The most eagerly anticipated racing day in the calendar is here, get set for the famous Cheltenam Roar as months of anticipation is ended with four days of top-class jumps action in the Cotswolds.
Here are four standout candidates for day one glory.
Supreme Novices Hurdle – Aramon @ 14/1
Willie Mullins has a strong record in this race and his Klassical Dream looks like going off favourite having been chose by Ruby Walsh. He beat stablemate Aramon last month by a head at the Dublin Racing Festival, and yet there is a major price discrepancy now. Aramon was an impressive Grade 1 winner previously at Leopardstown himself and is seemingly been overlooked with Walsh pinning his colours elsewhere. Given that there is a strong challenge from the home team with Angels Breath, Al Dancer and Grand Sancy very capable, Paul Townend’s mount looks a value shout in what should be a helter-skelter opener.
Champion Hurdle – Apple’s Jade @ 7/4
This could be the race of the Festival as dual Champion Hurdler Buveur D’Air puts his title on the line against two brilliant mares that will get a 7lb allowance from him.
The doubters suggest Nicky Henderson’s charge has won a pair of sub-standard Champion Hurdles and today we’ll find out what he is made of, with the champ arguably needing a career-best.
Laurina is untapped potential. She’s not yet tasted defeat since joining Willie Mullins and was impressive as a novice here last season. This though is a different ball game. Apple’s Jade has proven herself time and again at the top table and can atone for a defeat in the Mares’ race here 12 months ago when she valid excuses.
At seven-years-old, she has looked better than ever in winning four times this season with consummate ease. Last month she proved herself over two-miles and she is capable of sprinkling the stardust on this vintage Champion Hurdle.
Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase – Walt @ 20/1
Neil Mulholland’s runners in the Festival handicaps are often worth noting and the trainer arrives here with his string thriving of late. Walt has struck up a really nice partnership with Sam Twiston-Davies this term over fences, with two wins and a neck defeat from three starts together.
Most recently they won a competitive Kempton Grade 3 handicap in impressive style over three-miles. He needed that win to get into this race and, while he drops in trip, the extra stamina is a positive given the soft-ground and the fact this race often goes to a horse that stays further. He’s got a sound chance at a big price.
National Hunt Challenge Cup – Ballyward @ 11/4
So often in recent years, the master that is Willie Mullins has burst from the blocks at this meeting. The four-miler for amateur riders features just one candidate from his Closutton team this year, with Ballyward set to be ridden by son Patrick.
He joined an elite band last year when he gave Rathvinden a faultless ride to win this race for a second time and will ink his name in the Festival history books if he wins for a third time. Ballyward won a Grade 3 at Naas in January and looks to have the stamina that will be needed for this test.
The sentiments from the Mullins yard have been hugely positive about his chances here and he looks the one to beat in the day one finale.
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