Cheltenham 2019: Lucky Luke's Day 1 Tips

11/03/2019

 

Cheltenham is finally here!

The first day of the meeting is upon us and it's time for the ante-post punting to stop and action to take centre stage at Prestbury Park. 

Tuesday's highlight comes in the shape of the Champion Hurdle where we are set for a fascinating battle between Buveur D'Air, Apple's Jade and Laurina. 

Our resident racing fan, Lucky Luke, has been keeping his eye on the Cheltenham clues for months, but now its time to be his notebook to the test with his fancies for day one. 

1:30pm - The Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle Race

The opening race of the 2019 Festival is far from the greatest Supreme that we have ever seen, but from a punting point of view, that means there's plenty of value on offer.

Ante-post favourite, Al Dancer, was a nice winner of the re-arranged Betfair Hurdle at Ascot, and although that race is a good marker for the Supreme it has a dreadful strike rate when it comes to its winners following up in the opener at the Festival.

The form of the Betfair Hurdle hasn't worked out the greatest either, so I'm happy to take on the favourite in the first. My choice will go the way of Fakir D'oudairies who was purchased by JP McManus after being well backed to win the Triumph Hurdle trial at Cheltenham at the end of January.

He won by an eye-catching 13 lengths that day, making the famous hill look like a stroll in the park. For me, he has a real touch of class and with the weight-for-age rule in his favour, I'll be backing him to become the first 4yo to win the Supreme since AP McCoy guided Hors La Lai III to victory in 1999.

2:10pm - The Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Steeple Chase

The story behind Lalor is enough for you to fall in love with this horse. His trainer Richard Wollacott sadly took his own life early last year and never saw Lalor reach the heights of winning a Grade One at Aintree. Something Richard always promised he would be able to achieve. Instead, his widow Kayley now trains Lalor and has taken over the reins in real style to line him up as one of the market leaders for the Arkle.

First time out over fences, he took on Cheltenham like a seasoned pro to score in an Arkle trial by an impressive seven lengths. It’s a performance that I have been unable to get out of my head all season, and even though he disappointed slightly at Doncaster last time, I’m still keeping the faith.

There were excuses that day and given he normally goes well when fresh, this could be the perfect opportunity for him to strike at the very highest level.

2:50pm - The Ultima Handicap Steeple Chase

The first handicap of the meeting is far from an easy one to predict. The maximum field of 24 runners has been confirmed, meaning plenty of value on offer if you can decipher the winner.

There has been good noise for the Paul Nicholls-trained Give Me A Copper, part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson. He reappeared in good style to finish 4th at Sandown last time and has always looked more of a chaser than a hurdler. He looks to be a worthy favourite but is probably priced up based more on potential than the ability he has shown so far on the racecourse.

Instead, I like the look of Jessica Harrington's Magic of Light. 8yo's have a good record in this, winning 5 of the last 10, and although the Irish don't strike as often as they would like in this race, she's still a solid candidate.

She's had five runs this season, resulting in two wins and two other placed efforts, before unseating Robbie Power in the BobbyJo Chase at Fairyhouse last time. She's had experience in England as well, winning at Newbury and Ascot, so she should at least feel familiar with making the trip across the Irish Sea.

As long as she can get a clear round, then I'm sure she can still be competitive enough of her current mark to at least grab a place.

3:30pm - The Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy

apples-jade-cheltenham

As the feature race of the day, it's no surprise that this is one of the most eagerly anticipated races of the entire meeting.

It focuses around the top three in the betting, with such an intriguing battle in prospect between Buveur D'Air, who goes for a third Champion Hurdle, and two Irish mares in Apple's Jade and Laurina.

All three have winning form at the Festival, but all three arrive in different circumstances. Buveur D'Air has been there and twice bought the t-shirt in the Champion Hurdle, but you can argue that they have both been sub-standard and the fact he has been beaten by his stablemate Verdana Blue this season, there's little to suggest he's on the top of his game.

Apple's Jade on the other hand, is in the form of her life. She's 4 from 4 this season, including wins at 2m, 2m4f and 3m. Her best though was last time out at in the Grade One Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown where smashed a strong field to win by 16 lengths from Supasundae. That made connections rethink the plan of going for the mares hurdle and instead re-route her for this.

My final talking point is for Laurina, another mare who was arguably the most impressive winner at the Cheltenham Festival last season. Romping home in the Mares Novices' Hurdle by 16 lengths. She's continued in that same form this season, winning both her starts for Willie Mullins, including one by 48 lengths at Sandown. Albeit in a two horse race.

For me though, this is Apple's Jade's to lose. Laurina is very good, but I don't think she'll quite have enough in the locker to win at Champion Hurdle and Buveur D'Air doesn't look to have much improvement left in him.

On current ratings, Buveur D'Air is on 172, with Apple's Jade on 166. Given the 7lb allowance given to mares in the race, that gives Apple's Jade an advantage for me and she'll be the one I'm shouting home in the Champion Hurdle.

4:10pm - The OLBG Mares’ Hurdle Race

Jockey Ruby Walsh knows more about winning at Cheltenham than anybody else in the saddle, and he certainly knows what it takes for a horse to be first past the post there.

He has highlighted in the build-up to Cheltenham that Benie Des Dieux is his best chance of a winner at the entire meeting. Despite having likely rides on big names such as Min and Footpad, the fact he goes for the mare should be a tip in itself.

She hasn’t been seen this season, but she’s unbeaten in five starts since moving to Willie Mullins, and you’d be a brave punter to go backing against the deadly Cheltenham combination of Mullins and Walsh.

4:50pm - The Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase

Course form is pretty important when it comes to Cheltenham. The undulating track can suit some horses down to the ground and makes others look like they haven't a clue what is going on.

That is at least the line of thought that I'm going to use heading into the Close Brothers. Cubomania, trained by Gordon Elliot, is the only course and distance winner in the race which could by the difference in an event that isn't the easiest to fathom.

He won by 2¾ lengths at Cheltenham in October off a mark of 143, beating Monbeg Legend who was rated 147. Cubomania now goes of 145 in the Close Brothers and considering he won well enough over C&D, I don't see that as being too much of an issue.

Davy Russell gets the ride and that certainly wouldn't put you off backing him.

5:30pm - The National Hunt Steeple Chase Challenge Cup

I remember watching the ITV Racing coverage of Warwick back in early January and them making a clear point of how often that Classic meeting has an influence on the Festival.

Ok Corral was a runner that day, as was the impressive Beakstown, but the one that went straight into my tracker was Impulsive Star, who was a nice winner of the Classic Chase.

He responded well to pressure when leading that day and looked to be headed as they got to the last. He proved to be an out and out stayer though and ground out the victory to score by just over three lengths, running away at the line.

Owned by Robert Waley-Cohen and ridden by his son Sam, they certainly know a thing or two about winning at Cheltenham, landing the 2011 Gold Cup with Long Run.

Selections

1:30 - Fakir D'oudairies

2:10 - Lalor

2:50 - Magic Of Light (E/W)

3:30 - Apple's Jade - NAP

4:10 - Benie Des Dieux

4:50 - Cubomania (E/W)

5:30 - Impulsive Star (E/W)

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