What a way to start the Cheltenham Festival. Champion Day features seven races and is headlined by the double-whammy of the Champion Hurdle and the Mares’ Hurdle, with an appetising entree of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Arkle.
Few punters will forget Annie Power’s fall in the Mares’ last year – costing them millions of pounds as part of their ‘Willie Mullins accas’, but he will have an immediate chance of redemption in the Champion Hurdle this time around.
Here’s a quick look at the scheduled races, and let’s see if we can pick out a few winners to get the festival started with a bang.
Supreme Novices Hurdle (1:30pm)
Mullins will be hoping to start his Cheltenham off on the right foot with victory in this opening renewal, the Supreme Novices Hurdle. His charge, Min, is the 2/1 favourite and naturally has a decent chance having won all three of his career outings to date. Crucially, one of those victories was over this 2m 1f mark and on heavy ground too, so the omens are good.
One contender to watch is Altior (4/1), another multiple-time winner over this stretch and piloted by the talented Nico de Boinville from the Nicky Henderson yard. A win at Cheltenham back in November offers further incentive for an each way punt.
The Arkle Trophy (2:10pm)
It would seem that the presence of Douvan has scared much of the competition away in the Arkle, and there’s no wonder. Seven runs, seven wins, and all at this 16f stretch. Victory in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2015 highlighted Douvan as one to watch, and that scintillating form has continued ever since. He’s a soft ground specialist – likely to be the going this week – and so he seems a shoe-in at the 2/5 mark.
Of the competition, it is perhaps Sizing John (8/1) that offers tempting value. He may have lost four times in his career to Douvan, but he has appeared in the money places in eight of his ten outings; including a third place in that ultra-competitive Novices’ Hurdle here last year.
Champion Hurdle (3:30pm)
As mentioned earlier, Annie Power has been primed for the Champion Hurdle after an injury to another member of the Mullins yard, Faugheen. That makes you wonder if this is a natural progression for a horse that has won 13/15 starts over slightly longer stretches, generally speaking.
Of the rest, The New One (6/1) has credentials but was outclassed in an admittedly fantastic field in last year’s renewal, while My Tent Or Yours (10/1) offers intrigue. He has never finished outside of the money places in a 14-race career, but also hasn’t run for two years and was partnered by the now retired AP McCoy in ten of those starts.
Mares’ Hurdle (4:10pm)
The last of the standout races on Champion Day is the Mares’ Hurdle, and once again it’s a Willie Mullins trained horse that takes top billing. Vroum Vroum Mag (11/10) has all eight of her starts, and an encouraging victory in the OLBG.com Mares’ Hurdle in January was eye-catching as it was the longest stretch she had run and in soft conditions too.
She looks head and shoulders above the rest here; testified by the fact the next contender, Polly Peachum, is priced as long as 13/2 in some quarters. An uninspiring record of eight wins from fourteen would suggest the favourite has this one sewn up but for a disastrous run.