The action returns to Prestbury Park this week for National Hunt racing’s showpiece event and we look at five fascinating contenders in some of the more interesting betting heats for the week ahead.
The Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle may have cut up somewhat after Neon Wolf and Moon Racer switched to The Neptune and The Champion Hurdle respectively, but there will be no race that gets a bigger cheer as the festivals action kicks off.
Willie Mullins has won three of the last four renewals of the race with some classy types including Vautour and Douvan, and his runner last year, Min, was only beaten by the talented Altior.
There’s every chance Melon could be something special despite the form of his sole win over hurdles taking plenty of knocks.
This has been the long-term goal for the five-year-old and the market support throughout the weeks leading up to the festival ought to be noted.
Ballyandy looks to be the most likely danger and he won well in a Grade 3 contest last time at Newbury, justifying favouritism. He may need to improve again but if he’s to get involved here but he’s shown he can handle the track and he has more experience at the top level than plenty in opposition.
The most interesting betting race on day one of the festival is possibly The OLGB Mares’ Hurdle. Colin’s Sister has done nothing wrong in four starts this year and while she will need to step up on the bare level of her form, she shapes like there will be more to come when she gets a faster pace to aim at, something she looks guaranteed to get here.
At odds of 25/1 at time of writing, she looks like the value in the race and it’s not impossible Fergal O’Brien will relieve Mullins of his stranglehold on the contest.
The 11-time Irish Champion trainer has a fine record in the race winning eight of the nine renewals but his runners have question marks hanging over them this time around.
Last year’s winner, Vroum Vroum Mag struggled to beat four handicappers at Doncaster last time at odds of 1/5.
She narrowly prevailed but made hard work of her assignment while Limini beat Apple’s Jade in heavy ground last time out but she was a beaten 11/10 favourite on her previous two starts and the form of her Novice Hurdle win at the festival last year has failed to produce a horse now rated above 135. They both look opposable and it may well be worth taking them on.
Enda Bolger has a fine record in Cross Country races and won this last year with Josie’s Orders. He has two exciting runners in this year’s contest with ante-post favourite Cantlow, and more interestingly Auvergnat.
It’s still early days for the latter and he’s just a seven-year-old, but he was going well when unseating on Cheltenham Trials Day in January and he bounced back with a fine win at Punchestown last time.
He may want more rain than what he’s likely to get here but he looks overpriced at around the 8/1 mark and this has been a long-term target; with more improvement assured, there’s every chance he can get competitive.
He’s proven he can handle the course and while stablemate Cantlow is certainly a worthy favourite, he looks short considering he was beaten by a 50/1 shot in the trials race himself.
Looking towards the end of the week, Charli Parcs looks like the interesting runner in the Triumph. He was going well when taking a fall at Kempton last time and he’d have been shorter in the betting here than 6/1 if he had stayed on his feet that day.
He’s proven on faster ground and his trainer, Nicky Henderson has a fine record in the race with three wins since 2009. This has been the long-term target for the four-year-old and with Noel Fehily booked to ride, he looks sure to run another big race if experience doesn’t get the better of him.
Ante-post favourite Defi Du Seuil has done very little wrong in five starts this term but this will no doubt be a tougher test than anything he’s tried so far and the Triumph is a completely different type of test than the small field affairs he’s been running in this year. There’s a chance this could come as a culture shock and he looks short enough in the betting.
The Cheltenham Festival’s blue riband event is the final race to look at. It’s been an excellent year for the Colin Tizzard team and he has two excellent chances in the Timico Gold Cup, despite losing long-time ante post favourite, Thistlecrack, through injury.
Native River is favourite at time of writing but he may lack the class of a couple of his rivals. If he can cope with the fast early pace and his jumping holds up, he will be a tough nut to crack if he’s there at the end.
Tizzard’s other runner Cue Card looked the most likely winner when falling in last year’s race but he hasn’t looked quite as effective this time round; he must return in similar form to last year if he’s to take a hand.
It may be worth chancing two-time runner-up in the race, Djakadam. He’s been a little unlucky not to win a Gold cup, particularly last year when he only had a limited amount of time to recover from a nasty cut.
He simply bumped into something a little special the year before in the shape of Coneygree and if he is at that level of form, he will prove hard to beat.
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