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    Cheltenham Blog  -  Day One, Tuesday 12th March 2013    
    DATE POSTED: 11/03/2013    

The National Hunt equivalent of the World Cup starts on Tuesday at Cheltenham, and today we find out what the ground feels like and get a good dose of top class racing, including the Champion Hurdle, The Arkle and The Supreme Novices

POSTED: 11/03/2013

There may be quite a few old favourites missing this year but there's still enough talent here to quicken the pulse of hardened punters and pin-stickers alike, as Cheltenham conjures up its unique racing magic.

There's no doubt that the usual top trainers will have their share of the spoils, particularly Paul Nicholls, Nicky Henderson & Willie Mullins. The same applies to the top jocks, Ruby Walsh, Barry Geraghty and Tony McCoy.  A very interesting statistic is that Ruby has been among the 1st four home in 16 out of 32 hurdle races here (50%) in the last 3 years, which may be enough justification to throw away the Form Book and just follow him blindly in every hurdle race.

The opener is the much depleted Supreme Novices Hurdle (1-30pm) with only 12 horses declared. Owner JP McManus has a very strong hand here with then leading two in the betting - the first a much-fancied £12,000 bargain My Tent Or Yours, who seems to have the race at his mercy, but may not quite be the good thing he seems despite pretty short odds. The second is the 5YO Jezki who is on a 5-timer but we think may have to wait another year.  The pace is often very hot from the start and among the front runners is likely to be last year’s Champion Bumper winner CHAMPAGNE FEVER. He has excuses for a couple of lacklustre runs due to an infection but remains a very experienced and live contender, and we consider him a near-certainty for a place at least. His trainer Willie Mullins also runs unbeaten Un Atout who has never been off the bridle in his short career and could be en route to greatness, no matter what happens here. Another ex-Champion Bumper winner is £210,000 buy, Cheltenian, who won in 2011 but has had a year off due to injury. He returned to the track only 3 weeks ago, just going under by a short head. He likes a left-handed circuit and should have stamina to see him through the soft ground. Philip Hobbs would not run him here if he thought he wasn't ready and he is a very tempting 20-1 for a sporting E/W wager.
Champagne Fever WON  5/1

SIMONSIG is very much the one they have to beat in the Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase (2-05pm). He's been touted by all and sundry for many months, is in scintillating form on the gallops according to his trainer Nicky Henderson and seems a worthy odds-on favourite. He may be the good thing of the meeting but at odds too short for the average punter. Speaking of favourites, Overturn has developed quite a fan club over a period of years with his brave front-running style and his do or die tactics may unsettle Simonsig, leaving the faint possibility of him, or indeed, one of the other 5 runners pulling off a shock.
Simonsig WON 8/15

The JLT Handicap Chase (2-40pm) has one statistic to take notice of, namely that horses carrying over 11st have a very poor record and that a long price winner is always a possibility.  Don McCain's OUR MICK was only a novice when 3rd here last year and it wouldn’t take much improvement for him to buck the trend off 11st 4lb and the trainer's opinion may count for more than the stats on this occasion. It will be the third time the 7yo has contested the race finishing a head second in 2010 and fourth last season. We’ve spotted last year’s 2nd, White Star Line lurking at the bottom of the handicap with 3lbs less to carry this time. We know that Lucinda Russell has a good opinion of soft ground specialist, Nuts N Bolts, and so he could be an e/w snip at around 25-1.
Our Mick 2nd 13/2

The Champion Hurdle (3-20pm)
promises to be a cracker of a race with 3 previous winners trying to notch up a famous double, and a few pretenders to make it a real test for them. Binocular, is one of 3 Nicky Henderson runners and we feel he may not recapture the sparkle that gave him victory in 2010 as evidenced by Barry Geraghty choosing to ride Grandouet. We have no such worries for 2011 victor, Hurricane Fly, who has won no less that 16 of his 19 hurdle races and remains very much a player, but it's 10 years since a 9yo won. Rock on Ruby was our e/w choice when he won last year for Paul Nicholls, beating both of the previous winners. (He runs this year for Paul's ex assistant Harry Fry). However also in that field was another Nicholls runner, the youngster ZARKANDAR, who wasn't at his best last season but has come good this year. We think that he could well be the solution here especially if the ground isn't too soft, and looks like a good wager.

The Cross-Country Chase (4-00pm)
was in the grip of the Irish for a decade, until Philip Hobbs provided a bit of respite for the home country when winning with Balthazar King last year. He has ducked the race this year due to the soft ground so it may be a return to business as usual for the Irish who field 10 of the 16 runners.  It looks like the gutsy ARABELLA BOY, who will have considerable assistance in the saddle from Nina Carberry, could justify favouritism. Anyone looking for an outsider could do worse than trying 12yo Leac an Scail, who has been revitalised this year by jockey Sam Drake.

QUEVEGA is attempting to equal the mighty Golden Miller's record of 5 Festival wins and the roof will certainly be blown off the stands if she achieves this with another victory in the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle (4-40pm). Maestro trainer Willie Mullins has been preparing her at home specifically for this race so we know she'll be fighting fit despite being off the course for almost a year. It seems churlish to suggest any other outcome, but Une Artiste or David Pipe's youngster Swing Bowler could take advantage if any cracks appear in Quevega's armour.
Quevega WON 8/11

The finale is a 20 runner Novices Handicap Chase (5-15pm) in which there is only 12lbs between bottom and top in the Official Handicap  No doubt several of the trainers will have been “protecting the handicap”  of their charges with this specific race in mind.  CARLITO BRIGANTE looks like one of these (rated 1 stone higher over hurdles). Trainer Gordon Elliott is bullish about his chances although the soft ground is a worry. Tom George is not a name that you usually associate with Festival winners but we have a sneaking fancy that Arthur’s Pass is still improving and may have a squeak here.


Our Nap of the day is ZARKANDAR (4th) (3-20pm) and we nominate LEAC AN SCAIL (4-00pm) (Non-runner) as our best outsider with a sporting chance.

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