The Tuesday of Cheltenham is often a great day for the Irish, and the likes of Willie Mullins has dominated the opening day in recent years. The headlines afterwards often read, 'Ruby Tuesday,' such is the potency of the Irish duo on Day 1. But will they have as good a time this year?
We are going to take you through the card race by race every day, giving you the inside track on the runners and riders as we try to set you on the right track to a fruitful opening day, and perhaps some more Irish success on the famous track.
13:30 - Supreme Novices' Hurdle
Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh once again have the favourite in this race in the shape of MELON. Ruby has chosen him out of the four Mullins entries based on just one run over hurdles when he accounted for BROKEN SOUL in a Leopardstown maiden. The horse clearly works well at home to get Ruby's choice, but we are going with another Mullins runner, BUNK OFF EARLY. Paul Townend gets the leg up here on a horse with considerable form in the book. He was second to BACARDYS in a Grade 1 Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown last month. BALLYANDY is one of the more seasoned runners in the Supreme this year and the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained runner comes here in good form having won the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury last time out. Gordon Elliott's LABAIK is beyond quirky with two poor displays recently, but on the pick of his form, namely a victory over MICK JAZZ in November, he has a chance to outrun odds of 25/1.
THE PUNTER'S 1-2-3
1. Bunk Off Early (6/1)
2. Ballyandy (4/1)
3. Melon (11/4)
14:10 - The Arkle Trophy
Surely ALTIOR is one of the bankers of the meeting, and at 1/4 is simply too short to back for regular punters. In saying that, Nicky Henderson's 7-year-old should win handsomely and forecast and each-way betting will persist here. CHARBEL (11/1) could be a good each-way shot or forecast option. He was no match for ALTIOR in December when he finished six lengths behind the star, but there was no shame in that defeat. He made a mistake when in front at the last fence when he got too tight to it, but would not have outrun ALTIOR in any event. In his run before that, he accounted for LE PREZIEN at Uttoxeter, and always seems to give his running. He is a good price, will handle the ground, likes the trip, and should come on again from his latest effort. ORDINARY WORLD (40/1) for Henry de Bromhead is an Irish raider that could outrun big odds following his impressive enough run to be 2nd to the brilliant MIN at Leopardstown over Christmas.
THE PUNTER'S 1-2-3
1. Altior (1/4)
2. Charbel (11/1)
3. Ordinary World (40/1)
14:50 - Ultima Handicap Chase
The first of the big handicaps, and as always with Cheltenham handicap chases, it is a puzzle. SINGLEFARMPAYMENT is proving popular, despite being brought down in his latest start at the same track in January. His odds of 6/1 are based on his previous run which saw him beat ARPEGE D'ALENE, also at Cheltenham, and form at the track is a big plus. He will enjoy the drying ground and should run a big race. The two I like are IBIS DU RHEU (12/1) and MEASUREOFMYDREAMS (25/1). Both have form at this track, most recently IBIS DU RHEU who was third here in a handicap chase in January. MEASUREOFMYDREAMS has been lack lustre since leaving Willie Mullins but ran a cracking race here last year when he found just MINELLA ROCCO and NATIVE RIVER too good. A lot has to be taken on faith with this one but he is certainly capable of getting up that Cheltenham hill and upsetting some of the favourites.
THE PUNTER'S 1-2-3
1. Ibis Du Rheu (12/1)
2. Singlefarmpayment (6/1)
3. Measureofmydreams (25/1)
15:20 - Champion Hurdle
The 2017 Champion Hurdle lacks the dazzle of previous years, but that makes it a live betting heat with a host of horses in with a chance. YANWORTH is the current favourite at 5/2 but Alan King's charge has a few chinks in his armour. Holes can certainly be picked in his form, and 5/2 looks quite short when you delve a little deeper. He beat CH'TIBELLO and SCEAU ROYAL in his latest run last month, but both of those rivals are out of the betting reckoning and way down the pecking order for this race. He won the Christmas Hurdle before that with fading star THE NEW ONE behind him, while MY TENT OR YOURS was fourth. That is hardly inspiring form for a 5/2 shot. BUVEUR D'AIR will be popular for Nicky Henderson's yard, but his form has all come against even lesser rivals. His latest effort saw him finish just a length ahead of RAYVIN BLACK at Sandown, a horse that has bombed out in both of his subsequent starts. He did produce a brilliant run at Aintree last year when he beat both PETIT MOUCHOIR and LIMINI in a novice hurdle, but Henry de Bromhead's PETIT MOUCHOIR (15/2) has certainly improved since, and he gets the vote in a tricky Champion Hurdle. He has won his last two races, including a seven-length success over NICHOLS CANYON in the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas. NICHOLS CANYON was third in last year's Champion Hurdle, just four and half lengths in arrears to ANNIE POWER whilst carrying seven pounds more than her on account of her mare's allowance. PETIT MOUCHOIR went on to win the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown in January, easing to victory over FOOTPAD and IVANOVICH GORBATOV. FOOTPAD was just a length in arrears that day and could certainly outrun his current odds of 20/1 for outside each-way backers.
1. Petit Mouchoir (15/2)
2. Yanworth (5/2)
3. Footpad (20/1)
16:10 - Mare's Hurdle
A race Willie Mullins has dominated with the likes of QUEVEGA over the years, and he has a strong hand again this term. Last year's easy winner VROUM VROUM MAG takes to the field again but has been overlooked by Ruby Walsh who has chosen to ride the exciting LIMINI for the same trainer and owners. She won a novice hurdle here last year and since went on to bigger and better things. Most notably, she beat APPLE'S JADE of Gordon Elliott's at Punchestown last month as she geared up for this race, but her form does show signs of weakness. She lost to WHITEOUT at last year's Punchestown festival, and although she may have been suffering from burnout after a tough season, that rival has not been up to much recently. The vote in this one goes with VROUM VROUM MAG (3/1). She won 10 races on the bounce between November 2014 and April 2016, including this race last term, and a classy victory over IDENTITY THIEF at last April's Punchestown Festival. Her only defeat came against the re-opposing APPLE'S JADE in December, but she meets that rival now on equal terms, having carried four pounds more than Gordon Elliott's charge in that short head loss. She has won twice since and although not winning in the stunning fashion she once did with regularity, the reality is the 8-year-old has only lost once in 13 starts. She could be a steal at her current price despite Ruby opting for LIMINI. Ireland should have the front three home in this with APPLE'S JADE and JER'S GIRL completing the shortlist.
THE PUNTER'S 1-2-3
1. Vroum Vroum Mag (3/1)
2. Limini (6/4)
3. Apple's Jade (6/1)
16:50 - National Hunt Novices' Chase
Another tricky contest to unravel but a very competitive renewal of this race, won last year by 2017 Gold Cup hopeful MINELLA ROCCO. NATIVE RIVER, ante-post favourite for the Gold Cup, was second that day, so this race can throw up some extremely talented stayers. Staying is the key over this extended 3M 7F trip, and ARPEGE D'ALENE will love the marathon trip. He ran well to be second to SINGLEFARMPAYMENT at the same track in December over 3M 1F and the further they go, and the tougher it gets, the closer this one should be to the fringes. However, the nod goes to Nicky Henderson's brilliantly named BEWARE THE BEAR (8/1). He could be one of the classier sorts in this race in time and ran impeccably to beat SINGLEFARMPAYMENT at Ascot in November, following up and defying a six-pound rise when once again landing the odds over AURILLIC at Newbury. Sam Waley-Cohen takes the ride and he usually nabs a winner during Cheltenham and this could be it as I think Nicky Henderson's promising 7-year-old has a little up its sleeve. EDWULF for Joseph O'Brien wanted soft ground to fully realise his challenge, but Willie Mullins could be in the frame again with ARBRE DE VIE. At 22/1, the Katie Walsh ridden 7-year-old could run a big race having been within six lengths of ACAPELLA BOURGEOUIS at Navan late last year. Stamina has to be taken on faith with this one but the price about it is just too tempting not to have a small each-way punt.
THE PUNTER'S 1-2-3
1. Beware the Bear (8/1)
2. Arpege D'Alene (12/1)
3. Arbre De Vie (22/1)
17:30 - Close Brothers' Handicap Novices' Chase
This could well be the lucky last for the Irish on Day 1 with ALL HELL LET LOOSE (20/1). The Henry De Bromhead trained runner could be an excellent chaser in time, and won well by eight lengths on good ground at Kilbeggan last June. That is a lengthy lay-off before coming into this test but the 20/1 could be a great each-way price about him. He has good hurdles form and will have good company with Bryan Cooper on his back in the Gigginstown colours. TWO TAFFS (10/1) will have Davy Russell on-board and that has to be a positive for the Dan Skelton runner. His last run wasn't exactly inspiring but before that he put in two good runs in defeat to AMINABAD and POKER SCHOOL, and he is generally consistently in the frame. BURTON'S WELL (20/1) completes the shortlist after a good run to be fourth here behind ROYAL VACATION in January.
THE PUNTER'S 1-2-3
1. All Hell Let Loose (20/1)
2. Two Taffs (10/1)
3. Burton's Well (20/1)
13:30 - Bunk Off Early - EW - 7/1
14:10 - Charbel - EW - 11/1
14:40 - Ibis Du Rheu - EW - 12/1
15:20 - Petit Mouchoir - EW - 15/2
16:10 - Vroum Vroum Mag - WIN - 3/1 (NAP)
16:40 - Beware the Bear - EW - 8/1 (NB)
17:30 - All Hell Let Loose - EW - 20/1
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