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    Cheltenham : Day One - our free analysis of all the races at the Festival begins    
    DATE POSTED: 14/03/2016    
    The Festival rocks into action on Tuesday with the Supreme Novices Hurdle and The Arkle, and that's just the first two races! Read our free analysis from our very own National Hunt form specialist.
So far as followers of National Hunt racing are concerned, itís not the first cuckoo that heralds the coming of spring, itís the yellow flag dropping at the start of the first of the 28 Cheltenham Festival races. Thousands of fans pack into town and overrun all the hotels and hostelries for miles around and then flock to the Prestbury Park track to savour four of the best days action that racing can offer. The weather promises to behave itself and the drying track should help the speedsters whoíve had a thin time of it so far this year.

As usual, there are fortunes to be won and lost gambling on the outcomes, but we prefer to think that itís the sheer spectacle and quality of the brilliant horses on display that remains as the main magnetic attraction. Nevertheless we will try each day to provide a few statistics and suggestions which may help you pinpoint a winner or two.

For starters, it must be said that this year, probably more than ever, (didnít we say that last year and the year before?) Willie Mullins has shown us he has a yard full of real superstars and they are sure to take some beating, However, there a plenty of other trainers who have perhaps been a bit quiet during the wet months and who have now readied a few stars of their own to pick up the gauntlet and join the tussle. In particular, Nicky Henderson seems to running a lot of horses whose recent form may not seem to be at the level required here, but we think most of them will now be razor-sharp and we are sure he wonít be empty-handed at the end of the week.

Good Luck to you all and let the battle commence!


1:30 Supreme Novices' Hurdle
One statistic that stands out is that the Willie Mullins/Ruby Walsh combination are trying to win this for the 4th consecutive year and Ruby has opted to ride Min, one of three Mullins runners in this race. The statistics also tell us that around half of the last 20 runnings were won by 1st or 2nd favourites. However, only one outright favourite has won in the last dozen years and that was the mighty Douvan last year. We donít think that Min is in that class at the moment and the odds may not reflect his true chance as there are plenty of others to make a race of it. Indeed, Willieís two other runners could be in that class although itís hard to predict which one. Nicky Henderson hasnít won this race for a while (1992 in fact) but has gone close a few times and itís just possible that this may be his year so we will side with BUVEUR DíAIR who has plenty of pace and should be suited by the drying ground.

2:10 Arkle Challenge Trophy
This race has proved a bit of a graveyard for favourites in the past, but the trend seems to have reversed as 3 of the latest 4 winners have been odds-on winners. DOUVAN looks highly likely to continue that trend as he is long odds-on and fully deserves to head the market, though those odds look poor value. He fits the perfect profile for an Arkle winner but like the rest of the field, he is still learning the chasing game and it is always possible that any novice could easily make a jumping error. Also, only a couple of front-runners have ever managed to win this race, so tactics could well play a part in the outcome. Nicky Hendersonís Vaniteux will need to up his game to mount a challenge and we think it is worth considering another Irish runner, Gordon Eliotís The Game Changer, who has taken to the chasing game very well, but he may have to settle for 2nd place.

2:50 Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase
With only two winning favourites in the last 30 years it clearly shows how difficult it is to predict the outcome of this 3m chase, but we may be able to find one on two to at least give us an interest. For starters, we know the top weights arenít favoured by the stats so we will rule out the top 10 of the 24 runners although we give a nod to the chances of Kruzhlinin, who also has the Grand National in his sights. We like the look of Jonjo OíNeillís 6yo novice BEG TO DIFFER. His trainer has plundered this race in the last few years and could well have the answer again. We also believe that another novice, the progressive Ballykan could improve on his 4th to Theatre Guide last time out as he is now 7lb better off and provides him with a good each-way choice.

3:30 Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy
The market for this race has seen some dramatic changes due to the withdrawal of several key players and the late addition of another Mullins star, the mare Annie Power, winner of 10 of her 12 hurdles who would have also won the 2015 World Hurdle but for a last fence fall. She has been installed as favourite and it seems impertinent to suggest that she might not have it all her own way but we can see several possible challengers, including stablemate, Nichollís Canyon who the Wylie family will be hoping can add another notch to their totem pole. Nicky Henderson is mob-handed here, with no less than 5 of the 12 runners, including recent Fighting Fifth winner Top Notch who has a chance to live up to his name. We think Nicky may have a springer with 9yo My Tent or Yours who has been absent from the racetrack for almost 2 years. The horse is clearly putting out good vibes to his patient trainer and the betting seems to reflect his optimism. We prefer Cheltenham specialist, THE NEW ONE, with 5 out of his 13 wins have been on this course, This particular race has eluded him and this may be his last chance. Nigel Twiston-Davies asserts that he has him in prime condition and we will saddle him with our selection. (One particular statistic to note is that 5yoís have a poor record in this race).

4:10 OLBG Mares Hurdle
There may be 20 runners in this race but only one so far as we are concerned. French-bred VROUM VROUM MAG is unbeaten in eight races in GB and the 7yo is likely to be on the Cheltenham roll of honour for a few years to come. She has easily disposed of all opposition to date and it will take a really good one to lower her colours. Polly Peachum and Bitofapuzzle finished 2nd and 3rd last year and are likely to offer the most resistance. In particular Bitofapuzzle is a strong galloper who should be amongst the first few home, given a clear round as she is not always sure-footed.

4:50 National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup (Amateur Ridersī Novicesī Chase)
We have followed Vieux Lion Rouge since he won at Sedgefield as a 5yo and he has quietly crept up the weights, turning into a proper Cheltenham contender for trainer David Pipe. They are all running off the same weight in this four mile race for Amateur riders and we think he has as good a chance as any to see it out. He is entered in the Grand National and is unlikely to be given a hard race if not in the mix at the end. Noble Endeavour is making up into a good chaser and his stable have won this race a couple of time in the last few years. He has a very good pilot in the shape if Jamie Codd and we think they could go close, though the horse will have to be nursed to get the trip. Paul Nicholls has a chance in the shape of Vincente who is better when going left-handed and should put in a good run here. It is a hard race to call, but we will go for NOBLE ENDEAVOUR ahead of Vincente.

5:30 Close Brothers Novicesī Handicap Chase
The closing race on day 1 has us really scratching our heads. The fact that it is for Novice chasers, most with newly-allotted handicaps, gives us very little to go on. We narrowed the choices down to no less than 6 of the 20 runners and fully admit we couldnít be confident of any of them. For information they were Thomas Brown, Aloomomo, Willows Saviour, Double Shuffle , Bouvreuil and Rezorbi. We have tentatively given the vote to THOMAS BROWN who provides good each-way value and we offer Willows Saviour on the grounds that Dan Skelton has plotted this race for a long time.

The Form Team hope you have an enjoyable few days and hopefully can find a few winners to cheer home. Good hunting!

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