It now seems certain that climate change has firmly set its sights on the Cheltenham festival which should start out on soft ground on Tuesday with the rest of the week still weather dependent.  This brings the Irish contingent, who has dominated recent renewals, into even sharper focus and should ensure that Willie Mullins’ hotpots start at even shorter odds than usual.  Despite the clamour for his starters, the trainer to watch at Cheltenham is still the great NICKY HENDERSON and a flutter on him to be champion trainer for the meet (9/4 still available) won’t go far awry.

As usual, Ruby Walsh, who has the pick of Willie Mullins’ rides, is odds-on to be Champion Jockey but the value lies with backing BARRY GERAGHTY (currently 9/2) who will be riding for Henderson and also booked on some live outside rides.

Time to have a closer look at the top races for the world’s best Jumps festival:

TUESDAY, MARCH 13 (Going forecast: SOFT)

Supreme Novices Hurdle (G1; 4yo+; 2m37y; 1330 GMT; 8.30am Ja Time)

A cracking renewal is on tap with the usual Willie Mullins talking horse, Getabird, at cramped odds, heading the market.  He’s 2 for 2 in his hurdling career and really caught the eye in a 2 mile Grade 2 Novice at Punchestown on last bursting clear to win by 9 lengths. He’s unbeaten under Rules; unexposed; relishes soft underfoot conditions; and seems of unlimited potential but it’s worth noting that he ran out in a Point-to-Point the only time he raced left-handed.  That and his relative inexperience should eliminate him as a banker and it could pay to oppose him with KALASHNIKOV whose sole loss in 5 starts came on his penultimate run at Sandown when he reportedly lost a shoe and was beaten in a Grade 1 Novice by Summerhill Boy who re-opposes but would prefer better ground.

The selection took another huge leap forward by winning the Grade 3 Betfair Hurdle showing plenty stamina which he’ll need up the stiff Cheltenham hill.




The Arkle Novices Chase (G1; 5yo+; 1m7f199y; 1410GMT; 9.10am Ja Time)

Another Willie Mullins hotpot here in FOOTPAD who has carried all before him and is yet to be tested. He won’t have things his own way as Saint Calvados has been equally impressive but will be facing the unique undulations of Cheltenham for the first time while the selection was 4th in last year’s Champion Hurdle behind the imperious Buveur D’Air.


Champion Hurdle (Grade 1; 4yo+; 2m87y; 1530GMT; 10.30am Ja Time)

Last year’s winner BUVEUR D’AIR has continued from strength to strength and is the festival’s BANKER BET.


The Mares Hurdle (Grade 1; 4yo+; 2m3f200y; 1610GMT; 11.10am Ja Time)

Another likely repeat winner as it’s difficult to see beyond APPLE’S JADE high-class, ultra consistent; best on soft/heavy; and better than ever this year


Opening day’s best value best comes in the Close Brothers Novices Handicap Chase (Class 1; 5yo+; 0-145; 2m4f78y; 1730 GMT; 12.30pm Ja Time) where BARNEY DWAN (NAP OF THE DAY) most unlucky switched to chasing last season (slithering on landing and all but coming down after the last fence on debut when 3l clear) who has already shown he’s better over fences than hurdles; seems equally effective on either good or soft and has strong form at  2 ½ miles; can show superiority at the handicaps at a decent each way price.


WEDNESDAY, MARCH 14 (Forecast going: SOFT (Heavy in places)

Ballymore Novices Hurdle (G1; 4yo+; 2m5f26y; 1330GMT; 8.30am Ja Time)

The three leading candidates Samcro, On The Blind Side and NEXT DESTINATION are all chasers in the making so this should go to the one able to hurdle most fluently at a fast pace around an undulating galloping track. Short priced favourite Samcro is a champion in the making but, with very little to separate the top 3 on ratings and a nagging suspicion Samcro is better on good ground, he’s reluctantly bypassed in favour of NEXT DESTINATION who is 3 for 3 over hurdles on Navan and Naas both left handed undulating galloping tracks. All are staying types but the selection showed the ability to overcome adversity when winning a slowly run Grade 1 Novice at Naas on last in the style of one who’ll relish it around Cheltenham.  On the Blind Side is a good prospect but has 3 months absence to overcome.


RSA Novices Chase (Grade 1; 5yo+; 3m80y; 1410GMT; 9.10am Ja Time)

The two to concentrate on must be Presenting Percy who has progressed well over fences this season and was only a length behind Gold Cup contender Our Duke on last and MONALEE who won a Grade 1 Novice at Leopardstown on last and looks nailed on to improve stepping up to 3 miles. The former is a thorough stayer who may need further in the best company.


Champion Chase (Grade 1; 5yo+; 1m7f199y; 1530GMT; 10.30am Ja Time)

Last year’s Arkle winner Altior has been all the rage for this ever since but made a belated return on February 10 (winning a Grade 2 Chase by 4l from an outclassed Politologue (re-opposes) and isn’t at his best on soft while form threat Douvan hasn’t raced since being injured in this race last year. It could pay to oppose both with the progressive MIN who comes here race fit.




Champion Bumper (Grade 1; 4-6yo; 2m 87y; 1730GMT; 12.30pm Ja Time)

Top rated Acey Milan  has been a revelation fitted with a tongue strap after his debut (3 for 3 since) including at Cheltenham on heavy where he made all in a 14f 4yo listed bumper to beat Malinas Jack by 3 3/4l. He won again upped to 2m 1/2f at Newbury on last beating older horses for the first time. He has little to prove here but only the great Cue Card has won this as a 4yo since 2000 so it might be best to side with Willie Mullins who has made this race his own recently. The best of his trio appears to be BLACKBOW who is 2 for 2 in bumpers including a Grade 2 at Leopardstown (soft) on last.


The best value bet on day 2 of the festival comes in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3; 4yo; 2m87y; 1650 GMT; 11.50am Ja Time) where easy Market Rasen winner OISTRAKH LE NOIR (NAP OF THE DAY) might be let in lightly off 124 (unusually for a juvenile, lower than his Racing Post Rating). Even his RPR of 128 is highly unlikely to represent his ability so he could have a real weight advantage.


THURSDAY, MARCH 15 [Forecast going; SOFT (Heavy in places)]

JLT Novices Chase (Grade 1; 5yo+; 2m3f198y; 1330GMT; 8.30am Ja Time)

INVITATION ONLY was just a length 3rd behind Monalee (the selection for the 3 mile RSA Novices Chase) and Al Boum Photo (also in the RSA) over 2m5f at Leopardstown in the Grade 1 Flogas seeming not to get home so this drop in trip should be perfect. Nicky Henderson’s Terrefort is very much on the upgrade while, at long odds, Bigmartre, who beat a subsequent Grade 2 winner on his penultimate start can make a bold bid from the front.


Ryanair Chase (Grade 1; 5yo+; 2m4f166y; 1450GMT; 9.50am Ja Time)

The ever popular Cue Card finally surrenders hope of a Gold Cup for this shorter trip but is long in the tooth and could be past it while the classy UN DE SEAUX who won this last year gets his favoured soft ground this time.


Stayers Hurdle (Grade 1; 4yo+; 2m7f213y; 1530GMT; 10.30am Ja Time)

An ultra competitive renewal in which highly fancied Sam Spinner is unlikely to have things his own way up front and this is the stiffest track he has tried to date while Grade 1 Aintree 1st and 2nd Yanworth (may be best on good ground) and Supa Sundae (yet to win beyond 2 ½ miles) have questions to answer so it could pay to expect BACARDYS, returning to hurdles (where he beat Finian’s Oscar in a Grade 1 at Punchestown before disappointing this season in two runs over fences) to pick up where he left off.


Thursday’s best value bet THE YOUNG MASTER (THURSDAY’S NAP) goes in the Kim Muir Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase (Class2; 5yo+; 0-145; 3m2f; 1730 GMT; 12.30pm Ja Time). He finished 3rd and 6th in the Grade 3 Ultima Handicap Chase at the last two festivals but a falling handicap rating sees him entered for the Kim Muir this year. He had a wind operation after pulling up as favourite at Newcastle last month and, before that, ran as if he retains plenty of ability. He looks value at around 25-1


FRIDAY, MARCH 16 [Forecast going: SOFT (Heavy in places)]

Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1; 4yo; 2m179y; 1330GMT; 8.30am Ja Time)

Nicky Henderson has won six of these and, in APPLE’S SHAKIRA (one of 5 with unbeaten records to defend) he has a serious contender who is 3 for 3 around Cheltenham and 4 for 4 in her career. We Have a Dream, also trained by Nicky Henderson, should be next best.


Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle (G1; 4yo+; 2m7f213y; 1450GMT; 9.50am Ja)

This could come too soon for Nicky Henderson’s Santini who has done nothing wrong in two races over hurdles so there could be value in backing CHRIS’S DREAM who handled very testing conditions well out in front having everything in trouble a long way from the finish at Clonmel in a Grade 3 on last and has stamina in abundance.



Cheltenham Gold Cup (G1 Chase; 5yo+; 3m2f70y; 1530GMT; 10.30am Ja)

Might Byte has been all the rage since the season opened but has questions to answer on soft ground so my long time pick for this race OUR DUKE (NAP OF THE FESTIVAL), peaking at the right time, is a confident selection.


Good Luck!


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