The Cheltenham Festival is finally here, no more counting down, the richest four-days of jumps racing in calendar are upon.
Day one is set to be run on the most testing surface we’ve seen for many years, will that be a concern for the four hot-pots on the card, and can they get punters off to a flying start?
Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh having the favourite in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (13:30) is nothing new and their Getabird is 7/4 for the Cheltenham opener.
They’ve won with Champagne Fever, Douvan and Vautour recently but Min and Melon have settled for second best in the previous two renewals. Getabird looks more likely to fall into the latter category.
He faces a decent field of 19 rivals and while his Moscow Flyer success in Ireland was impressive, he doesn’t look the star-in-the-making that some of his Closutton predecessors have been. He must also tackle some hardened rivals.
None more so than Betfair Hurdle winner Kalashnikov at 4/1. The way he dispatched experienced campaigners at Newbury was most impressive and will have fast-tracked his education, ensuring this experience will not faze him. He can oblige in the first, with Debuchet at huge odds of 50/1 perhaps being overlooked in the place market.
Mullins and Walsh shouldn’t be out in the cold too long, as Footpad looks set to justify 5/4 favouritism in the Arkle (14:10).
Just four rivals have turned up to take him on, with Petit Mouchoir and Saint Calvados the obvious threats. The former has the measure of Footpad over hurdles but it is Kingmaker winner Saint Calvados that looks the bigger danger. That said, so quick and accurate has been Footpad’s fencing so far, they’ve both got it all to do.
Buveur D’air has got the Champion Hurdle to throw away according to the betting, which sees him 4/7 favourite to retain the two-mile crown.
He’s been faultless since winning here a year ago and Nicky Henderson’s charge is hard to see past, albeit he’s not had any sort of race this season which might be a worry.
Faugheen aims to become the first 10-year-old Champion Hurdler since Sea Pigeon in 1980 and the stats, as well as the formbook, are against ‘The Machine’.
Instead, the each-way vote goes to Melon at 16/1 for the Mullins team. He was second in the Supreme last March and with just four more runs is still quite unexposed. The excellent Paul Townend is on board and his effort behind My Tent Or Yours in the International Hurdle (conceding 6lb) in December bodes well.
The final day one hot-pot comes in the Mares’ Hurdle when Apple’s Jade looks to justify odds of 8/13 in defence of her title.
Gordon Elliott’s charge is teak tough, as she showed here 12 months ago, and has improved this season as a six-year-old. She’d take beating in a Stayers’ Hurdle and might scare Buveur D’air in a Champion. As such, she’s impossible to go against in this field.
Mullins has farmed this race down the years and saddles Benie Des Dieux this time. She’s unbeaten in three starts since arriving from France, though they’ve all been over fences. Changing code won’t be easy for her.
Warren Greatrex will have high hopes for La Bague Au Roi, unbeaten this season, though three-miles might prove her optimum trip so instead Jer’s Girl at 14/1 is presented as an alternative to the favourite.
Gavin Cromwell’s runner was going well in this a year ago when she fell and has already got within two-lengths of Apple’s Jade in Ireland this season. She could find the frame with a clear round here.