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2018 Cheltenham Festival tips – Expert selections on day one of the famous meeting

Buveur D'Air looks hard to oppose as he returns to defend his Champion Hurdle crown.

Our expert looks through the ante-post fields for all the races on day one at the Cheltenham Festival and provides his readers with his tips.

On Tuesday March 13th, the 2018 Cheltenham Festival will begin. Windows will be rattling half-way across Gloucestershire as the synonymous roar of the Cheltenham crowd thunders across the county, signifying the start of National Hunt racing’s showpiece event.

There will be four Grade One prizes up for grabs on day one, along with two prestigious handicaps and the historic National Hunt Challenge Cup. Our expert takes a look through all seven races and provides readers with his expert tips.

1:30pm Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade One) 2m½f

Getabird looked superb when winning the Moscow Flyer on his pre-Festival prep-run and deservedly leads the way in the betting. Willie Mullins’ charge looks open to further progression, but there are plenty of several talented novices stacked up behind the favourite who offer better value at their current prices.

Summerville Boy and Claimantakinforgan bring Graded winning form into Cheltenham. While they hold each-way appeal, there’s a case to be made for MENGLI KHAN being the one to push the favourite and maybe even reverse the form of the Moscow Flyer.

Gordon Elliott’s charge ran roughshod through the novice ranks during the first half of the season. A comfortable victory on his first start as a second-season novice was followed by a smart win in a Grade Three at Navan. After trouncing his rivals in the Grade One Royal Bond at Fairyhouse, Mengli Khan was expected to be a big player at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival, but his race ended prematurely as he leapt through the wing of the third-last hurdle.

Just over two weeks later, Elliott sent his charge into battle against Getabird. The five-year-old was powerless to deny Willie Mullins’ charge that day, but he stayed on well to claim second and he’s been given a nice break since. Mengli Khan defeated 29 rivals on his reappearance, so the hustle and bustle of the Supreme should pose no problems. You could argue he brings the best form into the race and offers stacks of value at a double-figure price.

This year’s Arkle is shaping up to be one of the races of the week, with several chasers bringing strong form into Cheltenham. Petit Mouchoir made an encouraging return from injury at the Dublin Racing Festival and is expected to come on from the run. Harry Whittington will have been delighted by Saint Calvados’ convincing victory in the Kingmaker and he looks to have plenty of class.

That being said, it’s hard to get away from FOOTPAD at the head of the betting - who has been far and away the most impressive novice in the sport this season.

A foot-perfect display on debut was followed by a lengthy triumph in Grade One at Leopardstown on Boxing Day without ever coming off the bridle. Paul Townend had to work a little harder at the Dublin Racing Festival to keep his mount up to task, but Footpad comfortably brushed off the challenge of Arkle second-favourite, Petit Mouchoir to extend his unbeaten record over fences.

Henry De Bromhead’s charge is expected to come on after his return from injury. Yet he, and the rest of the Arkle field will have to go a long way to catch Footpad, who remains one of the best bets at this years’ Cheltenham Festival.

2:50pm Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 3m1f

Gold Present will take in this race before having a crack at the Grand National and has to have a chance based on his seasonal form and runner-up finish in last year’s Close Brothers. He carried a big weight to victory earlier in the winter, but this will be a tough challenge off a career high-mark.

Coo Star Sivola finished fourth in last year's Martin Pipe and secured a maiden chasing victory at Kelso last time out. While heavy ground lover Yala Enki appeals at lengthy odds, the solid bet in this years’ contest is last year’s runner-up SINGLEFARMPAYMENT.

Tom George’s chaser came within a whisker of bagging this big prize 12 months ago, only for returning winner Un Temps Pour Tout to get up in the dying strides. A decent runner-up finish to Cogry on his return was followed by an appearance in the Ladbrokes Trophy, where Adrian Heskin’s mount was moving into contention before falling three from home.

Singlefarmpayment was soundly beaten by Gold Present as Nicky Henderson’s charge won the Lavazza Silver Cup, but the weights were level that day and isn’t nearly as adept around Prestbury Park. Five visits have yielded two victories and two runner-up finishes for Tom George’s eight-year-old. Singlefarmpayment should be able to put himself in the frame once again, given he sits just three pounds higher in the weights than last year.

Nicky Henderson’s gamble to reroute BUVEUR D’AIR from a path towards the JLT to the Champion Hurdle paid off last season, as the JP McManus-owned gelding stormed to a smashing success. Since then, the returning king has further established his position at the head of the hurdling ranks and it’s hard to make a case for any of his other Champion Hurdle rivals.

Buveur D’Air has won all three of his races this season – including Grade One victories in the Fighting Fifth and the International Hurdle without breaking a sweat. Barry Geraghty has only looked troubled once during any of those outings and that was when he eased his mount down a little prematurely, in what should have been a lengthy victory on his most recent outing at Sandown.

My Tent Or Yours has a fantastic record in this race and could challenge for the places. Faugheen still has quality and cannot be counted out. Yet, Buveur D’Air has looked so strong over the past year and clearly has plenty more to give. The Champion Hurdle is his to lose.

I found it almost impossible to split the top three in the betting last year and it proved to be one of the most exciting races of the meeting. While strong stayer La Bague Au Roi deserves respect and Benie Des Dieux is a danger on her return to hurdling, the outcome of the 2018 Mares’ Hurdle looks far more clear cut.

APPLE’S JADE battled bravely to hold off Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini to claim this crown last year and Gordon Elliott’s mare has progressed onto another level since. She won for the first time on her reappearance in a Grade Two, before retaining her Hatton’s Grace title in emphatic fashion at Fairyhouse.

Elliott stepped his charge up to three miles for the first time at Leopardstown just after Christmas and Apple’s Jade rose to the challenge, holding off Supasundae in the closing stages to land a fourth Grade One in the space of a year. Supasundae went on to frank that form by winning the Irish Champion Hurdle. 

Apple’s Jade has been kept under lock and key since her Christmas Hurdle triumph and she will be chomping at the bit to hit the track at Cheltenham again, where she will prove she is the best mare in the business.

4:50pm National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup (Grade 2) 4m

Jury Duty and Jamie Codd will ne Gordon Elliott's main runner in the National Hunt, as he looks to keep hold of the trophy won by Tiger Roll last year. No Comment has only made one appearance during the regular season, but Philip Hobbs has enough confidence to send him to the Grade One Scily Isles on his chasing debut and, after finishing third in that race, he's been backed to succeed in the four miler.

While Keeper Hill and improving stayer Duel At Dawn appeal, Anthony Honeyball's stable have been in flying form all season and his best chance of claiming a first victory at the Cheltenham Festival looks likely to be MS PARFOIS.

After finishing third on her reappearance, the seven-year-old mare claimed a fanstic victory here at Cheltenham, holding off Theatre Territory to win by a length. Following that win, Honeyball stepped Ms Parfois up to three miles and the mares has never looked back, recording two further victories. A runner-up finish to Black Corton in Grade Two last time out helped her rating reach 146 - some 23 pounds higher than when she started the season.

Ms Parfois boasts winning form here at Cheltenham and has looked progressive all season. Anthony Honeyball’s mare sits at an appealing price for an each-way punt and if Will Biddick can get as sweet a tune out of her as Sean Bowen and Noel Fehily have managed, the National Hunt field better watch out.

5:30pm Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase (Listed) 2m4½f

De Plotting Shed is a significant danger coming over from Ireland and is likely to be kindly treated by the handicapper. Nico De Boinville has plumped for Divine Spear, but Rather Be has experience winning Festival handicaps from Aintree last season and has looked good since switching to the larger obstacles.

Mister Whitaker has the course form to back up his claims and Testify won a Grade Two on his most recent run over fences. While their current prices looks appealing, BARNEY DWAN finished second in last years' Pertemps and could go one better in the final race on day one.

Fergal O'Brien was roaring his charge home from the rails as he hit the front in the Pertemps, but Davy Russell produced Presenting Percy at the perfect time to relegated Barney Dwan to second. After struggling to third in a tricky Class Two on his first start over fences, O'Brien's eight-year-old has recorded two routine victories over some capable opponents, defeating Class Four and Three field by a combined distance of 20 lengths.

Barney Dwan's runner-up finish in the Pertemps has been made to look very good, considering what Presenting Percy has achieved since. Barney Dwan's jumping looked extremely solid during his two most-recent victories and he has victories on heavy ground to bolster his sizeable claims.

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2018 Cheltenham Festival tips – Expert selections on day one of the famous meeting

Our expert looks through the ante-post fields for all the races on day one at the Cheltenham Festival and provides his readers with his tips.

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