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2019 Cheltenham Festival day one race-by-race tips - Through-the-card selections for Champions Day

Brian Healy in Tips 12 Mar 2019

Brian Healy assesses the opening day of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival, featuring the Champion Hurdle, and he gives his race-by-race selections for all seven top-class contests on day one of the 'greatest show on turf'.

The wait is finally over, and the 2019 Cheltenham Festival is here! Over the course of four top-class days’ horse racing action, the culmination of months of blood, sweat and tears unfolds across 28 classy races at Prestbury Park.

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


Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson both usually have a formidable entrant in this opening race, and in the case of the former ARAMON (14/1, William Hill, each-way) remains one to be interested in despite meeting with defeat last time against the reopposing Klassical Dancer.

The Monsun gelding was a decent performer on the flat for Markus Klug in Germany prior to his move to Closutton, and he has looked a very useful prospect in his starts over hurdles, winning three of his six outings this campaign.

A Grade Three winner at Navan, he bounced back from a disappointing run behind Quick Grabim in the Royal Bond Hurdle; that race perhaps wasn’t run to suit, and he quickly left that performance behind to post an impressive ten lengths’ success over Sancta Simona at Leopardstown over the Christmas period to win the Paddy Power Future Champions Hurdle.

That perhaps wasn’t the strongest of fields for a Grade One, but he looked set to follow up back there last time in the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle when beaten only a head behind stablemate Klassical Dream.

He had caught the eye with the way he travelled into the race, and although he led on the run to the line, he perhaps spoiled his chance by hanging left and allowing his stablemate to get back at him and gain a narrow victory.

He was giving the winner 1lb at the weights, and it ranks as a solid effort from a relatively modest pace; he may well have more to come, and while that tendency to hang left would be a concern here he looks worthy of a place in this line-up. 

He could be up to the task of reversing that Leopardstown form on level weights if able to plot a straighter line to the finish, while the prospect of a strong pace - as is usually the case in this contest - will help.


2:10 - Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices' Chase (Grade 1) Cl1 (5yo+) 2m


It could be worth keeping faith in Amy Murphy’s KALASHNIKOV (10/1, Paddy Power) to bounce back to winning form despite being beaten on each of his last two starts at Kempton and Sandown.

The Kalanisi gelding proved highly progressive over hurdles last term, winning three of his five starts which included an impressive success in the Betfair Hurdle, having earlier found only Summerville Boy too strong in the Tolworth Hurdle.

He found the same rival just too strong again in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, being run down late by Tom George’s star who made a couple of late mistakes; that form hasn’t lived up to expectation however and has taken plenty of subsequent knocks since.

Nevertheless, he won his first two starts over fences at Warwick and Plumpton with the minimum of fuss, latterly running out a near-twenty lengths’ victor over Envoye Special. The form of both those wins might only be ordinary, and he has subsequently been beaten on both outings since.Those runs came behind Dynamite Dollars at Kempton in the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase, and he was then ran ragged by the bold jumping Glen Forsa at Sandown in the rearranged Kingmaker Chase.

It is worth noting though that he has only once been beaten when racing left-handed - at Cheltenham in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle - and he wasn’t beaten by far; while both chase defeats have come when he has been racing right-handed, and a return to going this way around may well coincide with a return to better form.

Versatile with regards to ground, he ought not to have any issue with whatever underfoot conditions prevail come Cheltenham Festival Tuesday, and while he probably does need to find some improvement on his form to date, including from his run latest, he should be much happier returning to a left-handed track and he remains one to be interested in despite recent defeats.

Those runs came behind Dynamite Dollars at Kempton in the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase, and he was then ran ragged by the bold jumping Glen Forsa at Sandown in the rearranged Kingmaker Chase.

It is worth noting though that he has only once been beaten when racing left-handed - at this venue in that Supreme Novices’ Hurdle reversal - and he wasn’t beaten by far; while both chase defeats have come when he has been racing right-handed, and a return to going this way around may well coincide with a return to better form.

Versatile with regards to ground, he ought not to have any issue with whatever underfoot conditions prevail come Cheltenham Festival Tuesday, and while he probably does need to find some improvement on his form to date, including from his run latest, he should be much happier returning to a left-handed track and he remains one to be interested in despite recent defeats.


2:50 - Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3) Cl1 (5yo+) 3m1f


Twelve months ago, MISTER WHITAKER (9/1, Paddy Power) won on this card when getting the better of Rather Be to claim the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap, and Mick Channon’s charge could well prove up to the task of winning a second Cheltenham Festival prize.

The Court Cave gelding made a winning return to action when beating the ultra-consistent Happy Diva - who has acquitted herself very well since, including winning at Huntingdon - and she was subsequently sent off favourite for a red-hot renewal of the Paddy Power Gold Cup.

Given too much to do there, she eventually finished a fair fourth behind Baron Alco, finishing well; and there wasn’t much wrong with a subsequent fourth behind runaway winner Cyrname at Ascot next time out, although she finished a fair way behind the leader.

He was conceding weight to the front trio, including 13lbs to Happy Diva who finished ahead of her; and the form has been boosted since in no uncertain terms by the winner blitzing a top-class field in the Ascot Chase last month.

He looked ready for a step up in trip in that Ascot contest, and this extra half-mile could well coincide with a jolt of improvement; while he probably needs a shade more at the weights, he is a big strapping brute of a horse and he remains open to progress with a proven ability to handle soft ground well. 

It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him posting a big effort and he can go well in this contest reunited with Brian Hughes who steered him to that Festival success twelve months ago.


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


This looks to be the strongest Champion Hurdle renewal in many a year, with dual-champion Buveur D’air set to try for a trio of wins in the race; Nicky Henderson’s charge faces stiff opposition with crack mares Apple’s Jade and Laurina lining up in oppsition. 

But at bigger odds the chances of another Willie Mullins inmate in SHARJAH (12/1, Bet365, each-way) shouldn’t be overlooked, and the Doctor Dino gelding could post a big run.

A smart performer in France previously, he won his first two hurdles starts in impressive fashion prior to falling at Leopardstown in the Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle when looking set to collect. That fall possibly dented his confidence, and he struggled to get competitive subsequently, including when only finishing in mid-division in last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

The six-year old has been kept busy this term, contesting both over hurdles and on the flat where he won at the Galway Festival, and he has returned to hurdling in good fettle where he has won two of his last three which include defeat of Faugheen in the Morgiana Hurdle, and Supasundae in the Ryanair Hurdle.

He had Jessica Harrington’s versatile performer almost four lengths in arrears in a field that also included Melon - runner-up in the Champion Hurdle twelve months ago - and Samcro, who was subsequently found to be carrying a virus and he hasn’t been seen out since.


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


BENIE DES DIEUX (Evens, William Hill) is set to reappear at the Cheltenham Festival on Tuesday without a prior appearance this season, where the Great Pretender mare will be bidding to win this race for the second year in succession.

Formerly trained in France, she is unbeaten in five starts for the Closutton handler, which includes a defeat of Midnight Tour and Apple’s Jade in this race last year enroute to adding a second Grade One success at Punchestown the following month when beating Augusta Kate and Apple’s Jade again to win the Annie Power Mares’ Hurdle.

She hasn’t been seen since, but the absence needn’t be an issue given Mullins’ achievements with Quevega who proved time and again in this race that not having had a prior run in the campaign was any barrier to success; indeed, the Great Pretender mare has proven she has what it takes to win at the first time of asking, as she won on her debut over fences for Mullins following almost 400 days off the track, after which she struck in a Listed hurdle race at Carlisle following a further eleven months off.

With stablemate Laurina and the resurgent Apple’s Jade both heading to the Champion Hurdle, the eight-year old looks to hold very solid credentials coming into this contest of mounting a successful title defence, and with the ground coming right for her then she ought to prove a tough nut to crack.


4:50 - Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase (Listed Race) Cl1 (5yo+ 0-145) 2m4f


Useful in France for Dominic Bressou previously, A PLUS TARD (8/1, Bet365) has shown a good level of form since being switched to chasing by top Irish handler Henry De Bromhead, and the Kapgarde gelding can give a good account of himself in this competitive handicap contest.

The five-year old has only had three runs for the Knockeen handler, getting to within a neck of Dr Mikey at Gowran Park on his chase debut prior to running out a ready winner over Duc Des Genievres at Naas.

The runner-up has won since, as has the fourth and fifth horses home so the form of that success looks solid, and the Kapgarde gelding lost little caste in defeat when finding only Winter Escape too much of a handfulk at Punchestown in January when denied by that rival in a Grade Three contest where he was beaten just over two lengths.

That winner had won a Grade Three contest previously, and he was subsequently beaten less than ten lengths in a Grade One behind La Bague Au Roi at Leopardstown; while he had the useful Jetz behind who went on to finish fourth in that Leopardstown heat before winning at Navan latest in the Flyingbolt Chase.

A mark of 144 doesn’t look overly harsh given what he has achieved in his three runs, and he remains open to plenty of further improvement. A heavy-ground winner in France, as well as striking on a better surface in Ireland, he shouldn’t be far away.


5:30 - National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders' Novices' Chase (Grade 2) Cl1 (5yo+) 3m7½f


Nicky Henderson’s Ok Corral heads the betting for this amateur riders’ contest, but he looks plenty short enough in the betting for this race however, and he is worth taking on.

The Seven Barrows stable have yet to win this race, but the yard have another potential candidate in CHEF DES OBEAUX (16/1, Boylesport, each-way) who will relish the softer ground and the Saddler Maker gelding has looked as if he would appreciate a marathon trip.

A very useful hurdler, winning three times over the smaller obstacles which include over Secret Investor at Kempton, he went off the boil towards the end of last campaign where he pulled up in starts here and at Aintree in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle and Mersey Hurdle respectively.

Having made his return to action following eight months off the track, he went well for a long way at Uttoxeter before fading and he probably needed that outing; he was subsequently in the process of running a big race at Chepstow in January when unseating four out behind Now McGinty where he was still very much in contention and travelling well when blundering away his chance.

The seven-year old returned to the Welsh venue in February where he got off the mark over fences in first-time cheekpieces, staying on strongly up the long straight to post a near-20 lengths’ defeat of runner-up Jammin Masters, and there could be even better to come as he steps up further in trip.

Bigger fields might have been a contributory factor in his two lesser runs over hurdles last term, but he showed at Uttoxeter that he could handle the bustle of a large field of rivals and there is every chance that he has further improvement to come over the larger obstacles.


2019 CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL TIPS DAY ONE - RACE-BY-RACE SELECTIONS


1:30 - ARAMON (14/1, William Hill, each-way)

2:10 - KALASHNIKOV (10/1, Paddy Power)

2:50 - MISTER WHITAKER (9/1, Paddy Power)

3:30 - SHARJAH (12/1, Bet365, each-way)

4:10 - BENIE DES DIEUX (Evens, William Hill)

4:50 - A PLUS TARD (8/1, Bet365)

5:30 - CHEF DES OBEAUX (16/1, Boylesport, each-way)

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2019 Cheltenham Festival day one race-by-race tips - Through-the-card selections for Champions Day

Brian Healy assesses the opening day of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival, featuring the Champion Hurdle, and he gives his race-by-race selections for all seven top-class contests on day one of the 'greatest show on turf'.

Read more »

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