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2018 Cheltenham Festival tips for day one - Race-by-race selections for the opening day of Cheltenham

The Cheltenham Festival gets underway on Tuesday for the first of four days' top-class horse racing.

Brian Healy gives his race-by-race selections for the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival, featuring the Champion Hurdle and the Arkle Chase.

Tuesday sees the opening day of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival, and at 1.30pm the famous Cheltenham Festival roar will reverberate around Cleeve Hill as the tapes go up on the first of seven classy contests with the Grade One Supreme Novices’ Hurdle being the first to go to post.

The best of the action on the opening day will be featured live on ITV Racing, and Ed Chamberlain and the team will be on-hand to assess and analyse five live TV races throughout the afternoon with before, during and after opinion from the experts.

1:30 - Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1) Cl1 (4yo+) 2m½f ITV
2:10 - Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices' Chase (Grade 1) Cl1 (5yo+) 2m ITV
2:50 - Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3) Cl1 (5yo+) 3m1f ITV
3:30 - Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1) Cl1 (4yo+) 2m½f ITV
4:10 - OLBG Mares' Hurdle (Grade 1) (Registered As The David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle) Cl1 (4yo+) 2m4f ITV
4:50 - National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders' Novices' Chase (Grade 2) Cl1 (5yo+) 4m RUK

1:30 - Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1) Cl1 (4yo+) 2m½f ITV

The prospect of heavy ground at Cheltenham on Tuesday tempers enthusiasm somewhat for the chances of CLAIMANTAKINFORGAN (14/1, Paddy Power, each-way) who may want a better surface than what will be the case on the day; but Nicky Henderson’s charge can give a good account nonetheless and continue the Seven Barrows’ trainer good record in the race.

While Henderson has only won the race three times in his training career, his runners often make the frame, and the Great Pretender gelding could well go close despite the ground perhaps not proving an ideal surface. That said, it was soft when he won a Loughanmore point-to-point where he beat the likes of Kildisart, Lough Derg Spirit and Slate House; and his Haydock bumper win over Global Stage came in heavy ground. 

Claimantakinforgan can run a big race in the opening Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

With some solid bumper form to his name - third in the Champion Bumper last term - he won both starts over hurdles at Newbury and Ascot in Grade Two company, and he was probably unsuited by a test of speed at Musselburgh last time when only third.

Coming into this contest on the back of a defeat isn’t ideal, but he is better than he showed at the scottish track, and this more galloping test could see him in a different light. Assuming conditions don’t inconvenience, he can bounce back from his defeat last time, and he is worth another chance.

Footpad has been talked about as a banker for this race in recent weeks, and while Willie Mullins’ charge has posted impressive successes thus far over fences, he could be worth taking on with Harry Whittington’s SAINT CALVADAOS (7/2, Boylesport) who has been similarly impressive in racking up a hat-trick of wins which include a bloodless success in the Kingmaker Chase at Warwick.

The Saint Des Saints gelding has also won in France for his previous trainer, but watchers couldn’t fail to have been impressed with the manner of his three wins, two of which came at Newbury prior to his wide-margin success last time.

He jumped and travelled supremely well to post a 22-lengths beating of Diego Du Charmil last time, and his fast and accurate jumping will be an asset here; he made all the running that day, and open to further improvement he could prove hard to peg back around here if granted a lead. Of course, the form of what he has achieved can be picked apart; but he’s done everything asked of him in grand style, and he can post a huge effort.

Original Ultima Handicap Chase selection Snow Falcon now doesn't go to post, so with the loss of Noel Meade's charge out of the race our interests turn instead to taking a chance with VINTAGE CLOUDS (20/1, Ladbrokes, each-way) to record a win for Sue Smith.

The Cloudings gelding revels in the mud, and he will bid to do better than his fall in this race twelve months ago, although he was beaten when coming to grief. While he is higher in the weights this time, he has looked more progressive this term, and efforts this season have suggested he can get competitive in this race.

A winner at Aintree in October, he chased home Clan Des Obeaux at Haydock where the lesser trip was against him; subsequently fourth in the Welsh Grand National, he chased home Ballyoptic in the Towton Novices' Chase at Wetherby, and he turns out here from just 1lb higher in the weights than that recent defeat.

While 7lbs higher in the weights from last term to this for this contest, he ought to give a good account with conditions very much in his favour; he does need to find some improvement if he's to land this prize, but he looks to hold solid each-way claims on his runs this term, and no surprise to see a big effort now.

3:30 - Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1) Cl1 (4yo+) 2m½f ITV

A back-to-form Faugheen would present a formidable opponent for BUVEUR D’AIR (8/15, Paddy Power), but Nicky Henderson’s charge can successfully defend the Champion Hurdle crown he won twelve months ago.

The Crillon gelding took full advantage of his return to hurdles to claim this prize last term, and he has continued in excellent heart with four further successes, three of which were Grade Ones. 

Reigning Champion Hurdle champion Buveur D'air can successfully defend his crown.

His latest outing saw him coast home from John Constable in a Listed contest at Sandown, but he wasn’t extended to see off that rival; and he similarly treated The New One with disdain at Kempton over Christmas, brushing aside Nigel Twiston-Davies’ stalwart. 

Faugheen aside, this doesn’t look a particularly strong renewal, and Willie Mullins’ former Champion Hurdle winner may not be quite the same force after his injury. He bombed over Christmas having won on his comeback, and he had no answer to Supasundae in the Irish Champion Hurdle. While ‘the machine’ is not easily dismissed if back to his best, the Henderson runner has plenty of scope to improve further as a seven-year old, and with conditions no problem he gets the vote to successfully defend his crown. 

4:10 - OLBG Mares' Hurdle (Grade 1) (Registered As The David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle) Cl1 (4yo+) 2m4f ITV

APPLE’S JADE (8/13, Ladbrokes) goes from strength to strength, and Gordon Elliott’s charge can mount a successful defence of the crown she won in determined fashion twelve months ago.

There, the Saddler Maker mare had looked beaten jumping the last as Vroum Vroum Mag swept past her, while Limini also came with a challenge. However, the tough-as-teak mare dug deep to get back up near the line to score, and she followed up with another success at Punchestown in April with a defeat of Airlie Beach.

She is 3-3 this term, beating Jer’s Girl and Nichols Canyon, and she took the step up to three miles in her stride when beating Supasundae in the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown. Back at this trip, she could prove too strong for this field, and all ground comes alike so it would come as a major surprise if she failed to collect here.

The four-mile National Hunt Chase for amateur riders will take plenty of getting should the going turn up testing on Saturday, and it could be worth chancing the stamina of SIZING TENNESSEE (16/1, Coral, each-way) to give Colin Tizzard a first-day winner.

The Robin Des Champs gelding has shown good form here over fences since switching from Henry de Bromhead’s yard, for whom he was a decent hurdler. But he has improved over the larger obstacles since pulling up in last seasons’ Close Brothers Chase.

The extreme test of the National Hunt Chase could see Sizing Tennessee resume winning ways.

Runner-up to Black Corton at Newton Abbot, he looked set to beat that rival here on his next outing when falling, and he again failed to complete at Ascot in November. However, it all came together when he ran out an impressive winner over Duel At Dawn when stepped up in trip here in December, and subsequent defeats have both come back over shorter distances behind Yanworth and Mister Whitaker respectively.

Faced with a much stiffer test of stamina, he could improve for this marathon contest, and with form on testing ground and a decent record over the course he could run well in a typically competitive contest.

A competitive contest to close out the first day, and first pick Kalondra misses out; at the foot of the weights for this Listed contest, MISTER WHITAKER (12/1, Paddy Power, each-way) could be one to be interested in, and Mick Channon's Court Cave gelding has looked every inch a chaser going places, stepping up on each run and winning a hot Kempton contest last time from Theatre Territiory.

Having chased home Adrien Du Pont on his chase debut, he struck next time at Carlisle, winning well from Solstice Star. That race has thown up some subsequent winners, but he stepped up on that run to chase home a useful sort in Hell's Kitchen at Kempton on Boxing Day, where he finished a long way clear of the rest. But he struck last time over course and distance, beating Theatre Territory and Sizing Tennessee in good fashion, finding plenty for pressure and he can improve again.

The runner-up in that race has since made the frame in a Grade Three contest, and while the handicapper has hit him with an 8lbs rise in the weights, he remains relatively unexposed over fences and there may be more to come from him. That last win came in heavy ground, so conditions will be no issue here, and with winning course form to call upon he looks sure to post a big effort under Brian Hughes.


1:30 - CLAIMANTAKINFORGAN (14/1, Paddy Power, each-way)

2:10 - SAINT CALVADAOS (7/2, Boylesport)

2:50 - VINTAGE CLOUDS (20/1, Ladbrokes, each-way)

3:30 - BUVEUR D’AIR (8/15, Paddy Power)

4:10 - APPLE’S JADE (8/13, Ladbrokes)

4:50 - SIZING TENNESSEE (16/1, Coral, each-way) 

5:30 - MISTER WHITAKER (12/1, Paddy Power, each-way)

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2018 Cheltenham Festival tips for day one - Race-by-race selections for the opening day of Cheltenham

Brian Healy gives his race-by-race selections for the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival, featuring the Champion Hurdle and the Arkle Chase.

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