Your top tips for the opening day of Cheltenham from Hayley O'Connor of Ladbrokes
Hayley O'Connor is at Cheltenham and has being scouring the course for glimpses of the hotpots and whispers on the track. Here's her take on day one of the mighty Cheltenham Festival.
1.30 Supreme Novices
Melon has been a red hot favourite for this race and very much a hype horse. He was pummelled in the betting on his debut (and only) and duly delivered. However that was a substandard maiden hurdle so I was looking for alternatives, such as Bunk Off Early, who won a very good race at Leopardstown after a lengthy layoff before being beaten next time on ground he wouldn't have liked. Ballyandy has that all important course form being a Champion Bumper winner and River Wylde is fancied by a number of the UK tipsters. But the vibes here in Cheltenham this morning couldn't be stronger for Willie and Ruby to get off to a flyer. Looking back on Melon's only run, despite the lack of serious opponents, he did look very good and is allegedly leaving his novice stablemates for dead. So I think the favourite will win this one.
2.10 Arkle Novices Chase
The Arkle is always a magnificent spectacle and for most punters, that's all it will be. A race to sit back and applaud the amazing Altior who's too short a price to back. He'll be amazing, but to back a horse to be placed, Royal Caviar would be my pick
2.50 The Ultima Handicap Chase
A word of warning when it comes to the handicaps this week, of which there are 10. The last time a favourite won was 2014, so take a brave approach of having a small stake on a bigger priced horse. Singlefarmpayment leads the betting, and I like the inconsistent Holywell from local trainer Jonjo O'Neill's yard. He was second in this race last year and this festival seems to bring out the best in him so my fiver each way will go on him.
3.30 The Champion Hurdle
This has been giving me real headaches and I back, but without confidence Petit Mouchoir. He's won two Grade Ones including the Irish Champion Hurdle and looking really good doing so. His trainer Henry De Bromhead is having the best season of his career and knows how to get one ready for National Hunts biggest stage. However, novice Moon Racer is interesting and has done really well at this track. My Tent Or Yours is getting on in years but has undeniable class from a powerful yard and Brain Power has been ear-marked by a number of shrewdies. I'll stick with Petit Mouchoir but backing him for an interest rather than a big profit.
4.10 The Mares Hurdle
I've been a big Apples Jade fan for a long time and headed to see her win in Punchestown on her last run. She didn't though and I was left scratching my head, but dumbfounded by how well her conqueror Limini ran to beat her after some time off. Limini is an unapologetic kind of specimen and I saw her this morning where Ruby was giving her a jog around to stretch her legs. She's massive and I think she'll take all the beating, she's my banker of the day.
4.50 National Hunt Chase
This is a really hard race but I've narrowed it down to two. Arpege D'Alene from Paul Nicholls' yard, who's run very well, without winning, at the festival before, and Katie Walsh's mount Arbre De Vie, who was closest to the run away winner Acapella Bourgeois at Navan. That horse is a front runner for the classier race the RSA, and with a great pilot in Katie Walsh aboard, I think Abre De Vie will be in the mix.
5.30 Close Brothers Novices Handicap Chase
This is such a hard race but again, two are catching my eye. Davy Russell is riding Two Taffs, who I think has been campaigned really well for this race, and Last Goodbye, who looks the exact type to run a big race. He's a real crafty little horse, he jumps really well and quick, plus he's nibble and will be easily guided through the field. He's a bigger price and hopefully by the final contest I'll be flushed enough to be brave.
Happy Cheltenham and best of luck!