After months of hype in the media and intense preparations on the gallops, Cheltenham 2018 is finally underway.
First Flow to Win and Each Way @ 12/1 – BET NOW
The Supreme Novices Hurdle is a perfect race to study with most of the major bookmaking firms offering promotions on the traditional curtain raiser.
Typically the Irish field a strong team with the Mullins/Ricci/Walsh combination supplying the market leader Getabird. The trio had a hat-trick of wins in this between 2013-15 and all three, as is the case with Getabird, took the Moscow Flyer Novices Hurdle en route. For many he is considered an Irish banker and that is reflected in odds ranging from 11/8 - 7/4.
Of the British contingent Kalashnikov is an immense talent who won the Betfair Hurdle. My Tent Or Yours and Get Me Out Of Here both finished second in the “Supreme” after success at Newbury and he is generally 9/2 to go one better for his talented young handler. His sole defeat came on heavy ground so the going reports will need to be closely monitored.
Nicky Henderson has had one winner and nine placed from 20 runners. This year's hopes are pinned on Claimantakinforgan who finished third in the Champion Bumper 12 months ago. Horses that achieved a first-five finish in that race have taken four of the last fifteen renewals of this.
First Flow ticks the statistical requirements of having won his last two races and being able to front run or race prominently. Kim Bailey's charge has taken apart good opposition on his last two starts, although this will be an even sterner test.
Nevertheless, his slick hurdling technique, high cruising speed and ability to handle deep ground will be major assets in this. If he was trained in Ireland or by Nicky Henderson then he would be a lot shorter in the market than 12/1 and at that price there is substantial each-way value.
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Jury Duty to Win and Each Way @ 9/2 – BET NOW
Gordon Elliott has landed the National Hunt Chase with three of his five runners. This year he relies on Mossback and Jury Duty with both holding strong claims. The former will be ridden by Lisa O'Neill, who was on board last year's winner Tiger Roll, and has the higher official rating of the pair.
He would have landed a Grade 3 contest on his penultimate start but for falling at the last and leaving Jury Duty in front too soon. The selection idled in the closing stages and eventually finished second to Moulin A Vent. The Irish Grand National entry finished third in the Pertemps final last year and stamina should not be an issue. He has the Grade 1 form you look for in this and is the more accomplished jumper of the Elliott pair.
The McManus colours have had success in this contest in the past and will be sported here by No Comment. Philip Hobbs' runner has only had one run over fences and jumped well in the main. Derek O'Connor is an able pilot but this looks a risky venture for such an inexperienced chaser.
Rathvinden has top-class form in the book and is generously priced, whilst course-specialist Sizing Tennessee and dour stayer Duel At Dawn are each-way possibilities.
Rather Be to Win and Each Way @ 10/1 – BET NOW
Nicky Henderson has had one winner and four seconds in the final race of the opening day, the Close Brothers Handicap Chase. The Seven Barrows team send Divine Spear and Rather Be this time and the latter looks the best handicapped of the pair.
Rather Be is a Grade 3 winning hurdler who beat a 137-rated rival 17L and a 138-rated rival 19L in his two completed starts over fences. Both were over 2m but he stays this longer trip, is tactically versatile, jumps well and handles any ground.
His one blip came when he burst a blood vessel at Plumpton and his current mark of 143 looks generous, as does a price of 10/1.
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