Despite some cramped odds we will gladly accept the profit from day one at Cheltenham and renew rivalries with the bookies once more for Sportingbet Queen Mother Champion Chase day.
The feature is due off at 3.20 and stars the best National Hunt horse in training, Sprinter Sacre. Nicky Henderson’s seven-year-old is unbeaten over fences, with those successes including last year’s Arkle. He acts on the ground, has yet to be extended in any chase and looks the banker of the whole meeting.
However, at 3/10 he is too short for the working man, so he may it may be worth backing without him or to find the one to follow him home for the forecast. Sizing Europe is a previous champion chaser but at 11 he is getting a bit long in the tooth. The fact that connections thought long and hard about going for the Ryanair tomorrow, in preference to this, suggests that they are concerned about how much speed he still possesses. He is still second-best here on all known form, but it might be worth chancing Mail De Bievre to fill the runner-up spot.
Tom George’s charge jumped with plenty of enthusiasm, trying to make all until his stamina ran out at Newbury last time, meaning his trainer had a rethink over his best trip. We know he stays at least two-and-a-half miles, which will stand him in good stead and he might lead the favourite to the home turn and plug on behind him for second.
Also on the card is the staying novices’ championship, the RSA Chase (2.40). This year’s renewal should suit Boston Bob who, despite being deserted by Ruby Walsh who prefers Unioniste, should be ideally suited by a strong pace over this three-mile trip. Slow ground is definitely a positive and he will take a bit of beating. Unioniste beat one of today’s opponents, Hadrian’s Approach at Newbury last time, when he was said to be in need of the run.
If that’s the case then he can improve today, but so too can Nicky Henderson-trained Hadrian’s Approach, who would probably have won that day but for a bad blunder two from home. He found three lengths on the run-in, only to go down by a short head and he looks capable of at least making the frame. Houblon Des Obeaux is another with the potential to finish in the money.
The day’s opener (1.30) is the John Oaksey National Hunt Chase, named after the former journalist and broadcaster who did so much for racing, not least the Injured Jockeys’ Fund. The ‘Noble Lord’ would have relished riding in this stamina-sapping four-mile contest which should see Back In Focus and Buddy Bolero fight out the finish. The latter looks the better value option at the odds. A word also for Scampi Boy, who looks worth a small wager to make the frame at massive odds.
There’s a third Grade 1 on the card for Wednesday watchers to enjoy, the Neptune Investment Novices’ Hurdle (2.05). Pont Alexandre looked very impressive when winning at Leopardstown in January and a strong gallop over this trip looks ideal for him. He can improve again and will be hard to beat. If anything is to lower his colours then another Irish-trained runner, Rule The World, could be the one. However, of more interest and potentially destined for the top is Chatterbox. Another representative of Seven Barrows, he may have been flattered by his defeat of stablemate My Tent Or Yours on his Newbury hurdles debut. He is stepped up in trip here, but with stamina on the dam’s side of his pedigree, he could find significant improve.
The last three races today are all potential minefields for punters. The Coral Cup (4.00) has drawn a maximum field of 28 and Pendra looks to have claims of giving A P McCoy another Festival winner. However, Ericht and Mr Watson both look decent value to make the frame and possibly even win it.
At 4.40 the Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle is for the juveniles and looks a very tough race to call. Donald McCain has done well with his Cheltenham raids in recent seasons and Counsel could go close to winning another big pot for the Cheshire-based trainer. At a bigger price Angelot Du Berlais could make the frame. He caught the eye when winning at Ludlow in January and his last run, when he finished lame in third, can be overlooked.
Finally, a fourth Grade 1 brings down the curtain on day two at 5.15, the Weatherbys Champion Bumper. Traditionally farmed by the Irish, they have a strong hand again this time with Willie Mullins saddling several runners. Even so, Tony Martin’s Golantilla may prove the pick of the those from the Emerald Isle. Regal Encore also looks to have strong claims, but in a race where punters should tread carefully, David Pipe’s Vieux Lion Rouge looks overpriced and can be backed each way.
A fantastic day’s sport ahead. Once again, enjoy!