Race 1 – Neptune Novices Hurdle
The Neptune opens the Wednesday card and is a race in which warm favourites have had a very good record.
The horse fitting that bill this year is the exciting Neon Wolf. He has been unbeaten for Harry Fry and impressed everyone with the manner of his runaway win at Haydock last time, beating a useful field of novices.
He is going to be hard to beat. He should manage this longer trip, and the only reservation would be if the ground quickened up appreciably.
Bacardys is the biggest danger from the powerful Willie Mullins yard. He seems to consistently outperform expectations, although with this race having been weakened considerably, he looks plenty short enough in the market now.
Longer odds horses are hard to recommend, and this should be fought out by the big two in the betting, with the favourite maintaining the strong record of market leaders in the race.
Recommendation Neon Wolf (13:30 Cheltenham), 7/4, generally available.
Race 2 – RSA Novices Chase
This is the novices’ Gold Cup, and a race whose attritional nature always places a real emphasis on stamina.
Might Bite is a strong favourite having looked all set to storm home in a major race at Kempton until falling at the last. that was an eye-catching performance, and if this race were at Kempton he would be half the price.
The big problem is that Might Bite’s form at Cheltenham has so far been well below that at other flatter tracks. This is enough doubt to consider other options.
Alpha des Obeaux was the best hurdler in this field, but his chasing career has come off the rails of late with burst blood vessel issues which have a tendency to recur.
Whisper will enjoy conditions and has a touch of class, 3 miles around here may not be ideal, but the drying conditions may help to mitigate any stamina concerns.
Two improving horses with proven stamina that could feature are Royal Vacation and Our Kaempfer. Both are likely to go well and it could be significant that Our Kaempfer overlooked some attractive handicap options to take his chance here.
Recommendation Our Kaempfer (14:10 Cheltenham), 14/1, generally available.
Race 3 – Coral Cup
This is routinely one of the hardest races to call of the week. This year, bang-in-form trainer Gordon Elliott seeks to make this an easier call for punters by saddling Tombstone.
This horse looked set for an outsider’s shot at the Champion Hurdle until the U.K. handicapper showed uncharacteristic leniency in giving him a mark below his Irish rating (Irish horses are routinely 4-6lb above their Irish ratings in the U.K.).
The kind rating can also be viewed in the light of Tombstone’s 4th in last year’s Supreme Novice hurdle which looks even better given he was just behind Buveau D’Air, and ahead of Petit Mouchoir, yesterday’s 1st and 3rd in the Champion Hurdle.
None of this has escaped the bookies and he is short odds, but he will be very hard to beat.
Fellow Irish challenger Tin Soldier has not given the handicapper much to go on and hence could have crept in on a very useful weight, he looks a strong danger. Cheltenham regular Hargam has attracted support and should relish these conditions.
We want to take a bit of a punt here with former Fred Winter winner, Hawk High. He has been lightly raced since but looked to be coming back to his best and can take advantage of a slipping handicap mark under the excellent Brian Hughes.
Recommendation Hawk High (14:50 Cheltenham), 33/1, each way, take 1/4 the odds for the first 5 places with Ladbroke, Bet 365, BetVictor and Boylesports.
Race 4 – The Champion Chase
The imperious Douvan is unopposable here. He has been unchallenged in a 3 year winning sequence for trainer Willie Mullins and is facing nothing here by way of competition that he hasn’t easily despatched in the past.
Odds of 2/7 won’t make you rich, and this is a race where the “betting without Douvan” market may offer better value than the each way terms.
Fox Norton tops the without Douvan market but has been unconvincing since showing good early season form.
Special Tiara would look good if able to recapture the form of last year’s festival
The solid option though is the useful Gods Own, who has run well here and at other leading festivals and should be suited by the conditions of the race. He has shown a touch of class at times in the past, which whilst no match for Douvan, could be enough to secure 2nd spot.
Recommendation: Gods Own (15:30 Cheltenham), 10/3, betting without Douvan, generally available
Race 5 – The Cross Country Chase
The specialist in this form of obstacle racing, Enda Bolger, brings several contenders the leading one of which appears to be Cantlow. He won well over the course at the end of last year and was not disgraced when 2nd here trying to give lumps of weight away in January.
Back off level weights here, his proven capability over this acquired taste of a course earns him every right to be the market leader.
Cause of Causes is a long-time favourite of ours, and had a wonderful festival record. He ran behind Cantlow when having a first look at this course, tailing off early on (presumably in shock) before staying on late in the race.
He has seen floods of money that suggest he will go well, however even though he is the best horse in the race, he always seems to be suited to a strong gallop and a rhythm to his jumping, neither of which are certain here.
Auvergnat and Usuel Smurfer can both go well having run well in a top Punchestown trial, the latter looking particularly nicely priced.
Bless the Wings was 3rd in this last year and is entitled to run just as well at a decent price.
Finally, one French horse has already plundered a prize over this course as an unconsidered outsider, and whilst he is unfortunately not able to return, fellow French raider Amazing Comedy could hold some outlandish outsider appeal at 80/1 in places.
Recommendation: Cantlow (16:10 Cheltenham), 10/3, generally available
Race 6 – The Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle
This is often a race that throws up a freakish result. Last year’s winning favourite was probably a bit fortuitous, prior to which this race has been won by a string of big outsiders.
Divin Bere is a good looking favourite who on a point of handicapping looks well treated in a line through Triumph Hurdle hopeful Master Blueeyes. There is a slight question mark over whether that form should be taken at face value given the possibly rapid improvement of Master Blueyes since, but it is obvious why this one heads the market.
Long Call looks plotted for the race by the shrewd Tony Martin but I would be worried the handicapper has seen him coming on this occasion.
Dolos and Dreamcatching represent the Nicholls stable that has done so well in this race in the past. Even though the stable jockey is on Dolos, the booking of a claimer to reduce the weight on Dreamcatching looks significant, with this horse ticking all the historical trend boxes.
At a longer price, the strong travelling Dakota Moirette could go well for the booming Gordon Elliott yard. Conditions here may just allow for some substantial improvement for a horse whose running style could be a good match for the race.
Recommendation: Dreamcatching (16:50, Cheltenham), 12/1, generally available
Race 7 – The Bumper
This race has been a Willie Mullins benefit for years and he again provides the market leader in the form of Carter McKay.
This looks a weak Bumper by festival standards, and it is a little worrying therefore to see Carter McKay very weak in the market in the last few days. Perhaps punters are deterred by his last win over a longer trip in the mud and are worried that quicker conditions here could see him disappoint. They may have over-reacted.
Western Ryder looks consistent and makes some appeal at a double figure price.
We could see another surprise to end a tough day in the form of the mare Irish Roe. She dead heated over this course in the Autumn when looking well suited to the course and conditions. That race and her earlier form would not usually b good enough to come close to wining this, but in a weak year she may just get closer than the odds suggest.
Recommendation: Carter McKay (17:30 Cheltenham), 5/1, generally available
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