The Festival 2017 | Day 1

I’ve been betting on The Cheltenham Festival for eleven years and I’ve made a profit in all of them. Some years it’s been nerve wracking, others have seen it banked early on. In recent times Festival betting has been made easier by bookies falling over themselves with offers and just silly prices (led by people laying off these offers on the exchanges) being freely available. This year, with a number of the superstars sidelined, bookmakers issuing profit warnings and losing court battles with HMRC, we have a different feel. This year is the toughest years in recent history and making a profit won’t be easy. That said I still expect to be walking away in the green come Friday evening.

[symple_heading type=”h2″ title=”13:30 | The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle” margin_top=”20px;” margin_bottom=”20px” text_align=”left”]

Moon Racer was my original fancy for this as I thought he had some improvement in him, a good course record and he held Ballyandy on form. However he goes to the Champion Hurdle and that has now left this race wide open. Melon was a hype horse throughout the winter, despite not actually seeing a racecourse. When he did finally make his debut he beat Broken Soul who has now been beaten three times since, so he doesn’t have the form in the book to make him favourite. He’s a flat bred horse by Medicean, so on breeding he doesn’t stand out. Therefore the only reason he heads the market is the Mullins and Walsh factor, for me that isn’t enough to make him favourite. However the fact the Ruby Walsh has chosen to ride him is enough to put me off Bunk Off Early, who on breeding will be even less suited to this test.

Ballyandy is a reliable type, yet he’s never really struck me as a top class two miler and therefore at the prices I have to oppose him, I just don’t see how he goes off shorter than 4.50 and therefore he rates as a bad value bet in my book.

One horse who I do think will shorten in the market is RIVER WYLDE. I was impressed with the way he travelled in the Dovecote last time out, when he quickened up nicely and stayed on well to pull away from a decent yardstick in Elgin. It’s also worth pointing out that he’s by the very high class jumps sire, Oscar.

If we look at some of the horses that Oscar has sired, we see a Champion Chase winner, Champion Hurdle winner, Gold Cup winner as well as a number of other Grade One Cheltenham winners.

If there is decent market support for him, against a Mullins pair and the generally always well backed Ballyandy, then that would be very telling and at the current prices I’m prepared to take the chance that there will be.

BACK RIVER WYLDE at 9.00 (Betfair, BetVictor, Paddy Power)

[symple_heading type=”h2″ title=”14:10 | The Arkle” margin_top=”20px;” margin_bottom=”20px” text_align=”left”]

If this race had eight runners it would be a positive expected value race for an each-way bet, however as it has nine it doesn’t interest me. Altior will win this, and should probably be a 1.25 shot, therefore the 1.29 doesn’t interest me enough. It’s one I’ll just watch and enjoy.

[symple_heading type=”h2″ title=”15:30: The Champion Hurdle” margin_top=”20px;” margin_bottom=”20px” text_align=”left”]

Anyone who’s followed me for over a year now will know that I’m a huge fan of YANWORTH for this race, I have a healthy ante-post position, but have also gone in again. I understand that people may feel that I’m biased towards him and his chances here, however I believe he is the best horse in the race with the best form in the race.

He finished second in last years Neptune, to the highly talented and well regarded Yorkhill. If we look back over that race we can see that Yorkhill got a dream run through race, whilst Yanworth was trapped out wide. He finished seven lengths clear of the third that day. Buveur D’air finished third in The Supreme, over eight lengths behind Altior. I would say that even on the face of it Yanworth has a better formline at last years festival. What is interesting is that the clock also backs up my theory that Yanworth is the better horse, I have him 0.81 seconds quicker from the second last to the line and 0.16 seconds quicker from the third last. By my calculations that makes Yanworth around 4 lengths quicker.

Buveur D’air then went on to win a Grade 1 on soft ground, which is his prefered surface, beating Petit Mouchoir by half-a-length. Strictly on that formline Yanworth also has the beating of Petit Mouchoir and we have no reason to believe that Yanworth wouldn’t have acted on that ground at Aintree, he won a Grade Two on heavy on Festival Trials day last year, along with a number of other soft ground performances. I believe that Yanworth would have won that Anitree Novices’ hurdle against his two main market rival for this race.

Petit Mouchoir has improved this season, on the face of it, he’s won two Grade One’s in races run to suit. He’s been given an easy lead and taken full advantage against horses, Nichols Canyon and Ivanovich Gorbatov, who have shown no form this season. That leaves his best marker for seasonal form as a one length victory over Footpad, where the race fell in his lap.

Buveur D’air has had a different season, he began it by embarking on a Novice Chase campaign. He was then switched back to hurdling for and won the Contenders Hurdle (Listed Race) by one and a half lengths from Rayvin Black. That performance got people talking about his ‘star quality’ and how he was now the ‘one to beat’ in The Champion Hurdle.

If we compare the above two pieces of form to Yanworths’ last two races then there is no contest on who has the better form this season, as well as last. Yanworth won the Grade One Christmas Hurdle on a track that wouldn’t suit by three and a quarter lengths from The New One, who has won two Grade Twos this season. Yanworth then suffered a slight knockback, but then re-appeared when not fully fit at probably the worst track there is for him, Wincanton. He won there, it wasn’t a sparkling performance, but he had enough class and determination to get the job done. The most interesting thing about that race for me however was the fact that Rayvin Black finished over thirty-four lengths behind Yanworth.

Of the others Yanworth has already shown that he has the beating of The New One, My Tent Or Yours, Sceau Royal and Ch’tibello. As I don’t rate Petit Mouchoir’s chances against him, I can’t be a Footpad backer so that’s seven ruled out. Wicklow Brave hasn’t raced over hurdles since November 2015, I didn’t rate him as a Champion Hurdle contender then and I don’t now.

Moon Racer has to get a mention as I had him down as my Supreme winner, I rate the horse highly. He’s three from three at the track and beat Yanworth in the 2015 Champion Bumper, Yanworth did lose his place in the run that day but I don’t think it made too much difference. I think he’s the one I fear the most and I applaud connection for going down this route, however he just hasn’t done it on the clock. It will be worth seeing if the time he runs in this race is quicker than the winning time of The Supreme.

Brain Power is one of those horses that has put up a pair of impressive performances in handicaps, however despite posting some good time performances, he hasn’t beaten anything of note horse wise. Therefore I’d prefer to go with the proven time performances and formbook of Yanworth, instead of a single figure price on Brain Power.

Cyrus Darius was beaten twenty-six lengths by The New One, in January, which was his first run for sixteen months. He followed that up with a win at Kelso, but on all know form he has a lot to find.

Yanworth has answered all the questions he’s been asked this season, he’s shown he’s quick enough, he’s shown he’s quicker than his rivals in the past and he has the best form in the book. If he’s within three lengths at the bottom of the hill, nothing will be staying on better than him up it. I expect this race to be run to suit him with a strong gallop on, the pace up front collapsing then Yanworth picking them off one by one as he stays on. Wins by two and a half lengths.

BACK YANWORTH at 3.75 (BetVictor, Betfred, Ladbrokes, Coral, William Hill)

[symple_heading type=”h2″ title=”16:10 | The Mares Hurdle” margin_top=”20px;” margin_bottom=”20px” text_align=”left”]

The mares race doesn’t get a lot of love, yet it’s generally always been a good one for punters. Quevega ‘got me out of trouble’ a few times. This year looks the most competitive yet and with Willie Mullins winning the last eight, it’s no surprise to see his horses at the top of the market.

It’s a huge surprise to see Limini and Vroum Vroum Mag facing off against each-other. The way I read into it is that Vroum Vroum Mag isn’t showing he usual ability, as seen last time at Doncaster and therefore they’ve decided that her best chance of getting a victory is in this race. However Ricci has always said he wants winners at The Festival, so the thought may have crossed his mind that running them both in this race as opposed to running Limini in the Champions Hurdle, will ‘guarantee’ him a winner.

On collateral form Apple’s Jade beat Vroum Vroum Mag in December, receiving 4lbs, initial thoughts from that race were, Vroum Vroum Mag would turn the form around with Apple’s Jade if they met again. However her run at Doncaster last time out and the fact that Ruby Walsh has chosen Limini over her puts me off.

Last time out Limini, on her seasonal reappearance, beat Apple’s Jade yet that doesn’t tell the full story of the race. Apple’s Jade had to do a lot of the work herself, in heavy ground and as she tired close to home Limini picked her off. On their runs at last season Festival I have Apple’s Jade running a time 0.73 seconds quicker from two out, on slightly softer ground than what Limini put up.

I think that in a race with a stronger pace, where Apple’s Jade doesn’t have to do the work she’s more than capable of turning the form around.

BACK APPLE’S JADE at 6.00 (Paddy Power)

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