The waiting is almost over and the declarations are through for the opening day of the 2012 Cheltenham Festival. Betvictor's Charlie McCann gives his preview of Day 1
Ten will go to post for the Champion Hurdle led by the current Champion Hurricane Fly who is one of three short-priced (odds on?) favourites on the day.
The Fly had long been considered a superstar in Ireland but injury had prevented him from running in successive Festivals before he ran out a narrow but comprehensive winner of last year’s renewal from the valiant Peddlers Cross.
Willie Mullins’ stable star has now won his last seven starts all in Grade 1 company and it is very difficult to pick holes in his form; bomb proof with regard to ground and trip he is difficult to oppose.
Punters don’t have to take the odds on of course with BetVictor
betting without the favourite and I think Oscars Well each way has been crying out for a fast run 2m on decent ground. With Celestial Halo and Overturn in the field we are guaranteed a fast pace and if you look back on last season’s Neptune Novices’ Hurdle Oscars Well ran with the choke out for most of the race but still looked as if he would hang on before blundering at the last.
Only six go to post for the Arkle and Sprinter Sacre has been a revelation in landing his three chase starts so far this season after Tony McCoy got off him in last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and said he had a problem with his wind. Jockey Barry Geraghty has compared him favourably with the great Moscow Flyer but this is his acid test.
Cue Card will ensure an and-to-end gallop (front-runners have a poor record in the race) and it is possible that the favourite will just outclass his rivals but he looks very short for what he has done to date and he must be opposed at the cramped odds.
Cue Card is the forgotten horse of the race and if Joe Tizzard can get the fractions right from the front he will be hard to pass, but the grey Al Ferof is the one we know will be staying on up the hill having landed the Supreme from a difficult looking position last year. He may need further in time and there are those in the Henderson camp who insist Finian’s Rainbow, who finished in front of Sprinter Sacre in the Victor Chandler Chase, is not in the same class as Sprinter Sacre yet I just feel that Al Ferof who will get further in time may outstay them both.
The curtain-raiser the Supreme Novices’ has been a graveyard for favourites in recent years (Brave Inca last one to oblige in 2004) and it is difficult to see who will head the market let alone win this year in a fascinating renewal. My two against the field are Montbazon and Irish raider Steps To Freedom with marginal preference for the former despite the fact that the latter gave Montbazon weight and a beating in the Aintree Bumper last spring. Note betvictor.com are paying ¼ odds first 4 in the race and irrespective of whether your horse wins or loses will refund your £20 win stake on the opening race.
Cappa Bleu is a significant overnight defector from the JLT Handicap Chase and there are question marks over many of the fancied runners in the field; Our Mick isn’t the most fluent jumper in the field and has stamina to prove but he certainly has an engine and he is a must for the short-list. Hold On Julio has been well ahead of the handicapper on both starts this term but has been raised another 12lbs for his Sandown success back in January; he cant afford the same mistakes in this better race but his stable won the corresponding race with Bensalem last year and he has been laid out for the race.
The Package is another whose jumping has been far from foot-perfect in the past but he finished runner up in this event two years ago when a well-backed 9/2 favourite when he just lost out to Chief Dan George. He has a near 500-day absence to overcome but he must go close if his jumping holds but that is a big if.
Quevega looks as if she has to be pointed in the right direction in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle and we at betvictor.com will be betting without the favourite in the race and I just favour Kentford Grey Lady for Emma Lavelle and Noel Fehily.
The Irish have won the Cross-Country every year since its inception and they have a very strong hand again this year with Scotsirish and Uncle Junior likely to head the market for Willie Mullins who could have an exceptional day even by his own high standards.
Nicky Henderson has told many that he believes Triolo D’Alene to be one of his best chances of the whole week in the 20-runner Novices’ Handicap which closes the card and looks as if he has been laid out for the race by connections. That said preference at 16/1 is for Carrickboy who sneaked into the race courtesy of his win at Hereford last week.