CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL DAY 1 BETTING PREVIEW
Our Conor can thwart Hurricane Fly in the Champion Hurdle
The wait is over – the 2014 Cheltenham Festival is upon us. Just nine runners are set to go to post for the showpiece on the opening day, the Stan James Champion Hurdle (3.20), but it nevertheless looks one of the strongest and most intriguing renewals in recent years.
Hurricane Fly, successful in this race in 2011 and last year, will be bidding to join an elite club of multiple winners of the hurdling crown. But Willie Mullins’ star faces arguably the stiffest test of his career to date, tackling the young guns My Tent Or Yours, Our Conor and The New One.
Despite winning all three starts this season in decisive fashion, Hurricane Fly is now a 10-year-old and I for one reckon he will be vulnerable on Tuesday. Indeed, I am confident that a new champion hurdler will be crowned, and believe that it’s OUR CONOR that will assume the mantle.
Dessie Hughes’ charge has already been beaten twice by Hurricane Fly this term, but he gave the Montjeu gelding a real race when beaten a length and-a-half into second by him in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown last time, despite the race not being run to suit.
Our Conor was always likely to be vulnerable against Hurricane Fly, who possesses excellent tactical speed, in a small field at Leopardstown. But he will be a different proposition back at Cheltenham, the scene of his mesmerising display in the Triumph Hurdle at this meeting 12 months ago.
The son of Jeremy is a strong-travelling type who is clearly suited to the rigours of a strongly-run race on a testing track, ingredients you need to look for in a potential champion hurdler, and given that this will be just his seventh race over hurdles there ought to be better to come from Our Conor.
My Tent Or Yours got the better of The New One in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day, but the latter, like the selection, will be more at home on this stiff track and is expected to reverse the placings this time. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ is feared most.
Cheltenham Festival Betting advice – Our Conor (5/1, Paddy Power)
Vautour can vanquish rivals in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
Willie Mullins sent out Champagne Fever to win the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (1.30) last year and is triple-handed in his bid to repeat the dose on Tuesday. VAUTOUR is Ruby Walsh’s pick of the County Carlow handler’s trio and looks the one to be on.
The French import has landed all three of his starts since joining Mullins, most recently outpointing a very smart horse in The Tullow Tank in the Grade 1 Deloitte Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown. He scored with plenty up his sleeve on that occasion and looks a horse of massive potential.
Ante-post favourite Irving possesses plenty of gears and is an obvious threat, but an even bigger danger could be posed by fellow Irish raider Gilgamboa, who landed a valuable handicap hurdle at Leopardstown in January, while Nicky Henderson’s duo, Josses Hill and Vaniteux, also merit respect.
Cheltenham Festival Betting advice – Vautour (7/2, Ladbrokes)
Trifolium can come up trumps in the Arkle Trophy
Champagne Fever has scored at the last two Cheltenham Festivals and is expected to make a bold bid to enhance his record at this meeting in the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase (2.05), a race for which he is a top-priced 3/1 market leader with Bet Victor at the time of writing.
The seven-year-old was clearly below his best when a well-held third in a Grade 1 on his latest start on Boxing Day, and if he reproduces the pick of his hurdles form in this sphere on Tuesday he will be extremely hard to beat at a track which clearly plays to his strengths.
However, TRIFOLIUM was mighty impressive when landing the Irish equivalent of this race under testing conditions at Leopardstown in January, form which looks rock-solid, and he can follow-up providing he proves equally effective on the better ground at Prestbury Park.
Former Champion Hurdle winner Rock On Ruby and Grandouet are both classy performers and command plenty of respect, but Trifolium may have most to fear from Dodging Bullets who has taken really well to fences and boasts an excellent record at this track.
Cheltenham Festival Betting advice – Trifolium (9/2, bet365)
Alfie can ace Baylis &Harding field
The most open-looking race of the day is the Baylis & Harding Affordable Luxury Handicap Chase (2.40), but there’s one that stands out for me, and that’s ALFIE SHERRIN who posted a promising effort when fourth in a Grade 3 handicap hurdle on his reappearance at Haydock in November.
The Jonjo O’Neill-trained gelding is just 5lb above the mark off which he won the 2012 renewal of this race, and again ran well at this track when fourth in the Kim Muir 12 months ago. Everything looks in place for Alfie Sherrin to go mighty close in valuable contest once again.
There are dangers aplenty, headed by Hadrian’s Approach and Holywell, while Time For Rupert, who came back to form when runner-up at Doncaster last time, and the hat-trick seeking Irish raider Wrong Turn are others to consider.
Cheltenham Festival Betting advice – Alfie Sherrin (8/1, BetVictor)