Cheltenham Tips | Day 1
Horse racing expert Graeme Johnston (@GraemeJ_83) picks out his best bets from a fascinating opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.
13:30 Supreme Novices Hurdle
The Supreme Novice is the traditional curtain raiser for the festival and one of the most anticipated races of the year. This year has attracted a huge field of 20 runners and on heavy ground it may well throw up a surprise.
I’ve backed Paloma Blue from the Henry De Bromhead yard. He’s only won once from four starts over hurdles but shaped with a huge amount of promise behind Samcro last time out. He pulled hard and never fully settled but was still in contention close home which caught my eye.
He will handle the heavy ground and there is likely to be a strong pace early on with a big field. He needs to improve to win this but he his run last time out tells me he has scope to do that. I think he is a good each way bet in race one.
14:10 Arkle Chase
The Arkle is always a fantastic spectacle and despite the smaller than usual field it’s a good looking race. The front three in the market all handle the ground and bring high class form in to the race, but I’ve had my eye on one for a long time here.
Footpad was a good hurdler but he looks on a different level now he’s been sent chasing. He is unbeaten in three chase starts winning two Grade 1 races in the process. He’s never looked under any pressure over fences and his jumping is top class.
He will enjoy the ground, is tactically versatile and the Willie Mullins yard is red hot just now. He may be a short price but I fully expect him to win this.
14:50 Ultima Handicap Chase
The Ultima Handicap Chase has attracted a field of 18 and on heavy ground this 3 mile chase could take some getting. Stamina is key here and I’ve sided with one who will relish this test.
Singlefarmpayment loves Cheltenham and he handles heavy ground. He’s won over this far before and is likely to be doing his best work late on. He was pulled up last time after making a bad mistake but that was in a much better race and he should find this in his comfort zone.
He was second in this race last year and on his six visits to the track he’s been placed four times and was brought down when in contention so he has strong course form. I think he represents good each way value here.
15:30 Champion Hurdle
The Champion Hurdle is the main event of the day and it looks a good renewal to me. There are however question marks about a lot of these on the ground or current form and I’ve taken a slight chance on one here.
Wicklow Brave is a dual purpose horse who competes in top class races on both codes. Last seen when 10th in the Melbourne Cup he followed a similar prep when down the field in this race last year.
However he is a different horse on heavy ground and with conditions turning testing he could take full advantage. His yard are flying and this has been his target all winter. I’ve backed him each way in this.
16:10 Mares Hurdle
The Mares Hurdle sees defending champion Apples Jade return to defend her crown and few would back against her. However, she’s odds on and I’ve decided to look for some each way value.
Jers Girl fell three out in this race last year in what I feel was a better renewal. Yet to win over hurdles since, her form hasn’t been bad and this is her target for the season. She has won on heavy ground and is a former Grade 1 winner so she has to be taken very seriously in this.
In a race where only five look to hold chances and with the ground not ideal for some of them I think Jers Girl represents good value each way.
16:50 National Hunt Chase
The National Hunt Challenge Cup sees amateur riders take centre stage and over 4 miles this could take some getting. 16 horses line up and I’d be amazed if even half of them get competitive.
Jury Duty steps up considerably in trip here but he brings some high class form in to this. He won his maiden in great style before winning a strong looking novice chase. He has been very competitive all year and was second in a Grade 1 at Christmas.
His stable have a great record in this race and he has one of the top amateur riders on board in Jamie Codd which is vital in these races. With no issues over the ground and stamina looking his strong point I fully expect him to go very close here.
17:30 Close Brothers Handicap
A 2 and a half mile novice chase to end the day and it doesn’t get any easier to find a winner. The ground could be pretty cut up by this point and this could be get testing for these novices.
De Plotting Shed has been well touted in the run up to Cheltenham as a potential handicap plot and he comes in to this race off a 7lb lower mark than his hurdles rating.
He handles heavy ground, stays further and has a lot of experience. He may be yet to win over fences however he has ran behind some good yardsticks and his last few races have been over trips short of his best. He looks the most likely winner to me here.
Graeme Johnston’s Day 1 Picks
13:30 – Paloma Blue (each way)
14:10 – Footpad
14:50 – Singlefarmpayment (each way)
15:30 – Wicklow Brave
16:10 – Jers Girl (each way)
16:50 – Jury Duty
17:30 – De Plotting Shed