Cha Fitzpatrick Column: Cheltenham Festival 2017 Day 1

Cha Fitzpatrick Cheltenham

ChaFitz1The canons are loaded, the gunpowder has been dry for long enough. Final checks have been carried out on all the artillery, and it’s time to head to the trenches for battle………..

Day 1
Four Grade 1s to whet the appetite, and undoubtedly, the star of the show on Day 1 ought to be the aptly named Altior, ‘Higher‘. He would win the Champion Hurdle if connections went down that route. However, it looks as if Nicky Henderson has the next Sprinter Sacre on his hands. He is the only horse in training who would put it up to Douvan, and I reckon Altior may beat him in time. No need to punt when a superstar is in action.
Supreme Novice’s Hurdle
  • This year’s renewal is not half as hot as the 2016 edition. The worst decision of the week has to be connections of Moon Racer snubbing a very winnable Supreme Novice Hurdle and electing to have a tilt at the Champion Hurdle. Unless he wins it, there will be some egg on David Pipe/ owners’ faces. A bird in the hand….
  • Willie Mullins has no apparent star novice over 2 miles this season, and Melon’s lack of experience is a big concern. He looked impressive beating squirrels at Leopardstown, and considering that he has no black-type form, I’d be willing to take him on at the prices. Ballyandy has been somewhat disappointing this season, up until he won the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury, where he won off a mark of 135. He is now officially the highest rated hurdler in the race off 147. He is respected but is priced accordingly at 10/3.
  • River Wylde (144) looks like a fast improving sort for Henderson, and beating the highly rated Elgin in the G2 at Kempton, is strong form. The only other horse to beat Elgin over hurdles is Neon Wolf, who is fav for the Neptune. At 9/1, he’s worth a nibble in what could be a super day for team Henderson.
  • It’ll be interesting if the stubborn Labaik digs the hooves in, and refuses to race again. Apparently, nothing can stay with him on the gallops at Elliot’s. Also, keep an eye on how Cilaos Emery runs. If he hits the frame, it boosts Mick Jazz’s form. He runs later in the week in the County Hurdle for Elliot.
Champion Hurdle
  • JP has a strong hand in this race throwing 3 darts at the board. I’m delighted to see Mark Walsh get such a high profile ride in the feature race on Day 1 of the festival. He has more than served his apprenticeship in Ireland at this stage.
  • Petit Mouchoir carries the Irish torch, and expect him to set a scorching pace. He has improved in leaps and bounds this season, but I think he’ll hit the wall coming up the notorious hill, and set it up for something off  the pace. Yanworth has a decent engine and has a prolific strike rate. However, his jumping is his Achilles heel. The Hall of Famers like Istabraq and Hurricane Fly were always ultra-slick and efficient over hurdles. His win in the Kingwell was very laboured and doesn’t look like the King in waiting. I can see him filling one of the places but may come up short. That leads me to Buveur D’Air– he’s unbeaten since last year’s aforementioned ret hot Supreme Novices  Hurdle, where he made relentless headway from the rear, to finish 3rd. He went on to win at Aintree (beating Petit Mouchoir), and was rerouted to the Champion Hurdle after winning two Novice Chases. JP & Nicky realised that they would be playing second fiddle to Altior in the Arkle. A handy canter around Sandown last month should have him cherry ripe, and he’ll be in the safe hands of veteran Cork jockey Noel Fehily. At circa 9/2, he looks a solid each way bet.
Mare’s Hurdle
  • Ruby had a tough call to make whether to ride last year’s winner VV Mag or Limini. It was all based around Limini’s seasonal debut where she brushed aside Apple’s Jade comfortably at Punchestown. Prior to this, VV Mag was all out to beat Midnight Jazz at Doncaster.They are two talented mares but they’re not in the same league as Annie Power, and are by no means bombproof. Plus they’re very short at the head of the market. As much as I’d love to see an Irish mare win, I’m keen to shop for value elsewhere. The best English mare in the line-up is ironically named after a Dubliner’s song, Lifeboat Mona. She’s going for the 4 timer, looking very progressive this season for Paul Nicholls. Her win in the mare’s listed hurdle at Sandown marks her down as a very talented mare indeed. She’s officially rated 144, which is not that far off the Mullins’ mares. With continued progression, she might give them something to think about, and at 14/1 represents value.
  • You’d be better off filling the car with diesel or buying a slice pan to see out the week, rather than trying to solve the impossible big field handicap chases, or the National Hunt Chase with inexperienced cowboys in the saddle.
Advice: River Wylde 1 pt each way @   9/1
             Buveur D’air 3 pt each way @ 9/2 (Nap)
             Lifeboat Mona 1 pt each way @ 14/1
Good luck!
Cha Fitz



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