We preview the opening day of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival.
The seven race card begins with the Supreme Novice’s hurdle at 1.30 before wrapping up for the day at 5.30 with the Novices’ Handicap Chase.
We have detailed run through of every race, including a full preview, a run through from our racing expert The Duke and picks from both him and Leon Blanche of BoyleSports.
1.30pm Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m ½f
Last year’s winner: Labaik 25/1
The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the traditional curtain raiser to The Festival – which always welcomes in the famous roar on the opening day. First run in 1946 and known as the Gloucestershire Hurdle, it used to be split into two or three separate divisions.
Some big names have taken this title previously including Gold Cup legend L’Escargot, Champion Hurdle heroes Bula and Hors La Loi and most recently Vautor, Douvan an Altior.
Race odds: 13/8 Getabird, 11/2 Kalashnikov, 15/2 Summerville Boy, 10/1 First Flow, 14/1 Mengli Khan, 14/1 Paloma Blue, 16/1 Claimantakinforgan, 20/1 Slate House, 20/1 Sharjah, 33/1 Western Ryder, 40/1 Us And Them, 40/1 Debuchet, 40/1 Simply The Betts, 50/1 Lostintranslation, 66/1 Dame Rose, 66/1 Trainwreck, 80/1 Shoal Bay, 200/1 Khudha, 200/1 Golden Jeffrey, 250/1 Saxo Jack
The Duke says: The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is a nice way to start things off. Getabird has all the makings of a Mullins/Walsh good thing. If you’re a bookmaker you’ll be delighted to get this one beat. I think there’s a reasonable chance he gets turned over, as he’s beaten trees so far, with the exception of Mengli Khan. There’s a couple that stand out for me in opposition at decent odds. Claimantakinforgan runs for Nicky Henderson at double figure odds and looks like just the type to get involved. He was third in last year’s Champion Bumper and won his first two starts over hurdles. He didn’t run well at Musselburgh last time but assuming that was an off day, with a sterner test and a bigger field, he could come right back to form. At even longer odds of around 25/1, Slate House looks ready made for this. He won at Cheltenham in November and that form looks excellent. The runner-up Summerville Boy beat Kalashnikov in the Tolworth Hurdle and then Kalashnikov has since won the Betfair Hurdle. Admittedly, Slate House has put in two stinkers since that Cheltenham victory, but his yard was in a quandary at the time and with Colin Tizzard back and firing in the winners, I think Slate House has been seriously underestimated.
The Duke picks: Slate House/ Claimantakinforgan
Leon Blanche of BoyleSports: Summerville Bay
2.10pm Arkle Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) 2m
Last year’s winner: Altior 1/4
The Arkle Novices chase, has been run on the opening day since 1980 after previously been a second day event. Formerly known as the Cotswold Chase before 1969.
This race is a breeding ground for horses to go on to major Cheltenham success. Previous winner include Remittance Man, Flagship Uberallas, Sprinter Sacre, Sizing Europe, Moscow Flyer and Alverton – who is the only horse to win this and then go onto to take the Gold Cup.
Race odds: 11/10 Footpad, 5/2 Saint Calvados, 10/3 Petit Mouchoir, 12/1 Brain Power, 80/1 Robinshill
The Duke says: The Arkle looks pretty straightforward and I’d be really disappointed if Footpad can’t win this. He will love the ground and trip, he jumps well and has an element of class. Petit Mouchoir is an obvious danger, as he was better than Footpad over hurdles, but the question has to be whether he can reverse the form from Leopardstown. The rumour is that he wasn’t quite fit that day, but still we can only go on what we’ve seen and on the evidence Footpad is better over fences. Saint Calvados has live claims too and should run them close.
The Duke picks: Footpad
Leon Blanche of BoyleSports: Footpad
2.50pm Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 3m 1f
Last year’s winner: Un Temps Pour Tout 9/1
Another race dating back to the 1940s the Handicap Chase is normally seen as a perfect grounding for the Grand National at Aintree but also the Gold Cup, with many horses going on to enjoy wins in those huge races after competing in this.
Race odds: 5/1 Coo Star Sivola, 7/1 Singlefarmpayment, 9/1 Gold Present, 9/1 Vintage Clouds, 12/1 Ramses De Teillee, 14/1 Minella Daddy, 14/1 Beware The Bear, 14/1 Yala Enki, 16/1 Vicente, 16/1 Wakanda, 16/1 O O Seven, 16/1 Cogry, 16/1 Shantou Flyer, 20/1 Knight Of Noir, 20/1 Casse Tete, 25/1 Eamon An Cnoic, 33/1 Sizing Codelco, 40/1 Vic De Touzaine
The Duke says: I narrowed the Ultima down to three horses when looking at the race a few days ago. None of them have been declared for the race, so it was back to the drawing board. Singlefarmpayment was second in the race last year but perhaps he might prefer the ground to be a bit quicker. Coo Star Sivola has some nice Cheltenham form, having finished 3rd in a Fred Winter and 4th in last year’s Martin Pipe. He ran well to win last time and the ground won’t be a problem. Yala Enki loves the mud and won in a bog at Haydock last time. I’d quite fancy him to run another nice race at an each-way price.
The Duke picks: Coo Star Sivola
Leon Blanche of BoyleSports: Minella Daddy (each way)
3.30pm Champion Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m ½f
Last year’s winner: Buveur D’Air 5/1
The first Champion Hurdle was run back in 1927 and is one of the most illustrious races at the Festival. It is one third of the hurdling triple crown along with the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle and the Christmas Hurde at Kempton. Only one horse in history – Kribensis, has managed to claim that honour.
With such a long and distinguished history this race has been won by some of the sports superstars. Five horses have managed to claim this title three times, those being Hatton’s Grace, Sir Ken, Persian War, See You Then and Istabraq.
Race odds: 4/7 Buveur D’Air, 6/1 Faugheen, 14/1 Yorkhill, 14/1 Wicklow Brave, 16/1 Melon, 16/1 Elgin, 20/1 My Tent Or Yours, 33/1 Mick Jazz, 40/1 Ch’tibello, 66/1 Identity Thief, 66/1 John Constable, 100/1 Verdana Blue, 100/1 Charli Parcs
The Duke says: The Champion Hurdle is a terrific race if the real Faugheen turns up. Should ‘The Machine’ be less than his best, reigning champ Buveur D’Air might make a mockery of his rivals. I’m really quite hopeful that Faugheen returns to his sparkling performances of the past and I’m taken with the 6/1 available. I’d prefer to take the chance on Faugheen at those odds and be proven wrong than the 4/7 about Buveur. If you’re just looking for one to hit the frame, My Tent Or Yours is your fella – he’s always thereabouts. I also think it’s interesting with all the options he has available, that Gordon Elliott only runs Mick Jazz.
The Duke picks: Faugheen
Leon Blanche of BoyleSports: Wicklow Brave (each way)
4.10pm Mares’ Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 4f
Last year’s winner: Apple’s Jade 7/2
Introduced to the Festival programme in 2008, the Mares’ Hurdle has already become a firm fans favourite. The first running was on the last day, but since then it has been an opening day staple.
The race is best known for one reason and that is the brilliant Quevega managed to win it six-years-in-row up to 2014. No other horse has ever won this many times at the Festival.
Race odds: 4/7 Apple’s Jade, 4/1 Benie Des Dieux, 6/1 La Bague Au Roi, 14/1 Jer’s Girl, 20/1 Kayf Grace, 66/1 Pravalaguna, 66/1 Indian Stream, 66/1 Midnight Jazz, 66/1 Midnight Tour
The Duke says: Apple’s Jade will win the Mares’ Hurdle. I honestly think she’d stand a massive chance in the Champion Hurdle and against inferior opposition she should hose up in this. Jer’s Girl is some price for a place
The Duke picks: Apple’s Jade
Leon Blanche of BoyleSports: Forecast Apple’s Jade & Benie Des Dieux
4.50pm National Hunt Chase (Novices) (Amateurs) (Grade 2) 4m
Last year’s winner: Tiger Roll 16/1
The National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup is named in honour of JT McNamara, who was paralysed in a fall at Cheltenham in 2013 and died in 2016. This race is for amateur riders only.
Over 150 years old the National Hunt Chase has been run more times than any other event at the Cheltenham Festival. The Grand Annual is older but has been missing on occasion from the line-up.
Race odds: 9/2 Jury Duty, 6/1 Mossback, 6/1 Rathvinden, 13/2 Ms Parfois, 15/2 No Comment, 10/1 Sizing Tennessee, 11/1 Keeper Hill, 16/1 Pylonthepressure, 18/1 Shades Of Midnight, 18/1 Duel At Dawn, 18/1 Impulsive Star, 25/1 Reigning Supreme, 50/1 Clondaw Cian, 100/1 Lofgren, 150/1 All Kings, 150/1 Robin Of Locksley
The Duke says: The penultimate race is the National Hunt Challenge Cup for Amateur Riders. There’s a few in here who you can rule out quite easily, but not Gordon Elliott’s Jury Duty. He’s run to a level of form that is interesting and the step-up in trip looks ideal. However, there are two others that I really like. Rathvinden has Paddy Mullins up on board and while the last couple of runs haven’t been amazing, he’s got a level of class and with a better round of jumping on testing ground, he has a bang chance. The mare Ms Parfois is also fascinating. She’s been in great form, gets weight from the boys and the increased distance also looks really in her favour…
The Duke picks: Rathvinden
Leon Blanche of BoyleSports: Mossback
5.30pm Novices’ Handicap Chase (0-140) (Listed) 2m 4½f
Last year’s winner: Tully East 8/1
One of the newer races, introduced when the Festival was extended in 2005. Initially run as an open handicap for novices, it was restricted to horses with a rating of 145 or less in 2011. There was a further tightening of the race conditions from 2012, with the contest being for novice chasers rated 0-140.
Race odds: 6/1 De Plotting Shed, 13/2 Any Second Now, 8/1 Mister Whitaker, 9/1 Barney Dwan, 10/1 Rather Be, 12/1 Testify, 14/1 Livelovelaugh, 16/1 Demi Sang, 16/1 Divine Spear, 16/1 Tycoon Prince, 16/1 Le Rocher, 18/1 Report To Base, 18/1 Rocklander, 22/1 Ballyhill, 22/1 Ibis Du Rheu, 25/1 Markov, 28/1 Jameson, 33/1 Kayf Adventure, 33/1 Conrad Hastings, 40/1 Western Miller
The Duke says: The lucky last is the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase and I think it’s between the top two in the market; Any Second Now and De Plotting Shed. Both have been lined up for this. I think one of them will win it, but as I can’t pick between them, let’s go big in the last with a reverse forecast.
The Duke picks: De Plotting Shed/Any Second Now reverse forecast
Leon Blanche of BoyleSports: De Potting Shed