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2019 Cheltenham Festival day one tips - Race by race selections on Champions’ Day Tuesday

Jonathan Vine in Tips 10 Mar 2019

Our expert, Jon Vine takes a look at each of the races on Champions Day at the Cheltenham Festival and provides readers with his betting suggestions on Tuesday 12th March.

The moment we’ve all been waiting for is finally upon us. The 2019 Cheltenham Festival is about to get under way! 

Few races are looked forward to more during the season than the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, which get’s Champion’s Day at Cheltenham off to an almighty bang. Along with the Supreme, there are three further Grade Ones on the card, with the historic Champion Hurdle headlining proceedings.

Our expert has taken a look through Tuesday’s card in full and provided readers with his betting suggestions.

2019 Cheltenham Festival Day One tips

1.30 - ELIXIR DE NUTZ (15/2, Paddy Power)
2.10 - LALOR (4/1, Unibet)
2.50 - MINELLA ROCCO (9/1, William Hill)
3.30 - BUVEUR D'AIR (2/1, Paddy Power)
4.10 - ROKSANA (9/1, Bet365)
4.50 - HIGHWAY ONE O ONE (14/1, BetVictor)
5.30 - BALLYWARD (3/1, Unibet)

1:30pm Supreme Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m1/2f

An each-way punt is clearly the way to find some value in this year’s Supreme and, while both Grand Sancy and Aramon appeal more than the market leaders, the one who catches the eye in the current market is ELIXIR DE NUTZ (15/2, Paddy Power). 

I highlighted Colin Tizzard’s charge a couple of weeks ago when he was sitting on 14/1 - a ridiculous price considering what he’s achieved this term. After losing out to Thomas Darby in October, Elixir De Nutz claimed an impressive victory in the Grade Two Sharps Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, before securing a second course-and-distance victory over a subsequent Listed winner in Jarvey’s Plate at the International Meeting. 

Elixir De Nutz was then a 3/1 shot in the Tolworth at Sandown. A fine front-running display and plenty of bottle in the closing stages saw Tom O’Brien’s mount hold off Grand Sancy and Angels Breath’s Kempton conqueror, Southfield Stone to claim a maiden Grade One title. 

Summerville Boy won the Tolworth before claiming Supreme glory 12 months ago and Elixir De Nutz has both course and Grade One-winning form in the bag. Even at his current price of 7/1, he could be the best value bet in the race.

2:10pm Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices' Chase (Grade 1) 2m

At 9/1, Kalashnikov holds plenty of appeal and Gordon Elliott’s Hardline is a dangerous outsider with Grade One winning form. Yet, the image of LALOR (4/1, Unibet) surging clear on his reappearance in the November Novices’ Chase is one I cannot shift from the forefront of my mind and another course-and-distance victory beckons in the Arkle for this talented sort.

You could tell from the get-go that heavy ground at Sandown wasn’t Lalor’s cup of tea in the Henry VIII. Richard Johnson’s mount found no rhythm what-so-ever and it was only guts and determination that saw him complete the race back in third.

Claimantakinforgan and Dynamite Dollars went off at a strong gallop here in November. Johnson’s mount was travelling powerfully behind the pacesetters throughout the race, hitting the front at the final flight before cruising clear without overexerting himself. This will be a tougher race, run at a quicker pace, but I think Lalor will have the class, quality and composure to cope. 

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

Ireland haven’t enjoyed much success in the Ultima over the past couple of decades. So while Gordon Elliott’s Noble Endeavour holds appeal at the bottom of the weights, iit could pay to stick with the British challengers in this handicap chase.

Mick Channon has been waiting a while to step Mister Whitaker up in trip and last year’s Close Brothers’ winner has to be respected. Coo Star Sivola hacked up to win this race 12 months ago and, while ground conditions this season are likely to be very different, Nick Williams’ chaser returns just three pounds higher than the mark of 142 he carried to victory last year.

Give Me A Copper’s name has been doing the round in preview evenings around the country and Paul Nicholls’ charge has been backed into favouritism. While he does look well-treated and obviously boasts strong claims, I feel the entrant who has been handicapped best in this year’s Ultima could be MINELLA ROCCO (9/1, William Hill).

Jonjo O’Neill’s stable star has plenty of previous at the Cheltenham Festival. In 2016, Minella Rocco outstayed Native River to win the National Hunt Challenge Cup. A year on, O’Neill’s charge almost caused an almighty upset in the Gold Cup, where his late charge to catch Sizing John would have come off had the finishing line come a furlong later.

Since that runner-up finish, Minella Rocco had had his problems. After a fall in last year’s Irish Gold Cup, O’Neill’s charge was sidelined until the Cotswold Chase this year, where he looked extremely rusty in finishing a 40-length third. Minella Rocco gave a much better account of himself over hurdles last time out, crossing the line a 13-length fourth under the burden of top-weight. 

Jonjo O’Neill and Richie McLernon teamed up for winners of the Ultima in 2012 and 2014. At just nine years of age, there’s no way Minella Rocco could be past his best and if he can return to the form we all know he is capable of producing, he’s fully capable of carrying 11-7 to victory in the Ultima before targeting Grand National glory.

3:30pm Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 2) 2m

I'm not totally convinced the Champion Hurdle is the race for Laurina. Willie Mullins' mare has never really been tested, she would prefer the ground to be softer than this and I doubt whether she has the gears to beat the best over two miles.

Apple’s Jade has been on of the stars of the season. Gordon Elliott's mare has a fantastic blend of speed and stamina. She goes on any ground, is a very dependable jumper and has proven form on the course. 

That being said, Apple’s Jade was well beaten at Cheltenham last year and you could see both Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson employing pace-makers to ensure this exuberant front-runner doesn’t have everything her own way and the race could be set up for BUVEUR D'AIR (2/1, Paddy Power) to land the Champion Hurdle hat-trick!

Shockwaves reverberated around the National Hunt racing world at Kempton in December, as Buveur D’Air suffered his first defeat over jumps for the best part of three years. A terrible leap at the third-last ruined the two-time Champion Hurdlers’ rhythm and Verdana Blue was on-hand to capitalise with a well-timed charge in the final 100 yards.

Despite suffering defeat, I doubt Nicky Henderson will have been too discouraged. Buveur D’Air looked fantastic when seeing off Samcro in the Fighting Fifth up at Newcastle on his reappearance and registered his annual victory in the Contenders Hurdle last month, shaking off the memory of that unexpected defeat with a composed, trouble-free display.

This is, undoubtedly, the toughest task Buveur D’Air has faced in the Champion Hurdle. Henderson’s eight-year-old hasn’t faced any rival as good as either Apple’s Jade or Laurina in either of his two previous victories and he will have to give seven-pounds to both. Yet, I remain confident Buveur D’Air is the finest two-miler in the business. Nicky Henderson will ensure his training peaks perfectly for Cheltenham and I think he remains the best bet in this year’s Champion Hurdle.

4:10pm David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m4f

Willie Mullins labelled Benie Des Dieux as his best bet at Cheltenham this year and she could be very hard to beat. However, considering she has been off the track since last spring, it's worth siding with an each-way shot who offers much better value.

Of the outsiders, Mia’s Storm and Momella offer the best value and Stormy Ireland is more than a mere pace-setter. However, the classiest mare sitting at an each-way price has to be ROKSANA (9/1, Bet365) – who travels to Cheltenham fresh and has the ability to rival Ireland’s leading candidates.

Dan Skelton’s mare progressed brilliantly last season. After finishing third as a 40/1 shot on her jumping debut, Roksana comfortably won two novice hurdles before pouncing late on to beat Kalahari Queen to the Grade Two Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle Handicap Final at Newbury. 

Skelton then rewarded his seven-year-old with an outing in the Sefton at Aintree and Roksana rose to the challenge, crossing the line less than two lengths behind RSA favourite Santini in second.

Roksana has only been seen once so far this season, shaping nicely when finishing third behind Buveur D’Air and Vision Des Flos in the Contenders’ Hurdle at Sandown. Harry Skelton’s mount couldn’t live with the pace set by the Champion Hurdler over that short a trip, but it will have served as an excellent pipe-opener for this talented mare and Roksana is certainly a challenger for the favourite to fear.

4:50pm Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase (Listed) 2m4&1/2f

There are two runners I really like in this year’s renewal of the Close Brothers. A Plus Tard comfortably beat Duc Des Genievres earlier in the campaign and should be well suited by returning to a left-handed track. HIGHWAY ONE O ONE (14/1, BetVictor) also has plenty going for him and Chris Gordon’s charge shades selections thanks to his 14/1 pricetag.

After ending last season with some fine performances in handicap company, Highway One O One has progressed nicely over fences, winning two of his first three starts. Three times, Gordon has watched his seven-year-old finish behind Dynamite Dollars, including a 14-length defeat in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown.

On Trials’ Day, Gordon stepped Highway One O One up in trip for the first time to take part in the Timeform Novices’ Handicap. Tom Cannon’s mount came up just two lengths short of JLT contender Kildisart, but he finished the race nicely over that unfamiliar trip, especially considering he was giving two pounds to Ben Pauling’s chaser at the weights.

That handicap has thrown up more winners than any other race on Trials Day and Highway One O One proved he could stay the trip. Experienced jumpers towards the top of the weights have an excellent record in the Close Brothers and Highway One O One has some strong form to bolster his chances.

5:30pm National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup (Grade 2) 4m

As the National Hunt has been upped from Class Two, to Listed and, most recently, up to Grade Two standard, highly-rated horses carrying single-figure odds have dominated. Now McGinty is certainly an improving stayer with each-way chances, but considering the fact above, it’s sensible to look towards the fancied horses to find this year’s winner.

Champagne Classic was my initial selections, but he’s suffered a set-back and will have to sit out Cheltenham again. Discorama has been impressive this term and Ok Corral has his supporters, but I prefer the chances of BALLYWARD (3/1, Unibet) for last year’s winning combo of Willie and Patrick Mullins.

Ballyward may be the least experienced of the trio at the top of the market, but Mullins’ charge has appeared in more Grade Ones than Ok Corral and Discorama combined, following a fourth-place finish in last year’s Albert Bartlett with another fourth at the equivalent race at the Punchestown Festival.

Mullins’ seven-year-old ran well on his chasing debut, losing out by just a short-head to the more experienced Shady Operator. Discorama’s fall at the last may have made Ballyward’s task at Naas a little easier on his latest start, but the way Ballyward surged clear of Chris’s Dream and Champagne Classic was extremely impressive.

Willie Mullins won this race twice as a jockey during the early 80’s and son, Patrick seems confident his pick can follow in the footsteps of last year’s winner, Rathvinden. I think Ballyward is a very solid selection.

2019 Cheltenham Festival Day One tips

1.30 - ELIXIR DE NUTZ (15/2, Paddy Power)
2.10 - LALOR (4/1, Unibet)
2.50 - MINELLA ROCCO (9/1, William Hill)
3.30 - BUVEUR D'AIR (2/1, Paddy Power)
4.10 - ROKSANA (9/1, Bet365)
4.50 - HIGHWAY ONE O ONE (14/1, BetVictor)
5.30 - BALLYWARD (3/1, Unibet)

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2019 Cheltenham Festival day one tips - Race by race selections on Champions’ Day Tuesday

Our expert, Jon Vine takes a look at each of the races on Champions Day at the Cheltenham Festival and provides readers with his betting suggestions on Tuesday 12th March.

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