of Maxios joined Joseph O’Brient for his hurdling career.
There was little to write home about in his obstacles debut seventh at Punchestown on New Year’s Eve – when his hurdling lacked polish – and there was also room for improvement in the jumping department when he came home third at Naas next time.
But his half-length margin over Future Proof in a 20-runner maiden hurdle at Gowran Park in the middle of last month showed Star Max to be learning on the job – and a handicap mark of 126 looks within range for Rachael Blackmore’s mount.
In a field of lightly raced and progressive juveniles, Band Of Outlaws , Ciel De Neige and Our Power are just three names to throw into the mix.
The son of Muhtathir went under the hammer for £400,000 after his 10-length victory in a Ballinaboola point-to-point in February last year.
He is unbeaten in three starts outings, beginning his career under Rules with a four-length call at Fairyhouse in December, and following up in Listed grade at Navan a fortnight later.
Taking in the bumper at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival at the start of last month, Envoi Allen showed further progress to beat Meticulous by a length and a quarter in a dramatic finish that saw Abacadabras crash through the running rail inside the final furlong – and he still has more to offer.
Master Debonair won here in November and the fact that Willie Mullins relies on just one horse, Blue Sari , in his quest for a 10th Bumper triumph is interesting.
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