It’s finally here. The Cheltenham Festival 2016 starts today with much of the buzz and speculation surrounding Irish Champion Trainer Willie Mullins and his haul of supreme runners.
He looks set to saddle up four favourites from today’s seven cards including Min in the Supreme Novices, Douvan in the Arkle, Annie Power in the Champion Hurdle and Vroum Vroum Mag in the mare’s Hurdle.
All four favourites are to be ridden by jockey Ruby Walsh and all four are owned by the Ricci’s so it could be a very profitable day for all concerned if they manage to sweep the boards on the opening day of the Festival.
If you think the Willie Mullins camp has what it takes to win all four, the odds on an Acca are pretty good with Betfair. I placed a £1 e/w (big spender, I know) and if all four come in I should bag a handy £65 which isn’t bad considering two of them are odds on.
Supreme Novices – 1.30pm
Min is the clear favourite in the opening race, with Altior from Nicky Henderson a close second.
Incidentally, Altior has more wins notched up and is four from four over hurdles.
He also edges it with a higher top speed and as the Cheltenham course is drying out with Simon Claisse, clerk of the course report that the going for Day One of the Festival is is good to soft, soft in places this could work to his advantage.
If you’re looking for some longer odds, Bellshill, also from Willie Mullins, is a cool 16/1 and from four trips over hurdles has three wins and a place so he could be in contention.
The Arkle – 2.10pm
Douvan is far and away the favourite here with odds ON of 4/11. That said, as all of the other contenders have such long odds, it’ll be easy to bag a few quid on the each way bet but bear in mind that bookmakers will only be playing out on two places as there are only seven runners so choose wisely.
At around 16/1, I think it’s worth looking at The Game Changer from Gordon Elliott. The Arkle is less than two miles and The Game Changer has a very good record over this distance with six wins and two places from eight chase starts.
Ultima handicap Chase – 2.50pm
This is a big race with 24 runners. Out Sam from Warren Greatrex is the favourite but with the likes Kruzhlinin, Holywell and Beg To Differ set to line-up it’s shaping up to be a terrific race.
Holywell has the best rating of the runners, with Theatre Guide on the best Top Speed and of the 24 set to run today, eight also have Grand National 2016 entries so it will be very interesting to see how their performance today affects their Aintree prospects in the coming days.
Champion Hurdle – 3.30pm
Annie Power was entered late with a £20K penalty so clearly connections are very optimistic about her chances if they’re willing to spend that much money to enter her late. As a mare, she benefits from a 7lb deduction so will carry 11-03 while the other 12 runners will carry 11-10.
This is a very classy race, and Annie Power will have a lot of competition particularly as she doesn’t have the most impeccable track record at Cheltenham. She did win there in January 2014 but the only two blips in her career were at this course – when she finished second in 2014 in the World Hurdle and when she fell in 2015 in the Mares Hurdle.
There is value in the other runners with The New One lining up for the third consecutive year in this race. He was third in 2014 and fifth in 2015 but won the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock in January which may help him today.
Mares Hurdle – 4.10pm
Another Willie Mullins dominator in this race with Vroum Vroum Mag the current odds on favourite at 10/11.
With 20 runners all carrying 11-05, it’s only Polly Peachum that seems to come anywhere close to Vroum Vroum Mag in the betting. Once you move outside of those two you’re straight into 16/1 for The Govaness and with bookmakers paying out to three places, you have a very good chance of getting some money back if you pick well.
I’m going out on a limb and suggesting that Lily Waugh, from trainer Anthony Honeyball, may sneak into the places and at odds of 33/1 it’s worth a punt.
The National Hunt Chase – 4.50pm
Nine Carberry is an expert in this race and she rides Southfield Royale today, a 7/1 joint favourite.
It’s a tough course run over 3m 7f and all the shorter priced runners, only Vicente has notched up two previous wins at Cheltenham which may stand him in good stead this afternoon. At 16/1 he’s worth a shot.
Novice handicap Chase – 5.30pm
Carrying top weight of 11-10 is Aloomomo who is also the race favourite. Trained by Warren Greatrex, the six year old is on great form with three back-to-back wins and a third place finish this season.
I think Five In A Row may go well and while he can go the distance and the going should suit him, this will be a step in class for the Brian Ellison eight year old.